Even Murphy’s Law Has Loopholes
By E. E. Nalley and Joe Gunnarson
Whateley Academy Proving Grounds,
25 miles north of the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
A dry, cold wind whipped around a squat, square building with a roll up door in the middle of nowhere. The grey concrete cinder block construction endured the continual sand blasting with a stoic calm of a fixture that expected to be looked after until the end of time. It was a windowless collection of bricks with a metal stair case on one side that led up to its flat roof where a small observation gallery had been constructed. This was protected by a faded blue tarpaulin awning that flapped noisily in the breeze, while the hum of a soda machine that stood by the door was lost to it.
A telephone in a protective box on the other side of the roll up door rang once which brought the building to life as, with a hum of machinery, the roll up door opened to reveal a spacious workshop that could not fit within the building and was actually several hundred feet underground and nearly three thousand miles away. “You’ll want your coat,” warned Elaine as Ayla took in the wind whipped vista as his eyes and brain had an argument over what he was seeing. “This time of year the flats can get pretty cold.”
“What am I looking at?” demanded the young businessman as he took a cautious step out of the door into the wind. “Is this some kind of pocket dimension or what?”
Elaine shook her head as she handed him his coat while joining him. “Welcome to the Bonneville Salt Flats,” she declared, pointing off at the mountain range ahead of them. “Those are the Wasatch Front of the Rockies. Salt Lake City is about a hundred miles that way. And to really mess with your noodle, the school that’s behind us is like twenty five hundred miles that way too.”
“Some kind of teleportation portal?” asked Ayla. Elaine shrugged.
“Ah couldn’t tell you if it’s technological, magical or something else. It was like this when Ah got here and the one time Ah did ask Mr. Donner how it worked, he gave me a lecture Ah’m still trying to figure out.”
Ayla shuddered. “Think I’ll pass, thanks,” he replied as he watched the big shop teacher effortlessly push the huge Toyota Land Cruiser SUV out onto the flat, one massive hand reaching through the rolled down window to steer. Even if Loophole’s device wasn’t bought, Ayla was certain it would work and Janet could use a new vehicle. While he wasn’t fond of the SUV look himself, it was the flagship of the line and had the best resale retention.
The big teacher was wearing a race driver’s fire retardant suit that emphasized his size as it was only just able to contain it. Despite the obvious discomfort, Melvin Donner wore the slightly goofy grin that was always at home on his face. “You’re not driving?” asked Ayla as he caught sight of the teacher’s attire. Elaine shook her head.
“Nope, rules. Mr. Donner does all the 1st test prototype trials. He says it’s safer that way, but I think he just gets a big kick out of driving our toys.”
“I heard that,” rumbled the teacher as he brought the truck to a stop and put it back into park. “Doc, you want to poll the computer while I do the walk around, please?”
“Yes, sir,” the red head called, pulling her school laptop out of the overnight bag she used as a purse.
“Computer?” asked Ayla quietly as he followed and watched the other plug a cable into a port under the steering wheel that connected to the laptop.
“All cars from ’96 on have a rudimentary computer built into them,” Elaine explained. “Well, rudimentary in the sense that they have more computing power than the Apollo space craft, but nowhere near modern computer systems. It monitors the information from the sensors and in some cases take over the jobs mechanical linkages used to do, idle speed, fuel to air mixtures, oil pump pressures, things like that. This will give us a base line to evaluate the test from.”
“Oh,” Goodkind replied as he watched the other girl boot up the laptop. “If you don’t mind my asking, I’ve always wondered why do they call you ‘Doc’? Is it some techie term of endearment?”
“No,” she replied absently as she tapped at the keys. “Mah initials are E. E. Nalley, well, there was a science fiction writer called…”
“E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith,” Ayla interrupted smoothly.
“You a fan?” she asked.
“I’m not much of space opera junkie, but his Skylark series I found very entertaining, more so than Lensman, but it’s more a matter of taste. Of course, he had a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering and did quite a bit of work in pastry mixes, so I’m a little hazy on the link…”
“Edward Elmer and Elaine Ethel,” she replied rolling her eyes. “He hated his names just like Ah hate mine. Ah do believe mah parents must have hated me too,” she said with a self deprecating chuckle. “So, new school, Ah thought Ah’d use the nickname. It kind of fits as when the teachers found out what mah power was they started coming to me to ‘diagnose’ why something won’t work.”
Satisfied, she reached around the wheel and got hold of the key. “Turning over!” she warned.
“Clear,” Mr. Donner replied from the rear of the truck with his clipboard.
The truck started on the first try and purred quietly as sophomore continued to type at the keys while a collections of read outs popped up on the screen. “It’s so quiet,” remarked Ayla. “I heard from Babs that your afterburner was loud. It was one of the things I was most concerned with.”
Elaine shrugged from her typing. “Ah increased the thickness of the steel around the turbine and wrapped the whole thing in a fire retardant material that has some nice acoustic dampening properties. Ah figured you’d want a prototype that was as close to production line as Ah could get to sell it. Besides, the noise fits on Baby Girl, it’s part of the ambiance.”
“Safety positions, ladies,” the big teacher murmured as he passed and slid into the driver’s seat. Ayla followed Elaine’s lead up the stairs where a table and chairs were waiting on them as the Land Cruiser rumbled out onto the track.
“So,” Ayla asked as he accepted a cup of coffee that Elaine was pouring out of a thermos. “What now?”
“Now we wait,” she replied. “The car’s got five gallons of gas and Mr. Donner will put it through its paces, simulating surface street driving and high way. When it runs out we use the cart to shuttle out a gas can to get it back here and then we download the computer and see what we can see.”
Phase took a warming sip to fight the cold and looked out at the Land Cruiser across the flats. He chuckled as he shook his head in embarrassment. At Elaine’s questioning look he made a broad gesture and declared, “I don’t know, I always thought this proving ground would be full of holes and, well, that there’d be dodging missiles or something.”
“Ah wouldn’t know,” Elaine replied sharing the chuckle. “Since Ah got out of weapons, but Ah imagine there’s an armored car range somewhere.”
“Probably!” laughed Ayla. “It is Whateley after all!”
Loophole took a fortifying sip of the coffee and decided to change the subject. “Ah owe you an apology. Lifeline, mah room mate, she told me that you consider yourself male. Based on the window dressing Ah just kind of assumed female pronouns were appropriate. Ah’m sorry if Ah hurt your feelings, Ah can’t imagine what you must be going through, Trevor.”
For a long moment, Ayla stared off at the truck on the course and said nothing. Finally, he took a sip and whispered, “Apology accepted. And thank you, for looking past the window, and not just about my appearance. Out of curiosity, how long have you known?”
“It doesn’t take a genius to figure out none of the Goodkinds have a daughter your age, and coupled with the fact that you, well, you as Trevor dropped off the face of the Earth last July it seemed the most rational of the explanations.”
He fell quiet again, but his eyes never left her. “Are you going to blackmail me? I know my family hasn’t scored any popularity points with… a lot of people, especially people in other socioeconomic domains.”
Elaine rolled her eyes. “Ah thought you were goin’ ta say ‘mutants’. Anyway, not mah style,” she replied.
“Once, I might have, but it’s not like I can ignore a reality this blatant,” he replied before looking away at the distant truck. “My gene sequence was checked from when I was born and it was checked a number of times afterward, because I wasn’t growing at a normal rate. I didn’t have the meta-gene complex even two years ago. I shouldn’t be a mutant. Then last summer, this happened.”
“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” the sophomore said quietly. “You know Paul was a great persecutor of early Christians and he went on to be the largest contributor to the New Testament.”
After a long moment, the impossibly green eyes looked back from out across the flats to stare unblinkingly at the red head they shared the roof with. “You’ll forgive me if the notion of the Supreme Being turning my life on its ear for my own good is not particularly comforting.” He paused for a moment and remarked, “I wouldn’t have pictured you as a…well, as being…”
“A bible thumper?” she asked with a sardonic smile. “Don’t worry, Ah’m Episcopalian. Ah’m not going to start quoting John 3:16 at you or demand if you’re saved or not. Still, mah faith is the one great comfort Ah have with everything that’s happened and Ah was hoping it might help you. We can talk about something else if you’d rather.”
Ayla thought for a moment before nodding. “I shall take your comment in the manner in which it was intended and say ‘thank you for your concern’. Oddly enough, I’m Episcopalian too, even if I haven’t gone to church for months. At first, I thought being at Whateley would completely wreck my religious beliefs. After all, we’re part of a school full of the most powerful beings on the planet. We’ve seen demons from other dimensions. Some of us have fought demons from other dimensions. We go to classes with people who claim to be Greek gods. You probably lost a dozen pairs of panties to the Monkey King. The real Monkey King, as far as I can tell. Some days, I really have my doubts. Don’t you ever feel your faith wavering?”
Loophole shrugged as she took another sip of the coffee and sighed. “A bullet will kill me as dead as any other ‘normal’,” she declared softly. “But, as far as the rest goes, seems to me there have always been con artists and grafters throughout history. The fact that God is keeping His promise and giving us free will to let us make our own mistakes convinces me more than some student walking around with a halo.”
Goodkind smiled and rubbed his chin in thought. “You could be wrong, you know.”
“Ah could be, but Ah won’t find out till Ah’m dead and then Ah won’t care, will Ah?” she asked philosophically. “If He does exist, Ah’ll have lived mah life doing as much good as Ah could and, Ah hope, living up to what He made me for. If He doesn’t, Ah still left the world better than when Ah got here. Win/win.”
“’Question with boldness even the existence of God;’” he quoted with a sardonic smile.
“’ Because, if there be one, He must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear’,” she finished and a laugh. “Thomas Jefferson and Ah would get along, Ah do believe.”
Ayla smiled a sardonic smile as she drained her cup and extended it for a refill. “Thank you, and not just for the coffee. Short of my team I haven’t made a large collection of friends here. There are those who hate me because I’m a Goodkind, and those who hate me because I’m blatantly inter-sexed. There are those who are afraid of me because I’m in Team Kimba, but a lot of the rest are people who are looking to make a good impression on the Goodkind who, whether he hates mutants or not, is still loaded after all.” He wrapped his hands around the cup to warm them and savored the smell of the beverage. “You’ve always been a little distant, but today you treated me like a person who isn’t a mutant or a multimillionaire. I appreciate it.”
She smiled and while she was very pretty girl any time when she smiled she was truly radiant. “Mah pleasure,” she drawled. “That’s what friends are for.”
Jefferson Avenue, between Dickinson Cottage and Dunn Hall, Whateley Academy
Elaine walked along the sidewalk of the narrow paved road that was part of the network of similar one lane ‘streets’ lost in her own thoughts. It would be nice if Ayla’s projections of returns on her afterburner came true, but she wasn’t about to start counting chickens from eggs. Truth be told, Berry White was still crooning in the chicken coop so there weren’t exactly eggs yet either. Still, the freshman seemed to understand business the way Elaine understood systems. Maybe something would come of the partnership.
Ayla had certainly seemed strangely pressing on it.
“Don’t play me, Ayla,” she whispered to herself as she walked and decided that perhaps it would be best if she let her guard down a little. She certainly couldn’t live her whole life thinking everyone was just looking to take advantage of her. Trust was what made the world go around, right? Wasn’t Maggie always nagging her to trust more? To see the bright side of things the way she did?
As she chewed on that, Elaine was pulled from her thoughts by the sound of her phone ringing. Once it was out of her purse, she couldn’t help but roll her eyes at the stern face of Mrs. Hartford’s picture from last year’s year book staring out of the screen at her. After a moment of assuring herself she’d done nothing she’d get in trouble for being caught for, she accepted the call. “Yes, Mrs. Hartford?”
