Chapter 1: THIS IS WHATELEY
Friday, March 16, 2007
“You know, when I was seven, we went to the local zoo, and I got to watch the zoo keepers hose down the elephants and use giant brushes to scrub them clean like they were in a giant animal car wash, and I at that time, having a keen distaste for bathing myself and also being seven years old, had thought that being an elephant was the life! Well… I AM NOT AN ELEPHANT I AM A HUMAN BEING!!! DOES EVERY NEW KID HAVE TO GO THROUGH THIS BS ON THEIR FIRST DAY?! Just give me the brush and I’ll get my own hard to reach places!!” I yelled at her to be heard over the loud noise of the hose spray and the whirling air filter above us, while I braced myself against the sterile white tile wall, naked, with my eyes tightly shut, getting hosed down by concentrated jets of detergent laced water spraying out from the tip of a long hose brush handled by a hazmat suit wearing woman.
The spray cut off and she swung the long handled brush, up to her shoulder. I imagined behind the tinted plexiglas she was glaring at me. “MOST children,” she said in a normal voice, though it sounded like the voice you hear ordering at the drive through as she was speaking through a metallic air filter on the suit’s mouth area, “do not transport themselves between dimensions to worlds and ecosystems completely foreign and possibly hostile to our own.”
Gritting my teeth, I didn’t turn around to face her. I had to keep my eyes closed, for one thing, or I’d get that stinky bleach water in them. I thought I was being a very good sport about this, as I wasn’t even sure what the two previous chemical showers they’d hosed me down with had even had in them. “I told you guys, it was just a quick jaunt to Africa!”
She scoffed. “Right, and what about in between? Do you even know what you could be dragging around after you? Do even remember the trouble the ARC teams had back in your hometown after the incident with the… what were they,” she asked of the speaker in the ceiling. “Toilet tentacles?”
“Toilet tentacles exactly, Nurse Garrett.”
“Thank you Dr. Polland!” She responded, and I imagined from her tone she must have been exceptionally pleased with herself.
“Well… well that one took care of itself, sort of! And there’s no way I’ll be eating any of THAT stuff again if I can help it, but it wasn’t like I had a choice at the time anyway, I was stuck over there for days! I even got sun burnt again!” I meekly argued. “I still don’t see why I gotta get hosed down like this, I washed behind my ears when I left that ARC place this morning and everything! I even used soap!”
She clucked her tongue in a way that sounded oddly robotic from inside her suit, like a big robot chicken. “Do you have any idea what can happen to an environment when something completely foreign is introduced into it? Haven’t you ever heard about the frogs that got loose in Australia? And what happens when you pick up some microscopic bacteria that we CAN’T see, and that nothing else on this planet has an immunity too because nothing like that has ever existed on this world, and you end up wiping out half the population? What then, Ms. Gillman?”
Bleach was starting to seep into my eyes and I muttered, “…Okay fine, fine you’ve made your point.” I felt bad when my dad ran over a stray cat, I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I learned I’d started some massive pandemic that wiped out a majority of the life on the very planet I lived on (and kept all my stuff on). Do you know how many kitties that is? A lot, I’d bet. A lot of kitties. I don’t want that sort of a cataclysm on my conscience.
The bulky woman in the lime green hazmat suit tilted her helmet at me, and went over to the wall, and moments later I felt eight jets of water hit me from various directions. I found the one nearest my face and washed my eyes out as best I could. I warned them in an annoyed tone that I felt was completely warranted, “If all these chemicals end up bleaching my hair blonde I’m going to be really super annoyed.”
The last thing I needed was to show up at my new school looking tanned and blonde and being from California.
The voice of Dr. Polland blared through the speaker in the ceiling, “I’m afraid this is unconditionally unavoidable Ms. Gillman. We’ve heard reports recently from ARC of an insect you released back in your home of Russel City, and they’re having a heck of a time killing off the infestation.”
“Oh suuuure. Some weird bug shows up and suddenly it’s MY fault. It could have just been some crazy thing a… terrorist or something made! Or the result of genetic cow engineering in a government lab to find a cheaper way of making beef!”
The educated voice that spoke to me like god on high from the ceiling speaker scoffed. “Hardly, these insects are clearly an ‘off world’ species that are displaying fourth dimensional attributes, and we still don’t know what impact they’ve already had on the local ecology. The local honeybee population of Russel City may never recover. Luckily the remaining insectoids are being contained for the moment, but that’s exactly the problem we are trying to prevent here.”
Okay, the guy with the college degree and years of experience at a hospital that treated some of the most biologically diverse and dangerous beings on the planet did make some good points. I breathed out heavily, “Well I’m clean now, how often do I gotta do this? Is this a twice a year cleaning thing, like the dentist?”
Nurse Garrett offered me a towel and motioned me towards the door out of the four stage decontamination chamber. What kind of school HAS something like that, anyway? “I’m afraid you’ll be visiting us here immediately after any dimensional ‘slip’ you have, Ms. Gillman.”
“W-what!! EVERY time? But what if I don’t even really go anywhere?!”
“Every time, Ms. Gillman,” she said sternly, and I let my annoyance show in a subdued grumble, and went to go change back into my regular clothes that had recently been purged with a religious fervor.
The man across the desk from me was gaunt but naturally imposing, in his mid 50’s with most of his hair already white with scant remains of the dark original character fading from memory but still entirely present in his trim kept beard. It was rather funny that while my eyes could probably literally see through a person if I tried, his eyes only had to FEEL like they were looking through me to make me squirm in the seat he’d invited me into.
Soon I realized that when I’d sat down in front of him, it wasn’t entirely me that he was glaring at. He was staring at my hat.
Schroedinger had taken to mimicking various articles of my clothing after we’d spent a few days at the ARC research facility (I guess he was getting bored), and seemed to enjoy being near my brain when he wasn’t in his favorite pouch (my backpack) for reasons I prefer not to think about, so at that moment “it” looked rather like a cat themed black cap with eyes that occasionally would blink if you looked at it long enough. Taking all that into consideration, the man’s intense attention focused towards my headgear felt unnatural, and disturbing down to the squishy parts of my soul. You know the parts. Those were the soul bits that quivered when you got caught cheating on a test, or went all chilly and cold when you got dragged into church and the priest was giving a highly motivated speech about the evils of violent games while giving you more than few passing glances during the sermon. Then, he did something that made me cringe even more.
“My name is Reverend England,” he said in a voice I found surprisingly warm considering the 3rd degree he’d given me with just a glare. “The Headmistress asked me to play counselor for you, Ms. Gillman.”
“You’re a priest,” I pointed out with accuracy, eyeing the white priest’s collar on his black outfit.
He leaned back in his large comfortable looking chair, and it didn’t even squeak, just moved with him like he was sitting on a panther. “Correct. I’m also on the Board of Trustees here, I teach several classes, and I run the Sunday services over at the chapel. But you’re rather a special case. Everyone here is special in one way or another, but your case is different in its own right. You’re not a mutant, for one thing.”
Oooh yah, that was starting to feel weird. Was he trying to kick me out before I even started my first day here? If I’d known some jerk was going to kick me out before I even got to start my first day at super cool mutant high, I wouldn’t have stood there and let them hose me down! “Well, ah, no, not as such, but the guys at that lab place thought this place would be way safer than going back home.” I didn’t mention that I really really wanted to be here to get some kick ass Batman training.
He nodded slowly in agreement, eyeing my hat with a peculiar distaste. Was he a dog person? “Quite right. Everyone who comes here essentially comes for their own safety, or someone else’s. Strange as it may sound, you aren’t the only one coming here running from actual demons, nor even the only non-mutant to do so. You are one of the few that took one with her, however, which is why I was chosen as your counselor. Like you, Josie, I have a gift.” He leaned forwards, hands folding on his desk, and I felt Schroedinger contract snugly across my skull and I winced involuntarily. “I kill demons.”
Uncertain of where he was going with this, I tried to look unmoved. How was this guy any different from the old dudes in suits who visited the house every Sunday interrupting perfectly good first person shooter times and cartoons by asking me if I’d heard of my lord and savory Jesus, and gave me dirty looks when I told them that, yes, I had, he mows our lawn. I said with a certain confidence, “Well… I’m not a demon. And we all got emotional baggage, right? So, what, people bring their own demons with them, and you share a caring ear and helpful advice that frees them from their closet skeletons?”
“I wasn’t being metaphorical, Josie. Although I am very good at talking people past their problems, I’ve been blessed by God with the ability to cast demons back into whatever hell they came from.” He gave me that smile again, the one that was starting to creep me out more and more. It just seemed unnatural on his face, forced from someone who hadn’t smiled in a very long time, so it did strange things to his face. “As I said, that’s most of the reason why I was chosen as your guidance counselor. If that creature…” he gestured towards my head (and presumably my hat, I assumed and hoped he wasn’t referring to my oh so sexy brain), “…ever lost its control, or became a danger to the rest of the students, I’m supposed to put it down.”
“You want to kill my CAT?!” I blurted out, squeezing the creature on my head that was shrinking back from the hat shape and returning to its favorite spindly black hairless cat form. “What did it ever do to you!?”
The Reverend sighed heavily, frowning at me. “This isn’t anything personal, Josie. That isn’t some stray pet you picked up in a dirty alleyway. It’s a devil, a demon, an unholy spawn of evil taking a pleasing form. It’s already formed a symbiotic bond with you. The only reason my reservations about it were overruled was that the scientific community here thought, given its… benign attitude at present, that they could learn enough from it to come up with means of combating its relatives. There were also some opinions voiced that separating you both at this point could be damaging to yourself as well.”
I narrowed my eyes at the Reverend, grabbed Schroedinger by the scruff of his narrow neck, and stuffed it back into my backpack. He didn’t especially want to go all of a sudden, he’d started to make spindly clawing motions towards the coffee cup with the words “World’s Best Priest” on it filled with pens on the man’s desk, and I didn’t want to give him a reason to jump the gun at all. “You’re a BAD man. You don’t go around killing other people’s pets! This school is twisted, why the hell would they stick me with some sadistic pet killer! Did you drag me here just to threaten my poor defenseless and honestly rather self serving (but hey that’s normal for a cat) pet?”
He arched a grey eyebrow at me. “If anyone is the pet in that relationship, Josie, it’s you. The race of demon spawn that creature of yours belongs to looks on us the same way we look down on insects. You’re the normal human being drawn into forces of evil and corruption you can’t even comprehend. That’s why I’m here. I’m the one of the few humans alive other than yourself who’s had dealings with these creatures and lived. Also, I have your class schedule.”
