EVEN MURPHY’S LAW HAS LOOPHOLES
By E. E. Nalley
Headmistress Carson’s Office, Schuster Hall
“No, Captain Richland, I most definitely do not think this is a joke,” snapped a very irate Elisabeth Carson at the dashing fifty something in the Navy uniform seated across from her desk. Having to deal with the Public Relations Officer from Brunswick Naval Air Station was always a pain, particularly when one of her students was the cause. “Still you have to understand that even though the students here are extraordinary in practically every measurable way, they are still teenagers.”
“Last time I checked, Ma’am,” the Captain replied evenly, “Teenaged high jinks didn’t include supersonic flight…”
“Unfortunately mine do,” Carson replied, cutting the man off. “They also include tank juggling, research topics that would curl what hair you have on your head and host of garden variety thuggery that would put the Nuremberg Trials to shame. Now, I certainly apologize Brunswick NAS was put on alert, that was well outside procedure for unanswered challenge from Carmine-Gallo for this airspace. I also know that both you and Admiral Wesley understand the nature of my student body and I was promised more than a bit of leeway from the Department of Defense in this regard.”
“Ma’am, no one, least of all Admiral Wesley or myself wants to have to deal with a tragedy,” the officer replied. “We’re all very fortunate last night’s escapades didn’t find their way to a media outlet. But, let me be clear, not all of my pilots are in the loop about this place. I’d hate for an accident…”
Carson sat back into her chair and steepled her fingers as she peered over the reading glasses she didn’t need. Her long life had certainly proven there was a down side to only looking thirty four for the better part of sixty years. Still, Captain Richland knew who he was talking to and the gaze was sufficient for him to sputter to a stop, mid threat. “Captain,” she whispered. “Let me be clear. Your pilots may not be in the loop, but you and the people who control their training flights certainly are. Now, I will do everything in my power to keep the events from last night from repeating. However, if you and Admiral Wesley want to stay in my good graces don’t ever make the mistake of threatening my kids.”
“You came for my apology and now you have it,” she replied coldly. “Good day to you, sir.”
The interview obviously at an end, Captain Richland stood stiffly and made his way out, back ramrod straight. Elisabeth glared at his retreating back until he crossed the outer office, out of sight. Safe from that particular peril, Carson sighed and snatched open one of the drawers of her desk to remove one from the stack of Hershey Bars she kept there. “Amelia,” she called through the open door as she struggled with the wrapper of the candy bar.
“Would you ring Dr. Tenent and ask her to step over here, please?”
“No need,” Ophelia replied as she stuck her head into the door. “Ah was over here…Liz?” she asked, alarmed at the haggard look on the Head Mistress’ face.
Carson waved her in as she broke off several squares of the brown proof of the Love of God and popped them into her mouth. “Shut the door,” she mumbled around the blissful first bite and luxuriated for a moment in the rich flavor. “I’m going to kill her,” she told the young Doctor who was taking a seat across from the frazzled administrator. “I’m going to kill her and have her head stuffed and put on the wall.”
“Ah’m going to guess there’s a student in trouble…?” Tenent ventured with a smile.
“I’ve tried everything, Ophelia!” snapped Carson as she broke off another couple of squares to eat with equal relish. “I’ve been reasonable, I’ve been firm, and I’ve been consoling…! I’ve been everybody in the damn phone book!”
Ophelia rubbed the tips of her fingers together to work up the courage for her next question. “Who are we talking about, Liz?”
Elisabeth rolled her eyes and broke off another piece, belatedly offering her guest some, who declined. “Elaine Nalley,” she spat as if a curse. Tenent thought for a moment.
“Loophole? Ah didn’t think she caused that much trouble…” Seeing the look on her boss’s face, Dr. Tenent decided a bit of back peddling was in order. “Well, at least Ah haven’t had that much trouble out of her…”
“Oh, lucky you…!” muttered Carson. “Last night she took her new suit of power armor for a supersonic spin. Brunswick Naval Air Station was alerted because of it!”
“Hence the uniform who just left,” filled in Ophelia. “Bad?”
“Oh, the good Captain needed his ego stroked and I refused to oblige him,” she replied, eyeing the last three squares in the light between two fingers. “But if he’s a big enough prick there could be issues in some of our flight based re-certifications next year. That’s not the point though. I need your help, Ophelia. You’re from Atlanta. What do I have to do to reach this girl?”
Ophelia stifled an inappropriate giggle as she remembered one or two of her own high jinks at the school. “Southern women tend to be a fairly high spirited lot, Liz. As ya’ll ought to remember.”
“Don’t remind me of your misspent youth while I’m begging you for help,” Carson replied around her last mouthful. “I’m beginning to think I’ve created a monster from her combat final. Sure, it was more than a bit humiliating to have my own rules thrown back into my face mid-lecture, but otherwise Elaine was a fairly model student! Now, in less than a month she’s done eight million dollars worth of damage to Arena 99.”
“That’s not exactly her fault,” Tenent reminded her.
“She got involved in a shootout at Hartsfield Air Port,” countered Carson. “And now the one gadgeteer I was sure wasn’t going to play ‘I can keep up with the exemplars if I just engineer it right’ has built a power suit in three days! She wasn’t even studying power armor, Ophelia!”
“We knew Loophole would be a difficult student when she was admitted, Liz. And Ah warned you about forcing her…”
“Now is not the time for,” and the administrator imitated her friend’s thick accent, “Ah told ya’ll so’s!” They glared for a moment before sharing a giggle. “I’m at my wits end, Opy, and I’m not too proud to admit it.”
“How much trouble is she in?” the doctor inquired. Carson frowned as she balled up the candy bar’s wrapper and dumped it into her waste bucket.
“None, that’s the frustrating part!”
“But, you said…”
“Gloriana and a handful of the FSA and Wild Pack chased her, Gloria even challenged her.” Elisabeth stood and walked over to the window on the sidewall to look out onto the Crystal Hall. “But they didn’t catch her. All Gloria could report was that the person in the suit was female and had a thick southern accent.”
“So, you don’t know…” Tenent started, and then stopped when Carson speared her with her sternest gaze. “Well, lots of folks have mah accent,” she snapped. “Ah wasn’t testing any power armor…”
Carson nodded sharply. “And that’s the problem. I might know it was her, but I can’t do anything about it!” She sighed as she looked out at a handful of students engaged in a snow ball fight in 3 dimensions. “You know that will be the first words out of her mouth if I drag her in here and damn it to blazes she’s right! I’ve been a heroine most of my adult life and even in school, it doesn’t matter what I suspect or know only what I can prove. And while I can prove it was her, if I do I lose the only window I have on what the red headed fiend is cooking up!”
“You talk about her like she’s Lord Paramount!” laughed Tenent.
“She could be,” whispered Elisabeth to herself. “Opy, how many kids, tech heads, come through here with a 100% success rate with what they cook up?”
“Oh,” replied Ophelia.
“God bless Freya for scaring her off weapons.” Carson chuckled darkly to herself. “I’d rather have ten Freya’s than dealing with the sleep I’m losing over Loophole. I tell you, Opy, I have no idea what that girl is really capable of. And she just doesn’t think! As bad as this fiasco is, do you know she toyed with buzzing the International Space Station last night? On a lark with a suit she didn’t know would fly until she jumped out a window!”
“Poor Mrs. Savage,” muttered Tenent. “So, how can Ah help?”
“I have got to find a way to reach this girl and get some sense into that head of hers!” Carson walked back to her desk and sat down, a defeated look on her face. “And at this point I’m open to anything.”
Ophelia thought for a moment then an idea blossomed in her head. “Call up her schedule,” she ordered. “Ah just might have the trick…”
Twain Cottage, Whateley Academy
Tansy cursed under her breath as she picked her through the debris that constantly seemed to clutter male dorms. She didn’t want to be here, nor deal with the stares she was getting from the inmates as well as the House Father. It was, in fact, criminal that she had to stoop to this level in the first place. Hekate or the Don hadn’t had to do things when they ran the Alpha’s. It was all that hairy piece of shit Kodiak’s fault. How dare he scheme behind her back! She would certainly show him who was Queen once she found out what he was up to.
Unfortunately, that required minions.
And the best two she could think of were in this shit hole of a dorm. Finally arriving at the room she wanted Tansy sighed and turned her glamour up to full blast before knocking on the door. A muffled voice urgently ordered, “Quick, hide it!” before in a louder, nasal voice shouted, “Just a minute!”
The door was opened as a breathless-looking Peeper whose excuse to who he thought was the House Father died unspoken on his lips. Then his eyes bugged practically out of their sockets. It wasn’t the first time Solange had been raped with someone’s eyes, but the hungry look she’d never get used to. Regally stepping into the filthy room Tansy reached out and slapped Peeper with all the force her Exemplar strength would allow.
The boy with the X-Ray vision tumbled ass over elbows over a desk without a single portion of free space sending soda cans and candy wrappers flying before coming to a stop on his bed. “Peeper,” growled Tansy tightly. “If you ever look at me that way again…”
“I can’t turn it off!” the boy sobbed as he held his cheek, which had a red imprint of Tansy’s hand rapidly turning blue/black in a bruise.
“Then don’t look at me at all!” she snarled, cowing Greasy further into the corner of the room, doubtlessly at the hiding spot of whatever illicit project they were working on.
“Leave him alone!” the slimy boy growled in defense of his roommate.
“Or what?” Tansy purred. “You’ll tell on me? And make yourselves even more into laughing stocks than you already are? Please.”
Greasy went over to check on Peeper but was shoved away for his trouble in the other boys’ humiliation at being so easily beaten up by a girl. Mastering his own anger he turned back to their unwelcome visitor. “What do you want, Tansy?”
“Kodiak is being difficult,” Walcutt admitted finally, certain she had mastery of the two boys. “He’s meeting with that Robin Hood wannabe Pendragon. And the two of you are going to find out why and tell me.”