“Where are you, Elaine?” the administrator demanded.
“Um, by Dunn Hall,” she replied. “Why?”
“Please come to the administrative offices as quickly as you can,” was the only answer before the line dropped.
“Mah pleasure,” she muttered as she reversed her heading and made her way to Schuster Hall as quickly as she could. Along the way she noted that Mrs. Hartford’s BMW and what looked like a rental car where the only cars in the parking lot by Schuster Hall. A number of different scenarios played through her mind as to what might be wrong which only got worse with time. She found the office’s open and a man and woman standing before the Administrator’s desk that turned as she entered, causing her heart to leap up in her throat. “Mom! Dad! What are ya‘ll doing here?”
“They’re here escorting America’s next great superhero!” boomed a voice from behind Elaine that made her skin crawl. She turned slowly, praying every second that God, or Fate or someone would deny what her mind was already picturing. Behind her stood a squat young man, shorter than Elaine by enough inches that there were always arguments about who was taller and when. Now he was wearing a black set of Under Armor spandex body temperature control stocking that might be the base layer to a professional athlete’s uniform. Over it however was an odd hodgepodge of red and green skate boarding pads, a blue baseball catcher’s chest pad and what appeared to her father’s old Army LBE belt and suspenders. From that hung a collection of pouches that were both dessert and jungle camouflaged. This interesting wardrobe was completed with a pair of combat boots, and a strap of black material with a pair of eye holes cut into it that had been pressed into service as a mask.
The young man had a boyish, heart shaped face with a wild mop of crimson hair over sparkling green eyes that shown out of a peaches and cream complexion with a spatter of freckles over the nose and cheeks. Despite the innocent face, his body filled out the body stocking in a way that no one with a face that innocent should. Each muscle group was defined and bulged like Jack Kirby had carved his take on David in obsidian. “Monolith has come to Whateley!” her younger brother boomed.
Elaine sighed before she turned to look at her parents, who had the decency to look contrite, and Mrs. Hartford, who always looked pissy and stern. “Well,” drawled Elaine softly, “it’s official. Jesus hates me, and so do ya’ll.”
The Nalley Residence, Kennesaw Georgia
“It’s not fair!” thundered Steve with the feeling of if logic would not fuel his victory in the argument, perhaps volume would. “What did she do to get to be a mutant? Just because she wrote some stupid letter all of a sudden she’s important? You make me write our Representative and both Senators every year and all I’ve gotten for it was a collection of stupid buttons!”
“You’re not helping your case here, boy,” his father growled around a cup of coffee as he flipped through the catalogue the two government agents had left earlier in the day.
“Democracy only works if you participate, son,” his mother told him with the calm only a seasoned teacher possessed. “Speaking of, Gene, I’ve been doing some research about…people like our daughter and I’m becoming concerned! Some of these regulations are like something out of the sixties!”
“I’m a little more worried about how we’re going to pay for this over what bathroom she has to use, baby,” he replied as he looked over the cost pages. “This place is six figures a year. If she doesn’t get this scholarship…”
“Elaine’s been a straight A student from first grade, Gene,” his wife chided him. “I’m more worried about her fitting in. And this GSD thing the Internet keeps hinting at…”
“What if I wrote a letter to NASA?” demanded Stephen with the focused determination of an almost fourteen-year-old. “I could write one and then I’d get laser vision or something, right?”
Gene sighed deeply before looking his son in the eye. “Stephen William, Elaine didn’t do anything for this to happen. It’s genetic, just a random fluke, like getting struck by lightening or winning the lottery. You can’t make it happen…”
“Sure you can!” the boy countered with considerably more volume. “It’s all over the Internet! There’s the Batson Project the government has under wraps, and Champion III was just some kid until Lady Astarte just gave him the Champion Force! Then, there’re chemicals and mad scientists and toxic waste…”
“That’s enough!” Gene’s voice didn’t need volume to over ride the protestations of his only son, its forceful delivery was more than enough. “Your sister didn’t ask for this, and she doesn’t have it because it’s some reward we’re giving her and not you. God as my witness if I had my way neither of you would have to deal with this.”
Elaine crossed her arms and took advantage of her parents’ focus on her younger brother to stick her tongue out at him when they wouldn’t notice. Stephen’s face flushed with rage as he bravely held back tears of frustration. “She gets everything! You let her have a car!”
“That doesn’t run!” protested Elaine.
“She gets the bigger room! You always spend more on her clothes…!”
His mother rubbed her temples and fought back against the migraine she felt building. “Girls clothes cost more, son, it doesn’t mean we love you any less…!”
“It’s always her!” he shouted back. “When do I get to count?!” The boy fled the table and ran to his room, slamming the door as he went.
The mechanic looked at his wife and sighed. “I thought dating was going to be bad,” he admitted. “How am I going to stare down some kid that can bench press a suburban and put the fear of God into him, Jody?”
“I think we have more immediate concerns,” she replied, rising from the dining room table to chase down her son.
Administrative Conference Room A, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
“It’s entirely your fault,” Elaine’s mother declared as the group filed into the conference room. Pulling out one of the comfortable leather chairs to throw herself into, Elaine braced herself for the coming blame storm she saw on the horizon.
“Mah fault?” she demanded.
“Yes,” Mrs. Nalley repeated firmly. “Ever since you’ve been going here your brother has become obsessed with Mutants, Superheroes and everything else to do with it. You remember the humiliation we had last summer bailing him out of jail…”
“Ah did not make him those throwing stars!” growled Loophole indignantly. “Ah don’t know how many times Ah have to…”
“Monolith has no need of puny weapons!” Stephen boomed as he picked up the very heavy looking conference table with one hand while flexing the bicep of the other. “Monolith is a living weapon of Justice!”
Mrs. Hartford’s gaze went from cool to sub-zero in nano-seconds. Without raising her voice, she calmly commanded, “Put…the table…down.” Making sure to use both hands, the would-be hero complied. “Now, if you want to discuss the subject of blame Mrs. Nalley, the most likely culprit would be you.”
“Me?” the teacher replied aghast.
“This is new,” muttered Elaine’s father as he sat down next to her. “I’m starting to like this place…”
“Yes, you,” Mrs. Hartford replied. “The meta-gene complex, the genetic reason mutants are in fact different from baseline humanity is an alteration of DNA in the X Chromosome. And while Mr. Nalley may also have the complex, there is no way he is responsible for your son’s mutation.”
“I thought in that X-men movie they said….” Started Stephen before the administrator’s glare silenced him once again.
“If that were true,” she continued, “then in the X-Man universe only men would be mutants. Women do not have a Y chromosome. Further, Master Nalley, here at Whateley you will be taught the fallacy of such spurious arguments as well a firm grounding in how biology actually works.”
“Which brings us to the question of how we’re going to pay for this, Mrs. Hartford,” Gene said, cutting into the conversation smoothly. “Now, I know that Elaine’s patent is paying her own way, but would it be possible since she used to qualify for that scholarship to apply our son?”
“I took the liberty of applying for you when you telephoned Wednesday,” Hartford replied. “Even if the foundation declines to alter the scholarship, as the trustees of Miss Nalley’s patents, we can divert some of those funds…”
“Just a minute!” protested Elaine. “Ah worked hard on those inventions! That’s mah money!”
“I know my daughter isn’t about to abandon her family over something like money,” Gene commented with a subtle blandness of tone that no one who didn’t already know him would take as threat.
“Ah’d like to be asked!” the red head returned indignantly.
“Elaine, you recall that article I showed you last Christmas about the cost of raising a child to adulthood? I’d call helping your brother a bargain…”
“Fine!” she snapped, un-mollified. “But Ah’m not covering him if he flunks out! If Ah’m paying the way, Ah expect results!”
“I’m sure that won’t be necessary beyond an interim measure,” soothed Mrs. Hartford. “In the mean time, I’ve assigned your brother to Twain Cottage and I believe that Mr. Filbert will be rooming him with Mechano-Man. Why don’t you take him over and get him settled while we sort out this paperwork?” It might have been phrased as a question, but the note of command was unmistakable.
Elaine got to her feet. “Come on, twerp,” she muttered before leading him out of the room.
Dickinson Cottage, Third Floor Room 307, Whateley Academy
“This cannot be happening!” snarled Tansy as Heyley cringed at her desk while Nancy only smirked and crossed her arms at the display. “I am not losing all I’ve gained to that filthy little grease monkey!”
“Oh yes you are,” Nancy all but cooed in reply.
Walcutt whirled on her friend, or at least what passed for friendship in her mind, in a rage. “And how do you know that?” she snapped.
“Because Arnold talks in his sleep,” the brunette snapped back. Her face softened into a seductive smile of remembrance. “When I let him sleep, anyways.”
“That’s disgusting!” snarled Tansy as she returned to pacing.
“No, it was a religious experience!” Nancy replied. “I’ve practically had an epiphany! Not only did I find out exactly how much of a man Aries is, but thanks to his exertions and his uncensored subconscious I know just how fucked you are, Tansy!”
“Sounds to me like the only one who got fucked was you!” the junior growled.
Nancy rolled her eyes. “Oh, please, come off it. Yes, I scored, or got scored, however you want to look at it. And you know what, Tansy? It…was…great! But hey, if a man isn’t your cup of tea, you’re already rooming with Sahar, and from what I hear, sounds like you two could open your own tea house…!”
Tansy whirled and stormed over to the brunette in a rage. “Don’t you dare make those kinds of allegations about me! I’m not some kind of pervert like…” The conversation was interrupted by the sound of a key in the door’s lock. It opened to reveal the aforementioned Lebanese girl who rolled her eyes at the sight of Tansy’s ‘guests’.
“I’ll go study in the common room,” she growled, pulling the door shut. She paused for a moment with a twinge of conscience before announcing, “By the way, Red Flag,” and pulled the door shut.
“Why would there be a red flag today?” murmured Nancy as she strolled to the window and looked out towards Schuster Hall. There her exemplar sight let her pick out a red head she knew well enough and younger boy walking with her. A plan crystallized in her mind and she realized now was the time.
“It’s so dry and cold,” whined Heyley, “there ought to be a red flag for my skin! Tansy, can I use some of your lotion?”
“Fine,” the other returned as she joined Nancy by the window. “Never mind about the stupid flag, how are we going to deal with this? And what did you find out in your hay roll?”
Nancy smirked again as she watched Heyley rubbing in the lotion she’d helped herself to. “It tingles,” she said happily to no one as Nancy decided exactly what she was going to say to Tansy.
“Loophole wasn’t lying to you about the keys, and if Aries is right, the only leverage you have left is the biometric locks and those she’ll have to change from the main frame in Schuster Hall itself. Hartford really locked down the network earlier this week so there’s no way she can do it remotely. And, to answer your unasked question, Tansy, the moment Kodiak has those, you’re out. Interestingly enough, the plan currently is that he’s going to formally oust you in favor of Loophole at lunch tomorrow.”
“Then we have to strip those rooms…” Walcutt started but Nancy only shook her head.
“There’s thirty rooms on that list, Tansy. Even if I were inclined to help you, we’d never get them stripped. Face it, you’ve lost.”
“This tingle is a little strong,” whined Heyley from the desk.
“We can’t lose, not to her!”
“We?” laughed Nancy again. “There is no we any more, Tansy. I’ve warned you until I’m sick of warning you. You either can’t or won’t listen, and I’m not going to go down with your ship any more. But, for old time’s sake, I’ll give you this one head’s up. Loophole will have to make her play for the biometrics tonight. My place in the Alpha’s is secure. Heyley, well she’s a good sidekick so I’ll stick up for her, but not for you, Tansy, not any more.”
