It was nearly the end of November in the high Presidential Mountain range. There wasn’t much snow on the ground at the moment, but I knew from personal experience that when the heavy snow came, it would hit Whateley like college kids going to Fort Lauderdale for Spring Break. And it would stay at least until halfway through March. As it was 4 o’clock in the afternoon, it was still just warm enough to enjoy sitting at one of the outdoor bistro tables, slowly drinking a pot of Jasmine tea. Besides, it made it easier for people who might want to be clients to just ‘drop by and have a few words’. I looked around at what was left of the leaves that had been in such riotous display only a month or so before. “Sic Transit Technicolor Mundi”, I sighed, sipped my tea, and returned to my book to discover what new inanity Maryna would perpetrate.
“So is that thing any good?” Kate asked me, indicating the book that I was reading, In America.
“It’s Susan Sontag,” I responded. “People keep yammering what a great writer she was, so every so often I force myself to read something of hers, just in case she’s one of those ‘acquired tastes’ that you get as you mature, like lima beans or liver.”
“And, like lima beans and liver, she still turns my stomach.”
“How witty,” Kate returned in trademark acerbity. “I notice that you’re still reading it.”
“I regard finishing a book, no matter how wretched, as a duty. The author might just surprise you at the end.”
“Then you’re one of those people who refuse to walk out in the middle of a play, I take it?”
“No. A play is a work in progress. If you walk out in the middle of a bad play, you’re informing the actors, director and playwright that they’ve failed. You can nudge them into improving. A book is a finished work, there’s nothing that you can do, except maybe throw the book at the author, on the slim chance that you see him walking down the street. Besides, by walking out of a play, you can inspire other members of the audience to make their escape as well, so it’s an act of charity.”
The sidewalks were temporarily clear – primarily due to the slave labor of a number of detention cases – but I had opted to take the tunnels over to Crystal Hall instead.
I was avoiding this meeting. That was the only thing that made sense. Mal had encouraged me to go see Jadis. He’d given me more than one push. More than two pushes, for that matter. I’d always found something else to do. That was definitely avoidance.
“Why? What’s the big deal?” I muttered to myself.
But the knot in my stomach told me it was a big deal. I’d been thinking about it, and I’d decided that Jadis subconsciously represented some part of being Trevor James Goodkind that I had been refusing to drop.
I had lost my identity, and my family, and my gender, and lots of other things. But I still had my upbringing, and my childhood training, and my childhood memories.
It was weird to imagine a supervillain’s daughter as part of that. But Jadis and Mal had gone to Westchester Montessori with me for a couple years. Some of the best memories I had of that school were sitting with Jadis and talking about books. I didn’t want to lose that. But somehow, that was all tied up in my subconscious with the issue that a big Melville manipulator was probably not going to want to be seen with one of the Poe nutcases, much less that notorious freakazoid mutant-hating Goodkind kid.
I took a deep breath and walked toward the outdoor bistro. It was warmer than it had been the last few days, and the sleety rains had stopped for a while. The bistro had some giant area warmers set up, so that a few brave souls could be warm enough to enjoy the last days of decent weather. Anywhere else, I would have guessed propane heaters. But this was Whateley, so they were probably arcane devises powered by God only knew what.
Jadis had her nose buried in a book, while one of her fellow Bad Seeds chatted with her. The girl looked like Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams, down to the black clothing and the expressionless face. That told me it was Nacht. I knew a tiny bit about her. Enough to recognize her when I saw her, but not much more.
Jadis looked remarkably like she had in elementary school. It seemed odd that I had changed so drastically, and Mal had enforced such bizarre changes on himself, but some people like Jadis Diabliku and Renshaw Egerton had changed so very little.
Jadis certainly hadn’t gotten the Exemplar ‘ugly duckling into beautiful swan’ genes, like Solange. Her hair was still slightly curly and resistant to whatever hairstyle had been intended, pretty much as it had been when her governess had tried to make her into a little china doll every morning before Montessori school. However, her hair color had changed to a stark white. Or had she bleached it for some reason?
Her face was still sharply defined, instead of softly rounded like those of the ‘pretty’ girls who had teased her back when she was in school with me. Her face was long and angular. An unkind person might describe her as ‘hatchet-faced’. I wondered if she still had those bright brown eyes which always gleamed with intelligence.