Calmly, he handed me a print out on a piece of paper, and I glanced over it suspiciously, then back up at him. “Oh… uh… thanks.”
His expression softened, possibly because I’d put the backpack with the squirming cat on the ground at my feet, out of his line of sight. I had to put a foot on top of it though to keep Schroedinger from squirming out and attacking the good Reverend’s shiny dangling crucifix, the plan of attack of which I could clearly feel imprinted in the critter’s thoughts. “I’m sure your experiences over the past week have been rather traumatizing and frightening. I’m hoping you’ll be able to find yourself again at this school, and I’m hoping you’ll feel you can confide in me if you have any problems. This school has a variety of forms of protection, both mystical and physical, that should prove sufficient to shield you from the attentions of things you’re not ready to deal with, and quite possibly even limit your sleep teleporting problem to the campus until you’ve gained enough control of it.”
I admitted in a nervous voice, “Things HAVE gotten really weird. But the cat isn’t a problem, I promise. He’s just… weird. Weird is okay Mister… uh… Reverend… dude.”
The man fingered his cross. “Call me Reverend England, Josie. And don’t think I have any ill feelings for you, on the contrary, I’m doing my best to protect you.”
“Yah, that’s what the lady who stripped me naked and hosed me down with chemicals said. Er. Well. Actually she said it was to protect everyone else, but I guess I’d prefer not to have any brain slugs infest me or nothing.” I eyed the backpack. “One is my limit.”
He gave a smile that creased unfamiliar folds in his face. “But do come to me if you have any issues. All the faculty at this school is here for your protection. Now, the first thing you should do is go to your cottage, before your classes begin. I believe the other young lady should be waiting for you outside to show you the way to your new House Mother and dorm, and she can show you around before your classes start. You’ll be starting a couple weeks into the semester, so you’ll have a little catching up to do, but the teachers will try to take that into consideration when you’re graded.”
I started to get up then, but I suddenly remembered something important. “Okay, Reverend Englund? I have a question before I go.”
“Certainly, what is it you wanted to know?”
I reached down to pick up my backpack. “Well, back when I was at that ARC place, they took my great uncle’s journal from me for study, but said they’d have it sent here so I could keep studying it, once they could get it here safely… uh, what’s the deal with that?”
His brow creased. “Right… I read a report about that book. Books of that nature are a little too dangerous for a child to be walking around with, Josie.”
“Yah but… it saved me from becoming monster chow!”
“It may have… or may have caused all this. All you have is the word of that Ecila girl, correct?”
I opened my mouth to argue, but shut it almost as quickly. He had a point. To be honest, I didn’t entirely trust her myself. “It was a REALLY good book, though… I mean, if it was dangerous, wouldn’t it have messed up my dad, or anyone else who’d seen it between when my great uncle lost it and I got it?”
“It’s just my recommendation as your counselor, Josie.” He didn’t look very pleased about it, however. “From what I read, it’ll be transferred to the secure section of our school library for when you feel you want to read it.”
“What… the library has a secure section? For like old books and first editions and stuff?”
Reverend Englund frowned. “More than that. We keep a selection of the more exotic and powerful tomes of knowledge. Some of them are magic, some of them could be dangerous if read by the wrong people… we don’t have anything like what ARC locks up, but there’s still the need for security. For your own protection, mostly. There are books out there that will go out of their way to mess up your day, eat your soul, devour your flesh, all those good things. That said, it’s probably best you don’t mention that journal to anyone else.”
“Right right, you guys are big on protecting me from myself. So uh… will I be able to look at it if I want to?” There was still something about this guy that unnerved me. Or unnerved Schroedinger, and he felt like sharing it, so it felt better to be standing and half way between him and the wall in the all too probable chance that he should decide to smite or smote me.
He looked away from me reluctantly. “Against my better judgment, yes. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“N-nope, that’s all!”
“Good, now, you do have preparations before class. Don’t keep your new House mother waiting.”
Reverend Englund watched the young woman leave and turned to make a note on her school file. The choice on which cottage to put her into hadn’t been entirely his. With her condition and difficulties she could have been placed in any number of the cottages. Her gender issues could have landed her in Poe, and her potentially catastrophic abilities could have easily had her placed in Hawthorne. That was still an option, if things got out of hand, but Englund would prefer not putting an already demon haunted child into a dorm with an actual demon princess of lust to tempt her further, which made putting her in Hawthorne or Poe a difficult choice, as the aforementioned demon princess seemed to switch housing between the two on a whim. That, and when she’d filled out her school application, she’d chosen to leave her gender issues a secret and was apparently trying to pretend like the recent change to her physical sex itself hadn’t happened. She wanted it a secret, to hide it. So, for the moment, Dickinson would do. She should at least have a chance at a normal life, and if things should ever get out of control, they’d have no choice but to lock her up in Hawthorne.
He finished writing his recommendations and turned his thoughts to less grim matters.
“Matter may be defined as anything that has mass and takes up space. So the only girls that matter have a nice ass, and a pretty face!”
“That’s lovely, Peeper,” the gorgeous girl responded, indifferently.
Just as I’d left the Administration building with my school schedule still hot in my hands, a girl that was unbelievably hot walked up to me. I mean, she was scorching. I’d seen cute girls at my last school, but this girl was a beast of a different species. Seeing her for the first time was like looking at a unicorn when all you’d seen before were old and worn nags and thought they were just super. She was imposing, immaculately dressed and free of imperfections like she’d just Photoshopped herself that morning. She was like those super models who play high school kids on TV at those schools you WISH you could attend because every week something interesting and wacky was happening. She was perfect!
“I’m Pristine,” she said to me, and my heart tripled its pace when I realized she WAS talking to me.
“Guh, uh… dur…”
Casting a critical look over me, she said to me in a manner that implied her observations were rather obvious. “You must be Josie, the new girl Ms. Nelson sent me out to get.”
I remembered to breathe shortly after. “YES! Yes, that’s me! Ah-hah, I’m me!”
The guy that had been following her gave me a dismissive glance (after eyeing me in a peculiar way from head to toe). “I see the itty bitty titty committee has arrived. Well if you aren’t interested in my offer…”
Pristine looked positively pained just being around this guy, and wasn’t so much as looking his way when she talked with him. Not that he seemed to mind, he wasn’t exactly looking at her face, anyway. “Yes, I don’t think I’ll be offering my modeling services to you and Greasy for some kind of smut calendar, Peeper. Goodbye.”
He snorted, and said before leaving, “Fine then! I’ll just go ask some chicks in the hall, I’m sure some of THEM would be interested in making a little cash!”
The girl I’d been staring at (and I was trying very hard to be staring at her face when she was looking my way) gave a long drawn out sigh, as if expelling all the annoyance she’d built up while sharing company with the sleazy kid who’d recently left, and made an effort to smile at me. “Right, so let’s try that again. I’m Pristine, you’re Josie. I’m supposed to walk you to Dickinson. Ms. Nelson’s waiting along with the other new girl.”
“R-right!” I said quickly, and moved to follow her when she started off down a path.
“You’re kind of shy, aren’t you?” She asked as we walked. “Don’t worry too much about the new kid thing, it’ll wear off in a few days. The hazing shouldn’t last much longer, either.”
I found it hard to keep up with her brisk pace, me being out of shape, and she being somewhat of a goddess, apparently in every fuckin’ way. She was walking fast but doing it with such ease and grace, it was like walking with a sexy panther. “Yah, uh… what do you mean by hazing, I haven’t-OOF”
Someone walking past bumped into my shoulder and I stumbled and dropped my class schedule. I spun around to chew the guy out, but it wasn’t a guy. It was another of those pretty girls. Maybe not as pretty as Pristine, but she had a charming impish look that would have made her very popular at my old school, along with sparkling blue eyes I just couldn’t look away from, and pretty dark hair up in a ponytail.
“Gosh, I’m sorry!” she said with a sweet smile, bending down to pick my schedule up off the ground and hand it back to me. “I was in such a hurry I just was NOT watching where I was going!”
I was starting to realize that my issues with talking to pretty girls was going to be a reeaaaaal big problem at this place. “Right. Uh. Sorry. Me too, eh-heh.”
Showing me the sweetest smile, she waved. “Well, enjoy your stay at Whateley!” and took off and a light jog down the path away from us.
Pristine rolled her eyes. “Oh lord. Hey, new girl.”
I snapped back to giving her my undivided attention. “YES. Uh, y-yah!”
“You may want to stay away from that one. Trust me, no good will come of it.”
Starring back at her in confusion, I replied with an intelligent, well thought out quip, “Huh?”
Frowning slightly, she seemed to be examining me carefully all of a sudden, even putting a hand on my shoulder to turn me enough that she could see my backside. “Well it doesn’t look like she did anything…” she whispered to herself, then shrugged. “Whatever, we’re already late, let’s get a move on before you attract any more trouble than you have.”
“H-hey now, that was just an accident, no harm done. And it isn’t like I’m trying to cause any…” Just then, I saw a lanky werewolf looking person in a school uniform walked past a distance away. “…Holy shit, a furry!”
Beltane waited until she was a good hundred feet away from the nerdy new kid that Pristine was walking before she glanced back at them, an irrepressible grin on her lips. She produced the new girl’s school schedule that she’d palmed moments earlier and slipped it into a trash can as she passed, then made her way to breakfast at a cheerful skip.
Ms. Nelson was the house mother at the Dickinson Cottage, and she looked at me like she knew there was something wrong with me, and just wanted to let me know that she knew it.
“You’re late,” she stated, standing by the front entrance of Dickinson with Suzan waiting by her side with two travel suitcases at her feet. She greeted my particularly dazzling escort with a nod. “Thank you for fetching her, Pristine. Could you please show Ms. Chylds to her room? She’ll be staying with Hardcase.”
Or maybe she was just pissed that I was late.
As the raven haired goddess walked a rather subdued looking Suzan who was wearing dark shades, still, to her room, I took notice that I had just the one case crammed with stuff my mom had packed for me and sent to ARC after the whole stink with the Police Station and Ecila had calmed down. I’d needed something other than hospital gowns and sweats to wear during their very extensive testing regime they had set out for me.
“Uh yah!” I croaked out, finding my voice slipping into slightly higher octaves than puberty had previously been pushing me. My voice hadn’t exactly been a manly baritone even before my slow but certain ten day shift into girlhood, but I’d always hoped puberty would have corrected that, given time. Having your own voice change so quickly had a disconcerting effect. At times, I could ignore my not so subtle anatomical shifts, but hearing my very own voice ring in my ears like someone else’s was going to some adjustment. “Well I had to go to that big hospital building place-”
“The Doyle Medical complex,” she supplied, helpfully.