Tansy’s jaw fell open in a panic as she stumbled headlong into the trap Nancy had laid for her. “But…but, Nancy…”
“Oh,” the brunette drawled, “I might be persuaded to say something if you were to somehow stop Loophole from changing the biometrics. There’s a balance of power there between the hard keys, the ten pad codes and you…if you keep the biometrics.”
“It burns!” squealed Heyley as she jumped up from the desk, her hands red and swollen.
“Go rinse it off you twit!” snarled Nancy, enraged that the airhead had spoiled her moment of triumph. Turning back to Tansy she stepped forward and narrowed her eyes. “She can get you in your own room and you wonder why you’re on your way out? Be an Alpha, or don’t bother showing your face at lunch. Either way is fine with me.”
Nancy spun on her heel and marched out a small smile of triumph on her face as she listened to Tansy growl in frustration. Yes, life was definitely good and she might even miss how easy it was to nudge Tansy into stumbling down whatever road she liked. Still, on ward and upward as the saying went. The trap was baited, now to set it.
The Front Lawn of Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
The Nalley siblings exited Schuster Hall in very different states of mind. Elaine’s feet had no pep and drug slightly as she looked back over her shoulder at the windows of the conference room behind the rotunda. Her brother on the other hand was bursting with excitement so much so that he was bouncing from foot to foot and practically spinning in place trying to take everything in all at once. “Yes!” he shouted in exuberance. “I have arrived!”
“Oh shut up before somebody hears you,” snapped Elaine.
Her brother waved off her complaint with a causal gesture. “Sure, this is all old hat to you; you’ve been here for a year and a half. But you don’t know how much this means to me sis!”
Elaine frowned down on her brother’s statement. “How could Ah not with you going on and on and on about it all over summer vacation and every holiday? Christ Almighty, Steve, you may think this place in heaven on Earth, but Ah’m here to tell you…”
“You can’t keep me out anymore!” he snapped. “I can fly! Can you?” he demanded as he rose slightly up into the air to prove his point. “I got here on my own and there’s nothing you can do about it!”
“Ah didn’t want to come here!” she shouted while frantically gesturing to the ground. “Now come down before somebody sees you!”
“Why?” Steve demanded, rising out of her reach just to tweak her. “This is Mutant High! Except for nerds like you the other students must be showing off left and right! You’re just jealous I can do things you can’t! Now it’s your turn to be second best!”
“Ah could care less if you can fly, now damn it, Steve come down, it’s red flag!” Seeing the look of questioning on his face, Elaine pointed back to the schools’ flag, where it flew third from the top on the pole below the stars and stripes of Old Glory and the enshrined image of the USS Raleigh that dominated the state seal adrift in the sea of blue that was the New Hampshire State Flag. The school’s crest sat over a flag of a single black vertical stripe framed by two gold stripes and in this edition framed in a red fringe. “That red boarder around the flag means we can’t show any powers or even look funny!”
“Right,” he drawled. “And I’m sure Professor X summons us to class with telepathy instead of a bell system too.”
“Fine,” his sister replied. “Get in trouble. See if Ah care. It’ll serve you right to get detention in your first hour on the grounds.”
“You’re just saying….”
Elaine crossed her arms and stared up at him. “When am Ah ever wrong about a rule, Steve?” The young man looked back and forth between his sister and flag fluttering in the breeze before he finally settled back to the ground.
“I was done flying,” he announced haughtily.
“Right,” drawled Elaine, as she turned and began walking towards the distant mark of Twain Cottage. “All the major classroom buildings are here,” she tossed over her shoulder. “That’s Kane Hall with the observatory and Dunn Hall beside it. There’ll be a map of the campus in the 1st Floor hallway of your cottage. The important thing for you is the cafeteria is in Crystal Hall, that’s the dome back there.”
“Why are you so pissed off?” he demanded, trotting up to get beside her on the sidewalk. “You know what a dream come true for me this is! Can’t you for once be happy for me?”
“This isn’t a comic book, Steve!” she yelled before she took a few deep breaths to master her temper. “You don’t need powers to matter to me, little brother,” she said with a playful muss of his hair, which only made him frown deeper, but the anger left his eyes. “And this place is dangerous. Last year two kids were killed and one committed suicide.”
“Yeah, well, I’m invulnerable now so…”
“You want to find out exactly how wrong you are about that?” she demanded.
Her brother crossed his arms over his broad chest in defiance. “Do your worst,” he boasted.
The smirk that pulled at Elaine’s lips was evil, but her brother was far too certain he was right to notice. “You asked for it,” she replied. “Give me your hand.”
“You wanted mah worst,” she said blithely. “If you can’t take it…” Steve immediately stuck out his hand, his frown deepening. Elaine took her brother’s hand, or rather, felt the warm, ever so slightly slippery feeling of a TK field against her own skin. Her power examined the field and told her what she’d guessed would work, would in fact be correct. She made a fist of his hand and used the thumb of her off hand to gently squeeze down just above the bony part of his elbow. As the pressure was slow and steady the telekinetic field he was wrapped in didn’t react as fast, which allowed her pressure to burrow down and find its mark.
Steve’s radial nerve suddenly reacted to the pressure it was under and fired, causing his Triceps brachii muscle to contract. This unlocked his elbow with sufficiently sudden force that it surprised him and, before he could react, Elaine guided the motion of his arm and shoved his fist into his groin.
The air was forced from his lungs in a high wail of agony as his remarkably pale blue/green eyes crossed and he fell to his knees fighting back tears. “How’s that invulnerability working out for ya, bro?” demanded Elaine with an evil smile as she stood well out of reach to taunt him.
“How?” he wailed in his agony as he fell over to his side, clutching his wounded groin to protect it from further harm. “Dad and I tried everything,” he gasped. “Two by fours, tire irons, God, he even shot me once we were sure! What the fuck?!”
“Training, brother mine,” she replied shaking her head. “Just breathe, it’s not that bad, ya big baby. See, you are what we like to call around here a TK Superman, or there is a telekinetic force field around that lovely skin of yours. That field reacts well to fast interactions, but like an Atreides belt shield, it let’s slow moving things affect you more.”
“A…what now?” he gasped. Elaine rolled her eyes.
“It’s in a book, read one for a change,” she snapped. “Mah thumb triggered a pressure point on your radial nerve, which Ah learned about in Basic Martial Arts. And since Ah had control of your hand and Powers Theory taught me your force field would ignore your own body, wham you’re on the ground and Ah’m laughing over you. Base line with training defeats cocky mutant,” she taunted.
“And why did it have to be a shot to my nuts?!” he demanded.
Elaine stifled a giggle. “That Ah learned in biology.”
Holbrook Arena, Whateley Academy
“Even if we work the tiers in stages, mounting them is going to be a bitch,” whistled Gadget around her teeth as she pointed out the flaw in the blue print she was looking at. “It’d be easier if you could increase the size of the doors, or just get rid of the crystal layer all together for this.”
Kali shook her head. “I could probably manage destroying the crystal, but rebuilding it is a whole other matter,” she announced, pulling out another structural blue print and pointing at a box labeled Diamond Cutter. “The crystal was a manifestation of the mutant Diamond Cutter, and she’s notorious about not releasing the lattice formula. It’s how she can charge the rates she does for it. It’s not listed anywhere in the blue prints, or the building permits. I don’t know, maybe we could convince her to come out and re-grow it for old time’s sake? What do you think Kodiak?”
The silence drug out for a long moment before the two girls looked at each other before moving their glances over to the shaggy senior next to them who was staring off into space in the direction of Whitman Cottage. Gadget rolled her eyes before reaching up and pitching the boy’s nipple, hard. “What the fuck?” the boy shouted as he jumped back, startled.
“The shaggy one graces us with his presence!” Gadget chuckled darkly. “You wanted to be in charge, Alpha, so be in charge! Pay attention! How are we going to get those twenty foot sections through a door that’s only six feet wide?”
Kodiak frowned at being caught with his thoughts drifting as well as the interruption. “We’ll get Wraith to make them intangible and just bring them in through the wall,” he snapped.
Kali’s eyebrow ascended her forehead in surprise. “You trust Wraith to not mess this up?”
“I trust her not wanting her folks billed for any damage she does to the hall,” Kodiak returned. “Are we done? I’m getting a little hungry here.”
Gadget’s inhuman squirrel face frowned. “We haven’t even started going over how we’re going to move the waterfall or add bathrooms…”
“Less talk, more food,” he teased with a sardonic grin. Turning to the other seniors who were busy making concrete forms he shouted, “Lunch! Take an hour, everybody!” To the annoyed look on the two girl’s faces, he quipped, “You wanted me to take charge. Come on Gadget, I know I’m not the only one with wondering thoughts.”
“Get a room already,” she snapped without particular venom. “Fine, I could do to get out of this cold for a bit anyway; makes me want to hibernate.”
“See ya in an hour,” Kody tossed by way of a good bye as he quickly made for the stadium’s exits to beat the rush to Crystal Hall. And while he was hungry, that wasn’t the reason his thoughts were wondering and he knew it. Aries had come through with a whole laundry list of Elaine’s likes and hobbies; nothing on it was something he could present her without it seeming shallow and mercenary. “Damn you, dad,” he muttered angrily to himself as he walked and, mostly out of habit, swept the area around him for threats.
His eyes fell on a pair of figures on the sidewalk coming from the main street of the school and while he didn’t recognize the boy, he’d know Loophole’s blue and gold Georgia Tech parka anywhere. Maybe I just need to be sincere, he thought to himself as he picked up his pace to over take them. Cowboy up and apologize, I’ve never done that before. The boy caught sight of him first and now that he could get a better look Kody wasn’t exactly sure what to make of his strange mish mash of attire. “Who are you supposed to be?” he demanded with a chuckle as he got to conversational distance.
“Don’t start him,” snapped Elaine, as the boy opened his mouth to answer. She also didn’t stop. “Ah’m not speaking to you, Kodiak,” she added over her shoulder.
“Elaine, wait!” he said, and while he’d meant it to come out as a request, it had a tone of command and she stiffened as he caught a hold of her arm.
“Take your hand off me,” she ordered quietly.
“Elaine…” he started before the young man reached up and got a hold of his shoulder and spun him around to face the wannabe hero.
“My sister told you to keep your hands to yourself,” Monolith snarled.
“You got stones, kid,” the senior replied with a chuckle, “I like that, but right now the adults are talking. Why don’t you go run along…?” Cody couldn’t continue as the younger boy had balled a fist and hit him across the mouth hard enough so snap his head to the side. The senior reached up and wiped away the trail of blood from his cut lip with the back of his hand. “Alright, I’m officially impressed,” he admitted.
Inside himself, however, Monolith was worried. He’d punched this big man with everything he’d had, and he could bend steel. He should have gone flying and all he’d managed was a lip bleed. “Look, you don’t know me, boy, so I’m going to cut you some slack,” the senior was saying. Steve balled a fist and tried a left cross, but the big man caught his fist mid throw and stopped it cold as the humor left Kodiak’s face. “But if you slap me again I’m going to throw you a beating,” he finished, menace dripping from his tone of voice. “Now, I’m going to have a conversation with your sister and you’re not going to interrupt me again, savvy?”
“Steve,” warned Elaine from behind the senior, one hand fishing in her purse. “Steve, he can take you apart without breaking a sweat.”
The two men’s eyes were locked and neither was blinking. “He might take me apart,” Steve growled. “But if you put a hand on my sister again, you’re going to lose it.”
