August 31st, Thursday
I woke up, and the first thing that went through my mind was, ‘Finally! Today’s the day!’ I literally flipped out of bed, landing on the balls of my feet in a near perfect gymnast’s dismount, and made for the bathroom.
Vince watched his younger brother zip out the door. ‘Wonderful,’ he thought to himself, ‘the goddam freak is finally leaving.’ Vince pulled himself out of his bed. Vince was in a lousy mood, and for all the world, he didn’t know why. He was finally getting rid of his little brother. No more watching as Tony preened in front of the mirror, checking the progress as his body got more and more feminine. No more worrying whether the kids at school were noticing that his little brother was turning into a freak. No more having to listen as Tony went on and on about his Aikido lessons, and how if he did this, his Ki would do that. No more watching Tony do impossible things like jumping up to a second story window. Nope, no more of that. They’d found a school for freaks like him, and Tony was going there, hopefully to stay. So, why didn’t he feel better?
The thing that really pissed Vince off was that Tony was so fucking happy about it all. He was actually happy that he was turning into a girl! He was actually glad that he was some kind of mutant freak, who’d probably wind up growing claws and fangs and things! Why couldn’t he just stay his little brother and be a normal boy? His life had been perfect until Tony started taking those idiot Aikido lessons and all this fell out of the closet...
I came bounding back into the room, and noticed Vince giving me the cold fish eye. “Well, look at the bright side, Bro! One less person in line for the bathroom!”
“How did you do all that so quickly?”
“Believe me, you don’t wanna know.” I went into my warming up Tai Chi Chu’an routine as Vince climbed into his clothes. With the last bit of the routine done, I stripped out of the pee-jays that I’d slept in, and pulled on a pair of lacy pink panties.
Vince almost tied himself up into a knot doing a wince of revulsion. “Do you HAVE to do that here?”
“Hey, it’s my room, too- for the next hour or so. If you don’t want to see this, why don’t you just go downstairs and wait for someone to cook you breakfast?”
“Why should _I_ leave? It’s MY bedroom!”
“Yeah, and YOU’RE the one getting all weirded out!” I struggled for a bit with a lacy bra that matched the panties, and then tucked my B cup breasts into the cups. That done, I looked into the mirror and bounced a bit. My breasts bounced securely in the cups, and the pink contrasted nicely with the bittersweet chocolate brown of my complexion. I smiled at the effect and saw a lovely picture in the mirror. Y’know someday, I’m going to get used to this; in the mean time, I’m just gonna enjoy!
“Jeezus KRIST, don’t _DO_ that!” Vince spat out.
“Vince, what is your problem? All summer long, you’ve been bitching at me to wear those stupid baggy clothes, even though you know that I HATE those ratty ‘Hip-hop’ things that you’ve been handing down to me for the last five years.” I cannot stand Gangsta Rap, largely because big brother Vince, a.k.a. ‘.44 Mag Vin’ was so heavy (and in a totally whack way) into it. I pulled on a baby blue demi-T with a glittery butterfly decal on the front, and a pair of low-riding blue jeans.
Vince curled a lip at Tony. Dressed up like that, Tony made a very pretty young African American girl. Tony was thin, but he wasn’t the scrawny thin that he’d been last year. Now he was a sort of sleek, pantherish thin, with just enough curves to suggest the beginnings of a killer female figure. Tony’s face was heart-shaped with a pointed chin, very high cheekbones, a leonine nose, a large pair of amber colored almond-shaped eyes, and a wide mouth with full lips. The features, set on Tony’s long graceful neck, all joined together to create a rather feline impression. The fact that Tony’s hair was trimmed close to his head didn’t make him seem more masculine- too many girls wore exactly the same style. Even without any jewelry or makeup, Tony made a Stone Cold Babe. Three years ago, Vince would have made a total fool of himself to get next to a girl who looked like that. Vince made a disgusted sound. “Y’know, dressin’ like that still ain’t gonna make you White!”
I shot a hard look at Vince in his jeans that buckled nearly at the knee, ‘muscle T’, flannel over-shirt, big belt buckle, and do-rag. Man, I have been taking this shit for too long. There is no way that I’m gonna leave without letting ‘.44 Mag Vin’ know what I really think. “Yeah, and dressing like that ain’t gonna make you Tough. Vince, we do NOT live in a rat-infested tenement in Bed-Sty! We live in Pleasant Oaks, our parents are married and well employed, nobody in this family does drugs- and if you’ve even SEEN crack cocaine, I’m telling Dad!- and the closest that you’ve ever come to being ‘Put down by The Man’ is getting pulled over for Driving While Black! You don’t have to go out and pull crimes to support this family, ‘cause Mom and Dad both pull down six-figure a year salaries, plus bennies. You wouldn’t know what to do with a gun even if you found one, and if you ever even suggested to your girlfriend Muriel that she turn tricks, she’d pound the crap out of you! The only _Posse_ that you got are those six shit-head Gangsta-wannabe friends of yours, and two of THEM are whiteboy wussoids who are even bigger losers than YOU are! We are well-off! Get used to it.” Even at fourteen, my voice is still smooth and clear, without a hint of cracking, and I can use it like a whip. Of course, it helps that I have all the real ammunition.
“F’ the luvvakrist, why don’t you at least try to be a Man, y’fucking sissy?”
“ ‘Be a Man’? ‘Sissy’? Hey, _I_ ain’t the one who just stood by while his six loser friends jumped his brother and tried to beat the crap out of him. And then shit in his drawers when that brother wiped up the floor with the aforementioned losers!”
Vince got up in Tony’s face. “Yer a goddamn disgrace to this entire family!”
“Disgrace? Me? Hey, I’M the one who has an all-expenses paid scholarship to an exclusive New England Private School! You? You’re a second string athlete on three mediocre teams! And with your grades, you’ll be lucky if Dad can grease you into a college that’s even in the same Zip Code as an Ivy League school.” I glared up at him, square in the eyes. “What’s really got you pissed off, Vince? That I’m turning into a girl, or that I’m a mutant, or that now I’m stronger, faster, tougher and smarter than you are? Don’t worry, Bro- maybe some day, you’ll evolve into a higher life form, too!”
Vince went red in the eye, stepped back, cocked his fist and let fly. Not bothering to move, I calmly caught Vince’s fist in the palm of my hand, and didn’t budge an inch. Vince looked into my eyes, and saw rage there. I have taken so much shit from this chucklehead that I am not about to take any more, especially on this, of all days! He tried to wrestle his fist free from my grip, but couldn’t. I could tell that he could feel something building up in me, something invisible and silent, but still ominously strong.
But before Tony could unleash whatever it was, Valerie Chandler opened up the door to her sons’ room and walked in. “Are you two decent? OH!” She saw Vince and Tony. “And exactly what is THIS?”
Tony let go of Vince’s hand. “Oh, nothing, Mom. Just getting in a little ‘male bonding’ while we still can.”
Valerie looked at her two elder sons, decided that it wasn’t worth the aggravation, and gave that sigh that only a mother can give. “Okay, but come down to the kitchen- I want us all to have a breakfast together as a family. After that, well you know that there’s always something the pops up at the last minute, and we have to be at the train station at Eleven. Tony, honey, are you going to be wearing that on the train?”
“But why are you wearing one of Cindy’s hand-me-downs? We spent most of the weekend buying you girl clothes to wear at Whateley.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t want to waste any of my new stuff on the train. You know, sitting next to the guy who gets motion sickness, the idiot who’s carrying coffee past me just as we hit a rough spot, not to mention the joys of eating on a train.” Besides, it would probably drive Cindy crazy to see Tony wearing her old clothes.
Big Sister Cindy didn’t disappoint. When she came down for breakfast, she took one look at me and shrieked, “Those are MY jeans! And MY baby-Tee! What are you doing in MY clothes?”
I just kept chewing peacefully. Cindy is SO EASY. “Eating.”
“You go upstairs and change out of them right now!”
“Cindy, you haven’t worn these things in over a year. And you know the Rule: If you haven’t worn it in a year, it’s handed down. B’sides, they don’t fit you anymore. Though they might if you laid off the Rocky Road.” Y’know, I really shouldn’t enjoy razzing Cindy so much, but I really can’t help it. Even more than Vince, Cindy has me pigeon-holed: I’m the brother than she can get away with ordering around. I’m the one who doesn’t get the grades that she does. I’m the one who isn’t in all the committees and clubs and teams that she is. I’m the one who doesn’t get picked to be the lead in the school play. I’m the one who makes her look even more like the perfect child that she needs to be.
Or, at least I wasn’t. Things have changed.
Twelve-year old Lucy glared at me. <Hmmph!> “I wanted to wear that! By the time that you’re through with it, it’ll be all worn out!”
“Luce, by the time that you’re big enough to fit these, they’ll be way out of date.” I leaned over and whispered, “Besides, if _I_ wear them all out, Mom’ll have to break down and buy you something NEW. And aren’t you sick and tired of wearing Cindy’s hand-me-downs?” Despite their big-time careers, Mom and Dad have FIVE children to pay for in a bad economy. So, they use old-fashioned money-saving tricks like handing clothes down and jumping at the opportunity to send one of their children to a private school for _free_. Indeed, the only reason that Mom had sprung for the new clothes, was that she wanted me to make a good impression up at Whateley.
A calculating look crossed Lucy’s face, and she started complimenting me on how good I looked.
Joel Chandler came down to breakfast, and did a double take when he realized that the lovely young girl sitting at the kitchen table was his son, Tony. “Ahhh... Looking Good, Tony!”
Joel almost managed to not flinch when Tony called him ‘Daddy’. “So, are you excited about going to Whateley today?”
Nine year old Matt, or ‘Mutt’ as Vince sometimes called him, looked hard at his next-to-eldest brother and tried to figure out why Tony was dressed like that. “Why does Tony have to go to school t’day? School don’t start ‘til next week!”
Valerie put a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon in front of the baby of the family and said, “Well, honey, Tony isn’t going to the same school as Vince this year-”
“Thank You, Jesus!’ Vince intoned with rare sincerity and piety.
Valerie resumed, “Tony’s going to a boarding school that’s up in New Hampshire, and they want all new students to go up there and get used to the place before school starts.”
“Why does he have to go to New Ham’shire? Why can’t he go to school here?”
Lucy smiled widely. “I heard Mom and Dad talking- it’s ‘cause Tony’s got Super Powers!” She pointed her hands at Tony and made noises like energy discharging. <Sha-Kow!>
“Howcum Tony gets super powers, an’ I don’t?”
“ ‘Cause you aren’t old enough.” Tony replied with the calm certainty of an expert.
“What’s that got t’do with anything?”
“Mutt, I’m what’s called a Mutant. I’m born with certain kinds of things that most people aren’t born with.” Tony made a point of ignoring the disgusted noise that Vince made by way of comment. “But they don’t become active, until you hit puberty. Mine kicked in about five months ago, while I was at my Aikido dojo. It took a while for Mom and Dad a while to find the Whateley Academy, and by then, it was summer, and the Academy didn’t want to start me until the beginning of the regular school year.”
“What’s all that got t’do with me not getting super powers?” By the irrefutable logic of a 9-year-old, if one family member got super powers, then so should everyone.
“Matt, it’s not like Mom and Dad got a super power in the mail and decided to give it to ME. You’re either born a Mutant, or you’re not. I was born a Mutant, and it’s too soon to be sure about you two munchkins.”
Matt perked up. “Y’mean I might still be a Mutant?”
Valerie jumped in. “It’s not that simple, Matt. There are a lot of drawbacks to being a Mutant, and one of the reasons that Tony’s going to that school is to learn to deal with them. You should be glad if you don’t turn out to be a Mutant.” Naturally, this levelheaded maternal advice went in one 9-year-old ear and out the other. Matt was too hyped on the possibility that he might have super powers.
Further discussion was cut short by the sound of a knocking at the kitchen door. Joel held up a hand and went to the door. “Oh, good. He’s right here.” He opened the door and let in two fourteen-year-old boys.
“Thanks, Mister Chandler.”
It was Scott and Greg, my two best buds. What were they doing here? Dad turned to me. “Tony, you haven’t told Scott or Greg why you’re leaving. I think that you owe them an explanation as to what’s going down.”
Scott and Greg goggled at me in stereo. “Tony? Man, is that YOU?”
I let out a gusty sigh. “Yeah it’s me.” Then I looked around the kitchen at all the focused family attention. “Can we take this into the living room?” Scott and Greg nodded and moved through the kitchen. I glared at those who started to get up from the table, and then joined my friends.
Once we were (reasonably) alone, Scott said, “Tony? What IS this? You goin’ fag on us, or somethin’? And what’s this about you goin’ to some outta state school?”
I held up a hand for silence. “Okay, it’s like this. You guys know that things have been kinda weird for me lately.”
Greg folded his arms across his chest and glared at me. “No shit!”
“Guys, you remember a few weeks back, when I jumped over that ten-foot high fence in a single leap?”
“Yeah- you said that it was something that you learned at that Aikido school that you go to. I been buggin’ my Dad to let me take classes.”
“Well, that wasn’t completely true. I did learn how to do that at the Dojo, but it isn’t anything that Mister Colliard can teach you. Guys, I’m a mutant.”
“A Mutant? Y’mean like all those superheroes an’ stuff?”
“Not quite- just ‘cause you’re a mutant doesn’t automatically mean that you put on a cape and tights.”