“Yah, that! I had to get hosed down, because of, um…” I slowed when it occurred to me that maybe I didn’t want to go telling everyone that I apparently needed to be disinfected now every time I used my peculiar abilities. “…stuff.”
“Not to worry Ms. Gillman, I’ve made myself familiar with your circumstances. As I was telling Ms Chylds; my name is Ms. Nelson, and I’m going to be your house mother. Welcome to Dickinson Cottage.” She opened the door for me and ushered me into the building.
Having never been to a private school, let alone one where the kids lived on campus, and of course never one where they could all shoot laser beams from various orifices and lift buses above their heads, I was maybe a little disappointed that the walls weren’t all made of polished chrome with fancy track lighting and talking ceilings (you know, like on TV! Or in the hospital!).
“Dickinson is one of the all girl cottages, much like Whitman,” she spoke as she escorted me. “But unlike them, I expect you all to actually act like ladies.”
I chose to remain quiet on that subject. While I didn’t especially want to be a lady, let alone a girl, I figured it was easier pretending to be a girl than letting out the news that I’d been a boy previously up to that point. With what I’d experienced back at my sister’s slumber party, I figured I’d seen just about the worse that this particular gender could throw my way, and compared to all the hazing and harassment I’d seen done by guys to one another, there was no comparison, in my books. How hard could it be? Cross your legs, smile, ask the guys to do all the heavy lifting, don’t get punched in the face because people don’t punch girls. Easy street!
So, instead, I just nodded politely. “R-right.”
Ms. Nelson wavered as she led me down one of the hallways that seemed to be where the dorm rooms were, and she favored me with a gentle smile. “I told you, I familiarized myself with your circumstances, Ms. Gillman. Just try to be yourself, and you’ll pick up the proper way to act from watching the other girls.”
I felt some of the blood drain from my face, and gave her a quick nod. Okay. So some of the faculty knew, even though I hadn’t written anything about my quick sex flip on the application. That meant that ARC had told them. That was to be expected, I guess, considering how quickly everything had proceeded shortly after my departure from Russel City. I expected they’d used their considerable resources to streamline my way over here, considering it had all occurred in a matter of days.
“I think you’ll like your roommate, Ms. Gillman, she’s very… spirited. I’m sure you two will get along famously.” She stopped before one of the dorm room doors and knocked on it lightly. “Wunderkind? It’s Ms. Nelson.”
There was a rummaging noise on the other side of the door, the sounds of things being moved and bumped and hastily set aside.
“Jah! Ah, yes, Ms. Nelson!” came the German accented voice of the girl on the other side of the door, and she opened it for us shortly after, looking as though she’d been rushed. The small frizzy haired girl was wearing the same dark uniform all the other kids I’d seen wearing had on, but she was just then pulling off a lab coat.
Whoa! When the kids at this school do science, they sure dress up for the job!
“Wunderkind,” said Ms. Nelson amiably. “This is Ms. Gillman, she’s going to be your new roommate.” Then she eyed the lab coat. “I do hope you aren’t doing any dangerous experiments in the dorms, dear.”
Wunderkind scrutinized the mature woman cautiously. “No, Ms. Nelson. I was just working, I mean… I had inspiration when I awoke for a… thing that I had been working on and had to make some notes before I forgot, and I just find it much easier to focus on inventing when I have my coat on. I know to do all the dangerous experimentations in the workshop.”
I was agape with awe. Workshops? Inventing? Dangerous?? Was I getting roomed with the daughter of Q and Natasha Fatale? Wait no, she was Russian, I think.
Ms. Nelson nodded primly. “Very well, then. Ms. Gillman, you have a minute or so to get settled. I’ll send Pristine around to collect you then and to give you a tour, hopefully you’ll have enough time for breakfast before your classes begin. If you have any questions, I’m sure Wunderkind here, or Pristine when she arrives, would be happy to answer them.”
With that, she left me there in the doorway staring at Wunderkind. After a moment or two of awkward silence, I thrust out my sweaty palm and offered it to her. “So uh, hi! I’m… Josie! Pleased to meet you!”
The girl seemed reluctant to take my hand, but did so after a second or two of deliberation and looking me over. “You may call me Greta, then. Do come in, Josie.”
Right away I could tell which side of the room was mine. It was the one with the cleanly made bed, dresser, and small desk, not the side with the recently messed bed, and the desk cluttered with a dozen different pieces of technology that I hadn’t the slightest ability to make heads or tails from. Her side of the room was cluttered, but it wasn’t exactly messy.
“Greta, huh? That’s a, uh… good name. Good name, Greta,” I said as I set my piece of luggage down by the small dresser and unslung my cat laden backpack to the ground by the bed, where it squirmed.
She was in the midst of putting a few of the mysteriously technological objects that resembled cyborg turtle shells on her desk away into boxes, when she turned to me and said suspiciously. “It’s a good name? What do you mean by that?”
I caught myself nudging my bed so that its long side would be parallel to the wall, and I was already feeling the urge to adjust the dresser as it felt a few degrees off from the wall. “Um… I mean… it isn’t a bad name?”
Apparently on the defensive now, my new frizzy haired roommate crossed her arms. “And what would you know about it?”
“Well… my name IS Josie,” I replied, trying to sound reasonable. “So hey!” I said quickly, eager to change the subject. “What kind of stuff do you make? Can you make laser watches and like, exploding gum and stuff?”
Her shoulders lowered. “Oh, yes. Like the old American cartoon show, and 007 and such.” She cupped her chin, looking at me thoughtfully. “Josie, I have one rule that I ask you to follow while you share a room with me.”
Getting the impression that she was wound up tighter than a squirrel on anti-depressants, I proceeded cautiously. “Yah?”
She pointed a finger at me. “No matter what you do, do not touch anything on my desk.”
I felt my backpack swell with curiosity, which was just strange all by itself. So I gave it a nudge with my foot. “Right, I can do that. In fact, not doing things are what I do best.”
“See that you don’t!” she said in a serious voice, and continued. “Also, if you see anything on my side of the room that is not something you understand, do not touch it. I will try to show you the same respect, of course.”
“Um, of course.” I sounded rather disappointed even to my own ears, and my thoughts soon turned to the urgent squirming of my backpack.
“I would also prefer it if you did not make fun of my German ancestry, I-” She went quiet, and was giving my backpack a funny look as well, and had gone very still. “Vas ist das?”
Okay. Maybe she was super awesome inventy type girl with the neato gadgets and things, but I wasn’t exactly a completely normal kid here! Feeling the opportunity to be smug, I nudged the bag with the toe of my foot. “Oh, that’s? That’s my uh… that’s… you see, it’s… sort of a…”
…Maybe I hadn’t thought this one completely all the way through. What the hell was it, anyway?
Schroedinger squeezed and pushed and wormed a paw out enough to push the zipper open and wriggle out. The spindly hairless felinoid creature stretched once it was free and had a look around with large round yellow eyes.
Wunderkind had her hands over her mouth and nose at once, and was backing away towards her desk. “Ugh, you can’t have that in here! Pets are NOT allowed in school! And-and I’m allergic! Terribly allergic! It was bad enough that Clover has that dog with her and I can’t even be in the same hallway when she’s around, and…!”
After the sudden outburst, she seemed to hesitate, one of her hands had fallen to fumble on the desk behind her for one of the devices she’d been fiddling with, and the other still over her face cautiously lowered. “I am not sneezing. Ack, Josie, your pussy-cat!” she exclaimed, backing into her desk as Schroedinger had suddenly taken a very keen interest in her.
“Well see, it’s not really a REAL cat…” I tried to explain, but realized I really couldn’t. What the hell WAS he? Do I tell her it’s an alien? A demon? “It’s… Schroedinger! Uh, it isn’t REALLY a pet, exactly, see. “
Perhaps sensing that Wunderkind had an aversion to its existence, Schroe pawed over towards her and sat by her feet, staring upwards with unblinking eyes.
Gradually, Greta calmed down, lowering the device she’d finally palmed and was preparing to use, and settled for just staring back uncertainly at it. “It does not have any fur,” she said cautiously, eyeing my hairless flesh beast.
“It’s my familiar!” I finally blurted out, remembering a term one of the ARC scientists had used.
“Ugh. Like the hund of that girl.”
I wasn’t sure what that meant, but she didn’t appear as though she was ready to throw plasma grenades at my side of the room anymore, so it must have been a good thing. So maybe I could still befriend her and get me some laser shooting calculator watches out of this! “Right! Sure! Just like that! That thing you said!”
Looking distastefully at Schroedinger, who, had not moved from the moment he’s plopped down in front of her and glare silently, she brushed it carefully aside with her foot and went to a large carrying case that she had been loading a few of her inventions into. As she did so, she spoke as though I had let her down, “So you are a mage.”
Deciding now was as good a time as any to unload my belongings into the dresser and set a few things out (once I’d properly aligned the dresser with both the bed and the wall to assure the space between them all was an even inch), I began to stuff my boxers into the top drawer with a few pairs of socks. What she said didn’t really feel right, somehow. I couldn’t exactly see myself in a wizard’s robe and hat shooting lightning. Although, the lightning part might be neat. “No, well… not exactly. I guess kind of, in a way…”
“Ah, no matter. Just remember, do not touch my side of the room. It could be dangerous for you. Now I must go for breakfast and classes, please excuse me.” She was already on her way out with her satchel at her side, and there was a light knock at the door shortly after she’d left.
Pristine was looking, well, perfect on the other side of it, and I waved with a small wiggle of my hand when I saw Suzan waiting behind her. I scooped up my backpack, which the cat thing began to retreat into once Wunderkind wasn’t around to freak out. “Hey! Hi!”
Wow, Suzan looked amazing in the school uniform! I should have probably changed into it, but to be honest, I wasn’t in any real huge rush to go trouncing about in frills and skirts.