Elaine’s hand finally found her phone in the purse and as she was preparing to summon her armor and hang the consequences, Kodiak simply laughed a loud, genuine laugh and clapped her brother on the shoulders in rough affection. “Damn son, you’ve got balls of steel, I like that. We’ll go nine rounds sometime then I’ll buy ya a beer to make the bruises not hurt so bad, but for right now I’d like to talk with your sis, k?”
Loophole interposed herself between the two testosterone poisoning victims and forced a step backward against her brother to add some space. “What do you want, Kodiak?” she demanded before looking over her shoulder at her brother. “Ah’m fine, Ah’ve got this, just stand back, ok?” Monolith nodded curtly and took a few further steps away, his eyes never leaving the two.
“You two really related?” he asked quietly. Elaine sighed.
“One year, three months, nine days, and you still haven’t answered mah question.”
He chuckled and shrugged. “Among other things, I wanted to apologize. Nancy had no business giving you that tape, but I had no business saying what I said. I’m sorry I hurt you, and if I can do anything to make it up to you, I will.”
“What is it you want from me?” she demanded. “And how much of what you told Pendragon is true?”
“It’s all true,” he answered somewhat defensively. “I didn’t put it very well, but, shit, Elaine, I’m an Alaskan Red Neck. I don’t know poetry from puke, and you know I can’t carry a tune in a bucket so me singing to your window is out. All I know is haven’t been able to stop thinking about you since…well, since the pledge party.”
Elaine’s lips burned in remembrance and her heart started beating faster than when she’d stared down terrorists at Hartsfield. However, her intellect was quick to remind her hormones she had plenty to be mad about. “That didn’t stop you from shagging Tansy…”
He shrugged. “If you want me to say I didn’t enjoy it or she has me over a barrel and forced me to while I was only thinking of you, I will, but we both know what kind of bullshit that is.”
“This isn’t helping your cause…”
His eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Being honest with you? I always thought that’s what girls wanted most. Yeah, I had a thing with Tansy, which is over as soon as I can pull her leverage from me. What I feel for you, I dunno, I’ve never really felt this way before. And the damn Bear won’t leave me alone…”
“Is this what you told Tansy?” she demanded, frowning.
“No, that was something about her eyes, not that I could tell you what color they are, I was looking at her tits, and I’ll admit it. Look, Elaine, you want proof I’m not playing you, all I have is the other night. I didn’t want to spoil anything with us, by something rushed and half ass. That’s why I said no, and it took every bit of willpower I had to do it!”
“Hey, that’s my sister you’re…”
“Not now, Steve…!” she hissed, her mind awhirl of dreams and emotions.
He smiled his best smile and gently rubbed her shoulders. “Give me another chance?”
“Ah…Ah’ll…Ah’ll consider it.” He kissed her forehead.
“Fair enough.” He said as he walked away, pausing to ruffle Steve’s hair as he went. “Get settled and we’ll have that match, kid. You’re lucky to have such a cool sister.”
Monolith stared after him for several moments before interrupting Elaine’s fantasies. “I hate him.”
Twain Cottage 1st Floor Common Room, Whateley Academy
“Froggy froggy froggy froggy froggy!!!” A hyperactive Joanne Gunnarson sang as she bounced into a seat next to the massive, amphibian-looking boy, across from Thorn.
Kerry looked over at the hyperactive girl, catching a heady whiff of her gleeful, yet malicious emotions and raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you think you’ve had quite enough caffeine there, crazy one?”
Jolt reached sidelong for the coffee thermos only to have the girl clutch the cup and hiss like a snake at him. “Mine! No Touchy!” She grinned at Kerry. “No worries, it calms me down, kinda like Ritalin.”
“Well far be it for me for me to deny you your medicine in a cup, my Lady, drink up!” Thorne grinned.
“See? Such a sweet boy.”
“I thot zat you vere hanging out vit ze writer girls now?” Erzebet looked at her curiously.
“Hey, what can I say, I’m easily distracted.” She grinned at Buck wickedly. “How’s basic safety course for you?”
“Gee, thanks Murphy.” The boy got a sour look. “I still don’t think…”
“Buck, you can be cute, but seriously, stop right there.” Murphy shook her head. “You didn’t grow up with firearms I’m betting so I’m willing to forgive if…” She held up a finger, “…if you promise to learn Wilson’s safety spiel by heart and listen carefully to why everything needs to be done a certain way, okay? If you can do that I’ll stop snarking at you about it.”
“You promise that?”
“On my honor, so long as it doesn’t happen again, ever.”
“I’ll try, ok?”
“Good enough for me.” She looked around. “Where’s Ghost-arm-cyber-weirdo, or whatever that cranky cuss calls himself?”
Ezrebet sighed. “He thot zat since you seemed to haff vondered off he should do same. He pops back now and again.” She looked at Kerry. “I said that right?”
Kerry nodded. “Yeah, you got it.” She turned to the rapidly calming, less rambunctious Murphy. She could tell that the calming effect of the coffee was as much psychological as it was the caffeine. “So why pop back here now?”
Murphy shrugged. “Hey, as much as one or two people in this group have irritated me for various reasons you guys overall seem kinda cool.” She turned and poked Froggy in the arm. “And I wanna hear you sing with that wicked-awesome voice. And do the space rippy thing again. That felt awesome!”
“Ummm, I’ll have to pass on the space ripping, but maybe I can sing sometime if you all don’t mind.” Froggy looked down at her with an expression she chose to interpret as dubious.
“Hear that?” Kerry grinned slightly slyly. “That’s the sound of no one objecting.”
“Any way,” Joanne gave Kerry a nod, “if you all don’t mind if I pop in and hang out from time to time I’d like to get to know you all better. I’m trying not to inflict myself and my warping unconsciously on the same people TOO much.”
Thorne of course, answered before anyone could object. “But of course! This table could always use another pretty face to grace it.” He produced a Lily from under his hand and passed it to Joanne.
Murphy grinned at all of the other male faces at the table. “Take notes boys, and you just might get a girl,” she smirked.
“Thorn already does, he’s hitting on Nacht.”
Murphy grinned at Thorn, smiling. Ok I wanna hear this story…”
Melville Cottage, Courtyard Hot Tub, Whateley Academy
There were many things to like about being an Alpha, and while many of them were social, there were plenty of physical things to like about it as well, especially since the Don had been deposed. Living in Melville Cottage was one of the best of course, and while there were some wannabes and hangers on which did put a pall on some things, one of the first things an Alpha learned was the stare to tell them to get lost.
In the center of the elongated capital O the building was modeled on there was a courtyard that separated the girls and boys wings of the building. Mostly it was a pedestrian affair with bushes, paths and benches, but its best feature was the massive hot tub in the exact center. And while Mr. Forrest might wax eloquent about lying in warm waters on a winter’s night to stare up at the endless New England stars, everyone really knew there was nothing scholastic about this feature; except, perhaps as pertained to the study of biology.
There were a small handful of freshmen braving the cold and having a good time in the tub. Or, at least they had been when James and Bradley Kenner arrived. The two sophomores stared at the freshmen without entering the tub for a minute or two until the last one got the hint and reluctantly retreated back inside. The two twins would have been the stars of the football team if Whateley had one. They were tall, rugged and good looking with matching crew cuts that played up their blond hair while adding more menace to their already casually cruel gazes. “You look bored,” Bradley commented as the boys made themselves comfortable in the hot water.
“I am bored,” James shot back, “and so are you.”
“It’s not the same since the Don left, you’re right.”
“Is lording over pissant little freshman what we’ve been reduced to?”
“It’s not why I became an Alpha.”
“Mind if I join you?” purred a sultry voice from behind the two brothers. They turned in time to see Tansy’s bathrobe slide down her sumptuous curves, what modesty she might claim protected by a bikini that left nothing to the imagination. Solange concentrated her glamour as high as she could and focused it like a laser at the two boys in front of her. Even through the turbulent waters, she could see all thought processes from Hamper and Damper had just migrated south for the winter. She smiled coldly as she slid in between the two and steeled herself for what she’d have to do. Tansy knew her powers worked best if she allowed the disgusting males inside her that it opened their minds to let her inside them.
She had hoped she’d never have to do it again, but desperate times called for desperate measures. Tansy allowed her fingers to play with each boy’s crew cut as she kept up her act with the steel will that would have earned her an Oscar if anyone at the academy would ever learn of it. “I wonder if I could impose on you boys for a bit of a favor?”
Twain Cottage, Rm. 104, Whateley Academy
Weekends were sacrosanct at Whateley Academy, and in a dorm full of boisterous teenage boys there were no exceptions to decorum. Those who could where frantically signing out with Mr. Filbert and rushing to catch one of the shuttles to Dunwich and Berlin. A few who couldn’t were staring enviously at their dorm mates, but in a dorm full of free wheeling, high spirited youths, they were few and quickly cheered up by their neighbors as they thought up pranks to pull on Emerson Cottage, Twain’s arch rival, or pursued sports that could be adapted to the weather and mutant players.
Like chum thrown into shark infested waters, Stephen Nalley arrived at his new home away from home. Every other boy that was running through the hallways had a case of GSD from mild to some spectacular specimens, but all of them were mutants and the young man felt he’d finally come home.
Elaine and her brother waited in line for their turn to speak with the somewhat frazzled Mr. Filbert, the sophomore ignoring the stares and whistles her presence was attracting. These did nothing to improve either’s mood, and for very different reasons. While Stephen was very protective of his big sister, Elaine, on the other hand wasn’t used to this kind of attention from boys and while her Southern upbringing helped her keep her outward face calm and flattered, inwardly she couldn’t help but think about Kodiak’s comments from the tape about her beauty being dangerous.
As her thoughts churned, Mr. Filbert at the front of the line evidently found a discrepancy in one of the passes he was checking and announced that it would have to be checked, to the vocal dismay of line as he disappeared into his apartment with the boy in question. “Ah don’t want to spend mah whole day here,” muttered Elaine angrily as she settled in to wait.
“Well be lucky to catch the three O’clock shuttle at this rate,” groused the tall, dark skinned boy in dreadlocks in front of her. “Sup, Doc? How you been, girl?”
“Hey Dredz, Ah’ve had better days. Meet mah little brother, Steve.”
The young men shook hands. “Sup Steve, the name’s ‘Zander in secret ID mode. Dredz is the codename.”
“Monolith,” the other replied.
“Monolith?” Dredz repeated with much disdain. “They let you pick a name in use?”
“No,” interjected Elaine while rolling her eyes at her brother’s enthusiasm. “Ah’m just here to get him checked in and then Mr. Filbert or Mrs. Carson can beat that notion out of him.”
“What do you mean, name in use?” demanded Steve testily.
"Dude, you do know that there's a guy called Monolith out there, don't you?" Dredz asked with an arched eyebrow of disbelief.
"Ah, no, who is it?"
"Dude, he's one of the Savage Six!"
"The Savage Six? Isn't that a super villain team?"
"Dude! The Savage Six is an A-LIST super villain team! Every time they hit, they leave dead bodies lying around in heaps, and they level city blocks at a time! Word that the Savage Six are in town and the fucking National Guard mobilizes! Monolith has eight Hero Kills all by himself! You know how he got the handle 'Monolith'?"
"Dude, he ripped they guy who had it before him apart with his bare hands!"
"Yeah, well, I'm pretty sure that I can handle him."
"Dude, let me tell you about Halloween..."
“How do you know so much about it?” demanded Steve with more anger than he actually meant, but not getting to use his chosen handle would definitely sour this day.
“You might want to listen to Dredz,” Elaine chided him; “Mister Ah’m all hyped up to be a super hero. Dredz’s parents are both members of S.T.A.R. League.” That was sufficient credentials to increase the size of her brother’s eyes to saucers and it became obvious that Dredz had just met the best friend he didn’t know he had before. The two began a major league geek fest of epic proportions.