“What’s being a mutant got t’do with you going away to some school, and looking like a girl?” Scott’s eyes drifted down towards my chest. “Are those real?” He stretched a hand out.
“YES!” I slapped Scott’s hand away. “It matters, ‘cause being a mutant is the reason that I’m wearing these clothes. Guys, I’m turning into a girl.”
“Hunh?” “Say What?” “Yer kiddin’! What kind of mutant power turns a guy into a girl?”
<sigh> ‘Sit down, this is gonna take a lot of explaining. Guys, you ever noticed when you read one of those superhero fan magazines that superheroes and super villains- at least the mutant ones- seem to come in one of three basic types? Either they look like Joe Six-Pack in a leotard, or their bodies are all weird an’ twisted lookin’, or they look like they could pose for ads for health clubs.”
“Stay with me, I’m going somewhere with this. The last kind are called ‘Exemplars’. These are mutants whose power, or some aspect of their power shapes their body, making it stronger, faster and tougher. Somewhere in their mind, everyone has an idea of what the perfect body looks like. Somehow, their power uses that idea- they call it a ‘template’- and molds their body into something that looks like that idea.”
“Yeah? So, howcum you ain’t all buff and stuff, instead of looking like a chick?”
“Well, y’see, you can’t choose what your template looks like, it just sort of happens in your brain. And my template is a girl’s. So, every time that I use my power, it makes my body a little more girlish.”
“So, why don’t you just NOT use your power?”
‘It ain’t that simple, Greg. There’s all sorts of other stuff going on, too. Y’see, my power is that I can manipulate Ki.”
“Ki? Isn’t that that stuff that you were always talkin’ about, that you learned at your Dojo?”
“Yeah. Ki is this bioelectric force that runs through your body. It’s what all those martial arts masters use to do all that weird stuff like you see in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The thing is, most people have to study for years, decades even, in order to control their Ki enough to the slightest thing. Me? I can, just by snapping my fingers, do Ki stuff that Mister Colliard would have to meditate for hours and work up a gallon of sweat to do. I am to Ki what Mozart was to music. Also, I can tap into the Earth’s magnetic field to power my Ki stuff. Thing is, my power is working, even when I’m not thinking about it. My Ki is constantly flowing through my body, making my power change my body. Even if I made a point of not doing any Ki stuff, the doctor says that it’s already affected my body so that it’s producing female hormones, not male hormones.”
“Couldn’t you use your Ki to make your body more, y’know, manly?”
“I don’t know how, nobody I know knows how, and it’d probably be dangerous as hell.”
“How do you know all of this?”
“Well, do you remember about four months ago, when my eyes suddenly changed color?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
<aggravated sigh> “Have you ever noticed that mutants always seem to have these really weird eye colors?”
“The doctor told me that there’s this gland in your eye, all it does is kick in ONCE, when you’re a baby, and it turns your eye from that kinda dark blue that all babies have, to whatever eye color you get for the rest of your life. BUT, in mutants, when your mutation goes on-line, it kicks in that gland again, and it turns your eyes a new color, and a lot of the times it’s a pretty rare color. It’s one of the classic signs of a person being a mutant. ANYWAY, when my eyes changed color, Mom and Dad took me in to see a doctor ‘cause they thought that something might be going wrong with me, and he referred us to another doctor. He told us that I showed all the signs of being a mutant, and then I started doing all that weird stuff in Aikido class. And I’ve been going to that doctor once a week ever since. And that’s how I know all of this stuff.”
An awkward silence fell over the room. Then Scott looked up uncomfortably. “So, what are you gonna do now?”
“So, now I’m gonna go to this school out of state. The doctor knew someone who knew somebody, and they arranged for me to go to this school, where they teach mutants like me to take control of their powers. I mean, I’ve only lost control of my Ki once or twice, but believe me, you DID NOT want to be there when I did.”
“And, when you come back, you’re gonna be a real girl?”
“Well, eventually, Yeah.”
“Man, you are taking this real well.”
I shrugged. “Well, like my cousin Herb said, back when he was doin’ the Black Muslim thing, ‘When Fate throws a dagger at you, there are two ways to catch it: by the handle or by the blade’.”
“That means, you make the best of a situation when it happens to you. The way I see it, if I gotta be a girl, I might well be a Babe!”
Greg looked me up and down. “Well, at least you got THAT part down!”
I flashed my best Stone Cold Babe smile at him. “Why thank you!”
Scott looked uncomfortable. “Tony- why are you telling us all this? I mean, what are you gonna do if we start spreading around that you’re turning in to a girl, or that you’re a mutant? Won’t that put your family in danger or sum’thin’?”
“I think that my Dad asked you over ‘cause he thought that you deserved an explanation why I’m suddenly gonna up and split. And, besides, I’m gonna be coming home for Summer and the Holidays.” <amused snort!> “Besides, what are you gonna do? If you go spreading around that I go around wearing dresses, you guys ain’t gonna look too good y’selves. Guilt By Association, and all that.”
Greg shifted his feet nervously. “Uhm- Tony- Exactly how do you feel- y’know- about Guys and Girls? I mean, you had it real bad for Gail Enderby. How do you feel--- now, that you’re a girl and all, I mean.”
“Hey, I DON’T KNOW! I’ve only been like this for a couple of months! I mean, I’m still getting used to all this! Right now, I’ve got enough to worry about, not freaking out when I go into the Ladies’ Room!”
That pretty much put the capper on the conversation. They made the usual ‘we’ll still be buds’ and ‘well get together and hang out on Summer vacation’ noises, but nobody was fooled. The fact of my mutant powers was like a wall between them and me. And, to be honest, our friendship was largely a matter American Grade School Social Dynamics. In American schools, cliques form along lines of a kind of specific gravity. Out-going, gregarious types only have ‘wacky best friends’ on TV. In real life, A-List types hang out with other A-List types, thugs hang out with thugs, weirdoes hang out with weirdoes, and wimps hang out with wimps. Through Grade School and most of Middle School, Scott, Greg and me were almost depressingly average kids, and our averageness was the bond that held us together. Now, I was extraordinary, beyond even the A-List types. They might have held onto our friendship, even with me being a mutant, but my becoming a girl made that unlikely. And my becoming a Stone Cold Fox made it impossible. Looking like I do, I’d almost certainly be expected to hang out with the A-List types.
But the thing that put the last nail in our friendship’s coffin was the fact that I was leaving school. Grade school friendships often fall apart in High School, and best friends in High School usually go their own ways when they go to different colleges or they get jobs. And I was going to High School out of state. There was no way that I could stay ‘in the loop’ of Greg and Scott’s lives. There’d be embarrassed, awkward attempts to stay in touch during the Summer vacation, but they all knew that I was already pretty much out of their lives.
There was an embarrassing silence for a long minute. Then there was a yelp from the landing at the top of the stairs, “Hey Tony! Watch me fly!” Little brother Matt hopped onto the top of the banister. Mom gave a panicked shriek from the kitchen doorway. I did a lightning back roll onto the back of the couch and was coiled to spring even as Matt jumped off the railing.
It took a split second for Matt to realize that he wasn’t going to fly, and was beginning to scream as I caught him in mid-air. I tucked Matt into my midsection and rolled to brace against the wall. I rebounded and tried to diminish my speed by caroming off a couple of walls, but didn’t hit one right, and went tumbling down to the ground. I managed to wrap myself around Matt so that I took the brunt of the landing, rather than little brother.
Mom skittered over in a near panic and pulled Matt away from me. She fussed over Matt, who was striving mightily to keep from crying with fear. I pulled myself up and muttered, “S’okay, I’m fine, thanks for askin’.”
Mom glared at me and snapped, “This is ALL YOUR FAULT! If you hadn’t been doing all that freak crap, jumping all over the place, none of this would have happened! You almost killed your little brother!” Then she let loose with what I’ve heard called ‘a blistering stream of the old rancid’ on PBS.
‘Freak’. She said it. For all his homophobic crap, Vince had never said ‘Freak’.
I put up with this for several minutes. When Mom finally ran out of steam, I trudged past a smugly smirking Vince up the stairs. Several minutes later, I came back down wearing a blue denim jacket, a large carrying tote slung over each shoulder and a trunk that must have weighed at least sixty pounds up on my shoulder. But these days I might have been carrying a bag of groceries for all the effort that I had to put into it. At the foot of the stair, I turned to Dad. “Dad, would you drive me to the train station? I might as well wait for the train there.”
Looking at Mom, Dad nodded, and went to get his keys.
I went to the door, but stopped in front of Scott and Greg. “Ah, guys- I don’t think that you’ll have to worry about avoiding me, come Summer vacation. I don’t think that it’s gonna be an issue.”
I went out to the garage and loaded my luggage into the family SUV. I climbed in the shotgun seat, fighting tears, and tried to pull myself together. Just breathe, let it in, let it out, and breathe from the bottom of your stomach. Dammit, this was supposed to be where it gets GOOD! This is supposed to be one of the best days of my fucking life, and everybody shits all over me, even my own mother! Damn!
I sat and stewed for several minutes. Then Mom came out, wearing her overcoat, and climbed into the driver’s seat of the car.
I looked at her warily. “I thought that Dad was going to drive me to the station.”
“He was.” She started the engine and pulled out of the drive. “We changed our plans.”
We drove for several minutes in complete silence. Then, at a stoplight, Mom said, “Honey, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have cut loose on you like that. I know that it isn’t your fault that Matt took some damnfool idea into his head. It’s just...” She grimaced, and you didn’t need super powers to tell that all her feelings and tensions all balled up in her throat, all wanting to be voiced at the same time.
I looked at her. “Mom? What am I supposed to do? I mean, I know what Vince wants. He wants me to pretend that nothing happened, and go around wearing baggy clothing that hide my body, and maybe go through some Sit Com shtick about getting me out of Gym class. All so that he can go on living his bullshit suburban Gangsta fantasy. I know what Cindy wants- she wants me to shut up and dumb down, so that she can still be little Miss Perfect. They want me to crawl back into that neat little pigeonhole that they built for me, and nail myself in. Is that what you want me to do? Maybe you want me to go around wearing weights on my wrists and ankles, so I’ll only be able to run as fast and jump as high as ‘normal people’. Is THAT was you want?”
She grated out a “No” through gritting teeth.
“Mom, I’m one of the lucky ones! I got super powers, and I didn’t even have to get bit by a radioactive gerbil or anything! My super power is, mostly, a safe and useful one! There are mutants out there who are growing bug exo-skeletons and bleeding radioactivity! Mom, I already told you that I always felt that I shoulda been born a girl, and now, not only am I turning into a girl but I’m turning into a FOX!
“Mom, you always said that it isn’t the cards you’re dealt, it’s how you play them. For the past fourteen years, I’ve been playing the game with a pair of fours- now I got a dealt a new hand, and it’s a freaking ROYAL FLUSH! I am supposed to be ashamed of this? Mom, not only can I do things with Ki that revered Chinese Kung Fu masters can only dream of doing, not only am I as strong as Arnold Schwarzenegger, not only do I have the reflexes of freaking Jet Li, but I’m actually smarter now! I can remember things right off the bat, now. I can do Algebra in my head. When I put my mind to it, I can read an entire 400-page book in an hour. Why shouldn’t I be able enjoy all of that?”
Mom conceded the point with a sigh. “You’re right, you’re right. I know, you’re right. I just got so scared when I saw Matt jump off that stupid railing. And I feel that I’m losing my little boy...” She stopped the car and looked at me pleadingly.
Oh Crap- how can you be mad at your own mother for being a Mom? “Mom- there’s nothing that anybody can do about it. I’m not going to be male- let alone a boy- for very much longer. But you’ll always be my Mom.”
She did a classic ‘Mom Melt’ and gave me a big hug. Y’know, at fourteen, you’re supposed to think that getting a big hug from your Mom was all smothering. But this was good. Real Good. Good like I really needed. As she started up the car again, she said wryly. “I notice that you didn’t tell your friends that, along with all the other stuff, your IQ went up 40 points.”
I preened a little, and said in my best ‘flighty girl’ voice, “Yeah, well, you know how boys are- they’re always scared off by girls with brains.”
Mom looked over amazed, and started to snicker. She was barely able to restrain it long enough to pull over and then give way to an all-out laughing jag. The laughter was catching, I found myself laughing along with her. Mom laughed herself out, and all the fear, worry and tension that had been bottled up washed out of her. Letting the last giggles play themselves out, she wiped the tears from her eyes and looked at me. She could see that I’d needed that as much as she had. The air between us was much clearer now. She gave her daughter another big hug.
As we drove along, our conversation shifted from strained confession to all-out girl talk. We agreed that I would spell my name with an ‘I’ from then on, and that Matt would move in with Vince, so that I could have my own room when I came back for vacations.
Mom was telling me what she really thought of her mother-in-law when we pulled up in front of the train station. “Oh dear.”
“What’s the matter, Mom?”
“I just realized- it’s only a little past Nine! The train leaves at Eleven! We went storming out the door so fast, we’re two hours early. I don’t want to hang around a train station for two hours!”
I barely managed to restrain a grin. “Weeellll... You did say that the only reason that you wouldn’t let me get my ears pierced is that it would freak out the menfolk...”
Mom grinned back at her daughter. “We have just enough time- let’s do it!”
Two hours later, the train pulled out as Valerie sadly waved Toni off. Oh well, she’d have a chance to get to know Toni better when she came home for Christmas vacation. And she seemed so much happier now. Tony had always been such a quiet and withdrawn boy. Maybe Toni would genuinely be happier.