I wasn’t too sad to see Wunderkind go, either. She was rather grumpy for a German, but I figured given enough time I could easily wear her down with my overwhelming charm and my witty sort of wit. As roommates go, it could have been FAR worse. I could have ended up with a female version of Wolverine. All short, hairy arms and boobs and smoking cigars while asking to borrow my conditioner, bub. Then again, that’d be kind of cool too. To be honest, just having a roommate was sort of neat! It was like college would be, I bet. There weren’t even any parents! Well, there was Ms. Nelson, who was like everyone’s mother combined into a super strict conglomerate entity that was half mom and half drill instructor. But as for wacky college hijinks, I couldn’t really see Greta letting down her hair and hitting all the off the roof bad sick dope or whatever parties and having crazy adventures with the Dean’s daughter and me after a long night of bovine unsettling. Maybe kids around here fought crime at night instead? Like, sneak out after curfew and don masks and tights and cut our hero teeth on small fry like school bullies and muggers, or perhaps wild rats, then work our way up the ladder to…
“Ahem,” Suzan said briskly, her hand on her hip. “Josie, stop staring off into space, Pristine here is waiting on you. We don’t have all day, here.”
I found myself finishing the sentence out loud, “…pounding rapists with our justice fists!”
Too late did what I had just uttered become translated into the coherent part of my brain that so often facepalms when stupid things came out of my mouth. I was getting the same looks that a five legged dog dressed as a Leprechaun might get if it crashed a 4th of July party.
“…Would… be an incredibly awkward thing to say to people… who are judging me…” I broke off into what I was unsure because of how off my voice was, a thorough round of boisterous laughter.
Suzan huffed her shoulders up and wiggled her finely sculpted eyebrows at Pristine, “Hey baby, you’re like a cigarette. Because you’re hot, and I like your butt.”
“Oh he didn’t!”
The campus was AMAZING! Giant crystal domes that we got into EAT in! Cottages and fancy classes all set out in an isolated space in a huge forest! The whole tour, I’d remained quite twitterpated by everything I’d seen. So, Suzan, who was apparently significantly more chill and at ease than I was and harder to impress, had been getting along quite well with Pristine. Once we had finished up the tour of the campus the two were chatting it up like old friends reunited after years apart.
The blonde laughed, “Oh, you know he did. And he was driving his mom’s van.”
Pristine was bubbling with amusement. “And he thought THAT would get him anywhere?”
Suzan continued in a tone of utter disbelief, “And his FRIEND was riding along with him. And THAT was the most popular guy in my grade.”
“I’m sad to say, we have quite a few like that here. But we also have some very admirable pieces of masculinity strutting around.” Her expression darkened. “Just stay away from a kid named Spade. Totally immature, will cheat on you the second you’re in detention and not have the decency to lie about it, or even cheat on you with someone who’s not a total and complete skank.”
Suzan tilted her head, but was wise enough not to question the shift in mood. “Anyone else I should be cautious of? This is my first day and all, I don’t want to end up bumping heads with all the wackos if I can avoid it.”
I had to marvel at her intuitiveness. I wouldn’t have bothered to ask something like that. Shoot, I hadn’t thought there WOULD be trouble kids in a place like this. But come to think of it, if they let ME in, maybe there’s other kids in my same predicament. Or there were Nazi spies! Nazi spies that me and my gadget wench Wunderkind would stomp between math classes and
Pristine sighed, and looked off to one side to collect her thoughts. “Where to begin… well, first off, you probably want to avoid running into a group of freshmen called ‘Team Kimba’…”
“Kimba. Yah, I have no idea. They’re all housed over in the Poe cottage, which is where the school houses all the, ah… mentally disturbed sorts. They’ve been putting out a lot of waves.”
I interrupted. “Um. Wait, you guys have an entire cottage of crazy kids? Like a loony bin? Seriously? An entire cottage of them?”
“More or less. The first day they were here they got in a fight with ninjas…”
Ah HAH! Sweet, ninjas! I wondered if we ALL got to fight ninjas on the first day!
Pristine must have seen my eyes light up, because she stopped to eyeball me. “…Yes, ninjas. Seriously.” Then she turned to smirk at Suzan, “In their nighties, too. And that doesn’t even begin to describe some of the off the wall stuff they do. Every time they go to Boston they seem to end up in a big fight with actual super villains, and the school keeps letting them go back. They do got one cute guy, but instead of seeing any of them he’s dating another girl in the dorm, a real wallflower. He might be the only sensible one in the bunch. One of them looks like some anime character, one of them is an honest to god Goodkind too, and there’s rumors that she runs the group like her own hit squad, and that she has some kind of weird body GSD.”
“GSD?” Suzan wondered out loud. “Generally Shitty Disposition?”
I decided I’d throw my hat in the ring while we were all playing guess the initials. “Gigantic smelly d-”
Suzan glared at me.
“What? I was going to say dog!”
Pristine glanced at me. “It’s when a mutant’s body goes all… well, mutates visibly and in inhuman ways. Like when someone finds out they’re a mutant, and their body turns into… oh, a raptor, or their legs turn into a snake tail.”
“…Gotcha. And uh, what’s a Goodkind?”
The statuesque raven haired hottie sighed in my general direction, “You really need to get out more, Josie. You seem to know plenty of pop culture references but nothing that’s really common sense. Goodkind? That super rich family with ties in everything? Seriously, their name is everywhere, how could you NOT know their name? Related to the Hiltons? The ones that basically own the Knights of Purity?”
I furrowed my brow defensively. “Hey, I don’t exactly spend every night keeping up to date on current affairs and… who’s rich and stuff! Though now that you mention it I think I do recall a show that had one of them on it. Guy with a bad toupee, has that catchphrase ‘you’re fired!’ right?”
Suzan cleared her throat. “Alright, so keep an eye on them.”
“Well… them, and there’s a guy named Megadeath you probably want to stay away from. He has a habit of breaking out in insane ranting… and Olypmpia… and Counterpoint, although he’s been in the hospital for a while after a fight with Jobe, which is really weird since he always healed up from fights before. Oh, and Jobe, he looks like some black skinned elf girl with white hair now, you can’t miss her. Or the rest of her group, they all pretty much look the same. Alright, who am I forgetting…” She tapped her perfect lips, as though she were trying to remember something.
“Gawd,” swore Suzan. “Maybe I would have been better off back in California. At least back over there when you put someone else in the hospital you got kicked out of school. Well, what about the dating scene?”
“Well… there’s quite a few nice guys out there, I admit. You probably want to avoid dating anyone with fur or fleas. And don't date ANYBODY who hangs out with the guys in Emerson that are called the Losers, they're jerks and its TOTALLY bad for your rep!”
Suzan winced, and pursed her lips. “Yes, I um, I’ll avoid that, right. Thanks for the heads up, Pristine.”
“Hey, no problem,” the girl responded, smiling confidently back at Suzan. “If you have any more questions just find me. Anyway, you guys should probably be getting to the Crystal Hall if you want anything to eat before lunch, classes are going to be starting soon.”
I noticed she wasn’t looking at ME when she said that. I think I’d queered any chance I had of making friends with hotty hot pants there back when I pointed out that furry, damnit.
Suzan waved at her after she left, then looked back at me, and nodded her head down the path back to the hall. “Come on then, let’s not be late. So what did you think of all that?”
I brightened. “Oh, it’s… awesome! What’s not to like? This place has kids that can fly on their own! I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like going to school with kids who can do stuff like that. It’s like right out of a comic book! And… and there’s kids around here that can use magic, and are super smart and invent stuff like space cars and ray guns!” Trying to keep myself from seeming like too much of a spazoid, I tried to dim down my enthusiasm marginally. “It’s neato. I’m really looking forward to making a fresh start out here.”
I probably was acting like a dork once more (I really had to figure out how to stop doing that), because she was looking at me in a rather unimpressed way.
“I guess I should’ve figured you were into all that… comic book stuff.” Shaking her head, she turned her attention back to walking along the cement path. Even the woodsy part of the campus was gorgeous, you could really tell they had some dedicated folks maintaining the place. “You DO know that stuff isn’t real, right? The real deal is more like what you see on the news, with the looting and stealing and destruction of property.”
Blushing a little, I straightened my posture out regally, and consequently thrust my modest chest forwards while trying to match her pace. Was it my imagination, or was she taller than I remembered? “Of course I do! I mean it’s probably not ALL like that. Sure when there’s stuff in the news about a lot of property damage happening I figure it’s because the good guys are trying to protect us from the bad guys! I’m not a comic book nerd or anything like that, anyway.” Right, I was a gamer geek! Although I hadn’t really watched the news lately, or ever, come to think of it. “What’s wrong with liking that sort of thing, anyway?”
Suzan shrugged a little. “Nothing, really. It’s fine. I’m sure some guys think it’s cute.”
I balked. Okay, not what I wanted to hear. There was no way I was going to start caring what guys thought of me. No. No way, no sir, no how. That was where I was drawing the line. Guy liking leads to dating! Dating leads to making out and smooching and stuff! Making out and smooching and stuff leads to baby making, and baby making leads to standing barefoot in a kitchenette in your daddy’s trailer making sandwiches and being six months pregnant with some jerk’s baby who doesn’t even remember your anniversary, and then you’re on videotape getting arrested on COPS and it’s all downhill from there.
She looked at me sideways as we walked past a giant sasquatch man in an oversized school uniform who was arguing with a kid in a floating chair over a computer. They were throwing around techspeak, and words like ‘inconceivable’ and ‘total protonic reversal’. “You know, you really should be wearing your school uniform today. You’ll stand out otherwise.”
I took one look at her, then glanced back again at the giant hairy dude and the kid with the floating seat. Hey, I wonder if anyone could get one of those… “Seriously?”
Suzan appeared to be tired of explaining every little thing to me, but acted as though she had the good grace to do so, for my own good. It was just a little annoying. She drawled in a quiet voice, “Josie, we’re showing up a semester and a week late for the freshman class. Every single other kid on this campus has been around one another for months, and they know each other, even the freshman class. We’re standing out enough as it is, without the uniform on you’re going to stand out like a horny virgin boy at a nude pool party.”
Having been, quite recently, a horny virgin boy not unlike that of which she spoke of, I knew intimately well what she was talking about. In the pants. Oh, how I wish I could still make pup-tents in my pants without using my hands.
It occurred to me that that was a very strange thing to wish.
And she did make a very good point about the uniform. I probably should have changed into the uniform back in my room, but I was sort of in a rush to see the school, and most certainly NOT in a rush to wear a dress. Or the bra. Or the panties. Wait, were girls allowed to wear boxers under skirts? Who would I even ask about that without giving myself away?
I squeezed my backpack lightly. There wasn’t much of a response inside, Schroedinger was taking what I gathered to be a very satisfying nap between the gi I’d gotten for the kung-fu class, and several new textbooks.
“Speaking of which, what do you know about guys?”
I stared at her oddly. How was I supposed to answer that? They were on the whole bigger than me, stupider than me, and liked hitting me when I brought up either of the two previous points. “Huh?”
“Guys,” She asked delicately. “Have you had any, ah, experiences with them?”
