EVEN MURPHY’S LAW HAS LOOPHOLES
By E. E. Nalley & Joe Gunnerson
The Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Life was going pretty well for Wyatt Cody.
His spirit companion was back where he belonged with no one the wiser for his brief absence. Plans were moving along nicely for the house cleaning project and the other seniors had been excited with the legacy project, all falling in line and accepting his leadership without challenge. In fact, after breakfast he needed to head up to Holbrook Arena to get the preliminaries for the project sorted out and make sure the mages of the class had the spells that would keep the underclassmen away ready with everything they needed.
So, his tray piled high with a breakfast fit for a king, the Alpha Alpha took his place at the high table with a particularly large grin on his face. Today was the kind of day where he felt nothing could go wrong. Even Tansy had taken to moving down the table to eat with her two lickspittles Flicker and Fade.
Cody wasn’t sure how Tansy had managed to get sunburned in the middle of winter, but he made a mental note to thank whoever might be responsible for the smile that never left his face when he caught sight of her now peeling skin. Catching sight of Aries coming to the table, Kodiak waved him over. “Morning, Arnie” the Bear rumbled around a mouthful of pancakes.
The chief spy of the Alphas rolled his eyes as he made himself comfortable. “Could you please not call me that?” the boy groused as he peppered his eggs. “Arnold, Aries, its not like I’m picky, Cody.”
“Any word on what happened to Tansy?” Kodiak replied, ignoring the Junior’s request.
Arnold ‘Aries’ Harvey shook his head and began to tuck in to his breakfast with gusto. “Nope,” he answered between bites. “Found a couple of the usual suspects making big noise and claiming it, but when they were pressed they couldn’t say how it was done. Best guess is whatever went down happened at the photo shoot Monday, but none of the other girls were affected.”
“Any of them talking?”
“I’ve got a snitch that mentioned that they heard Fey talking about a tube of some kind of cream that Lifeline passed around to everybody but Tansy but…” Aries couldn’t continue because of Kodiak roaring with laughter. “What?” he demanded peevishly, annoyed that Cody had evidently put something together he missed.
“Loophole,” the senior laughed in a more subdued tone. “Lifeline is Loophole’s room mate. If she passed around whatever saved the other girls that means she was in on it, and that points all the fingers back to my lovely red headed firebrand.”
“That’s not exactly hard evidence, but hey, if you’re happy…”Aries didn’t continue because one of those dangerous murmurs that generally preludes something major happening was sweeping the Hall. Quickly looking around he traced the source to his buddy’s current fascination, Loophole herself. She was wearing jeans and a sweater, both hastily donned if the sway of her assets were any indication.
She was heading towards the table somewhere between a trot and the inexorable march of Fate itself. Her roommate was trying to pull her back, but as enraged as her face was that was a waste of time. More to the point, it looked like the Georgia Peach had come here straight from Whitman without benefit of a coat, her anger keeping her warm.
Aries had seen Loophole this angry once before and wondered who was going to lose a tooth this time.
She made a bee-line for Kodiak who only just got to his feet to tower over her as she reached him; for all the good it did. “So Ah’m a pretty nerd, huh?” she screamed at him, her voice echoing in the silent Hall.
“Wha…what…?” demanded Cody as he couldn’t help but take a step back from this primal force of rage he was facing down. His chest was speared by Loophole’s finger.
“Just the thing to shack up with, huh? Huh? Huh, tough guy? Is that what Ah am to you? A little carbon copy of your pathetic mother?!"
“What are you talking about?” roared Wyatt. He was feeling the weight of every eye in the room and that kingly feeling he’d been basking in was nowhere to be found.
“You don’t know?” she demanded, her voice thick with sarcasm. “He doesn’t remember, Maggie! How about that?”
“Elaine, stop it,” hissed Lifeline, but Loophole was not about to be denied at this point.
“Well, let me refresh your memory! About this time yesterday, you and Pendragon were having a good old time bragging about everything from cons you’d pulled to girls you’d fucked!”
“Wait…”stammered Wyatt, as he took a step backward. “How…?”
“You were recorded, you pig!” Elaine screamed. “What do you care, you were certainly talking loud enough!”
A slap echoed throughout the Hall as Gloria walked away from Art, her back rigid and indignation written all over her normally lovely features. As Pendragon ran after his girlfriend, Kodiak’s brief respite was up. “So daddy’s little boy is all grown up and now that he’s had his way with half the damn school you’re looking for some safe little nerd and memories to keep you warm at night?” Elaine continued, tears beginning to roll down her face. “Well that’s me, isn’t it? The safe little nerd! Goddamn your sorry hide Ah believed in you! Ah bought into all that bullshit, Ah defended you to mah real friends who warned me about doing your dirty work! Damn you Ah believed you could be somebody! But you’re not you son of bitch! You’re just a school yard bully with a big fucking mouth!”
Cody’s face stung as a second slap echoed throughout the hall. His stomach turned in knots as he watched Elaine’s heart brake on her face as the rage finally gave way to a terrible grief. “Elaine…” he started, but she turned her tear stained face away.
“Ah hate you,” she whispered before she fled the room.
His mind reeling, Kodiak didn’t notice Flicker and Fade high five each other behind his back. What leapt out to him was a pair of slate gray eyes that speared him from behind a pair of glasses. While the rest of the Hall either laughed at the display, or were in shock, Joanne Gunnarson shot daggers under her purple highlighted blonde hair as she seethed in rage.
Boy, the bear whispered in his ear. You are in a heapof shit.
It was only with a great force of willpower that Tansy watched the dramatic scene next to her unfold without having her jaw hit the floor in shock. After the little nerd ran out in tears Kodiak stood for several moments so obviously trying to have this thick skull think it was pathetic. Finally he walked away from his own tray, thinking so hard Tansy expected smoke to start coming out of his ears. Solange had seen Flicker and Fade celebrate and, turning to them she finally demanded, “What just happened?”
“That,” declared Nancy with a smug smile on her face “was us watching your back, Tansy.”
“We totally destroyed her!” giggled Heyley.
“And why do we care about the little tinker nerd who shouldn’t have been admitted in the first place?” demanded Tansy as she fiercely resisted the urge to scratch at her peeling skin.
“Well,” drawled Nancy who was thoroughly enjoying her victory. “Heyley and I followed Peeper and Greasy after you sent them out to go and spy on Kodiak.”
“Yes, yes,” snapped Tansy. “I got their pathetic report. Kodiak and that pantyhose wearing queer Pendragon lording over their misspent youth. So what?”
Flicker and Fade exchanged glances. “Tansy,” Heyley told her with all the sincerity she could muster, “Kodiak was going to replace you with her!”
“Don’t be absurd,” snorted Solange in disgust as she daintily sipped at her orange juice. “Loophole? Loophole replace me as Queen of the Alphas? I’m so far out of her league we’re not even playing the same game. Now, I don’t know how Kodiak has been able to resist my mental suggestions to this point but once I figure out how…”
“Don’t you get it?” snapped Nancy. “Kodiak wanted Loophole because you are better looking! He’ll be able to control her that way!”
Solange slapped her hand down on the table in anger and instantly regretted it. As she cradled her wounded appendage she hissed, “I have all the keys and codes for the Alpha special areas! Kody can’t replace me and, more to the point I’m the one Mrs. Hartford talks to! Now I don’t know where you two air heads got this notion…”
“Are you sure you have those keys?” snarled Nancy in exasperation. “Don’t forget I’m certain it was the Lit Chix that fouled up The Don’s ploy with Little Bee and Chaka. And in so doing they found the stash! If they can pull that off that has to be part of the reason Kodiak went to Loophole in the first place! IF you don’t have that to hold over Kodiak then we’re all out!”
“That’s why we gave her a copy of the tape we made with Kodiak and Pendragon!” Heyley quickly affirmed. “We’re looking out for you, Tansy! Besides, you know the Yellow Queen isn’t smart enough to have pulled that off herself.”
The gears turned quickly behind Tansy’s eyes as the haze of pain and unbearable itch she was living with was finally pierced. “Alright, that was good thinking,” she admitted finally. “Even if I think you’re nuts about the Lit Chix being that much of threat, Nancy. Alright, Flicker, you follow Kodiak in case that scene they just played out was for our benefit. Fade, you come with me. We’d better move the keys and I don’t want anyone to even have a chance of seeing where they go this time.”
Cottage Parent’s Apartment, Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
Trish Savage hated dusting. It wasn’t the chore itself that bothered her, or even the physical exercise. Mrs. Savage was actually an avid fitness buff. One corner of the small apartment in the cottage was taken up by a Bowflex machine that was nightly put through its paces. No, it was that dusting meant she had to look at the pictures she was dusting.
“Maybe I should get one of the kids to do this for detention,” she muttered to herself as she looked at the two brightly colored figures, bundled from head to foot, faces obscured by oxygen masks and wraparound sun glasses waving at the camera. Once again her memory recalled the view she’d shared with her departed husband from the top of the world. A view, they used to joke, they liked so much they had to go back to the top of Everest a second time to relive and get more photos of.
Trish couldn’t bear the thought of putting the photos away; that would be like denying the existence of the adventures she had shared with the love of her life. But, to see them about sometimes served to remind her how alone she was. “I’ve got my girls,” she told herself as she returned the photograph to its place and continued her housekeeping. “It’s not like I need to have kids of my own…”
The tingle of the necklace Circe had given her gave her only a few seconds of warning before the entire cottage rattled by the slamming of the front door. Sighing in resignation, Trish was off in pursuit to give a piece of her mind to the perpetrator to have respect for other people’s property. The sound of footsteps running up stair ended quickly, telling the house mother her quarry was on the second floor, but as she climbed the steps the necklace picked up the trailing of leaking emotions the girl had been venting like a blown tire. Trish knew this wasn’t going to be a simple fix.