Train travel is hardly the most interesting way to travel, and the stretch between Baltimore and Boston is a particularly bleak stretch of urban and suburban blight. But I’m headed somewhere where they don’t know me as Vince’s little brother or Cindy’s dimbulb tagalong. After I switched trains in Boston, the scenery grew more interesting, especially as the train rolled out of Massachusetts and into the wilds of New Hampshire. The local from Concord rolled up into the Mountains region, stopping at more rinky-dink little burgs than I thought a little place like New Hampshire could possibly have. My stop was a place called Dunwich.
The Dunwich train depot (you couldn’t really call it a station) looked like it hadn’t been renovated since the Great Depression, and the only sign of that upgrade was a WPA mural. Two other people got off the train at Dunwich, both of them kids about my age. We all looked at each other warily. One was a foxy-faced white girl with big violet eyes and flaming red hair that barely reached her jawline. The other was a fine-featured white boy with dark hair and strange gray eyes.
Well, they were just standing there, so I decided to take the initiative. “So, are you guys, like, going to Whateley Academy?”
The redheaded girl just nodded shyly. The boy gave a tentative smile. “Yeah. It’s my first year here.”
“Me Too! Kewl! My name’s Toni Chandler! And you are?”
“Hank. Hank Declan.”
The wispy redhead managed to get out. “Fey. Call me Fey.”
“So... any idea of what we’re supposed to do? Do we wait for someone to come get us, or do we call the school?”
“I’m not sure. How about this- you go ask at the counter, while I watch our stuff.”
“A man with a plan. I like that! C’mon, Fay!” I marched into the depot building, walked up to the ticket window and gave the desk bell a whack.
A rather sour looking middle-aged man came from out of the back and glowered at me. “Let me guess- you’re here for the Whateley Academy, right?”
“Right!” I chirped back at him, refusing to be intimidated in the least.
“The school should be sending a van for you pretty soon. There are a couple of kids already here, waitin’ on ‘em. You can wait in there.” He pointed at a wooden door with a pane of frosted glass in it. “They got a special waitin’ room, just for you Whateley kids, with refreshments an’ everything. You can leave your bags and stuff on the hand-truck out on the landing.”
“Thank You!” I sang back at him. As I turned, I almost ran into Fey, who was tagging along after all. We hurried back to Hank with the news.
As we loaded the bags and trunks on the hand truck together, I noticed that Hank barely struggled with the heavy trunks. Well, I guess that I have a good idea of what his mutant power is.
The ‘special waiting room’ consisted of three ratty plastic covered couches, and couple of even rattier looking plastic covered chairs, a coffee table with magazines that the local dentist had probably thrown out, a pay phone, and some vending machines for hot drinks, soft drinks, candy and snacks. The sole provision for keeping school age kids from dying of boredom was a very old pinball machine, which two boys were busy hogging. They were dressed for traveling, so I guessed that they were going to Whateley too.
Sitting on one of the couches, flipping through a hardback book was a Hispanic girl whose classic ‘Aztec princess’ looks were set off by a strip of scarlet hair down the center of her head. She looked up with large ice blue eyes. She gave a hasty smile. “Hi. You’re for the Whateley School?” She had a California accent, with a hint of something else.
“Yeah. Any idea of when the bus for the school is due?”
“Well, when I got my travel arrangements, they said that they were expecting me at 4, so I don’t think that they’ll be here much sooner than that.”
The clock on the wall said 3:15. I sighed, “Okay crew, grab a seat and settle in, we’re gonna be here for a while.”
I plopped down on the sofa. “Hi! I’m Toni Chandler. That’s Hank Delancy.”
“Declan.” He corrected.
“Ooops! My bad! Hank Declan. And that’s Fay.” I smiled expectantly at the young Latina, hoping that she’d take the opening.
“My name is Elena Neva Natividad Amicella Lucita Obregon.”
“You got extra luggage, just for that name?”
“You can call me Rip.”
“Short for Riptide!” With a wide grin on her face, ‘Rip’ cupped her hands in front of her, and a mist formed. The mist quickly condensed into water, formed a tiny wave in Rip’s hands, and then dispersed into mist again.
“Hiisst!” Hank hissed at Rip. “I don’t think that it’s a good idea for us to go flaunting our powers, at least not until we’re sure of what the score is around here.”
“Aaahhh... what’s the use of having special powers, if you can’t have any fun with ‘em?” Rip looked at the three of us. “What can you guys do?”
Once again, it was up to me to take the initiative. “Well... let’s see what I can do without upsetting the locals...” I noticed a row of shabby hardback books on the table with the magazines. There was a gap in the row. “Did you get this book from that table?”
I took the book and hefted it to get an idea of its weight and balance. “Let me shelve it for you.” With a brisk snap of the wrist, I threw the book at the table. The book flew right to the gap and fit in perfectly. Okay the spine stuck out a bit, but what do you want? I plopped down on the couch, kicked my feet up, folded my hands behind my head and grinned in a ‘That’s right, I’m BAD!’ pose. Gawd, I love this!
“COOL! How did you DO that?”
I gave Rip a thumbnail sketch of my Ki abilities. “Y’mean you can do all that ‘Matrix’ stuff, with running along walls, dodging bullets and hanging in mid-air when you’re about to kick the shit out of someone?”
“Uhm, run along walls- Yes; dodge bullets- I dunno; hang in mid-air- Get Real. I can’t stop bullets in mid-air, neither.”
“Oh well, y’can’t have everything.” Rip turned to the other two. “How about you two?”
Hank looked around. “I don’t see anything that I can do without blowing our cover.”
Rip and I looked at Fey, who blushed under the scrutiny. “Me neither”, she mumbled.
Since that fascinating topic seemed to have tanked, I settled in to talk with Rip. Or at least Rip settled in to talk. Period. Rip was from Redondo Beach, which was just outside Los Angeles, she wasn’t exactly sure where Baltimore was, she was the fourth of six children, her older sister Angela was a pain, her parents ran a beachside shop back in Redondo, she was an avid surfer, and her powers over water had almost gotten her lynched. Rip passed along that information in almost exactly the same way as the previous run-on sentence. And people say that _I_ have a motor mouth!
We rambled on, talking about everything and nothing, and I could tell that she didn’t have the slightest idea that I wasn’t a girl. I felt a knot in my stomach that I didn’t even know was there start to untie itself.
Another train stopped at 3:30, and dropped off five more students. Long-distances buses also stopped, dropping off a few students. As 4 o’clock rolled around, there were about twenty or so Freshman age kids milling about the waiting room. Most of them looked normal enough; well except for the chubby kid who wouldn’t take that weird looking knit cap off, or the gangly boy who was at least 6’6” tall and all of ninety pounds, or the girl with weird blue-gray hair that grew up in spiky clumps that sort of crested back along her head. Most of them had obviously never been away from home for very long, and they were either very subdued, or they were enjoying being loose for the first time. Somebody had a boom box, and Rip, a curvy black girl named Vanessa, and I were dancing along with the bubble gum pop. I tried to get Fey to join in, but the she was having a shy-fit and refused to be pulled out of her shell.
At 4:00 on the dot, a tall Asian woman came in. She walked over to the boom box and shut off the music. “Okay, listen up! I am Mrs. Shugendo; I’m the Dean of Students at Whateley Academy. There are two shuttles here to take you to the school. I’m going to call off your names alphabetically. When I call out your name, let me know who you are, and then go out to the vans. Now, I know that you have a lot of questions- but, unless it’s an _Emergency_, save it for when we get to the school.”
Mrs. Shugendo called off the names and I found myself crammed in between one of the boys who’d hogged the pinball machine and a very tanned white girl with pale blonde hair piled up on her head. My nose is sharper now than it was before, and I noticed a smell around the girl. It wasn’t a bad smell, just an odd one- the scent sort of reminded me of just after a rainstorm for some reason. I tried to start up a conversation, but the girl was really wrapped up in her personal stereo and pinball boy had an attitude.
I tried to get interested in the scenery. The Mountain section of New Hampshire depends heavily on tourism, and you could really tell it. The little town of Dunwich laid on the ‘New England Rustic Charm’ with a trowel, with red brick and fieldstone buildings, high gabled roofs and all that touristy crap. The town was small, maybe three or five long streets crossed by seven or so short ones, and the blocks weren’t exactly densely packed.
But, give ‘em their due, the natural scenery was worth the trip. Dunwich was situated on a good-sized mountain lake, and the woods were really thick. According to the wooden signs that they passed as they left town, there were a couple of summer camps set along the lake, as well as the School itself.
The road wound itself through the hills, following the angles of the Presidential Mountains. After about a half-hour, the vans pulled off the road and went down a private road and through the gate of a high fieldstone wall. On either side of the gate, the posts were ‘guarded’ by a pair of weird lookin’ gargoyles that had baglike wings, but no faces, carved in a slick black stone.
The vans passed by the large red brick buildings that I’d seen in the brochures, and then went past several smaller buildings, and pulled up in front of one of them. Like the other buildings that we’d just passed, it was four stories tall, four if you counted the attic with the dormer windows, and made of dark red brick with white trim in a blend of the Colonial and Federal styles. As the students piled out, I noticed a discrete plaque by the door, saying ‘Poe Cottage’, and, yes indeed, inside the entry there was a bronze bust of Edgar Allen Poe set in a niche.
After getting all the luggage inside the entryway, Mrs. Shugendo called us into a large common room. When we kids had arranged ourselves on the sofa and chairs, Shugendo called three seventeen-year-old kids wearing school uniforms and a middle-aged woman over to her. Then she addressed us all.
“Well! Welcome to Whateley Academy! Now, you’ll get the formal Welcoming speech from the Headmistress along with all the other Freshmen, but this little talk is just for YOU. Now, the reason that you were all told to come here a day ahead of the other Freshmen, and the reason that you’re being put up in this dormitory is that you all have something in common that sets you apart from the other students, even beyond your individual mutations. You are what is currently called ‘Alternative Sexuality’ types. You are Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered, or so aggressively Bisexual that it is an issue for you. We don’t condemn you for this; you didn’t really have a choice in it, any more than you chose to be mutants. We realize that it’s hard going through adolescence. We realize that it’s even harder when you’re a mutant. You have enough to put up with; you don’t need the extra aggravation of being branded a -quote- sexual deviant –unquote-.
“Unfortunately, homophobic bias is so deeply ingrained in the American, Canadian and British school systems, and to a lesser extent in the European schools, that letting you go around openly declaring that you’re Gay or Lesbian or Bi or Transgendered is just asking for trouble. So, we have Poe Cottage, a place where you don’t have to worry about the kids down the hall finding out, because they already know about you, and you already know about them.
“Now, while we are very proud of the fact that you were brave and honest enough to admit your... persuasion during on your admittance forms, I’m afraid that we’re going to have to ask you to curb that honesty. I’m afraid that it’s a matter of your continued safety. There are students here who have been victimized quite cruelly. And, unfortunately those who have been hurt that way tend to be the cruelest of all, when they find someone that they can pass that pain onto. And in our society, homosexuals and ‘fellow travelers’ are still considered fair game for that sort of thing. Given the abilities that students at Whateley have, a ‘Gay Bashing’ could turn deadly, even Apocalyptic. It is, simply said, easier for all involved, if it simply doesn’t become an issue. If your sense of pride demands that you come out of the closet, then you have a right to. But please, have consideration for the other people here at Poe, and don’t reveal the overall status here.
“The reason that you were brought here a day before the more.. mainstream Freshmen, is twofold- to give you a day to get used to the campus before the others get here, and so that you will sort of be part of the background when they get here. This will give you a certain... credibility that should allow you to make connections more easily. Yes? You have a question?” She pointed at the tanned blonde girl who sat next to me on the van.
“Ma’am, you’ve just pointed out that everyone here is queer or something like that. So, how is that gonna affect how we’re paired up when it comes time to choose roomies? I mean, the brochure kept mentioning roommates like it was a given. So, like, are you gonna put us in Boy/Girl- which would make my mother, like, shit, fart and die!- or are is it gonna be Boy/Boy- Girl/Girl, which would be, really, like the same thing, but for real?”
Mrs. Shugendo cleared her throat nervously. “It will be Boy/Boy- Girl/Girl. To have it otherwise would advertise that there was something unusual going on at Poe Cottage to everyone who looked at the roster. However, I must remind you that Carnal Relations involving students, whether between opposite sexes or the same sex, is Strictly Forbidden at Whateley, and any homosexual student caught breaking that rule will be punished as severely as any heterosexual student doing so!” In other words, she knew that they didn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell of really stopping anybody, but she had to say the words, for form’s sake, and don’t embarrass us, kids.
Hank raised a hand. “What are the rules about using your powers openly, like flying for instance?”
“That question, along with many others, will be handled by the Headmistress at her Freshman’s Orientation speech in two days. In the mean time, just try to keep a low profile. If nothing else, it will keep you from tripping into some of the more senior students.”
Shugendo then introduced the middle-aged woman as Mrs. Horton, the ‘house mother’ for Poe. Mrs. Horton said the expected pleasantries, and then explained the layout of the cottage: there were three floors, the bedrooms were built for two, there was a bathroom for each sex at each end of the hallway, there was a community room and a library for studying. There was also kitchen, but meals were to be served at the campus dining room. Food left in the kitchen was more or less open game, but there were ‘studio coolers’ in each room. There was an exercise room down in the basement, which was open to everyone. There was a laundry room, and the students were responsible for their own laundry. “In other words, it’s your own fault if you stink”, she finished up. Mrs. Horton looked like any other suburban matron that I’ve ever met. And yet, there was something about her impeccably maintained person that suggested that she was completely unfazed by the prospect of keeping an eye on a group of super-powered teenagers.
