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A Whateley Academy Story

A Tenuous Blade

by Kristin Darken


Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppress├Ęd brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.
Thou marshall'st me the way that I was going;
And such an instrument I was to use.

Macbeth, Act II Sc. 1

Erie, Pennsylvania: Friday October 6, 2006. 17:21

The water along the beaches of Presque Isle was far to chilly in October for swimming, even at the beginning of the month; but that wasn't enough to stop runners and other inhabitants of Erie from enjoying the National Park during the evening hours for a few more weeks until winter weather made routes closer to home more appealing than a scenic view. More importantly, the locals were getting in their bit of exercise and enjoyment without having to worry about the park being filled to overflowing with visitors from all over the region who would spend weekends camping or partying at the beaches. While the park itself stayed open for a few more weeks; the beaches had closed for the winter after Labor Day, at the beginning of September.

There were a number of good trails to choose from and Frank and his father Carl Danielson each had their favorites. They also had significantly different paces, which led them to run their own routes instead of sticking together more often than not. Frank was a high school freshman but despite regular recruiting attempts by the Track coach throughout junior high, he was not in the athletics program. He didn't want to compete; the sandy haired teen ran because it felt good to run. There wasn't a particular need for it; between his metabolism and his parents' natural fitness, he could probably spend all his time sitting at a computer or on the couch and still keep his lean physique. Nonetheless, if he didn't get at least two or three miles a couple times a week; he felt antsy.

Unlike Frank's casual enjoyment of the exercise, his father was a serious runner. The older Danielson runner frequently participated in 10k events and had even run a couple of the major marathons. The run today was part of a last push before the Presque Isle Endurance run in just over a week. That was the problem Frank had with running with his dad, who set a vicious pace and maintained it for far longer than the teen could keep up. So, other than occasional challenges to push his own pace and endurance by trying to run with his father, Frank ran alone. Fortunately, running pace was the only thing keeping him from spending time with his father. They had their problems, disagreements about chore schedules and social activities, whether or not he had to join his parents at church services on Sundays... typical teenager conflicts. But while Carl Danielson ran a strict household, he did so with the same discipline and focus that made him a good runner. He wasn't harsh or without compassion and he obviously loved his family.

Frank was about half way through his second mile, long legs (at least relative to his short early teen stature) pounding out the main beat in a body-wide percussion track. His breathing snapped in sharp syncopation, the long deep breaths that he needed to maintain Oxygen levels over the distance far different than the racing pace used by sprinters, or out of shape joggers. The windbreaker he wore shripped with each arc his arms swung fore and back. The teen didn't run with an iPod; he listened to his body when he ran, each one of those sounds keeping him safe and focused on what he was doing.

The quiet contemplation was interrupted as he began to hear the sounds of another runner coming up behind him. Whoever it was had to be moving quite fast to close the distance that quickly... and yet, the footfalls were spaced similarly to his own. And light, without the rustle of clothing or the counterpoint of breathing. Despite having been taught not to risk disrupting his stride by turning to look, he glanced back over his left shoulder and took in the strange appearance of the runner joining him there. The young man, in his early twenties, had the strong, dark features of a Native American. His heritage was further accented by the uncommon clothing, buckskins and moccasins that would make the strictest re-creationist happy. Without even the slightest acknowledgment of Frank, his fellow runner matched his stride and paced along beside him quietly. The situation was so surreal that Frank turned his attention back to the path ahead and slowed his pace slightly, hoping that the other runner would grow bored with the lack of challenge and continue at his own pace. Each cautious glance out of the corner of his eyes showed the man perfectly matching his pace even as he reversed himself and pushed faster than his normal ground eating stride.

Frank was growing more uneasy with each step, his breathing becoming slightly more difficult as the tension grew. There was no doubt that this wasn't just another runner, even an experienced runner like his father wouldn't run at this pace indefinitely... and no runner could do so without at least some change to his breathing. This... Indian... Native... whatever he was, couldn't be human. That left mutant... or... gho...

Before he could complete the thought, the man pacing him dived into him forcing both of them into the brush along the path. Frank started to curse as they rolled to a stop but was muffled by the hand clamped over his mouth. He began to struggle when three ghostly figures raced up the path from the direction they had been running, then cut right off the trail almost directly opposite. A look of alarm grew on the other runner's face and he jumped quickly to his feet and raced after them.

Frank let them go... he had no idea what was going on between them and the last thing he wanted to do was get more involved. He stood, dusting leaves and twigs off his sweats and quickly checked to make sure he hadn't been hurt any in the tumble. His right knee felt a little sore, but fortunately it was more like he'd rolled over a rock than anything internal. He glanced up and down the trail, looking for anyone else who might have observed the craziness he'd just seen. Had those men really been... translucent? The boy looked back into the sparse brush, unsure how it had kept whoever those men had been from seeing them. It was nothing nearly dense enough to provide any real cover.

That was when he saw the blade... the hilt, rather. He stepped over to it and pulled the dagger from the ground, where it had been embedded vertically. The hilt was carved wood, seemingly worn with age and use. The blade, running about eight inches long, was a black stone-like material; like a glossy arrowhead... giving him the impression of volcanic glass or obsidian... though he didn't actually know what either of those looked like outside of descriptions in stories. He looked out across the path again, in the direction the men had taken, before looking at the blade again. Frank tossed it back into the brush and took a couple steps before pausing and going back in after it again. He quickly unzipped his jacket and wiped the hilt off as thoroughly as possible with his shirt before dropping it back in the brush. If their intent was to get his fingerprints on it before using it on someone, they were going to be disappointed.

With one more last look around, he started jogging on along the trail toward the meeting point where, with all the delays, his father was probably already waiting. Frank just wished he didn't keep having the feeling that someone was pacing him, in the brush off to his left. The sensation didn't really fade until they were well outside the Park.

Lake Clinic - Erie, Pennsylvania: Tuesday January 9, 2007. 13:46

Frank stared at the opposite wall of the waiting room, not knowing how closely the flat emotionless stare reminded the nurse at the desk of a trauma survivor. His mind was elsewhere, on the way his life had started to slip into chaos that even the winter break had been unable to fix. In just a few days, he would be returning to high school where more and more people were recognizing that something was wrong with him.

At first, they'd thought he'd just caught a bad bug that was hurting his stamina. His running pace was slowly dropping off and his endurance was failing him. A couple weeks had passed and not only had there been no recovery; his condition continued to fail. He'd tested clear of mono. Of any infections. But the loss of weight had been the deciding factor for his parents.

"Frank, would you join us?" the doctor called from the hallway. His father had already stood and crossed the room, unnoticed by the teen.

"Sorry, Doc Hazelton, zoned out a bit."

"It's alright, Frank. You're bound to have a few worries on your mind." He led them into the second office, where several chairs were set up around a desk. There wasn't much in the room, suggesting that it was used just for discussions like this instead of being the doctor's actual working office. After they were inside, he closed the door.

As the doctor took his seat, he reassured them "First, I want to start off by telling you that Frank tests out in perfect health. You can completely relax on that front: the weight loss, the changes of endurance, and so forth... are not signs of something that needs to be treated or is life threatening in any way. However, the blood tests do show that you have an unusual balance of hormones for a teen boy."

Frank felt a shiver run down his spine and glanced at his father.

"It's difficult to say at this point what that means in the long term... it could straighten itself out, it could go even further from the normal levels. I've taken some additional samples for tests that are, I'm afraid, going to take longer to run... and will probably require you to see someone who is far more specialized than I am. I have a colleague down in Pittsburgh who I can recommend, highly. You don't have any problems with mutants, I hope?"

"No," Frank responded, glancing again to see his father shaking his head in agreement. There were plenty of conservative bigots in the western Pennsylvania region, but the Danielsons were not among them.

"Good. I wouldn't mention it at all, but... you'll see... she is visibly a mutant."

"No, sir. You said my hormones are the problem, right? But why can't that be treated?" Frank queried.

"The balance and interactions between hormones, in puberty or pregnancy especially, is far more complex a situation than the more static state of adulthood. And even there it is difficult to make changes without dosages that are dangerous to the people we are trying to help. We could suppress things... basically forcing you not to go further into puberty, but trying to override them would require levels of drugs... replacement hormones... that are actually quite dangerous to your health."

"And if we don't do anything?" Frank's father asked.

"Frank is currently experiencing an unusually high level of Estrogen for a teen boy... but he is not seeing a reduction in Testosterone... or Androgens. And neither is the level of Estrogens as high as they would be for a teen girl. As a result? Honestly, anything I can tell you is likely to be a guess... I wouldn't be surprised to see a quick vertical growth spurt, but with some feminizing of the shape and features... maybe some further loss of muscle development. Possibly some breast growth," he added at the end, grimly. "Or maybe not. As I said, without further tests; it is difficult to say just what a given balance of hormones could do during puberty."

An uncomfortable silence filled the room.

"I'll see that the nurse has the information you need to set up a visit with Dr Kennesly. Feel free to take some time to think. If you have any more questions before you go, just have the nurse get me," he left, quietly.

The two Danielsons sat in silence for several minutes, each considering the implications of what they'd been told. Finally the older man turned and ruffled his son's hair.

"I told you, you needed to get a haircut before people started thinking you looked like a girl," he probed.

"Ha ha. Funny man," Frank responded dryly, but the tension dropped in the room. As the two stood; they abandoned the macho pretense and Carl's arms wrapped around his son in a protective embrace.

"We'll get through this, kiddo."

Erie, Pennsylvania: Wednesday January 3, 2007. 2:13

He... they... were running along the trails near the waterfront, returning from checking the small game traps when they smelled the first hint of trouble. They quickened their pace, no longer moving quietly to avoid disturbing the animals and spirits of this place. It still took too long for them to arrive, time in which an enemy had torn apart their little village. Tents were torn and smoldering, where someone had attempted to burn them. Tools were broken or scattered in the dirt. Food stores had been scattered... and desecrated.

The People... were dead. Butchered.

What had happened in this village was not... natural. This was no raid or even blood feud. Even an enemy seeking vengeance did not destroy what he could benefit from... food, women, the tools of hunter and herb woman. He wandered blindly from tent to tent, body to body, trying to make sense of the mindless slaughter. A young girl lie partially covered by smoking leather from a tent, her arm torn from her shoulder... gnawed on, with shreds of flesh peeled back all the way past the elbow.

At some point, he collapsed to his knees and just stared into a fire. He was aware, somehow, of others. Standing around him. Watching.

"Did... did we do this? Americans?"

A hand reached down to take his chin and draw his gaze up to her face. He looked into the dry wrinkled face of an old Native woman. In spite of the horrors around her, there was little motion shown. She gestured to the west.

"You whites have brought many horrors on us. But this one comes from the West and is an ancient foe of all life. His twisted wolves rove the spirit places again, in search of weapons. Like you. Do not let him take you up, he will use you to pierce the sacred places and tear the worlds apart."

Frank nodded, feeling like he'd just been assigned a sort of life or death quest.

He slammed into his mattress as though he'd been fired into bed by a slingshot. The dream was fading pretty quickly, but he could still smell the char and smoke. As his memory reminded him of what had been burned in the dream, he gagged on the scent and barely made it to the bathroom before throwing up. He had to shower before he could take more than a shallow breath without trying to push everything out of his empty stomach.