The corner of her mouth twitched upwards in a smirk. “That’s what I thought.”
Ack, I was one of those people that blushed easily. Or maybe it was just being so close to her? My face felt hot, either way, and my imagination was running wild trying to figure out what she was thinking. I bet she wanted to have a sleepover and do some pillow fighting in our underwear, while bouncing up and down on the bed and giggling! Ack, wait, no, bad imagination! Save that thought for later. Okay, how to proceed with this… if I lied so she wouldn’t think I was a virgin and told her I’d been with LOADS of guys she’d think I was some kind of slutsack. Maybe I should try to answer vaguely.
“N-no, I, I mean, I pretty much GET guys…”
She sighed. ”Don’t we all wish we did. Let me give you some tips, while we’re talking. As it so happens, I do know a few things about boys.”
I was quite certain this was something I didn’t want to know. Also, I did NOT wish I got guys. The conversation had the stink of my father walking up to me to explain the birds and the bees, and the inevitable long and awkward conversation that followed when I asked him what the hell insects and avians had to do with sex and the things he’d caught me looking at on the internet. Anyway, I knew guys all I really wanted to having been one myself for the majority of my life span. I’d like to think my understanding of them was superior to hers. “Um, Suzan, I’m not so sure…”
She tugged me close and put an an arm around my shoulders, lowering her voice to a whisper “There’s no need to be shy. Consider this free advice. Standard girl knowledge, really. You don’t owe me a thing for it, either. It’s important for you to know if a guy is interested in you or not. It gives you the edge.”
Gosh, she was close to me. She smelled really nice, too. Had I mentioned that? My guess was she used a kind of perfume or skin cream that I couldn’t even pronounce because it no doubt came from a froofy place over the ocean where they wore hats that looked like deflated balloons and laughed like ‘haw haw haw’, but it had a pleasing scent of something like violets and vanilla lightly mixed. Sadly, my voice even sounded wimpy to me when I responded. “B-but I’m not - what edge?”
“Even if you don’t like a guy, or guys in general, you should know if one is interested in you so you can turn him down before it becomes… weird. I’m guessing you don’t have a lot of experience dating, right?”
Now, I was fairly certain that my face had turned some shameful shade of crimson by then, perhaps with the intensity of the shade comparable to the famous “red delicious” variety of the apple. However, she made a very good point about knowing when you had to shut someone down, and I was hoping that I would never have to broach the subject in the near or far future. But, better to be prepared. And I rather enjoyed talking to a cute girl with boobs that were touching me! I mean, I think they were! Her side was touching mine, and there was some yield happening in the contact. I knew better than to look down, but it was REALLY hard to resist.
Also, dangit, I had been on dates… a date, before! Of course it hadn’t gone the way I wanted it to, but that’s a whole different matter. “A-actually there was this one time…!”
“I’m sure,” she interrupted smoothly. “Well, this probably would have been of big help to you if you’d known it back then.”
It sure as hell wouldn’t have been!
“There’s certain ways a guy will show his interest that’re pretty much standard across the board. I’m not talking about him giving you candy or flowers, or asking you out. That’s kind of obvious.”
This time I just grunted my understanding, trying my darnedest not to let show how completely uncomfortable I was, suddenly being this close to breasts. I mean, um, someone else’s! Not that I was all comfortable with the fact that I had some myself and hadn’t really had the proper opportunity to be alone and have some get to know you time…
She smirked, letting her hand fall down from my shoulder to hold her school satchel with both hands. “The first way you can tell if a guy finds you… interesting, is he’ll usually raise his eyebrows when he looks at you. His nostrils might get a little bigger too, when he’s talking to you. Being smaller like you are, it should be easy to spot when that happens. His jaw may drop some, or he may try to strike a pose when he’s got your attention.”
I blinked at her in wonder. This was the first time I’d heard any of this bull. I’d been a guy my whole life and I hadn’t ever heard of this… eyebrow raising business. I suppose I’d just never thought of it, I mean, knowing if a guy was romantically inclined towards me hadn’t ever been an issue (thank the math gods). There were a few guys that I wondered about in the past, as they’d given me way more attention than was considered heterosexual, but they probably made up for it with the fact that most of that attention had been violent in nature.
But eyebrows raising? How silly. Was it true? Testing it, I thought back to that one red headed girl with the pointy ears and the serious business up front and in the back I’d spotted on campus during the tour, and felt one of my eyebrows involuntarily raise.
Maybe there was something to this after all.
She continued, regardless of my internal monologue. “There’s some other ways you can tell, too. When you’re around the guy and he starts making it obvious he wants your attention, or he starts to fix his clothing once he notices you’re there, straighten out his socks, smooth out his shirt or slacks, or whatever. That’d mean he’s probably interested in you and trying to look good. Oh, if he’s talking to you, and says he has this friend who he wont tell you about, and he says this ‘friend’ wants to know if you like certain things…” she rolled her eyes a little. “That’s a definite tell. You play poker at all, Josie?”
I eyed her. I was fourteen. Why the hell would I know how to play poker? That was an old man game for people who didn’t have electricity.
“That’s what I thought. Oh well… it’s a lot like that. If you can tell what a person’s holding by the way they act, and their expression from around a poker table, you can pretty much apply it to guys. Or some girls. Except they’re way more obvious about it than even they realize, with lots of overcompensation.” She gave a little chuckle, and gazed across the campus. “It’s kind of pitiful, when you think about it… okay, we’re almost there. I’m just going to grab a snack and talk to someone real quick, I’ll see you later.”
“Um, yah, later,” I replied, and smiled to myself, taking a deep breath. She already had people to talk to?
My life had changed so much in the past couple weeks, but this was the first time I’d thought maybe it had changed for the better.
Nephandus calmly strode out of the Crystal Hall with his cane in hand, a smirk on his mouth, and the world at his feet. A few girls passing cast him favorable looks and he preened, adjusting the frills along his lapel in a dignified manner.
This action prompted a fit of laughter from two cackling jackanapes at whom Nephandus cast a disparaging look, pausing in his gait with his cane propped by his boot.
“And what do YOU two find so funny?”
Risk grinned, reclining against a wall beside Flux, commented, “Mostly your wardrobe, Jay-Arm.”
Flux seemed to agree with Risk’s view on Nephandus’ choice of garb. “I believe he may have raided the set of ‘Interview with a Vampire’. Would you get a load of those ruffles? I haven’t seen anything THAT girly outside of Bunny’s room.”
Scoffing at the two plebeians with a show of marked disdain behind his hooded eyelids, Jean-Armand replied in an aloof tone, “You two only WISH you had as much class as I had. I doubt either of you hicks could pull off an outfit like this.”
Risk said under his breath, “Oh I don’t know, I’ve seen Flux pull off LOTS of things…”
Which Flux covered by speaking of his fellow a bit louder and smirking broadly. “It’s a… daring look, Jay-Arm. I’m sure all the guys in the locker room just love your flippant charms and frilly clothes.”
Nephandus’ mouth twitched. “How original of you, you find a man with a superior sense of class and style than yourself and assume he must play both sides of the fence. Well, I assure you, I am very popular with the ladies. Why, I practically have to beat them off!” He gave a confident swipe through the air with his cane, not really looking at the few students exiting the Crystal hall that had to dodge around his motions and who glared.
Risk had the look on his face like he was about to mention something similar he noticed in Flux’s situation, and his own proclivity for ‘beating off’ would be suitors, but had the good sense to just grin really, really wide in a way that put Nephandus and Flux slightly on edge.
Rolling his eyes at the meaningful grin from his friend, Flux simply said to Nephandus with a mischievous grin, “Oh really.”
“Really,” insisted Nephandus with a glare. “I probably get more girls than the two of you ruffians combined.”
The other two young men reclining against the wall exchanged knowing smirks, and Risk said with just the right amount of disbelief in his voice, “You don’t say!”
Flux gave his friend a meaningful poke with an elbow, and smirked slyly at Nephandus. “As if. I’ve seen how the girls look at you. The only reason you might see them smiling is because they’re laughing at your woefully out of date clothes and snooty theatrics.”
Nephandus sneered, leaning on his cane, fingers caressing secret switches and buttons temptingly. “Snooty!? Maybe you two drooling morons have issues refining your ‘pick up lines’ or whatever you use, but my charm is a finely honed art, a laser beam of focused seductiveness. If I set my sights on a girl, there’s no way she can resist me. I just don’t need to go picking up every girl I see.”
“Reaaaally,” Risk probed, leaning forward. “Any girl?”
Jean-Armand was practically looking down his nose at the two boys. “Obviously! Provided she’s straight. Given enough time for my grace and many charms to affect her, I could have any girl on this campus I wanted, if I was that crass.”
The composed boy hesitated, his grip on his cane adjusting. “Well, ah… of course I could, if given the right setting or, ah… she doesn’t count, she’s in Poe. You know how the kids in that cottage are, even a guy like me would have trouble winning over THOSE types.”
Flux and Risk went still, perhaps they even looked slightly nervous. “What about them?”
Nephandus gave a dry chuckle, “Well, they’re all loony. You can’t expect a girl that’s out of her mind to appreciate what I have to offer…”
“You DO realize we’re both in Poe, don’t you?” Risk said with a raised eyebrow.
Flux relaxed again, suspicions averted, and continued to push the subject that he could just tell was going to be hours of entertainment for him and his friend, all the while grinning like an idiot. “A girl would HAVE to be out of her mind to appreciate what you have to offer, Nephy.”
“Nonsense!” he scoffed, glaring at the two boys. “You show me one regular non-wacko girl, and I can charm the undies right out from under her.”
“Chaaarming,” cooed Flux, while Risk already had out a small booklet and a pen.
“Care to place a wager on that, Nephy?” he said with a charming smile.
Nephandus bristled, his cummerbund all ruffled and a ready sneer at his lips as he attempted to respond as dignified as he could, “Certainly. Name your terms, sir.”
Flux got a calculating look on his face. “Alright… if you can ‘charm’ the underwear right off the next girl to turn the corner, given maybe… say, a week’s time? If you can do that, Risk and I will play manservant to you for one day. Fetch your food, carry your books, whatever you want.”
Just the look on Nephandus’ face showed he was already thinking of horrible things he could have the two flippant blaggards scrub and clean. Skeptically he said, while examining his manicured nails with a critical eye, “And if by some infinitesimal fluke I should somehow fail in this task?”
“Right,” Risk answered, admiring Nephandus’ ankles with a smile so wide the corners of his mouth were curling. “WHEN you fail, you put on a pretty dress and do what WE say for a day.”