Mrs. Shugendo took over again. “So, if your heads are quite ready to explode from information overload, let’s get you broken down into groups that we can actually work with. These three-” she indicated the three uniformed teenagers, “are Steve Rossiter, Belle Forbes, and Rosalyn Dekkard. They’ll be your Student Guides for today. You can also go to them for help after today, but you do so at your own risk. They’ll show you around, answer your questions, and get you sorted out as to your sleeping arrangements. And so, I’ll leave you with these words- Don’t destroy anything.”
Steve Rossiter was a buff looking 17-year-old blonde guy who looked like he could audition for the lead in a Captain America movie. Belle Forbes was a svelte 17-year-old girl with sapphire blue eyes and ravenswing black hair pulled back in a high ponytail. Her face was long and angular, with a long straight nose. She might have been harsh looking, if not for a touch of wry humor about the eyes and mouth. Rosalyn Dekkard was also 17, and had the lush curves of a homecoming queen. Her eyes were emerald green, and her hair was also ravenswing black, but it hung loose in waves past her shoulders down to her waist. Her triangular face also had humor, but it was more of the amusement of a pantheress regarding a flock of tender young lambs.
In turn, they started reading off names from clipboards. Belle Forbes called my name, along with Hank’s, Fay’s, and names of the girl with odd spiky gray hair, and a girl with short spiky black hair and dark green eyes, who dressed like a punker. She also called a girl I hadn't seen waiting at the depot. The last girl didn’t look like a teenager; she looked to be about 12 or so. She looked Asian, with long straight dark hair, large dark eyes, and a cute upturned nose. The girl with the odd gray hair called herself Billie, the girl with the punker look was called Ayla, and the kid was called Jade. And, for some reason, Fay answered to Nikki.
When Fay joined us, I shot a glare at her. “I thot that you said that your name was ‘Fay’.”
“That’s my superhero name. And its ‘Fey’, with an ‘E’, not an ‘A’.”
“What kind of superhero name is ‘Fey’?”
“ ‘Fey’ means ‘touched by magic’.”
Our guide cleared her throat for attention. <Ahem!> “Very well, welcome to Whateley, pleased to meet you and all that jazz- hope you don’t mutate into giant slugs.” Her voice had a merry British accent, the cultured ‘Public School’ kind, with a trace of a lilt that suggested touch of the Irish, delivered with a John Cleese deadpan. “Don’t laugh- it’s happened. I’m Belle Forbes, as those of you with short term memories that exceed 15 seconds should well recall. Just between us,” she added conspiratorially, “My name isn’t Belle, it’s Kendall. But, my ‘code name’ is ‘Beltane’, so everyone’s taken to calling me ‘Belle’. Don’t worry, I won’t eviscerate you if you call me Belle- well, not unless I’m having a really bad day. Don’t want to commit to anything I can’t make good on.”
The two other groups finished pairing off. I noticed that all the boys had gone with Steve Rossiter (and were looking up at him like he was a centerfold), and all the girls were clustered worshipfully around Roslyn Dekkard. The division complete, the guides started to shoo their charges off in different directions. Rip caught my eye and gave me the ‘call me later’ hand jive.
Rosalyn took the girls upstairs, and the other two guides took their charges out of the cottage. Steve took the boys off in one direction, and Belle took us off towards the main building. “Very well, Fresh-things,” Belle sang, “Here’s what’s going to happen. We’re going to have to discuss some rather personal things, and we don’t want the others listening in, and vice-vicious. So, Rosalyn will show the Dykes in training around the cottage, Steve will show his little nancy-boys around the grounds, and _I_ will show you changelings the school buildings. And then we rotate.”
Changelings? If the gay boys went with Steve, and the lesbian girls went with Rosalyn, then that must mean... They’re like --- Me? I looked at the others, and the others were looking at me and each other. The little one, Jade, had her jaw almost scraping the sidewalk.
Belle smiled acidly. “Ah, the light dawns! Yes, m’lovelies, you are all in this group because you are, one way or another, defecting to the enemy in the War between the Sexes.”
The punker gritted her teeth and grated, “OR, were drafted by the wrong side!” I don’t know what her problem was-- _I_ was dancing on air!
Belle just waved us in the direction of the Administration building. “Yes, yes, I’m sure that it was all very traumatic. Now keep up, keep up! We ARE on a schedule!”
As we walked, I looked over at Hank. “You are getting more feminine?”
<Heh> “Wrong Way.” Hank blushed.
“Y’mean- you’re really a girl?”
Hank reddened even more. “Well... I was born a girl, but right now, I’m what the doctor called a ‘bilateral hermaphrodite’. I sort of have both sets of equipment. But the doctor also says that my female equipment is shutting down.”
“Hey, Dewwwd! Not to worry! You got the recipe for Studmuffin, and all the makin’s!”
It was only a short walk to main campus. Poe was at about middle distance, as cottages went. Belle pointed out three cottages farther out from the center and identified them as Hawthorne, Twain, and Whitman. As we passed the others in succession she called out Dickinson, Emerson, and Melville. Around us, the trees were still green, although one or two were showing the first signs of yellow. There were occasional leaves on the ground, but the brick walkway was kept scrupulously clean.
We crested a small hill and saw the campus spread out below them. Near the center was our destination - Schuster Hall. It was a really weird mix of styles, your basic Federal style building, with a huge sparkling glass geodesic dome at the end.
Belle gestured to the large building and the nearly incongruous dome at one end. “That, Fresh Ones, is Schuster Hall, administration, classrooms, and that dome is called The Crystal Hall. It’s where the dining room is and tends to be where most students with free time hang out. We’ll be having dinner in The Dome, then I’ll give you a thumbnail tour of the classroom areas, and show you where to find the offices and important stuff like the restrooms and gaming areas.”
We continued along the pathway until reaching a wider, flagstone-paved square in front of the imposing, if strange looking building. There were stone and metal benches scattered all around the square, and a small fountain occupied the center. Fey looked at the benches as if they were hot griddles.
Belle stopped the group in front of a statue of an old man with longish hair, a beard and deep penetrating eyes. “This is the statue of Noah Whateley, the man who founded this school back in 1878. They only put this thing up because a school is supposed to have a statue of its revered founder. Actually, the school that he founded was mediocre at best- the highest that any graduate of the original school ever reached was a Congressman for Vermont. Anyway, after about eighty years of producing complete non-entities, the original Whateley Academy shut down and was foreclosed on by the bank. Then it was bought by a group of mutant superheroes in 1966, because they wanted a remote place to train emergent mutants in how to use their powers. They kept the name, mostly so that the school would appear to have a long and presumably illustrious history.”
Belle took a long breath and gave us a long measuring look. “Very well, now that we have that tiresome bit of trivia out of the way, let’s get down to it, shall we? First, we’ll tour the Administration and School buildings, so that it won’t be a complete shock to you. Also, this will give the girls a chance to get their luggage upstairs and choose their rooms, without tripping over us. After a decent interval of viewing the torture chambers, we will return to Poe, and you will lug all of your stuff up the stairs and pick your cells. When all of that’s settled, we’ll thrust out again, this time to tour the grounds, athletic fields, and the Combat Training Areas.”
Combat Training Areas? We all stiffened as one
Belle grinned as she savored a direct hit. “Yes, Combat Training Areas. No, you haven’t been kidnapped a Mutant Terrorist Cell, or drafted into the military. Whateley’s policy is that the students are left completely to their own devices to make up their minds as to things like politics and philosophy. HOWEVER, given the nature of many mutants powers, the bellicose nature of humanity in general and the viciousness of Anti-Mutant militants in particular, it is quite likely that (whether you want to or not) you will be faced with situations where you will have to fight. And it would be a criminal waste of all this expensive education if we let you graduate, just to let you die a week later because you couldn’t defend yourself.
“And here we come to one of the reasons that we split up as we did. Young ladies, Gentleman, we are a group apart. Even more than being a mutant or being *ahem!* of ‘Alternate Sexuality’, we are a group apart. Whether as a matter of deep-felt conviction or as a matter of our mutation forcing it on us, we are all changing into members of the sex opposite from that which we were born in. Others, even the Gays and Lesbians, may sympthatize, but they don’t really understand. So, while we’re here, we’re going to have to rely on each other much more heavily than the other students do. Now, having Six transgendered students is a trifle unusual, especially at the beginning of the year. Normally, we only have one or two TGs at the beginning of the year, maybe with one or two showing up later in the year. Still, the rule is that the TGs room together and help each other out. With Six, we have the makings of a nice little team. At least, that’s what we’re going to try for.
“So, while we’re here, out of earshot, I’d like each of you to introduce yourself, tell the others about your background, how you feel about your change, what you want to make of that change, and- Whateley’s version of ‘what’s your major?’- what your mutant power is. Let me start off.
“My name is Kendall Forbes, and I was born in the outskirts of Bristol, Yew Kay. My family was a perfectly respectable Professional class one. And in keeping with sacred tradition, my parents packed me off to a ‘decent Boys’ School’ the first chance they got. What they didn’t realize was that I wanted to be packed off to a decent Girls’ School. At any rate, when I was in my Second Form, I started seeing wispy things floating around. I started having nightmares about a ghoul that I called ‘Gnashitty Rippit’, a foul thing with a wide befanged mouth and grasping betaloned hands. Then one night, I woke up in my bed, and Lo And Behold!, there was Gnashitty Rippit, floating over my bed, licking his chops. The demmed thing chased me all over the school before it cornered me. Then I screamed at it to go away. And strike me down, if it didn’t! It turned out that not only did I have complete control over Gnashitty, but I had actually created him, out of that wispy stuff floating around. That ‘stuff’ is called ‘Ectoplasm’, and I have the power to gather it up, mold it into whatever form that I want, and set it to doing things.
“I, being a sane, stable, responsible young man of Twelve Summers, immediately started one of the most horrific hauntings in the history of England. Severed heads floating down the halls, blood dripping down the walls, gawd-awful screams in the dead of night, horrible things turning up in the Masters’ beds-” A misty look of nostalgia went over her-“Lord it was wonderful! They wound up sending the Gray Wizard, one of Britain’s foremost superheroes (AND a bit of All Right, if I must say so!) in to investigate. It took him a solid week to figure out that it was me! I’ll give him this, he is a sharp one- the only reason that it took him that long was that his scryings indicated that a Girl was behind it all. Y’see, I’d discovered that I could also use the old Ecto to disguise myself-” Belle swept a hand down in front of her, and suddenly turned into Marilyn Monroe, dressed as she was in that scene in ‘The Seven Year Itch’ where the gust from the grating blows her skirt up. ‘Marilyn’ cooed at us, and swept that hand back up, and Belle was back, grinning evilly.
“At any rate, the Wizard took me aside, explained that I was going about it all the wrong way, and set me up with an interview with an agent from Whateley. He even explained it all to the Mum and Dad, which went a LONG way towards me not getting my backside shellacked. When they sent me to the doctor, to see if anything else unexpected was growing in me- you know, forked tail, cloven hooves, unspeakable writhing mass, that sort of thing- the doctor discovered that I was showing the first signs of puberty. A Girl’s puberty. It seems that by disguising myself as a girl, I was affecting my body so that it was conforming to the image that I was projecting. The doctor told me that if I kept disguising myself as a girl, that it could affect the progress of my puberty. So, naturally, I started disguising myself Twenty-four/Seven. They had no choice but to enroll me here at Hogwar- I mean, Whateley as a girl at Poe.” Belle finished with a grin.
“Now, just to wrap up, as I said before, I can gather up or generate Ectoplasm- though just gathering the stuff up is a lot easier- and I can mold it into various things and animate them.” To demonstrate, she cupped her hands in front of her. A pale gray mist gathered in her hands and congealed into a white dove. The dove cooed and then spread its wings to take flight. It flew for a few moments, then dispersed back into a gray mist, which faded.
“Now, it’s your turn.” She looked at Hank. “Well, you’re the odd man out- and in this group, that’s saying something!- why don’t we start with you?”
We all turned to look at Hank, who blushed at bit. He seems to do that a lot. Then he stood up straight and squared his shoulders. “Okay, my name is Hank Declan. It used to be Hannah Declan, but that doesn’t really fit anymore. I’m an Army Brat, I was born at the Military Hospital at Fort Dix, and I’ve lived at four different postings. That I can remember. I’m the oldest child-”
“Oh, don’t tell me it’s the old ‘my father always wanted a son’ gag!” The punk girl- Ayla, I think her name was- interrupted.
“Ah, No, Dad was always happy with a daughter. Besides, I have a younger brother. Dad never saw anything wrong with a girl going out and rough-housing with the boys- especially not with some of the female Non-Coms that he’s served with! As a matter of fact, I didn’t have any real problems with being a girl! It’s just, when my body started changing, and my testicles dropped, it just seemed so... right! Y’know, it was like, of course! That’s the way that it’s supposed to be!”
“How did your parents take it?” Belle prompted.
“Well, they were weirded out, all right. All their ideas of what the rest of my life was gonna be like kind of went out the window. The one that was really weirded out was my little brother. And he really went nuts when it turned out that I could lift five tons without even straining, let alone when I found out that I could fly!”
Billie, the chick with the weird gray hair asked, “You can fly?”