As he stared into the mirror over the sink, trying to catch his breath; his attention fell on his eyes. With everything else going on, with the fatigue and muscle loss; he hadn't realized just how much else had changed. His eyes seemed a bit brighter and larger, framed a bit differently by his lashes and eyebrows. It wasn't a huge change... but, didn't eye changes mean something for mutants? Something else to ask the Doc about when they went to see him.

Children's Hospital - Pittsburgh, PA: Thursday January 25, 2007. 14:00

The Pittsburgh Children's Hospital is internationally known and supported like few medical centers can hope to be. However, even it has limits to how and where the money is spent and some departments and groups of doctors aren't considered as high priority as others. The waiting room was small and in need of some paint... and maybe better lighting.

"Well, aren't you the pretty one," the nurse greeted Frank at the counter. He ground his teeth as his mom reassured him by rubbing his back.

"Frank Danielson? I have an appointment to see Dr Kennesly at a quarter after," he informed her, checking in, with an extra emphasis on his first name.

"Oh, I'm so sorry dear. So many of the doctor's patients are transitioning the other way. I didn't mean it as any sort of judgment of your need to present as a boy," she fussed, embarrassed as she handed Frank a clipboard of paperwork to fill out.

To be fair, he couldn't blame her. It seemed each day contrived to make his features more and more 'pretty' in a way that models would go nuts over. Every grandmother seemed to go out of her way to comment and... uncomfortably, he was even starting to notice the looks of men and boys pointed in his direction. That was awkward for too many reasons to count... not the least of which was that far too many of them were clearly adult men who had no business looking at a thirteen year old in that fashion... boy or girl.

Once Frank had finished with most of the paperwork, he passed it to his mother to fill out the parts she had the information for... insurance and family history. He could guess on a lot of it, probably, but better to have accuracy and she needed to do the insurance info anyway.

"Frank?" a woman's voice called. He looked up to see a tall and incredibly curvy woman with perhaps the largest breasts he had ever seen in real life. She ducked her head a little and tilted it to the side to catch his gaze and he flushed in shame. As he stood, he realized that there was something very unusual about the eyes and more importantly, that her face... and, in fact, all her exposed skin was covered in a short light tan fur.

"I'm really sorry about that Dr. Kennesly," he apologized. "My folks raised me better than that."

"Forgiven," she teased as she directed him down the hall to an examining room. "There are days that being treated as just a sex object are an improvement..."

Frank considered that, as they sat down. He awkwardly perched on the padded table, atop the paper cover. "You mean, compared to being seen as an evil mutant?"

"Exactly," she affirmed. "You are very pretty for a young teen boy. However, as we've just seen; you still have the typical teen boy interest in women."

Frank nodded uncomfortably.

"Frank, I have some news from previous testing results that I want to discuss with you and then I'll talk with your mother a bit."

"Good news or bad?"

"That depends. You see, Frank... at some point this past Fall, you manifested. Your eye color changed slightly, your blood type shifted, and you began to slowly, but surely change physically."

"A... mutant?"

"It's good that you can say that with curiosity, instead of anger... or hate," she smiled at him.

"Well... ya... I don't have anything against mutants. But how can I be one? Shouldn't Doc... Doc Hazelton have recognized that?"

"He probably should have. And I have already let him know that he can be forgiven the eye color change but that his people did you a big disservice by not seeing the blood type change. That could have had some very bad repercussions if you'd been hurt along the line."

"It sounds a bit like you know each other... more than just two doctors working in the same state..."

"We were... friends in college," she explained.

Frank got the impression that there was more to it, but didn't pry. "So... mutant. I thought manifesting meant out of control powers and..." He waved his hands around like he was zapping at things.

"Sometimes," she nodded. "Sometimes you just wake up a little stronger or faster or smarter. Or with fur."

He grinned as she preened a bit.

"So that explains your changes. My theory is that you are one of the lower classes of Exemplar with a BIT and just enough regeneration to be driving your changes. That is..." she added, seeing the blank look on Frank's face, "the sort of mutant that is just naturally a step 'up' on the evolutionary ladder based on some sort of heroic archetype. They grow into a very specific physical appearance and then maintain that condition and appearance for much of their lives... even complex surgery to 'reshape' their bodies won't last, they will eventually revert to their default appearance."

"So that's why my running is affected? My conditioning is 'too high' for whatever this 'heroic archetype' is supposed to be?"

The doctor nodded in agreement. "Just a theory, of course. I may be a mutant myself, but that isn't my specialization. What I can do for you, though, is maybe help you see where it is that you are going."

"You mean, what I'm changing in to?" Frank asked, the key points dropping into the right places for him.

"Yes," she agreed. "It is going to take some time, mind; because while you appear to have a small amount of regeneration, it is very small. So the total transformation may take two or three years. But 'what' that change is to, I believe... is a very pretty girl."

Strong Vincent High School - Erie: Wednesday March 21, 2007. 8:32

"Hey fag! Still can't get mommy to let you wear dresses to school, pretty boy?" came the first of the inevitable insults for the day. They didn't happen on the bus anymore, Mr Davids, the really muscular bus driver; had made it clear to one and all that no one was big or tough enough to be a bigot on his bus. It was just too bad that more of the school's staff and faculty didn't share his style... or even inclination... to reduce bullying and discrimination at the school.

Frank ignored the insults, heading for home room. His locker wasn't safe before lunch, not since early February when it became clear that Frank wasn't just getting weaker but girlier with each week. Most of the jocks had long since decided that that meant he was taking hormones for a sex change, even if 'she' wasn't 'out.' Frank just had to get through the rest of the school year. Then, his parents had agreed; they would decide on whether Frank would transfer to East High, Erie's other public high school, or a boarding school under a female name. At first, that had seemed like a huge step; and that he would be leaving so many good friends behind to be forced to make new ones as a Sophomore somewhere else.

But many of those good friends? Gone in just a few weeks. All too many of them without even saying why they no longer wanted to hang out. So... a transfer? Sounded good. A fresh start where people weren't faced with someone who was crossing an unforgivable divide right in front of them? Yep, very good indeed. And no one even knew he was a mutant. If it weren't so ridiculous, it'd be... something. Too bad the fresh start would be as a girl.

He had no sooner plopped into his desk near the corner than Valerie, the girl sitting behind him, began playing with his hair.

"I wish you'd let me do something with this," she whined.

"Mmhmm. And I just want to live through the day."

"The jocks just don't want to admit how hard you make them."

"Val!" he hushed her.

"Relax, pretty boy. Everyone sees what's going on with you... you might as well come out. It won't change anything with the bullies, but at least the school will have to do something to protect you, right?"

"The school already knows. How do you think I got out of taking gym? I don't see anyone jumping to help solve the bully problem so far."

Val stopped playing with his hair and leaned back at her desk. "I guess not. But how many of them know you still look at girls? Maybe it would help if they didn't think you wanted guys and are doing this to attract them."

Frank spun around to look at her, his jaw dropping. "You... what..."

She giggled at the look on his face and teased "Oh come on. You sit there in the bleachers with whatever book Coach gives you to study instead of participating and watch the girls run laps. Or play volleyball. Or whatever we're doing. You don't watch the guys. Like Jeremy Matthews does. Or Scott whatshisname..."

"What... the... hell... Val?"

"You think we aren't aware when people are perving? Clueless much? You better learn to tune in on that yourself if you're joining our side."

"I'm not..."

"You have two little pointy indicators when I play with your hair that none of the boys ever get," she pointed out, causing Frank to cross his arms across his chest. Fortunately there wasn't anything else there yet, but his nipples and the area around them had definitely decided to cross the line far enough that he probably wouldn't ever be swimming topless ever again. "Still..." she continued, "there's also enough of the old you left that judging whether you have a thing for girls is hardly..." she stretched out the first syllable to make it quite clear what she was referring to before finishing, "much of an effort."

Frank just blushed.

"How does that work, anyway?" she asked.

"What do you mean?" Frank asked, carefully.

"I thought hormones made that stop working."

"Oh. It's not the normal treatment..." he explained vaguely, trying to remember what Dr. Kennesly and his mother had worked out as his 'cover' story. He hadn't thought much about the details because he had no intention of telling people what was happening to him, let alone why.

"Because you aren't eighteen?" she guessed, trying to urge him on.

Frank just nodded. "Val, you can't tell people about this..." He gestured at the rest of the class, which was just about full and approaching morning announcements.

"I won't. But you're going to have to... sooner or later. You've changed way too much this year for people not to have already made up their minds about what's happening. Once their minds are set, its just going to be that much harder for you to sway them."

Frank sighed, in frustration. "I know... I just..."

"Want people to leave you alone. I know... " she grinned at him, then teased. "Why do you think I play with your hair every morning?"

With that, the morning alarm went off; and everyone stood for the Pledge. Most of the students mumbled through it mindlessly; a couple just stood silently. The announcements flew by and then the alarm chimed again warning that they had three minutes to get to the first class.

Frank was still considering Valerie's comment as he walked into the hall, so was completely unprepared for the full on body slam that threw him into the wall lockers. Fortunately, they were all still closed and no one else was hit by the attack; but Frank still landed with enough force to leave several indentations. The upperclassmen who hit him had clearly skipped announcements because there was no way they could have gotten into position to do this otherwise... and they took off down the hall the moment Frank hit the floor, a mostly inaudible curse mumbled as he fought to stay conscious.

"Shit!" a neighboring student swore, as Frank started to get up. "Someone get the nurse," he yelled down the hall.

"Don't move, Frank..." Valerie urged him, pushing her way in past a couple other gawking students. "Just relax until we can get someone to check you out."

Frank stopped struggling to get off the ground, as a wave of pain rolled off his shoulder. It pierced even through the throbbing pain in his head and around his right eye. Maybe she was right, maybe he should just wait there. At least the floor was cool. He tried to focus on Valerie's face, "Val... hit my head... pretty hard... don't... let..."

"Don't pass out or sleep, right?" she confirmed with him.

"Ya..." he got out before the nod he tried to give with it almost put him under. "Ow... shit... at least... there's two of you."

"You're seeing double?" she asked.

"Ya... weird, second you has old longer hair. I like short style better."

She looked worried, and looked up the hallway. What she saw only upset her more. "She's coming, Frank; just hold on. We'll get you to the doctor."

He fumbled at his pocket and pulled out a small flip phone. The injured teen handed it off to Valerie, "Call mom..."

Frank lay there as more and more of the scene around him took on a strange doubled appearance until the nurse finally arrived. He struggled to keep himself separate from the pain as EMT's also arrived and they strapped him to a backboard, loaded him into an ambulance and headed for the hospital. He probably should have kept more of what he was seeing to himself, but it was the only thing he could do to stay awake.

Strong Vincent High School - Erie, PA: Thursday April 5, 2007. 10:12

"I still can't understand why they didn't get more than a couple days suspension. They were back in classes before you were."

Frank was only paying about half attention to what Valerie was saying. For whatever reason, she was one of a handful of people who were constantly showing a double image. Whatever it was, he needed his eyes to see it... but it wasn't one eye or the other that did it. He was seeing... maybe perceiving was the better word... two separate looks for things and some people. Most of them, like Valerie, had changed their look recently... she had had long hair for... well, as long as he'd known her. But she'd recently changed that to a short fluffy look. And for whatever reason, he could see both looks at the same time in the same three dimensional space. And not superimposed either... he could see both images uniquely. It was enough to hurt the brain.

"Stop looking at me like that," she complained.

"Sorry. Just happy to be back. But I was gone longer than I had to be from the accident, that's the only reason it took longer than their suspension."

