“Coos 21 calling Whateley Central,” crackled the speaker. Out here between the Presidential and White Mountain ranges, radio reception was always iffy. Officer Bradley Grimes stretched the kinks out of his back and was glad his shift was almost over as he picked up the microphone.
“Coos 21, this is Whateley Central, go with traffic.”
“Sorry to wake you guys up there, Central, but I’m unable to raise Coos County Dispatch.”
Grimes chuckled and got out his pen. This kind of thing was one of the few chores that kept him awake when second platoon shifted onto the graveyard. “Coos 21 Whateley, go for relay, over.”
“Dispatch, Coos 21 show me 10-21 at West Milan and 110A, late model Honda Civic, blue in color New Hampshire plates Charlie Zulu Whiskey zero eight seven.”
“Coos 21 Whateley understand for relay 10-21 at West Milan and 110A late Honda Civic, blue, New Hampshire Charlie Zulu Whiskey zero eight seven, stand by.”
“Coos 21, clear.” Grimes reset the second radio and repeated the request and vaguely wondered how the driver of the Honda Civic had committed the sin of arousing the curiosity of a bored cop at 7:21 in the morning. As he listened to the response from the Coos County Sheriff’s Office he saw one of the younger students enter the front office and gestured for her to wait.
“Coos 21 Whateley, Charlie Zulu Whiskey zero eight seven returns valid, 2004 Honda Civic, blue in color registered to James Harris 104 Myra Street, Berlin, negative 28s. 0724.”
“Coos 21 clear.”
Grimes turned his attention to the ragamuffin young woman and the device she held in her hands. “Can I help you?” The girl, her hair a riot of colors and lengths, nevertheless smiled a winning smile and placed a handheld computer on the table.
“Hi,” Murphy breathed in her most harmless voice. “I found this out on the path and they tell me you guys have a lost and found or something?”
“They told you right,” Grimes replied, collecting up the device and turning it over. “Looks like a student built this, it’s got one of our serial numbers on it so we’ll be able to email the owner and have them come pick it up. Thank you for turning it in.”
The girl smiled and waved as she let herself out. Grimes scanned the barcode and tapped the device into inventory. The system would automatically send an email to the owner. Grateful for the chance to stretch his legs, he walked back to the kitchen to refill his coffee, dropping the device into the lost and found bin in the evidence locker on the way.
There it sat for several minutes until the thermal sensor built into it determined that there wasn’t a human sized source of heat anywhere nearby. A small LED lit up as a warning that the automated program was running, then the air shimmered and a suit of power armor appeared out of thin air. The PDA was able to uplink via the Omni-present Wi-Fi link throughout the campus to a laptop that was on a desk in Whitman Cottage. It then established a bridge between itself, the laptop and the computer that was built into the armor.
A progress bar built to completion before the PDA clicked off, its job done.
Carmen looked about herself, taking in the mountains of data the suit was sending and marveled for a moment. This wasn’t the first time she’d up linked with the suit, but it was the first time she had done so without Loophole in it. Now the suit was her body and she was in the world she had wondered about from the back side of her cameras. It was an odd, slow world, where unseen currents resisted the movement of the suit. A world where she did not will herself from place to place but had to employ crude algorithms to keep the suit’s balance and use it’s legs to ‘walk’.
Remembering she had a job to do, she took the suit over to the laptop that was set up in the cage that kept the inventory of the items present. There was no password as the unit was behind a locked cage in the heart of security HQ; there hadn’t been a need for one. A few taps called up the log and showed her that laptop WA4V27H had been assigned to Jean-Michel Cardan AKA Cavalier had been checked into inventory Sunday, 8JAN07 at 18:26 then forwarded to Central Supply Monday 9JAN07 at 15:27.
“That would figure,” the program cursed softly. Then she noticed a program was running on the taskbar. Clicking on it she found it was a web cam, one of several thousand that security used throughout the school. Though Carmen doubted this one was on a list anywhere. It was in the girls changing room in Dunn Hall, next door to the collection of Photographic Studios, by default, the primary domain of Venus, Inc, the school’s model and fashion club.
This particular camera was focused on a locker that was currently open and interestingly enough Carmen recognized the shapely blonde that was standing in front of it, in the process of gingerly changing from winter clothes into something lighter and easier on her skin. “Tansy,” whispered Carmen to herself. And while whichever security guard had been satisfying his voyeuristic impulses earlier might have been interested in the girl, it was the contents of her locker that caught Carmen’s electronic eyes.
“Of course,” the computer told herself.
Seeing what she needed, Carmen carefully returned the computer to the state she had found it and regretfully gave the command that shifted her program back to Elaine’s laptop. A supplemental program sent the armor back to her secure locker. It had been a most educational morning.
“Here she comes,” warned Foxfire to the other Lit Chix as Elaine was walking to the table, a rather triumphant smile on her face.
“Based on the grin I’d say she pulled something off,” muttered Arachne. “I wonder how much trouble that gets us in?”
“Good morning, ladies,” greeted Loophole as she sat her tray down and made herself comfortable. “Beautiful morning, isn’t it?”
“Not especially,” Babs managed around a mouthful of grapefruit. “It’s cold, dreary and snowing. So what have you been up to that makes it so great?”
Elaine’s hand fluttered to her chest in very mock outrage. “Moi?” she demanded, the French slurred through her thick accent. “Why Barbara, whatever would make ya’ll think that Ah, the very modicum of restraint and decorum would even be contemplating something untoward? Or, that Ah might be taking pleasure in the misery of someone else?”
Foxfire rubbed her eyes, feeling a headache beginning to form behind them. “Oh gawd, what have you done? Whenever you get Victorian I know something bad is going to…” A loud murmur swept through the hall that cut off Rebecca as she looked up and traced the noise to its source.
Tansy was in the process of painfully making her way to the Alpha table, mincing step by painful step, her tray being carried by Flicker while Fade was rushing forward to pull out her chair and drop a cushion into it. Every inch of exposed skin, of which there was a considerable amount, was bright red. “Full spectrum flash bulb capable of emitting UV (b) radiation at four hundred kilo-watts per meter squared, four hundred and twenty eight dollars out of your lab fees allowance. Giving a bitch a sunburn in the middle of winter, priceless,” whispered Elaine to the table with a very self satisfied air.
“Jesus,” whispered Maggie, a piece of toast stuck half way between plate and mouth. “Whatever was in that tube, thank you!”
“Tube?” demanded Rebecca.
“Don’t thank me, thank Babs,” replied Elaine as she tucked in to her oatmeal. “That was some of her SPF 400 sun screen.” Seeing the look of horror on her roommates face, Elaine patted her hand in encouragement. “Mags, would Ah ever use something that Ah didn’t know would work? Don’t worry; even the FDA has signed off on it!”
“Of course, you won’t be able to tan for a week,” put in Babs.
“Not that it will matter in this weather,” complained Reverb.
Joanne came strolling up to the table, tray in one hand and casting several looks over to the Alpha table as she did so. “Ok, why is Tansy imitating a lobster that’s ready to eat?”
“You recall we turned in the high speed camera last night?” drawled Elaine. “That is what that bulb does. Instant sunburn,” she cackled with nearly demonic glee. “Anybody without sun block under that flash got the equivalent of five minutes of summer sun at the equator in four tenths of a second. How many pictures did they take at that shoot, Mags?”
“I’m not sure, four or five rolls, I think.”
“Thirty exposures per roll,” chuckled Elaine. “You do the math.”
“Ouch,” winced Joanne. “You play dirty, I love it!”
Arachne rolled eyes and picked up her tray. Pausing only to look over her shoulder and announce in her loud whisper, “I guess you really are an Alpha now,” before she walked off in the direction of the dish pit.
“What’s got her panties in a twist?” managed Elaine around a mouthful of toast.
Rebecca scowled as she pushed the fruit loops stuck to the side of the bowl back into the milk. “Like you don’t know?” she snapped. “People can die of sunburn and sunstroke you know...”
“We should be so lucky,” muttered Murphy.