“Yeah. It came in real handy when my little brother went to one of the Sergeants at Bragg who had a hate on for mutants a foot wide and a mile long, and told him that a mutant was holding his parents hostage.”
“Your own little brother did that to you?” I asked. Jeezus, I’d trust even Vince not to rat me out to the local Mutant Haters!
“Well, it was a lot more involved than that. A lot of melodrama went down before that happened. Anyway, Sergeant Lennox came at me with an entire squad armed with assault rifles and LAWS rockets. I managed to get away, and there was a lot of noise, with Lennox screaming that there was a dangerous mutant terrorist at large, and my Dad screaming back at him that that ‘mutant terrorist’ was his daughter, and Lennox screaming back at my Dad that he was under some kind of weird mutant mind control, and Jay -that’s my brother- backing him up.”
“Dear, that’s two ‘Ands’ too many.” Belle gently corrected.
“Anyway, after a week of dodging Army helicopters, a Ranger team caught up with me and convinced me that Dad had convinced the Colonel that Lennox had his head up his ass, and they brought me in. While they weren’t going to press any charges- I sort of had to wreck a couple of patrol jeeps and a tank getting out of the Camp- it wasn’t a very good idea for me to stay at Bragg. Y’see, while Lennox didn’t exactly follow procedure, he was using proper initiative in a High-Risk situation, so he was still on base and he still has his stripes. Then some people from the Academy showed up, and did some weird tests and stuff, and they talked my Dad into signing the papers so’s I could come here.”
“Still too many ‘Ands’, Hank. Remember, Grammar always. You said that you could lift five tonnes and fly. What exactly are your powers?”
“Well, they said that I was a ‘High Level Functioning Non-Ranged Psychokinetic’ or something like that. I sort of generate this telekinetic field. I can lift stuff with it, includin’ myself, and I can stop bullets and things with it. Oh, and they said that I was a ‘Level 3 Exemplar’, whatever that means.”
“Well, you see, Hank,” Belle explained, “There are some terms like ‘Energizer’, ‘Warper’, ‘Shifter’, ‘Deviser’, ‘Wizard’ and of course, ‘Exemplar’ that describe the basic function of what a mutant does. The more powerful or extreme the traits are, the higher the level. This is not necessarily a good thing. You see, the further you stray from the baseline human mean, the higher the likelihood that you will develop gross physical deformities is, and the higher the chance that your mutation will turn lethal.”
“Gross physical deformities?” “Lethal?”
Belle nodded and said, “Well, I hate to be the one to break it to you children, but being a mutant isn’t all fun and games. The more powerful the mutant ability that you have is, the greater chance that something’s going to go wrong with your body. Last year, five students died during training. Some of them burned out, some of them had seizures during practice. One chap just upped and died in class. Nobody noticed anything until everyone got up at the end of class and he didn’t. The girl who sat next to him had a panic attack that laid her up for a week.”
Belle waved that rather morbid topic aside. “Now, where were we? Oh yes- Exemplars. An Exemplar is a mutant who has the power to slowly shape their body according to an ideal that they’ve formed somewhere in their subconscious. They make their bodies stronger, faster, tougher and usually cuter. Hank, when they say that you’re a Level 3 Exemplar, that means that your power pushes your strength, agility and so on to a level that is just above the maximum that a normal, unaugmented human can achieve. Anything more, Hank?”
Hank shook his head. “Very well. Next--- let’s see--- YOU.” She pointed at me.
Well, it’s time to make that all-important first impression! I turned to face the group and bounced on the balls of my feet a bit. “Hi! I’m Toni - that’s Toni with an ‘I’- Chandler. I’m fourteen- I’ll be fifteen in February- and I’m from Pleasant Oaks. That’s a suburb of Baltimore. I come from a big family, and I don’t have any really traumatic ‘trigger’ stories or anything. I was practicing at my Aikido dojo, and I was facing off against Danny Mancell, who’s a 14 karat jerk, and he was giving me shit about being a wimp and stuff. Anyway, I was trying to focus my Ki-” I gave them all a thumbnail description of Ki and what it does. “Anyway, I was trying to focus my Ki like Mister Colliard- he’s my Aikido sensei- told me to, and suddenly *Bam!* I feel this force flowing through my body, and I hit Danny with it, and he goes flying across the Dojo and smacks into the wall on the far side.”
“Too many ‘Ands’, Dear.”
“Sorry. Anyway, at first, I just thought that I was really hot shit with Aikido. But then my eyes changed from plain old Brown to this-” I pointed at my Amber colored eyes, “and they got the clue that something might be up. So, they took me to a doctor, who referred us to another doctor, who referred us to the Academy, and well...”
“So, basically, your shtick is Super-Martial Arts.”
“Well, sorta, but there’s a lot more to it than that. I can see how Ki flows in other people and how it flows through the Earth and the stuff around it-”
“Wait a minute! The Earth doesn’t have Ki!”
“Of course it does. Or at least it has a sort of magnetic field that’s somehow related to Ki. And beside marital arts moves, I can use it to increase my strength and speed and toughness even beyond what being an Exemplar makes me- oh, Yeah, I’m an Exemplar, too-, I can use it to increase my running speed and how far I can jump, and--- well, let’s just say that if you saw it in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I can probably do it.” Belle nodded then turned to Fey. “Your turn, hon.”
From here, the other ‘girls’ each told their tale. If you are interested, you can read their stories in their own introductions.
“Well, that’s everyone. At least until some Ten O’clock Scholar comes straggling in, in a few months. There’s always at least ONE. Now for the Grand Tour!” She waved them towards the wide white marble steps and large oaken double doors of the Administration Building.
The entry hall was floored in gleaming hardwood, probably oak from the feel of it to her, and stretched into what almost seemed to be infinity. A grand staircase dominated the center of the huge room, made of gleaming and lovingly cared for mahogany and led to a landing branching off into what looked like more spacious hallways.
There were comfortable looking chairs, couches, desks, tables, tasteful lamps and potted plants scattered apparently at random through the hall, and huge fireplaces dominated each end. This isn’t a school, it’s a set for a movie about an English Men’s Club.
“This is the main hall, children.” Belle explained as she led us through it. “Study and quiet gathering area for students and staff. It’s kind of chilly in the wintertime, but the fireplaces are nice. Get a spot close to one if you have the chance during the cold months. It’s a lot warmer and kind of cool sitting by the fire. Especially with the right guy or girl.”
She gave an evil little grin at the expressions on her charge’s faces at the mention of boy or girl friends, then relented a bit. “Not to worry, if you guys aren’t ready for something like that you can just say ‘thanks but no thanks’ and no one will get bent out of shape over it.”
Belle walked over to a wooden door and peeked her head in. “Hiegh-Ho, Mrs. Linford! I’m leading the first wave of Poe Cottage Frosh Orientation Tours. Would you please open up the Homer Gallery?”
“Of course, Belle.” A warm alto voice responded. A moment later, a trim 50ish African-American woman in a green dress came out, flipping through the keys on a ring. She clipped over to a set of double doors with a bust of Homer set into a niche beside the doorway. Mrs. Linford gripped the dome of Homer’s head and pushed back. The bust swung back revealing a lock set into the base of the bust. She inserted the key, and a panel in the doorjamb swung open, revealing a card-slot and a keypad. Linford swiped a card and punched in a combination. There was a sound of bolts being withdrawn, and Mrs. Linford pulled one of the doors open.
“Thenk Yew!”, Belle sang as she shepherded the Freshmen into the gallery. “This is the Homer Gallery, which is where we keep mementos of prominent Alumni. Note, I said ‘prominent’- not ‘famous’ or ‘glorious’, just ‘prominent’. Of course, the very nature of this place requires that we keep it locked off most of the time, just in case anyone not ‘In The Loop’ drops by.”
The Gallery was a long room lined with glass cases, with paintings on the wall and statues and freestanding exhibits on the floor. Belle walked up to a wax figure of a heroically built man wearing an odd suit consisting of a royal blue metallic looking armless and legless body sheath with shoulder plates, a wide golden belt with a thunder-bolt design on it, white gauntlet gloves, high white boots, a long white cape and a large red triangular ‘C’ on the chest. The tabs holding the cape, and the greaves and bracers over the boots and gauntlets were gold metal matching the belt. “I don’t think that I have to tell anyone that this is a uniform belonging to Champion, the greatest superhero that Chicago has ever seen. This is the outfit worn by Champion during most of the 1970’s and early 1980’s. This really is one of his costumes, one that he wore during several of his battles of that period. This statue was on display at Madame Tassaud’s in Paris; when Champion changed his outfit in 1983, Tassaud’s made a whole new statue, and Champion asked them to deliver this one here.”
Hank raised a hand. “Champion was a student here? I thought that he was around way back before World War II!”
“Okay, this is one that almost everyone gets wrong. It’s a ‘sort of Yes, sort of No’ thing. You see, the original Champion, who was operating in Chicago as early as 1934, was what we now call an ‘Avatar’. An Avatar is a sort of mutant who has a psychic gift of bonding with spirits. Now, most spirits can, and will, try to possess human beings, but it isn’t a very good ‘fit’. The host tries to fight the possession, and if the spirit does manage to completely take over the host, the host is usually so utterly wrecked by the struggle that they’re a physical and psychological ruin. You see them sometimes, hanging out with the winos and schizos on various ‘Skid Rows’. But an ‘Avatar’ can successfully fight the spirit, take control of it, and use its magical powers. As I said, the original Champion was an ‘Avatar’, even though he didn’t know it. In the course of his career, he managed to capture and ‘bind’ several spirits within himself. In so doing, he sort of fused all these spirits together into a single, greater spirit that we now call ‘the Champion Force’. But unfortunately for him, he didn’t know what he was really doing, and he came up with some rather bizarre ideas to explain to himself how he was able to do all the things that he did. Some of those ideas wound up costing him his life in 1953.
“But one of the things that the original Champion-” Belle pointed at a LIFE magazine color cover picture of a man in blue tights with a white cape, hood that showed the lower half of his face, trunks, gloves and boots, with a large red ‘C’ on the chest, standing holding an American flag. “- did right, was to train two Avatars like himself.” She pointed at two figures standing on either side of the original Champion in the picture. To the left was a young blonde girl of maybe 15, wearing a short dress of a blue that matched Champion’s. She also wore a domino face mask, cape, belt, boots, gloves and large hair bow that matched the white of Champion’s trim. To the right was a young man of maybe 17, wearing a costume that was almost exactly like Champion’s except that the blue and white were reversed, and he only wore a blue domino mask, instead of a hood. “They were called Miss Champion and Junior Champion. When the original Champion died, he managed to pass the Champion Force onto Junior Champion, who became the second Champion. Since the original Champion trained him, the second Champion also inherited the original’s rather odd notions of how his powers worked. This caused him no end of troubles during his career.
“It was a very good thing that Champion did train Junior Champion and Miss Champion back in the 1940’s, because in the 1950’s there was a wave of legislation making ‘Kid Sidekicks’ illegal, under the ‘Endangering Minors’ laws. Now, the second Champion wasn’t just an Avatar, he was also a very versatile Kinetic. That’s where his ‘lightning vision,’ ‘polar breath’ and ‘thunder shout’ came from- pyrokinesis, cryokinesis, and psychokinetically created vibration. Mind you, his base kinetic powers probably weren’t that great, but the Champion Force most likely amplified them. As the 1960’s rolled around, the term ‘Mutant’ entered the popular lexicon, mostly as a synonym for ‘dangerous freak’. As Champion II interacted with mutants of both the superheroic and supervillainous persuasion, he began to suspect that he too might be a mutant, not the rather bogus ‘Olympian’ origin that his mentor had taught him. As the nature of mutant abilities was researched by various fronts for various reasons, Champion II found another Avatar, someone who he could pass the Champion Force onto, if he should fall in combat. But he couldn’t train the boy personally- those ‘Anti-Kid Sidekick’ laws. So, in 1966, Champion II was part of the cabal of mutant superheroes and sympathizers who bought up the bankrupt Whateley Academy and turned it into a refuge for emergent mutants, who needed to be taught how to control their powers. Among the first class was the young Avatar that Champion had chosen for his successor.
“In 1969, Champion II died, killed by a knife formed of ‘Tartareum’. It was just a piece of volcanic glass that someone had chipped into a knife-” Belle walked over to a glass case, where a crude knife of black glass lay on two brackets. “-but in Champion II’s mind, it was Tartareum, the one substance that could penetrate his defenses. So, it did, and he died. Champion II managed to hold on long enough to pass on the Champion Force to his successor, who was still taking classes at Whateley. The boy waited a year to graduate, and then took up the mantle of the Champion. The first thing that Champion III did was hunt down the vicious bastard who killed Champion II. The idiot had another glass knife- he wanted to go down in history as the ‘Man Who Killed Champion Twice’. Champion III didn’t have the psychological crutches that Champions I & II did, though. The knife broke on Champion III’s skin, and he dragged the scumbag to jail by his heels.
“Ever since then, it’s been understood that Whateley Academy will always be training at least one Avatar at all times- the best, the smartest, the strongest, the bravest Avatar enrolled- who is ready at all times to accept the Champion Force, in case the worst happens. We even have a jet on call at Berlin Airport, just in case.”