Sure enough, as she reached the top of the stairs to her right, the door to room 216 was slightly ajar. Giving a calming gesture to a couple of the other sophomore girls who’s heads had come out of doors to see what the commotion was, Trish steeled herself and pushed the door open. The room was identical to all the others in the cottage, twelve by twenty feet, and likewise all the furniture was standard issue, a faux blonde maple that consisted of a pair of student desks on the wall with the door, a pair of 4 drawer dressers, a wardrobe for hanging items, and a night stand at the foot of each bed. The beds themselves were a simple tube iron frame twin types in black and a dorm fridge the girls shared sat between the two windows on the far wall.
There was where the similarities ended and the room was as different left and right as it was night and day. Lifeline’s half of the room was on the right side and it showed, jewelry boxes and stuffed animals cluttered her dresser and wardrobe, while her posters were of super models she admired and country music stars she had crushes on.
It was obvious both girls were neat, but there was a precision about Loophole’s side of the room that boarded on obsession. A good portion of her desk was taken up by draftsman’s tools and toy cars shared the dresser top with her jewelry box. Her posters were as eclectic with exotic cars, the NASA logo and a collection of space hardware. The only poster that had people on it was of the Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters over her bed. Elaine was curled in a ball on her bed, back to the door and was crying so hard that her shoulders were shaking.
Trish steeled herself as she let herself into the room and closed the door firmly behind her. Without saying a word, the Housemother gathered the young woman up into her arms as she sat down on the edge of the bed. Words would come later, she knew, for the time being she let one of her surrogate daughters know that she wasn’t alone and let her cry. The important thing now was stroking the bright red hair and providing the shoulder to cry on.
Mrs. Savage almost wished she had a camera to capture the vulnerability and the hurt. She’d faced down her share of bigots in her life. There were some, no matter what, would only see ‘mutant’ when they looked at this troubled young woman. But there were those who could be saved, she knew, if only they could look through her eyes in the years that she, a so-called normal had seen while working at this amazing place.
She knew there were no ‘normals’ or ‘mutants’ there were only confused children, trying to find their way in the world, betrayed by their bodies more than any other teen making the journey to adulthood. Trish rocked back and forth and comforted her daughter from some other mother, knowing how grateful that woman would be for Trish Savage being here and doing what she was doing for their child.
For all their abilities and powers, Trish Savage knew that deep down, where it really mattered, they were only children, and human children at that. “It will be alright, sweetheart,” she murmured as she realized that despite her own hurt she was probably the luckiest woman alive.
God had put her in the place where she could make the most difference and no one could ask for more. “It will be alright,” she whispered again.
School Grounds, Whateley Academy
Kodiak wandered in the shallow snow banks just off campus proper, back and forth, cursing at himself. All that obnoxious talk with Pendragon had been just that, talk. And when Loophole had shown up and blown up in his face in the Crystal Hall, things had gone from good to shit hole in no seconds flat.
“You got any answers for me you cranky old bastard? Any words of cryptic wisdom?” As always, the old bear was silent. He wasn’t asleep, wasn’t meditating, so the only thing he’d get from that one would be vague rumblings of emotion. All in all after the dream about the nuclear cold he could probably do without any visitations for a while. He needed time to think, to plan.
He needed time to figure out how he was going to make things right with Elaine.
Kicking the tree over didn’t help anything, but it made him feel slightly better. All this time he’d wasted trying to stay under Don Sebastiano’s radar so he wouldn’t become a meat puppet like Cav and Sky had taken its toll. He’d let himself fall off the sharp edge and now he was reaping the benefits of letting his mouth run while Tansy’s little snoops were listening in.
As cold-blooded as his dad’s words were about finding a nerd and marrying her were, he knew his dad was right about one thing. Loophole was the one he wanted, but all that was falling apart with the wrong choice of words to someone else that were overheard. His mind kept wandering back to the hurt on Elaine’s face when she was screaming at him and that bone-crystallizing cold expression the new girl, Murphy, had shot at him during the whole incident.
As the scene played over in his mind again, he thought he caught a scent of fresh shampoo, and female on the wind. He turned in the direction, but all he could see was more snow, leafless trees and Whitman Cottage. He hadn’t intended to wander this way, he’d meant to drift more towards Poe, where at least no one would be willing to speak to him, much less want to be seen with him.
At that particular moment, his foot decided to find the slickest patch of ice on-campus and his feet whipped out from under him, causing him to sprawl onto his back in the snow. He stood himself up, mystified, wondering how he’d gotten so turned around when he caught a glimpse of an angry blonde face with the front locks of her hair newly-dyed neon purple staring bullets at him from a window. He also saw her turn and pick up what looked like a metal hockey stick.
“Not in the mood for this.” He turned and began walking away when the snow in front of him seemed to explode with a near-ultrasonic “Whump” and the hockey stick whipped straight into his balls with all the force Joanne could muster.
Kodiak made a very un-bear-like sound, somewhat stunned by the sudden shock to his tender bits when the girl whipped hit him again with a classic high-sticking slap shot. He managed to get his hands in the way the third time before he hit his knees. Anywhere but there, and he’d have simply pushed her aside. It wasn’t enough to totally incapacitate him, like any normal bodybuilder would have been, but he did hit his knees. The blade of the stick slapped upside his face, hard, causing him to jerk his head. He caught the third swing in his hand and jerked the stick from the angry blonde girl’s hands.
Joanne looked up at the big senior with a hostile glare, setting her feet, bending her knees and crouching slightly, almost growling. “Big man on campus, huh? Nice little philosophy you have there, pick a nerd, make her so grateful to have you that she’ll love you forever? And here I thought you might be someone who was worth a fuck.”
“Murphy I’m not in the mood for…”
“Shut your fucking face Kodiak!” He had to give her credit. She didn’t scare him one bit, but he could see that the reverse was also true. Either that or she wasn’t thinking rationally, possibly both. “I don’t have so many friends that I’m gonna stand by and let you shit on the ones I think are worth keeping.”
“I wasn’t going to do anything to Elaine.” He caught her fist in his hand, as gently as he could. He felt an odd pop and a pressure change and rather abruptly the ground wasn’t under his knees. He let go of Murphy’s fist and heard that low whumping sound again as he flailed and pirouetted in free fall for about twenty feet, barely twisting and catching himself on his feet and one hand. On ice. His limbs slicked out from under him again from the impact, putting his face in the snow once again. It didn’t hurt, but it was aggravating.
As he stood to his feet the trees, jostled by him hitting the ice, dumped all of the snow from the branches, seemingly putting all of the white stuff down his flannel. He bit back the roar of frustration and counted to ten slowly, feeling a creeping lurch as he did so, but the girl didn’t attack again. When he reached ten and looked up, it was straight into a twisted caricature of Whateley Academy with odd, distorted angles that would have made Tim Burton puke.
The trees were twisted and wrong, bending around and back upon themselves in bizarre, random formations. The ground was rippled unnaturally, coming up in places, bending downward and rotated in odd ways that M.C. Escher could never have envisioned in his most fevered imaginings. His stomach lurched as his brain tried to process the landscape that couldn’t exist, and his senses gave way to a wash of vertigo that made him feel slightly wobbly.
He saw the angry girl standing a few feet away from him to his right. “So that’s how you got Aries without hurting him.” He sighed. Kodiak could have fought, threatened or blustered effectively enough to beat Murphy, but he just didn’t feel like he had it in him. He’d beaten warpers at their own game before, including manglers like Kismet. Unfortunately, part of him wasn’t sure if he didn’t deserve it, for more than just Loophole. He’d let that asshole Sebastiano run circles around the school, and that had colored his senior year.
“Go away Kodiak. You’re not welcome here.” Joanne was quiet, but steely. He got a good look at her. She wasn’t the charred ragamuffin he’d seen sitting at the Alpha table before. Her hair, once short-cropped, uneven and badly dyed now hung below her shoulders, long and straight, framing her face between two neon-purple bars that were her front locks. She was in non-charred clothing and, appropriately, was sporting a Metallica Tee. She’d somehow managed to clean up and gain about four or so inches of hair.
“Look, I’m sorry, alright?” No, it wasn’t alright. It wasn’t what he wanted to say, he’d meant to be silent but it was like his brain was misfiring along with his bad footing and the snow. He put two and two together and rather abruptly clamped his mouth shut. He figured out that Murphy’s codename was probably one of the most appropriate she could have had. Only a mangler could put him in a state where even talking was difficult to do properly.
“Sorry?” Murphy seemed to explode in another cloud of snow, which moved in hypnotically nauseating patterns to his eye as she picked up the hockey stick from where he’d discarded it, vanishing again. “Sorry?” She vanished again with a spray of snow and he felt the impact of the hockey stick against the backs of his knees before another spray of snow and that low whump sound signaled her vanishing again.
Kodiak closed his eyes again and cleared his thoughts. It would have been so easy to stop her. He could smell easily enough to navigate her twisted nightmare-scape that she’d created without eyes. He was probably faster than she could comprehend, being new, and he knew how to stop a teleporter dead in their tracks. The only problem was… he really didn’t want to. “Whatever. Do what you want Murphy, I’m not gonna fight you.”