“Tansy will be fine,” Elaine returned. “She’s a full physical exemplar so the worst she’ll get is a day or so of discomfort which, in mah humble opinion she richly deserves! Besides, the bulb had a safety in it that wouldn’t let it give off a dosage that high…!”
“Still,” interjected Maggie with a cautioning hand on Elaine’s shoulder. “You should be careful you don’t end up becoming that which you hate. Tansy’s been known to pull some pretty twisted crap, but mind you don’t turn into her getting even.” Elaine looked between her victim and her best friend for a moment before nodding.
“Duly noted, Mags.”
“So, we still on for the Care Givers viewing party Saturday?”
Rebecca brightened up considerably. “That reminds me, I thought up this new universe we could write in last night! It’s got outer space and cowboys and ninjas!”
“Ninjas?” demanded Babs with a perfectly sculpted eyebrow rising only on one side.
“It makes sense!” Foxfire replied. “You see….”
Kodiak made his way to the barrel within a barrel shaped Kirby Hall as best he could. For the first time in his life, the cold and the snow seemed to conspire against him and impede him as they never had before. His sleeves were rolled down, for all the good it did him as he trudged through the snow.
He didn’t even own a coat; he’d never needed one before.
A few of the teachers and students stared at him as he entered the building while they left, but Cody was used to being stared at and ignored them. He got as far as the entry lobby, rubbing life back into his numb extremities before he realized he’d never been in this building before. He had no idea how it was laid out, where the teachers’ offices were or even how to get to them as every now and then a student would walk out of what appeared to be a blank wall.
Normally, the other instruction buildings had an information desk with someone from security stationed at it and a directory. Evidently, being able to find your way around the Hall was one of the requirements for being in the mystic arts program. As he chewed on a knuckle to try and figure out what he was going to do he nearly didn’t hear a small voice from behind him ask, “You look lost. Are you?”
The big man turned and found a tassel headed slip of girl with bright red hair who barely reached his belt buckle staring up at him. Kneeling down so as to be a bit more on eye level with the girl he smiled. “I suppose I am,” he told her. “My name’s Wyatt, what’s yours?”
“Irene,” the girl replied instantly, evidently unfazed by the Man Mountain she was talking to.
“Well, Irene, it’s a pleasure to met you. Are you in the Mystic Arts program?” The red head bobbled the affirmative. “That’s great! I need to talk to one of the teachers; do you know where the teacher’s offices are?”
“Sure, that’s easy.”
“Think you could tell me?” Suddenly the girl’s innocent look disappeared behind the sly smile of a master horse trader.
“Depends,” Irene replied in a nonchalant tone. “What’s it worth to me?” Cody only just kept in a bark of a laugh as he realized the trap he’d walked into. Shrugging his shoulders in a broad gesture he decided to see how deep the rabbit hole went.
“What do you want?”
“You got any Essence?” the little girl demanded with a gleam of greed in her eyes that would put a seasoned Wall Street Trader to shame. Cody shook his head.
“If I had Essence I’d be in the Mystic Arts program and I wouldn’t need your help, now would I?” The logic took the wind of Irene’s sails for a long moment. Wyatt watched the gears behind her eyes turn for a moment as she tried to decide on a new prize.
“You’re Kodiak, so you own the Alphas, right?”
The big senior kept in another inappropriate chuckle. “I don’t know if own is the right word, but I’m head Alpha, sure.”
“Abbra, Clover and I want to be Alphas. You let us in and I’ll tell you where the offices are.” Palantir proclaimed, lifting her chin.
Wyatt opened his mouth to reply and closed it again as he thought things over. Of course, there was no way he was going to allow a group of Sub-Freshmen into the club, but, he had to admit, there certainly was potential here. “Irene,” he said finally in his most reasonable tone. “I’m afraid the rules of the club don’t let me allow in Freshmen, let alone Sub-Freshmen. But, I tell you what. For you three, I’ll make an exception. Come to the Rush Party when you’re all Freshmen and come see me and I’ll pin you in myself. How’s that?”
Palantir pouted in a manner that was so completely cute it was heart moving. “But that’s not till next year!”
Kodiak nodded. “I know, but, rules are rules, right?” He stuck out his ham like fist. “We got a deal?”
The little girl seized his hand in a surprisingly strong grip. “Done and done!” she announced with a weight of meaning that escaped the senior. “Come on, I’ll take you to see Miss. Grimes. She knows everything!” The girl led him off at a surprising pace through hallways that didn’t seem to match up with how the building was built on the outside. Finally she arrived at a doorway labeled,
Before she could knock, the door was flung open revealing a still very attractive woman in her early fifties with aristocratic features and two locks of gray in her dark tresses at her ears. Taking in the sight before her caused her eyes to narrow in suspicion. “Irene, what have you been up to?” she demanded.
Palantir squeaked, “Nothing!” and darted away down the hall like the devil himself was after her. Wyatt chuckled at her antics and shook his head.
“Sub-Freshmen,” he laughed with a look at the slightly frazzled teacher. “What can you do?”
“Just because someone is young and small doesn’t make them harmless, Mr. Cody,” the teacher replied, taking a few wipes at her hair to be a bit more presentable. “Now, what can I do for you?”
“Miss. Grimes,” he began haltingly. “I seem to have lost my Avatar Spirit and I was hoping…?”
“I could help you get him back?” The teacher cast another glance at the departing Palantir and sighed. “Let’s see what we can do. Come in Mr. Cody.”
Despite a belly full of warm oatmeal, Elaine was still shivered as she passed the odd painting of a dragon as she crossed from the Crystal Hall into Schuster Hall proper. Every time she meant to really study the painting and find out what it was that creeped her out about it the thought flowed like mercury out of her mind. Still, it was uncanny the way the dragon’s eyes followed you as you passed it, rather like you were being watched.
Still, she got past it along with the rest of the students headed to classes in the main building from breakfast, her mind thinking ahead to the rigors of the day. She still had no idea what she would put together for the end of term project Mrs. Bell had talked about yesterday in the introductory class of her math. Most of the interesting items in game theory had already been postulated. Still, she was determined to do something unique for the class and as she tried to figure out what that would be a vibration coming from her purse distracted her.
Her Iphone was the culprit and the display showed her she did in fact want to take this call. Being able to assign a photograph to every member of her contact list was one of the features she liked most about the product so staring into a picture of the camera lens of the H.A.L 9000 told her that Carmen had news. “What’d you find out, Carmen?” she asked as she began to tackle the stairs.
“Quite a bit of interest, Miss. Unfortunately, the target was moved to the second location yesterday evening. Another method will have to be employed to retrieve that data.”
She passed Interface digging into his locker who flashed her a very winning smile on her way by. “Ah think Ah can handle that,” she told the computer. “Anything else?”
“Oh my, yes, Miss,” the computer gloated. “I now have the location of the Hard Keys we’ve been looking for.” Loophole nearly dropped her phone in astonishment.
“What?” she demanded.
Carmen’s tone because as saucy as a cat’s that’s gotten into the cream. “It seems, Miss that several of Whateley’s finest have given in to some rather base urges and have been monitoring some discrete cameras in places they shouldn’t be. One happened to fixed on Miss Walcutt’s locker at VI. Where a rather large ring of keys happened to be hanging…”
“Carmen mah love, you just earned your pay for the week!”
“Wonderful to know the electricity bill has been paid, Miss,” the computer replied drolly. “Shall I make Miss Finson aware of these developments?”
“Like you have to ask,” purred Loophole as she entered the class room, a triumphant smile on her face that made those seated around her distinctly nervous.
Cody shivered slightly as he stood in the pentagram of salt Miss. Grimes had laid out on her office floor. It didn’t help matters he was clad only in a loin cloth, but was grateful it was a size up to keeping his modesty. The instructor had drawn a series of pictograms over most of his body that tingled slightly as he stood in the draft of the open window, listening to her chant lowly in words he couldn’t remember. A part of him thought back to the prank Beltane pulled on Farrago and his clique of the Alphas and wondered if he was being set up in a similar manner.