It was obvious that would rankle the two morons, but Tansy knew she’d given them enough stick, now was the time for some carrot. “And,” she said, walking over to the pile of blankets that Greasy and been guarding and flipping them over to reveal a disk and a collection of wires and circuit boards. After a moment of looking, Tansy realized she had no idea what she was looking at, however the large poster of herself in particularly revealing outfit over Peeper’s bed gave her an idea. “And,” she went on, “once I have this information, I’ll certainly be more charitably disposed to your little entrepreneurial efforts with my likeness like that one.”
“Really?” managed Peeper, greed over coming pain.
“Hmmm,” Tansy sighed, keeping up a face masterfully. “For sixty percent off the top of course; that should leave you two plenty of coin to get into trouble. But, let me be clear. My information comes first and I don’t want to hear so much as a whisper of this on WARS or anywhere else for that matter!” A final glare to prove her point, Tansy stalked out of the disgusting room, back rigidly straight.
Melville Cottage, RM 803, Whateley Academy
Wyatt tapped at his laptop, growling to himself at how difficult the process was made by his thick fingers and the device’s small keyboard. He’d started keeping a journal once the Don had sleazed his way into the top spot and he knew at some point there’d be a butchers bill to pay. Just the crap he knew of would take weeks to set right, and God alone knew how bad things would be as far as the things he didn’t know about. Fortunately, early at school he’d gotten into the habit of keeping detailed notes he could refer back to so as to help his memory. That was perfect so long as he had a point of reference.
That and Freya had left a number of documents about how she thought the group should proceed in her absence. Some of it was good thinking, some was self-indulgent crap, but at least Cody could pick and choose now. Kodiak didn’t like being in a position where he was under some one else’s thumb and he was bound and determined to keep it from happening again. Be damned if he’d let that little cunt Tansy get the better of him.
Saving his notes to the key drive and removing it from the laptop, Cody then ran the applet he’d paid Ringo to make for him that wiped all traces of it from the computer. The last few days had certainly a lesson to the wise to be cautious about what they kept lying around. Of all the Alpha’s he was one of the few that hadn’t gotten detention for contraband in the search, though Mr. Forrest had raised an eyebrow at Cody’s choice of wall paper for the computer.
The desktop revealed once more, Wyatt took a moment to admire the photograph. It was a still from the video feed of the combat finals, now thankfully over, this one of the object of his current fascination. Loophole was just stepping out into the ‘street’ of the simulator from the waiting room, her phone to her ear and bathed in afternoon sunlight wearing an outfit that left nothing to the imagination.
“Sophomores, Cody?” Mr. Forrest has asked as he plugged in the device the IT department have given him to search the computer. Little did he know that everything he might have been searching for was in the pocket of Wyatt’s flannel shirt at the time. “That’s a little beneath you, isn’t it?”
Wyatt had let a chuckle escape to show the House Father he had nothing to hide. “Mr. Forrest,” he’d drawled. “Can you tell me you wouldn’t want a piece of that?”
The Dorm Father had finished his search in silence, but his glance said everything it needed to. Despite his reputation, Cody wasn’t stupid and it was high time he got about his father’s advice. Yeah, the boy thought to himself, Elaine will do nicely.
His fantasies were interrupted by a knock at the door. “In,” he growled, expecting to see one of the younger kids thinking to buy their way into the Alphas. Instead, the door opened to reveal the buff, hard physique of Arthur ‘Pendragon’ Smith. “Art,” Wyatt greeted in surprise. “Come on in. Didn’t expect to see you so soon.”
“I have a study hall first period that’s pretty lax,” Arthur replied, nodding a greeting to his old roommate as he entered and settled into an over stuffed chair by a small coffee table the spacious single room allowed for. “How are you, Wyatt?”
“Good,” the larger boy rumbled as he gestured at the pot on his desk. “Coffee?”
Art shook his head. “Never got a taste for it,” he said with a nod toward the dorm fridge on one end of the room. “I’ll take a soda if you have one.” Cody nodded and produced a pair of cans before ambling over to the matching chair and settling into it, presenting his guest with the other can. “Scott mentioned you wanted to see me? What’s with the cloak and dagger?”
Cody chuckled darkly as he popped the can and took a long draught. “Giving Tansy a wild goose to chase,” Wyatt replied. “Anybody follow you over here?”
Arthur frowned. “Now that you mention it, I’ve been seeing a lot of Peeper and Greasy today.” Kodiak nodded and shook his head.
“Sorry about that. I’ll snatch those two in line later.”
“Based on the bruise Peeper’s sporting I’d say you already had.” Wyatt tisked to himself; yet another entry on the Butcher’s Bill to settle. Art caught sight of Wyatt’s wallpaper and chuckled. “So, who’s the latest conquest? And do you ever plan on sticking with one?”
“Yes,” he replied, as he pointed with the can. “You never met Loophole?”
Art considered for a moment and shook his head. “No, but of course I’d heard of her. Not everybody that gets the best of Mrs. Carson, but she never rushed FSA. She’s one of the Lit Chix isn’t she?”
“Yep, and from I’ve heard she’s a real straight arrow. I’m kind of surprised she didn’t go that route. Still, it’s hard to say which way the techies will jump.”
“What’s your interest?”
“You met my folks that summer you came up. What do you remember?” Art frowned.
“Cody, what’s going on? You feeling lonely and felt the need for twenty questions?”
“Hey, you asked about her. I was only humoring an old friend. Didn’t think you were interested in what’s going on in my life any more. You’re doing good, top spot of FSA, a million dollar morsel like Gloriana hanging on your arm, what’s not to like?”
“You ought to remember I worked hard on getting with Gloria. Meanwhile you were busy sowing wild oats with damn near every girl with a pulse at this school. If none of them will give you the time of day anymore you only have yourself to blame.”
Cody took a long drink of the soda and thought to himself for a moment, collecting his thoughts. “Yeah, you’re right, it is my fault. The old man was captain of the football team back in the day; you know he had an ok run in the majors too for a while.”
Art rolled his eyes remembering the room in Cody’s house his father had made into a shrine for himself in his glory days. “How could I forget? Still, he and your mom were high school sweethearts, weren’t they?” Wyatt nodded. “How did you fall so far from the family tree?”
“I didn’t, really,” he whispered. “Anyway, I wanted to ask your help with something.”
Smith’s eyes danced between his friend and the image on the laptop before the screen saver kicked on and covered the photograph. Art realized he’d gotten all that Wyatt would say on the matter. “Ok, Cody, what’s going on?”
Kodiak sniffed and held up a finger to have his guest wait while he stood and ambled over the dorm’s door with surprising stealth. Gently placing the can down the big man snatched the door open with speed no one would give him credit for. He reached out, plucked up the two luckless freshmen listening behind it, drug them both into the room and kicked his door shut again. “What do we have here?” he laughed darkly as Peeper and Greasy struggled uselessly in his grip.
“You…you just going to sit there?” demanded Peeper of Arthur as he calmly sipped at his drink.
“I’m not the one who is on a floor they shouldn’t be, spying on someone they shouldn’t be spying on,” the leader of the Cape Squad replied with a smile.
“So,” rumbled Kodiak in his most menacing tone of voice. “What did Tansy pay you two to spy on me?”
“She didn’t!” squeaked Peeper.
“Forty percent rights to her likeness for our shoulder angel holograms,” Greasy quickly admitted at the same time. Peeper shot his roomy a dirty look but said nothing. “What?” demanded Greasy. “You think he won’t get that out of us?”
“Wise choice,” said Kodiak as his rugged good looks vanished behind the visage of the primal spirit of the Bear that dwelled within him. His massive hands now ended in razor sharp talons and golden brown fur rippled over thick cords of muscle. It was all the two boys could do to keep from wetting themselves in fright. “Now,” the Bear continued. “You two are going to go back to that bitch and you’re going to tell her that I was desperately asking my old room mate’s advice on how to get into a meaningful relationship! That you heard us talk for an hour about how Art won Gloria and how he gave me a pile of meaningless drivel about flowers and chocolates and gifts that would mean something to the girl. Got that?”
“Why…why would she care…?” stammered Peeper, his eyes wide in fear.
Greasy looked between his friend and their captor. “Who do you want us to say you were talking about?” he asked softly. The bear spirit returned to whatever realm he came from, leaving the almost as threatening form of the big senior who was bullet proof and could bend steel bars.
Cody smiled an unpleasant smile and carefully set Greasy down. “Good boy, when pressed you tell her that at the start of the conversation you distinctly heard me ask if Art had ever met Loophole. Got it?” Greasy nodded quickly. “Now, you tell her anything other than that I will find out about it boys, and I won’t be in a very pleasant mood when I come have words with you about your indiscretions.”
Greasy thought for a moment before quietly asking, “Should we tell her that Pendragon told you that your problem was you slept around and what not?”
Kodiak growled, but finally nodded. “Don’t get too creative, just whatever she needs to hear to buy it.” The big senior released Peeper to fall to the floor. “Now get lost, the grown ups are talking.” The two freshmen scampered out the door as quickly as they could, neither looking back. After making sure they were both gone, Cody closed his door once more and turned back to his guest. “So Art, I’ve got a pile of dead wood in the Alphas thanks to Donny boy. Care to help me take out the trash?”
Art snorted a laugh into his drink. “Cody, what are you up to?”
The Quad, Whateley Academy
Nancy pulled her coat tighter and tried not to feel sorry for herself. There weren’t many times that Tansy was especially forthright about things and when she was, like she had been last night, things were generally frightening. While Nancy hadn’t had long to get used to the perks of being number two female in the Alphas, it was a very nice getting used to and didn’t take much work.
When Tansy had ranted for nearly an hour last night about Kodiak scheming behind her back Nancy realized for the first time just how closely her fate was tied to Solange. If Kodiak managed to wiggle out from under Tansy’s thumb, if it could be argued he was there in the first place, then it didn’t take an exemplar to figure out that Tansy’s time there, along with anyone who hung out with Tansy, would be short in the Alphas. Nancy liked very much being on the campus A list and would do whatever it took to stay there.