And, of course, she had grown the trademark forelock horns that obviously ran in her family. Dr. Diabolik had them. Mal had them, and went out of his way to emphasize them. Jadis looked like she was trying to get her hair to camouflage her horns oh so subtly, so they wouldn’t be so distinctive. I wondered what that meant, or if it really meant anything at all.
Kate was about to make one of those cutting little remarks that keep me on my toes, when a girl who was almost as skinny as I was walked up and did that ‘waiting on the edge of the pool’ thing. Kate cut off that remark and withdrew into her usual chilly silence. I lowered my book just barely enough to be polite and said, “Yes?”
The girl looked at me curiously with large, intensely green eyes. She passed the first hurdle for being an exemplar: she had the kind of delicate features that suggested that she’s developing into a heart-breaker. She was pale in a way that suited her very green eyes, and her dark hair was moussed up in spikes, so maybe she was going for the Goth or Punk look, though you couldn’t tell it under the Whateley uniform. Could go either way, from the Doc Martens, but a real punker would have gone for something a little more knee-jerk rebellious than the uniform slacks with the blazer. “You’re Jadis Diabolik.”
It wasn’t a question; she was stating it as a fact. Fnark. What was she? Yet another enraged victim whose brother/ sister/ father/ mother/ aunt/ uncle/ grandparent/ adorable little kitty had died during one of Dr. Dad’s raids? Or worse, she was a supervillain wannabe who wanted to hook up with the daughter of a name player? ‘Cause, God, if I got a choice, stick me with the outraged survivor, them I can deal with. “Yes, I’m Jadis Diabolik. Do you have any business with me?” Hey, hopefully, she’s a new customer.
I had already spotted Nacht’s jerk of the head in my direction as she alerted Jadis. Jadis had just lowered her book and coolly surveyed her domain. She didn’t seem to recognize me. But that didn’t mean anything. She’d always been able to hide how she felt.
I answered her question with a question. “Mind if I sit?”
Nacht looked up at me with a flat expression and drawled acidly, “Why? Had a hard day turning people into demons?”
Man, she even had that flat ‘Wednesday Addams’ speech pattern down. Did she practice that blank expression in front of her mirror? I stared at her and said, “Well, I’m sure I could manage one more, if you insist…”
“I’m Ayla Goodkind,” the girl said.
OH, so THAT’S her problem. I’d heard that there was a Goodkind on campus. Wow. And I thought that I had problems. That must be like being a student named ‘Hitler’ at the University of Tel Aviv. I’d also heard a lot of stuff about this Goodkind girl, most of which would have been chucked as too wild by the National Enquirer. I decided to give her a break. “I know some of the Goodkinds, but I don’t place any ‘Ayla’. Are you related to Trevor Goodkind, by any chance?”
“I am Trevor Goodkind,” she said in a flat voice. “Or at least I used to be.”
“What?” I said in a disbelieving tone. Trevor Goodkind used to be a good friend of mine, back when I was going to elementary school, before the NY Times outed Mal and me, and we had to leave the school. And he didn’t look anything LIKE this chick. “I thought that Mal was shitting me!” I looked her up and down.
She quirked me a wry half-smile and said, “The last time that we had lunch together, we were arguing about Wm. Shirer’s dismissal of Goebbel’s skills as a propagandist in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.”
She wasn’t just throwing out a bit of trivia that only Trevor would know; she was pulling that tidbit out of her memory in the way that only an Exemplar - and an Exemplar who’d been trained in the rigorous near-Jesuit standards of the Montessori and Franklin schools - could manage. She was trusting to my own Exemplar memory to recall it and her familiarity with the way that my mind works to put all of that together to substantiate her story.
And if she was an Exemplar… Jeez Louise, she WAS Trevor! I blinked my eyes and struggled for something to say. “I was… expecting someone… blonder…”
Trevor – Ayla – whoever - gave the spike of black hair drooping in front of her face a swat and scowled. “That’s the least of the changes that I’ve been through in the past few months.”
“Mal told me that he’d run into you, but I thought that he was yanking my chain!”
“You know her, Jadis?” Kate asked.
“Oh, right. Trev, this is Kate Twardovski, a.k.a. ‘Nacht’. She’s a friend of mine who lives a few doors down from me over at Melville. She’s good people. Kate, this is Trevor Goodkind. She is… er… WAS a boy who went to school with Mal and me, back in New York.”
“Boy?” Kate asked in a rising tone of amusement that I knew all too well.