"Accident," she huffed. "There is nothing accidental about a junior class first string lineman throwing a freshman into a wall of closed lockers. No matter how many people say it couldn't have been intentional."

"Ya, I guess," he agreed. "If it makes you feel any better, my folks are going to file the paperwork to tell the school I'm transitioning... and that they have until the end of the school year to prove I'm going to be safe here or they'll find somewhere else for me to go."

"Hah, that'll show them... or... wait, you aren't really planning to leave are you?"

"I... probably, Val. I don't think I can stay here as a girl. Look at how many 'friends' have already walked away. You're about all I have left. Another school... maybe I can just start off as 'that awkward, shy new girl.'"

"Well that sucks. I hate that they win. That you can't be who you are here and no one wants to protect you. You shouldn't have to be afraid that someone is going to attack you if you look away for just a moment. And you shouldn't have to feel like it's your fault. That something you did or that you want to do makes it alright for them to be violent and hateful."

"I..." Frank's eyes were wide in surprise as Val ranted.

"I wish... " she slammed her bag against the wall. Several students jumped and a teacher several rooms away looked at them from his doorway, clearly trying to decide if he needed to encourage them to get to their next class. "I wish I could do it."

"You mean, protect me from them?" he teased, not sure where she was going with this.

"Well... no... maybe. It sounds kinda... weird like that. But seriously. All these people with super powers or huge amounts of money and yet unless someone's invading from Mars or there's a bank robbery... what are they doing? Fighting each other. Making plays for MORE power. People are still bigots. If you're different, it's ok to treat you badly. We don't deserve this planet. Don't you want to be worthy of it?"

"I... I guess. I've never really thought about it... we try to recycle and stuff like that but.. really? I don't know. People talk about one person making a difference... voting, helping out at a shelter... that sort of thing. But you're talking about... one person doing or being something so important that it matters to everyone. That it stops discrimination. Or hate."

"Ya," she agreed, bumping hips with Frank. "But instead... we're letting some stupid country boy jocks force you into changing schools. How messed up is that?"

Frank couldn't help but think he was the wrong person to get mutant powers.

Astral Plane - Northern Canada: Monday April 30, 2007. 19:03

From where he stood, the snow and ice covered land below held a strange sort of beauty. The Northern Lights filled the sky, turning early night into a sort of magical twilight. In the distance, a dogsled cut its way across the terrain. A sense of foreboding filled Frank as he watched the aurora shift from greens and violets into a blood red mist as the land itself strained under the weight of a terrible roar.

The dogsled skidded to a stop, the animals tangled and confused. Frank started forward, not really knowing how to assist only that terrible things came and assistance would be the only way for these men to escape. A small hand caught his thin arm and held him back. He glanced back and the girl holding him back gestured for quiet... forced him to wait as the beast destroyed the one fighting it.

Then he was released. For a moment, Frank didn't know what to do. What could he do if a trained... Eskimo... witch doctor?... couldn't stop it? And that, he realized, was the point. Knowing that he wanted to help wasn't enough. Knowing that he could help would be better. But to be helpful, he needed to know how to be helpful.

Frank awoke, his body bouncing as he dropped the few inches to the bed as he emerged from the astral plane. He remembered nothing except the strange ominous foreboding of the blood red Northern Lights.

Astral Plane - Outside Whateley: Tuesday May 1, 2007. 22:18

Frank felt a hand grab hold of him to pull him strongly and rapidly and deposit him on a road surrounded by spring woodlands. The trees were slightly behind the progress of the ones at home, but otherwise it could very well have been a country road anywhere from Erie down to Pittsburgh. Up ahead, through a gated checkpoint, was what appeared to be a boarding school... or maybe a college.

He turned around, looking for the hand that had pulled him into this place and found the little girl who had been in his dream the night before. She handed him the dagger that had been showing up practically everywhere these days... no one else had seen it yet and if it weren't for the other things he had started seeing; he'd be certain that the dagger was some sort of mental problem. After a moment to let him get the feel of it, she turned him back to face the gate just in time to see a Native American girl around his own age push through the gate.

Now, he could feel the dark and malignant things... something like wolves just over the hills to the north. That great and terrible beast off a long way to the northwest. Something twisted and arrogant and chaotic just to the southwest. And back not far along the road towards home, something vastly hungry. Not evil or wrong... but no less dangerous. And into the midst of all that, this girl... a Native American girl only a year or two older than he, unprotected and unarmed, was about to walk into the night. And worst of all, it seemed as if she didn't care if something horrible would happen to her. Maybe even invited it to happen...

All that came to Frank in an instant, as the girl behind him guided his hand to hold the knife before him. Point to the earth, grounded and rooted; hilt to the sky, bare and open to the guidance of the divine; sharpened edges drawing blood from the hand of the protector, symbolizing the willingness to suffer on behalf of another. And then power that was not his own flowed through him, turning the knife into a warded wall of power that stretched into a distance that was more than physical and closed against the warded wall of the boarding school and across the planes, from physical through the astral and deep into the spirit realms.

For some time, Frank stood still as a statue... a small cog in a far greater wheel... until at last, he felt that the service was done and that his charge was safe, for now. He allowed the blade to fall.

And Frank fell.

He awoke, bouncing off the bed.

Astral Plane - Erie & Elsewhere: Saturday May 5, 2007. 14:16

Frank stopped as the world shivered around him. He felt the grocery bag slipping out of his hands and looked down to try to get control over it but even though he could clearly see it, looking somehow more solid than usual, and feel the texture of the bag as it slid away from him; there was no stopping it. Soup cans and plastic bags of pasta scattered everywhere, but at least there were no breakables in the bag. His mother turned from pulling more bags out of the trunk to give him a frown and probably a few sarcasm laden words but her eyes skipped past where the boy stood. Her expression changed as she looked around desperately. Franks eyes followed, not quite understanding what was happening. At his side stood the old Native woman.

"Come, weapon. This cannot wait," she told him, reaching out to take him by the elbow. Their surroundings flickered around them like shadows cast by an old film reel, neighborhood giving way to field or forest, a parking lot, more woods and hillsides and then a set of gates that he recognized from a dream not long ago. "From here, we must be careful. Eyes and powers watch over this place; but they are not yet prepared to hold against the real darkness. Remind them of that when you come here again in body."

She pulled him forward again but this time it was like slinking through shadows while living within molasses. Then, they were sinking into the ground.

When he was again aware of his surroundings, Frank found himself standing in a pool of blood over the corpse of a young girl. She had been practically torn apart and had a tomahawk left in her...

He gagged, stepping back, trying to avoid throwing up in the crime scene. All the shows would agree that was bad... but then, so was standing in the blood... and started to back away when he realized he stood next to a Native American boy.

"What... how did this happen?" he asked.

The boy reached out and touched Franks shoulder and shared the moment of the attack with him. A flicker of some emotion, concern or sorrow, crossed his eyes and he caught Frank as the first person experience of his murder tore through him.

"Sorry. I'm new to this," he apologized. "This side of it, anyway."

"That's... you?" Frank asked, looking back at the body.

"It was, ya. More alike than not, you and I," Jamie suggested, nodding at the swellings on Frank's torso... curves that were much more developed than they had been moments before while out for groceries.

"Ah, what the hell..." Frank complained, peering down the collar of his shirt at what lie beneath. He shook his head in frustration. "Still, I'll take those over what happened to you... how... why...?" he gestured in concern over the crime scene.

At that moment two teens came through the main door and, as might be expected, freaked out about the murder. Frank started to circle around to explain what he had found but Jamie caught his arm.

"Let them handle it," he encouraged. "If you haven't realized it yet... we're not really here. Well... there."

"You mean... I'm..."

"No, no." Jamie laughed. "Sorry, that's not what I meant. Are you.. just manifesting? How did you come to be in the Astral here? There are all kinds of defenses set up to prevent that."

"The Astral? Umm... the old woman brought me," Frank gestured at where the old woman stood near the corpse watching them.

Jamie followed Franks gaze, then shrugged. "I don't see anything. Not sure if that's because she's in your head or because I'm dead. Or something else I've not even considered."

"She's just watching, now. But when she grabbed me at home, it seemed like it was pretty urgent."

"Well, if she was trying to stop me from dying... "

"I don't know... we got here pretty fast from when she arrived. I'm not sure this didn't happen before she even got there."

"Then maybe its something to do with why I'm stuck here?"


"Ya. Thunderbird was going to show me a quick route to the Upper realms so I can see my parents..."

"Your parents are..."

"Spirits? They died a while back..."


"Don't be. It's not your fault... besides, death? Doesn't seem so bad at the moment. Except this being stuck here part. That could get tedious."

"You can't go anywhere at all?" Frank asked.

"No... wait..." Jamie slid slightly towards the near wall. He frowned a moment later. "Oh, that can't be good."

"One way?"

Jamie nodded in agreement, "Can't pull it back away again once I moved."

Frank moved around, both towards and away from the wall, "Whatever it is, it doesn't seem to have any hold on me." He walked toward the wall.

"Careful," Jamie warned.

"Frank," the boy provided.

"I'm Heyoka... Jamie. Careful Frank. It might not have you now, but maybe if you get too close?"

Frank nodded and reached out a hand to run it along the wall when a searing pain raced up his neck and through his brain and then he was riding the rubber band slingshot back and back and then with a strange cracking noise...

Frank was flying across the front lawn from the sidewalk. He rolled twice, bleeding off momentum before ending up in the flower bed. He was spitting grass shavings from his mouth as his mother came racing out of the house towards him.

Once he got the parents calmed down, his own panic reaction set in as he realized that he was indeed a mutant and that normal life was probably not in the cards anymore. But more importantly, as he explained the details of what had happened for the third time; he realized that somewhere out there, a dead girl... or guy... had been brutally murdered for no apparent reason and his or her ghost was stuck in some sort of trap and relying on HIM for a rescue.

The only good thing out of the situation was that it appeared that the curves his body had gained wherever he'd been hadn't stuck around when he'd returned. He wasn't back to being any sort of boy but a tomboy... but at least he hadn't made an instant jump to pinup girl.

Erie, the Astral Plane - Erie & Elsewhere: Monday May 7, 2007. 9:33

Sunday had been the longest day in his life. He half expected the old woman to show up and drag him off at any moment and the other half of him was waiting in frustration with the understanding, in every bone, that Jamie was still stuck and that until he was able to get back to wherever the murder had taken place; anything could happen. What if Jamie fell asleep, would whatever held him captive drag his spirit into some sort of trap?

A few times during the day, he'd felt some sort of aftershock to that pain that had drawn him back home and it had returned as an almost constant ache as he'd gone to bed and tried to relax. Finally, and far too late into the night; he'd managed to sleep. Which was good, because his parents had been so upset about Saturday that they'd almost immediately called Dr Kennesly to find out who he had to see about getting an MID. And they had gotten up very early to meet an appointment in Pittsburgh for it. He had, in fact, just finished changing in the locker room for the physical tests. The team's gym looked a lot like a high end fitness center, but a quick glance at the stations nearby showed weights and numbers that were clearly well into the ranges of paranormal ability.

Frank felt a bit awkward meeting the three paranormals dressed in the basic fitness gear, given the direction his body had turned in the last few months. At least two of the three were women... one of whom turned and looked to his side. Frank followed her gaze and saw the old woman, a hawkish faced man standing at her shoulder. They were the first things he'd seen in a while that didn't have at least some small amount of blur from the doubled vision. The man caught the boy's eyes and seemed to look deep into him. Then he nodded curtly, "He'll do. Give me the blade..."