Even if staying there meant missing classes, threatening her GPA and waiting in this miserable cold. Nancy knew that Tansy had enlisted Peeper and Greasy to do her spying but Nancy also knew those two imbeciles couldn’t be counted on. Heyley was already following them, which left Nancy to keep tabs on their real goal. Flicker caught sight of Kodiak walking from Melville with Pendragon, both seniors laughing about old times. Bending the light around her, Flicker carefully got close enough to eaves drop; it was time to go to work.
Devisor Imaging and Planning Lab, Kane Hall Tunnels, Whateley Academy
“Quickly, quickly,” scolded Mr. Paulson over the ringing of the tardy bell as the final stragglers made their way into the Devisor Imaging Lab. These were forced into the front desks of the small teaching area of the lab, way station of the late to class. There weren’t many as Advanced Defensive Technologies was a class most of the Power suit drivers couldn’t wait to get into to.
Indeed, most had worn their creations to class, either from a sense of showing off or pleading for help, Elaine wasn’t sure. She felt rather conspicuous in her uniform, and the odd fact that she was the only female in the class. “Good morning people.” Mr. Paulson’s rich baritone pulled the eyes off the rare sight of a techie female and back to the head of the class. “Welcome to ADT. I’ll be your guide on this journey we’re going to take together. If you don’t know, my name is Langley Paulson, and you may have heard of some of my exploits from before you were born. Yes, I was the original Tin Man which was between 1958 and 1981 for those of you who failed history, and no, before you ask, I don’t know who the current Tin Man is.”
Elaine kept her surprise in check. If she had been pressed, she would have guessed that Mr. Paulson was in his middle forties, still trim and athletic, but salt was peeking through the pepper in his hair and there were crows’ feet around the corners of his eyes from smiling. He wore a Van Dyke beard close, as was his hair, just far enough out from a flat top to comb. Sparkling blue eyes danced behind horn rimed glasses on a neck chain. He opted for the relaxed teacher look of one of the school’s crest polo shirts and chinos.
He picked up a clipboard from his desk to call the roll but was interrupted by a knock at the door. Opening it revealed a stocky young man of African-American descent dressed in the female version of the school’s uniform, complete with its plaid knee skirt. “Sorry to be late, Mr. Paulson,” the boy said, offering a sheet of paper out, but not to the teacher. “I had to get my final exception to be in the class today.”
Langley took the note from the boy and read it. “Mister Turner, you understand this class is held for sophomores for a reason, yes?”
“Yes sir, I would be a sophomore already except for my mutation…”
“What I mean, son, is this will be a very advanced class. If you don’t think you can keep up…”
“I want to be here, sir, I’ll apply myself.”
Paulson nodded, and then caught himself as he realized the young man was blind. “Alright son, take a seat.”
Jericho beamed. “Thank you sir.”
“And, Mister Turner, tomorrow, I expect to see you wearing the boys version of the school uniform. I’m showing you respect by allowing you into a class you may not be ready to take. I expect the same courtesy from you.”
The grin faded somewhat. “Yes sir.”
“Good man.” Roll call quickly out of the way, the teacher turned to the dry erase board behind him and quickly scratched out his points as he made them in a neat, precise hand. “Power, lady and gentlemen, is the bugbear we’re going to be hunting. As most of you have already discovered, the power end of the power armor equation is without a doubt the greatest stumbling block we will face. Some of you approach the problem by using cartridge-based weapons. Some of you by redundant arrays of capacitors and battery packs, some of you have experimented with more exotic drive systems and I know of one disastrous attempt to power a suit from bio-electricity that resulted in a young man being in a coma for a week.”
He underlined the word and turned back to his class. “Make no mistake, lady and gentlemen, power will be the highest hurdle we will have to over come. Now, I notice most of you already have a design in the prototype stage or better. Miss Nalley, as you’re somewhat conspicuous by your lack of armor, what can you tell us of your work in this field?”
Feeling the eyes of the class return to her, Elaine fought down a panic attack and cleared her throat. “Well, sir, Ah threw together something last night which Ah’ve had ok luck with so far, but Ah haven’t exactly put it through it’s paces yet.”
“You went to prototype in a single day?” the teacher demanded.
“Well, not exactly,” Loophole hedged. “Ah started sketching stuff out over Christmas break and a bit before.”
“I’ll look forward to seeing this,” Paulson said after a moment. “We’re going to start with reviewing the designs we already have, and then we’ll begin tweaking these extant prototypes into more finalized designs. Now, before anyone gets worried or dodgy, let me say that any results of this class that can be patented will automatically be so filed under the terms of the school guidelines. There will be no cheating, borrowing or out and out theft in this class. Anyone caught using technology of a class mate without the inventors consent witnessed by me will automatically fail this class and be subject to further disciplinary action under the school’s ethic’s board. Is that clear?”
Langley nodded as the class echoed their understanding and broke out a grin familiar to every tech geek and gear head that’s ever started a new project. “Alright, let’s get to work! Load up your designs in your bays and let’s see where we can improve!”
Elaine headed back to her workstation, wondering if taking this class was a good idea after all. Already she was unsettled by the rather constant presence of the boys’ eyes on her and their perpetual smiles. It was unnerving to say the least. Sure, she’d had to prove herself in the vehicle bay last year, but she hadn’t been stared at the whole time she was doing it. Hostility, being treated as someone who needed to prove she belonged, that she was prepared for.
Naked lust was new and she wasn’t sure she liked it.
Nevertheless she got the drive locked into its slot and collected the thimbles while she waited. She wasn’t prepared to find the entire class clustered around the opening of her bay when she turned and only just kept in a squeal of surprise. Mr. Paulson chuckled disarmingly. “Ladies first,” he said with a smile.
“Ah know what Ah’m doing!” she snapped, assuming this was some kind of competency test.
“So do I,” Langley replied. “That would be why I’m the teacher. I’m not singling you out, Miss Nalley, I’d actually been hoping you would take this class so I could see first hand the girl the other shop teachers were talking about. Please, continue.”
“Sorry,” the red head muttered in contrite embarrassment. A few vaguely arcane gestures brought up the schematic she wanted. “This is the initial prototype,” she said, falling into the lecturer’s mode most techies used when disseminating a project for peer review. The suit took shape in the holographic well in a T pose, rotating slowly, which slowly took the boy’s attentions, if only to begin to imagine Loophole wearing it.
“The Mark I prototype is primarily a test unit for power, flight and control subsystems. Flight is achieved by use of monopole based magnetic drive that reacts with the Earth’s native magnetic field to achieve levitation. It is also the primary drive system for exo-atmospheric use.”
“The suit is intended for space flight?” asked Hard Sell before Mr. Paulson shushed him.
“Hold questions until after presentation please, gentlemen,” he scolded.
Elaine nodded. “Ah, well, it’s mah hope to work for either NASA or Scaled Composites in the private sector for space development, so, yes, to answer the question; the suit is designed for use in space. As such it maintains a complete air seal, radiation protections and other needs of an astronaut. The monopole drive eliminates the need for gas reaction thrusters and makes the suit a vehicle in its own right. Primary control for the unit is achieved by gesture interpretation by the unit’s primary computer. With a little practice, the suit reacts to the user how the user would expect it to react. There’s also a verbal interaction subsystem with the computer.
“The unit is equipped with a complete air and water recycling system as well biometric sensors throughout. The improvement over the current NASA issue pressure suit is, arguably two hundred percent. The user is not noticeably aware of the unit; it does not interfere with movement and should have a hard vacuum use life of nine or ten months.”
“Is that nine or ten…” started Iron Monger before he cut himself off with a glance at Mr. Paulson.
“Ah’m finished, sorry,” Elaine replied. “Questions?”
“Is that nine or ten months of use before maintenance or…?”
Elaine shook her head. “That’s at a stretch. The current issue pressure suit is good for a maximum EVA of nine hours. This suit is an amalgamation of the suit and vehicle paradigms, the astronaut can don the suit at the Cape, fly into orbit under his own power, stay there for weeks at a stretch and then return, again under his own power.”
All traces of decorum left the students as questions, protestations and shouts of disbelief all competed to be heard. An ear splitting whistle from the teacher brought silence once again. Grinning, he shook his head as he observed, “Never let it be said that you don’t set your sights high, Miss Nalley. I’ll have to caution you to confine your flight tests to 1000 feet until I can get clearance for an exo-atmospheric test. After, of course, a rigorous test in the vacuum chamber for leaks and integrity. So, moving on, Mister Turner, I believe you are across the way here, let’s see what you have in mind.”
Elaine didn’t follow the other students as each gave a presentation of their current project. To be honest, she wasn’t interested in either the junior superhero set or the would be Military-Industrial Complex members. While Mr. Paulson’s opening remarks were somewhat reassuring, she fretted over some of this technology going public. So she stewed for several minutes, knowing that Friday was the last day of drop/add wondering what she would do.
She was so lost in her thoughts she didn’t hear Jericho’s soft tenor at first, forcing the young man to repeat himself. “How will you power this?” he asked again after a touch on her shoulder startled her back into the here and now. “Sorry,” he added with a grin.
“What?” she asked, the gears of her brain struggling to change tracks. “Oh, the suit is completely electrical, fed by a devise battery in the back pack.” Turner frowned.
“A lie is a terrible way to say hello,” he quoted softly. “To my knowledge everything you’ve ever made has been completely reproducible, so if this is a devise it’s your first.”
Elaine became cross at being seen through and frowned. “What do ya’ll care, Jericho? You’ve never had to worry about something you made killing somebody.”