I gave her a sharp kick on the ankle. “I just said that you were good people. Don’t make a liar out of me.”
“Charmed to meet you, Miss Goodkind,” Kate said in a chilly yet strictly polite tone. “Still, you two must have a lot to catch up on, so…” she gestured, and tendrils of darkness wrapped around her. When the black murk faded, her chair was empty.
I shot Trevor a snarky smile. “I think that she likes you.” Trevor sat down in the chair that Kate had just evacuated. That was interesting. After Kate pulled one of her ‘mistress of the dark’ vanishes, most people would rather sit on the floor than take that seat. “So,” I drawled as I sipped some of my tea, “anything interesting happen, since the last time we talked?”
“Oh, I just got shot in the face with a double-barreled shotgun loaded with irony,” she riposted. “I am apparently paying for the collective sins against mutant-kind of my entire family.”
“Ah. And how are the fam taking it?”
“How do you think they’re taking it?”
“Eww.” I flinched. I’d heard that the Goodkinds not only hated mutants with a near-psychological dread, but regarded those who mutated in rather the same light that the late Reverend Jerry Falwell regarded those who contracted AIDS. I perked up a wry smile. “So, any interesting new insights in to the ‘Mutant Threat’? As I recall, you had rather vocal opinions on the subject.”
“Was I that obnoxious?”
“Yes.” A thought occurred to me. It would be just like the Alphas to try and set up me and the Goodkind chick that I hear is over at Poe by siccing their pet shapeshifter, Bogus, on me. And going through Mal is right up Don Sebastiano’s alley. I quickly sketched out a charm to detect malicious intent on a paper napkin.
I looked into her eyes. They had changed from the friendly brown I remembered, to a brilliant gold.
She caught me looking, and she snapped at me, “No, I didn’t get the Exemplar beauty package. I’m the daughter of the mad scientist, so I’m supposed to be beautiful, and busty, and sexy. Right? I’m not.”
Ouch. I could tell that I wasn’t the only one who had a few hot buttons. I admitted, “I was just looking at your eyes. I liked the old brown color you used to have.”
“Oh.” She actually blushed.
Okay, if this isn’t Trevor, then I’ve been seriously underestimating Bogus. Trevor always did have a way of getting under my skin like that. Interesting. My charm detects no malice in what she’s saying. Even if I’m underestimating his talents as an actor, there’s no way that Bogus is THAT good. Okay, let’s get the conversation off my eyes… “So, Mal tells me that you’ve been asking about Jobe.”
She perked up a little interest. “You know Jobe Wilkins too? Mal talks like they're best buds. Of a sort.”
I nodded sadly. “All too well. Dr. Dad used to take Mal and me over to the *ahem!* ‘Imperial Palace’ for play dates. Let me tell you about the ‘Poo-tonium’ incident some time.” I gave myself a break as I sipped some tea. “I take it that you’re thinking about getting the Jobinator to get you back to using the boys' bathroom. That is, unless this is your way of coming out of the closet?”
That hit a sore spot. She shook her head. “No. But I had some people compile a list of the bio-devisers most likely to be able to reverse this effect. When I called and talked to them, they were either contractually committed for the next millennium, insane supervillains who’d probably hold my genetic sequence hostage, or else they’d rather go skinny-dipping in sulfuric acid than help a Goodkind. Of the top thirty world-wide, Jobe and Knick-Knack were literally the only ones willing to give me so much as a few minutes of their time. And Knick-Knack blew me off for a project he's already on.” She leaned forward and those emerald eyes gained a laser-like intensity. “Jadis, what can you tell me about Jobe Wilkins?”
EWW. Just where I don’t wanna be, stuck between two friends. Dear Gawd, when did I start thinking of JOBE as a friend, and not hazardous terrain to be avoided? Lord-a-mighty, this could get very nasty. They were both pushy and arrogant, and they both had the brains, willpower and brass to get over on most people. If it wasn’t threatening to spill over onto my patch, I’d kick back and see if they couldn’t pound a little humility into each other.
Oh, who am I kidding? Humility is to Jobe as ‘green’ is to Stevie Wonder - a totally alien concept. “Trev, I empathize and all that, but in all honesty, I can’t recommend that you do anything with Jobe.”
“You think that he’d try to cheat me and screw me over?”
“No, I think that he would screw you over in complete honesty and sincerity. Trev, the only things that are worse than Jobe’s mistakes are Jobe’s successes.”