Not to mention some of the details he’d over heard from Cav and Sky in their enraged ranting as they punished the Don. Had he stepped into a Fool’s Circle, whatever that was? Cody sighed and forced his mind to be calm; he was in the presence of a teacher. And while many of the shape shifters on campus were good, none of them he was aware of could change their scent. This was the Miss. Grimes he’d been peripherally aware of from Hekate’s rants. In the presence of a teacher, he should be safe, or so the school’s charter went.
Finally, she seemed ready and Cody could order his thoughts from useless worry to concentrating on the wild spirit of the Kodiak he’d shared his life with. He sighed again and cast his mind’s eye back to the true friend he’d had his entire life; adventures they’d shared, conquests they’d exalted in, victories over worthy opponents, licking wounds over sound defeats. The soft touch of women they’d proven their manhood on, all crowded into his mind as he called out to the spirit to return to him.
Slowly, an indistinct form began to take shape in the identical pentagram next to his, gaining definition with each passing second. However, as ruddy brown fur began to crowd out the view of the window beyond, Cody felt fear for the first time in his life. The figure that appeared in the symbol wasn’t the Disney-like caricature he’d known from his earliest memories, nor was it the stoic warrior-philosopher he’d come to know in his dreams as he’d become a man. This was the primal Kodiak, rearing nearly fifteen feet over him on its hind legs, jaws salivating in constant hunger, the boards of the office’s hardwood floor groaning under the weight of more than a ton of spirit confined in the small space.
The spirit locked eyes with his host and turned away, disgust painted across his face. “Fool,” he growled in a voice Cody had never heard him use before.
“Who stands in answer to my call?” demanded Miss. Grimes in a voice equally as powerful as the bound spirit.
“The Kodiak, spirit of the Untamed Earth, Duke of the Court of the Center, Master Healer and Court Physician to her Majesty, Gaia, High Queen of the Natural Realm,” the spirit roared in both answer and challenge. “Who calls me from my punishment?”
“Elysia Grimes,” the teacher replied, completely without awe to the gauntlet that had been thrown down at her feet. “Faithful servant of the Earth Mother, Anointed of the Old Ways and Student of Raven, who stands in gratitude to your Grace for answering my call,” she said, bowing regally from the neck to the spirit. “Who has imprisoned your Grace and taken you from your appointed vessel?”
“He who spoke Creation into being holds me to account for violating the Contract,” the Bear admitted softly, his voice heavy with regret. He looked once more at Cody and with it his anger was freshly renewed. “For all the good it has done from my thick skulled vessel!”
“What did I do?” demanded Cody, but he was cut off by the imperial command of Mrs. Grimes.
“Silence, child!” she ordered. To the spirit she bowed once more and asked, “As Your Grace answered my call, may I presume the Creator has released you from your penance?” After the Kodiak nodded thoughtfully, his eyes far away, Miss. Grimes continued. “Will your Grace rejoin the foolish boy who has so wounded thee?”
In any other time, Cody would have taken umbrage at the slight, but before he could the Kodiak locked eyes with him. Despite the terrifying image around those eyes, Wyatt could only see the endless gaze of his oldest friend. The young man thought nothing of the tears that wet his eyes or of raising his arms in supplication to have his friend forgive him his trespasses. Somehow the two symbols merged and Wyatt found himself hugging the monstrous form while one of the massive paws rubbed his hair in affection. “Who could not forgive this rapscallion?” the bear rumbled.
Looking up into the muzzle of his avatar, Wyatt suddenly became concerned. “What was I supposed to…?” he started, concerned now that the spirit had risked much in trying to communicate something to him. But Wyatt blinked and he was in his old clothing, just outside Melville Cottage once more. While other students looked at him sidelong as they trudged by, bundled up against the cold, once more he could feel his spirit’s fur keeping him warm. “What…?” he asked of no one, looking around and trying to understand what had just transpired.
“Speak of this with no one,” the wind whispered in his ear in the voice of Miss. Grimes.
“What just happened?” he roared in frustration, but the wind had no answer and he was alone.
Around mid morning, the door to the changing room of Venus, Inc opened to reveal a vague, indistinct figure. She crept around the periphery of the room, aware now of a camera where one should not be. A series of spells hummed on her, increasing her reaction times beyond what was normal for a human being as well as making sure no one would be able to make out her features. A gesture activated a new spell that caused the camera to short out in a fantastic shower of sparks.
Hurrying now, the figure boldly made for the locker that the camera had been fixed on. A heavy sounding word made the tumblers on the combination lock align and the door opened to a soft creak of worked metal. The figure reached in and claimed a heavy looking ring of keys before the door was closed and the dial spun on its own.
Then, as quickly as the figure had come she was gone and the room was disserted once more.
“Hey Hannah, You’re gonna be late for class.” Joanne shook the tentacled girl gently. “Wakey, wakey red, Mrs. Savage said something about the shipyards, welding and you being late for your jump.”
The result was instant as a redheaded, scaled mass of tentacles and blankets began tearing around the room seeking clothing, equipment and other necessities. Joanne simply held up a toolkit, and a bag she’d picked up from the Crystal Hall for her napping, nearly-narcoleptic roommate as the bizarre girl seemed to half-swim, half-pull herself along and out of the room, grabbing the two things and reaching the door before snatching the toolkit and bag of food from the blonde girl’s grip.
Hannah looked at Murphy bemusedly. “Why did you do all this?”
“I asked Mrs. Savage the best way to apologize for our first meeting.” Joanne grinned. “Now get to your class. I have ice cream cooling in a safe spot for when you get back, I’d like to talk to you without the eardrum-shattering noise from upstairs.”
Hannah looked shocked then smiled slightly. “Okay let’s do that. By the way, Pucelle wants to kick your ass for destroying her stereo.”
“She’s more than welcome to try.” Joanne grinned. “Go go go. Mrs. Savage said you’re late already! No getting in trouble because your roomy surprised you.”
“Thanks!” Hannah did this odd sliding/pulling walk that was impossible to describe to anyone who hadn’t seen octopi on the discovery channel navigating along the seafloor.
Joanne smiled and waved and as soon as Hannah was out the door, started shaking and slumped closing the door in relief. She’d done it, dealing with one of the freakishly GSD kids without making her feel utterly self-conscious. Now to figure out how to stop getting antsy about all the inhuman-looking girls. Yes, some of them were cool looking, until she got close and every instinct began blaring “DANGER! DANGER!”
Joanne sighed and kicked the door, wandering downstairs and past the common-room. She blinked as she realized two boys were in there, waving their hands oddly with the naga-girl she’d seen earlier. One of the boys was absolutely monstrous in a Jurassic Park kinda way, but not. The three were thick as thieves, but they weren’t talking. It took a moment for Joanne to recognize Sign Language.
“So you’re the girl who broke the record for shortest stint on the school grounds before picking a fight.” Joanne turned to see yet another redhead who looked good enough to make her feel self-conscious. If Goths wore white and had a smile pasted to their faces she would have been one of them.
“Hey, yeah. Not my finest moment.” She shook her head and looked at the older girl again.
“Don’t beat yourself up Jo. You’re doing really well here for someone who’s never seen a GSD girl before.”
“How did you…”
The redhead grimaced. “Telepath, and largely uncontrolled. I can shield enough that I can tell other people’s thoughts from mine, but…” She laughed as Joanne grimaced. “Yes, it’s really as bad as it sounds, but you adapt or go crazy.”
“Oh well in that case I’m already there.” Joanne sighed. “Thanks for the pep talk, but I gotta get going. I need to meet Wilson and get my basic pistol safety checked off.”
“The redhead nodded. Look, I came to talk to you because you’re loud, and you needed to hear this.” She didn’t smile as she talked. “Lighten up on yourself. Seriously. You might fool everyone around you with the glitchy humor and the uncaring demeanor, but this is Whateley. If you’re down on yourself too much someone’s going to pick up on it and use it against you.”