Joanne’s jaw dropped when Kodiak simply stepped down and knelt, putting his hands behind his back. He gave her a perfect target to vent her frustrations on, and she was sorely tempted, but she knew.
Beating a target who wouldn’t even defend himself would be about as satisfying as eating volcanic ash. “Damn you!” Murphy howled and whipped the hockey stick away, tromping right up to him, in the classic hands-on-hips angry girl posture. “I’m not falling for that pity me, I feel oh so remorseful bullshit.”
“Never was expecting you to.” Kodiak looked up. “Look, I didn’t even intend to come here. Looking over there, knowing Elaine’s in there thinking that I want to use her…” he growled and dug the fingers of one hand through the frozen ground, “I feel like a jackass, all because I had to talk shit, and Tansy’s little cohorts decided to record me and Pendragon jawing about old times and some things my dad told me.”
Joanne stopped cold, a comment about his parentage, and what a douche-bag he really was had been hanging on her lips when the name Tansy slipped from his. “Excuse me? What did you say?”
“Flicker and Fade work for Tansy.” He stood up, shaking his head. “The two of them are looking for ways to make sure Tansy stays in the lead among the Alphas. I knew that they were looking for ways to help Solange keep her little queen seat among the Alphas, but I wasn’t thinking they’d use a bunch of shit me and Pendragon were jawing about to attack Elaine.”
Kodiak sighed as he looked away. “I should have known better.”
Murphy punched him in the chest…hard.
“What was that for?” He had barely felt the impact in a pain sense. “I’m telling the truth, damn it!”
The blonde girl looked up at him primly. “And this excuses the hurt Elaine’s feeling how?”
“Exactly.” She socked him again in the arm.
“Shouldn’t Elaine be the one beating me?”
“No, I’m torturing you for information.” Murphy grinned.
Wyatt gave her a dry look. “What do you want to know?”
“Everything you have on Flicker, Fade and Tansy while we walk.”
Kodiak raised an eyebrow. “Why them?”
“I’m not a complete idiot, bud. If I were to ask you how you really felt about Loophole what would your answer be?”
“Why? Trying to dig information about your little arrangement with her?”
Joanne narrowed her eyes. “Who told you about that?”
“Not Loophole.” Wyatt grinned. “I do have eyes and ears around campus myself.”
Joanne grunted and moved along. “Answer the question, shaggy.”
“Why do you believe me, anyway?”
Joanne gave a rueful smirk. “One of the downsides of being able to spot a liar. You tend to either be really good at deception… or really suck at it. “You are a very good liar. I’m not. But I can spot shit like that without some kinda asstacular power. You’re still not getting out of having to answer.”
“Which one?” He grinned as Joanne gripped the Hockey stick and eyeballed his nuts again. “Alright, alright. I like Loophole a lot; maybe more than a lot. Whether it goes further, I’m not sure, but I’m not going to do anything with her until I am sure. All I know is hers are the eyes I want to see when I look into a girl’s face, and when I realized what was up, maybe I was looking to have someone kick my ass.”
“You do realize you’re going to have to apologize pretty hard to get Elaine to forgive you.”
“Nothing worth having is easy.” He growled to himself. “When I can get away with it, I’m going to do something with Flicker and Fade for the hurt they’re laughing about on Elaine’s part.”
Joanne shook her head. “No, no dear. Leave Flicker and Fade alone. I claim their asses, and Solange’s, for this one.” She looked up at him. “You find a way to make it up to Elaine.”
“I thought you’d be happy if she quit with me.”
Joanne snorted. “Kodiak, again with the ‘I’m not stupid” thing. I knew I didn’t have a chance from the get-go. I’m just having fun making Elaine sweat.” She got a dark look. “This recording shit? This isn’t fun. And I promise you, if I have to deal with another friend bawling her eyes out because of you I’m gonna teleport your nut sack into concrete. Comprendé?
Kodiak nodded, then grabbed the blonde girl up in a hug, and didn’t stop till her bones were almost popping. “You’re a wicked little bitch aren’t you?”
“And don’t you forget it. Now put me down and let’s get the fuck outta here before Elaine sees you and cries again. Just do yourself a favor and make sure you aren’t lying to me boyo, or I’ll make sure you never see me coming.”
Kodiak just stared at the girl for a moment, then nodded. “Alright. Let’s get shit done.”
The two began wandering, and Flicker smirked from her perch. It had been too far for the microphone on the camera, but there was plenty enough visuals in the camcorder to get the little blonde bitch in trouble with both Carson and Loophole. Tansy was going to want to have a look at the footage, but first…
She wanted to figure out what the pair of them were planning.
Venus, Inc. Clubhouse changing room, Dunn Hall, Whateley Academy
Tansy was sufficiently surprised by the commotion she found waiting for her in the changing room of the Clubhouse that it cut her off mid-rant about the needlessness of moving the keys. The door was propped open to the changing area and a fan was running to move smoke out of the room. A small gaggle of maintenance techs were coming and going, hauling off spent fire extinguishers and cleaning up the leftover foam.
One was on a ladder and in the process of pulling out smoldering drop ceiling tiles. “What happened?” she demanded as she took in the chaos. One of the techs whose breast patch identified him as Henry turned and favored her with a smile.
“Nothing to worry about, Miss,” he told her. “Just a little short with pretensions of grandeur. We’ll have all this cleaned up in no time.”
“Hey, Henry,” the tech on the ladder called out. “Look at this.”
“Excuse me,” Henry replied and walked over to his ladder man.
“This is unreal,” muttered Tansy as she made her way to her locker. It was quickly opened but the ring of keys she reached for wasn’t where she’d left them. A frantic turn out of the locker only confirmed that the Queen of the Alpha’s day had gone from bad to worse. “They’re gone!” she hissed, seething in rage as her eyes settled on the two techs that were looking over the source of the non-fire.
“Looks like a web cam,” opined Henry. “How did it get in here?”
Tansy’s blood threatened to boil as Heyley fretted next to her. “Peeper,” she growled mayhem in her tone.
Paths Between Kane and Dunn Halls, Whateley Academy
Tansy was venting a steady stream of profanity as she stormed out of Dunn Hall. She was well past the anatomically impossible and now into variations that Fade was fairly certain were illegal in all fifty states. Normally when Tansy got like this Flicker was there to keep her from doing something that would get them all in trouble, or worse, kicked out of the Alphas. Now, however, Nancy was off following Kodiak wherever he’d run off too which left Heyley to keep their meal ticket calm.
The problem was Heyley was never very good at keeping Tansy calm.
She could only fret as she trotted to keep up with Solange as she cursed and all but ran to wherever it was they were going. Every time she tried to say something she thought she remembered Nancy saying to calm Tansy down, Tansy would only shriek at her to shut up and let her think and then return to the river of obscenity pouring out of her mouth as she walked.
Heyley knew something terrible was going to happen and there was nothing she could do to stop it. Biting her trembling lip she could only follow as resigned to her fate as the band on the Titanic, while her mind spun scenario after scenario of how bad things would be, each more horrific than the last.
Finally they turned the corner behind the observatory tower at the back of Kane Hall and the train wreck Heyley saw coming down the tracks finally happened. The stood at the top of a small ridge, over looking the valley that sloped away from the Main Campus over looking the two hills Dickenson and Emerson Cottages sat on, framing the plateau where Holbrook Arena lay. The main path forked, one branch heading to the girls Cottages, the other to the boys. There were a half dozen other students trudging two and forth to classes, but Heyley saw them at the same instant Solange did.
Right at the fork of the path, walking towards them were Peeper and Greasy.
“You,” growled Tansy in her rage. “You vile, groveling piece of dog shit!”
Peeper blanched as the two girls charged him, frozen in place like a deer in a pair of high beams. Before Heyley knew what to even think, Tansy had balled a fist and swung, connecting with the freshman just under his chin. Peeper was spun from the force of the blow and ended up face first in the snow, his book bag scattering books to the four winds. “Did you think I wouldn’t find out!” screamed Tansy in her rage as she landed a vicious kick to the supine form below her. “Did you think I wouldn’t know who was behind it?”
“Leave him alone!” Greasy yelled, drawing the Alpha’s attention.
Tansy spun as the Devisor dared to reach out to touch her. She snapped a flat palmed blow to the center of the boy’s face feeling a satisfying crunch under the meaty part of her palm telling her she’d broken his nose.
Greasy staggered back and fell hard to his rear, blood streaming from his destroyed nose, a look of shock and pain carved into his face. Despite that he ripped the artificial skin off his hand like taking off a glove that was a size too small and hurled a glob of the viscous fluid his body produced under Tansy’s feet. As Solange shifted her weight to land other kick, Greasy’s namesake cost her her footing and she fell beside the prone form of Peeper.
“Leb him abone!” the boy shouted through his own pain.
Solange was seeing red now as she got back to her feet. A small crowd had begun to gather now, making the situation even worse. Snarling her feral rage, leapt across the path so that all her weight landed on Greasy’s chest. The boy’s agonized cry of the air being forced from his lungs drowned out the sound of his ribs cracking, not that any of it mattered to Tansy. Blow after blow landed as she screamed out her rage at the hapless freshman pined beneath her.
Heyley looked about and realized that things were far too gone to be salvaged now. She needed Nancy, Nancy always knew what to do! But first, she had to make certain that Tansy’s attack wasn’t pined on her. She drifted over to one of the call box posts that were nestled every few hundred feet along the paths and quickly pressed the emergency button. “Security, what’s the nature of the emergency?”