She sighed slightly. “Yeah. I saw what he did to Deimos and Phobos when he ‘fixed’ their problem. He’d better hope he never needs their help on anything.”
I admitted, “I really doubt Jobe’s ever going to be concerned about that.”
She said, “Mal seemed to think that I’d need an iron-clad contract in place first. Then we’d have some agreed-upon contractual clauses to adhere to if things went sideways…”
I nodded, “Yeah, you’d want that. And you’d want to stick to it.” She gave me Trevor’s I-always-stick-to-my-agreements glare. That was definitely Trev inside that ‘supermodel as soon as I grow a foot taller’ body. “I know, you’re a stickler for that. So is Jobe. But that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t have disagreements over the interpretation of some obscure clause. Maybe you ought to consider someone who can put together a decent contract for you. Nephandus is good at that.”
“Nephandus?” she choked. “You must be kidding.”
I sighed. Yet another person who’s met Jean-Armand and fallen in hate at first sight. “J-Arm may not be my first choice as a date, or a dinner partner, or even as a classmate. But he is a master of the carefully-worded contract.”
She pursed her lips and wondered, “Dare I ask with whom Nephandus has made these contracts? Or perhaps with what?”
Smart girl. I mean, smart boy. Whatever. Not that there was any way I was informing on one of the other Bads, whether I liked him or detested him. I merely added, “Isn’t enough that I’m vouching for his skillset?”
I knew I was pushing it, but I wondered aloud, “So who do you hang with, besides Nacht? I rather doubt Jobe Wilkins is your best bud, given what little I’ve seen of him. And you have way too much good taste to spend time with Nephandus. Unless you’ve developed a thing for the Merchant-Ivory wardrobe.”
She rolled her eyes, “You’re right about Jobe. I’ve known him for ages. So I try not to spend any more time with him than I have to. If I’m not spending time with Nacht and Dragonrider, I’m usually with some of the other Melville girls.” Then she leaned forward, “Why do you ask?”
I returned the favor by telling her the truth. “I know just how many people around here don’t want to be anywhere near me, and I wondered how you were holding up. I mean, I do know what it’s like to be around people who think they know you just because they know your last name. That’s one of the things we have in common that few people around here are really going to understand. I suppose the other Bad Seeds know what I mean.”
She nodded, “Some of them do. Jobe and Mal, certainly. Nephandus too. Some of them, no one knows who their parents are except us. If they weren’t hanging out with me or Render or another of the really infamous Bads, they’d pass as just another kid on campus.” She thought for a second and admitted, “The worst problem I’ve had so far is the henchman wannabe’s. My first roommate was terrified of me and just wanted to get as far away from me as she could. Every other roommate I’ve had so far sees me as the golden pipeline to Evil Officer-hood. Like Dr. Dad is really going to listen to me if I say, ‘Ooh daddy, my roomie is so keen, do you think you could hire her sight unseen as a valuable resource high up in your organization?’ I mean, just how clueless are these henchwenches?”
I nodded, “Oh yeah. I hit the same wall a couple times at Chilton. I’d meet some kid, and he’d have that ‘wow, my ticket to the good life just stumbled in’ look in his eyes. Fortunately, I’ve got a roomie who isn’t like that.”
She gave me a big smirk. “Are you trying to tell me you got a good roommate somehow? Who’s this paragon of wholesomeness you landed, and how did you find her?”
I smiled, “I’m rooming with Bladedancer.”
Trevor was rooming with the same kid that Silver Serpent was so het up about? Okay, Whateley Academy was a small - and heavily inbred, if you asked me - world, but that was a bit too coincidental for my tastes. On the other hand, if Laurel was really right about Bladedancer, then maybe this Handmaiden had been ‘guided’ to room with someone who knew me.
I really didn’t like that idea.
I smiled back, “Oh? Is she the one the showed up a month late and walked here from God only knows where?”
Trev nodded, “All the way from the Bible Belt, as far as I know, with a break when she was riding a horse for a while.”
“Sounds a little too Kung Fu for me. She doesn’t look like David Carradine, does she…”
Trev laughed out loud. “Yeah, she showed up with a bedroll and a sword and just a few changes of clothing. But she’s got sponsors, and they set her up, so she’s set now.”