“Hardly fair!” he shot back. “Neither of YOU runs the risk of having to crossdress if I somehow come across the one girl in the school who’s concealing her inner lesbian and refuses to fall for my wooing!”
“I think it’s fair, there would after all be two of us playing the part when and if by some stroke of cosmic luck you run across some poor kid that actually thinks you’re suave and falls for your tasteless approach,” Risk said, already jotting down the bet in his book.
Nephandus tilted his head, mulling the terms over in his head when a gaggle of Venus Inc. girls rounded the corner all giggling and chatting with one another, flipping their perfect hair over their shoulders as they passed. Nephandus and Flux both watched the girls with shameless interest, a few of them even smiling coyly at Nephandus, while Risk cleared his throat. “So it’s a deal?”
Smirking, Nephandus held out his hand. “A gentlemanly wager it is, then. I think I’ll have you both fitted for matching monkey suits of some kind. Maybe even ones with tails, for when I win this bet you’re both my slaves for the day.”
Flux smirked back mischievously, and shook his hand firmly, and they all turned to watch the corner intently to see who’d be playing the role of damsel in distress.
The next woman to round the corner was definitely a striking one, Hippolyta had an especially calm and proud walk that morning.
Flux and Risk both started to snicker, until Nephandus said with a growl, “I said the next NON-wacko.”
They smirked and returned to waiting.
This. School. Is. Amazing!
I was still in awe after the personal tour I’d been given earlier, and I was pretty sure that my current perpetual state of tourism shock would never fade. I’d seen people flying! This girl that looked just like Lady Lightning had flown right over my head (in a skirt!)! There were dudes made out of rock, girls made out of jello (and not just those particular parts of anatomy I tended to notice, like, the whole body!), and hot chicks as far as the eye could see!
This was a genuine, real, super hero school! With super heroes! Mutants and masterminds! Ninjas and quite possibly naughty nurses (granted, the few nurses I had seen, while most assuredly naughty, if not just lacking in bedside manner, were not the kinds I wanted to see in naughty nurse outfits)! I think I might have been having a nerd-gasm just walking the same ground as the rest of these guys! If I could still produce wood from my loins I’d have to do that awkward shuffling walk with my backpack over my lap, and in that respect I had to admit the girls internal plumbing was a clear upgrade. Not exactly an even trade for losing the ability to write my name in the snow that didn’t exist in Southern California while standing upright, but maybe it had its perks, this nether-bound sideways shy smile of mine.
I marveled at some of the buildings, as even the construction here was impressive! The cafeteria was this awesome, giant crystal dome with multiple levels inside it, and elevators, and fountains INSIDE! Some of this place stunk of a rich and well-to-do private school, but then you’d turn a corner and see a giant robot, or a drop dead gorgeous girl with a snake’s butt or crazy bat wings!
I’d been marveling and so lost in sight-seeing around the campus that I’d almost forgotten I was supposed to be headed to that Crystal Hall for breakfast, though I was doubting I’d be able to grab more than a quick snack there with the time I was wasting in rubbernecking. Not only did the campus have that fantabulous cafeteria, it had a Starbucks style coffee shop, and I’d been told there were more than a few places that you could get snacks hidden here and there from vending machines. This place was really more like a rich college than a private school! I don’t think the X-men had it better than this.
I stopped to glance down at my class schedule with an irrepressible grin. There wasn’t any helping the huge smile on my face, not with a class schedule like THIS one. It may be the first time in my life that I was actually looking forward to going to school! Then again, this was still a school. And while I was amazing at math now, my other subjects in school had suffered greatly. So, I still had to take an English class, and it was the first class of the day. I expected to catch on my sleeping in that class. Anyway, after that, I had my math requirement with Ecila.
But after that, get this, I got to learn magic!
Well, it was Introduction to the Mystic Arts, but still! No boring history lessons for me, I was going to learn to summon meteor swarms and enslave armies of golems to my will and make them… I don’t know, do chores or something. Because the whole chore thing really cut into my gaming time. I wonder if they showed you how to make magic weapons, too. I could do with a couple excaliburs and some magic armor. Maybe a bullet with a fireball spell stored in it! But none of that fantasy armor bullshit for women that didn’t cover naught more than a bikini would, I wanted the big chested manly guy stuff that actually ARMORED you! Hmm… I wonder if I could get my new roomie to make me an Iron man suit, and then get it all… magicified.
Then I had lunch. That was kind of strange, since I was used to having it after 4th period and not 3rd, but maybe folks on the east coast just got hungry earlier. Maybe they stagger the times the other grades take lunch so not everyone’s taking it at once?
And then I got to study Basic MARTIAL ARTS! That’s right, I was going to know kung-fu!
The pure manliness of the prospect of taking a kung-fu class at a superhero high school was enough to replace all the annoyance and troubles associated with my sex flip and give me bright hope for the future! P.E. at my old high school would have been SO much better if they’d let us learn martial arts instead.
Then, after I got to finish mastering ninjitsu, there was another chance for me to really shine and show this entire school I wasn’t some lame little nothing twerp. I had a class called Mathematics of Quantum Neutrino Fields! I wasn’t sure HOW that one got in since I already had a sort of math class thing with the crazy girl, but maybe I’d tested so high back at ARC and done so amazingly that they figured I was ready for the top secret stuff!
Finally, the cap in my feather, the pinnacle of my day, the zenith of my scholastic experience.
The course name was “Special Topics - Intro to the Whateley Ranges”.
Oh yah. That’s right. They were going to teach me how to shoot guns. Real guns! It made me giddy just thinking about it, imagining that shortly my obsession for shooting weapons of minor destruction would no longer be restricted to the digital realm! Absently, I wondered to myself how effective a bunny-hop would be in real life, and decided it would have to be one of the things to try once they let me start shooting things. Maybe they’d even let me use a sniper rifle, or a gatling gun, or maybe even a Desert Eagle!
My inner man was frothing at the mouth just thinking about it, I had a strange tingling sensation that was kind of queasy feeling also bubbling down in my belly, an odd and alien feeling I was starting to associate with that thing called hope. Contrariwise, it could have been gas produced by train food from the ride over, or maybe I’d swallowed some of those chemicals from this morning’s decontamination.
Surely, if there was a place that I could finally be respected for who I was and not be discounted as another geeky nerd, this school was the place for it!
Nephandus couldn’t believe his luck. This bet was in the bag! His victory was assured, and the two guys joking at his side knew it, because the second they saw the geeky nerd of a girl in the thick square-lensed horn-rimmed glasses rounding a corner both Flux and Risk let out a groan and turned away, hanging their heads low.
This girl was almost not even a challenge. This was his type. Not the type he preferred, but the type that, as the past had proven, fell for him at a glance. He could tell by her somewhat unfeminine manner, the lack of makeup, that dazed “first day at super-school-high” look on her face that she’d fall for him at a glance. This was the type of girl that probably had shelves of romance novels and every Harry Potter and Twilight book ever printed, in paperback and hardcover, with cutesy little hearts and bats drawn in the borders of each page. Awkward, daydreaming, a hopeless romantic without the social skills to actually romance anyone, so she probably just waited in her room all day dreaming about some big hunk of grinning man-beef like Nephandus himself to sweep her off her feet and deprive her of her undergarments!
He decided he’d use the casual, ‘leaning on his cane and looking regal’’ pose to get her attention as she walked past. She’d look, her heart would skip a beat, he’d look back to spare her a favorable smile, and they’d share that first intimate glance that would trap her soul and make her forever his. Or until he got bored and moved on to a more busty prospect.
His victory all but assured, Nephandus, glanced towards his two adversaries with a confident sneer, “I think when I win this, I’ll have you both serve me tea… and you can be mute man servants, I don’t really care to hear your voices while you’re servicing me.”
For reasons Nephandus couldn’t fathom, Risk stifled a rip of laughter.
Just as I turned a corner, this guy dressed up like a foppish drama club reject from a play about posh English noblemen and their mistreatment of poppets and orphans, with a sense of style I found indicative of questionable sexual preferences gave me a LOOK, while his two guy friends in school uniforms smirked behind him. Inadvertently, I found myself taking a step back out of sheer caution. Something felt very, very off about all this. Something like a predator edging in the boy’s eyes and poise put the fear of god into me in a way that had my belly feeling hollow and my blood running cold.
And on the other hand, I had to agree to myself that this guy was everything I wish I was. He was tall, handsome, he had an impressive build, and he looked… I don’t know, suave. Oh yes, and he was still a guy. He had a certain style about him that marked him as ‘cool’ to my admittedly untrained eyes. Obviously I don’t know cool intimately, and we weren’t on a first name basis or anything, cool and I, but I knew it when I saw it.
Now, I don’t consider myself to be a coward. I did have a keen sense of self-preservation, however, of which I was not ashamed. If this were just some big musclehead attempting to push me around, I’d at least make a show of not being afraid. After all, I’d been in the bellies of demons and confronted aliens and the like that would have probably had anyone else at this school wetting their boxers, but there was still something about this guy that, while I was still envious of his look, freaked me right the hell out. Something Suzan had said had my suspicions running into overdrive the moment I’d seen him almost… pose… when I came around. I decided caution was the better part of valor, so after an ever so brief pause, I adjusted my path 90 degrees and walked away in search of a back door to this place.
Nephandus’ brow creased in confusion.
It almost seemed like she’d been falling for the old dependable gloomy standby posing that so often worked for him, but then she’d gotten this look of dread on her face and walked off.
Which must have meant she was just particularly shy, so he’d have to put a little effort into this one, it seemed. That was fine with him, what fun was a wager that was entirely too easy? This way he’d really get to show off his moves and make her swoon! Nephandus grinned to himself, set his sights on the retreating rear of the dark haired girl, and strode to catch up with her on long legs, trying to bring up the kinds of words and lines he figured a girl like her would respond to.
“Greetings, sweetling… allow me to introduce myself. My name is Nephandus.” With a dramatic flourish of his jacket, the pale haired man fell into step besides me and into the light where his eyes flashed at me, he took my hand to stop me, bowed, and kissed the back of it.
With a jerk I pulled my hand back and quickly wiped it off on the back of my pants, appalled by this man’s actions towards my person and the wanton violation of the personal space of my knuckles! Luckily I didn’t have the slightest problem talking with guys, even though I stuttered and stammered when I was talking to almost any girl. This was a fatal flaw in my personality that had gotten my ass kicked more times than I care to recall, and yet was so knee-jerk a reaction that I usually couldn’t stop myself before the words escaped.