Joanne gave her a dry, suspicious look. “And why, oh why are you telling me all of this?”
“Because, for the first time since about a month after Belphegor turned Grabby into what she is now, she left here smiling.” The redhead shrugged. “It’s the little things that help the most, and you did the little things while being scared. No matter what anyone says, if you can do that you belong here in Whitman.”
Joanne nodded, not really believing it. “Just ‘cause I have hang-ups doesn’t mean everyone else needs to suffer for ‘em. In any case, I gotta go. I have a date with a range berserker.”
Casey Steele watched the blonde girl go quietly. “Oh shut up, Waldo. Just because she’s a freshman doesn’t mean I have to look down on her.”
“I wasn’t saying that Casey.” The little spider-monkey crawled out of her backpack. “I was saying that someone like her isn’t going to just take your words at face value and buck up.”
“I know that. But it’s better than what I had when I got here.”
The monkey considered. “Yes, well, why did you bother? You weren’t planning on having her hang out with you and the nutbar brigade you associate with.”
“Nah, that girl’s way too stubborn and too martyr-like. She’s stable but she has a few serious issues.”
“Mr. Paulson, can Ah have a word with you?”
Langley Paulson looked down at his watch and realized the young girl had cut short one of her classes to be here nearly ten minutes before the next period. Fortunately, this was his off period so she had not interrupted a class. The Department Chair of Advanced Technologies waved the young girl into the classroom while taking off his reading glasses and letting them hang on their chain. “Miss Nalley, I presume you have a note for being out of class just now?”
The girl nodded and extended a slip of paper in her hand. “Mr. Lord let me leave early ‘cause Ah needed to speak with ya’ll.”
Paulson smiled his warmest smile and gestured her to one of the desks. “I am completely at your disposal, Miss Nalley. What’s on your mind?” She sighed as she put down her satchel and began to dig into it.
“Patent law,” she replied as she produced her project hard drive and headed towards her workstation.
Somewhat confused, Langley followed her. “I’ve already gone over that, Miss Nalley. Everything built in this class that can be patented will be.”
She nodded as she got the drive seated and booted up the station. “Ah know sir, but, what rights does a patent holder have against the government?”
The teacher rubbed his van dyke in thought. “I can’t think of anyone who’s ever had a patent stolen by the government, despite what Bruce Willis may have to say on the matter. What is it you’re worried about, Elaine?”
“This,” she replied as she brought up a schematic. It hovered in three dimensions in a slow, clockwise spin while the teacher stepped up and began to take it in.
“Remove the cowling layers, please,” he murmured as he followed the schematics. It seemed like a very ordinary dynamo to the untrained eye that had been mashed together with one of the smallest force field generators he’d ever seen. There was an elegance to the design that an engineer would compare to a dancer’s grace with words most dancers would be baffled by. The sheer precision of the design stunned him for several moments as he took it all in and realized the young girl before him was everything he had been told and more.
“Elaine, this is beautiful,” he whispered. “It’s so fantastically simple…I…I’m honestly astonished. Now, the feed back loop of this field coil feeds into the rheostat of the dynamo, where is this power coming from?”
The girl didn’t answer for several moments, playing with her fingers. Finally, she whispered, “Ah don’t know.” Her admission shocked him out of his admiring of the design.
“You don’t know?” he asked, amusement in his tone.
“No sir,” the girl replied. “The field coil creates a self regulating Faraday Field that operates about a thousand hertz outside of the Lorentz Force limits…”
“Elaine that isn’t possible,” he interrupted.
“Well, kinda,” she hedged. Reducing the schematic to one corner of the display she called up a series of equations that was nearly as tall as she was. They were filled with Greek numerals and letters taking the place of numbers in a collection of more generic arithmetic operators that seemed completely out of place. “This is why it works. How is really better described by philosophy than math.”
Langley pulled out a small computer masquerading as a pocket calculator and began punching numbers in a frenzy using buttons most people wonder about on scientific calculators. “Jesus,” he whispered. “Jesus Christ, Elaine, do you know what you’ve done?”
“Yes, sir, Ah have created the Red Horse and the Sword for the Second Rider.”
Paulson blinked. “What?”
“’And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth’,” the girl quoted in a near whisper. “’And that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.’”
“The Revelation of St. John, Chapter Six, verse four,” he replied quietly. He put the calculator back into its keeper on his belt.
“Mister Paulson, this is the solution to power suits, isn’t it?” The teacher opened and closed his mouth a few times before he finally nodded. “And an army equipped with power suits powered by this…”
“Now,” he interrupted, grasping at some straw to reassure his terrified student. “We don’t have any idea what trouble’s we’ll run into in fabrication…”
She took a PDA from the pocket of the school’s blazer she was wearing and pressed the screen. A flash filled the bay and when the teacher wasn’t seeing spots anymore he saw that she was wearing the armor she’d showed off yesterday in the design well. “We have eight General Electrical CAD/CAM Fabricators. One built this in four hours Monday. Granted, it cost me twenty eight thousand dollars out of mah lab fees budget.”
“When did you book the Computation Lab to go over these numbers?” he asked as he got behind her to admire the unit on her back. It was much smaller than he was expecting. She shrugged.
“Ah didn’t. The math added up and this prototype is rated for 43.2 megawatts…”
“Wait, wait!” he ordered, spinning her about to face him. “You built something you admit you have no idea how it does what it does without finding a solution to these equations…?”
“Ah didn’t say Ah didn’t solve them,” she replied in her off hand manner. “Ah just didn’t use the Computation Lab.”
“Then…?” She sighed.
“Ah did them in mah head,” she replied quietly. Seeing the shock and the disbelief on his face she went over to the floating diagrams and pointed to a set off to one side segregated from the others by a box. “See? Wait, no, Ah’m sorry, Ah forget not everyone can do this. Here, Ah’ll walk you through it and tell me if Ah go too fast.”
The next three minutes were a whirlwind of trigonometry married to theoretical physics Langley Paulson wasn’t sure he was really qualified to understand. That, of course, had him wondering if anyone was. “So,” she concluded “if we find the covalent of the curve of the field slope can be harmonized to the resonance of predicable interfaces then the final solution becomes F=aqX (BDf(3.14/ZÑ)). That wasn’t too fast, was it?”
Langley licked his suddenly dry lips. “I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer that,” he admitted with self-deprecating chuckle. “However, if these two blocks hold to be true then that would imply that the power achieved is not in ratio to the size of the field.” Elaine nodded.
“That’s what Ah thought too. That means scaling the field won’t matter, the most this generator will ever be able to output is what it can now. Which is a shame, Ah was hoping Ah was wrong, as a bigger version would really help with civil power generation…”
“Elaine,” the teacher admonished. “Even if it doesn’t scale up or down, there’s always the array model for civil use. However, I can see why you’re worried about this. I don’t have answer, yet, but I will certainly get the school’s legal department involved and I will have an answer for you by the end of the term.”
She turned off the display and looked back at him. “Sir, Ah want to make a second model to help Jericho and his Raphael suit. That’s a really good use of this technology. But Ah’m terrified of what will happen if Uncle Sam gets a hold of these and…” she sighed and visibly composed herself. “Ah don’t want to be remembered in the same breath as Robert Oppenheimer.”
“I see,” the teacher replied thoughtfully as he pulled up a chair and waved his student into it. “Elaine, let me tell you a story. There was an inventor who created a device that revolutionized warfare. People felt that, because of his invention he was responsible for, arguably millions of deaths and became so hated that he was referred to as the Merchant of Death.”
“Mr. Paulson, Ah don’t…”
“Hear me out,” Langley replied with a chuckle. “Now, it is true that this inventor did also own part of an arms company, but his inventions weren’t originally designed or intended for warfare, they were actually meant for civil engineering purposes...”
“That’s exactly what Ah’m afraid of, Mr. Paulson!” she cried.