“No,” the boy replied thoughtfully. “But then I tend to specialize more than you. Mr. Paulson had it right; power is the big stumbling block we all face. I can barely get my Rafe armor to run full out for thirty minutes. You’re talking about an electrical system working for months at a stretch in the hostile environment. If you’re telling the truth, and knowing your reluctance to fudge things on a project you must have solved it. As my target market is paramedics responding to paranormal emergencies I was hoping you and I could collaborate.”
“Ah certainly wouldn’t be averse to helping,” she replied.
“But you’re not going to give me a clue as to how that power plant works, are you?” he replied with a sideways grin. He waved off her protests never losing his smile. “It’s ok, trust is something everybody ought to earn. Just give me a chance. Now, let me show you what I have so far and you tell me what you think.”
The Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Nancy poked half heartedly at her salad and brooded. Normally when she had dirt this juicy she’d be bubbling with excitement and thinking of ways to exploit it. Now she was filled with a sick dread that sat in the pit of her stomach and was ruining her appetite. She watched Fade come up to their place at the Alpha table looking angry and realizing her day probably hadn’t gone any better. Heyley slapped her tray down in disgust and fumed across the table at her only real friend. “Those two idiots got caught!” she fumed. “The brilliant devisor resorts to listening through a key hole and X-Ray Vision Boy is right there with him!”
“Oh, it gets worse,” muttered Flicker. “I followed Cody and mixed in with the football crap and the other drivel boys talk about I got the mother of all golden nuggets dropped on me.”
Fade perked up at once. “That’s great! Tansy will…”
“Be furious,” Nancy interrupted. “Evidently, Cody’s dad filled his head full of some crap about ‘sowing his wild oats’ and enjoying being ‘big man on campus’ or whatever the hell that means…”
Heyley snatched her roll apart and took a bite out of one half. “You’re not making sense, Nancy!”
The other girl rolled her eyes. “If you’d let me,” she gasped as if the weight of the world were pressing down on her. “What his father told him and what he’s acting on now is that after he’s done all that he should find his wife before he leaves high school!”
Heyley blinked and chewed, her expression obvious that she didn’t follow. “Why would that make Tansy mad?”
“Because he hasn’t picked Tansy!” Nancy growled with exasperation. “He picked Loophole!”
Fade blinked again with even greater confusion. “Loophole? Loophole! That red headed, tomboy car freak? Why either of us are prettier…!” Flicker nodded to encourage her friend on her present line of thought.
“That’s why he’s picked her.” Nancy quickly held up her hand to cut off Heyley’s protest of non-logic. “Cody’s dad picked a nerd to marry after he had his way with all the cheerleaders in his old high school. Now she’s a doctor or something and just disgustingly dotes on the jock has been.” It took her a moment but Heyley finally worked through what she’d just been told.
“We can’t tell Tansy that!” she squealed, then quickly looked about to see if she’d been over heard. Fortune, however smiled at the two girls and their tablemates had learned to ignore them long ago. Heyley continued in a more sedate tone. “Tansy will kill us if she finds out Cody would rather bang that nerd than her! I mean, honestly, think how humiliating that would be for Tansy to lose to that gangly balloon breasted tomboy!”
With great effort, Nancy kept her teeth from grinding in frustration. “Think what it will do to us!” she snapped. “If Kodiak shacks up with Loophole as a prelude to getting her to marry him, what do you think will happen to Tansy?”
“Oh, that’s terrible, having to be second Alpha to a sophomore…”
Flicker rolled her eyes. “You don’t honestly think that Tansy will be an Alpha once Kodiak installs Loophole as his queen do you?”
Heyley permitted herself a vicious giggle. “Drag queen is more like it…”
“Heyley,” Nancy asked after a sigh to keep her temper in check. “How long do you think we will be in the Alphas if Tansy isn’t?”
At last, a light lit behind her friend’s cornflower blue eyes. “Oh, shit.” The gears turned loudly for several moments as Heyley desperately thought of a way to keep her status. “We can’t tell Tansy…”
“And if we don’t do something we’ll get thrown out of the Alphas with Tansy!”
Heyley paused, mid-rant and looked at her best friend. “What if Cody doesn’t pick Loophole?”
“Why wouldn’t he?”
“Well, if she were the biggest laughing stock in the school even Cody couldn’t be around her without losing status, right? And you can’t be in charge of the Alphas if you’re hanging around with a laughing stock, right? Besides, think how furious Loophole would be if she found out Cody only wants her because she’s ugly and smart.”
An evil fire lit behind Nancy’s eyes. “Heyley, that’s the smartest thing you’ve ever said…!”
“Hey, don’t insult me!”
Joanne found the table she was looking for by seeking out the biggest intelligent creature she had ever seen in her short life. Even ducking low so he could talk on the level of the kids clustered at the table, the boy was absolutely huge. She didn’t have a tray with her yet as she plopped into the seats between Thorn and Buck, the Boy of No Common Sense.
“What are you doing here?” Buck of course, hadn’t seen her since they parted ways after the orientation, for good reason.
She looked at him and gave him an open-palm whack over the back of his head. “You have not re-earned your speaking privileges after pointing your gun at me yesterday.”
Buck muttered something about it not being a gun, but lowered his eyes to her angry glare. “I’m sorry, ok? I didn’t mean to hurt anyone.”
Joanne nodded. “That’s fine, but my daddy taught me that you never draw a weapon unless you intend to use it, ever. Show me you’re sorry by learning that.” She turned back to the table and the silent pack of kids she’d gone through orientation with and noted Ghost-Arm’s paranoid glare with some satisfaction.
She noted that Kerry was giving her an odd look, and Thorn actually looked more amused than anything. Froggy wasn’t looking at her, and she grimaced. “Guys, I’m not gonna be long, so I’d like to borrow the big guy here.” She looked at Froggy quietly until he realized the silence and looked up at her. “Can I borrow you for a bit? Please?”
Froggy looked at the rest of the newbie crew and sighed, nodding. Joanne started walking outside the Hall, and stopped about fifty feet away from anyone else. He ambled up and waited.
“Hey, look, I know I’m not exactly the best speaker in the world but I wanted to say I’m sorry.” She looked up at him.
“What for?” The boy, Joanne had to remind herself constantly, had an amazing voice completely at odds with his death-frog appearance.
“Yesterday, the whole freak-fit I had when I saw you at first.” She looked frustrated, more with herself than anyone else. “You didn’t deserve that, and I wanted you to know I’d like to take another crack at least of being a friend.”
Joanne couldn’t be sure if the expression the giant reptile-amphibian kid was a smile, a grin, or a prelude to an ass beating. Fortunately the tones of his voice told the tale. “You still did better than about everyone back home. But thanks, I appreciate it.”
“Cool, now if you would allow me, I would like to sit with you all for a bit, kinda get to know you better, and try my level best not to have a mangler moment.” Joanne turned to a seemingly empty slice of space occupied only by two empty shoes. Clown shoes actually. “Come on Ecto-Gasm, I’m being nice to your buddy, let’s go inside before you two die of exposure.”
Thorn materialized with a hurt expression. “Ecto-Gasm?”
Joanne grinned widely. “Well if you’re gonna play prank the smart ass, expect witty rejoinder and character assassination.”
Froggy chuckled, and held the door open. “Ladies first.”
Joanne grinned as Thorn strutted through the door with a nod and a crisp “Rightly so.”
“He’s got some issues.” Froggy watched his self-appointed protector meander back to the group, pausing only to compliment the most horrifically dressed boy Joanne had ever seen on his dapper choices of attire.
“Oh dear god, is that boy…” Froggy stared in mute shock and horror.
Joanne chuckled to herself. “Yup. That’s Hello Kitty alright.”
“Seems like we’re not the only nuts loose in the marble factory.” Joanne grinned. “Now let’s go kill a cow before I’m forced to eat someone or something.”
The gentle British monster just shook his head as he led the way to the table with the other newcomers to Whateley. “So are you planning to hang out at the table a lot?”
“No idea big guy. I bumped into a pack of nerd-girls who are about my speed. They share my particular brand off intellectual crack.”
Froggy just shrugged and led the way. “Whatever you say.”
“Come on. I’ll tell you about ‘em at the table.”
Whitman Cottage, Rm 216
“You slept with him!?” squealed Maggie as she and her roommate shared their mid-afternoon down time between classes at their dorm room. Elaine urged her roommate to quiet as she put her books away and got ready for the afternoon set.
“Ah wish,” she growled, then sighed and shook her head. “And it weren’t for a lack of trying on mah part either. Cody was a perfect gentleman if you must know. Once Ah explained the situation to him he got me to this secret passage that runs parallel to the stairs and down into the basement at Melville. From there Ah got into the tunnel system and got back here about an hour after lights out.”
“So you tried and he took a pass, huh?” replied her friend in condolence.
“It’s weird,” Elaine replied. “Ah got the feeling he really wanted to, but he was a little wierded out by mah being aggressive.”
“How aggressive?” demanded Maggie.
“It’s not like Ah flashed mah tits at him or anything,” snorted Elaine indignantly. “Still, Ah’m pretty sure he knew the offer was on the table. It was…Ah dunno, Maggie, it was just the wrong timing Ah guess.”
Maggie chewed over that for a moment as she rubbed her chin. “You think he’s interested, still?”
Loophole shrugged as she dug the textbook she wanted out of her closet. “Ah think so, Ah hope so anyways. It’s like…” The red head would have continued but was interrupted by an authoritative knock on the door. Maggie, being closest opened it, to reveal the shapely form of Mrs. Savage holding a slip of paper.
“Hello Maggie,” she greeted with a warm smile. “Elaine, I just got a message from Administration. It seems one of your classes was full and you got re-assigned.”
“Oh, not Principals of Space Craft Engineering!” whined Elaine as she took the note. “Ah’ve been waiting a year to get into that class!”
The housemother rubbed her arm in condolence. “It will be there next semester,” she told her. Elaine read the note, a look of growing horror on her face. “What, dear?” asked Savage innocently, knowing what the girl was reading.