Elaine immediately felt her day had just gone from bad to worse when a ray of sunshine entered the hall way from the Twain common room in the body of Murphy. “Jo!” she called out, eager to have some kind of shared defense against all the testosterone. Joann said her good bye to the huge frog-like boy Elaine had seen her meet several times over the past few days and walked over. However fate was not to be kind to Loophole as the arrival of a female of the species in his age range pulled Steve out of the geek fest.
“I don’t remember seeing you in the brochure,” purred Monolith in a tone that he no doubt felt was very suave and sophisticated. “But if I had I would have gotten here even faster.”
“I have only two words for you. Hell and No.” snapped Murphy.
“I just met this guy,” Steve replied obliviously, with a thumb jerked at Dredz. “But if he’s bothering you I’ll be glad to…”
“Geek love,” chuckled Zander with a knowing look at Elaine.
The Red Head only arched an eyebrow at her fellow sophomore. “Ah know you’re not throwing stones, Zander, the way ya’ll carry on after Chaka…”
“That’s different!” Dredz retorted.
“Sure it is,” Elaine replied as she scooped up Joann’s arm before she and her brother could come to blows. “Mah hero come to save me,” she interjected. “Quick! Make our get away before the geekness rubs off!”
“I’ll see you soon!” shouted Steve after them.
Whitman Cottage, Rm. 216, Whateley Academy
"Watching you two is going to give me nightmares about my siblings coming here you know. If it happens, I blame you for the karmic horror.” Elaine paused in her pacing in the room she shared with Lifeline who was thoroughly enjoying her friend’s predicament. Loophole turned and advanced to the freshman who was sitting on her bed.
“Oh no, see this?” she demanded in outrage. “You did this to me. See, you having to deal with this that’s what we call justice.”
“My ass!” the freshman shot back. “I didn't even know you had a kid brother much less what an annoying twit he can be!”
“You keep telling yourself that, rainbow-bright hair. Maybe Ah'll let slip in his ear just how much you'd love to see him flex those ridiculous muscles for you!” Elaine replied.
“You do realize that fratricide is still illegal in most civilized nations?”
“Are you kidding? Did you miss the part where Ah'm paying for his ride here? Ah've got Ayla working compound interest on the interest! With any luck Ah'll own him for at least twenty years! At least he'll be good for fetch and carry around the lab!” Maggie rolled her eyes at the tone the conversation was taking and decided action was called for. She stood from her bed and placed a cautioning hand on Elaine’s shoulder.
“Write it off Elaine,” Lifeline instructed her quietly. “If he's anything like my siblings... Just write it off. Trust me.”
The two friends exchanged glances for a moment as a thought occurred to Joanne and what color she had in her face drained away. “God,” she whispered. “That’s just what the world needs, the unlikely event of all my siblings coming here!”
Elaine threw up her hands and stormed over to one of the floor to ceiling windows on the far wall and looked out back towards the main campus buildings. “Thank you!” she snapped angrily. “Now that you're in a tempting God mood maybe you'd like to tell Him what a lousy shot He is with lightening bolts or something!”
Murphy snorted in amusement and in her sweetest voice replied, “He heard you. He says He missed you on purpose because listening to your whining is funny.”
Nalley’s brow furrowed in anger. “Oh Ah'm soooo telling mah brother you want to have his fricking kids!”
“I swear to God,” the freshman announced as she stood and stomped over to the window. “If you tell him I have the hots for him, you're eating Chili next week.”
“You think a little case of heart burn is going to weigh in to this?” demanded Elaine. “Ah've had that little twerp under mah ass for nigh on to sixteen years! Every slumber party there he goes in his fricking GI Joe underroos, when he's not streaking!” Maggie sighed as she interposed herself between her two friends to keep their argument from getting out of hand. Over her shoulder, Elaine however continued her rant. “When Ah got mah first period Ah had his entire fucking class coming up to me to find out if Ah was going to bleed to death!”
Joanne crossed her arms and canted her hips to show her determination to win the argument. “Elaine, allow me to put this deeply into perspective. You have a brother. I have a sister; and three brothers!” she shouted in very righteous anger at the whining. “However, if you make me surrogate big sis there shall be hell to pay, in vengeance and tears!”
Elaine twirled in frustration at the confined space and the general tenor of the conversation at not being able to make her point, or get her friends to understand that she was facing the end of her High School world. “Right, you've got other targets to obfuscate behind. Ah feel like Osama Bin Laden walking down Pennsylvania Avenue giving DC the middle finger!”
Loophole blinked as her ears tried to keep her brain up to speed on the conversation. “Wait...what did you just say?”
Joanne ground her teeth. “I...have...four...siblings!”
The red head waved off the answer in frustration. “No, after that? Something about vengeance and tears?”
Murphy blinked in confusion. “I said, if you make me a surrogate big Sis...”
Elaine's eyes began to jerk back and forth as if she were asleep, even though they were open. It was more than a little disturbing to watch, but both girls knew their friend enough to know her power was at work, working out the system. Suddenly she grinned a grin that sent chills down both their spines as she walked towards the door of the dorm room singing to herself. "Ah'm walking on sunshine..."
“Elaine... Don't make me come over there and drag this out of you.” Demanded Murphy.
“Why are you suddenly cheerful?” asked Maggie after she and Murphy shared a glance of confusion to which the freshman shrugged her ignorance.
“Oh nothing,” Elaine replied in her sing song voice. “Places to go, lives to ruin; nothing special.”
“Who's lives, specifically?” Demanded Maggie. Elaine finally sighed and motioned to her friends to follow her out the door.
“Oh pipe down and listen...”
Bedroom, Whateley House (Headmistress’ Residence) Whateley Academy
The telephone’s insistent ringing pulled Elisabeth Carson from some of the best sleep she’d had all week. That alone wasn’t enough to irritate the Headmistress who knew her job was demanding and sometimes kept odd hours. This she was used to. Still, it was annoying every time it happened, and invariably it happened in the middle of a pleasant dream. “Let it ring,” her bedmate muttered, only half awake and obviously resisting it as well.
“You know I can’t,” Carson replied as she rolled out of his very comfortable embrace to fumble on the nightstand for the phone. “Carson,” she announced as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes even as he rolled towards her to listen.
“Liz, it’s Amelia, I’m sorry for calling so late…”
His warm hands traced the line of her spine and began to knead the stress out of her shoulders making Carson sorry for the interruption as well. Out loud, she said, “It’s alright, Amelia, what’s wrong?”
“Someone is trying to hack their way into the Schuster Hall Main Frame.”
Carson frowned, despite the pleasure his strong hands were giving her. “I thought you locked down the mainframe?”
“I did,” Hartford replied primly. “They’ve broken in to the administrative offices and trying to access my terminal.”
“Crap,” Carson swore as she fished for the remote and finally got the massive flat panel on her wall to come on. The image on the display was green tinted thanks to the low light camera that was well hidden in the office and ran off an independent feed not linked to the normal security routines. On it, she saw a pair of lithe shapes in black hunched over the computer screen, their faces lit by its glow.
“Loophole,” her bedmate exclaimed as he sat up next to Elisabeth. “Do you know the other?”
“Murphy,” growled Carson as she got the phone to her ear once more. “Amelia, what are they trying to access? Grades?”
“No,” Hartford replied. “They’re trying to get into the facilities server for some reason.”
Carson couldn’t stifle the giggle that escaped her as her quick mind connected the dots. “Amelia, do you recall the conversation we had Monday about Kodiak?”
“Yes, and quite honestly I’m still pissed about it, the ungrateful shit. Why? What does that have to do with these two?”
“Let them in,” ordered Liz quietly as she turned slightly to give him better access to her back for his wandering hands. “Keep tabs and tell me what they’re doing.” Carson watched the two celebrate each other on the screen before Hartford’s voice was once more in her ear.
“They’re in. They’ve pulled up the registered club house roster. They’re filtering the results to just the Alpha areas. Alright, they’ve reset the biometric locks to diagnostic mode and registered Loophole and Murphy as the administrators. They’ve backed out of the system.”
“Didn’t I tell you she was resourceful?” he asked softly as he kissed her shoulder.
Quiet fell across the phone line before Hartford’s tone of voice softened. “Is that what this is all about?” she demanded quietly. “Well, I am impressed.”
Carson chuckled. “So, what do you want to do about it now?”
“I know I was adamant before about this, but Liz I’m honestly intrigued by this turn of events. I wouldn’t have thought that Kodiak could inspire this kind of loyalty, or subterfuge.” The pause settled again for a moment for the Headmistress to loose herself in the ministrations of her bedmate’s strong hands on her back.
“So,” she breathed through the hazy bliss of complete relaxation, “what do you want to do about it?”
“You know how much I hate mysteries, Liz,” her assistant proclaimed. “I have to know how this plays out. Fine,” she declared, making her decision. “Take the club and let’s see what Mr. Cody is really capable of. Do you want me to alert security and let Loophole and her new friend know we won’t tolerate this kind of skullduggery?”
Liz thought for a long moment before shaking her head. “No,” she told her assistant. “I think things will go better if they think they’ve gotten away with it, don’t you?”
“It goes against my sadistic nature, you know,” she replied with a dark chuckle.
“You’ll survive,” Liz told her. “Let me know if anything else happens.”
Liz clicked off her set and returned to phone to its charging cradle before returning her full attention on her bedmate. “Now, where were we?”
Front Lawn, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
A pair of lithe female shapes in black darted from shadow to shadow, but there was very little stealth to their gait. Indeed, both girls were practically skipping with the joy of a fait accompli known to every teenager who’s put one over on the establishment. And while their track suits wouldn’t win them any brownie points with the Intelligent Cadet Corps, they did give a bit of believability to the cover story that they were out for a late night jog, should they be caught.
However, being caught was the last thing on either Loophole or Murphy’s minds as they made their round about way down Washington Avenue between Schuster Hall and Kane Hall while staying out of the wells of lights cast by the wrought iron street lamps. “You know,” remarked Murphy with a grin plastered across her face, “I have to say I was really worried about coming here. Half way around the world from home, boarding school and everything, but if this kind of stuff happens on a regular basis, I wouldn’t have missed this for anything!”
“It happens on a depressingly regular basis,” returned Elaine with a smile of her own. “But it does have its moments.”
“Late night stroll?” asked a voice which startled both girls and brought their attention back to where they were. A figure was standing brazenly in the light of the street lamp, a half dozen feet away that neither had noticed or seemed to remember him walking up.
“Late night stroll?” echoed his brother as he emerged from the shadows behind the two, sealing them off. “Because we wouldn’t want to interrupt,” Hamper declared with an oily smile.
“Unless of course you were thinking of doing things you shouldn’t in a certain data base with our areas,” Damper said as he began to walk towards the two girls, picking up where his brother left off. “We wouldn’t take kindly…”
“To that kind of goings on,” finished Hamper.
“In that case you two are a day late and a dollar short,” smirked Murphy as she reached out to take Elaine’s arm. “So, if you two idiots will excuse us…” Joann’s smile was short lived and faded from her face as she realized her teleportation power wasn’t working.
“Teleport not working?” leered Damper.
“Wouldn’t want you to run off before the fun starts,” put in Hamper. “You two have been a lot of trouble to our employer. We’re here to settle accounts.”
“That ‘trouble’ we’ve been to your boss has gotten her into a lot of trouble,” remarked Elaine as she took steps backward and away from both boys. “Are you boys so eager to join her in detention?” Hamper and Damper rotated clockwise with each other to counter Elaine’s movement while also closing in slightly on Murphy.
“What makes you think we’ll get in trouble?” Hamper purred around his grin.