“Oh, I think you wouldn’t mind having this gentleman’s reputation, Miss Nalley,” he said with a smile. “His name was Alfred Nobel, and he invented dynamite, gelignite, and the Nobel Peace Prize. Elaine, we can’t control how our inventions are used. You couldn’t hold Sam Colt responsible for all the firearms deaths in the world just because he made the first revolver. And, more to the point, his invention saved just as many lives as it took. It’s how it’s used that determines the morality, not the thing itself. There are no evil knives or guns, just evil men who misuse them. Your patent on this will give you some control during your lifetime, but beyond that, history will prove to be a fairly kind judge.”
She considered that for a moment, then wiped her forehead, the arm of the suit she used slick with perspiration. “Is it hot in here, or is just me?” she asked.
“The temperature should be constant,” he replied feeling a noticeable rise in the air temperature near her as he walked over. “Elaine, does this unit normally run so hot?”
“No,” she exclaimed as she released the straps holding the power plant to the armor.
“Shit!” Paulson swore as his hands were burned helping her remove the unit and set it in the chair. He trotted back to his desk to get a thick pair of gloves and returned. As he did, Elaine finished attaching a line from her gauntlet and was punching buttons based one what she was reading on the screen built into it.
“Ah don’t understand, it’s at five hundred degrees and climbing, it’s never done this before! Ah wasn’t even drawing that much power…!”
“Draw isn’t the problem,” the teacher barked as he pulled the gloves on and picked up the unit. “It’s load! For some reason it’s building up a charge and the power doesn’t have anywhere to go so it’s bleeding it off as heat! We have to get this to one of the disposal pits!”
A low shout of surprise and pain brought both of their heads to the door. It opened to reveal Jericho carefully feeling his way through, protecting his hands. “Mr. Paulson!” he shouted. “I was bringing the spare power unit Loophole gave me and then it just got hot, my hands are burned…”
Paulson and Nalley exchanged a glance and looked at the equations still hovering next to them. “The curve of the field slope is flattening in proximity to another field,” the teacher proclaimed, turning to his student. “What does that do to the final equation?”
Loophole’s eyes darted as her mind re-worked the equations with this new information. “The two fields are going to heterodyne,” she declared, her eyes still darting. “With the inverse square of the two fields merging the energy…” Elaine trailed off as she looked up at her instructor. “We have to get both these units into containment twelve.”
“With the separation the curve should flow back,” Langley started but his student was shaking her head.
“Ah don’t think the other universe’s entries into this one obey the same laws of distance. Now that the two fields are beginning to heterodyne, it doesn’t matter how far apart here they are!”
“Get the other unit and follow me!” he ordered as he picked up the slightly glowing backpack and began to run with a speed not many would give him credit for. Elaine dashed after him collecting an elbow of Jericho as she did.
“Where’s the other unit, Jeri?” she asked as she guided the running boy.
“Bio-tunnel,” he answered as he showed her his hands. “Are they bad?”
Both palms were red, but neither were raising blisters or looking wet. She rubbed his blazer-covered arm in encouragement. “Ya’ll be fine, just a minor burn. Not even first degree,” she told him and finally saw how he was dressed. It was a boy’s Whateley uniform, like several hundred others on campus. But it also showed the subtle signs of being tailored by an expert, and precisely centered over the crest badge on the blazer was a small Red Cross pen that accented the sternwheeler signet of Twain Cottage on the right lapel. His tie was in a double Windsor that was as exactly centered on his Adam’s apple and the creases his slacks had pressed into them would cut glass. He didn’t look like a student; he looked like a model in a GQ photo shoot who was supposed to look like a student. “Damn, Joe, you look good!” she admired. “Who are you and what have you done with Jericho?”
“Well, if it’s worth doing,” the boy hedged. “Here it is!” He snatched off his coat and wrapped the power unit with it.
“Ah’ll get it!” she snapped, snatching the unit away from him before he could damage his hands worse. “Ah have gloves on!” The two students changed direction and began running once more, as now their very lives depended on getting to the containment unit.
Heat was now climbing to scorching levels and every so often the unit would arc to nearby metal like a fantastically over powered Tesla Coil. One of these struck Jericho, knocking the boy down and taking his breath while destroying his suit. “Go…!” he gasped from his knees. “I’ll be alright!”
Elaine ran, wishing she dared to tie the unit into her system and use the flight of the suit. “Batteries,” she panted to herself as she ran. “Next feature is batteries for fail safe…!” She skidded around the corner to see Mr. Paulson standing at the entrance to the containment unit, an eight inch hole burned through his Polo Shirt and skin revealing a gleaming silver carapace that looked solid but moved like muscle under the skin that had been burned away.
Loophole stumbled to a stop, awe struck and more than a little terrified at the sight, dropping the power plant out of the coat she was holding it in. “Elaine!” Langley shouted, finally drawing her eyes up from the macabre hole in his chest. “I’ll be alright,” he encouraged her as he picked up the arching power plant and threw it into the chamber. He slapped a large red button labeled EMERGENCY and the door to the containment unit, five feet thick at its widest, snapped shut faster than a door that large had any business moving.
Over the blare of sirens and flashing red lights, the foundations of the plateau the school sat on shook with the force of a three on the Richter scale. With a heartfelt sigh of crisis averted, the bio-mechanical teacher locked eyes with his one female student and he decided on a more quiet tone based on the terror he saw in her eyes. “Now, Miss Nalley,” he started after a very pregnant pause. “Would you be so kind as to tell me exactly how you thought up this particular prototype?”
Flicker looked at Aries seriously as the blonde girl with the charred hair and mutilated flannel walked by. Apparently she’d managed to acquire a Metallica T-shirt somewhere, but still looked like a semi-charred ragamuffin. “That’s her.”
Aries looked over and got a look of disgust. “You have got to be kidding me. Flicker, I can’t do anything she’s not doing to herself walking in public like that.”
“Hey, this is the word from Solange buddy. I’m just the messenger. The little bitch needs a lesson. Just do your thing, maybe make her shit herself.” Flicker looked at the odd girl. “I’ll admit, doesn’t look like much.”
“She looks like a bumpkin. What is this, newbie appreciation week?”
“Just do it Aries.” Flicker shook her head. “Solange says she needs a lesson, and you’re it. So be a good boy and do as you’re told, or we might be forced to consider alternative positions among the Alphas.”
Aries narrowed his eyes but said nothing. This whole Tansy in charge of the Alphas thing was beginning to ride his nerves. At least Kodiak would have talked to him face-to-face, but with Tansy the sole key holder to the Alpha privilege, she’d fairly well neutered anyone in the club’s ability to say no. At least, if they wanted to stay Alphas. It was like the Don had never left, merely taking on a less bright, more obnoxious, and female form.
Murphy, having more or less blown off the odd redhead’s commentary in her own mind, was gleefully considering the ramifications of actually being able to learn how to properly handle a pistol. She was also enjoying the walk between Whitman Hall, and the firing ranges.
As cool as it was to be at a school where everyone had super powers, it was nice to have a few moments of peace to simply feel normal. The snow on the ground and the frost clinging to the trees almost made her feel at home when she squinted and pretended that the foliage around her was actually birch and spruce trees from up north.
As cool as the school was, she was rather of mixed feelings about the whole boarding school aspect. Yes, it was a place no one thought she was a freak for being a mutant. Yes, she’d already made some fairly cool friends. And yes, they allowed her to enjoy the fun of blowing holes in targets on a shooting range. And as cool as Whateley Academy seemed to be there was one glaring thing it was not.
It wasn’t home.
She missed having her brother wake her up in the morning with his airborne three-year-old knee to solar plexus technique. She missed her dad rumbling into the rooms in the mornings roaring and punning and telling them that he was going to make them his chum so he could go shark fishing. She missed Mom’s enthusiasm and love.
She missed not having the hair stand straight up on her neck, feeling something she couldn’t really describe or explain, coming straight from behind her at a speed normally reserved for sports cars and fugitives from the police videos on TV.
With a low thump, and a puff of snow, Aries screamed straight through the spot the warper girl had been like a bat out of hell, overshooting and stumbling on the ice as everything abruptly seemed to go wrong. His feet slipped out from under him, his belt snapped and his shoe went flying off into the snow bank. He skidded to a stop on his back, in a snow bank, wondering what the hell had just happened.