Belle walked them across the room. “On the flip side, here we have Lord Paramount, the mutant Prince of Wallachia.” Belle gestured at a large oil portrait. It showed a long view of a trim, athletic man, dressed in a deep purple coat cut in the manner of a Napoleonic Era officer, with a high collar, tails down the back, large cuffs, embroidered silver trim everywhere, and a white lace jabot down the front. He was wearing tight white trousers tucked into black riding boots, bound up with a silver lame sash, and had a white cape thrown over his shoulders. The man was aiming his classic patrician features up at the mantle of a rough-hewn fieldstone fireplace, contemplating a bust of a hawk-faced man with a large mustache. The painting projected an air of ‘the melancholy Byronic noble man, enduring the majestic loneliness of splendor, meditating on the lessons of a bygone hero’.
I took a long look at the painting. “I get the impression that I’m supposed to recognize the bust, but I don’t. Who is it?”
“It’s Vlad Tepes Bessarab, Prince of Wallachia and Moldavia. You may know him better by his nickname- ‘Dracula’. And no, he wasn’t a Vampire. He was a 15th Century nobleman who ruled over much of a region called Transylvania, the border between Hungary and Rumania. While he had a reputation for being harsh, even brutal, he was also known for being even handed, and expecting Nobles to obey the same laws as the Commoners. He’s remembered as something of a romantic hero in Rumania. I rather expect that Lord Paramount is trying to cash in on that perception to help bolster his regime in Wallachia.”
“Why do you keep such a big picture of him here? I mean, if he’s an alumnus, I can understand you having something- but this?”
“We have to- Lord Parry is a big contributor to the school, and a condition of his donations is that we keep this picture here, and show it to all the incoming Freshmen.”
Hank took a long look at the painting. “How the heck did a loon like Lord Paramount wind up being a head of state, even in a backwater like Wallachia?”
“Well, give his Lordship his due, he’s not as daft as he sometimes comes across. While he makes no bones about doing the whole ‘supervillain’ thing, he’s sharp enough to know exactly where the line is, and to play his game right up to that line and no further. Or at least not where anyone will ever catch him at it. Anyway, back in the 1980’s, when the Soviet ‘empire’ crumbled in the space of about three months, some parts of Transylvania, which is traditionally Hungarian, wanted to secede from Rumanian and rejoin with Mother Hungary. Others wanted to become their own Nation. And others wanted to avoid trouble by staying with Rumania. Lord Parry here stepped into this, stirred things up, got a good-sized militant group behind him. He used his powers to strategically steal fuel, ammunition, supplies and other essentials, and manipulate the tides of war. Remember, just because Lord Paramount comes across as a posturing git, doesn’t mean that he isn’t a clever dick under it all. For instance, Wallachia has about a dozen different political, ethnic, and religious rivalries going. Lord Parry doesn’t waste time and effort trying to stop them- he uses them, and has set himself up as an impartial arbiter of their squabbles, giving each faction just enough to keep them thinking that they can get more from him. He keeps the squabbles down to shouting matches and the odd street fight, and everyone else in the region thanks him for being a peace-bringer. While he has his bullyboys handle most of the ‘peace-keeping’, every so often, he takes off the kid gloves and shows them that he’s equal to an armored column all by himself, just to remind everyone that he can.”
Billie cocked an eyebrow at the brooding figure on the canvas. “What are his powers, again?”
“Well, if memory serves correctly, he’s a level 5 Exemplar- just look at that chin, what else could he be?-, but he’s also a level 4 Kinetic- sort of along the lines of what you do, Hank, but more versatile-, a level 3 Telepath and a level 3 Esper. He’s supposed to be able to lift a good-sized car without straining, and can tip over tanks with some effort. Plays a mean game of Chess too, I hear.”
Belle walked away from the painting, to neat pile of what appeared to be large gold ingots, protected only by a red velvet rope. “Is That.?”
“Quite. Exactly one metric Tonne of 16-karat Gold. It’s a donation from Gabriella Guzman, the Mexican tycoon. She’s an alumna. Her ‘gift’ is some sort of Esper thing, that she uses to manipulate various markets. She started out dirt poor, from peon stock, and attended Whateley on a scholarship, but now she flat out owns Delicias, a major Mexican city in the Chihuahua province, most of the rest of Chihuahua, and good-sized holdings in Los Angeles, Phoenix, and El Paso. She donated this on the condition that it’s not be sold, but displayed here. She said that it’s supposed to be a statement. Apparently, either you get it or you don’t. If you get it, no explanation is necessary; if you don’t, you wouldn’t understand the explanation.”
Belle swept her hand around the rest of the large room. The cases were full of odd statuettes, bizarre looking pieces of technology from differing times, bits and pieces of clothing, stuffed animals that couldn’t be real and skulls from impossible beasts, one of which was almost the size of a VW Bug. And there were weapons! Ancient weapons, odd weapons, weapons that looked like they belonged in a Sci-Fi movie. “All these things are mementos and oddments from events in various Alums’ careers. If you really want to, you can ask Missuz Linford, and she’ll let you into to look at them more. That’s why it’s here. Also, there a printed guide to each and every one of these doo-hickeys, to explain exactly what they’re about.”
With dinner out of the way, Belle led us back to Poe. “And so ends the first part of our tour. Now, you get your bags from where they’ve been cluttering, and figure out which cell will be yours.”
Hank effortlessly hoisted one traveling trunk onto his shoulder for the trip up the flight of stairs. But before anyone could get up the stairs, there was a loud *thud!* against the front of the building. “I’d know that thud anywhere,” Belle said dryly.
She walked to the front door and looked outside. Curious, everyone else followed close behind. We followed Belle’s gaze to a blue and white heap on the ground right at the base of the wall. “It wouldn’t have done you any good, anyway, Megs,” Belle drawled. “They’re reassigning rooms, remember? You’re on the Third Floor this year. That is unless you WANT to stay on the Second Floor with the newbies.”
“Oh, go boil your cauldron!” The heap snapped back. With a groan, the heap pulled itself up and resolved itself into a rather nicely put together blonde girl of about 16 wearing a legless blue leotard, with a white belt, gauntlet gloves, buccaneer boots, and cape, and a stylized red ‘M’ on her chest. “Everyone, this is Marty Penn, a.k.a. ‘Mega Girl’, or invariably ‘Megs’. Marty is one year ahead of you, one of Our Crowd, and a card-carrying member of the Cape Squad. Megs, this is the Freshmen crew of the Gender Baffled.”
‘Megs’ smiled sweetly, stuck her hand out for Hank to shake, and bubbled out a stream of welcomes and disconnected bits of Sophomore wisdom to us Froshes. A bit of recognition clicked, and I thought to myself ‘Dear Ghod, somebody went and gave Lizzie McGwuire super powers!’
As Marty’s babbling brook paused for a second, Belle asked innocently, “You flew in from the train station?”
“Sure? Why Not? It was getting late, and nobody saw me, and they’ll bring in my luggage with the others-”
“And you’re going to hide the fact that you’re here well ahead of the others with only your super-suit to wear from Mrs. Horton, exactly How?” Belle arched an eyebrow.
Marty’s bellflower blue eyes popped wide open, and she worried her lower lip. “You could.... use your Ectoplasm to disguise me?”
Belle smiled acidly. “No-no-no-no-no- I’ve ‘bibbledy-bobbledy-booed’ you out of trouble for the last time. You can get yourself out of this little mess. I’m going to have my hands full with this lot, thank you very much!” With that, Belle shooed us Froshes back in, and pointedly shut the door behind her.
“Isn’t that a little harsh?” Jade asked worriedly.
“Not to worry- it will take her a bit, but eventually it will occur to her that all she has to do is fly up to the roof and hang out there until the rest of the incoming students come in. She just wanted to get first call on rooms.”
Ayla raised an eyebrow. “When you said that Marty’s ‘one of Our Crowd’, did you mean that she’s here in Poe Cottage, or that she’s---?”
“Transgendered? Most definitely. You see, under that PK shell, Marty is a rather weedy looking young man.”
“You mean, Marty can make himself look like a girl by creating a ‘PK shell’, but under it all, he isn’t changing into a girl?” Jade asked.
“Not quite- you see, Marty IS changing himself in rather the same way that I did, but it’s very slow. She’s going to be switching back and forth for quite a while until she manages to redefine her biological patterns. So, if you see a strange boy walking down the hall in a lacy blue nightgown, and he says that he's Marty, there’s a good chance that he is. Just steer him up to the Third Floor and let them heckle him to death.”
“You said something about ‘the Cape Squad’. What’s a ‘Cape Squad’?” I asked.
Belle took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Ah, well, you see, here at Whateley, we have our cliques, the same as everywhere else. We have the usual roster of groups- there’s the Alphas, our resident self-appointed ‘elite’; there’s Venus Inc., the local Fashion Police and Beauty Nazis; there’s the Rat Patrol, the inevitable group of grungy losers, and so on. And we have some groups that could only exist here at Whateley- the Masterminds, the Ninjas, the Robo-Jox, and of course, the Cape Squad. The Cape Squad is basically a bunch of kids who are VERY up on the notion of being ‘future super-heroes of America’ and all that. If the superhero fan magazines are right, Marty spent a good part of the summer trying to be accepted by the Empire City Guard. Again. Ah well, at least Marty can come back here and try to get Iron Star to get to notice her.”
“_Iron Star_?” Ayla said in a pained tone.
“Well, Yes---” Belle said with an embarrassed grin, “Well, Marty likes him, anyway. He’s sort of the ‘main man’ in the Cape Squad.”
After getting my stuff into my room, I decided to check out the rest of the floor for myself. They had a shower room with four stalls of discretely clouded glass. Oh well, bathtubs were a bit much to hope for, anyway. But the stalls were nicely designed for modesty, at least. As I stepped out into the hall, I almost ran into- or over Rip. “Hey! I thought that your group was supposed to be out doing the Tour!”
“We’re running late. REAL girls do that.”
“And what is THAT supposed to mean?”
“Why didn’t you tell me that you’re really a boy?”
“Why didn’t you tell me that you’re a lesbian?”
“What business is that of yours, and what does it have to do with anything?”
“My point exactly!”
“What was I supposed to say, ‘Hi there, I’m Toni Chandler, and don’t let the figure fool you, I’m really a guy’? I mean, I didn’t even know about this ‘Alternative Sexuality’ cottage- after all they don’t exactly print it up in the brochure! And, besides, my body is changing into a girl’s, and I’m already halfway there, so who cares, and why is it any of your business! I mean, it’s not like you were looking for a girlfriend- or- any- omigod.” Rip had gone beet red. “Oh Jeez, I’m sorry, Rip! I didn’t know!”
Rip struggled with anger, embarrassment, heartbreak, and frustration, and sheer exasperation won out. “Arrrggg! WHY does this always happen to me? Every time I meet a great girl who’s fun and really cute, she’s Always into boys! And they ALWAYS get all weirded out, and it gets all sticky and we can’t be friends anymore, and-”
“Who says any of that?”
“You mean that you’re not into boys?”
<Heh> I gave my wide apologetic grin. “Well, t’be honest, I’m not really sure WHAT I’m into, just yet. Y’see, I’ve only been changing like this for a few months and I haven’t really had Time and there was this one girl back home, and I had some real powerful feelings, and like I said, I haven’t really sorted all of this out....”
Rip gave me a long look. Emotions flickered past her face too fast to keep track of. Finally Rip seemed to make up her mind. “So... you’re turning into a girl? The whole works, not just the gazongas?”
“Uhm... Yeah. The doctor said that in the past month or so, my uterus has grown so much that they can see it with normal sonograms and stuff. And the male stuff--- well, it’s still there, but only for the time being. The doctor said that in a few months that I’m gonna have to be laid up, ‘cause they’re gonna have to break my pelvic bone in order to widen it.”
“Why would they HAVE to do that?”
“ ‘Cause if they don’t do it under controlled conditions, there’s a good possibility that the stresses on my body would do it when I fell down or something, and that could lead to all kinds of complications.”
“Eeewww! And I thought that _I_ had it rough! And after that...?”
“Well, it will probably take a couple of years until the transition is complete. Though the doctor admitted that his evaluation was pure educated guesswork, so I’m not making any schedules or anything.”
“And--- you had a real crush on this girl back home?”
“Yeah. Gail Enderby. I made a complete idiot of myself a couple of times, but I don’t think that she ever caught on.”
“And you’re not really sure which way you’re gonna swing, preference-wise?”
“Is anybody, until it sneaks up on them and bites them in the ass?”
“Now I know that you used to be a boy. Well!” Rip slipped her arm through mine. “If you decide that beefcake is your meat, I can cope. BUT, if you’re walking on MY side of the street-” Rip raised her voice so that everyone in the hallway could hear, “I call dibs on the slammin’ black boy-chick!”
A voice wafted out from one of the rooms. “Dibs? You gotta call Dibs? Nobody told me anything about that!"
As Rip leaned her head into the room to play with her victim’s head a little more, I ducked down the stairs, and passed the ground floor down into the basement. The basement was tricked out as sort of an all-purpose mini-gym, including mats, a ballet bar, and an exercise machine that was to your average Nautilus machine what Arnold Schwarzenegger is to Woody Allen. It was Hyuge! The main leverage bar was at least five times as thick, and the whole thing was probably made out of some high strength titanium alloy. Looking at the little sign on the main strut, it said that the main leverage bar weighed fifty pounds all by itself, and the bars that you could add were in increments of 50 pounds, up to Ten Tons! Something like this could only exist at a place like Whateley. They probably had to put it down here in the basement because it would probably come crashing through the floor in they put it up any higher.