Disguising her voice as best she could, Heyley whispered into the microphone, “There’s a student being assaulted at this location! There’s a lot of blood and he’s really hurt! Send paramedics and someone to break up the fight!” Then Fade employed her power and teleported off in search of Nancy hoping desperately that she’d done the right thing.
Greasy had long since stopped moving by the time Tansy was tired of hitting him. She staggered to her feet, looking about in vain for Peeper when a beam of coherent light struck her solidly in the back. She was knocked a good twenty feet by the force of the blow and was seeing stars while she was roughly turned over and something was being strapped to her.
Finally her eyes were able to focus on Gloria ‘Glorianna’ Everett. She was wearing that ridiculous white and gold colored out fit, but the utility belt seemed new. “Glorianna here, situation is under control,” she announced to no one. We’ll need a teleporter to get Greasy to hospital, he’s in bad shape.” The blonde looked down on her captive as the restraint cuffs locked in place. “Well, Tansy, it seems there is a God after all. You finally cut a mental air biscuit and gave me the crib to put your aggro to heel. Lovely.”
Headmistress’ Office, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
If Tansy Walcutt thought her day couldn’t get any worse, she was mistaken as the door to the administrative offices of the school opened and she was greeted with the coldest glare Mrs. Hartford could offer up. It didn’t help that she was trussed up like a Christmas goose in the Brick ‘Cuffs that annoying bitch Glorianna had put on her. She would have thought they’d come off when Chief Delarose had arrived, but he’d only complimented that damn Cape on her technique, scooped up a shrieking Solange and begun to frog march her towards Schuster Hall.
Now that they were here, Tansy was certain he’d get his comeuppance, but if anything, Mrs. Hartford seemed more angry at her than the goon and the Cape. “We need to see Mrs. Carson,” declared Delarose flatly.
Hartford shot a final venomous glance at Tansy before turning on the intercom. “Mrs. Carson? Chief Delarose needs to speak with you about a student.”
“Send him in,” the voice answered.
“Sit,” the Chief of Security ordered Tansy, indicating one of the formed plastic chairs next to the office door. Her hands locked in metal forms to mid forearm and then further attached to a belt around her waist made following the order difficult and uncomfortable, but Walcutt managed. “You can go, Gloria.”
“My cuffs,” the Cape replied, eliciting a shrug from Delarose.
“Wait here then,” he acquiesced before disappearing behind the door.
“You’re so dead,” Tansy hissed to Gloria when she was certain they wouldn’t be overheard. The two blondes glared at each other before Gloria smirked.
“Dahling,” she drawled, emphasizing her Public School accent. “Your mouth is busy writing cheques your arse won’t be able to cashe. I should reign it in were I you.” She pondered things for a moment before becoming tickled at her own sense of humor. “Of course, were I you, I shan’t have gotten myself into such a sticky wicket in the first place.”
Tansy only glared and felt more than a little worried that Mrs. Hartford wasn’t sticking up for her. She would have liked to ask her why, but she had enough wits about her to realize that there was no way Hartford was going to discuss her privileges with one of the little people hanging about. Finally the door opened once more, revealing the blocky form of Chief Delarose. “On your feet,” he ordered gruffly then took an elbow to haul her into the office.
“Take your hands off me!” she ordered, but that only made the grip tighten so that even she with her exemplar status was beginning to hurt from it.
“Do yourself a favor and shut up,” he replied as he marched her into the room. “Ma’am?”
Elisabeth Carson wasn’t sitting at her desk, but was standing at her window with her back to her chief of security and her recalcitrant student. She was wearing a splendid skit suit in a soft burgundy with her corn stalk blond hair piled in a complicated arrangement on top of her head. It looked to be silk, probably Versace, and it gave the powerful woman wearing it an even greater amount of intimidation if that was possible. “Remove the cuffs and give us a moment, would you Franklin?”
The Chief busied himself with removing the belt the cuffs attached to, then opening each of the manacles before looking Tansy in the eye and stating, “I’ll be right outside.” Not that it was needed, there was nothing he could handle that Mrs. Carson couldn’t handle a thousand of all at once. Delarose withdrew while Tansy sulked and sank into one of the overstuffed armchairs that faced the desk while needlessly rubbing her arms.
“What am I going to do with you, Miss Walcutt?” asked the Headmistress from her window rhetorically. Turning from the view she fixed her gaze on the student. “Do you have anything to say about what happened?”
“That pervert planted a camera in our changing room!”
“You have proof of that?” snapped Carson.
Walcutt opened and closed her mouth without any sound coming out. “No,” she finally admitted. “But we all know…”
Carson’s eyes narrowed, cutting off the whine. “Oh you know do you? And the boy you beat within an inch of his life, tell me, what was his involvement in all this?”
Tansy sniffed in derision. “Greasy? Peeper’s little slave? Everybody knows…”
“You keep using that word,” whispered Carson. “Let me tell you what I know, Miss Walcutt. I know that without provocation or challenge, you instigated a fight with Peeper, in front of a half dozen witnesses who all accuse you as throwing the first punch as well as the only words of the exchange. I know from those witnesses that Greasy pulled you off Peeper where upon you broke his right arm, his left leg, his nose, three ribs and fractured his cranium. I know that were he not minutes from a Level One Trauma Center he would likely not have survived the injuries I know you inflicted on him.”
“But…” started Tansy however the Headmistress was not about to be interrupted.
“And, I know that if Glorianna hadn’t intervened and pulled you off Greasy you, Miss Walcutt would be looking at twenty five years to life for his murder.” Silence settled like a safe falling from a building as the reality of her situation and how close Tansy had come to throwing her life away hit home.
“I didn’t think…”
The Administrator glared at her. “No, you didn’t,” she snapped. “So, now we come down to details of our little meeting, Miss Walcutt, your punishment.”
“What about Peeper!” the girl shrieked, outraged at the way the conversation was going.
“What about Adam Lambert?” Carson shot back. “You didn’t beat Peeper within an inch of his life; you all but murdered his roommate! I have half a mind to wash my hands of you, start the expulsion paperwork and hand you over to the MCO! I can understand this from the Ultraviolents and the Ragers, they have an excuse!”
An icy dread filled Tansy at being in trouble her looks or her father couldn’t get her out of. “No, Mrs. Carson, I…I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to…”
“I’m sure those words will be full of condolence to Adam in his hospital bed,” the Administrator replied, but inside she was smiling. Now that she had Tansy where she wanted her, this meeting would go a good bit smoother. Standing back from her desk, Mrs. Carson crossed her arms. “Real life has no ‘I didn’t mean to’ button, Miss Walcutt.”
“Please, Mrs. Carson, I can learn from my mistakes. I…I’ll do anything to prove it to you!”
Elisabeth considered that for a long moment before turning back to her window. “We’ll see,” she said after a long moment to let the dread really come home. “My first inclination is In School Suspension, however, there is very little you can learn sitting in a cell for a week, so, we’ll see if you can make amends and learn a bit of patience.”
Tansy nodded eagerly, but was careful not to let her smile show. She was already becoming certain she’d dodged the real bullet and now was the time to eat some crow and let the old bat think she’d won. Suppressing a shudder, she asked, “Hawthorne?”
Carson turned back from her window, a look of surprise on her face. “Hawthorne? Miss Walcutt, why would I think you would learn something there you haven’t in your previous trips? No, I think the severity of this crime requires special consideration. Therefore, when we are done, you will report to Miss Grimes in Kirby Hall.”
Solange blinked in confusion. “Kirby Hall? Miss Grimes? I’m not a mage…”
An evil smile settled on Mrs. Carson’s face. “No, but in addition to her other talents, Miss Grimes is the head of the Junior High Program.” The blood drained from Tansy’s face at the mention of Junior High and those horrible little kids the faculty cooed over. “And you, Miss Walcutt, are now Miss Grimes’ Student Assistant. You’ll make yourself available for whatever she needs doing.”
Tansy became cross and made the mistake of letting it get into her tone of voice. “Fine, I’ll go baby sit the little brats. Till when? The end of the month?”
“Twenty days for what amounts to attempted murder?” Carson laughed. “Not likely. We’ll start with until the end of this school year,” she replied as a troupe of acrobats did cart wheels over Tansy’s grave. “Miss Grimes has been telling me how much she needs help keeping those little hellions in line. And, so we’re clear Miss Walcutt, if you step so much as a toe out of line I can extend this to the remainder of your time here. Or, as the statute of limitations is five years, I can always go back to my first option. Are we clear?”
Tansy forced a swallow down a throat as dry as Death Valley. “Yes ma’am.”
“You may go.”
Dickenson Cottage, Room 307, Whateley Academy
“You did what?” shrieked Nancy.
Heyley fiddled with her fingers and couldn’t meet the other’s enraged features. Instead she sought solace in her life size poster of Justin Timberlake. The perfect features smiled out at her and made her feel loved as she stammered out an explanation to Nancy. “You weren’t there!” she wailed, finding a bit of calm in the smiling eyes of her One True Love. “Tansy was going to kill that little nerd! She just kept hitting him and blood was everywhere and she would have gotten expelled…!”
Nancy massaged the migraine building behind her eyes by rubbing the bridge of her nose. Days like this were precisely the reason she liked working behind the scenes. Now, if she could just trade up puppets… “No,” she forced herself to say, “You did the right thing, Heyley. Better to keep a lid on things and we’ll just deal with whatever Tansy draws for detention.”