"Who are..." the woman who had seen the two of them began, interrupting the others who were about to greet Frank.

"Hold up your hand, weapon," the woman told Frank as she passed the stone bladed dagger to the man. Frank did as she told him.

"This is going to hurt," the man assured Frank as he grabbed the boy's hand.

Frank simply nodded and waited as the man punched the dagger through his hand. It hurt. A lot. But then...

He was in the room with Jamie. The other boy was curled up in a seated position a lot closer to the wall than made Frank comfortable. The room had been cleaned up, though he couldn't imagine having to watch people clean up your dead body and blood could be good for anyone's psyche.

"I'm back," he offered, probably unnecessarily. With the room otherwise empty, it was probably pretty tough to miss a random guy popping in out of nowhere.

Jamie looked up, a wry grin on his lips, "Don't suppose you brought any..." he stopped as he got a look at Frank's hand. "What the..."

Frank's hand throbbed as he lifted it and looked at the dagger piercing through it, "Would you believe that it doesn't actually hurt?"


"Oh... it hurt like hell when he stabbed it in there. But now? It's just... it just feels odd."

"Huh, sounds like something I'd ask Sara about. Or maybe Fey or Kayda. If you ever get the chance. Any ideas on my situation?"

"I tried doing some research on the internet... but I don't really have any idea what's going on... so... not really. But I don't think my leaving had anything to do this here... I think its just because... I'm new. Manifesting, like you said. The old woman, whoever she is, is trying to get you help and I'm just not strong enough or know enough to do it without her. Or evidently without that guy sticking a dagger through my hand."


"So... while I AM here... let's see what I can figure out."

"Ok," Jamie agreed. "My lingering, unintended or not, can't be good for my friends. Spirits aren't meant to stick around like this, they'll have a hard time letting go or feeling like I'm really gone."

Frank walked over to the wall where he'd been before getting pulled out last time. He pushed against it and for just a moment, it felt solid like a wall. Then, slowly it took on that sort of molasses feel that everything had when the old woman had pulled him down underground the first time. And then he was through the surface of the wall, walking through a fog of ducting, conduits, and then bare earth. He counted each stride, trying to keep some feel for how far he was traveling, before breaking through another bank of building materials and into a storage room of some sort.

Pushing into the next wall was easier, and he stalked forward confidently another ten strides and found himself in some sort of 1970's den, plush carpeting and wood paneling still intact. Everything looked powered down but only slightly dusty as if the room had been unused for decades but sealed tight for most of the intervening time. After a brief pause, he pushed forward again. Another twelve strides through the underground before stepping out into some sort of laboratory.

Frank started to step forward, eager to investigate the room when a figure stood up from a computer terminal in the far corner. He quickly slipped backwards, into the wall, unsure if his intangibility made him invisible to people or not. After all, Jamie couldn't see the old woman but the woman in Pittsburgh had seen both the woman and the man who had joined her. And if this guy was doing something to trap Jamie, he didn't want him aware there was someone else who knew about it.

The figure spoke, intoning in that odd way that people do when they are giving a voice activated computer commands: "Power up the containment bottle. Run attunement series 14, frequency ranges beta through kappa. Ten minute intervals. Execute."

The boy, Frank judged by the voice, then turned and started out. He was about to step forward into the lab when the boy abruptly spun around, looking suspiciously around him. Frank almost fell backward in his efforts to avoid those eyes and the malevolent force and dark energy behind them. The whole 'shape' of the boy flexed, contorted and expanded, like something massive and corrupt and wrong was compressed into the shape of a boy and was only held in that shape through power and force of will. If it went through all that effort not to be seen and uncovered... Frank did not want to be found seeing it. He hid. Only his concern for what might happen to the ghost in the room nearby kept him from just fleeing outright.

After a moment, the energy passed and he heard the sound of a door closing and latching. Frank leaned forward, trying to expose himself as slowly as possible, ready to dive back into the wall if he had to. A series of breakers clunked into place nearby and one piece of machinery with a long metal cylinder suspended within a glass bubble lit up and started to do... something. As Frank watched, the devise started to twist reality around it until everything within a foot of the bubble seemed to warp and pull into the cylinder. Another nearby panel lit up and a series of numbers paraded onto the control panels of each set of blade-like arrays. Then they began to ring with a sound that was outside of Frank's hearing range... and yet, he still heard it.

And then he heard the distant scream of a human being being ripped apart and raced back to the original room where he'd left Jamie. The other boy was panting, trying to catch his breath. He was a good five feet closer to the wall than he'd been.

"Whatever you did, turn it the other way," he protested.

"I didn't. But I did see someone turn on some equipment in a lab just now."

"Do something to turn it off."

"I don't know if that will be enough. The stuff he turned on is running some sort of test cycle... and that's making it worse... but whatever was holding you here was already on. I don't have any way of knowing what that was."

"Whatever this is, its going to allow him to draw in and capture ghosts and probably spirits..." the sounds spiking again overpowered his voice and pulled him all the way back to the wall.

"Ok... I've got to stop this. Even if that doesn't get you free right away, I doubt it'll get any easier to get you out of here once you get sucked into that container," Frank jump into the fog bank of solid matter, heading back to the lab. He didn't see Jamie's head snap up as he asked "What container?"

Back in the lab, Frank carefully avoid both the containment vessel and the blades emitting the horrible sounds. He also tried to avoid the screams and groans that came from Jamie's direction, despite all the intervening rooms and solid earth. Clearly this stuff operated a little outside the realm of normal science. He didn't want to risk getting caught in something himself. He certainly didn't know what was possible or not in all this mess.

His first attempts to stop the computer would have made a great blooper reel. He tried talking to it, he tried Jedi mind tricks, he tried putting his hand into the console and stirring things up. Those had all the effect of being worth laughing at himself... but moved no closer to the goal of saving Jamie. Then he lucked onto an idea. He'd been leaning against a cart, more sitting than not, without really being aware of the fact. In fact, when it struck him, he couldn't let himself believe it could be that simple. After all, he'd been standing on the floor all along without falling through... so interaction with the physical stuff around him could be done, it just wasn't required.

Of course, it wasn't that easy.

Yes, he could interact with physical objects... but mostly only as long as he didn't change anything about them. Yes, he stood on the floor... he could lean on a cart... he could even make a cart move... but that last part was hard to do. Where even a slight imbalance probably would let that cart roll out from under someone normally, Frank had to work up a sweat to get it to roll, the weight of his body was simply not enough on its own. And no amount of punching at computer keyboards would allow his fingers to depress keys far enough to type.

But he moved the cart. Two inches at a time. Closer and closer to the containment vessel. And then a clipboard started sliding across the top of the cart on its own. Frank took a cautious step back... and as more objects started moving on the cart, he realized that being in this lab when something actually hit that thing... would probably be a bad idea.

He actually made it inside the wall when it happened. Frank threw himself to the ground, or what passed for it in the fog between rooms, and waited for the explosion. It didn't come. A hum began to build, overpowering some of the discordant sounds emitting from the blades and then, just as everything got to the point of being loud; it all shut down. The boy poked his head back inside the lab and heard the clicking and winding of automated systems resetting. There was a clipboard and several paperclips on the ground under the containment vessel... but nothing looked damaged. And a countdown timer on the main system was just dropping down past 30 seconds.

Frank took in the timer, blinked, then turned and ran.

Jamie was just getting to his feet as Frank came through the wall back into the Arena. He gave his rescuer a big smile and started to step into a hug with him when Frank grabbed him and started dragging him across the room.

"Go... GO, Jamie. You've got like 10 seconds before the system resets and comes back on. Go!"

Jamie blinked, looked like he was going to protest and say something important and then shook his head and smiled, "Tell my friends I love them."

And then he was gone. And then, so was Frank...

A moment later, he was picking himself up off the floor where he'd rolled after going head over heels over a treadmill. In his absence, his parents had joined the paranormal team in the test room and everyone seemed to be waiting for explanations. The woman who had seen the two... spirits... with him took up the hand that had had a dagger through it and touched the thin scar that was all the was left. She looked into Franks eyes, searching for something but then shook her head.

"I know we're running late for the test... but.. can I get a glass of water or something before we do this," he asked. "It's been a bit of a morning."

Erie, Pennsylvania: Wednesday June 13, 13:43

"Are you ever going to tell me what's really up with you?"

Frank pulled himself up out of the sand into a seated position and looked at Val from behind his shades. Her tan was coming along nicely, helped more than a little by the skimpy bikini she was sporting. "How so?" he asked.

"You're not TG. You're not taking meds to become a girl. You don't want to be a girl."

Frank gestured at his growing curves, including the proto-boobs that prevented him from getting rid of his t-shirt.

"You don't wear anything feminine. You're growing and you don't have a training bra... seriously... if you were going through all the stuff I have been reading about to grow boobs and you don't even want to show them off... something else is going on."

Frank nodded, she pretty much had him there. He spent way too much time trying to hide what was happening to him to be simultaneously actively trying to make those changes happen. "Sounds like you've thought it through. Why are you reading about being transgendered?"

"Duh... my best friend is transitioning. What am I supposed to do?"

Frank's jaw dropped.

"See... if you had any real interest in being a girl, you'd have just squealed and then mauled me with hugs."

"Best friend."

"Well, ya. You don't think I let just anyone rub me down with lotion while I wear teeny tiny bikinis, do you?"

"I'm... "

"Oh, don't get all mushy. Grab the lotion and give me another slathering... and while you're over here, tell me the real deal or else."

Frank picked up the lotion and nodded. She was the only friend who had stuck through him this far... and he hated the idea that if he told her and she freaked, that he'd be left with no one. But on the other hand, she'd more than earned his trust and he didn't want to be lying to her.

He leaned in close and started giving her the details. When he got to the word "mutant" she squealed and mauled him with hugs. His blush went all the way down to his hidden boobs.

Whateley Academy: Thursday August 30, 2007. 15:03

"Stop! Mom, stop!" Frank screamed at his mother as they careened at 55 MPH straight towards a heavy wrought iron gate that was currently closed across the two lane drive that they had been following since leaving the main road outside of the oddly disturbing little town of Dunwich. On both sides of the gate stood an indescribably solid stone wall ten or twelve feet high with gargoyles framing it. For a moment, he had a sort of deja vu sensation... he had seen this gate before, had been here outside it, but it hadn't been closed at the time. Closed... across the road... that they were racing towards!

As the car continued forward, slightly slower as the nearly forty year old brunette woman let up on the accelerator in surprise at her... son's shouts; Frank watched the gargoyles frown and begin to crouch forward. He tried to make himself relax, remembering in the moment that what often caused serious injuries in an accident was body tension in opposition to the forces of impact. That was why drunk drivers often...

And then they were through the gate without any sort of impact. Frank let out a whoosh of air as the gate shattered around him, throwing off short lived sparks, and turned around to watch it recede. Behind them, the gate and the wall structure diverged into two separate images, a solid mossy stone wall with an opening between them through which the road crossed... and a similar wall, broken like shards of glass with pieces of gate mixed in. And from those glass-like pillars, arose the gargoyles, rapid wing strokes lifting them from rest.

"Franklin Aaron Danielson. You know better than to scare me while I'm driving."

He winced, but the reaction to his mother's admonishment was short lived as he watched the gargoyles lift free of their posts and begin to wing their way after the car. They were catching up. Quickly. "I know mom, sorry... um... can we go a little faster; we are running late..."

"I told you I was sorry, honey. Your father was going to take the car into the shop before we drove you up here, but..."