Now, you simply can NOT see a machine like this and not want to give it a test spin. I re-set the weights from 8 tons (!) and some odd pounds to 250 pounds, my absolute upper limit on the machine that I used back at my old dojo. That done, I wriggled in under the bar, and settled in for a set of 50 lifts, just enough to get a feel for this machine.
I was at push #34, when I heard a metallic clinking sound from behind me in the machine, and I felt the tension on the bar go weird. Then the leverage bar suddenly became like a thousand times heavier, and came crashing down on my chest, even though it’s supposed to be designed not to do that. I struggled to get the bar off of my chest, which was made harder by the fact that I couldn’t breathe. Then a snarling face came leering down at me, said something that I couldn’t follow- I was too busy trying to breathe- and pushed down even harder on the bar.
Suddenly, there was a blur of movement, the face was gone, and the bar jerked up. More out of pure survival reflex than real thought, I got out from under it before it could drop again.
When I could see straight, I saw Hank grappling with a tall- and I do mean TALL!- woman. The first thing that I noticed was her build, but then you would. Many female body builders sort of fall into a trap of trying for more and more bulk, and wind up looking like men with delicate faces and token bikinis. Mind you, she had bulk, but it had a sleek quality to it that emphasized her feminine curves, and added an element of raw physical power to her sensuality. Damn nice, if you’re into the Masters of the Universe. She had a cap of finger length golden (and I do mean Golden! Not Blonde, not yellow, it was like gold metal!) curls over a square face with a square chin. She was wearing a tank top and warm-up pants. As Hank and ‘Gigantor’ wrestled, they slammed into the wall of the basement, and made the house shook.
When they finally broke their clinch, I launched myself at Two-Ton Tina. Hey, I had enough of that being bullied crap back in my old school! I am NOT going to get myself get sucker-punched on my first day. With a fierce cry, I landed a Ki punch right in the middle of her breadbasket.
This woman had abs that could stop a LAWS rocket!
She made a grab at me, and I decided that if Hard style wouldn’t do the job, maybe Soft style would. I intercepted her grab, reversed it into a throw and sent her flying. She tumbled into a perfect standing recovery and came roaring back. I sent her flying face first into the floor. I’ll give her this; she can really take it! Fast too; I barely managed to dodge a double fist hammer slam that set the entire foundation of the cottage rocking.
As she recovered from her missed hammer slam, Hank came up behind her, got her in a Full Nelson hold and lifted her up off the ground. Which was a pretty good move, one that denied her leverage to use her super-strength. Pity, someone must have used it before- she pumped her legs back over his head, kicking him backwards, got her feet on the ground and threw him in a backwards cartwheel move.
Then a pie hit her in the face. “Dammit, Hippolyta! If you’re going to pound on Freshmen, pick on ones that I’m not responsible for!”
I backtracked the voice to the stairs, where Beltane was standing, glaring at the amazon that I assume was 'Hippolyta’. Beltane cocked a hand back and darkness swirled into being in her hand. “You survived my Banana Cream Pie. Don’t make me use the Double Fudge Custard.”
Hippolyta glowered at Beltane. “Belle- these are yours?”
“Yes! Now, step away from the Newbies- you DON’T want me to break out the Éclairs, now do you?”
Hippolyta glowered at me and downright snarled at Hank (?). Then she fixed her snarl back on me. “Well, tell your little freak here to keep her hands off of MY Weight Machine!”
“YOUR Weight Machine?” I yelled back. “Hey, this is a COMMON exercise area!-” Well, if you’ve ever spent any time in a gym, you’ve heard this spat. We were nose to nose, and still screaming at each other at the top of our lungs, me furiously defending my right to get buffed and ripped, and her just as loudly defending what she obviously thought of as her private property.
Our shouting match was suddenly interrupted by a calm, quiet *ahem!* Hippolyta immediately shut up, so I did likewise and turned to see what had put a cork in her bottle.
Mrs. Horton was standing there, very calmly, with one eyebrow arched. “There seems to be a problem?”
I beat Gigantor to the punch. “I was using that Nautilus machine, and this BITCH-” Mrs. Horton fixed me with a reproving glare. <ahem!> “-This Person-” Mrs. Horton nodded approvingly,“- jimmied the weights and tried to KILL me! Then she got on top and tried to hurry things up! If Hank hadn’t-”
At this point, Hippolyta interrupted. “This little worm totally messed up my arrangement on the Weight Machine! I just got it set Just Right-”
“Well then, if you got it just right once, then it shouldn’t be a bother to restore, now should it?” Mrs. Horton interrupted serenely. “Hippolyta, this exercise area and all the equipment in it, is for everyone to use. When I gave my introductory talk, I specifically told everyone to come down here and feel free to use the equipment; that’s what it’s here for.” Then she looked at me. “And, as for you, while I admit that you had cause, it still isn’t a good start if you have a fight on your very first day. And you, young man?”
“Oh, Hank got her off of me and let me get out from under those weights.” I beat him to the punch. Hey, he was there for me, I’ll be there for him.
Mrs. Horton nodded approvingly. “Very good. Hippolyta, Miss Chandler, both of you go to your rooms and stay there until Lights Out. Scoot!”
Hippolyta trudged off without a word, and I followed her up the stairs. Somehow, challenging Mrs. Horton didn’t seem like a very good idea...
I was ‘helping’ Nikki unpack by shelving her books. From a reclining position on my bed by tossing them onto the bookcase across the room. “ ‘Archetypal Imagery In Folk lore’ by Dr. Tregwaithe Brown, Ph.D.” <Shelf!> “ ‘Universal Concepts In Metaphysical Systems’ by Sylvia Wiggins- I’ll bet that’s a real page-turner!” <Shelf!> “ ‘The Magic Mirror: Medieval Legend And Modern Psychology’ by Dr. Donald Ryecroft. Don’t tell me how it turns out, I want to read it on my own!” <Shelf!> “ ‘The Glory That Was Avalon: An Overview Of Faerie Lore in Europe’ by Jessica Godfrey. I think I’ll wait until the movie comes out.” <Shelf!> “ ‘The Tribe of Oberon: Analytic Comparison of Faerie Concepts in Global Folklore’ by Horace Brigham- jeez, Nikki, are you into this whole ‘Fairy Princess’ concept or what?” <Shelf!>
Nikki sniffed, “Well, unlike some mutant powers, _mine_ require a real understanding of how they work. I can’t just wing it, the way that you do. Besides, you have all those martial arts teachers just panting at the idea of working with you. Me? Real magicians are pretty rare, and they don’t exactly part with their secrets easily. I need every bit of lore that I can scare up!”
< Humph!> “Maybe, but I think that you’re more into this thing than you let on. I mean, what kind of superhero name is ‘Fey’, anyway? I can just see your Action Figure- ‘The new ‘Fey’ figure, now with Power Limp Wrist!’ ” I waggled a floppy hand at Nikki.
<Humph right back at you! >“And what kind of ‘superhero name’ have you decided for yourself? ‘Mega-Mouth’? ‘Thunder-Thighs’?”
That took me back a bit. “Y’know, I haven’t really given it any thought! From what I get, ‘Code Names’ do seem to be pretty de rigeur around here, don’t they?”
“Weeelll, as a matter of fact, I did read something about students being required to use a Code Name in their training exercises, for security reasons. Exactly what those security reasons ARE, I dunno.”
I dug out another book and was about to shelve it. When there was a knock on the door. Rip poked her head in. “Hey, are you guys decent?”
“Jeez, the straight lines they throw you here!” I muttered to the air. “Yeah, we’re cool!”
She stepped in. “Hey, I know that it’s asking a lot, but it’s our first day here- would one of you be willing to trade rooms with me?”
“Aahh-- Rip-- in case you forgot-- We’re TGs. There’s no WAY that they’re gonna let us share a room with a genetic girl.”
“Oh, C’Maaawwn! I _gotta_ get out of that room!”
“What’s so bad about it?”
“Oh, you have got to SEE this to believe it!” She grabbed my hand and pulled me off the bed.
“Hey, I’m sort of grounded for the rest of the evening.”
“Oh, who’s gonna know? And you just won’t understand until you see this!”
I looked at Nikki, who shrugged and got up. Rip almost dragged me down the hall to her bedroom. The bedroom was the same size and layout as the one that Nikki and I shared. It was the contents that sort of jumped out at you. Aside from one stripped bed with a couple of suitcases on it, the place was absolutely packed! There were – (one, two, three, five-) SEVEN trunks that were already open and the contents laid around the room. Rabbits! Dozens of stuffed rabbits! All over the place! And Eggs! Huge decorated, bejeweled eggs, some of them three feet tall. All over the place! “Look at this room!” Rip wailed. “It looks like Liberace exploded!”
Nikki peered at one of the overblown omelets curiously. “What in world?” She reached over and touched one of the ‘jewels’ on the egg. The ‘jewel’ lit.
“Don’t touch that!”
We turned to the door. A short blonde girl was standing there. She was wearing tight Capri pants that really showed off how well she was rounding out and a blue shirt with white polka dots that was tied off across her tummy. Her hair was done up and two ‘spaniel ears’ that sort of made her wide blue eyes seem all that bigger in her kewpie doll face. Standing next to her was a three-foot tall stuffed rabbit that was carrying yet another trunk. Yes, a three-foot tall stuffed rabbit was carrying what had to be a hundred pound trunk. Do you honestly think that I’d make something like that UP? She said, “I haven’t re-programmed that for unpacking yet!”
Before Blondie could get into the room, the ‘Egg’ sort of exploded as curving panels on the ‘egg’ opened up, making it look more like a really tacky artichoke than an egg. Long thin cables snaked out from behind the panel, started grabbing things, and stowing them away in the trunks. More cables snaked out and moved the egg around so that it could get to the trunks more easily.
“No!” Blondie yelled, “I was just getting settled in!” She rushed in and tried to grab the egg, I guess so that she could shut it off. “Dammit, Hubert, I don’t want to have to unpack all that again!”
‘Hubert’, as I guess she had named the Egg-bot ignored her- I guess that she spaced on giving it Voice-Recognition programming- and kept stashing things away. Hubert didn’t so much fight her as it pointedly ignored her and avoided her attempts to shut it off.
“Harvey, get in here and help me shut Hubert off!” The big rabbit- she would call it ‘Harvey’- put the trunk down and advanced. Hubert picked it up, detached the head, arms and legs, and stowed it away in a trunk.
The girl kept trying to wrestle with the stupid egg, but wasn’t getting anywhere. Nikki, Rip and I watched in baffled amazement. Nikki turned to me. “Couldn’t you, y’know, throw a pencil at the ‘Off’ switch and turn it off, or something?”
“Sure- IF I knew which dingus was the ‘Off’ switch.”
“Hey, don’t put yourself out on MY account,” Rip muttered, “It’s doing just what I want.”
Blondie was fighting tooth and nail against ‘Hubert’. When it was done with all the ‘eggs’ and plush, it suddenly wrapped its cables around its maker and hauled her off her feet. Blondie gave a shrill squeal of outrage as it tucked her inside one of the trunks and shut it. “Dammit, Hubert, let me OUT of here, so that I can DISMANTLE you!”
‘Hubert’ only retracted its cables, sealed its panels and shut off the light.
“LET ME OUT OF HERE!”, came muffled from the trunk.
I started towards the trunk. Rip grabbed my arm. “Do you have to right away? Couldn’t you just, y’know, sort of wait until I got all of my stuff unpacked?”
Nikki said, “We can’t just leave her in there.” She walked over to the trunk and tried to open it. “It’s locked. And I don’t have the key.” She thumped the trunk. “HEY! We need a key to open this thing! Where is it?”
“It’s in my pocket!”
Nikki shook her head disgustedly, and wiped the metaphorical egg off of her face. She muttered something, and twiddled her fingers as trails of energy traced out from her fingertips. Then she pointed at the lock, which sprung open.
The second the trunk lid was open, the girl fussed at us, until Nikki offered her a hand out. Blondie’s eyes went wide as she got a good look at Nikki. “Wow. You’re cute. I like you. What’s your name?”
Nikki blushed and stammered, “Oh, it’s Nikki, Nikki Reilly.”
“Hi, Nikki! My name’s Bunny Cormick. I’m from Las Vegas.”
“Well THAT explains a lot.” Rip muttered under her breath.
“Gee, I don’t know what happened with Hubert, I didn’t expect him to pack me away like that, I didn’t program him to, by the way how did you get the trunk open, the key was in my pocket, and I didn’t hear you picking the lock, so how did you get it open? You’re not an Energizer, are you, ‘cause I haven’t managed to surge protect my eggs yet. Please, you aren’t an energizer, are you?”
I flickered my eyes over to Rip and mouthed ‘My Condolences’ at her. She just nodded and rolled her eyes.
Nikki blushed and stammered again. “Uhm, well, I’m sort of a magician-”
“A magician? Cool! You do Escape Artist stuff? Don’t you just love Sigfried and Roy? Too bad about Roy and that tiger, I hope they don’t kill the tiger, Roy doesn’t want them to kill the tiger, he says that it was all a mistake. My daddy works special effects and he works with their support team sometime, and don’t they have the greatest tricks?”
“Oh, ah, not that kind of magician. I’m a Mage.”
Bunny’s eyes snapped open as if she’d just found out that Christmas hadn’t been cancelled after all. “A Mage? You mean that you can do REAL Magic? Oh that is so cool! Would you mind sitting for a spectroscopic examination while you do it?”
Nikki looked like she was going down for the third time, so I jumped in. “So, ah Bunny... what’s your real name?”