“No! No!” exploded Elaine. “Ah don’t care if Ah have to take French Ah am not going to take Applied Powered Combat! Ah haven’t even taken Team Tactics and that’s the pre-requisite!”
Mrs. Savage frowned. “You know that can be waived based on Combat Finals, Elaine, and you certainly showed a strong side in your last one.”
“God Damn it, Ah’m not a superhero!” Elaine screamed in frustration. “Ah don’t care if Ah have to get Carson involved…” The tirade was squelched as if a spigot turned off by Mrs. Savage casually reaching out and slapping the young girl sharply across the face.
Without changing tones, the House Mother injected molten steel into her rebuke that was not to be argued with. “That’s enough, Miss Nalley! I may let you girls get away with murder, but be damned if I’ll let you blaspheme in my presence. Further, if you are going to invoke the Headmistress you’ll address her as Headmistress or Mrs. Carson! Do we have an understanding?”
Elaine held her cheek, stung in more ways than one by the sudden iron the House Mother had injected into herself. “Yes, Ma’am,” she mumbled.
“Now, as touching this class you have only yourself to blame. We both know what you were doing last night and if you’re going to play in that league, you’re going to learn how.”
“No, Elaine, no buts. No rules, no anything.” Mrs. Savage straightened her blouse and smiled at the young girl to take the sting from her words. “Now, you’ve been assigned to Team Phoenix, which, is rather appropriate don’t you think? Your Captain is down stairs in the common room. Put whatever you were playing with last night on and come get acquainted. You’ll be heading over to the simulators shortly.”
Savage withdrew and shut the door leaving Maggie to shake her head. “Wow, I’ve never seen her like that before…! And what’s so apropos about Team Phoenix?”
Elaine sniffed back tears and stifled a laugh at the same time, a most unpleasant experience. “Resurgens is the Latin motto of Atlanta and the official heraldry of the city is of a Phoenix, it symbolizes the rebirth of the city after Sherman burned it in the War Between the States,” she replied sullenly. Elaine walked a circle in confusion before exclaiming, “She hit me!”
Maggie smiled cockeyed as she ruffled her friend’s hair. “Darlin’ you needed to be hit. You were winding yourself up for a killer tirade.”
“This isn’t fair!” Elaine countered. “She didn’t catch me! Nobody caught me and damn it to hell, Ah waited a year for this class!”
“Yeah, well, she may not have caught you, and maybe she can’t prove anything. But sure as a bull shits in a field, she knows what you were up to last night. Count your blessings, girl friend. Now you got the perfect excuse to test all that gee whiz stuff you just invented and you can do it all out in the open.” Seeing her friend’s face suffuse with red, repressed rage Maggie chuckled to herself as she turned and snatched a pillow off her bed and handed it to her roommate. “Go on,” she ordered. “You’ll feel better after.”
Elaine rolled her eyes, but took the pillow, buried her face in it and screamed her lungs out for a solid minute. Winded, she sank down to her bed and clutched the pillow for consolation. “Thanks,” she muttered. “Ah still think this is bullshit.”
Maggie smiled at her friend. “You wouldn’t be you if you didn’t. So, come on, let me see this thing that’s got everybody so riled up.”
“Ah just didn’t want to get caught with mah britches down again,” Elaine replied as she opened her desk drawer and removed the PDA from inside. “Like at the airport.”
“Quit stalling,” drawled Maggie. The mage watched her friend manipulate the PDA then had to turn away from a bone chilling flash of light that seemed wrong to every fiber of her being. Her stomach rolled in protest, but when she turned back her roommate was wearing a skin tight black and white body suit that had a fair amount of metal reinforcements in strategic places, gauntlets, greaves and a heavy looking back pack with a number of vanes spiking up off of it whose purposes weren’t readily apparent. She was holding a helmet in her hands, similarly covered in vanes or perhaps antenna aerials with yellow lenses for eyes.
“Are you ok?” asked Loophole as she put down the helmet and walked over.
“I’ll be alright,” gasped Maggie. “Watching that made me sick for some reason. You didn’t feel anything?”
Elaine shrugged, an exaggerated gesture through the armor. “Nope, a kind of itchy tingle for a couple of seconds, but that’s it.” Maggie forced a smile and patted Elaine on the arm, below the shoulder pad so she could feel it.
“I’ll be alright,” she repeated. “You go on and meet the Captain and tell me if there’s a studly bright side to this tonight.”
“You’re the best, Mags!” Elaine replied as she scooped up the helmet and walked out the door. The walk through the hallways was more than a bit embarrassing for Elaine as her cottage-mates came and went. They all stopped to stare at her new armor, which was uncomfortable, as she was never used to being in the spotlight. That feeling only became more intense as she got down the flight of steps and into the common room.
Waiting for her was a tall, rugged young man in brown, skin tight wrestlers top and trunks, both of which advertised his fit physique. Sturdy looking combat boots bulged around calves whose cords of well-defined muscle could have been chiseled by Michelangelo. Fingerless gloves complicated the magician’s trick of walking a half-dollar across his knuckles as he waited, but couldn’t keep him from the feat. That came to a stop and the room was lit with his smile as he caught sight of her in the doorway.
The Captain of Team Phoenix was Wyatt ‘Kodiak’ Cody.
General Classroom 22, Laird Hall
“And here we are,” announced Cody as he held the door open for Elaine. “Afternoon everybody. Meet Loophole, who’s joining the team today.” Elaine only entered the room under the propulsion of knowing if she stopped Cody likely wouldn’t. She faced five relative strangers who now had her as the center of their attention. Closest was a young Eurasian boy of somewhere between 16 and 17. His black hair was spiked with entirely too much hair gel and mischief gleamed in dark eyes as he nodded a greeting. He was wearing a set of black BDUs, complete with boots and a harness/repelling rig that was covered in pouches and bags while he played with a knife that could stand in as a short sword in a routine too fast to follow. “Interface,” greeted Elaine.
“Nice outfit,” he admired with a gleaming smile. “Why haven’t we seen that one before?”
“This old thing?” laughed Elaine nervously.
Next to him was a well-built young man that was trying the Thor look on for size; a metallic harness, shorts that had been made from some kind of extremely furry animal, leggings, boots and bracers. His cream corn yellow hair hung in straight lines to his jaw, which was a considerable distance as long as his face was. Still, a heroic lantern jaw with a cleft chin and icy blue eyes made up for the fact he had only a cut dancer’s build to fill out the outfit as apposed to a piece of comic book homoerotism. “Let me introduce Bifrost,” Wyatt interjected with a clap of the boys’ shoulder that would have staggered most. “How’s it hanging Lornze?”
The Swedish paragon shrugged. “Can’t complain, Cody.”
“This is Kali,” Cody continued, indicating one of the two women that were quietly taking in the introductions with amused expressions. The shorter of the two, was of mixed American and Japanese ancestry bowed a lovely oval face with an oddly crooked nose from the neck. She was wearing a scarlet cheongsam that you might expect a prostitute to sport as cut down and short was it was, but she managed to wear it fairly modestly. It was obvious it wouldn’t hinder her movements in the slightest. A number of belts and straps that didn’t have an immediate use completed the costume. She offered a handshake Elaine took.
“Elaine Nalley,” the sophomore replied, some what intimidated by the senior’s easy grace.
“Last, but never least,” Cody continued to the taller of the two girls. “We have the inestimable Zenith.”
“You’d think that would be too big a word for him,” the tall girl chided with a roll of her sapphire blue eyes. Her own outfit was an interesting mix of skin tight leggings and flowing top that put one in mind of martial arts gi. They certainly showcased a body to die for; slinky, lithe, graceful, and yet athletic.
“It’s funny, Mr. Lord said the same thing when I popped antidisestablishmentarianism on him a bunch of years ago,” laughed the big senior. “Now, out of the uniforms we’ve got Randy Welles, Lornze Gottfrey, Kat you know and Zoë Nesmith.”
“Ve getting bumped to six man team, Cody?” demanded Lornze, his voice still carrying a Swedish lilt to it. Kodiak spread his hands in a helpless gesture.
“Pressure of being the best, Lor,” the big man replied.
Bifrost considered this for a moment before turning to Elaine. “And vhat is your story, fröcken? I not see you on the combat track before. All of a sudden you decide to stop reading about fighting so you can experience firsthand, ja?”
Elaine frowned and set her hands on her hip. “Ah didn’t ask to upset your little sewing circle,” she snapped. “Ah’m supposed to be building space ships right now, but somebody decided otherwise, so here Ah am.”
“Knock it off, Gottfrey,” warned Randy from his knife twirling.
“Vhy?” the older boy demanded. “The little rules lawyer going to hurt me? Just because she’s got a pretty costume doesn’t mean she’s earned a place here.”
“Phoenix is a training team, Lor,” growled Kodiak. “We don’t get to say who’s on or how, and you know that, but I don’t recall anybody giving you a hard time when you got assigned.”
The blond shot to his feet and got up nose to chest with the bigger senior. “Maybe that’s because vhen I got here I vas on the stat board! I show vhat I can do! Now I have to carry veight of a shrinking violet to save my GPA? How is that right?”
Elaine’s blood boiling over rode her unease at being in a new setting and she marched over to the current object of her ire and spun him around to face her. “Now you wait just a cotton picking minute. Ah might not be hanging with the FSA crowd, but Ah’ll be damned if Ah take that out of some mumbo jumbo bolt lobber with delusions of god hood! You want to match science verses that arcane crap you toss around name a time and place and Ah’ll fix your little red wagon but good!”
Kat leaned over and casually pushed the Norseman back a step. “Lornze, southern girls are vicious when provoked. I think you proved your point, now you best shut up before she proves hers on your face.”
“I’d pay money to see that,” chuckled Interface.
“I wouldn’t want to handicap it,” piped in Zenith. Before the tension in the group could escalate further, the door was opened to the blocky bulk of Gunnery Sergeant Bardue, the remains of a cigar clinched in his teeth and a set of binders under one arm.