A sword. How ‘Forbidden Kingdom’. Okay, a sword, in itself, didn’t make Bladedancer the ‘Handmaiden of the Tao’ that Silv was worrying about. But it didn’t rule anything out either.
The only problem was that pumping Trev for information was so not being a friend. Plus, Trev was smart enough to spot it if I kept pressing for information. I found that I really didn’t want to piss him off when I just had him back after all these years. It wasn’t like I had so many friends that I could just throw one away.
I diverted the conversation. “Sounds good. So who else do you hang with? Does Team Kimba really stick together as much as it seems?”
She - he - grinned, “Yeah. They’re a really good group. They’re pretty amazing, even for Whateley.”
I said, “We all got a pretty good look at them when they beat the tar out of the Alphas.” I didn’t say that Nacht and I had watched that battle over the Security camera system, using the Bad Seeds access systems.
Trev shrugged, “We can do better. The Alphas aren’t all that tough, if you can take out the twins.”
Most people on campus considered that a fairly big ‘if’. But it had been pretty clear from Security camera footage that Hamper and Damper couldn’t do squat against their blue-haired blaster-monster, Tennyo. And frankly, their strongman and that ‘Shroud’ weirdo had almost managed to take them out before getting squished. Still, I had more information than that. I asked, “Did you guys really take out the Necromancer and the Children of the Night?”
Trev sort of blushed. “Twice. The second time, the Necromancer and his pals pulled out all the stops, including a magical trap for Fey, and some serious reinforcements. Matterhorn, the Anti-Paladin, Ironhawk, and Jabberwock. Turns out Team Kimba’s already tough enough to play in the majors.”
I’d read about both battles in the papers, but I hadn’t realized that it was Team Kimba in both. That was some pretty impressive firepower that a bunch of freshmen had crushed. Looking back, I was sure that after both battles they’d been at their usual spot in the caff, laughing it up. That meant that they had come out of both fights nearly unscathed. Tennyo had already demonstrated serious threat potential, and Lancer had already marked himself as one of the toughest fighters in the freshman class. But it looked like the rest of their team was under-rated. I’d have to look into that.
I made a reasonable guess, “So Fey’s good enough to stand up to the Necromancer?”
Trev grinned, “Oh yeah. He’s pretty nasty in a fight, but she totally kicked his slimy old ass. Both times.”
I didn’t say anything, but I was impressed. Seriously impressed. Magic wasn’t my strongest point, but I knew enough to know that a major hitter like the Necromancer, fully prepped for a project, would be a headache for anyone - even the Magus - to take one-on-one. I was going to have to make an effort to study Fey when she had her Combat Final. If nothing else, to keep J-Arm from doing something really stupid, like hijack her for some Essence or trying to get her under his thrall or something like that. Both Mages and Devisors have a tendency to let their egos get the better of their brains, and J-Arm was both at once.
Rather than pressing for information, I threw a Tolkien quote at him. “Go not to the elves for counsel, for they will say both yes and no.”
She laughed and responded, “Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves, / And ye that on the sands with printless foot / Do chase the ebbing Neptune, and do fly him / When he comes back.”
Ahh, Shakespeare. The classics. “The Tempest” was a terrific play. I retaliated:
“And we fairies, that do run
By the triple Hecate's team
From the presence of the sun,
Following darkness like a dream,
Now are frolic. Not a mouse
Shall disturb this hallowed house.”
She frowned, “No fair mentioning Hekate, even out of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ As a team,we have some issues with her.”
I shrugged, “Around here, who doesn’t?”
She leaned forward. “Fairy elves,
Whose midnight revels, by a forest side
Or fountain, some belated peasant sees,
Or dreams he sees, while overhead the moon
I grinned a little. “John Milton. Good one. He doesn’t get quoted enough, in my opinion. Try this one.” I paused and quoted:
“Give to these children, new from the world,
Rest far from men.
Is anything better, anything better?
Tell us it then...”
She thought for a couple seconds and admitted defeat, “Okay, I don’t know the ref, and I don’t see the Fae connection.”
I beat Trevor at his own game! Inside, I did a victory dance, complete with fireworks and a huge electronic billboard in Times Square. Outwardly, I just gave him a smug little smirk. “William Butler Yeats. ‘A Faery Song’.”
“Hmm. Dunno that one,” Trev admitted, however reluctantly.
I insisted, “Well then, you ought to read more Yeats. He’s well worth it.”