Frank watched the gargoyles glide closer, almost sliding across the sky without a need for the usual conventions of flight. He glanced up the road and back at the beast again and then back up the road. Up ahead, just before the road started to curve into some woods; a shimmering glass-like wall stretched across the road.

"Ladies, as you are trespassing on private property; please identify yourselves and your purpose here or turn back to the main highway," announced something akin to a hologram in the windshield. A hologram... or a heads up display. His mother slammed on the brakes. Frank looked back at the gargoyles to see them begin to dive at the car.

"Oh... right, sorry about that," the voice apologized. A moment later, the two winged creatures turned in a way that no flying creature should be able to travel and disappeared back towards the gate.

"Who..." Frank's mother began.

"Who indeed? I apologize Ms Danielson... Frank. We weren't expecting you to arrive this afternoon and some events on campus have us functioning a bit erratically. When you came through the gate, it reacted badly with Frank's powers... I really did think you were a girl for a moment there. How strange..." the figure seemed almost flustered for a moment. "I will open the rest of the gates briefly to accommodate your passing through them, while that might cause some risk; it will be less so than having to rebuild them all from scratch if you shatter all of them as you pass through."

"I... broke something?" Frank questioned, digging out the kid relevant potential accusation.

"Yes. But that is not your fault, don't worry. It's just unanticipated. We can fix it." he explained while scrutinizing Frank. It was uncomfortable in a way that he was becoming all to familiar as the year progressed.

"Is it... safe to keep driving now?" Frank's mother asked. The image on the dashboard nodded in response.

"I'll just go take care of those gates now," the voice answered as the image began to fade.

"Perv..." Frank mumbled under his breath. His mother snorted a brief laugh at him.

The image reappeared.

"I forgot to mention, my name is Louis. I will be your adviser and mentor here at Whateley. We'll talk more later. I'll have a student representative from your cottage meet you at admissions."

Whateley Academy: Thursday August 30, 2007. 16:17

"Holy shit!" Frank swore, slamming the door back shut. His guide, a sophomore named Ayla, and the house mother who had been introduced to him as Mrs Horton both looked at him with disapproval. He looked back at each of them in shock. "You... don't see what's wrong with this? We just talked about this!"

The door opened back up, revealing the beautiful girl... woman... he had just been told he was going to be rooming with here in Poe cottage. She had the curves and muscle of the classical comic book heroine and was currently wearing just boxers and a sports bra. That's what 'one' of her was wearing, anyway. Like a lot of the people he'd seen so far on campus, he saw her with a sort of double image. The one with more solidity to it seemed to be even more gorgeous than the other and was dressed in some sort of exotic costume. The second image, the one he was fairly sure was the real one; showed her in a state of undressand still with some of that high school girl baby fat and awkwardness. Relative levels of baby fat and awkwardness... back home, she'd be film star gorgeous even without the more exotic version.

"I can't room with a girl," Frank insisted again, enthusiastically. "No offense," he apologized as her smile started to fade.

"Don't worry," the roommate beat the House Mother to the punch. "I'm a changeling too."

"I... what... wait," Frank stammered. That meant... what... that she had been born a guy... too? Like Frank... and Ayla? They were both seriously stacked, with cheerleader style curves. Mrs Horton's smile was also turning into a frown.

"I explained this," Ayla pointed out. "You are now a member of the Poe conspiracy. This is the home for many of the LGBT students at Whateley. Your BIT is turning you into a girl... so you get put in with another male to female changeling. As far as the rest of the student body will know, unless you choose to tell someone, you are a girl. And always have been."

"But I still have..."

"TMI," insisted the girl in the doorway. "Don't worry, no one will tell and you probably aren't even the only one in the freshman class."

"Nor are you the only one in the building," the guide affirmed. "That is why I was picked to greet you and show you around. And introduce you to your roommate, Archon... "

"Vicky," the girl chimed in. "Short for Victory not Victoria."

"... this is Esoteric," Ayla glanced down at her tablet for a moment. "Frank? Oh... Erin. Erin Frank?" the guide muttered mostly to herself as she typed something on the tablet.

"No way..." Frank took another look at the sophomore, then back to his new roommate. He was not going to admit that he'd been checking her out almost the whole tour. Not even to himself. "Still... she's a girl now and I'm... not. If this is supposed to be a secret, people are going to see something wrong with the two of us rooming together. I get 'why' you do it, but..."

"You aren't still trying to present as male are you?" the house mother asked, hesitantly.

"What do you mean... present? I am still male."

His potential roommate's face fell, as she wrapped him in a hug... a ridiculously strong bear hug type hug. "But you're so cute. You don't have anything to worry about. Those long legs and you're so thin... you're like supermodel waif-like, except still looking healthy."

"I can recommend someone for clothing, if you need to hide something... but if I didn't know Poe's secret; I'd never have guessed..." the guide handed him a business card. The address was for a custom clothing shop in a town nearby that they'd come through shortly before turning onto the private roads.

Frank was starting to feel a bit faint, as his roommate pulled him into the room. The guide tossed his bags in onto his bed and was typing into some sort of custom smart phone with a determined face as she strode away. Before the door closed completely, she could see the house mother looking back over the clipboard with his information on, a confused and exasperated look on her face.

Whateley Academy: Thursday August 30, 2007. 23:48

Frank jolted awake, his breath held and hairs sticking up along the back of his neck. He let the breath out slowly, as quietly as he could and let his eyes crack open just enough to see across the dark room. Victory was asleep, sprawled across her bed, limbs sticking every which direction. Somewhere nearby, something... wrong... moved through the cottage. Whatever it was, it was moving. Searching. Like it was going through rooms, one by one, trying to find... something. Or maybe someone.

It seemed to take forever for... whatever it was... to finish its search and then head off into the distance, east of the cottage. As it left, it seemed happy... satisfied, even... and stronger. As if what it had done or found had made it stronger somehow. It was an unsettling feeling, and worried him. Everyone seemed to believe that this was one of the safest places they could be... but this wasn't the first dark or outright evil thing he'd sensed in the brief time he'd been at Whateley. It was an almost irrational confidence... that their shields and wardings and all the security and powers made them somehow immune to the sorts of things the old woman had warned him of. But they weren't. The wards might give them warning of things trying to enter... but what did they do about things already inside? And did security really have the ability to watch and keep tabs on everything that happened? What was it they said about the NSA... don't worry about whether they can get all your data... worry about the day that they can ignore the parts of your data that don't matter.

So now what? He knew that he was going to be a girl here at Whateley... that there was every reason to arrive day one living the new life with no one every realizing who he had once been. But the whole Poe cottage thing... other people with the same experiences. Mutations causing them to change, to re-orient. It had thrown him for a loop. He'd even expected a girl for a roommate... but not one so enthusiastic about being a girl and taking him with her. Not one who knew who he used to be.

Was that better? Or not?

Somewhere in the midst of trying to unravel the mystery of who Erin was going to be... he drifted back to sleep."

Whateley Academy: Friday August 31, 2007. 9:23

"It's really quite disconcerting," Louis pointed out, again. For the fourth time.

"You have no idea," Frank agreed. "I mean... I can't argue with the doctors anymore. I don't look anything like I did before this all started. I was a runner. A good one. That's how we knew something was wrong... well, different, anyway. My endurance disappeared for no apparent reason. And some of my speed. Things just stopped moving right... the rhythm of my running changed and kept changing."

"That's not something that happens often. That people become weaker or less athletic when they manifest. But it does happen," his mentor acknowledged.

"Is... is that what happened to you?" Frank asked hesitantly.

"No. You'll get to meet me, in the flesh, eventually. But it isn't pleasant, I'm afraid. You'll learn about GSD and some of the specifics of my case in your core classes." He paused and looked carefully at Frank's right hand. "Where did you get that knife, Frank?"

"Knife?" He looked down, seeing his hand curled around the wooden hilt of the obsidian knife. "Oh... shit. Why is this thing following me?" he dropped it, the blade landed tip first, sinking in just enough into the hardwood floor to remain standing.

"This isn't in any of your paperwork, Frank. It's not the first time you have seen it?" Louis asked... his projection squatting down beside the blade for a closer look.

"No. But... most people can't even see it."

"That's because it isn't really here, Frank," Louis pointed out, looking up at his student with a grin. "Well, not there; I should say. Where I am, though..." He tapped the side of the blade with a fingernail, each touch ringing out like a bell. The knife flickered and reappeared in Frank's hand. "Well well."

"But... if you're not here... then... where? are you?"

"This is a variation on an astral projection. I use it as a point of consciousness to build a telekinetic shell and physical bridge for some of my... nevermind, we'll talk about that more when you have a better grasp of the PSI fundamentals. How sharp is the knife?"

Frank shrugged and immediately reached over to test it against a finger.

"No! Don't!" Louis shouted, reaching out to stop him the moment he realized what his words had encouraged.

The world dimmed for a moment for Frank as the edge of the blade separated the flesh of his finger and a single drop of blood welled up and soaked into the knife.

"Frank, I want you to focus very seriously on what I tell you and have you do right now," Louis urged.

"Ow," Frank complained as he realized what he'd done. He looked up at Louis to see... a fully solid man instead of the slightly translucent mental construct that he had been chatting with all morning.

"Walk over here away from the table. Be careful with that knife."

Frank stood from where he'd been leaning on the table and took a couple steps towards Louis before freezing. Louis was looking back at the spot he'd vacated.

"What?" Frank looked behind him. There was nothing there. "I don't get it..."

"You're actually here. This is actually pretty amazing." A frown flickered across his face. "And very dangerous. But... useful. It explains a great deal about something that happened... Well, once you're trained... This will..."

"Wait... you mean, I'm there. In the astral plane, for real?"

"Very real. Yes. Most people who come here are visitors still bound to their bodies and only able to explore or influence this realm with their willpower and with a reduced amount of their energy from the physical world. Even just the fact that you aren't floating on the end of a tether means you are safer... but if it also means you can exert the full strength of your ability and will here... it will make you very powerful."

Frank smiled happily, "Powerful would be good. I'm so tired of having a mutant ability that makes me weaker than I was as a normal teenager."

"You should smile more often... you look very pretty... right... sorry." Louis looked mortified at his slip.

Frank growled in frustration, grinding his teeth.

It took them most of the morning to figure out how to get Frank back out of the astral plane. They decided that further exploration of the ability would wait until they could use a lab and proper warding and support staff. After all, plane travel... even just to the astral plane... wasn't something to take lightly.

Whateley Academy: Friday August 31, 2007. 13:01

Frank was starving. But on the way to the cafeteria, the Crystal Hall; his roommate had seen him crossing the lawn and dragged him into a group of her friends, denying him the chance to sit and eat alone without anyone forcing him to deal with the whole gender issue. It wasn't too much to ask, was it? Instead... he'd have to respond to Erin. Which had somehow become his official name... according to the Administration, that was what his mother had put on the paperwork she'd filled out at Admissions. If only she'd told HIM that she intended to throw him to the wolves without warning. At least it was... familiar. His grandpap always called him Aaron, since he was the Frank that he'd been named after. It had been that... or Frankie, or Junior. But he'd used Aaron. And so, Erin... wasn't so hard to take.

He did have to say one thing for this place, the cafeteria made his usual school lunch look like prison food. Well... what he thought prison food must be like from television. Not that television was the ideal reference for anything real.