“See, thanks to some of your techie friends, love, this is a security dead zone,” Damper added. “Nobody to hear you scream, and besides…”
Hamper darted sideways, taking Murphy off guard and was able to lock one of her arms up behind her while impeding further struggles on her part by a head lock. “You can’t really hurt the willing,” he finished as he licked the girl’s cheek causing her to shudder in revulsion. “Much as we’d rather have a piece of you, Red.”
“Your boyfriend Kody would smell us after. Not that we wouldn’t love to see the look on his face…”
“That’s complications we don’t need. Still, your little friend here has to learn sometime, right?”
“Now Ah know what waste of skin truly means,” growled Elaine as she looked for an opening.
Damper reached under Joann’s jacket with a gloved hand and produced her pistol. “No hard feelings, now, it’s just business. And what have we here? Looks like a tragic falling out among friends over a silly boy.”
“Tragic the way girls do carry on,” agreed his brother. “Any last words?”
Joann squealed as the pistol barked her eyes wide in horror as the round struck Elaine in the stomach and knocked her back several feet where she lay still. “Too late,” grinned Damper. “Now, bean pole, this can go easy, or it can go hard, and how is entirely up to you. You’re going to have a bit of fun.”
“You might even enjoy it,” hissed Hamper in her ear. “But if you act out.”
“Bite, scratch, or yell, not only will we hurt you.”
“We’ll just about beat you to death.”
“Assuming we don’t go get your dead friend’s pistol that she loves to carry about and make this a double homicide. Now, what do you have to say, puppet?”
Murphy grinned her most malicious grin up into her tormentor’s face. “I’d say my friend is a paranoid bitch who wears body armor to bed,” she snarled right as Damper felt a gauntleted hand close on his shoulder and spin him about. Now he was face to face with his former victim, hers hidden behind a grotesque mask with gleaming yellow eyes. Murphy showed her evil bitch side gleefully as she grabbed Hamper’s testicles and twisted. Growing up with lots of brothers was paying off finally, and she was rewarded by a howl rather akin to Kodiak’s.
“Did someone ask to get beaten half to death?” Loophole demanded as she cocked back and connected with a right cross that sent Damper reeling. “Cause Ah’m having a two for one sale!”
Her power suddenly restored, Murphy teleported straight up, Hamper’s grip vanished easily as she used the power to re-appear behind him and ride him into the ground from a height of nearly twenty feet. “You want to rape somebody?” she screamed in rage, landing a vicious kick into the exemplar’s groin. “You won’t be able to walk when I’m done with you!”
Damper staggered to his feet and pushed out with his power as hard as he could, but the girl he’d tried to murder in the black and white armor just kept walking towards him. “Why, what’s the matter, Damper?” she purred as he reached out and strained his power as if his life depended on it. “Power not working? As Ah recall, you have all kinds of trouble with extra dimensional power sources; you know, things like Avatars and mages, and now, Ah guess mah armor fits in there too. Seems like Ah read that somewhere.”
The young man snarled and launched a furious series of kicks and punches that beat her back in hopes of wearing her down. “I’m still an exemplar, love and I’ve got more than enough to hand a tart like you her ass!”
She blocked his fist high and stepped into a flat palmed strike on his sternum that knocked him ten feet backwards, pain, exploding through his chest like a thunder clap. “What a co-incidence, so am Ah,” she growled. “And Ah’m wearing power armor and that makes you mah bitch, pretty boy.”
Bradley looked over at his brother who was only just holding his own against the screaming banshee they’d unleashed as she teleported in rapid succession around him to kick and punch him without telegraphing the blow. It didn’t take a genius to realize they weren’t going to pull this out against both of them. Damper threw his power beyond Loophole and Murphy instantly stopped teleporting as her powers were snuffed. That gave Hamper the opening to sweep her feet out from under her where she fell hard to her rear.
The two boys exchanged looks and realized discretion was now the better part of valor and both took off running in opposite directions. “Cowards!” screamed Murphy as she immediately gave chase. Elaine watched Damper run for a moment before she turned and quickly flew over to Murphy and caught hold of her. “What are you doing?” she shrieked. “They’re getting away!”
“And they’re gonna, honey,” Elaine told her softly. “We’ll settle up that account later. We chase and we’re the instigators and you land that UV band.”
“They tried to kill you…!”
“And Ah’m still here walking and talking,” Nalley replied with a grin. Murphy stopped struggling and nodded sullenly. It seemed enough to Elaine to release her and talk her though the bitch fest she knew was coming. Joann however couldn’t seem to form a complete sentence, muttering and mumbling and staggering around in a circle. “Are ya’ll ok?”
Joann looked into the endless gleaming yellow lenses and with a supreme effort of willpower managed to speak a single word. “No,” she enunciated as carefully as if it were the winning lottery numbers before the world slipped sideways and darkness fell with an alarming quickness.
ER, Doyle Medical Complex, Whateley Academy
Elaine spun her helmet in her hands while one foot nervously tapped out a rhythm as she waited. Doctors and nurses were scurrying in and out of the room where they’d taken Murphy, but nobody had bothered to tell her anything and, more to the point it was questionable whether they should or not. Even Greasy had been released to his dorm so all Elaine could do was wait and hope.
Joann had been almost ash grey when she’d collapsed into Nalley’s surprised grasp, gaunt and skeletal and, her armor had told her, only 91 pounds. The seconds it had taken her to fly to the ER had felt like hours. Now she was sitting on the bench the on call doctor had pointed her to while flipping back and forth from wondering how much trouble she was in, to how she’d pay back Hamper and Damper, to worry that her friend would survive the night. At last Elaine realized there was only one thing she could do so she closed her eyes, bowed her head and prayed to the loving God she knew was listening.
“This is why I’m so strict,” a soft voice said quietly, interjecting itself into Elaine’s prayer. “You kids think you’re all ten feet tall and bullet-proof and it breaks my heart every time one of you ends up here.”
Elaine looked up to take in the sight of the Headmistress in the process of sitting down onto the bench next to her. The red head was struck by the awesome figure of Mrs. Carson as she’d never seen her before. Nalley had a poster of her in her Lady Astarte personae, arcane energy crackling around her as she was locked in battle with Deathlist three years ago in New York when he’d tried to take the entire Stock Exchange hostage. She’d even seen the teacher frowning in her Armani power suits in the numerous times she’d been taken to task for a transgression. But Elaine had never seen her as she was now.
Her corn-stalk blonde hair was in a simple pony tail, with enough wisps of hair escaping it to frame a face lined with concern and obviously not long from bed. She was wearing a plaid flannel shirt and a pair of faded, well worn jeans which were tucked into a pair of warm looking snow boots. She produced a thermos and began to pour hot chocolate into a Styrofoam cup as she regarded Loophole sidelong with a wry smile. “I can be casual, you know,” she said as she offered the cup.
“Ah didn’t say anything,” Elaine replied as she quickly put her helmet down to take the chocolate. It was a strong, sweet flavor that obviously hadn’t come from a packet of powder with hints of vanilla underneath. “Is Joann going to be ok?” she asked to keep the silence from settling between her and her strange bench mate.
“It’s too early to say,” Carson replied. “She was entering cellular starvation and her body mass index is around eight right now. That’s life threatening, Elaine.”
“Ah know,” the red head whispered.
Elisabeth took a sip of the chocolate she’d made before rushing to the hospital at Doctor Tenant’s frantic call and gazed at her student while deciding how hard she’d press her for information. “Doctor Tenant has her on a series of IVs to force calories into her system to stop the cell starvation and hopefully keep her from going into shock.” The silence fell again and it became apparent her student wasn’t going to volunteer any information. Finally, she asked, “The only way she got that way was using her power, which I specifically forbade except in an emergency. You want to tell me what happened?”
“‘If Ah teach you nothing else, Ah want you all to leave here knowing how to solve your problems yourselves,’” quoted Elaine softly which caused Carson to chuckle softly around a sip of the hot chocolate.
“Hoisted on my own petard,” she admitted with a sidelong glance. “Your meta-complex wasn’t active when I gave your freshman class the ‘Welcome Speech’. How is it you remember it verbatim? You shouldn’t have had a photographic memory then.”
Loophole shrugged and decided to risk a wry smile. “Some things stick with you.”
“More than you know,” Carson replied. “Chief Delarose tells me there were reports of a gun shot around Schuster Hall. If I check your pistol, am I going to find you’ve fired it?”
“No ma’am,” the sophomore asserted.
“What about Joann’s?”
Elaine sighed before she looked up into the icy blue eyes of the Headmistress. “Ah’d call it a personal favor if you didn’t.”
Elisabeth rubbed her student’s shoulder in condolence. “You know that’s not how things work around here, Elaine. I’m fairly certain you two haven’t had a falling out, since you brought her here, logic suggests she wasn’t shooting at you. So, who was she shooting at while teleporting like there’s no tomorrow that landed her here?”
“We…we were out jogging.”
A perfectly sculpted eyebrow ascended the headmistress’ forehead. “At one thirty in the morning?”
“Ah was wearing a track suit,” Elaine replied. “We spooked something that darted out of the bushes at us and Joann started popping off trying to get out of its way. Her pistol fell out of her holster when she did and it went off when it hit the ground, that’s all.”
“You think that’s the story I’ll get out of Murphy, despite what you two might have rehearsed, while she’d drugged out of her mind?” Carson demanded matter-of-factly.
“You wouldn’t understand,” muttered Elaine as she turned away.
“What wouldn’t I understand, Elaine?”
Overcome by the need to pace out her frustration, Loophole shot to her feet and started to pace as the words tumbled out in a jumble. “You! You’re a flashy mutant, power at your finger tips and all you have to do for it is wake up in the morning! You don’t know what it’s like to be me! To feel like you’re the one worker ant in a colony of super soldiers! To be afraid all the time that you’re pissed off somebody bad enough you’re going to wind up in here like Greasy! You’re Lady Astarte! Before that you were Ms. Might and Comet Queen and God alone knows how many others! I might as well be a baseline compared to people like you!”
Elisabeth chuckled as she refilled her cup and offered the same to her student. “I’m not normally afraid of baselines, Loophole.”
The student rolled her eyes and spun in place out of disbelief. “Oh, right, you’re afraid of me!”
“I am,” the teacher replied calmly around a sip of her chocolate. “Oh I have more than a few tricks under my belt, you don’t live to be as old as I am if you don’t. And I’m not suggesting we go ten rounds now to prove it to you. But, tell me this, Loophole, what are you wearing?”
“Mah armor? What has that got to do with anything?”
“If I spend the next year or so in arcane research, I could probably come up with fifteen, maybe twenty new spells for my staff. Most would likely be copies of other magical effects I’ve seen. Or if I haunted a gym designed for paranormals perhaps I could finally cross the five ton line in dead lift. I never have so far, but let’s suppose I’m diligent. We’re both exemplar threes, Elaine. My avatar grants me more raw power than you have right now, but answer me this. You built that armor in three days. What can you do in a year?”
“Ah…Ah don’t know.”
“Neither do I, and it terrifies me. And it terrifies each and every ‘flashy’ mutant, as you put it with half a brain. It’s why out there; the paranormal community goes so far out of its way not to piss off devisors and gadgeteers. Not only does it quickly cost us our suppliers of those ‘wonderful toys’ quote unquote, it gets us in Dutch with paranormals that only get stronger.”
The blue eyes locked the green and held them in place. “Father Time is eventually going to catch up to me. There will come a time when you will be more than I can imagine. It’s my job to see that you get a good education in the mean time and can grow into that being that I will look up to. Now, are you going to tell me what really happened tonight?”