Joanne appeared right above him, leaning down and shaking her head. “Hi, sorry about the sudden elsewhere, but I have this thing about being bulldozed at mach speeds on the first date. So, how are you? Who are you? And why for do you attempt to run me over with your crappy winter shoes?”
Aries got up and turned, only to find the girl already gone. The haze of snow announcing her passage from the area began settling gently to the ground. He shook his head and turned as he felt a tap on his shoulder. “Hello, please remit answers to questions.”
Aries snorted at the girl’s audacity. “And if I decide to say no?”
Murphy’s mouth widened in a slow, evil grin. “Then I guess I’ll have to console myself by watching you kick your own ass.”
Aries charged straight at her, moving fast as he could, and blinked as she seemed to drift to her left. He corrected his trajectory, curving his path in the milliseconds it took to reach her as reality snapped back, she returned to her original position, and his face hit a tree at eighty miles an hour.
Murphy, watching, and wondering who this idiot was and why he was bothering her decided to play mean and began focusing on the speedster. She waited for him to recover and face her before she assumed a melodramatically threatening pose and wiggled her fingers at him. “Mangle mangle mangle…” she intoned as a small patch at her feed rustled and a three-months-dead raven poked its head from the place it had fallen and gave her a gurgling “CAW!”
Her concentration disrupted by the sudden advent of living dead bird, Aries was up and moving as she teleported where he’d just run from. The dead raven helpfully decided to mark her path by taking flight and circling her head in a low orbit. “Ew, god, dead thing GET AWAY!” She slapped the bird, invoking her power to teleport it away from her. While Aries looked on rather bemused, Murphy wiped the semi-frosty, stinky dead bird goo on the bark of a nearby tree. He was less amused when said dead bird flew back over his head towards her, taking a crap on his jacket.
“Okay, that’s it. I’m sick of this.” Aries looked at the mess on his jacket with a tidy helping of disgust. “Tansy can do her own scutwork. I didn’t sign on to the Alphas for this shit.”
An odd thump accompanied the girl he’d been targeting as she appeared in his face, smiling. “Pardon me? Am I to understand a little Solange put you up to this?”
Aries considered for a moment. His heart really wasn’t in the game. “Yup. The Don is gone, so Queen Tansy flaunts her rule.”
“Thank you.” Murphy beamed a smile at the boy, relaxing her focus on ruining his day, and letting the likelihood of anything else going wrong in his life besides his sudden shift in priorities return to normal. “Don’t get too comfy with your queen Alpha. She’s beginning to piss me off immensely.”
“Girl, if you can do something to get her out of her comfort zone, I’ll buy you ice cream for a month.”
Joanne shook her head. “You play nice with the other Whitman girls, and don’t play when Tansy or anyone else says torment them, and I’ll make the bitch scream.”
Aries considered the girl’s words for a moment and considered what he’d accomplished as an Alpha since he’d been pinned at the beginning of this, his sophomore year. Nothing. He’d done the Don’s bidding and gotten to be part of the Alphas being made a laughingstock by a pack of freshman Poesies. He’d vented this frustration on other kids around campus and was a frequent target for terrorization by the likes of Mule, the Boy-Scout Grunt, or the likes of Razorback and Jimmy Trauger.
Aries held out a hand without further hesitation. “Deal.”
Joanne shook his hand and grinned. “Sweet! Now all I have to do is…” She stopped, frozen, shivering as something landed on her shoulder. “The raven landed on me didn’t it?”
“Ewwwwwww…” The girl vanished, leaving a cawing, dead bird hovering in the air to fly towards the entrances to Range Two.
A pair of sorry looking students found themselves facing one of the iciest gazes Mrs. Carson could dish out. It was made worse by Mr. Paulson standing on her side of the desk, also looking extremely put out and more than a bit disheveled. Fortunately, he’d managed to change his shirt. Still, it had been the retired hero’s quick thinking that had kept a bad situation from turning tragic. As Mr. Paulson finished the summation of the incident, Loophole found the toes of her suit’s boots extremely interesting and was more than a little envious of the serene look on Jericho’s face as the blind young man stared blankly off into space, oblivious to the stares the teachers laid on him.
The greatest shame of the entire affair was that his uniform, having looked so dashing earlier in the day, was now a torn and singed ruin no one would look twice at without thinking that’s just the way he way he always dresses. Finally, Mr. Paulson’s summation came to an end and the full weight of the Headmistress’ Attention settled on the two students. “Mr. Turner,” she finally asked, “I understand that this power plant was completely of Loophole’s design. Is that correct?”
“I was helping her make the second model, ma’am,” the boy replied bravely. “It was going to be applied to my project…”
“Did you assist in any way in the design of this device, Mr. Turner?” Carson pressed.
Jericho swallowed. “No, ma’am.”
“Did you assist in any way in the research upon which this device was based?”
“You may go,” she ordered casually. “And, Mr. Turner?” she called, stopping the young man mid-retreat. Once his sightless eyes were in her direction once more, she smiled so her pleasure would enter her tone and said, “Allow me to add my voice of encouragement in your new fashion sense. Doubtlessly when this class started you struck a very handsome figure. Please consider doing me the favor of continuing that trend.”
Jericho nodded vaguely and, with a consoling glance at Elaine, made his exit from the office. Once the door to the office was closed once more what warmth had entered it from Mrs. Carson’s encouragement of the Public Enemy Number One as far as the school’s fashion police went was as gone as the memory of summer in the early January day it was. “Miss Nalley, here we are again. To say I’m disappointed in your conduct is probably the understatement of the new Millennium.” The administrator sighed and took off the fashion glasses to stare her errant student in the eye. “Do you have anything to say in addition to Mr. Paulson’s report?”
Elaine shrugged her shoulders and refused to meet Carson’s eyes. “Ah had no way of knowing the capture fields would heterodyne when two units got close to each other,” she muttered softly. “It’s one of the quirks of EM Fields this large that have to be born out in prototyping. Nothing in the science indicated that would happen.”
Carson said nothing for a long moment, and then finally asked, “Langley?”
“That much is true,” Mr. Paulson admitted after a glare at his wayward pupil. “There are several strange effects in nature where physics say one thing should happen and practicality has a completely different answer.”
“I presume you mean things like bumble bees not being able to fly by the laws of aeronautics?”
“Close enough,” Paulson replied, deciding to keep the conversation more focused. “But that’s not the reason we’re in the Headmistress’ Office, is it, Miss Nalley?”
“No sir,” the girl admitted. “Ah didn’t discover the theories on which the power plant is based.”
Elisabeth blinked. “Who did?” she asked, a tad confused over this new turn. “And why aren’t they in here as well?”
Again Loophole shrugged and quietly added, “Ah guess because under Article twenty seven of the employee manual an employee is answerable only to their immediate supervisor and department head and that breeches of conduct requiring higher discipline…”
Finally the administrator found her tongue from the shock of what she was hearing. “Don’t quote rules to me, girl!” she snapped. “Whose research was this pony nuke of yours based on?”
“Theoretical Arguments for Extra-Dimensional Power Sources to Explain Paranormal Abilities,” quoted Elaine without humor. “That’s the working title, of course, but the authors are Doctors Richard Hewley and Jean-Michael Aranis.”
Silence settled on the room with the force of an atomic blast. Finally, Mrs. Carson’s lowest whisper broke it. “How did you get your hands on that information?”
“Someone opened a back door to the Schuster Hall mainframe and Ah found a copy of it while browsing the network. Once Ah wrapped mah brain around what Ah was reading Ah realized this was the answer to the problem with power suits so Ah set about working out the engineering.”
A perfectly sculpted fingernail stabbed the intercom button. “Amelia. Someone opened a back door into the Schuster Hall Mainframe. I want it closed, and the culprits in my office in ten minutes.”
“I’m on it,” the voice replied from the speaker.