“DUDE! That’s disgusting! The hell is wrong with you! And ‘sweetling’?! Are you serious?? Agh! That is just so…! Ew! Who even DOES that anymore! Who did that EVER! You don’t call people that, you just DON’T! And you sure as hell do not just walk up to someone you’ve never met, grab their hand, and kiss it! It’s gross! It isn’t even sanitary! What if I didn’t wash my hands after using the bathroom?! What if you just ate something really gnarly!”
What the hell was going on, was this guy some kind of a homo!?
As was usual for me, once the words were out my mind caught up. I was a girl. This was a dude. Gah, was he making a show for me? Wasn’t this one of the things Suzan was warning me about as an obvious sign that a guy was… ‘into’ me?
A look of shock, and bewilderment registered on the pale face of the creepy hand molesting teen, and he could barely mouth more of a response from my sudden outburst than a “Wuh?”
Shoot, if this is what this place considered cool, I wanted to have nothing to do with it. Mark me up as a social outcast here as well if being on the ball around here meant dressing up like a ‘Pride and Prejudice’ reject while licking strangers’ hands and calling them “sweetling”, ick! This wasn’t some bad romance novel school, this was real life school! Real life school with super strong people that can fly and zap stuff!
He recovered from the initial shock slowly, his smirk spreading. “You’re so shy, it’s very charming. Can I ask your… name?” He paused deliberately before the last word, an eyebrow rising upwards in a graceful way that had me recoiling and feeling slightly sick.
A cold nerve gnawing fear chilled its way into my clammy pale flesh. It was another sign! Another sign that she’d warned me about! His eyebrows were going up! Dear god, they were up, this was it!
Stammering, I took a fearful step away from him, my thoughts going to some of the other signs Suzan had told me of this morning. The nostrils! If the nostrils flared, that would be the final warning! So what if he showed two or three of the indications she’d warned me about, all that other stuff could have been incidental, coincidence, maybe he was just teasing! Yah, there was still a chance all of this just a farce to haze the new kid, to put some fear of god into him… er, her!
“Uh, it’s… Josie…” I managed to say, finding myself watching his nose, fearful of what I may find there.
Nephandus’s confidence in his own skills was shaken. There was something just plain odd about this girl. His first approach turned out to be a total flop, but he was still sure she dug him. All girls liked him, mostly! When you were as hot as he was, and talked to someone as not as she was, inevitably the force of lesser hotness gave in to the greater! That was just the science of it all, it was a law, nearly!
Smiling that charming smile, he adjusted his long ruffled sleeves, and saw her quiver. Wait, why was she staring at his nose? He glanced to the side nervously. Was there something hanging from his nose? Was there a bogie betraying the perfection of his twin holes of olfactory Adonis in the temple of Nostrildamas?
Experimentally, he gave his nostrils a little swell to see if it felt like there was something stuck or dangling in there, doing so as smoothly as he possibly could, because it wouldn’t look nearly as cool to reach up and start picking at his own nose right at that exact moment, and if there wasn’t anything there and she had some kind of weird nose fetish he didn’t want to blow it, so to speak.
Smoothly, he said, “Ah, so Josie, that’s such a lovely name. You MUST be new here. My name is Nephandus, perhaps I could show you around, teach you the… ropes?”
Her face went pale just after he tested his air holes with that small flexing of his nosey muscles, she let out the smallest of whimpers, turned tail and began to flee in the opposite direction.
He stared in disbelief as the dark haired little tart started to power walk swiftly away from him. He was, however, quickly taken out of his state of shock when he heard the jackal like laughter of the two instigators behind him, and despite the light powdering he’d given his face in the restroom earlier, he felt his face flush somewhat in ways he was certain showed through.
How had THAT not worked? Geeky little social outcasts like her usually swooned head over heels when he pulled that move! Turning swiftly on Flux and Risk, Nephandus made a decisive motion with his cane. “This is NOT over yet, I have not blown it! That was just my first move, laying down the groundwork. I can still snare this little filly without a problem with just a few more calculated moves. She’s just playing hard to get!”
Scowling when his statement was left with even more laughter, Nephandus turned quickly and stalked off to plan further actions against the reluctant object of his affections, his brain bubbling with plots and plans.
To say I was a bit giddy about my next class was somewhat of an understatement of gross proportions. Compared the utterly mundane English class with the reading assignments on the book version of Frankenstein (I honestly hadn’t known they’d made a book based after the movie), it wasn’t that hard to top. Besides, it’d be a cold day in hell when I read a book when there was a perfectly good string of movies I could watch in one tenth the time. Okay, Ecila’s class was pretty okay.
No, it was Introduction to Mystical Arts! It was a class that was ALL about magic. And not the kind of magic you see at birthday parties! No, there was no mistaking what this class would involve.
I’d have to rather quickly see about getting one of these hallway lockers they had to stash books in, because while I COULD stick them in the backpack with Schroedinger he liked to decorate and… make things. I wasn’t quite sure if he was reading them or what, really. He sure didn’t seem any smarter.
Okay, so Intro to Mystical Arts. I found the door to the class easy enough, and took a deep breath to prepare myself for what kind of stuff may be within. If this is magic we’re talking about, it’s probably going to have some old wart nosed witch crone, or a Gandalf threatening my ability to pass his course. The classmates would probably be a room full of Hairy Potter wanna-bes or something equally awkward to look at.
I took a deep breath, pushed the door open, and walked into the room.
It seemed like most of the class was already there. Amazingly though, some of them were really quite hot. Though there was a kid who was maybe a year younger than me sitting up front, there was also a startlingly hot but pissy looking blonde, and up in the front row there was a short punk haired red-hot brunette who had the air of a princess about her sitting in the front row. Man, this school had to be HARD on the pre-pubescent boys just getting their shiny set of hormones.
Learning my mistake from earlier, I sat in the back a desk or so away from a round kid in dark robes and… a… wizard hat.
I looked back at the front of the class. Everyone else had regular uniforms on. I glanced back at him… yup. Still in a robe and wizard hat, and he had a bad dark hair dye job on top of it. Aw, the poor bastard.
No doubt the kid was just as new as I was and making the same mistake I’d done in the last class trying to show off with the Bruce Lee gi. Deciding I’d try to help a fellow geek out, I leaned over and said in a hushed whisper, “Uh, hey, dude. I don’t think you actually NEED to wear a wizard’s outfit in this class. It’s just the intro, man.”
There, I’d done my good deed for the day.
“Pfah, dirty muggle!” scoffed the fat kid, and he just looked at me like I was dirt. “I’m wearing this to show my superiority! Unlike all you talentless squibs I’m an actual wizard. So I DO need to dress like one.”
I stared at him in disbelief.
There was something about this school that kept turning my expectations around on their ear. There such a wide variety of talent and beauty and ugly that I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to run into in the next class.
“Uh, alright then,” I conceded. Maybe I should just keep my mouth shut for the rest of the year. “Sorry about that… big… kid.”
He snorted again. “The NAME… is Mugwump. And you’d do well to remember it.”
I was pretty certain that a mugwump was the sound a swamp made when it farted, but just this once I chose to keep that particular observation to myself. My habit of shouting insults that came to mind may only possibly kick in when I was feeling threatened. It was less convenient that way.
Folding my arms, I prepared myself for the rest of the class. I’d just been badmouthed by a chubby cosplayer, nothing could surprise me now.
Just then, the teacher walked in. She… was not hideous. She was elegant, even, mature, and did not have five warts on her nose. She almost kind of looked normal, possibly, except for the fact that she looked like she was closely related to Morticia Addams.
Then following her holding stacks of copied papers was something so drop dead gorgeous I think I may have possibly been aroused before she even walked into the room. My god, she had the body of a porn star, the hair of an Irish super model, and the ears of a… Vulcan!
“Fey…” drooled the wizard kid sitting next to me, his eyes wide and adoring.
I was already awkwardly shifting my legs around before I remembered there was no chance I was going to have anything awkward to hide. I gulped hard and did my best during the following class period to not just stare stupidly at her the entire time.
Trudging along it soon occurred to me that I’d begun to earn the reputation of the “new kid”. Mostly because half the people I came across called me “Hey new kid”. Also, as Suzan had said, I sort stood out having started the first day in my own clothes. This was a major drawback to attending a new school, and a major stumbling step when trying to make connections with other kids. It made you stand out in the worst way. Everyone else had already formed their cliques and groups and friendships, and you just show up out of the blue, unfamiliar, strange, and easy to pick on.
Being the new kid at a school was sort of like painting a big target on your back and telling them all “do your worst!”, and I was starting to become a little worried about how a school of mutants and super geniuses might be able to take that little challenge up a notch.
That kid with the fruity clothes and hand seeking lips was a prime example. Obviously he must have seen me as some lost little dork he could tease and pick on to show his friends how cool he was! Then there was the incident in the martial arts class. God, I’d messed THAT one up. At least Mystic Arts had been largely uneventful.
Walking down the hallway with Schroedinger trotting down at my side with an amused look on its cat-like face, I passed a few kids in lab coats, but was nearly alone and steaming in my own thoughts when I almost ran face first into the chest of someone taller than myself. I stopped with a start and looked up.
“Oh, uh, sorry…” I began to stammer, until I realized who’s face I was looking at, and my jaw dropped.
It was me.
An older, more mature (well built!) me, but I knew my (new) face when I saw it. It wasn’t all that different from the face as a boy, I’m ashamed to say. She even had my exact same haircut and glasses! But she looked battered, beaten, one eye black and swollen, glasses broken, her body slumped and covered in bruises, and she was dressed in some kind of snazzy looking Barberella themed future bodysuit that just barely covered her good bits. …Was I oogling an older future me?
Schroedinger stopped at my feet along with me, sitting down and glancing upwards curiously.
“H-holy crap! Are you okay? What happened?! I’ll go get security!” I quickly yelped, when the woman lifted a weak hand to my shoulder to stop me.
“T-there’s no time…” she rasped, having difficulty speaking. She may have had a punctured lung or something! “I… I only have seconds more… I’m… I’m you, from the future, I… I came back to warn you….”
My eyes wide with concern, I tried to support future-me with a hand on either of her shoulders. In all my recent dealings, running into a future version of myself didn’t seem all that weird. “Warn me?! W-what about? How did you… how did I even…!”
“No time!” she said again, coughing wetly. “It’s important, past-me… world depends on this… at lunch… today, at lunch….”
“Y-you need to… tell everyone…”
I gulped. “Tell everyone…?”