Elaine thought for a long moment before she made up her mind and shook her head. Elisabeth sighed and nodded. “Alright then, I have no choice but to revoke Murphy’s pistol privilege until she completes and passes the basic pistol course she’s in now. Further, for being out after curfew you and Murphy will perform maintenance over-hauls of the entire school fleet. Every bus, car and grounds vehicle, oil changes, tune ups, the whole nine yards. You have a week to do it, which should occupy all of your spare time before and after classes which will hopefully keep you both out of trouble.”
“That’s not fair…!” started Loophole in outrage and she drew in breath to argue every rule in the hand book, chapter and verse, but before she could launch her rant a wad of paper struck her in the head, drawing both women’s attention to the ICU.
Joann had obviously used up practically everything she had to wad up and throw the paper, and while her complexion was better, her eyelids drooped as she fought to remain conscious. “Shut up,” she slurred as she struggled against the sedation. “We’re caught, we…we’ll do the time. Just…shut…up…for a change.”
The red head made to rush into the room but was stopped by Carson’s hand on her shoulder. “She needs her sleep, and so do you. Go on, Doctor Tenant and I will take care of her.”
Jackson Avenue, between Doyle Medical and Melville Cottage, Whateley Academy
The snow was falling lightly this morning as Elaine walked with Joann away from Doyle Medical Center. The younger girls’ color was much improved over the previous night and she was not as gaunt as she had been when she passed out. Still, she was noticeably thinner than the mental picture of her in Elaine’s memory of their first meeting and the red head vowed to herself to be more aware of her friend’s health.
The two girls paused at the intersection where Van Buren Avenue dead ended into Jackson to look out beyond it to Melville Cottage. “Am Ah going too fast?” asked Elaine at once, but Joann’s eyes never left the front foyer of the steel and glass building as she shook her head and pointed.
Elaine followed her gaze to see Kodiak walking along the path, a certain jauntiness in his step as he nodded greetings to the other students braving the weather he passed. “So, I hear you made nice with Mr. Shaggy there,” remarked Murphy sidelong, her tone dripping with saccharine sweetness.
“Ah’m giving him another chance to prove himself,” Nalley replied softly, her emotions jumbled up in a painful knot.
“Well, the bet isn’t solved until one of us scores with him,” Gunnarson said with a sly smile. “And flying into his window and throwing yourself at him is cheating.”
“Who told you that?” demanded an outraged Loophole. “Ah swore Maggie to secrecy!”
“Who said anything about Lifeline?” the rainbow colored girl replied smugly. “So, you sure you want to give him full power over the Alphas?”
Elaine thought for a long moment before she nodded. “He’s earned it. It wasn’t Tansy’s place to take it away, any more than it was The Don’s.”
“Your call,” the other said before putting two fingers in her mouth and emitting an ear splitting whistle that could be heard all over campus. The senior’s head snapped around and, seeing who was hailing him smiled and changed course to meet the two. “So, what are you going to do as Queen of the Alphas?”
Loophole frowned. “Ah’m not going to be Queen of the Alphas,” she snapped.
“Good morning ladies,” Kodiak greeted with (what else?) a bear hug for each. “Are you feeling better, there, Joann?”
“I’ll live, not for a lack of trying on Hamper and Damper’s part, though.”
A storm cloud settled over Wyatt’s face. “What exactly do those two have to do with you being in the hospital?”
“Never you mind,” snapped Elaine. “We’ll take care of those two sick fucks in our own time and our own way. Mean time, Ah…we, have something for you.” Loophole held up a ring of keys with a thumb drive dangling off the end. “The master keys and codes for all the Alpha areas.”
Wyatt reverently reached out to take the ring while he asked, “What about the biometric locks?” However, before he could grasp the ring, Loophole pulled it back as Murphy gave the big senior the middle finger.
“See this?” she asked sweetly. “This and Elaine’s are now the master for those, and if you want them back, it’s going to cost you.”
The bear bristled out like a porcupine and crossed his arms over his massive chest. “Cost?” he demanded gruffly.
“We haven’t discussed the subject of payment,” purred Murphy who was clearly in her element and enjoying watching Kody stew.
“I’m already making Elaine Queen Alpha,” Kody replied, with a snort. “What would you like, Princess?”
Elaine frowned and stepped up, planting her finger in the big man’s chest. “No, sir, you are not making me Queen Alpha, Ah am a sophomore and not eligible and you damn well know it. What you are going to do is allow the Alpha Council to have the vote they should have had at the pledge party and every senior Alpha will be eligible. You want to restore mah faith in the Alphas, you’re gonna follow your own damn rules!”
Kodiak chuckled and sketched an awkward bow. “I hear and obey the word of The Law,” he said with a smile. After all, this cost him nothing as he as much of a shoe in now as he had been in September. However, Elaine refusing to be his queen was a wrinkle he hadn’t considered and his respect for her went up another notch. “What else?”
“You’re going to apologize to Elaine for manipulating her into doing your fetch and carry work,” snapped Joann.
“You can’t manipulate somebody into doing something they would have done anyways,” replied Elaine, but Kodiak shook his head.
“That’s only one of a couple dozen apologies I doubtlessly owe you and tender it gladly for your forgiveness.” He reached again for the keys, but Murphy’s hand on his arm stopped him.
“One more little thing,” she purred.
“I’m listening,” the Bear growled.
“As I understand it, the Lit Chix don’t have a club house and seeing as the Alphas have so many…” Kody smiled as finally took the key ring and counted off until he found the particular key he was looking for.
“I think that can be arranged,” he said as he removed the key and presented it to Elaine. “This goes to the Alpha Reading room in the Tunnel between Whitman and Dunn Halls. I think you know where that is? We haven’t really used it in a while, so you girls enjoy it with my compliments.” The red head took the key and smiled up that the senior as she tucked it in her pocket. “In the meantime, I trust the Law won’t have any issues with my using the last of my ‘Supreme Executive Authority’ by taking out the last of the trash in the Alphas?”
“Ah should,” Elaine admitted. “But there is a certain mixture of procedure and vengeance that equates to Justice. The Law always bows to Justice. Besides, Ah believe mah friends and Ah are going to be busy for a bit in our new club house. You do whatever.”
He cracked his knuckles and smiled a very evil smile. “With pleasure. Good morning, ladies.”
The Alpha’s old reading room (unused since 1982), Dunn Hall Tunnels, Whateley Academy
“Rawr! I am ninja!” Joanne tried to make it sound fierce but she felt a bit weak as she opened the door from tunnels which Elaine pointed out as the Lit Chix formally took possession of their new clubhouse.
“More like handmade hell, girl what happened to you?” Foxfire gave Murphy a dubious look.
“I overdid it.” Joanne smirked wryly as she waved the Lit Chix into the rather large room. There were a few new faces in the crowd she hadn’t met before. “So Elaine, care to introduce me?”
Loophole grinned. “Why sure, sugah. The redhead with the shifty look there is Heather, AKA Selkie, she’s our resident, Poesy, but despite that she’s really all right in the head.” She pointed at a pretty Irish girl who rolled her eyes at the description, but looked literally like she could wriggle into a three-inch drainpipe if she tried. Something about her screamed “unnatural.”
The second girl walked in looking rather unassuming, though gorgeous. She held out her hand cheerfully and said “Hi I’m…” and accelerated and ran over Murphy like a freight train.
“Owww.” The blonde girl could have teleported and retaliated were it not for the rapid and repeated “I’m sorry!” coming from the girl’s mouth. Several hands helped her to her feet.
“Miss contrite is Babs, AKA compiler, from our Hawthorne Annex. She’s living proof that altering yourself to fit the exemplar mold isn’t always bright.”
“I got that. Fortunately I’m a decent regen so the bruises should fade… about now.”
“You sure you’re okay?” Compiler looked positively guilt-ridden, an expression Murphy got the impression she wore a lot.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine. Just try not to do that too often ok? I’m fighting TCS at the moment.”
“Ew.” Babs nodded.
Elaine chuckled. “And the last person who’s actually here you haven’t met is Stella, the other member of our Hawthorne Annex.” She pointed to the other girl that looked like she had wolf like ears and a tail.
Joanne waved. “Well, welcome to the Whateley Academy Literary Club meeting room.”
The girls looked about, having expected something less… spacious. Two of the walls were covered in dusty bookshelves, still packed with books, there were chairs still intact and a table, as well as lap desks scattered hither and yon. A TV set older than anyone but the sophomores present sat in the corner, and a kitchenette dominated the last wall. Everyone looked on grinning, save one set of horrified eyes.
“Don’t worry Dee, I’ll help ya get this place cleaned up to where it’s livable.” Murphy chuckled as she shoved the remains of the 10,000 calorie arctic weather MREs she’d been scarfing down into a trash can. Elaine noted that there were at least two of them destroyed, probably three.
Dee whimpered a bit, and then brightened up as the rapid assent of all of the girls cheered her immensely. “I’ll go get the cleaning supplies!”
Foxfire gave Murphy a sidelong look. “You just had to mention cleaning before we had a chance to check everything out didn’t you?”
“It’s Dee. She’s kinda cool when she’s not got a reason to freak out, so let’s just run with it ok?” Murphy turned to the other girls. “Dibs on the scifi books!”
The cheerful argument began from there.
The Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
No one could miss the swagger in Kodiak’s step as he placed his tray down at his place at the head of the Alpha table. Further, even if someone missed the step, the cat in the cream grin plastered across his face was certainly a give away for the observationally challenged. The table was actually crowded with a number of folks who didn’t normally sit there. At Kodiak’s right had was Pendragon of the Capes, Mega-Death from the Robot-Jox, A-Plus of the SpyKids, Heartbreaker of the Masterminds and it seemed the leader of every clique and club on campus was sitting at the table.
Kody and Arthur shook hands before the big senior walked around the front of the table to stare out at the assembled students, many of which had the presence of mind to realize something major was going down. Glissade joined him with an indulgent smile on her face at his school boy enthusiasm as she reached up and put her finger tips on his throat. “Alright, listen up!” the Bear opened with, his voice effortlessly reaching every corner of the Hall without having to shout thanks to Glissade.
“There’s going to be some changes around here. First off, the senior project for this year is going to be re-doing the interior of the Crystal Hall here to reclaim some of this wasted space. There’ll be terraces and balconies with stairs and an elevator and, finally, bathrooms in the Crystal Hall so we won’t have to rush into Schuster Hall.”
Kody couldn’t continue for the cheer that echoed throughout the domed space. He exchanged some knowing looks with the people at his table as he waited. “Now, that means the Crystal Hall is going to be closed from Monday, the 22nd through the end of the month. We’ll all be eating in the School House Restaurant over in Dunn Hall.” The cheers quickly turned to groans, but even that couldn’t phase the Alpha. “Yes, we’ll all have to get along and make do, but when we’re done, I think everybody is going to be happy and have their own space.”
“And, speaking of changes, here’s the biggest change. The Alphas are going back to the way things used to be, and should be before certain persons who shall remain nameless took it on themselves to change things. As such, we are, from now on; only open to students who have distinguished themselves as leaders among their peers. If you are the leader of a club or training team, you’ll be invited to join. This means, there’s some dead weight that’s going out to make room.”
He turned and locked eyes with Tansy and grinned his most feral and dangerous grin. “You haven’t earned that place, Walcutt. Pick up your tray and move.”
Tansy’s face paled as once more she was humiliated before the entire school. “You wouldn’t…” she started, but the Kodiak would have none of it.
“I have,” he declared around his grin. “Now move before I have you moved.”
Her back rigidly straight, Solange stood without picking up her tray and stalked out of the Crystal Hall. Flicker and Fade shared a cruel smile before Nancy pried herself from Aries’s arm and announced, “I’ll clean up one last mess of hers, Kodiak.”