She sat back, “Speaking of worthwhile reads, have you read…”
We’d been talking books for quite a while, when I got onto a couple classical epics from World Lit class. Suddenly Jadis got that look in her eyes. The ‘I just figured it out’ look.
“Oh,” she drawled. “I should have known. You’re the frosh who’s been kicking Pendragon’s ass in Silv’s World Lit class. Silv was talking about you arguing him into the ground by quoting ‘The Aeneid’ in Latin.” Her grin told me a lot about how much she would have enjoyed getting to watch that in person.
I ventured, “I take it you’re not close personal friends with the leader of the Capes.”
She snorted in derision. “Not hardly. As far as the Capes are concerned, ‘Diabolik’ equals ‘evil with a capital E’. Pendragon and Glorianna aren’t as bad about it- I don’t really think that they know who I am- as Iron Star and Magni-Girl, but as a group they’re still damn annoying.”
I wasn’t too surprised. “We’ve got a couple people in Poe who were harassed or outright attacked by Humanity First!, so I’ve got a couple haters on my floor, and a couple more upstairs. It makes for some uncomfortable moments now and then… Not that I don’t deserve it.”
She arched one eyebrow in a Spock-like unspoken question. I decided that she deserved a real answer, even if she wouldn’t like what I said. On the other hand, if I didn’t say it, she was smart enough to figure it out anyway. “Jadis, I’ve contributed more to Humanity First! out of my own pocket than most countries have. Back then, I thought I was doing the right thing, but now…”
She stared at me with an “oh my God it’s a Goodkind” look for a couple seconds. A couple painfully-long seconds. Finally, she sighed, “Right. Family upbringing. There are some things Dr. Dad has done that I’ve had to re-think now that I’m out here on my own, with people coming by to scream at me about stuff like-“
I interjected, “Pittsburg.”
She refused to wince. She sat up straight, as if preparing for a battle, and said, “I’m not going to defend the attack on the Goodkind Research lab there. I’ve heard both sides of the story about that research lab, and I still don’t know who was right. Maybe neither side. But the wildlife reserve was NOT Dr. Dad’s fault! He left that completely alone, he didn’t even move through it, and it would’ve been fine if The Protectors hadn’t decided for some idiot reason he had henchmen hidden in there, and tore through it looking for a fight!”
I told her, “Look, I’m not going to throw a hissy about the wildlife area. Father and Uncle Theo really reamed The Protectors a new one over that. And I’m not saying anything about Goodkind research labs. Not after I found out Emil Hammond does stuff in some of them that…” I sighed, “Well, it’s just as bad as stuff you’ve probably heard about him.” She looked at me like she was waiting for me to go on. But somehow I couldn’t bring myself to talk to her about what had been done to me in Hammond’s private labs.
“Then what was your point?” she pried.
“Umm, I don’t know,” I admitted. “I was just going to give an example, and then all of a sudden it was something personal, like the wildlife reserve, and…”
She put her face in her hands for a moment. Then she ran her hands up through her hair, messing up whatever hairstyle she had been aiming for. “Look Trev, you’ve got to realize that things aren’t going to be the same anymore. We’re not in elementary school anymore. We’re not the same as we used to be. What our families have done has marked us. Permanently. I don’t think you want me to be asking about Goodkind family stuff, and I know I don’t want to have you asking me about Dr. Dad. So can we stick to safer topics?”
I tried again. “Okay, how about Halloween? I looked around when we all got herded over to the caff afterward, and Mal wasn’t anywhere in sight. I was.. well, kind of concerned. But you weren’t around, either. Were you?”
Oh God. Another thing I really didn’t want to get into. Maybe I could dance around it. “The Bad Seeds had a little private get-together in our.. umm.. clubhouse. And when things went down, the security features locked us in there to keep us safe. Well, except for Thrash; most of us avoid the Halloween parties- too many chances for people with masks to use the spirit of the holiday to get in little *ahem!* ‘pranks’, but Skater boy lives for that stuff. ”
She looked like she really wanted to ask a probing question. Something like ‘Did you have that private party because one of the Bads had inside intel that there was going to be an attack?’ But she didn’t. She chewed on her lower lip for a bit, and finally asked, “So you guys were all safe?”
I nodded, “Yep. I know Team Kimba wasn’t.”