Heyley beamed like puppy whose ears had been scratched after rubbing her nose in her latest accident to house break her. “I tried Nancy, but Tansy just kept getting angrier and angrier!” Nancy waved off further explanation with a curt gesture.
“Fine, fine, I just have to figure out how to salvage this.” She paced for a few steps before turning back to Heyley, a scowl on her sharp, hawk-like face. “Tansy never learns about this, Heyley.”
“Oh I wouldn’t…” the other started before Nancy was in her face, angry once more.
“Damn right you won’t, or maybe Tansy will find out what really happened to her mink coat…”
Tears welled up Heyley’s eyes. “But you swore…”
“Do your part and it will stay that way,” snapped Nancy. She sighed and returned to her pacing. Could this week get any worse? First the disaster with recruiting Kerry to the Alphas, only to find that Kodiak was feeling his oats sufficiently to force Loophole into the group and of course Tansy couldn’t think of a valid reason to protest to the committee. And the last thing Nancy needed was the committee feeling powerful again. Loophole, it all seemed to center around Loophole. She had the knife in, now was the time to twist it. Getting rid of Loophole unhinged Kodiak’s take over for the time being and cemented Tansy’s position for at least a little while.
Grabbing her coat for action, Nancy turned back to Heyley who was staring at that God Damned poster again. Nancy turned her about to be sure the instructions would sink in. “I’m going to go finish what we started with Nalley. You stay here and when Tansy gets back you keep her from doing anything more stupid today!”
“You’ve got a cell phone,” growled Nancy from the door. “So do I. Use it!”
“Oh, yeah, that’s…” The door slammed shut before Heyley could finish her compliment of her friend’s brain.
Arena 91, currently dressed as Wall Street at the NYSE, Whateley Academy
Interface gritted his teeth to keep the monologue of complaints behind his teeth as he ushered Ants dressed as terrified stock brokers out of the marble façade of the New York Stock Exchange. Crowd control his internal litany seethed to himself, let’s assign the highly trained second story and intelligence man crowd control! “Move!” he shouted out loud to the robots posing as panicking scions of capitalism. “Don’t shove! Keep it orderly and keep coming!”
A thunderclap heralded the arrival of a black and white clad body slamming into the one of the storied pillars of the edifice. It cracked under the force of the impact and the body slid down it to the steps in a limp heap causing further panic in the crowd Interface was trying to control. “Loophole!” the youngster shouted in alarm as he ran to her aide.
The armor clad young woman was slowly rising to unsteady feet as he reached her. “You ok?” he demanded as he quickly took the arm that reached for him for stability. “Loop?”
She winced as he tried to steady her too quickly and for a moment, Randy was certain he heard a faint voice announce “Two ribs cracked, if not broken…” before Elaine’s voice shouted over it.
“Just got the wind knocked out of me, Ah’ll be fine!”
Randy licked his lips to try and clear his mind that was very conscious of the fact that a very shapely young woman was leaning against him in a leather cat suit that left little to the imagination. “Maybe you ought to take it easy for a second…” he started before the soulless yellow eyes of the helmet locked gazes with him.
“You got your assignment, Interface and Ah got mine!”
“Let me help…!” he yelled as she lifted up out of his arms and looked down at him.
“Last time you helped Ah was a half hour cleaning lime goo off this!” she shouted as she flew back down the street. Randy watched her go, keeping the fact that the sight of her climbing out of the vat from their last simulations’ lime ‘goo’ as she put it sliding off the cat suit while hugging every curve had taken a special place in his fantasy life to himself.
“Keep moving!” he snarled at the robot stockbrokers as he turned back to the task at hand.
Loophole shot back over the Federal Hall National Memorial, hoping the height and indirect return path would give her a tactical advantage. All of Lower Manhattan was spread out below her and for a moment, the young woman marveled at the technology of the simulator she was in. She might know she was in a room a bit bigger than two football fields square, but there was nothing visual she could point to so as to prove it. The Brooklyn Bridge stretched away to her right, to cluster upon cluster of the famous brownstones of Brooklyn. To her left the Hudson River was just as filthy as when she’d driven over it on her way to school last autumn.
Over head, a blue sky was hosting a dance of cumulus clouds that promised rain later that evening. “Carmine-Gallo, Carmine-Gallo, Sierra Lima Hotel 001 calling. Ah am declaring an emergency and Ah need the airspace of lower Manhattan clear for six miles. Do you have a frequency for the Empire City Guards?”
“Lima Hotel Zero One we copy your emergency,” growled the ruined voice of ‘Gunny’ Bardue in her ear. “Fight your own battles, Loophole. Extra Credit for remembering the civvies though, now get back to it.”
“Worth a shot,” the young woman muttered to herself as she arched her turn slightly and brought the Federal Reserve Bank into view. Zenith was in the Martial Arts battle of her life with the loud mouthed devisor in the power suit that seemed to be the ‘brains’ behind this collection of second stringers calling themselves The Ultimates. He’d called himself Binder, but that meant nothing to Elaine or Carmen for that matter so these were probably generated by the school to throw the teams who faced them off guard.
Kali was still incased in what ever that long chain polymer adhesive Binder’s ‘gun’ spat before Zenith had reduced it to kindling for him. Which, given her power was nine different kinds of odd. Biforst was trading blows with the energizer with the horrible case of Diedricks’ Syndrome who had made certain everybody knew he was Charger.
Kodiak was still going toe to toe with the group’s brick, Black Star, probably a cross between a high exemplar and a PK Superman as he seemed to be getting the better of the senior and taking everything Kody was giving and asking for seconds. Slick, the villain’s speedster and the odd energy monster that thus far hadn’t said anything were not in evidence. “Carmen, tell me you’ve got a handle on what these yahoo’s are really doing?” demanded Elaine as she leveled off her flight and tried quickly to figure out who needed help the most.
“It is exactly what it looks like, Miss,” the Computer replied in that I’d-rather-not-speak-to-you tone. “They are attempting to seize gold from the vault of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.”
Elaine rolled her eyes in disgust. “Right, because gold is so handy and portable to steal!” Finally she reached a decision, as much as it galled her. Her shallow glide became a power dive that ended with her fist embedding itself into Black Star’s lantern jaw. The super villain tumbled ass over elbows across the street, reducing a Lexus and a BMW to scrap before the sturdy edifice of the Federal Reserve stopped him.
Kodiak’s salivating bear form snapped its jaws in rage at her for interfering. “I had everything under control!” he snarled, a long spindle of spittle arching through the air between them.
“Ah could tell,” Elaine replied coldly, hovering a bit further away incase the first rivulet had friends with ambition. “Ah could hear him begging for mercy all the way to the Stock Exchange…!”
“And how did you get over there again?” he demanded, crossing his massive arms over his barrel chest. Elaine worked at fixing the image of the animal his power displayed into her mind to recall the next time she thought of him as good looking.
Loophole tapped her finger against the faceplate of her helmet where her mouth would be. “Now, let me think, Ah seem to recall mah fearless leader charging off half cocked again and leaving a helpless teenage girl to stare down two thugs at once…!”
“Is now a bad time to interrupt your little lover’s spat?” growled Black Star before he grabbed Elaine’s leg having snuck up unnoticed by the pair. Swinging her entire body like a club the air was forced from both her lungs and Kodiak’s as she was used to send the senior tumbling down the street. “I’d hate to get in the way of true love and all,” he sneered before throwing Elaine after Cody where the two collided in a pile of bodies.
The pure oxygen Carmen pumped into the mask helped Elaine recover a bit faster than Kodiak. She staggered to her feet, seeing red in more ways than one. “So, you want to play rough, do you?” she screamed at the sneering villain. In response he merely waved his fingers in a ‘come and get it’ gesture.
“Carmen, reset the beam to max power,” she snarled as she pointed down the street at her adversary. Without a word of protest, the computer directed a magnetic field between Elaine’s outstretched finger and Black Star’s chest. Four milliseconds later the vacuum was replaced with an energized plasma with forty-one megawatts of power behind it. Black Star lurched backwards, a look of unbelieving agony on his face before a blinding flash went off behind him.
The helmet’s internal compensator quickly squelched the flare by going opaque, effectively blinding Elaine for a moment when it cleared, the simulator was an eerie photograph of the battle, frozen in time. Birds halted mid-flight, Ants dressed as innocent passers by frozen in mid-flee. Looking about, it was Kodiak whose brain processed what had happened first.
“Shit!” he roared in frustration.
As the students looked about, the goo holding Kali faded away to the sound of a single pair of hands clapping, not quickly in congratulation, but a slow, sarcastic beat. Gunny Sergeant Bardue appeared from around the corner of the Federal Reserve, still grinding out his auditory sarcasm. “Congratulations, Loophole,” he growled around the cigar butt he had clenched in his teeth. “You’ve just killed four million people.”
“What?” yelled Elaine in frustration. “Ah did no such…”
“Oh yes you did,” the sergeant snapped, motioning the students over to the frozen mid-death corpse of Black Star. “Here’s victim number one. Note the four-inch hole in his chest as that plasma beam of yours incinerated his heart and a good chunk of each lung. Normally, that’d be twenty five to life, but, if you look through the hole you’ll see how you avoided that.”
“The plasma beast,” muttered Zenith.