While two of the girls, from the lesbian wing Vicky had said, had lunches that looked stereotypically girlish... salads, cottage cheese, and some little fruit mix thing that resembled ambrosia except it looked far tastier than any ambrosia Frank had ever tried. His own lunch was a simple deli sandwich... except he would swear that the Italian bread had just come out of the oven and the selection of fixings to put on it made it more like a gourmet Primanti Brothers sandwich than anything he could get in Erie: turkey, ham, a couple pieces of crisp bacon with crushed pepper corn fried right into the fat, Provolone cheese, some really thinly sliced tomato, and some spicy cole slaw. And he drizzled a little of some sort of dijon mustard dressing in there too. If there'd only been some steak fries handy, he'd have thrown a few of those on it to finish the job.

"Come on, Beth has a table for us over by the waterfall," his roommate hissed at him as she slipped by. She was carrying two trays, both full of burgers and... fries. No wonder there were no fries. His roommate had half the potatoes of Idaho on her tray.

The two lesbian girls, Beth and... he couldn't remember the other name for the life of him had picked up a few more of the Poe freshmen from somewhere along the food lines, so the table was almost full. A couple of the gay guys, who hadn't even given him a once over and another of the changelings. He envied them, as they chattered away with each other, excited about the new school year and the fact that the rest of the students would start arriving over the weekend. They'd only been here a couple days longer than he had, but the shared background of being 'alternate lifestyle' had given them an easy starting point for trust and forming bonds.

"... tomboy look?" intruded on his thoughts.

"Hmfph?" he mumbled around a bite of his sandwich.

"Is that cole slaw on your sandwich?" one of the guys down the table asked, sounding almost traumatized.

Frank set the sandwich down and took a sip of water after swallowing before trying to answer. The delay gave him a moment to think but didn't shake any of the attention off him.

"Yes, it's cole slaw.. you should try it... there's a..." before he managed to get more of the explanation out, his sandwich was being taste tested by half the table. "Hey!"

"Mmm." "Hey, that's pretty good." "I don't know, it's weird." The responses varied... but he only got back about half the sandwich.

"So what's with the tomboy look," repeated the lesbian whose name he couldn't remember. She was a slim athletic girl, short with a sort of punkish look to her. "Most of you changelings are all over the girly girl look."

Vicky shushed them, looking around their part of the cafeteria. "That's all supposed to be secret, we shouldn't talk about it here."

"Relax, Muscles" she teased Vicky. I'd found out my roommate was 'just' an Exemplar also. Except she happened to be an Exemplar 5. Possibly a 6. She had pretty much the full physical package and more than a few of the mental upgrades, too. "There's no one nearby and, besides, it's pretty much just the Poe students on campus right now. Until the rest of the freshmen start arriving tomorrow."

"I'm not... I'm not a girl," he tried to explain.

"Oooh," came the wave of understanding from the rest of the table.

Vicky stopped plowing through the burgers on her tray to take Frank's hand, "Most of the changelings are lucky. The change makes them who they already thought they are. Like me. Or... at least once they change, they find that their mind and gender was changed too; so they sync up with their new body."

"That... that sucks, man," offered one of the gay guys.

"Does that mean... you still like girls?" Beth asked.

Frank nodded.

"Awesome!" she cheered. "Unlike your boy crazy roomie." The other lesbian girl raspberried the gay guys. "But you know you don't have to dress all butch to be a lesbian, right?"

Frank rolled his eyes. "But I'm not a girl yet... and I'd rather dress..."

"But you've got that look... you're really thin, you could really be a knock-out. We can add a little padding to fix what hasn't grown yet," the punk girl suggested.

"No, I mean... I just. I like to run and be able to move. I can do that in this," Frank explained.

"You... they didn't 'make' you do that?" Vicky asked between bites.

"What do you mean?"

"This morning..." she added. "I saw you running at the track. That was your first lap, wasn't it? Didn't look fun to me..."

Frank blushed and looked into his tray. "No! Well... yes... this morning, yes."

"So if you want to get in shape, why not work up to it? I'll jog with you," Vicky offered. A couple of the others chimed in. "With all the martial arts and survival stuff they have in the schedule, we'll probably all need the exercise to build stamina."

Frank looked up. "You won't. You're an Exemplar."

Vicky shrugged, "Well, ok. Not from just jogging a little... but I'll still have to train to use what I can do effectively."

"That's just it. I am trained. My dad's an endurance runner. I've been running long distance runs for years... before I manifested, a five mile run was nothing. Now, it's like I'm dying if I try to push for much more than a fifth of a mile."

There were mutters of sympathy as someone up the table made the connection.

"I'm not done changing... but I keep losing time and distance. So that's it. What you saw this morning? May be the best run you ever see me do. So... forgive me if I'm not ready to be all girly girl yet."

"Ok," Vicky agreed. "But when you're ready. Because when you are, we're going to make you look amazing."

"Why is it that I'm the one that needs a make-over," Frank sighed. "I mean... look at you eating. You put those guys to shame," he added, with a gesture at the gay guys down the table who were eating like normal high school guys.

"Some of us mutants need to fuel our powers..." Vicky explained.

"Energizers and PKs," agreed Beth. "Not Exemplar."

"I'm a growing girl!" Frank's roommate protested.

One of the guys down the table made a gesture indicating the growth happening side ways, but had to stop to dodge a fast moving French Fry. He didn't get out of the way in time, but the way the fry sparked and bounced away before actually reaching him suggested that he was a PK... or something similar. Which sparked the usual discussion, what exactly did everyone's powers do. Frank made polite comments as everyone showed off little tricks and then slipped out with an excuse about meeting his adviser before someone asked him what he could do.

Whateley Academy: Saturday September 1, 2007. 11:12

It wasn't the first time Frank had visited the clinic; in fact, it was the second time he'd been summoned to it since then. Already. The first time had been for powers testing, a process that had been far more embarrassing than he could have imagined. Despite having already been through one in Pittsburgh. Where he'd also been humiliated. Like an evaluation day on the weights in gym class, having every detail of your capability measured and written down on a piece of paper to be compared to those of your peers was fine... when you were the star athlete.

Unfortunately, Frank was no longer the star athlete. Nor was he the star paranormal, which was more important here at Whateley. His power, his mutant trait, was to be an Exemplar. He even had a BIT and very limited regeneration to go with it. Unfortunately, that BIT had ruined his life. It had taken away everything he had done, the effort of years; and made it so he could never be taken seriously as a runner again. Never even enjoy what had once been the basis of his connection to his father. And that had just been the start.

In exchange... well, he got to stab himself with an ancient ritual dagger and pop into another dimension where most people only got to look around when they were dreaming. His mentor was excited beyond all reason, but Frank couldn't see it. Evidently there were others like him here... Underdogs, they were called. He liked his roommate, but it was a little embarrassing to know she could do one finger push ups with Frank sitting in lotus on her back.

And now... 'he' was in a skirt. The school uniform. More like daddy's Princess than a chip off the old block. And pretty much everyone he met assumed he was a girl. A pretty girl. Even the ones who should know better and understand that he didn't want to be a girl. That he still had certain parts that made 'being' a girl somewhat uncertain.

The nurse's voice managed to slip past his inner monologue for a moment.

"Wait... what?" Frank asked, the words sounding somewhat distant in his own ears as he brought his attention back to what the nurse had been saying. His heart slammed against his rib cage like a marching band drummer on crack.

"We need to retest several things that were recorded during your off-campus tests," the nurse smiled at him. "The doctor has found several inconsistencies in evaluations and predictions with what the tests show and what the doctors in Pittsburgh told you."

The news lit his face with a glowing smile.

"Oh, sweetheart, you should smile more often. You look so much prettier than when you came in."

The smile disappeared as Frank reminded himself, once more, that he had to stop grinding his teeth. "What sort of inconsistencies?"

"You will have to discuss that with the doctors. I don't have the details... just which tests they need redone."

"Well which tests are they?"

The nurse flipped through a couple sheets of paper, "It looks like another run through the MRI, more blood work, and a Kirlian mapping... that one is fairly uncommon. You must have one of the more uncommon ESP types?"

"Something like that... none of that seems like it would tell you anything new about my BIT though..."

"Oh, no. This is mostly tests related to PSI oriented talents. Are you an Exemplar, dear?"

Frank managed to stop himself before he growled at her, "Yes."

"You're very lucky. You're already quite pretty, you should be quite beautiful once your BIT is fully expressed, then."

"That's what I was hoping they were wrong about..." he muttered under his breath as she led him down the hall to one of the examining rooms.

Whateley Academy: Monday September 3, 2007. 17:31

"What is that?" Vicky asked. Frank had been trying to avoid watching her, as she had cycled through three or four different outfits trying to find the right clothes for meeting with some new friends in the lounge. He suspected that at least some of the changes had been intentionally trying to provoke him, so he'd been focused on some reading.

He glanced over his shoulder and pulled back with a start. She was practically on top of him, with her chest in his face. Her focus though, was on his left forearm. Or more specifically, the series of knife cuts that were part of the testing that he and Louis were doing to discover the extent of his astral shifts. Each transition needed a cut, deep enough for blood to well up and be absorbed by the blade. Being cut in the physical world jumped him to the astral and cutting himself while in the astral crossed him back over. But even though the cuts weren't really deep, he didn't have the sort of Regen that a higher level Exemplar did. They were basically going to take as long to heal as they would for any normal person. And that meant...

"Are you cutting yourself? Erin! You have to talk to Mrs Horton."

"What? No... that's not what..."

She was out the door so fast, Frank had to look to make sure the thing was still on the hinges. It was, and rebounding at a much slower rate than it had hit the wall. Neither the door or wall appeared to be the worse for wear; which made sense with dorms built for students like his roommate. Even basic construction techniques on campus had to be at a much higher standard just to hold up to casual wear and tear by the super-strong set. Or for those with... other needs. The floor study lounge had hanging rope ladders and hammocks all over the place, leftover from the previous year's students. His own class had already started staking out turf, though he wondered if the previous class' study sessions had been more like cage matches with ninjas than homework groups. The one hammock hung along a corner, vertically... how did that even work?!

"You ok?" a melodic alto voice intruded on his thoughts. A cute face with short ruffled hair peeked around the door frame, tentative as if waiting for things to fly through. He casually gestured a sort of all clear, which she evidently understand as the worry lines around her eyes and mouth faded and the rest of her slim body came into view.

"Just a little overreaction. She saw something that looks bad..." Frank held up his arm. The worry lines came back. "No, really. It's ok. It's part of an experiment with my powers. Mr Geintz is there with me when we make the cuts. See... easy to overreact... and she didn't give me time to explain."

"Oh, like a Regeneration test?"

"Um... I'm not sure, what do they do to test for Regen?"

"Well, you know... if they know you can regenerate; you actually get hurt and see how fast you can recover from it?"

Frank winced. "That's... crazy. I mean... it would still hurt, right?"

"Mostly, I guess. It does for me. But you know what they say about pain and fear, right?" she asked, coming further into the room to lean against his desk.


"They're warning signs. But mostly, they're warnings based on generations of evolution that no longer apply. If you injure your arm, the feeling of pain is there to prevent you from doing more harm to it. If you are going to completely heal up in a couple minutes; why worry about further aggravation to it? But the pain is still there and it can hinder you in combat or distract you from something more important."

Frank nodded in understand, "So you train to ignore it? So it doesn't slow you down when you get hurt?"


"Oh... well, it's not quite like that. These are pretty shallow, they sting a little but not much. It just takes a drop of blood to feed the knife." Frank held out his hand, the knife appearing in his palm for as long as it took the girl to gasp and then was gone again.