“At ease,” he snapped, mostly from force of habit as he made his way to the podium. “Since I can see everybody is here, we’ll skip roll call.”
Elaine reluctantly turned from the scowling Swede and put on her best southern belle face. “Gunny, Ah’d like to respectfully request…”
“Denied,” the sergeant snapped as he got the binders settled. “You’re here for the long haul, Loophole, so get used to it.” Finally having the binders arranged to his liking, the blocky military man looked each of his charges in the face. “Alright, ladies, welcome to Applied Powered Combat, or as I like to affectionately refer to it, Gunny’s Sadistic Torture Hour. You are going to be pushed, and honed, and refined until, when I’m done with you, you’ll be able to look into the Gates of Hell and laugh. Oh, and just so we’re clear, this classes final exams will feature live rounds, full contact combat and sitting out will not be an option. Is everyone clear on that?”
“What?” asked Elaine when the weight of everyone’s eyes on her became heavy. “Somebody had to try it sooner or later!”
Gunny snorted; a gesture of a crazed bull about to charge. “Once was enough on that ride, Loophole. Now, normally you ladies would be dancing in Arena 99, but as it’s down thanks to persons who shall remain nameless, we’ll have to make to do with Arena 91. Cody, as you’ve got a greenhorn we’ll take it easy this once. Half your team has to survive for thirty minutes, with a bonus if you can find it. Get your game faces on and be the start booth in five minutes.”
Start booth of Arena 91, underneath Laird Hall
“Why use the arenas when they’ve got the computer simulators?” Loophole demanded as the door to the booth opened and the six teenagers entered to await their fate. “No chance of getting hurt and it’s as real…?”
“Not the point,” chuckled Cody as he adjusted a set of pads on his elbows. “Team Tactics uses them because your powers aren’t the point. The computer simulates them just fine, at the levels it knows them at. This about pushing your powers, where as the computer sims are all about the team work. It’s a different dynamic.”
“Ov course that assumes little fröcken has powers to begin with.”
“Ah am about to knock the taste out of your mouth, Bifrost.”
“Game faces!” snapped Cody as he stretched his neck until it popped. His form shimmered like a heat mirage for a moment before growing like a glob of lava lamp goo, fur sprouting around the wrestlers’ tights until Kodiak was his namesake once more. The Primal Bear turned back into his team, jaw’s salivating in the anticipation of the coming action. “You hang back, Loophole,” he growled. “With all the holdouts I know you’ve built into that thing I want to use you as a free safety.”
Elaine nodded as she donned the helmet and took a hesitant step back while it linked to the rest of the suit and energized. An air horn sounded and the doors snapped open. As soon as he could clear them Kodiak leapt thirty feet from a standing start into the space beyond.
The group found themselves in an open, drab concrete space rather like a parking garage, gray square pillars of concrete every twenty feet or so. The ceiling was only ten feet, negating any advantage to flight. Elaine trotted out at the end of the expanding bubble of Team Phoenix that formed around Kodiak’s advanced position. “Clear right,” whispered Interface, some kind of submachine gun in his hands. Elaine wasn’t sure where he’d gotten it.
“Clear left,” replied Kali over the door of the start booth closing with a rather awful finality.
Elaine pressed the button on her gauntlet that put Carmen into quiet mode, knowing the computer would alert her if things became life threatening, but would otherwise remain silent. The enhanced mode of her vision allowed her to pick up their first clue, which she communicated as quietly as the speaker grill would allow. “Residual heat from foot steps going down to that steel door.”
Kodiak sniffed at the air, before making a ‘follow me’ gesture and ambled towards the door at the deceptively fast pace bears could set. The team followed, always keeping a bubble shape that allowed them to react to danger from any direction. Almost as if they’d rehearsed it, Kodiak and Interface switched places as the group arrived at the door. The young man slung his weapon and reached out to touch the lock with his power but was stopped by Bifrost.
His eyes glowing, Lornze grabbed Randy’s shoulder and shook his head. “There’s a mystic vard, ve must find another way or trigger an alarm.”
“How far does the ward extend?” growled Kodiak.
“Just to the door itself,” Bifrost replied. Without warning the big senior struck the wall with all his considerable might, knocking a fair sized chunk out of it.
“Steel reinforced concrete,” he muttered angrily, shaking his fist. “I was hoping it was something not so permanent. Kali?” The oriental girl inscribed a huge circle, nearly six feet in diameter on the wall which shimmered for a moment then oozed out of place as if the concrete was suddenly liquid once more and the reinforcement bars merely butter.
“That never stops being creepy looking,” Interface commented as he followed Kodiak’s lead through the new hole. This lead to a long corridor with a series of fairly generic death traps that began to clue the students into the fact they were breaking into a super villain’s lair. Kali converted the poison gas to a fairly passable channel #5 imitation. Interface and Zenith had fun leaping through the corridor of death’s pendulums, articulated buzz saws and flame-throwers to the lever that deactivated them on the far side.
The seeming dead end of the invincible wall was quickly dispelled by Bifrost and while Kodiak actually fell into the pit trap, the steel spikes at the bottom bent nicely to cushion the fall and the only thing hurt was his pride. “I’m starting to think we’re not welcome,” he growled as the clutch of heroes arrived at their final obstacle, a bank vault door that would have been at home at Fort Knox.
“I’m starting to wonder what Gunny’s bonus was,” growled Interface as he sized up the door. “This has been completely linear so far. What’s our elapsed time?”
“Twenty one minutes, fifteen seconds,” Elaine replied from her heads up display.
“Now this door just screams go away, doesn’t it?” the young man chuckled. “We’ve got a dual key time release lock that’s protecting a Kaba-Mas X-09 electronic combination that’s protecting an S&G 8560 mechanical.”
Elaine pressed a control on her wrist and could suddenly see through the lock housings. “The dual key locks are just wafer pin cylinder types.” Randy’s interest immediately picked up.
“You into the cloak and dagger stuff, Loop?”
“No, but Ah write about it,” the girl replied with a chuckle.
“Can you open it or does Kali need to goop it?” growled Kodiak.
Interface frowned; feeling a bit degenerated about his powers. “Of course I can open it,” he replied. “It’ll just take some time. Which will round out our victory condition of staying alive for 30 minutes, or you can have Kali goop it and we can try for the bonus.”
“This is a really expensive door,” Elaine protested. “Shouldn’t we try to preserve it for the school’s budget…?”
Kodiak chuckled darkly. “I’m sorry, I missed the part where that was my problem. I pay my matriculation fees, so if they want to throw money away putting this door in our way…” Further debate was cut short by the door’s handles working on their own and soundlessly began to swing open. “Head’s up,” growled the Bear as he cautiously led the way through the door. This opened out into a cavernous space roughly the size of a high school football stadium. At the far ‘end zone’ was a platform of about twenty people, a mixed bag of business men, stay at home mothers and a handful of children. The platform hovered via a form of antigravity over a vat of a noxious looking bubbling green slime.
At the ‘fifty yard line’ or so was hulking brute of a man in red and white tights who was cracking his knuckles in anticipation, beady eyes on the group of teenagers entering his lair. “Shit,” whispered Elaine as the heads up display called up the information on their new opponent. “It’s Titan.”
Titan resided in that gray area between super villain and force of nature. One of the highest ranked exemplars on record, this was crossed with a rather lucky form of Gross Structural Dystrophy. That changed the young man who would become Titan from a five foot three inch bully target to a ten foot three quarters of a ton caricature of a body builder, muscles on muscles in ways that are only possible in comic books. Of course, Titan didn’t really consider how fortunate his lot in life was in winning the GSD lottery. This was combined with a sadistic personality that led hand in glove with becoming a Class Three Rager. Still, filled with that American entrepreneurial spirit, Titan had gotten into the ‘Super Hero Distraction for Hire’ business and made a tidy sum having Rager fits that pulled local heroes away from a villain’s true target.
“Well, hi there!” he boomed. “I was getting worried I was gonna get paid without the fun of beating the crap of some hero types. So, here’s the deal. In about eight minutes, that float is gonna turn off and all those innocent people you heroes care so much about are going to get some one on one time with their creator. To stop it, all you have to do is get by me.”
“Loophole,” growled Kodiak as he cracked his knuckles in anticipation of the coming match. “How much juice you got left in that thing?”
“Ah’m good,” the young girl replied.
“Alright, here’s the deal. Zenith, Bifrost and Interface, you take care of the hostages, Kali, you give me two minutes with Mr. Muscles there before you goop up everything he stands on if I get in over my head. Loophole, you’re free safety, help whoever needs it.”
Without waiting for either agreement or arguement, the big senior launched himself with a roar of challenge at the waiting figure of Titan. “God damn that arrogant son of a bitch,” hissed Zenith in frustration. “It’s going to take all of us to overcome someone as powerful as Titan. But of course Mr. Macho has to go ‘test’ himself against the new Alpha Male.” As if Cassandra reborn and reliving her tortuous life, Zenith shook her head and resigned herself to the inevitable. “Loophole, that suit of yours can fly?”
With a thunderous crash, Kodiak arrived at Titan and was promptly thrown into a wall for his trouble. “Yeah, Ah can fly.”
“Good, take Interface and get those people to safety. The rest of you come help me bail out General Oops.”
“I’m liking this plan,” grinned Randy as he saddled up next to Elaine to make room for the rest of the team to rush to the aid of their embattled leader.
“Down, boy,” replied Elaine, “Or Ah’ll test what that goop does on you.”
“Our first date and you’re already threatening to dump me? Honey, what did I do?” laughed the irrepressible Interface as he allowed himself to be picked up. The armor lifted them both easily and they made their way to the platform, only having to dodge a flung Kodiak on the way. Randy watched the senior practically embed himself into the concrete and shook his head. “It’s like a train wreck, you just can’t look away,” he muttered.