Bardue rocked on his heels. “The plasma beast,” he replied. “I’d send you to the head of the class, but there ain’t any schools in heaven! Your beam, Loophole, destabilized the magnetic lattice holding Plasmoid there in one energetic piece and he went off like an H-bomb. You’ve destroyed most of New York, a good chunk of New Jersey, well, no loss there, and you’ve killed four million people give or take not to mention all your team mates and yourself.” The Sergeant glared at each member of the now surly Team Phoenix. “Team grade…F!” he snarled. “Hit the showers!”
Whitman Cottage, 1st Floor Common Room, Whateley Academy
Murphy walked into a surprisingly quiet cottage, unlimbering her backpack that she hadn’t had time to put away before she’d been pulled from her activities for powers testing with Doc Polland and his merry band of needle-happy test monkeys. It had gone surprisingly smoothly, and the docs had gotten a kick out of her usual blend of self-deprecating humor. As she passed by the common-room she stopped, then shifted back from the door, peeking into the room.
Loophole was sitting on a couch, staring numbly at the TV monitor while a smirking blonde in the form of Flicker watched her. The Alpha was watching Joanne’s friend with a smug smirk on her face as the TV screen played a scene that took the blonde Mangler a moment to process. It was a zoom-in shot of herself, talking to Kodiak in the snow outside Whitman Cottage. She could have sworn she’d felt someone lurking in the area at the time, but she hadn’t been able to see anyone.
When the scene moved to Wyatt hauling her up in a bear hug, Elaine let out something akin to a whimper. A moment later it showed Kodiak put a huge arm around Murphy’s shoulder and gave her a short squeeze. There wasn’t any sound but Murphy could clearly remember Kodiak’s words to her. “I think you’re going to be a good friend for Elaine. Even if I can’t fix this with her, make sure no one else fucks with her, will you?”
Murphy slid across the doorway, walking to her new room, and went inside, setting her backpack on the desk near the rest of her stuff and picking up the hockey stick she’d used to gleefully pound on Wyatt the earlier in the day. When she went back out into the hallway it was easy to imagine the whistling and harmonica that signified a fight to happen in old westerns. This wasn’t going to be a fight. This was more akin to her fun with Starcraft, only this time, she wasn’t the one getting blasted.
As she turned the corner into the common room, both Flicker and Loophole saw her. Flicker’s eyes went wide with surprise at the phenomenal bad timing, and Elaine looked like she was about to get angry. Murphy grinned at Flicker.
“Nuclear Launch Detected.” The blonde girl vanished, appearing behind Tansy’s little crony and looked out the window. She grabbed Flicker and the two girls vanished while Elaine was scrambling out the door, following the abrupt, outraged screaming.
Even Loophole’s Exemplar 3 body couldn’t keep up with the rapid-fire teleporting, but when she did catch up to the two girls, she had to stop. Flicker was screaming with shock and outrage, trying to get at Murphy while her powers misfired helter-skelter all over the woods. Flashes of light, and strobes seemed to go the wrong way, or go off as Joanne’s head happened to be facing the wrong way to have a blinding flash go off in her eyes.
Flicker was fighting like an absolute wildcat, punching, kicking, clawing, and even remembering some of her Martial Arts and putting Murphy’s arms or legs into a lock that the blonde girl more or less ignored. Loophole could see the scratches from flicker’s nails gouging bits of skin off the other girl’s face, or arms, biting hard enough to break the skin. Murphy just cussed and continued along with what she was doing while the wounds visibly healed.
Elaine almost fell over when she realized that Joanne, as vindictive and violent as her attitude came across, wasn’t harming Flicker. She was stuffing the other girl’s clothing almost to bursting with snow, and seemed fairly adept at it as the other girl hit less and thrashed more. After about three minutes of rolling on the ground screaming and cursing, Murphy left the Alpha girl tossed into a snow bank, with nearly every inch under her clothing stuffed with the white stuff.
As Jo came back towards her, she picked up the hockey stick from where it had fallen and walked towards Elaine. “Don’t say a word, please come with me for a moment and listen.” She held up two small SD cards that were recognizably from a camera.
“Why should Ah? Ah trusted you.” Loophole was hurt. Even from a girl she knew very little of, the seeming betrayal of her trust hurt.
Joanne sighed, pocketed the chips while Flicker was frantically removing snow from her clothing, screaming threats. She turned, walked towards Whitman then vanished. Elaine blinked as the new girl erupted in front of her and whipped the stick, stopping very abruptly. A quick glance saw the stick between her legs, almost touching her crotch.
“You should listen because when I talked to Kodiak this afternoon, I didn’t pull the hit when I earned three penalties for high-sticking on his nut sack before we actually started talking.”
Elaine blinked. “That wasn’t in the video.”
Joanne rolled her eyes. “Damn it, girl, you’re letting your emotions get so clogged up that you’re easy to play. Think for a second, how hard is it to edit a movie?”
Elaine stopped. “Ah should know better.”
Murphy nodded slowly. “Of what little I’ve seen of you, it’s been painfully obvious that you’re smarter than I am. But you need to get a handle on things. You’re being fucked with dearie, and if you let Flicker there get under your skin, you’re gonna wind up losing all your friends you’ve worked so hard to get, because people like that don’t just decide to stop once they find an easy mark.”
Elaine stopped and considered for a moment. “Alright, Ah’ll give you a chance to tell your side.”
Murphy looked back at the outraged Flicker who had finally managed to dig out the remaining snow and was storming towards the pair. “Go away. Now.”
“You really have no idea what you’re playing with right now, do you, bitch?” Flicker was outraged.
Murphy smiled, then shook her head. “Nope, but damn, it’s fun to do.”
“And do you really think the Alphas are going to let you get away with screwing with me? Solange is going to utterly destroy you, and when the others get in, there won’t be anyone on the campus willing to talk to you.” Flicker smiled. “And we won’t even have to break the rules to do it, given that you’re a violent little piece of white trash who can’t keep herself where she belongs.”
Murphy got a slow smile. “Again with the whole thinking I give two shits what your little clique thinks about me. Dearie, you just threatened me with the status quo I’m used to. I don’t really like most people to begin with, the proper term is Redneck, and if you don’t go away I’m gonna beat you with my hockey stick.”
Flicker smirked, not even bothering to take the threat seriously. “You are so going to pay for that one, hope you like talking to Delarose over the threat.”
Murphy shrugged. “Your recorder might actually give you the evidence, if I hadn’t taken the time to render it useless. Now run along Blondie, adults are talking.”
Flicker actually took the time to check the fragile digital recorder in her pocket where Murphy had grabbed onto it through the pocket and crushed it. “If that’s the way you want to play it, if it’s a fight you want, it’s a fight you’ve got.”
Murphy turned away from Flicker and led Elaine into the cottage, twirling her hockey stick in her hands as she went. When they got back into the place Joanne led her new friend to her own room on the sophomore floor. “Come on in here Elaine. We need to have a chat before you go any further into outrage land.”
“Shouldn’t Ah be the one inviting you into mah room?” She smirked a bit despite herself.
“Hey, you can think in a straight line still.” Murphy grinned. “For a minute there I was afraid I was gonna have to take “Ol Yeller out back and shoot her.”
Elaine rolled her eyes. "Ol Yeller? Don't Ah at least rate Rin-Tin-Tin? Of course, if we're going to keep this analogy that would make you Balto. You want me to have you stuffed and dipped in bronze when you're dead?"
“Nah, packed with explosives and dropped on someone stupid shall suffice.”
“Morbid little bitch, aren’t you?” Loophole grinned at her.
“Hey! Who told you that?”
Loophole simply pointed at the shirt Joanne had acquired somewhere.
Murphy looked down at the caption and grinned. “You can read too? Hot damn you’re turning into an actual human! So we gonna stand in the hallway being smart-ass? Or shall we go play with Flicker’s toys?”
“Ah've got some editing tools on mah laptop. Video being a hobby of mine, Ah ought to have known better than to take anything coming out of Nasty Nancy's mouth at face value. Come on in."
“Oh my, it’s like I’ve walked into a scene from the twilight zone. Tell me the cluster bomb cluttered side is yours.”
Elaine smirked. “Nope, that would be Maggie. She’s usually fairly neat, but she lets things go and then does a cleaning binge.” Elaine remembered for a moment the tornado that had been her roommate frantically tearing her side of the room apart looking for something before rushing out for another shoot for Venus, Inc. Joanne grinned, then Elaine did a double take. “Hey! Wasn’t your hair shorter, and charred last time Ah saw you?”
Joanne smirked. “And you only now notice? Good thing we aren’t dating or I’d give you the silent treatment or something.” Her ash-blonde hair was straight and long, falling below her shoulders. The front locks framing her face were dyed a deep, rich shade of purple, and her face was different, less chubby, more defined. She wasn’t on the level of the exemplar crowd, quite, but Joanne was showing signs of being very pretty on her own merits.
“How’d you manage to fix your hair?”
“Straight-razor, shaving cream, thirty minutes and a lot of patience.” She considered. “Oh and one panic attack courtesy of your friend, Dee. But that’s neither here nor there. This your computer? Awesome.”
Elaine watched, bemused as the abrasive Alaskan basically took over her desk and booted up the laptop. She smirked as Joanne got to the password screen, and idly started typing. Elaine made a subtle calming gesture to the camera imbedded in the laptops' lid and the screen cleared and brought up the desktop.