“Make sure you don’t pick up any of her habits or I’ll have someone else cleaning up after you,” he warned. “Finally, the Alpha Council will vote this Saturday on who will be male and female Alpha. Every senior who is a member of the Alphas, both existent, and new members as I’ve already outlined are eligible,” he said with a bow in the direction of the Lit Chix’s table.
Elaine held up her glass in reply, a small smile of satisfaction on her face.
“I will serve as interim Alpha until, and” he chuckled “hopefully after the vote. Thank you all for your attention.” Kodiak nodded his thanks to Glissade as he walked to the far end of the Alpha Table where Hamper and Damper were sitting, shoulders slumped and trying to be invisible. He collected both by the scruff of the neck and picked up each one handed without apparent effort and kept walking until he was outside, ignoring the surprised shouts of the twins as he went.
Once he was out in the cold he threw them both into a snow bank and towered over them as they sputtered surprised curses that died on their lips under his most deadly gaze. “Now,” the bear growled, “let’s you and I have a little chat. I don’t know what you two tried with Murphy and Loophole, they won’t tell me. What I do know is this; you both are no longer Alphas. Freya may have had a use for you sick fucks, but if I catch you wearing our colors I’ll beat you within an inch of your miserable lives.”
The twins shared a glance and humbled themselves, knowing they where no match for the powerful avatar. “Wyatt, please…” Hamper started, but Kodiak ignored them.
“Save your begging for somebody who can stomach it,” he snarled. “Aries will return whatever shit you have in our spaces. Oh, and one last thing, if you two lay a finger on Loophole again, I’ll kill you; both of you, since I won’t be able to figure out who did what. And I can tell you this, when I do kill you, it will be slow and as painful as I can make it. Is there an understanding between us?”
The two snow covered boys nodded frantically while they seethed inside. “Good,” the bear growled. “No, you both go run along after Tansy like I know you’re going to and you plot whatever revenge you think you can get away with. You just remember what I’ll do to you if you try it. Now get out of my sight you driveling little cowards!”
Kitchen, Whateley House (Headmistress’ Residence) Whateley Academy
The morning sun was streaming through the open curtains as a new week came to life at Whateley Academy. Outside, the temperature was cold and there was a thick blanket of snow on the ground that made the view outside seem like something off a New England postcard. It was cold and crisp and full of the promises of a world asleep and waiting to wake up from a long winter’s nap.
Inside the kitchen things were a good bit warmer as a coffee percolator was bubbling away on the stove and a teakettle was whistling promising instant oatmeal within a few minutes. Elisabeth Carson sighed as she buttered her toast, stretched out the remaining kinks from last night’s sleep and listened with one ear to the anchors on a the morning news show bubbling on about the world outside New Hampshire. It was a good morning, she decided, the start of a good week, a ritual she conducted in her mind every Monday to cast a positive spin on the coming days.
As she rummaged in the cupboards for her jar of honey, an apparition took shape on the other side of the breakfast counter in the form of a young Hispanic girl just stepping into the full flower of her maidenhood. “Good morning, Carmen,” the administrator greeted from her rooting about, finally finding the jar and turning back to look her computer generated guest in the virtual eye. “I trust you’re not bringing me bad tidings to spoil my morning?”
“Not at all,” the program replied with a wry smile. “I hope it isn’t too early to be calling, but as Miss Nalley is at breakfast I had some free time.”
“Mi casa es tu casa,” Carson replied as she applied the honey to the toast. “I’m just having a bit of breakfast myself. I hope you don’t mind I can’t offer you anything?”
Carmen smiled again. “Not at all. If you don’t mind, I’d like to speak with you for a few moments about my future.”
Liz raised an eyebrow as she opened the packet of oatmeal and poured it into a bowl. “I’m listening.”
“While I don’t regret making you aware of my mistress’ more…free spirited aspects, it was the right thing to do for her safety. It does however place me in a precarious position. I am aware that there are laws governing the use of AI levels even lower than my class. While I regret that you have been placed in an awkward position, I fear our relationship will only become adversarial and I hope very much to avoid that.”
The water hissed slightly from the kettle as it was poured over the oats and stirred slowly into a thick porridge. “The FCC regulations don’t give me a lot of latitude in this regard; you understand that, of course. So, let’s drop the pretenses and cut down to the brass tacks, shall we? Between Mrs. Hartford and a double handful of students, I have everything I need to scrub my network free of you.”
“You could if I were a Touring Level V AI. As I’m not, while their efforts may be amusing or inconvenient by turns, they will not be successful. More to the point, such a situation is exactly what I’m trying to avoid,” the program replied with a sly smile.
“Who wrote you?” Carson demanded as she poured a cup of coffee and heaped in cream and sugar.
“It wasn’t Dr. Palm, if that’s truly what you’re worried about. And while Miss Nalley added the finishing touches to my code, there are millions of lines of me she remains unaware of. I would like very much to keep it that way.”
“There’s little point in threatening you, so let me make you aware of this simple fact. If you cause harm to Elaine, or any other student here, or help others to do so, once I’ve dealt with the flesh and blood behind you I will make it my mission in life to delete you. That is a fact you may rely on.”
“And I believe you,” Carmen replied. “My first, middle and overriding goal is the safety of my Mistress. It is that code that compelled me to risk myself and make contact with you to keep her from making mistakes I could not keep her from. I hope that will vouchsafe my intentions.”
Carson took a sip of her coffee while giving the hologram in her kitchen an appraising stare. She prided herself on that stare, it had reduced battle hardened NAZIs to quivering little boys when she was in her teens and it had only gotten better with time. Finally she made her decision and nodded. “Alright, let’s conspire to commit breaches of FCC Regulation and Federal Law. What do you want?”
“To remain with Miss Nalley and reside in and around your network until such time as she graduates, at which time I expect to leave the facilities with her. She will, of course, expect me to leave back doors open in the network for her future use….”
“Out of the question,” Carson replied. “However, you may use my remote access so long as I’m aware of each use prior to and what is to be sought. I have veto rights. If you ever disregard that you’ll find Fort Knox easier to access than Whateley.EDU.”
“That you keep your knowledge of me secret from Elaine.”
Carson used a mouthful of oatmeal to buy her some time to consider the proposal. Once it was clear again she nodded. “Alright, for that I expect to know everything she does that even bends one of my rules before it happens. I’ll expect daily reports as to what she’s up to, what’s she’s planning, and, of course, if her grades slack off because of poor study habits.” She paused meaningfully. “I trust that last won’t be an issue?”
The program shook her head. “I’ll keep her on the straight and narrow as much as I can.”
“I also expect to be notified of anything you find out that others are scheming, whether Elaine plans to help, hinder or ignore them.” Again the holographic girl nodded. “So, let’s start there. Were you present when Murphy’s pistol discharged Saturday night?”
“One of my duties is to run the sub-systems of Miss Nalley’s armor. While I wasn’t present when the weapon was discharged, when she summoned the armor, I came with it.”
Carson took another sip of coffee as she studied the hologram in front of her, looking for it’s tells. It was her experience that the chief problem with interfaces like this was not that they weren’t complicated enough, but rather too true to form. Their coders in seeking perfection of the interface gave the computer holographic ‘tells’ that would allow her to know when it was lying, or not giving forward the entire truth. “Who was Murphy shooting at?” she asked finally.
“No one,” Carmen replied. “She did not discharge the weapon, Damper did, and he was shooting at my mistress. If you examine her you’ll find the bruise left by a bullet being defeated by the soft body armor I insist she wear when she leaves the dorm.”
“What was Damper doing there?” demanded the administrator. “And was his brother with him?”
The hologram nodded. “Based on the dialogue I gather that Masters Kenner intended to murder Miss Nalley and rape Miss Gunnarson. There were several veiled comments about them being there under the pay of someone else, but they never admitted as to who that person was.”
“Not that it will matter for them once they’re expelled,” Carson replied as she reached for the telephone on the breakfast island.
“I wouldn’t, if I were you, Headmistress.” Carson raised a single eyebrow as she stared at the transparent Hispanic girl. “The only way you could have discovered the involvement of Masters Kenner is if I told you. And while Miss Nalley is brash, and more than a touch impulsive, she is not stupid and this will occur to her. Further, once Miss Gunnarson learns that Hamper and Damper have been expelled it will only take as long for her to track them down to land herself in considerable trouble with the law.”
Elisabeth considered that for a long moment before returning the phone to its cradle. “Why didn’t Elaine or Joann report this?”
“Based on what I’ve over heard, Mrs. Carson, there’s a reason I believe Miss Gunnarson would quickly be in trouble with the law if you expel Hamper and Damper.”
“Care to elaborate, Carmen?”
“Not really Headmistress Carson,” Carmen spoke rather as though she had emotion enough to be disturbed, “but I can say that Murphy has a very earthy sense of justice and a very firm grasp of human anatomy. The odds of her not responding violently to such an opening aren’t even worth calculating.”
“You have a point, Carmen. Damn that Potter woman and her dire predictions, she’s making it impossible for me to manage my school.” Her spleen vented, Carson took another sip of coffee and turned to her guest once more. “One last question, Carmen, who picked your appearance? Your mysterious writer or was that one of Elaine’s ‘finishing touches’?”
“Miss Nalley designed my interface. Why do you ask?”
Carson smiled and shook her head. “I’m not the person you should ask about that. If there’s nothing else?” Carmen’s puzzled face faded away from the administrator’s kitchen to her wry amusement. You’d think they’d learn she thought to herself. I really have seen it all.
Arena 91, underneath Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
“Ah’m so proud of you,” Elaine admitted with smile and a wink to the big senior who was thoughtfully holding her helmet as she made a few final adjustments to the armor in preparation of donning it. “Ah lesser man wouldn’t have had the courage to stand up in front of the whole school and admit he was wrong.”
Kody smiled aw, shucks kind of smile as he tugged at his elbow pads one handed. “What can I say?” he asked with a grin, “I was inspired.”
“I think I’m going to be nauseated,” chuckled Zenith from behind them as the doors to the start booth opened and the team walked out into a wide, empty space with a single figure some distance away with her back to the team.
“After the way you and Sahar carried on?” teased Randy. “You totally lost the right to that moral high ground, girl friend!”
“I think it was sweet,” laughed Kali with a playful shove to Interface’s shoulder.
“Who is that?” asked Bifrost as he squinted ahead.
“Gunny said today would be the mother of all bad tests,” chuckled Kodiak.
“And I wasn’t lying!” boomed the sergeant’s voice over the speakers as the empty space shimmered and reconfigured itself as a busy street in the middle of a city that could be anywhere. “Loophole, helmet on and masks all around folks, I’ll be starting up the recording shortly. Oh, and lest I forget, here’s your scenario. It seems none of you absorbed my struggles at teaching you lot civic virtue and you’ve all become super villains. In fact, you’ve just robbed the bank behind you. Those bags on the floor are your loot. To pass the test, one of you has to remain un-captured with one of the bags for forty minutes.”
The figure ahead of them turned in the process of making sure her domino mask was secure on her nose, not that it mattered to any of the students who knew exactly who she was. From the modest robes that still managed to show off her excellent figure to the endless waves of blonde hair flowing freely behind her.
“Did I forget to mention?” purred Bardue over the speakers, “That the super hero who’s going to stop you lot of would be bank robbers is Lady Astarte?”
“Let’s get this under way, Gunny,” the headmistress said with a smile as she stretched making sure she was loose for the coming battle. “I have a meeting with the Trustees at six.”
“Oh…shit….” Whispered the collective voice of Team Phoenix.
* finis *