“It’s on you ten foot has been!” roared Kodiak as he pulled himself loose and launched another attack. Having noticed that he was being end run, Titan launched himself at the pair of flying rescuers, but was intercepted mid-arch by Kodiak and the two went crashing into the far wall in a painful looking flurry of blows.
“He’s consistent,” admitted Loophole with a dark chuckle. “You have to touch the rig to get a feel for it, right?”
“Yep, just drop me off and get a line secure some how.”
“Nope, we’ll assess from underneath. It could be weight calibrated or booby-trapped. This way if it cuts out at least I can catch it.”
“You got a PK field to extend around it?” demanded Randy. “That’s how Superman pulls that stunt, you know. Otherwise you’ll just rip through where you try and catch it, or just dump everybody off into the goop.”
“You got a better idea?” snapped Elaine.
“Only because your beauty inspires me,” returned Interface with a sly smile. It’s floating so it’s got to be either magnetic or anti grav. We attach a line and pull it off from over the pot. If it’s magnetic the moment will carry it most of the way, hostages safe, if it’s anti grav it still floats off and then we just get it down. Either way, we win.”
“Alright smart guy, we’ll try it your way.”
Range Two, Combat Pistol, Kane Hall Tunnels
Lifeline felt more than a little out of place as she waited with the crowd of students in the briefing area of Range Two. That amounted to a large open space with a spattering of small tables and chairs. At one end was a series of cabinets that had some rather substantial locks on them which were behind a high counter. Along the back wall was a plate glass window that ran the length of the wall overlooking the range itself. The range was broken out into shielded firing positions, each with a bench and countertop for supported firing positions. Beyond the range was fifty meters ending in a pile of dirt before re-enforced concrete for a backstop.
The walls were festooned with posters from all the major firearms manufacturers, some more than once but these were masquerading as safety posters; Colt, Taurus, Beretta, Smith & Wesson and other, less well known brands. While the class was a fairly even mix of boys and girls, most of them were strangers to Maggie; none were in the magic arts program, which made her feel even more alone. Worse, her roommate was not in evidence amongst the crowd of devisors and gadgeteers.
While most of the other kids were unlocking cases and removing weapons to fiddle with them, Lifeline could only stand and wait. It was getting to her until a quiet voice behind her announced, “I know you.”
Maggie turned to be face to face with a young man with a round face, sad brown eyes and dark hair worn close in a fashion that was somewhere between short and buzz cut. He was dressed in a black jumpsuit with a harness over it that was covered with pouches and holsters. On his thigh was pistol that was nearly as big as he was. Maggie’s smile of recognition died on her lips. “You’re that bitch Loophole’s roomy,” the boy said in the same soft, off hand manner. “Lifeline, right?”
“Hello Hold-Out,” She replied, desperate for something to say that wouldn’t be cliched or trite. “How have you been?”
The Spy Kid blinked. “Alright, I guess. I haven’t found any dead bodies yet, but the year is still young.” Maggie opened her mouth, but the young man merely shook his head. “You know, your roomy is a real menace. I don’t know how you or Freya, or who ever got her off the hook last year, but leopards don’t change their spots, you know? I notice she’s still desperate to shack up with the Alphas and I’m going to prove…”
“There’s nothing to prove,” snapped Maggie, irate not only at feeling out of place but now having to defend her roommate and her best friend. “Snapshot killed himself, Darren. Elaine didn’t put the gun in his hand and she didn’t pull the trigger.”
“But she designed and built it, didn’t she?” hissed Hold-Out, his emotions beginning to come to the surface. “I know she’s behind what happened, and this year I’m going to prove it.” He took a breath and stepped back, mastering himself once more but behind his eyes Maggie could see him reliving discovering the body of his friend and roommate in their room. “You’re not welcome here,” he announced in his previous tone. “So why don’t you take your mystic ass over to admin and fill out the drop/add slip now?”
“Why don’t you apologize and think about the weeks of detention you’ll have if I ever hear words like that come out of your mouth again?” demanded Sergeant Wilson who had come up behind the boy with neither of them noticing.
Darren continued to glare for a moment before turning to face the distinctly ticked instructor. “I don’t apologize for speaking the truth, Sergeant Wilson,” Hold-Out declared with a defiant lift to his chin.
“I’m sure that thought will console you at detention, Mister Colm. We’ll start with two days, shall we? Now take your defiant ass up to admin for the assignment. Get out of my sight!” Wilson roared, collecting a handful of the boy’s harness and urging him towards the door with greater speed. Turning back to the class, the military man raised his voice to declare, “That goes for everyone else in here. This isn’t clique, or a club, it’s a class. Everybody is welcome.” Shaking his head, he went over to the phone on the wall and began to let the front office know he had a student on the way.
Nevertheless, Maggie was feeling very self conscious and had almost made up her mind to leave when Elaine entered the range, still dressed in her new armor which was splattered in green slime. She came over to the table Maggie had by herself, wiping ineffectually at the mess with a towel. “What happened to you?” demanded Maggie, laughing despite the scene she’d just suffered through.
“Interface had a bright idea,” growled Elaine around her wiping. “That and evidently Gunny Bardue is a secret fan of Nickelodeon and that slime show they’ve got!” She wiped some more, only managing to smear the slime worse on the leather-like material. “Babs swore to me this would work…” she muttered before the towel disintegrated in a flash in her hand.
“Wow!” squealed Lifeline as she threw up her hands to protect herself subconsciously. “It works alright…!”
“You’re late, Loophole,” murmured Sergeant Wilson as he dropped off a roll of paper towels to the table on his way to the head of the class. “Alright, listen up, and welcome to Combat Pistol everybody. I’m Staff Sergeant Ryan Wilson and I will be your primary instructor. First, as you probably noticed, I will not tolerate the kind of pig headed BS I witnessed when I first got here. No ifs, ands, or buts. Second, you will all familiarize yourself with the rules of firearm safety and they will be religiously observed on my range. Anyone failing to do so will wish it was God and not me that’s pissed with them.”
Elaine leaned over from her scrubbing and whispered, “Did Ah miss something?”
“Hold Out is in this class,” Maggie whispered back.
“Oh great,” she muttered.
“So, to elaborate, these rules are, 1) You will treat every firearm in this class as if it is loaded. Even if you know it is unloaded, you will still presume it is loaded and handle it with the appropriate care! 2) You will never point a weapon at anything other than the paper targets we will use in this class. Due to an incident that happened earlier in this semester’s orientation let me stress this. If anyone points any weapon at anyone else in this class, that person will automatically fail this class! 3) Your fingers will remain off the trigger until your firearm is pointed at one of our designated targets. Finally, 4) You will always know what your target is, and what is behind it, before you ever discharge your weapon. Now, clear all weapons for inspection place them on the table and take one step back.”
Finally clean of the slime, Elaine pressed a button on the gauntlet of her armor and suddenly she was wearing the jeans and T-shirt she had been wearing at lunch. “That’s a neat trick,” complimented Lifeline. “Why didn’t you just do that instead of the cleaning production number?”
Elaine drew her pistol; finger ridged against the frame and dropped the magazine from it. Once that was on the table, she racked the slide, caught the bullet that flew out and locked it to the rear before placing both on the table and taking a step back. “Because these,” she said with a gesture to indicate her current wardrobe, “were on a mannequin in my secure locker. All Ah did was teleport the two, swapping places.”
“Ah, and you didn’t want to slime the locker. Gotcha,” Maggie replied. “So, what are we doing?”
“Sgt. Wilson is going to make sure every pistol is safe, issue the folks that need a loaner one, and then clear us to the range. Where is Hold Out?” she asked with a quick look around the room.
“On his way to detention for telling me I wasn’t welcome and that he was going to prove you killed Snapshot.”
Elaine seethed at the news. “That little maggot, as if Ah didn’t have enough experience beating mah self up over Snapshot…!” She sighed and rubbed Maggie on the shoulder. “Eh, it’s all good. Meantime let’s get you up to speed and we’ll deal with Hold-Out if we need to.”
Photography Studio Three, Dunn Hall
Elaine and Jo made their way through the coolly air-conditioned, if industrially bland hallways of Dunn Hall in the midst of a pitched argument. The current subject of their disagreement was how to proceed in their mutual desire to embarrass the reigning queen of the Alphas. “I don’t like it,” growled Jo, crossing her arms over her breasts and setting a petulant cant to her hips. “It’s too involved, and worse, she won’t know we did it!”
“She won’t know we did it, yet,” soothed Elaine. “This is all about subtlety. Besides, if she knows we’re behind it too soon it devolves into an ‘us versus them’ dynamic. Right now Ah just want to drive her crazy, driving her away comes later.”
“I still think it’s too complicated,” Murphy replied but never the less followed the sophomore into the studio and into a horny teenager’s wet dream come true. A beach scene had been constructed, complete with a volleyball net and the entire Venus Inc, club was present. Each was attired in the briefest of string bikinis and wondering around in the ordered chaos that was a photo shoot. Elaine made her way over the single male that was in the room, Mr. Parker, the head of the visual arts department with the over sized case she had in her hand.
Ian Parker was in his middle thirties, prematurely balding and fortunately for the fit of his clothing given his current surroundings held the title of the most openly gay instructor on campus. He was currently in the process of setting up one of the school’s twenty Hasselblad 503CW medium format cameras on a tripod and checking the feed of the digital plate on the back of it that would send the camera’s output to a director’s bench nearby. “Mr. Parker,” Elaine interjected softly once she knew the teacher had reached a stopping spot. “Mr. Paulson asked me to bring over the high speed camera to return to inventory.”
“Oh, Elaine, Darling,” the teacher replied with a ready smile. “I wish you had taken my nature in winter lab! We’re going on a field trip to Niagara you know.”
Elaine smiled and nodded. “Ah wish Ah could have too, sir, but Ah just couldn’t fit it in. Ya’ll still putting on Motion Picture Directing this spring, right?”