Joanne paused for a moment and then shrugged and continued her typing. "Can Ah Help you?" demanded Elaine after a moment of random opening and closing of windows and documents. Elaine gave the blonde her best, patented stare, taught by her mother, capable of decimating lesser mortals… and her target chuckled.
“You’re kinda cute when you’re all stern. Wait a sec.” Joanne grinned. “This is helpful. Gimmie a sec to figure out which files I’m looking for…”
Elaine smirked and shook her head, watching Jo go to work on the haphazard filing system that Nancy used on her SD cards. She heard something muttered under the girl’s breath as her typing became more frenetic, and the mouse pad directed the opening and closing of files seemingly at random.
“What was that?”
“Giving you coffee is a war crime in some countries.”
“Yes, but it’s a war crime on your behalf. I demands Java!” The demented girl was rapidly starting to get jittery as she stopped on an open folder. “That one.” She pointed at a nondescript file with no name while she began bouncing in place on the chair.
“How could you possibly know that’s what we’re looking for?”
Joanne grinned widely. “I makes Bet. If I are correct, redhead buyz me Koffie. Six shots, White Mocha, and no accusations of insanity unless I actually do something crazy.”
“You’re on. There’s no way you could just randomly pick out the right file.”
Three seconds into the footage, Elaine knew she owed the rapidly declining to hyperactive girl coffee. The opening was of a hastily focused camera on Kodiak, as Joanne introduced Kodiak’s dangly bits to mister Sports Implement. She cringed slightly as Kodiak went to his knees, clutching his crotch. From there the fight was rather one-sided, more so than she would have expected, watching the whole incident as Murphy rather maliciously teleported him straight up. The falling Senior cracking his head on the ice was oddly satisfying.
After a few frenetic seconds of wild, obnoxious and frankly pointless violence with no sound because of the distance, they reached the part Loophole had seen before, where the pair were talking. “Alright, Ah’m sorry Ah suspected you, and Ah will get you your coffee.”
Murphy grinned, still bouncing in the seat. “Now, what we talked about… The big doofus is feeling guilty as all hell. He didn’t even really fight back.”
Elaine snorted. “Ah could tell. You’re still able to walk.”
Joanne looked dubious, but let the comment pass. “And for my next trick…” She put in the other SD Card and began her haphazard, random searching again.
“What are you doing exactly?”
“Concentrating on ruining Flicker’s day at the moment.”
Elaine smirked. “And how will you do that with the SD card you stole?”
“Easy.” Joanne grinned as she continued her haphazard rifling through files. “She loves so very much to use the truth as a weapon. However, I prefer the whole truth rather than the distilled copy.”
“Ah got that much. Mah point is it's not like she's gonna trust whatever's on there even if she gets it back from you.” Elaine got a thoughtful look. “Or...are we about to get into the journalism biz?”
"I never said I was going to give it back. I just think my best weapon at the moment is finding all of the information rather than what she wanted you to see. I'm betting Bitchy McBitchypants doesn't want you to hear that full recording she made of Kodiak."
Elaine crossed her arms and pulled at her lower lip in thought. "Ah can't be the only one she's played this way. Seems to me it's our moral duty, school code and all, to go through every one of these and see if there are other interested parties that got a 'spin' version of events from Nasty Nancy..."
"True, but what would be better, learning how she's blackmailing everyone, or eliminating her ability to gather more blackmail and spin data so that she can't play her game anymore?" Joanne looked at the files she wasn't opening. "Dollars to donuts a lot of this is deeply none of our fucking business."
"Well, Ah just might have a way we can get the truth to interested parties without us actually looking at the tapes." She paused as Jo looked up, questions painted across her face. "Don't ask, it's a gadgeteer thing. As far as pertains me, though, Ah want to know every fricking detail of that little bitch spying on me and mine."
"Bear in mind this could really backfire. I don't know that Wyatt didn't actually say worse than what you got." Murphy’s face held a worried expression.
Elaine snorted. "That's hard to imagine. Ah might not like it, but Jesus Mary and Joseph Ah almost slept with him!" She turned and paced back and forth in the confined space. "Ah thought, Ah mean last year when he kissed me..." Her voice trailed off so that Murphy nearly missed, "It was mah first kiss..."
"I have a nasty habit of thinking in terms of worst case scenarios." Murphy grimaced. "But then that's not hard given all the shit I put up with on a regular basis."
Finally Elaine sniffed mightily and straightened with resolve. "Ah want to know. Ah've been carrying on after that shaggy ass for a year and a half. If Ah'm just one of many Ah want to know so Ah can stop wasting time."
Jo’s finger clicked the button and the conversation began to play. Most of it was gibberish, the kind of jocular posturing men did when they thought no one else was watching, or the less intelligent of the species did when they thought someone was. There was enough relevant to the matter at hand that had both girls bouncing back and forth between scowls of disapproval and covering their mouths in astonishment at the insights this unfiltered look into the male mind revealed. Murphy exalted in triumph after clicking the off button when the two reached the Crystal Hall and began to censor themselves once more. "HAH! I was right, just because he seems to be a good guy doesn't mean he's nice!"
Elaine sniffed. "Typical. So ever fucking typical. Ah don't whether to be flattered or insulted." A moment of panic played across her face. "Mah tits aren't that big, are they?
Murphy looked Elaine over carefully. "I see Daddy's Little Princess developed rather more rapidly than she realized."
The redhead rolled her eyes. "Oh, hush, you." She went over to the full length mirror behind the door and gave a measuring glance to her profile. "They're not that big," she whispered to herself.
Murphy just grinned wickedly. "He is right about one thing though."
"Dare Ah ask?" the bemused Gearhead called over her shoulder.
"When you actually figure out that you look good, you'll be dangerous. And I'll be there with Mister Slap Shot...” She patted the metal hockey stick tenderly, "...to bring you back to earth from Cloud 9." Murphy favored her redheaded friend with her most sickeningly saccharine-sweet smile.
Elaine stuck her tongue out at her friend before turning back to the mirror. She freed her hair from its pony tail and teased it out for a moment. "Dangerous? Really? Me?" she whispered to herself as she admired the results.
"Ok if this turns into a mirror romance I will hit you." Joanne shook her head and stood behind Elaine. "Yes dearie, you're more than just a pretty nerd. Just do me a favor and don't let it go to your head will you? I like the nerd girl more than I like the hot chick."
"Which brings me to my next point." Murphy took a deep breath. "Alright I kinda like you, but I don't know you very well. Normally I'd stay well clear if this kinda squabble but Tansy and her little crony have pretty much personally attacked me twice and they don't even know me. I find this slightly offensive."
Elaine shrugged and marched over to her bed to dig through her book bag. "Welcome to high school. It's not about you. You're friends with me and Ah'm a threat to those air heads, so that makes you a threat. It's the only paradigm they can wrap their miniscule minds around."
An auto part fell out of the bag and landed with a thud on the floor. "Oh, that reminds me. Mr. Donner wants to know if you want to join the Gearheads? If so, Ah've got a form in here somewhere and if you have a project car you'll have to register it with the school."
"Car? You're kidding, right? I can't even afford clothes, and I'm more of a computer geek than anything. You could fill what I know about mechanics into a thimble and have room to spare."
The glasses slid down Elaine’s as she looked over them at her friend subconsciously giving rise to the naughty librarian look Pendragon had teased Kodiak about obsessing over. "There's a junk yard in Berlin. We ought to be able to get a project starter pretty cheap."
"If the Gearheads are willing to put up with someone who doesn't know much more than how to use the tools and how to run an impact wrench I'll give 'er a shot."
"Besides, they way you carried on when you borrowed the clothes Ah kinda thought..." She shrugged. "Anyways, Ah rescued Baby Girl from a peanut farmer's field for fifty dollars.”
"That's fifty bucks? Damn."
Elaine chuckled darkly. "Ah'll have to show you the 'before' movie sometime. Now you're looking at the better part of three years and more money than Ah care to admit to and a larger amount of sweat equity. When Ah got her, she was a frame, two axels and a break system that didn't work, but a good number of the parts were junk yard finds and the engineered stuff Ah did here. Lab budget are part of your matriculation fees, so you might as well use 'em. You're folks are getting charged, one way or the other."
"You have a point. So... is there anyone in the Gearheads who doesn't have a magic knack for machinery, or am I going to be the one stuck in the corner reading the manual and throwing tools across the garage?"
Loophole paused for a moment, then continued her digging in the bag. "Well, Skids is more of a driver than a fixer, but she's ok. And Dashboard, she's the club president, she's more of a designer and theoretical side than practical. Ringo's thing is computers but he wanted a ride and the club was the only way he could have a car on campus so he picked up tinkering."
She pulled a sheaf of papers covered in a half random mosaic of grease stains that were stabled together and offered it. "Here it is. Ah keep a catalogue of all the hulks in that junkyard and they email me when something new comes in. You got any kind of budget?"
Murphy began paging through the paperwork, eyes flickering back and forth along the print rapidly as she considered. “I have a handgun and five hundred slotted for ammo. That’s my budget."
"Dollars?" Demanded Elaine. "You gotta supply an action movie? Twenty bucks will get you one hundred fifty rounds from the school store and the range replaces whatever you use."
“You're shitting me.” Murphy looked at Elaine's expression for a moment. "You're not shitting me."
The Redhead crossed her arms and canted her hips in a subconsciously flirtatious pose. "You did read the course book and catalogue, didn't you?"
"Umm would now be a bad time to mention that I got packed off here fast enough that there wasn't even enough time to tell me what I was going into? I didn't even know this school was for mutants until I saw the blue haired chickadee cruising at over a hundred at five hundred feet."