"Was that a ritual dagger? Like... sacrificial type..."

"I don't know. Louis... Mr Geintz says its not even physical... until today no one else ever even saw it. But at least now if I concentrate, while its in my hand, I can make it visible." The knife appeared in his hand again as he looked at it, just in time for Victory to race back up the hall and into the room.

"Does that mean you can fight with it?" she asked.

"Umm... I guess. If I can keep my focus enough to keep it present in the physical world. Or, maybe it will still work even with people who can't see it... like... it still cuts on the astral plane." He shrugged as he took in her confused look, "I don't know."

That made her grin. "Well that's a good sign."

"What's that?"

"You don't think you know everything."

"Oh, that's definitely not a problem... I don't even know..."

Vicky returned, moving pretty quickly and grabbed at Frank's arm. By the time she got hold of him, Mrs Horton was in the doorway. Frank had a moment of cognitive dissonance as he tried to work out how the older woman had managed to stay that close behind Vicky to arrive that quickly. The girl was an Exemplar 5... and moved like a whirlwind even when things weren't making her panic.

"Look..." she gestured to the house mother, poking at one of the slices.

"Ow." Frank protested.

"Oh, Erin... what are you doing?" she asked, pressing further into the room.

"Mrs Horton, it's not what you think. It's... well... " Frank concentrated for a moment, as Louis had taught him. *< Mr Geintz? >*

"Yes, Erin?" his voice came, as the image he commonly projected for communication purposes appeared in the room. "Oh. I see."

"Please explain this so everyone stops treating me like a crazy emo cutter."

"Yes, I should probably send out an update to all your teachers as well; so we don't have to keep repeating this. You'll be on your own with your friends and peers, I'm afraid."

"Fine, I'm sure that won't be too hard after my... ow!" he grumbled as Vicky manhandled his arm some more. "roommate stops brutalizing me."

"Erin has a very special gift to be able to cross over into the Astral. But to do so takes her, at the moment at least, a small drop of her own blood to cross over and another to come back. This blood is consumed by a very special sacrificial blade..."

Frank manifested the dagger visibly just long enough to accent the explanation with a bit of show and tell.

"and the wound closes. But she isn't a Regen, so the blade cuts are going to be visible for at least a few days while they heal."

Frank picked up the thread and continued "I'm going to get some things that should make it less obvious to people when I go shopping... I was actually working on a list when Vicky pounced me." He waved the list sitting on his desk.

"I don't pounce," Vicky protested, several people giving her pointed looks as Frank continued.

"Some antibacterial spray and spray skin stuff. Some cleaning stuff for the blade. Though, for some reason; I'm not too worried about it. I don't think cuts from this dagger can get infected."

"Better safe..." began Mrs Horton.

"... than sorry, I know. Which is why I'm getting the stuff anyway. But at some point we should probably test it to see if my hunch is right."

Mrs Horton nodded her approval. "Good enough. Vicky, " she turned her attention to the bubbly Exemplar, who dropped Frank's arm. "Less panicking. Wait for an explanation next time, unless it really is an emergency."

"Yes, ma'am."

"If I'm not needed, I think I'd better check on the Sophomore lounge. The Kimba girls have been unexpectedly quiet so far this year and it's making me nervous." She gave a sort of half-wave and wandered down the hall.

"Anything else Erin?" Louis asked, his image already starting to shift into the unseen.

"No, thanks for the rescue."

"Huh..." Vicky announced, flopping onto her bed. The frame creaked dangerously for a moment.

"I guess... I will go too. See you around Erin," the brunette added before disappearing down the hall.

"Oh. Bye?" Frank got up and watched her walk down the hallway. She looked back for just a moment before turning the corner to the stairs and stopped, as if surprised to see him watching. She glanced down, shyly and smiled before darting towards the stairs.

Frank realized he was standing there with a stupid grin on his face and pulled the door shut.

"So... who was that?" Vicky asked.

"I... I didn't get her name!"

"I think Erin's got a girlfriend," she teased.

"How... did I not... even ask... her name?!" Frank slammed his head on the door a couple times.

Poe Cottage: Wednesday September 5, 2007. 12:31

"Lexi," Vicky announced from the doorway to their room.

Frank looked up out of his English Lit textbook, where he was getting a bit of a head start on reading some of the short stories they were going to be studying. Enough of the kids had mental powers and super-intelligence that regular classwork around the school was supposed to be something like graduate school for normal people like himself. Fortunately, he didn't mind a little hard work. It wasn't like he was going to be out running for hours at a time anymore.

"Buh... wha?" he greeted her, and she stopped posing and came the rest of the way into the room.

"Your girlfriend. Her name is Lexi and she's a super-geek type. Gadgeteer, supposedly... so once she's got a few patents; you can settle in as the trophy wife and let her take care of you in a manner befitting your beauty and intelligence."

"Have I told you about my friend Valerie?"

"No..." Vicky paused, looking confused. "I just thought you'd want to know her name AND that she's in with the BI girls. So your slow transition problems may actually be a bonus for you."

"Argh," Frank groaned. "Do I want to know what you've told her about me?"

"Oh, we didn't talk long. But she'll probably meet up with us at supper, so you might want to dress... nice."


"Yes, mother?"

Frank looked at his roommate. She was sitting on the edge of her bed, looking like she was about to explode from all the mischievous energy.

"You're taking this matchmaking thing pretty hardcore..."

"It's self defense," Vicky joked.


"You've been all angsty. Hookin' you up with a girlfriend is self-defense."

Frank giggled. Vicky froze.

"Damnit!" Frank swore. Vicky looked like she wanted to laugh but was restraining herself. "Go ahead..." he told her, grudgingly. "It's funny... it's just another reminder. You'd think... the possibility of having a girlfriend by the end of the day, I'd get at least one manly laugh..."

Vicky laughed while Frank just shook his head.

"Seriously though... you and Valerie... like peas in a pod. Well... your peas need a bit larger pod," he gestured out from his own chest.

"Don't worry, you'll get there."

"Oh gods, no. I'm fine with being flat chested."

"But just think how much more fun it would be for Lexi to play with them if they were larger..."

Frank blushed all the way down his neck to that very flat chest, his nipples going as hard as steel in under a second flat.

The Grounds, Whateley Academy: Tuesday September 4, 2007. 11:37

"Well, that wasn't too bad," Frank muttered to himself after coming out of his math classrooms. "Normal human math and only half a dozen super-human techie types to slaughter the grade curve. Yay, me."

Now, to find someone to join for lunch... or just hit the cafeteria and hope to find someone there? He glanced around, as he stuffed books into his backpack. As he got things settled and onto his back, a group of upperclassmen walked by looking like... well, he'd been about to call them models, but even models needed well fitting clothes and make-up and Photo-shop to look that good. One of them gave him a glance and the usual dismissal... then a second look that took in his full body with a bit of actual curiosity. It would have surprised him, but his attention was entirely on the Native American girl in their midst.

That was HER. The girl from the dream at the gate! As he focused on her, his second sight added in another version of her; with the young girl from his dreams drawing them together. Walking alongside her was the white buffalo from the dream...

The whole dream flashed back to memory... staggering him. He sat down hard right on the sidewalk as he tried to comprehend what he was seeing... and remembering. It drew some laughs as other students flowed around him. Something that he'd dismissed completely as a nightmare but if SHE was here, had he actually done what he had done in that dream? Had THAT been an astral projection and... what about the force field?

Did that mean... he remembered the other dream as well, from the night before he had protected this girl at the gate. Was that real too? And... the evil, hungry things he'd felt out there... so close to the school, so eager to feed on the youth and innocence and power that was available here?

"M-mmr G-Geintz?"

*< I'm here Erin. Just thoughts out here in the open, today. >*

Frank made himself relax, even though he knew he was out in the open in the middle of a wave of students who could make his life miserable if they wanted to. He needed to be able to be calm and focused to talk to his adviser like this. He relaxed the wall guarding his thoughts. Of course, Mr Geintz was supposedly one of the most powerful Psi's in the world; if he really wanted to mess around in Frank's head, it wasn't like he could stop it.

*< I see. Did you know that this is one of the reasons I found you among the applicants and contacted you to let you know about Whateley? The Headmistress made it quite clear that someone with this much power should be studying here in our program. >*

"But I didn't even remember..."

*< Which is why I said nothing. >*

"Who is she?"

*< If you want to know who another student is, you'll have to ask them yourself. >*

"That should go well... from what I remember, she wasn't too happy about me being in her way," Frank groaned. "But it DID happen, then? It wasn't just a dream?"

*< No, indeed. But knowing what we do now, that you cross into the astral entirely instead of just projecting there; explains a very great deal about how it was done. We will have to test to learn if you can be this aware of the dangers lurking in the nearby planes without aid. It would be very useful in warning those involved in those fights. >*

"You're not going to tell me who those people are either, are you?"

*< Not at this time. You'll know them or be able to find them yourself, when you have enough of your power mastered to be safe finding and offering them assistance. >*

"Why does this sound like more homework?"

*< Something you should get used to. Everything worth doing is going to involve more homework to be ready to do it properly. But some of the things that you will grow to consider tiresome homework assigned by me; will one day earn you a very, very large amount of money. Should you choose to use your abilities that way. >*

He was about to return to the business of getting to his next class when he made the next connection to the events around his manifestation and the words the old woman had spoken.

"This is where it happened. The gate, there's... if you go across the courtyard and down... the room."

*< That's an Arena. >* the voice came through with surprise and concern.

"It was here. That's where Jamie died. Here at Whateley."

*< You were here? On the grounds? In the Arena and talking with Jamie's spirit after... my gods Erin. I'm passing word to your teachers, I need you to meet with Mrs Carson and I in the administration offices. This is important, Erin.. you cannot tell ANYONE about this, what you saw. It could change everything. And could put you in a great deal of danger. >*

Frank felt his advisor leave his mind and got his things together to heard for admin. More frustration welled up in him. Now he had important knowledge that he couldn't tell anyone... except it was something that he'd already known about for three months. Just how important could that be?

Whateley Academy: Wednesday September 5, 2007. 15:05

While he was getting used to working with Mr. Geintz's incorporeal body, it was still strange to be in a class with a translucent teacher. Despite that. Despite the topic and class name, Introduction to the Psychic Arts; the class still felt like a regular high school class. There were fifteen or so kids, a teacher, even textbooks and a syllabus. They'd started the class off with role call and on their first day, they'd even gone around the room and said aloud who they were so everyone could get to know each other. It was a class for kids who could think thoughts and emotions at each other... or use the power of their brains to punch through time and space. How could it seem so much like a normal class?

"One of the most important things that each of us has to grasp before we truly master our abilities is that while we may interpret our Psychic senses through terms of one of our base five, and we will train you to use them in that fashion; they do not rely on those senses or your ability to cognitively associate them as such.

That means, Ms Erissa, that just because you read the emotions and auras radiating from another student in terms of colors and visual patterns; you do not need your eyes or to have a line of sight to those individuals in order to access this information."

"But... I do need to see..." the petite blond in the front row protested.

"You do. At this moment, yes. But that is a matter of skill, not a matter of how your power works. The emanations or energy used by those of us with psychic abilities are not typically blocked by physical objects. They don't even decay over distance in most mediums. Mostly, we are only limited by our own ability to distinguish specific psychic energies in the extremely complex background of other energies that we do not wish to experience. A good example of this would be like walking into a dark, smoky, heavily air conditioned bar where a heavy metal band is playing extremely loudy to a packed dancing crowd... after having been out in the quiet desert all afternoon. A good friend has saved you a spot at their table, even has a drink there waiting for you, and is waving and shouting at you to come join him."