“We are!” Parker returned. “And I have it on good authority the class project will make its way to the Discovery Channel…”
“Pencil me in! Ah’ve got the high speed camera here, though…”
Something that displeased his artistic eye caught the teacher’s attention from the makeup table. “Just put it down there sweetheart,” he called over his shoulder as he rushed over to put it right. “And be a darling and dial in the light to the F-stop for me, won’t you?”
Parker didn’t see the evil smile that tucked at Elaine’s lips. “Yes sir.”
Picking up the teacher’s light meter, Elaine stepped out into the set and made a show of taking a few readings. As she got close to Lifeline a tube was passed from one student to another without anyone noticing. Once she had the readings she went over to the primary flood flash and lowered its tripod and quickly moved the dispersion umbrella out of the way. Now that she had access to the bulb it was removed allowing for a nearly identical replacement to be put in its place. The stand was quickly returned to its previous position and, on her way out, Elaine thoughtfully dialed in the correct f-stop on the camera.
Lifeline traded a wink with her roommate and began to liberally apply the contents of the tube to her body while surreptitiously calling over the other girls with the single exception of Tansy to share in the tube’s contents.
Whitman Cottage 2nd Floor Study Room, Whateley Academy
Like all of the historic cottages in the clutch of four, the easternmost end of the common hall held a study room. This room was about half the depth of a normal dorm room, but had the advantage of running the entire forty feet that was the width of the building. It did lose a bit of space with the cut out for stair well, but this made the nook by the fireplace all the more inviting. The back wall held a pair of sliding glass doors that in fall and spring were generally open to the wrought iron balcony beyond, expanding the space considerably. In winter, however, the doors were shut and the blinds drawn in an effort to keep as much heat in as possible.
The room was appointed as a small library and most of the walls had shelves of books running floor to ceiling with a scattering of comfortable chairs and couches to encourage scholarly pursuits. Open spaces on the walls were taken up with copies of particularly famous paintings or portraits of historically important women. The ‘heroine’ painting, as it was called, of the second floor study room was of Amelia Earhart. Each clutch of chairs had a low table as well and, generally, things were kept quiet. This usually meant that a fair amount of scheming went on in these rooms, a good portion of which was how to prank those stuck up bitches up the hill in Dickinson.
Mrs. Savage knew of the rivalry between the two dorms, and despite the displeasure it sometimes caused the Headmistress, subtly encouraged the girls in their pranks, so long as things didn’t get out of hand of course. A fact that had nothing whatsoever to do with Mrs. Savage’s ongoing feud with Mrs. Nelson and Mrs. Selkirk, the Housemothers of Dickinson. So it was perfectly natural that the room was frequently full of girls furtively whispering and scheming to be broken up every now and then with a bout of megalomania fueled laughter as Devious Master Plans were made.
The room was fairly disserted as Elaine and Joanne helped themselves to the premium places next to the fireplace. “Do we even know what these keys look like?” demanded Joanne as she plopped down into one of the wing backed chairs that faced the fire and draped a leg over one of the armrests. “And I still don’t understand the point of changing the light bulb at the shoot!”
Elaine grinned a positively evil grin as she carefully sat, smoothing her skirt under her as she did so. “Oh, you will tomorrow,” she chuckled. “Ah’ll explain it when you see what it does to Tansy so as not to spoil the surprise. Now, as far as the keys are concerned, there are three types, the older legacy areas are just a ring of keys like you’d see anywhere. They’ll all be triangular in shape, like the key to your dorm room.”
Jo frowned. “Have you laid eyes on these keys? If not, how would you know that?”
Elaine rolled her eyes. “Because the school has a contract with Schlage so all the medium to low security doors are equipped with Schlage locks. Now, the other two types are trickier. There are number pad combination locks that will have a series of codes. To get into them, we’ll need the list of codes that are likely on a computer somewhere. The third set is the hardest that’s the newest locks. They’re biometric in type, finger print and palm scanners, retina print readers, and things like that. For those, we’ll have to break into the admin main frame in Schuster Hall. There should be a diagnostic code in there somewhere. Once we find it, we force each lock into diagnostic mode and simply wipe the locks registered user file and put back on whomever we want.”
Gunnarson rolled her eyes in response. “Oh, as simple as all that, well, what do you need me for?”
“Don’t be that way,” Elaine relied primly. “You weren’t exactly putting up provisos when volunteering, so don’t complain about the grunt work.”
“Point. So, what’s first?”
“Ah figure the access codes will be the easiest to get our hands on.”
Murphy frowned again. “Why is that? Cause you haven’t figured out where Miss ‘I fart perfume’ has them stashed?”
“Well, that and the fact that there are more than likely copies,” Elaine told her. “See, while The Don was all about the perks of being head Alpha, he left the grunt work to Cavalier, and Jean-Michel was absolutely anal about note taking and backups. So, there’s likely a complete copy of all of the numeric access codes on his school laptop.”
“What’s the difference between breaking into his laptop verses breaking into Tansy’s?” demanded Jo.
“Jean-Michel is in ARC, recovering from that Mind Slave spell Hekate threw on him and will be at least until the end of the semester, so it won’t be discovered. Now, his laptop will be in one of two places, the evidence locker in Security HQ in Kane Hall or, if the school is particularly efficient, (which it rarely is, by the way) it will have been returned to Central Supply in Laird Hall.” Elaine allowed herself a self-satisfied grin. “Either way, there will be a record in the evidence locker if it’s not there as to what it’s serial number is to make it easier to find in Central Supply.”
“So, we’re just going to walk into what amounts to a police station and ask to rifle through someone else’s stuff, in a secure locker, to acquire some codes we don’t have permission to have?”
Elaine brandished her PDA. “Something like that.”
The Realm of Dreams, Currently appearing to be the Alaskan Wilderness
Wyatt looked out over the tundra from the small hill where he stood. The sun was at his back and before him was perhaps three miles of land, swept with the most hardy of scrubs that could actually grow in the permafrost and Astroturf for those who missed the grass that couldn’t grow here. Then perhaps a half-mile of streets and low to the ground buildings that made up his birthplace, then nothing but the Arctic Ocean between him and the North Pole. To the south, three hundred and twenty miles away lay the Arctic Circle. This was the farthest north you could go and live on the North American Continent.
Cody sighed as he picked out his parents house and became aware of the huge mountain of fur and muscle that was the spirit of the Primal Kodiak that stood next to him on the hill. Cody didn’t resent the spirit that shared his body, and, as mutant activation events went his was fairly tame. There hadn’t been deranged mobs of Humanity First! calling for his head on a pike. He hadn’t had to run for his life, or even deal with the pain of his parents rejecting him.
Indeed, Kodiak had always been there, with the love his parents, the three only real constants in his life. It wasn’t until Cody realized that old Aglakti the small community of Inuit Indian’s shaman could also see his imaginary friend that Cody began to realize he was different. As he usually did, Aglakti or, Song Maker in his native tongue, had in his own time informed Cody’s parents and, despite Cody’s apprehension had been met with love and understanding.
As Wyatt looked out over his home he reached out and scratched the enormous bear beside him behind the ears. “She’ll never want to live here,” he said with regretful finality.
The Bear Spirit chuckled his own mirth as he shifted position to bring an itch under his host’s fingers. “You’re feasting on Elk you haven’t killed yet,” rumbled out of the depths of the spirit. “In truth, you know her mind as little as you know your own fate. I’ve never understood, in all the centuries I have spent with humanity, how you can think something and assume it will be so.”
“I’ve never understood why you got so fond of talking like Aglakti. You used to say what you meant in English words that actually made sense.”
The Bear only laughed harder. “You used to be a child, and I spoke to you as a child.”
“I think you just like being mysterious,” the senior replied with a laugh of his own. “Couldn’t we dream about Elaine tonight?”
“Those were happy dreams,” the Bear conceded. He sighed and reared up on his hind legs to stare down on his host. “Tonight is not a night for happy dreams. Tonight I bring you a warning.”
Wyatt rolled his eyes and turned his back on the spirit. “Oh, come on Kodiak, how many times do you have to harp on this…?” The boy couldn’t continue has rant as seven hundred pounds of bear had bowled him over, face first into the permafrost. Pinned and denied leverage of any kind, Wyatt only struggled until he felt the spirits jaws around his neck; which, oddly enough, didn’t keep it from speaking.
“Ignorant cub!” he snarled. “When will you listen to what I tell you? When will close your mouth and open your eyes? How many must die before I can get through to you?”
“Get off me you over grown rug!” snarled the enraged senior. “Fight fair or…” the threat died unspoken as the Bear’s teeth tightened on his neck.
“The Creator damn Solomon and his accursed contract and your stubborn pride with it!” Kodiak snarled. “Shut up and watch.”
Before Wyatt could complain further a small sun blossomed into life over the chapel of the church where he was baptized. The light itself burned out the cornea of his eyes, long before the shock wave reached him. Wyatt’s exemplar nature and the power of the spirit kept him alive far longer than a normal human. Were his eyes not burned out he would have lived to see the mushroom cloud envelop the town of his birthplace. It was not fire that rolled out in an angry wave of destruction, but mind numbing, bone chilling cold that rolled out from the center of the explosion and laid waste to all before it. A cold that ate into his soul in a way Wyatt Cody had never known as it reached him and snatched life from his body.
Melville Cottage, RM 803, Whateley Academy
Wyatt awoke in stifling heat and ripped the comforter that was choking him away, ruining it as the fabric was no match for his strength. He panted in terror for a moment before his sharp eyes picked out the details of his dorm room in the dim gloom. “Dream, just a dream,” he whispered to himself. Enraged as his recalled the elements of the nightmare that had pulled him from his rest he cast his minds’ eye into himself, seeking the place where his spirit normally resided.
But, no matter how deep he looked, the Bear Spirit was not within him.