The red head sighed and opened her wardrobe, removing a much dog-eared copy of the catalogue whose pages had been indexed by a color-coded post-it note system. "Do not remove those notes." She handed the binder to Murphy, who looked at the growing pile of documentation curiously.
"And Ah'll want that back, so read up. Any questions, ask. The green notes concern fees and allotments, yellow are classes, white are rules and regulations, red is expulsion offenses and sanctioned punishments and orange...well, never mind about orange."
Murphy immediately flipped to the orange section, then hissed and closed the book. The horror she’d seen was one of the stock school uniforms designed for kids who couldn’t afford to buy better. From what little she’d seen of the Uniforms on campus she intended to follow the local trend and find a way to buy better. “Uniforms mandatory?”
"Didn't Ah tell you to not look at orange?" Nalley demanded
“You tell a fourteen year old not to look at something and you expect me not to? Are you mad?" Joanne got an offended air, “It's like a duty or something”
Elaine’s smile turned evil. "No, just a scientist proving a theory. Which gives me an idea..."
Auditorium 14C, Devisor Tunnels under Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
The crowd trickled in by clumps of threes and fives, as diverse as you’d expect from a campus like Whateley. Which, despite it being well past curfew that offered little real obstacle to a group of teenagers as exceptional as these. There were Capes and Master Minds, Betas and Alphas, Gearheads and Dillians, Outcasts and Underdogs, Olympians and Goobers, practically the entire roster from the school. All united by one simple coincidence, a D or G on the powers classification line of their MIDs.
Elaine had never seen the schools Engineer Track assembled in one place before and the number was a bit daunting. Nobody was sporting a shoulder angel here, for this was serious business. It was over a year ago in her first winter term that Elaine had been inducted into the secret, the tradition started so long ago in ’69 and passed on from class to class since. She was more than a little daunted by magnitude of what she’d done, but bolstered by the turn out. A part of her had been worried that the story she’d been spun had been a put on.
Finally the slightly hump backed, golden furred form of Gadget shuffled up to the podium beside her. The Senior looked up into Elaine’s face with her eerie golden eyes with no whites, a gaze that would have paled Murphy had she been there but Elaine had the benefit of a year and a half of living in Whitman to inure her to the oddities of Gross Structural Dystrophy. Gadget wasn’t a cute squirrel girl, but more a nearly inhuman cross between human and animal and on the inside Elaine wished she hadn’t read The Island of Dr. Moreau every time she saw Gadget.
The senior held out her shrunken, deformed hand and Elaine handed her the worn and battered wrench she was holding. Gadget then used it to bang on the lectern that brought silence to the hall. “The call of the Worn Wrench has been sounded,” Gadget chirped in her whistling voice, made worse by the oversized incisors that dominated the front of her muzzle.
“The call has been answered,” murmured the seniors, followed quickly by the lower classmen.
“Let she who sounded the call come forth and state the alarm,” intoned Gadget with as much dignity as her voice would allow. However, as the red head was gathering her thoughts, a sneering voice echoed from the back of the auditorium.
“Well, this is lovely ritual, but what does it have to do with me?” The auditorium turned it’s collective head to the whine of a repulsor motor as a floating chair made it’s way over heads and down to the open space before the lectern. “I’m forced out of bed in the middle of the night for what? Some B Cinema drama not even George Lucas would retread?”
“You do not have the floor, Belphegor!” snapped Gadget.
“Get back in your place, freshman,” intoned Hardsell as he walked forward, his power suit giving the junior an even more intimidating demeanor than his exemplar two status.
“Or what?” the fat man on the hover chair sneered.
“Or be ostracized like you so richly disserve,” a quieter voice ordered with a hint of steel. The thin figure in the lab coat that stepped out onto the floor somehow managed to look majestic and humble at the same time. He gave a shallow bow from the neck to Gadget and made certain his slicked back hair was still perfect as he rose. “My father will be touched this tradition has not died, Chief Engineer. I will be sure to tell him in my next letter home.”
Belphegor rolled his eyes and spun the hover chair in a lazy circle. “This…this circus is about Jobe?” he roared in outrage. “Hell, if I’d known that I would have stayed in bed!”
“You certainly need your beauty sleep!” shouted someone from the crowd.
Belphegor’s face flushed as he tried to suss out who had humiliated him. The laughter of the crowd was silenced by the clang of the wrench on the lectern. As Gadget stared over the top of the lectern furiously brought the group back into order she finally set the wrench aside. “Perhaps it is best that all here remember why we honor the Call of the Worn Wrench. Who better to tell us than the son of the first Chief Engineer. Jobe?”
The scrawny freshman bowed again from the neck and turned to the assembled students with the air of someone who had no difficulty in public speaking. “In the spring of 1969, my father, Gizmatic, was but a freshman here. While on his way to a class he happened across two ‘flashy’ mutants who were extorting labor from a brother Devisor. Who here assembled has not had the fruits of their genius cheated from them by some deviant with a lantern jaw who thought we were the designated victims of this school? Full of compassion, Joe Wilkins intervened on behalf of his brother in creation. For his trouble he was beaten within an inch of his life and spent two months in the hospital. He was forced to repeat his freshman year due to the class work missed; a humiliation to a towering intellect! Worse, the perpetrators of this lynching each only received a week of detention after leaving him for dead! For spitting on his broken body and spreading far and wide that anyone could beat up a devisor and no one would care!”
“Never again!” the seniors chanted.
“Thus, as first Chief Engineer, Gizmatic swore each Devisor and Gadgeteer to the fellowship. Any of us can invoke the call of the Worn Wrench when they are threatened and all will heed the call. For if they fuck with one of us…”
“They fuck with all of us!” the devisors shouted back. Jobe turned once more and bowed to Gadget a final time.
“Madame Chief Engineer, I yield the floor.”
“Now get back in your place, freshman,” hissed Hardsell. In a huff, Belphegor hovered back to the rear of the auditorium.
“The chair recognizes she who issued the call.”
Licking her lips for courage, Elaine looked out onto the assembly from her place before the lectern. “Ah am Loophole, sophomore, Gearhead, Journeyman Engineer Fifth Rank, and Ah call the Worn Wrench as history repeats itself. Our brother, Greasy, freshman, Gearhead, Initiate Engineer was attacked today by the Alpha Solange, without provocation and would have died from the wounds received were it not for the intervention of the FSA Glorianna.”
From the lectern Gadget tapped the wrench. “Let the Devil’s Advocate make his case.”
From the crowd a tall, good looking young man of six feet walked, dressed in BDU bottoms and an Army T-shirt who stopped before the podium and looked down on Loophole with an apologetic smile. “I am Slap-Dash, sophomore, Power Suit Driver Apprentice Engineer First Rank. Greasy is rumored to have planted a camera in a girl’s changing area, which instigated the assault, by Solange. He instigated this altercation through his own cowardice and while he didn’t disserve the beating he took, it is his own fault for what occurred.”
“How does the Caller respond?” demanded Gadget.
“Ah yield the floor to Ringo with evidence of the egregiousness of the attack and the insufficiency of the punishment.”
“The chair recognizes Ringo.”
From the crowd a somewhat undersized youth hesitantly came forth, as ordinary as any high school freshmen from his unkempt brown hair to his somewhat skittish demeanor. He stood next to Loophole who towered over his five foot four inch frame. “I…I’m Ringo, freshman, Gearhead and Initiate Engineer. I, uh, I was able to hack into the Schuster Hall security feeds and I heard the entire thing with Mrs. Carson and Solange. At first, Mrs. Carson was going to turn Tansy, uh, Solange over to the MCO and have her tried for attempted murder. Then she rolled back from that and made her Miss Grimes Student Assistant without pay for the rest of the year.”
“That’s it?” roared someone from the gallery.
“Order!” snapped Gadget with a bang of the wrench on the lectern. “The chair calls Jericho to offer evidence.”
“I am Jericho,” the blind young man declared after feeling his way up to the front of the hall. “Freshman, power suit drivers, Initiate Engineer, and I will be treating the wounds Greasy received later today. I know from the reports I’ve received from Doyle Medical that Greasy nearly died of his wounds and there is no proof that he is the one that planted the web cam in the girl’s locker room at Dunn Hall.”
“Madame Chief Engineer?”
“The chair recognizes Jobe.”
“I am Jobe Wilkins, Genius, Crown Prince of Karedonia, and, yes, freshman and Initiate Engineer, whatever. However this august body decides I will already see to it this type of behavior is not tolerated.”
Knick-Knack snorted. “You care about somebody other than yourself?”
Jobe shrugged. “Greasy did me a kind turn, I owe him a solid. I pay my debts, nothing more. That said, I wish you all good night, and advise you not to have eggs, bacon and grapefruit for breakfast. Any one or two will be fine, but not all three. You have been warned. Good evening.” With that the prince with the shy chin withdrew. After a moment of watching him go, Gadget chuckled to herself and turned her gaze on Slap-Dash.
“Is the Devil’s Advocate satisfied?”
After a long moment of consideration the big Grunt nodded. “I have no objection, Chief Engineer. The Call is valid and needed.”
“Very well. For the next twenty four hours the Alpha Solange is fair game. Short of her life we are honor bound to see to it she suffers as our Brother has suffered, to aid those attempting such efforts or keep those same efforts from the light of day. May God have Mercy on her soul!”
The wrench stuck the lectern with awful finality.