“Tell them.. H-how beautiful… Thorn is…”
“Thorn… beautiful. Must… tell”
“…Uh, like… every rose has its thorn, or… a person?” I asked cautiously.
She rasped, grasping her throat. “R-right. That last one. He’s amazing. He’s… so sexy.”
I squinted at her dubiously. Could I have changed so much in the coming years that I’d forgotten my sworn pledge to myself that despite I looked like this I wasn’t going to start drooling over guys the way I drooled over girls, no matter how weird it looked. “…Yah, I don’t think so.”
“Oh g-god…. please, life depends on…” she made another sound like she was going to vomit, hunching over me and using my shoulder for support, then she started to burble, and chuckle, and finally she broke out in laughter, and stood up straight.
I could feel the thick rimmed glasses I wore across the bridge of my nose slip down a notch. “Huh?”
Before my eyes, the battered future-me’s flesh turned liquid and oozed off my attractive but beaten frame to reveal a scrawny Willy Wonka looking kid who was not me, and laughing.
You know, now that I think about it, why would I travel to the past and call myself “past-me”? The realization that I’d been the brunt of a mutant teenage joke became obvious even to me when a group of sinister looking kids that had been hiding around the corner made themselves known by pointing in my direction and chortling mightily.
“Oh man! Oh man, she TOTALLY bought it! That is the funniest thing ever! Tell me you got that on your video phone, man!” I heard one of them say over the laughter of the others, and about as annoyed as I could ever remember having been, I pushed my glasses back up the bridge of my nose with my middle finger.
“Oh my, sorry, normally I wouldn’t have picked on you, but, well… Beltane started it, and I can’t have her showing me up!”
I didn’t even know what that was! “Whatever, man!” I turned and stalked off.
This school sucked!
By lunch time I was really looking forward to sucking down a few sodas and eating as much junk food as I could get my hands on.
The selection of food (and quantities) provided by the school was massively impressive. So was the appetite of some of the kids further down the line. Being a teenager, it would have taken quite a show of gluttony to truly impress me. I’d seen entire pizzas devoured by a single kid, watched as entire pies did little more than whet the appetite of my classmates, and stared in amazement as the football team’s linebacker at my old school devoured plate after plate stacked high with hotdogs to settle a bet.
Taking all that into account, the way some of the kids here ate was cartoonish in its absurdity. I witnessed some kids use the tray as the food plate, stacked it mountainously high, inhaled the food in minutes, then get up and get back into line for seconds. This was no normal teenage appetite I was witnessing, this was how Viking gods ate.
Although there were a majority of the kids with apparently normal appetites, and more than a few girls getting modest salads, somehow that wasn’t standing out quite as much.
I was famished myself, and even with the impressive spread of french bread pizza, hordes of hamburgers, racks of pizza rolls, buckets of macaroni and cheese, and battalions of baked potatoes before me, I couldn’t get the nerve up to procure more than a small meal compared to my new classmates.
Schroedinger expressed little interest in the hamburger I’d picked and modest portion of fries I’d put on my plate, nor in anything else out of the vast selection of food stuffs and vegetables, that is, until I made my way past an array of meats. Once I had, I felt him squirming and wriggling and his interest pique when I crossed the trays filled with slabs of ham, steak, and a few other meat items I couldn’t quite identify. Taking a quick glance behind and in front of me I figured there was no subtle way to feed this thing, but letting it out may be more trouble than it was worth. So this once I decided to play the part of the doting mother. Figuring nothing would stand out as weird in this place, I picked up a few slabs of the large ham steaks that I couldn’t imagine a single human being finishing off in one go, swung my backpack around and dropped them into the zipper toothed maw of oblivion.
I heard someone snickering behind me and making the inevitable comment about me taking snacks for later, but I’d rather be the brunt of a silly joke than at the mercy of a ravenous tar cat. I’d fed it a few times like this when it’d been too lazy to leave the backpack. At least I never had to clean it out after he hid in it. Whatever he did in it. He, she, it, flipping it over on its back never yielded any definitive results towards whatever sex the thing had, even though it kept a feline shape the majority of the time.
Once I’d gotten my foodstuffs and finished with the line, I stood before the gorgeously domed cafeteria and surveyed the area, trying to figure out where I’d sit. I might have been a little early for lunch, because most of the tables were still empty and kids were filing in. At my last school, things were highly territorial, so initially I was cautious until I remembered where I was. I was at Whateley Academy!
This was a school for super people! There’s no way they’d have the same silly cliques and gangs and exclusive groups in an advanced, fancy place like this! There were way too many totally weird and utterly different kids to start grouping up in excluding bunches like that. Chuckling off my worries (I assure you, despite what anyone else says, it was most certainly a chuckle and nothing like a giggle), I rode up the escalator al lthe way to the top, and then strode off confidently to an empty table where I could look out the clear crystal windows, figuring I’d enjoy the view and devour this delicious smelling hamburger, and maybe plan the rest of my day out a little bit more thoroughly to avoid the troubles and humiliating accidents I was making a habit of up to this point.
Just as I set my tray down and was about to sit my own butt down, a huge smegging raptor set a tray of raw meat down across from me.
I don’t mean a bird like an eagle or a hawk, I mean a VELOCIRAPTOR. Jurassic Park style. Big yellow slitted predator eyes, sharp dagger sized teeth, big muscular Josie shredding body and sharp claws and all of that.
It just stood there, looking at me, then let out a horrid, bestial trill that set my nerves on edge, its little menacingly clawed hands starting to move through a series of threatening hand gestures and cryptic movements that had me yanking my tray of food back and moving quickly away from the table, though I found myself unable to look away from its huge reptilian eyes as I retreated.
Ack, what did they say in the movie, they track by movement? I froze suddenly, and it tilted its head at me, and I thought I saw it lick its lips.
Okay, I could find a different table. Maybe one without GIANT FREAKING DINOSAURS. That shouldn’t be so hard, right?
I turned to take another table, when just as I started to set my tray of food down, a bunch of huge bulky kids with military looking crewcuts and a serious look to them all sat down around me.
One was standing behind me just where I was about to sit, and looked at me with the creepiest eyes I’d ever seen. They were like… purple octopus eyes, or he had some weird contact lenses in that weirded me out nearly as much as the giant lizard had.
There was a controlled edge to his voice that was unnerving, and he nodded towards the chair I’d been planning to take, and said, “You mind, new kid? That’s my seat.”
I jerked back my food of tray from where I’d sat it again and tried to retreat with my dignity intact.
Okay, two strikes. I’d just been off balance, caught unawares. This wasn’t a big deal, I was just a little spooked, I could eat anywhere I wanted in here! Just no dinosaurs or secret army super soldier kids.
I took my cooling lunch and looked around for another empty table I could sit at without disturbing any more reptiles or huge hulking kids in crewcuts, and I noticed the fountain in the middle of the room. Quirking my lips into a hopeful smile, I walked towards it. That could be fun, sitting by a pretty fountain while I ate. Maybe even more fun than sitting out toward the windows and watching the students zoom past.
There were more than a few long tables surrounding the fountain, so I just picked the closest one to set my tray down on, and pulled a chair out to seat myself.
The sound of a man clearing his throat made me hesitate, and I looked behind me where a white haired, imperious looking young man was standing with a partially raised eyebrow. More than that, he had a bored looking hot girlfriend hanging at his side, and few other dangerous looking students behind him.
“Eh?” I said, frozen mid crouch with my ass just inches away from the blessed comfort of the cushioned seats embrace.
“New kid,” he said to me, eyelids drooped lazily over electric blue eyes that flashed as he regarded me like a dirty bum that had crossed his path, his voice bearing the tone of a young king used to getting his way. He warned me, patiently, “Keep moving.”
Without him having to say much more than that, I could feel the hostility and disgust radiating from him and his group as they started to take seats around me, and felt my interest in sitting around a fountain rapidly diminish.
Fountains are stupid, anyway. They probably got your food all soggy. I tried to not look like I was a little put off by this guy, or of the attitude his friends had, and politely picked my tray up and inched away. After that, they ignored me and went about their lunchtime habits, and I took another step away and gave a wide berth while I tried to figure out what was going on.
By now most of the tables were being filled by various groups of kids that were all chattering together and, for the most part, ignoring me, and my hamburger wasn’t going to get any fresher.
Deciding I’d just avoid the whole mess of teenage territorial disputes, I took my lunch with me and went to eat outside away from it all.
Damnit, it was EXACTLY like back home! All the good tables were taken by big groups of kids and cliques that wanted nothing to do with me! I admit I was sulking rather heavily by the time I found a place to sit on a bench where I was fairly certain no one was going to bother me, and my lunch was no longer the piping hot fresh meal it’d been when I’d gotten in line some five or ten minutes ago.
I set my backpack with the creepy cat in it down by my feet and set the tray of food on my lap and proceeded to lay into the french fries right away. By then, I was near famished, taunted as I was by the scents of hamburgers and fries and various other fragrant foods the entire time I’d been kicked from table to table.
Schroedinger’s interest was suddenly piqued, and he poked his head out from the backpack’s opening, and snaked his way up besides me on the bench, his long feline body moving like it was part slinky, just as I lifted my winnings of the day to my mouth, the hamburger inches away from having a large chunk of it torn out to sate my appetite.
It looked at me with big, round, yellow eyes that began to swell in diameter to emphasize just how creepy and alien the slick skinned little latex cat was with its spindly legs and tail.
“W-what?” I said at it nervously, hesitating at the creature’s sudden interest in me.
Schroedinger’s mouth started to widen grotesquely, and suddenly its pale tongue darted out of the rows of pearly white fangs like a rubber band snapping, snagged the meat out from my burger, and yanked it back into its face. For a moment, the felines head was ballooned to three times its original size in a wide disk shape as it chewed and smacked and slurped wetly a the slab of beef it’d stolen right out from my hands.
I stared in disbelief as, smugly satisfied, it slunk back into the recess of my backpack, leaving me with a ketchup smeared bun and a plate of french fries.
Letting out a groan, I dropped the bread back on my plate and satiated my appetite on the remaining french fries. Not even the cat was giving me a break! Nothing had gone the way I’d wanted it to all day! I’d been pranked, humiliated, and had my spirit crushed in new and exciting ways that my old school couldn’t have compared to.
Okay, this wasn’t an entire loss. I still had three more interesting classes I could kick ass in. I had martial arts next, which could be incredibly awesome. Then I had Mathematics of Quantum Neutrino Fields. That just… sounded SO much like something I would like! I was all about Math! And after that, Intro to Whateley Ranges! Double awesome!
to be continued