A long sigh took the place of a much desired chocolate bar for the time being. “I suppose,” Elisabeth said finally, “The good doctors should thank you. Once the bugs are worked out the patent you’ve basically handed them should make them very rich men.”
For the first time, Mr. Paulson cleared his throat. “Uh, Elisabeth, that’s not possible.”
“Liz, while the good doctors laid out the theory, the Engineering is all Elaine’s. They can’t claim her patent any more than you are I could. That’s like Stephen Hawking suing somebody because they came up with an FTL drive because of some of his theories. The law won’t support it.”
“Langley, I expect rules from her, but…”
Paulson sighed. “It’s not rules, Liz, it’s law. Miss Nalley invented this and we can’t take it away from her.”
The Headmistress frowned. To the bashful student she ordered, “Wait outside.” Elaine was more than happy to follow this order and quickly retreated to the outer office. There, she was pointedly ignored by the office workers with the exception of a glare of daggers from Mrs. Hartford the one time she looked up from the computer screen and her frantic typing.
She settled into one of the chairs, an awkward rest due to the armor she was wearing, but glade that she made sure her own muscles could work the suit if the power assists failed. Minus its power supply of course, she was reduced to this method of locomotion. So she sat and waited wondering how much trouble she was really in. Her thoughts ran in circles for several lifetimes that actually only took a minute or two before the office door opened once more to Mr. Paulson’s face. “Come back in, Elaine.”
Following the instructor, Elaine wasn’t sure to be glad or more worried when he settled in behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders. Mrs. Carson’s agitation was spelled out by her pacing behind the desk. “I’m not satisfied,” she declared finally, “that Mr. Paulson’s interpretation of the law may be final, however, I’m not willing to have the school drug through the papers and that would be the result of such a lawsuit.”
“You would like it a lot less having a department chair testifying against you,” Paulson growled. Once Elaine could pick her jaw up off the floor she looked up at the teacher who winked at her. “Nerds stick together, Elaine. It’s a union thing.”
The Headmistress cleared her throat with all the weight and dignity of Queen Victoria. “Be that as it may,” she said finally, “I will see to it that Doctors Aranis and Hewley come to the same conclusion I have. That,” she stated firmly, “is of course dependent on you allowing the Doctors full research access to the device in question during your tenure here.”
“Article Fourteen, Engineering Track Guidelines,” Elaine replied softly.
“Further testing of this prototype will be under Mr. Paulson’s strict observance.”
“Ah have to have the power plant to make the suit work,” Loophole replied with no small amount of bitterness in her tone.
“I’m not interested…” Carson started but the red head had swallowed as much crow as she was prepared to eat and actually summoned the courage to interrupt her.
“Either Ah get mah power plant, or you have to assign Mr. Paulson to Team Phoenix too!” she shouted. “Ah didn’t want to take the class, but Ah didn’t get any say there and Ah can’t keep up with the team without this suit! Or you can give me back Principals of Space Craft Engineering, which would be mah preference. So what will it be?” For the first time she glared the administrator in the eye.
The two glared for a moment before a small smile pulled at Mrs. Carson’s face. “Langley, if this unit were to have some kind of catastrophic failure, is it going to explode the way it did this morning?”
“I’ll have to go over the specs again, but I doubt it,” the teacher replied after a moment of thought. “No more so than a regular dynamo being compromised. The event was so spectacular because the two units got their fields intertwined.”
Once more the two women locked eyes. “I’m not unreasonable,” Carson told the girl, causing some of the tension to drain from her muscles. “If Mr. Paulson signs off that the device meets Class I device criteria, you can keep it under your bed if you want.”
“It will be there next semester, Elaine,” Carson replied. The girl accepted defeat and finally nodded. “One more thing. This may be irregular, but this is certainly covered in the school’s Code of Ethics. You will apologize to Doctor Hewley and Doctor Aranis for the…advance copy of their dissertation.”
For the second time in the interview, Carson smiled. “Go on to lunch, Miss Nalley. We’ll work out the details of this later.” Her tone dropped back into the range normally reserved for correcting a wayward student. “Langley, a word?”
Knowing when to make good an escape, Elaine quickly took her leave of the office.
Elaine fled the oddest trip she’d ever experienced to Mrs. Carson’s office with her heart in her throat. “Ah can’t believe Ah did that!” she whispered to herself as she walked, amazed that she’d thrown down the gauntlet to Lady Astarte and walked out the winner! There had been plenty of occasions where she’d locked horns with the Head Mistress, but never had she even dreamed of raising her voice, let alone flat out making demands.
Today was definitely going to be a red-letter day in her diary!
As she directed her steps to the stairway down to the first floor and the connecting hallway to the Crystal Hall, she began to set her mind to how she could fix this little set back in the next model. As her head was filled with equations and circuit diagrams, she nearly ran into a pair of girls blocking her way. “Loophole,” the taller greeted in a manner that left no doubt to her personal feelings at being where she was, or doing what she was doing.
“Flicker,” Elaine replied, taking a half step back from reflex to stay out of arms reach. “Fade, what do ya’ll want?”
“I don’t think it’s right that you got into the Alpha’s just on Kodiak’s say so,” Nancy sneered.
“There are rules,” Heyley opined. “We didn’t get to vote.”
“And you of all people should know the importance of rules.”
Elaine crossed her arms in annoyance as much as the armor she was wearing would allow. “Ya’ll want to talk about rules? Let’s talk rules. Let’s talk about how Ah had five sponsors my freshman year, when Ah only needed one? Or about how the outgoing Alpha used her departing command to order my pin made; a recommendation that wasn’t broken in the history of the Alphas until this year? Or about how The Don, a junior declares himself Alpha without vote from the senior council? Or about how Tansy does the same thing? Or about how Ah was denied entry to the pledge party over the objection of the Alpha of the senior council who, Ah might add, should still be Alpha? You want to talk rules, Nancy? Ah got two words for you, bring it.”
The two girls shared a glance before Nancy took a step forward. “You want rules, Gadget Girl? Here’s one for you; I don’t like you. I don’t think you’re Alpha material, I don’t think you’ll ever be Alpha material.”
“How terrible for you,” snarled Elaine.
Nancy sighed and shook her head. “But what I think doesn’t matter. You are an Alpha and there isn’t anything I can do about it. And, as a female inductee, and speaking on behalf of the other female Alphas, I am required to warn you about Kodiak.”
Not hearing what she was expecting, Elaine took another half step back which Nancy quickly filled. “What?”
“You heard me. I’d be perfectly happy letting that shaggy Casanova carve your notch in his belt, but Tansy has decreed that we’re all better than that, and as sisters, we should look out for each other.” She opened her purse and dug out an audio tape and presented it to her. “You want to know the truth about his shagginess, listen to this. Or don’t, but don’t come crying to us if you don’t and you get humped and dumped like half the school.”
“Yeah,” Heyley added. “Have it your way, we did what we had to do.”
As if they were suffering through an unpleasant odor, the two girls walked off. Elaine watched them go for a moment, genuinely confused at this new turn of events before her stomach loudly reminded her of where she was going. Dropping the tape into one of the armor’s pockets she made her way to the Hall, wondering what other strangeness would happen today.
“Miss Gunnarson, while I appreciate your punctuality for the weapons handling and safety class, and the fact that there are only six students for me to keep track of here…” Staff Sergeant Ryan Wilson was deceptively calm as he glared at this most recent of troublemakers at Whateley Academy. “…I’m afraid I must insist on an explanation of why you have a dead bird orbiting you on my range!”
Murphy cringed slightly, scowling at the floor before looking up at the Army Ranger who was so very helpfully tapping a foot expectantly. The offending semi-frozen, half-rotten Raven was continuing its circling with a half-gurgling cawing noise. She didn’t want to think about it, much less touch it or smell it.
“I’m waiting, missy.” Wilson favored her with a glare while the other five kids were pinching their noses and trying to stay as far away from the dead thing as the teacher would allow.