"And you can't even see not to fall down the stairs at the entrance?" the Japanese boy sitting next to Frank commented.

"Exactly!" Louis agreed enthusiastically. "Your eyes are still adjusting to the light change your ears are still shifting to compensate for the increased volume of sound, and between the smoke and all the other motion in the room; there is nothing to distinguish one man making big gestures from anyone dancing or ordering drinks. Those means of communication aren't any larger than the other things slamming those senses while they are going through their normal adaptation process to that gives us the capability to experience both gross and refined details with the same sensory apparatus.

Our psychic senses are similar. Every one of the billions of human beings on this planet is thinking, feeling, and engaging in the process of communicating with others for at least a two thirds of their day. And then they go to sleep and do the same thing more powerfully in an abstract uncontrolled manner. Even many of the non-sentients inhabiting the planet generate some noise in the soundscape that is the psychic ambiance. That, more than anything else, is what prevents you from sharing a conversation with a teammate on the other side of the world. Your thoughts might reach that far... but finding them amidst all the others? That is a challenge.

So, one of your goals in mastering psychic abilities will be to learn to work with them without the benefit of those senses riding along the existing perceptive skills or one of your other senses. Telepaths will learn to communicate with their team without using a spoken voice or flashed images. Empaths will identify emotional states without seeing the auric colors. And anyone with an ability to transcends their own mind will learn to find their way around an environment that is purely psychic energy without needing to interpret it through another type of sense. That said, we are still human beings.

The most powerful telepaths can function within the world of psychic energy, acquiring knowledge as it becomes available through the ambiance and sharing it with others by boosting it or planting it where it is needed without communication in the fashion of physical language. Why ask a question when the lack of understanding is all that is necessary to draw out information that meets the need. Why make a statement when you can simply ensure that someone who needed information just knows it? The answer is... we aren't all telepaths. And if we wish to function in a society in which we are only a small part, we have to be able to continue to communicate with humans in ways that they can understand. We can, and will especially in more advanced classes, deal with energy constructs and theories on how to interact with abstract information. But we also need to be able to work with our teammates, classmates, families... and our use of the spoken language puts a limit on that.

Oh, we could create spoken language words for abstract telepathic techniques... and some do have names. But when we immerse ourselves in the memory of an experience for the purpose of aiding a police investigation; we leave those techniques on the 'inside' of the process. What we give the police is what they can understand and that is typically based on spoken language. And spoken language is very much designed based on the five common senses."

Louis took a moment to look around the class, and saw more than a few glazed looks. "Theory for another day. Despite our goal in finding our freedom to function in the abstract; a great deal of our early work is going to involve those associative connections to your other senses. As with the students in the Magickal Arts classes, no matter what your specific abilities; you cannot master a power without the ability to first master yourself. Martial arts are a great part of this... discipline for the body, mind, and spirit... and so you will find that many people will be encouraged in taking them. Similarly, we will spend a great deal of time working with visualization techniques.

For those of you fortunate enough to have picked up some Eidetic Memory or something similar as part of your manifestation; these exercises may be simple... most people, however, are going to quickly find out just how poor their observation skills are.

Take out a piece of paper and your pencil. I'm going to give each of you a dime. Don't lose it or spend it. This dime is a big part of your homework for the next two weeks."

A cup full of coins quickly floated around the room, one jumping out of the cup as it passed each desk to land heads up in the upper right corner of the desk. By the time everyone had paper and a pencil ready, the cup had returned to the desk in the front of the room.

"Take a quick look at your dime, front and back. When you've done so, place it in your off hand," Louis watched as each student looked at the dime; most of them not doing much more than give it a cursory look before tucking it into their left or right hand and look up at him. "Good, now on your paper; write a quick list of everything that is present on your dime. Don't look at the dime. Just write down everything from memory."

He gave them almost a minute, some people had finished far more quickly.

"What was the date on your dime? No, don't look now... Where did it have nicks or scratches? Were there any irregularities?"

One or two people jotted a few more notes.

"Alright, take a look at it. What didn't you see? What do the words say? Is there a letter showing you where it was minted along with the date? How many flaws did your dime have? All of you missed 'something' ... your assignment for next week is to learn this dime so well, that you can describe it well enough that you will know if I replace it with another dime. I want you to learn your dime's shape and motion so well that you know what it looks like as it spins on a table. As it rolls along one edge down a desk. If I put all these dimes back in that cup and shake it up; I want you, as a class, to be able to find your own dimes and separate the rest of them back to the cup."

A few of the students nodded, bewildered.

"Then, we'll get really serious about it."

Louis smiled as half the class looked with something approaching fear at their dime. "Read chapter 1 and 2 in the text for Friday. Get started on your dime studies before then so you can ask questions before the weekend if you need to. Go ahead and get started on the reading; you have a few minutes left before class ends."

Crystal Hall: Wednesday September 5, 2007. 16:30

"Wait a minute," Frank interrupted, trying to put together what he'd just heard. His roast beef, while fantastic and spiced up with just the right rough ground mustard, was cooling off almost untouched on his plate as his newest friend talked more about her powers and what they allowed her to do. Victory was on the other side of Lexi.. and was on her third or fourth helping. "You're telling me you have designed a faster than light starship drive? One that's buildable... with current technology?"

"Designed yes. The theory all checks out, the various parts should all be doable with the Fabrication plants available here... its one of the main reasons I came to Whateley instead of jumping straight to a research college," the girl's grilled chicken salad was also sitting mostly untouched.

"Faster than light... like warp drives? Actually getting to other star systems in times way less than years?"

Lexi giggled at him. "Yes. The only real obstacle right now is the cost of some special materials. If I push hard... and manage to find the right investors... I could have a working prototype scout ship in space before the end of Junior year. Especially if I can talk one of the upper-classmen into helping me design some of the other parts. She already has some experience working with NASA and her own designs for in-system drives and craft."

"That's... really amazing, Lexi."

"Most of my innovation events have happened along the branches of Gravitics and spatial mechanics, and I have had the good luck of being able to work with the right Warpers to be able to test certain energy patterns without having to build equipment... because they could just generate the energy patterns and perceive them in operation naturally as part of their abilities."

She was referring to her older cousins who were both Warpers, one of whom manipulated gravity fields and could read them like a book while they other did teleportation gateways by means of wormhole mechanics. Lexi's powers had put her firmly in the Gadgeteering field, but with a similar spin on her specialization area. Right now, her fork was floating above her plate, subject to an artificial zero G field projected from the tablet sitting beside her tray. She had similar gadgets that she carried around with her that were capable of short term projection of fields up to 10 G. As long as she wasn't surprised, very few people would ever take Lexi down in a fight, they'd be lucky if they could even stand up. But she had no interest in fighting. Lexi had the stars in her eyes... And if Frank were willing to admit it, so did he. All of them looking just like Lexi. 



0 # Isodecan 2016-03-01 03:58
I look forward to seeing more of Erin and finding out more of how what she found interacts with the Mysteries of Whateley.
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0 # AbiDrew 2016-03-04 16:43
Well, it's apparent to me quite readily that although He doesn't know it yet, Frank, because he still thinks of himself that way, also knows who "The Bastard", "Hekate's Master", and "Nimbus" is, just as the Don does. I hope he'll provide a full description of what the boy he saw turn into the dark THING looked like to Mrs. Carson, as well as a decent approximate guess as to where that lab was, and I hope they can do something to minimize the damage that's coming IIRC at the end of this year. Even if they manage to catch and remove Nimbus, I doubt that'll really stop him, just might make it more difficult for him, which will only help the defenders. If nothing else, Frank REALLY needs it impressed upon him just how dangerous Nimbus is and to not let on ANYTHING if he ever sees him on campus. No repeats of the gawking he did when he saw Kayda.
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0 # Arcanist Lupus 2016-03-01 04:20
Ahh... that was a sweet ending.
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+1 # DanZilla 2016-03-01 06:13
Wow... great story... so full of interesting things that I'm going to have to re-read to make sure I didn't miss anything.
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+4 # Nightfox 2016-03-01 13:15
Great story however i found it very quick and jumpy. Its progression kept jumping forward (in the story it is over a year, the time dates help alot) and i found it very a bit confusing at times and it felt like i was skipping pages/chapters in a novel.

Going to have to go back and reread it a couple times.
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+4 # Shal 2016-03-02 17:55
I enjoyed the background story being developed. Big events coming, and a good sense of foreboding.
I think the story could use more character development; I have learned little about the protagonist's inner life, or how he's experiencing the drastic changes to his existence.
The story also lacks a sense of time and place. Movies have establishing shots (we're in Paris, here's a shot of the Eiffel Tower), and this tale could use some of that. It feels like it's jumping from place to place without a connecting thread. The same can be said about time (sure, there's the time headers, but those aren't very helpful) -- it could be better grounded and provide the reader with a better sense of continuity.
I look forward to reading more about Frank/Erin, and getting to know him/her.
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+1 # mittfh 2016-03-03 00:04
Wow! What a tale - and a lot of new information to process - particularly relating to certain events in the previous academic year (and a possible foretaste of certain threats that are still around).
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0 # riking 2016-03-04 00:24
Seconding the comment from Nightfox - there was a large jump in the middle that left me confused.

It would probably be appropriate to put "1 Month Later", " 2 Months Later" as a third line to those date headings.
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+2 # AbiDrew 2016-03-04 01:36
That was neat.

I liked that it tied up some of the loose ends from last year surrounding especially the Kayda stories.

Though I found Ayla's behavior towards the new kid in a VERY similar situation to his own somewhat not believable. We know from the Ayla POV stories that Ayla is NOT that oblivious, and also cares, sometimes too much. Ayla's complete lack of trying to do anything for Frank, since that's how he still sees himself, was just really jarring for me.
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+1 # Lebo 2016-03-07 08:25
This is a good story and a great new character. There was a part in the middle that got a little confusing, but it seemed to me more like the character was themselves confused by all the strange things happening. Sort of like the film technique when they mount the camera on the actors front so the film is all shaky. I like it.

As much as I found Heyoka's death upsetting, I'm glad that it seems more and more like Jamie isn't going to e miraculously brought back to life. It would cheapen the emotional impact of their death.

This was a great read, I look forward to being able to read more.
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+1 # Andrul 2016-03-09 19:45
I'm personally not bothered by the time jumps. I've seen too many authors try to fill every single moment of a story and end up with burnout, and I guess I'm lazy 'cause I don't have a problem accepting the jumps without calculating the exact amount of time that's passed. As for Ayla's reaction to his hermaphroditic status, I was startled at first but then got to thinking that he felt like he'd put his foot in his mouth and didn't know how to extract it without insulting/hurting Frank further. For all his worldliness and urbanity, he really was raised rather seclusive and still doesn't relate well with the "lower classes" he's trying so hard to get along with.
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0 # gpoetx 2016-03-11 02:00
A Primanti Brothers reference in a Whateley story... who'd a thunk it... If Erin asks for Fried Jumbo...
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0 # alisa28 2016-03-22 01:26
Found this a very enjoyable introduction to some of the second generation student and the integration with
what had gone befor.
I too thought that Ayla was a bit cold blooded in her brief exposure.
Can't wait to start seeing the new semester for all student evolve.
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