She snorted angrily. “Yeah, it’s a good thing I hang out with the Legion of Super Heroes, or we’d be bloody little smears all over that stadium. Those bastards shot Tennyo up with a couple Vulcan cannons! She’s lucky she’s got the power set she does, or she’d be in an urn now.”
I nodded again. I’d watched an edited version of the battle. Mal had put it together. Tennyo, in particular, had been terrifyingly effective. Even high-level regenerators don’t just pull themselves together that way. I was just hoping I didn’t get stuck with her as an opponent in the Combat Finals. I’d rather get Counterpoint. Or Razorback. Or Slab. At least they had weaknesses I could attack.
She went on, “Chaka and Carmilla both pulled it together against that sound weapon, and Bladedancer did too. Basically, the four of them, and some of the sirens in the stadium. Everyone else – including me – was trashed. I was phasing in and out uncontrollably. If someone had tried to help me, I could’ve killed them.” You could hear how upset she still was over that.
“Don’t knock yourself out about it,” I tried to comfort her. “Using sonics in a group situation is always tricky- even baselines have wonky reactions. Besides, you weren’t that bad. You managed to keep from spewing all over the place, or totally trashing the boys’ room like our resident refugee from Jurassic Park, Razorback, did.”
“Yeah, but everyone expects Razor’s going to be like that,” she replied miserably.
“Look Trev,” I snapped, “If you want to beat yourself up about that, I really don’t want to hear it. You did the best you could, and you didn’t hurt anyone. Until you wanted to. And then you did a good job on the bad guys.”
I knew a couple of the Power Rangers were still griping about Team Kimba coming to the party in the same Tenchi Muyo costumes as them, and then needing to be saved by said freshmen. If it hadn’t been for Chaka and Tennyo and Phase, most of the Power Rangers would have been bullet-riddled corpses. Even if those Chessmen were apparently targeting Team Kimba and just making a mistake. I wondered why no one else had put two and two together to realize that someone on the inside must have told Chessmaster’s goons what Team Kimba would be wearing. Everyone in the know was blaming Reverend England for the disaster, but there was no way he’d have that kind of information. Someone else at Whateley had been heavily involved.
She looked up at me and murmured, “Sorry. It’s been a rough couple months. Ever since late July, things have been.. not what I’m used to.”
That was putting things pretty euphemistically, if you asked me. If even half the stuff I’d heard was true, he’d had a spell that had to suck even worse than when Mal and I had been outed as the kids of Dr. Dad. At least I’d had Mal, and Nanny Pierson. Good old Nanny Pierson, who had put up with our calling her ‘Nanny Poppins’ for years. And dad had come through for us, as he always did. I wondered how many people would have expected that Dr. Diabolik would turn out to be a far better father than Bruce ‘Mister Family Man’ Goodkind. Not that I was ever going to say that to Trev.
She shook her head like she was clearing something out of it. Then she forced a smile and said, “Enough pathos and bathos. Tell me what you’re planning on once you get out of here. I’m aiming for Harvard, then an M.B.A. program at Wharton or Stanford, followed by running my own financial planning group.”
I had to laugh. “That was pretty predictable. I’d guess half the school would pick that for your career path.”
She smiled, “And the other half would pick ‘destroyer of life as we know it’.
Ayla stared intently and said, “Well there is one thing I wanted to ask you about… I wasn’t sure how to ask…”
I sighed inwardly. Okay, here it is. The real agenda finally comes out.
Ayla leaned forward. “Have you read Umberto Eco’s book Foucault’s Pendulum? I think he made a subtle mistake in chapter eight, but I haven’t had anybody to talk with about it.”
What? I blinked in surprise. That certainly wasn't what I had expected.
But Ayla had apparently taken my shocked silence for agreement. "You see, it looks like Eco was using the Brotherhood of the Bell as the model for his basic 'giant conspiracy' concept. But then he drops in these pieces that are clearly Thule Gemeinschaft and Bavarian Illuminati. So, even though the point is supposed to be that people instinctively build patterns out of randomness, he’s subverted his own concept right there. Let me explain what I mean…”
Kate made another appearance an hour and a half later. She really didn’t want to have to put up with another student with the standard “oh, I’ve heard about her family, she must be just like her mother” bullshit. So she’d returned to Melville and terrified Belphegor until he wet himself. In his floating chair. She was still smiling about it.
She stopped and stared in shock. Jadis was still chatting away with that Poe chick!
She gritted her teeth. She knew this was going to be a problem. Jadis never chatted like that with her…