Bunny blinked and looked at me. “Bunny _is_ my real name.”
It would be. “What’s with all the heavy tech eggs?”
“Oh, my eggs? Don’t you just love them? They are SO CUTE! Oh, I build all of my projects inside egg-shaped carapaces- square boxes are just SO last century, don’t you think? The Egg is the perfect protective shape, and with a little ingenuity, you can fit almost anything inside an egg!”
There was a sort of whoosh-ing sound in the hallway outside, and I caught a glimpse of a whitish streak go by the door.
“So, Bunny, you’re some kind of inventor?”
“Oh, yeah, I’m what they call a ‘Level: 4 Esper/Gadgeteer’, and a ‘Level: 3 Deviser’. I mostly do robotics and electromagnetic field formation effects for hologram and Special Effects stuff, but I also do other stuff.”
“You said ‘Gadgeteer’ and ‘Deviser’- I thought that ‘Deviser’ and ‘Gadgeteer’ were pretty much the same thing, Mad Scientist stuff.”
“Well, they’re not. They’re similar, but they aren’t the same thing. But you can have both traits in one package. Like Me.” She laid a coy hand on her chest by way of demonstration.
“Well, what’s the difference?”
“A Gadgeteer can go to the Patent Office- a Deviser can go anywhere BUT the Patent Office.”
“Sorry- Tech-Head joke. Y’see a ‘Gadgeteer’ is an Esper thing. It’s a kind of Clairvoyance where you know instinctively how to use the tools, equipment and components at hand to do what it is that you want to get done. At the lower levels, it’s just sort of like the guy who is REALLY good at fixing cars or appliances. At the higher levels, you get Ground Breaking inventors, like me.”
“And a ‘Deviser’?”
“Well, ‘Devisers’ really Are the ‘Mad Scientist thing. Y’see there’s this thing called ‘the Schimmelhorn Effect’.”
“The Schimmelhorn Effect?”
“Yeah, they named it after this character in a series of Science Fiction stories called ‘Papa Schimmelhorn’ who could build almost any kind of machine, no matter how bizarre- Time Machines, Alchemy Machines that turn lead into gold, stuff like that, stuff that has no basis in Real World Physics, Chemistry or Biology. Some guy called Reginald Bretnor writes these stories. Anyway, they call it the ‘Schimmelhorn Effect’, after ‘Papa Schimmelhorn’, because the effect causes these ‘Mad Scientist’ devices to work in the face of the conventional Laws of Physics and so forth.”
“You mean like ‘Zergatronic Megadeath Rays’?”
“And Giant Robots that can tear buildings up off their foundations, when they should barely be able to move, and shrink rays that work and things like that. The basic principle is that the *ahem* ‘Mad Scientist’ first rejects the principles of accepted science, and somehow imposes her own set of rules on a small piece of reality. She sort of makes the principles that her inventions operate on work. Mind you, you can’t patent any of those things, ‘cause they just won’t work if the ‘Mad Scientist’ doesn’t built the device.”
Nikki looked rather worried. “That is uncomfortably close to a lot of theories of how Magic really works- that all the magical principles and procedures are just the Mage imposing their own theory of how magic is supposed to work on the universe. So, Bunny, when you’re working on something, how do you know if what you’re inventing isn’t a ‘Mad Scientist’ gizmo that won’t work for anyone else?”
“Those things are called ‘devises’- with a ‘S’ instead of a ‘C’. And I don’t. I have to finish every project, perfect it, and get someone else to try to build one too. Would you like to see some of my work?” Bunny opened a trunk and pulled out one of her eggs. “This is Eldon. He’s a-”
“Yeah, yeah, very nice!” Rip interrupted, but do you have to stash all of these things in MY room?”
“It’s MY room too!” Bunny squeaked.
There was another ‘Zip’ past the door. “What was that?” I asked.
“What was what?”
“I heard something go past the door.”
“I didn’t see anything.”
“I’m telling you, I heard something.”
“Maybe it was one of Bunny’s stupid rabbit robots.” Rip groused.
“My Rabbits are NOT stupid!” Bunny squeaked back.
“Maybe, maybe not, but you’re cramming them into MY space! Hey, _I_ have stuff too!”
“But I can’t just throw them out! They’re my BABIES!”
“I don’t care what you do with them! But either you find somewhere else to stash ‘em, or you can get a new roommate!”
There was that zipping noise again, and that tanned, blonde girl who had sit next to me on the bus was suddenly there. “You want a new roomie! Kewl! I’d be glad to move in!”
“Oh, No.” Riptide moaned. Bunny and Rip looked at each other.
“Uhm, that’s all right, Jay Jay- I think that Bunny and I can work this out.”
“Oh, it’s no problem!” The girl disappeared with a whoosh! and a heartbeat later, was back with a suitcase. “Which side is mine?”
Bunny smiled apologetically. “No, honestly, we’re just ironing out a minor misunderstanding-”
“Oh, come on! A promise is a promise!”
“I don’t remember making any promises.”
“Oh, I suppose that now you’re going to welsh on your promise to help me with my homework!”
“Jay Jay, I never said that I’d help you with any homework!”
“But you were bragging about being such a genius!”
“You asked me what my IQ was, I answered.”
“Bunny, how are we going to be roommates, if you keep breaking your promises?”
“J.J., I never asked you to be my roommate.”
“But you GOTTA! You wouldn’t believe the weirdo that they got stowed in my room! She-” But before J.J. could go any further, Bunny’s egg ‘Eldon’ erupted in a shower of sparks.
“Get OUT!” Bunny screamed, “You’re an energizer- you’re projecting some kind of electric field and my projects are overloading!” The other egg, ‘Hubert’, exploded its panels and the cables started waving around wildly, and one of the trunks burst open as Bunny’s other projects went haywire.
J.J. left with yet another ‘zip’.
Rip instinctively began forming a thick fog around herself. Seeing things going even worse if that much humidity hit Bunny’s electronics, I grabbed Rip and carried her out of the room. As I cleared the door into the hallway, I heard Bunny wail, “She scrambled my eggs!”
Cradling Rip in my arms, I said to her, “I think that we ought to let Nikki calm Bunny down a little before you go back in there. Who the HECK was That?”
“Oh, that was Jay Jay- Joanne Jackie- Jengle-somethingerother, I forget. Apparently, she’s the Gurlzone Freshman superspeedster- everywhere except between her ears.”
“What happened with Bunny’s eggs?”
“Well, if I remember our Walk and Talk correctly, Jay Jay’s superspeed actually comes from some kind of Energizer trait, and besides moving like the Flash, she also generates this powerful magnetic field.”
“Oh, right- and Bunny said that her eggs weren’t surge protected. So this Jay Jay comes in, generates her magnetic field, and *Kzzaatt!* Bunny’s eggs go kablooey.”
“That pretty much covers it. So, are you going to put me down, or are you going to carry me over the threshold into your room?”
Then I noticed that I was still carrying Rip cradled in my arms. “Opps.” I gave her an apologetic grin and put her down. “Sorry.”
“Hey, not to worry! You might get to like it!” She sashayed into my room. Amazing, a girl whose figure is only starting, and already she can sashay.
She plopped down onto Nikki’s bed and looked around. “So, you two are still unpacking, I see. Man, for guys who only turned into girls recently, you got a LOT of clothes!”
“Hey, my Mom and I tried the bonding thing while shopping.”
“Hmmm... did it take?”
“Yeah. Not over shopping, but I think that I’m gonna have a whole new kind of relationship with my Mom when I go back home.”
“Like, Whaow! Your roomie must be loaded! I don’t see anything here that isn’t 100% silk or 100% cotton or 100% wool! What, is she allergic to blends, or something?”
“Well, as a matter of fact, she is.”
“Well, apparently, she’s allergic to synthetics- rayon, dacron, spandex, like that.”
“Ooogg- that is gonna be MURDER when Summer rolls around, and she’s gotta find a bathing suit!”
“Oh, it gets worse- it seems that she gets a nasty rash whenever she touches wrought iron.”
“Well, I don’t know how much to take seriously and how much is just in her head. But I gotta empathize- I gotta watch what I eat, so her allergies don’t seem that off the wall to me.”
“Watch what you eat? Why? You got a great figure!”
“Well, it’s a start anyway. No, it’s not my weight.”
“You got allergies, too?”
“Nope- it’s like this- my metabolism is too finely tuned. For instance, I can’t drink soft drinks, ‘cause most of ‘em have caffeine, and almost all of ‘em have some kind of really concentrated sweetener. If I drink a Coke©, I get all wired and start bouncing off the walls.”
“Yeah, well, so does my brother Ernesto.”
“No, I mean, I start literally bouncing off the walls. Hyperactive Overdrive. I can eat fruits, and drink most fruit juices, but I gotta be careful of stuff from concentrates.”
“Let me guess- refined sugar sweeteners.”
“Not even Chocolate?” Rip asked mournfully.
“Not unless I wanna get incredibly horny.”
Rip started patting herself down. “Ah, Maann, what a time not t’have a Hershey© bar on me!” She gave me a speculative look. “So, what’s your roomie like?”
“Oh, Nikki? She’s a little on the quiet side, but after listening to _your_ roomie and that whacko with the twinkle toes, I’m beginning to think that’s a bonus!”
“Nikki? I thought that her name was Fay?”
“It is, sorta. That’s her superhero name.”
“Her superhero name is ‘Fay’? I knew a girl named Fay back in Redondo!”
“Not ‘Fay’- ‘Fey’ with an ‘E’. It means ‘touched by magic’, or sum’thin’.”
Rip gave me a hard look.
“Hey, don’t lookit me- _I_ didn’t come up with it.”
She leaned forward on the bed, folding her hands on her crossed knee and gave me a sly smile. “And so, what’s YOUR ‘superhero’ name gonna be? I think that ‘Vixen’ is taken.”
“Actually, Nikki and I were just talking about that. I haven’t really decided.”
Her eyes popped open wide and began to sparkle. “REALLY? Kewl! Lessee now, what would fit you? You’re this big Ki muck-a-muck- so how about ‘Black Dragon’?”
“Sorry, I’d look crappy in a chiamsong, smoking with a long cigarette holder.”
“Nngg... How about ‘Dragon Princess’?”
“What? And have to mix it up with the Powerpuff Girls?”
“How about ‘Doctor Ki’?”
“Sounds like a Hong Kong Dentist.”
“How about ‘Dragonfist’?”
“Naahh- it’d be too easy to twist into ‘Dragonbreath’.”
“Humpf! Okay, let’s dump the whole ‘Dragon’ thing.”
“Fine by me!”
“Okay, something ‘hunterish’- how about ‘Stalker’?”
“Great! And if that’s taken, I can try ‘Mugger’ or ‘Serial Killer’.”
“Hmm- good point. Okay, let’s face it, you got this whole ‘feline’ thing goin’ down.”
I curled up on my bed and ‘mewed’ at her.
“Too ‘Huey Newton’.”
“Okay, how about ‘Tigress’?”
“NO WAY! Toni the ‘Tigress’? I get enough ‘The’re Gr-r-r-r-r-EAT!’ jokes as is!”
“Aahhh- how about ‘Simba’, as in ‘Lion’?”
“Already covered this with Jade- ‘Simba’ is a GUY lion. And I don’t wanna go back there!”
“Good for you, sweetie. Then how about ‘Nala’?”
“Nala? What’s a ‘Nala’?”
“It’s the name of Simba’s girlfriend in The Lion King.”
“WHAT? And take on Disney? Are you Crazy?”
“Oh god, you’re right! I never even said that!” She worried her lip a little and then inspiration seemed to strike her. “I got it! Chaka!”
“Chaka? Y’mean like Chaka Khan, the R&B singer?”
“No, I mean ‘Chaka’ as in the Masai name for the Leopard!”
“I thought that ‘Chaka’ meant ‘warrior’ or something.”
“No, that’s ‘Shaka’, which is Zulu, and a completely different language. And y’gotta admit, even if the words sorta blend t’gether, it still works for you!”
“How do you know all of this?”
“I used to sit next to a girl in Junior High who was REAL BIG on ‘African Heritage’. Y’hadda stuff a sock in her mouth to get her to shut up about it. She went on about it so much that some just sort of seeped in and stayed there.”
Chaka? Either a leopard or a warrior, depending on who you were talking to? “Y’know, I remember reading in a book called ‘Jungle Kitabu’ by some Belgian guy, that he believed that the Lion didn’t deserve to be called the ‘King of the Jungle’, because first of all, lions don’t live in the rain forest. Secondly, he claims that, pound for pound, the Leopard is the deadliest of the Great Cats, and is so has a better claim to the title. Also, if I remember my African Studies, while warriors can wear Lion’s manes as part of their war-stuff, only a Chief can wear a leopard’s skin.”
Rip spread her arms in a ‘Well, there you are!’ gesture.
Chaka? I like it! It sort of brought into focus that I wasn’t Tony Chandler, Vince and Cindy’s nebbishy little brother anymore! I was-
-well, for one thing, I was somebody who wasn’t dumb enough to let a golden opportunity slip through her fingers!
I turned to Rip and advanced on her with my most slinky feline walk. Giving her a catlike smile, I looked her over and leaned over her, gently pushing her down to mattress.
She looked up at me with dancing eyes, as if a dearly beloved fantasy was finally coming true.
With my best Eartha Kitt purr, I said, “I am CHAKA, hear me roar!”, and mashed my lips against hers.