“I don’t know why it happens.” Joanne started slowly. “It’s why I have a channeller tag on my MID. For some reason, according to the power testers I dealt with, I collect and amplify energies associated with death.”
“So why don’t you un-collect and get rid of the Sun-Stealer there?”
“I don’t know how!” Joanne was almost ready to cry. “Every time I go near dead things that still have limbs they start getting up and following me! I can’t stop it, I can’t control them and I can’t make them go away unless I can get far enough away that they just fall over. It’s why I can’t go to school at home anymore, why I can’t just stay in Fairbanks. I went to a funeral and all of the bodies started clawing their way out of the ground to get to me!”
Wilson grimaced slightly. “Can you get rid of it?”
Joanne nodded, much to the relief of the other students. “Yeah, I just need about ten minutes and to be outside.”
“Get to it girl.” Wilson pointed to the door leading out. “You are excused for any tardiness related to evading road kill buddies. Don’t bring them to my range again.”
Murphy nodded, and bolted out the door. Two minutes later, and she was aboveground once again, and she bolted into a full sprint. The raven followed her easily until the teleported an easy hundred meters. When she materialized she was still running, that odd sense of her immediate surroundings coming to the fore. She teleported again, spraying snow everywhere, gaining a longer distance, and began picking up the pace of her jumps as she brought all of her senses in line to help her travel.
Jump. She was running through the woods at the edge of the campus.
Jump. A deer, startled from it’s search for food bolted abruptly as the girl exploded into existence twenty feet away and disappeared again. Jump. She was running full-tilt through thick foliage that seemed to be growing denser as the moments ran by and she unconsciously passed the unspoken border where the campus really ended and the Mediwahlia reservation really began.
Unseen by the girl, one of the curious weres had seen her pass and was figuring out what to do when the dead raven abruptly lost its animate force. She received fifteen pounds of rotting carcass fall from the sky and crash into her chest with a sickening splat. She lost all interest in following the errant student as the fastidious were cat immediately began trying to divest herself of the foul-smelling fluids that decorated her clothing.
Joanne continued her jumps for a couple more minutes, convinced she’d put enough distance between herself and the dead bird and stopped, taking in her surroundings. She could feel the trees, the snow, the ground around her for about five hundred yards, as well as see with her eyes a short distance through the woods. As she halted herself she took a few deep breaths, lungs and muscles unused to the exertion.
She could feel the man or woman dart into the bushes nearby, imagining the unseen figure watching her. She mentally felt for the edge of her perception range and vanished again. She really didn’t feel like explaining as she picked her way back towards the campus, teleporting every few steps to recover the distance.
Once more she fell into the rhythm, run, jump, run, jump, always to the edge of what she could see and no further. The last thing Joanne wanted to do was to tempt fate and spent another week re-growing a limb that had appeared inside something that wouldn’t give. She was across the campus in a series of leaps like an animation missing a number of in between frames. It all came to a halt as she reached the door to Kane Hall and its access to the tunnel system. Now was not the time to be cute, there were too many things in her perception for her to visualize where she was going properly, worse the building itself was a complete blank to whatever sense she was using for this ability. So it was on feet alone that she quickly finished her journey to Range Two.
.”Well,” growled Gunny once he had his folders to his liking at the podium. “What a cluster fuck yesterday was.” His eyes shot lasers at the handful of students sulking at their desks in front of him. “With so much to choose from I hardly know where to draw the low light from! It could be the staggering lack of teamwork. What were you thinking, son?” he demanded as he circled around the desk and walked up to Cody. “’Oh look, here’s a goddamn force of nature that professional teams have trouble with, why don’t I toss common sense to the fucking wind and see how quickly I can get my ass handed to me?’”
“Not exactly,” muttered Kodiak.
“Not exactly,” Bardue repeated incredulously. Continuing past he rounded on Zenith. “Now, Miss Nesmith here lays out a half way decent plan of engagement in the absence of this teams Captain.” He let the sentence hang for a moment before finishing the compliment with the back of his hand. “Except, of course, for the part about thinking she had a snow balls’ chance in hell of successfully engaging a brick of Titan’s stature minus her team’s brick! Did you think he was going to take it easy on you because you’re girl or he’s a gentleman?”
“I’m a brick…” she started but was quickly cut off.
“You and Kodiak together with the rest of your team would have been hard pressed to defeat Titan. Still, you did do the best you could with what you had to work with.” Bardue snorted in disgust and continued past. “You need to get that chip off your shoulder, son, or you’ll get buried with it,” he scolded Bifrost. “You need to learn a fire fight isn’t the place to try and pick up a pretty girl!” Was Interfaces’ rebuke. “Sacrificing yourself is still a painful way to die,” he snapped at Kali before settling in front of Elaine. “And while we’re on the subject of painful ways to die, field testing equipment in a free fire zone is certainly near the top of that list.”
“We saved the people,” countered Interface. “That has to count for something.”
“Maybe one of them will name a kid after the dead hero that saved them!” snarled Bardue. “Wake the fuck up, people, this isn’t a game. This is your last year here for some of you and you’re still acting like wide eyed freshmen who fart lightening bolts by accident!” Glaring at them one by one the former Marine finally strutted back to the podium and sighed heavily. “It breaks my heart, my heart to give you clowns a B for that abortion yesterday, but as you met both victory conditions so I have no fricking choice. Now, you just remember that yesterday was the only free ride you get in here!” he roared over the murmur of surprise and celebration from the students.
Shaking his head at remembrances of his own misspent youth, the gunny banged on the podium with the flat of his hand for quiet. “Alright, announcements, so listen up. Loophole! You’re excused to Mr. Paulson’s to repair the power plant to that stylish outfit of yours. And you can expect a mother of a work out for it tomorrow! Friday, there will be no simulation and the period will be devoted to you lot working out your new moves to take Loophole into account. You’ll have use of the simulator during the period for testing. Finally,” and the older man grinned with demonic glee. “Finally, children, speaking of testing, Monday will be your first test so be sure you ruin your weekends worrying about it! I guarantee it will be worse than you imagine! Start booth in five!”
The team shuffled out, each absorbed in their own thoughts about the stinging critique. Of them all, Kodiak seemed to be taking it the hardest and barely waved at Loophole as he passed his face cloudy with repressed anger. Realizing she was on a timetable, Elaine fell in step with Interface. “Ah think you did pretty well, Randy,” she told him in her most sincere manner.
The young man immediately perked up and flashed a million-dollar smile. “Hearing you approve is all the thanks I need, little lady,” he announced in a truly lamentable imitation of John Wayne with a swagger in his gait.
“Is he always so mean?” she asked, adding a flutter to her eyelashes that is genetic in Southern Girls. Interface was helpless.
“Don’t mind him, Elaine, he’s like a tornado. Fierce and blustery but he blows over.”
Like a spider in her web, Loophole lured her fly in. “Randy, Ah don’t mean to be a bother…”
“You couldn’t be that…!” he protested.
“Could Ah impose on you for a favor…?”
An Everlock BDS-212 stood a lonely vigil protecting an innocuous looking door labeled only CCS. If it had more than the most simple of electronic brains it might be curious why the Head Mistress of the school might be paying a visit to the Central Supply facility at one in the morning. However, as it didn’t, it merely noted that this was a legitimate access, sent a packet to the master log server via the network to Schuster Hall and obediently released the current to the electromagnet holding the door closed.
It didn’t see a very male figure dressed entirely in black slip through, nor did it notice the figure make a bee line to the other side of the immense cavern beyond to the IT Cage. The lock didn’t notice that the figure it had granted access use a set of lock picks that quickly defeated the Master lock that was holding the cage shut. Nor did it wonder why the figure quickly identified a specific ThinkPad from the stack of spares, the one that had a French flag sticker on the outer lid. BDS-212 couldn’t care less that the unit was booted, passwords were defeated and a file was quickly copied from the hard drive to a thumb drive the male Mrs. Carson had brought with her.
Then the excitement was over. Laptops were returned to their rightful place, Master locks were holding cage doors shut and BDS-212 was alone in its hallway once more.