User Rating: 5 / 5

Star ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar Active
 

There’s an Angel in Dickinson Cottage

By Bek D. Corbin

January 8th

‘There may be prettier things in this world than watching an angel dancing on the water,’ Charlie Lodgeman mused to himself, ‘but this will do, until the next aurora borealis comes along.’

Kerry Ellison was flying her 10-year old sister Madison over the tops of the lake in a way that was all too similar to skating. And Kerry had better not let the kid slip; the only reason that the lake wasn’t frozen solid was that it was too large and active. Even so there was a pretty hefty ice shelf along the shores of the lake. The rest of the Ellison family was watching the two girls beside Charlie on the shore. Mrs. Ellison turned from watching the charming display, made magical in the early morning light, and gave Charlie a questioning look. “Lodgeman, are you sure that we can’t stay for a few more days? I mean, we’ve only been back together with Kerry for a week!”

Charlie sighed. “Linda, the Winter term is about to begin at the school. And, as much as Kerry would like having you around, she has to get settled into her dorm cottage and get started on her studies.” Besides, he’d rather avoid the unilateral embarrassment that would happen when she reacted to the kids’ reactions to Kerry. “And you really should be getting going. The Weather Service says that there’s a massive cold snap coming up, and the wind spirits agree with them for once. We’re high up in the Presidentials, Linda. Snow storms around here can really play hob with the trains and roads.”

“Maybe,” Linda admitted, “but why does Ray have to leave for San Francisco? Why can’t that relocation service of yours make room for him?”

Mmmaaawwwm!” Ray whined as only a Jersey boy can.

“Linda, there are two very good reasons. First, I cast that spell that severed the mystic links between your family and the literally hundreds of thousands of bits and pieces that you left behind in Glassboro. So, the only way that the Grand Hall, or the hundreds of other lesser predators that would like to get their hands on Kerry can get at you, is through conventional means. And the very first thing that they’re going to be using is the basic description of your family: Wife, Husband, two boys and two girls; one girl, since almost everyone will assume that Kerry has come here to Whateley. Even if we fudge on their ages a little, a seventeen-year old boy, a ten-year old girl and an eight-year boy is definitely going to cut down on the crowd that they’ll be searching through. So, by sending Ray off to study with Master Zheng in San Francisco, we change your family’s profile enough that the rest of you should be safe enough. The dye jobs and minor plastic surgery that we did on you should help things. Secondly, even without being Kerry’s older brother, someone with Ray’s demonstrated talent for magic would be regarded as a prize by unscrupulous Mages.”

“Really?” Ray asked, “But are you sure about that? Are you sure that I’m not a mutant?”

“Sorry, Ray, but you have a talent, a knack for seeing the patterns that most mundanes miss. What you lack in terms of the ‘Mage’ trait is some natural ability to tap into mystic energies.”

Ray nodded. “Okay, I can see that. But howcum you don’t just enroll me here? According to your brochure, you’re supposed to have a really kickass magic school here as well. I mean, I could stay here and keep an eye out for Kerry.”

“Again, Ray, there are two reasons. First, our magical school presumes that you can already do magic. We don’t have any courses for those first founding steps into learning magic. Master Zheng, on the other hand, is famous for his ability to open the eyes of initiates. Second, Master Zheng is a master of Taoist sorcery and alchemy, but it’s still going to be years before you do your first real magical working. In order to study here, a baseline kid like yourself wouldn’t have to be talented, he’d have to be a magical genius.”

Eight-year old Corey looked over from where he was watching the show on the lake. “What about me? Am I a mutant or not?”

Charlie smiled fondly at the boy. “We don’t know. We can’t tell if someone’s a mutant, until something happens, and whatever thing about that’s a mutant trait shows up.”

“What about Maddy?”

“Same thing. You both have better chances of being a mutant, as Kerry is one. Mutant traits tend to run in family.”

“Oh.” Corey seemed mildly placated by the thought that his sister- at least the younger of his sisters now- wasn’t getting over on him. “Can I be a Wizard, like Ray?” Corey brightened up considerably at that thought, images of Harry Potter and Jordan Winters obviously running through his head.

Charlie gave a sigh. There were times when he wanted to burn the works of J. K. Rowling as dangerous temptations of the devil. “Same as your chances of being a mutant. Magical talent is kind of like musical talent, it tends to run in families, but musical prodigies do pop up in non-musical families, and musical families occasionally turn up a kid who’s tone deaf. It’s all a matter of wait and see.”

Linda absentmindedly ran a finger down the ridge of her new nose. She was of several different minds about her new nose. On one hand, it actually did make her look better, it did suit the planes of her face and all that. On the other hand, she was vocally against the emphasis that Pop Culture placed on physical beauty, and the way that it made the deeper, more profound aspects of a person, such as character, caring and commitment, secondary unto trivial.

And on yet another hand, it DID make her look good.

Turning her attention away from her newfound vanity, Linda asked, “So, do you really think that no one will be able to find Kerry here at Whateley?”

“I’m sorry, Linda,” Charlie said gently, “but the odds that most of the Intelligence and Police services in the country already know that Kerry is here are just about 100%.”

“WHAT?”

“Linda, Whateley is an open secret in the Superhero, Super-villain, Intelligence, Police, Mercenary and Terrorist communities. Even as we speak, there are probably three surveillance teams taking pictures of Kerry and Madison. Don’t worry, I have an anti-photograph charm going on us, so you don’t have to worry.”

Linda wasn’t soothed. “What? And what’s to keep the MCO or the FBI or the CIA from just swooping down here and carting her off, just like that?”

“Well, first, they can’t- Whateley is on Reservation Land; the rules about enforcing Federal Laws on Reservation Land are very complex, and the Tribal Elders have a lot of experience in keeping the Feds out. Second, thanks to you, the MCO has signed off on Kerry. They can’t arrest her without a proper warrant, and they know better than to try that sort of nonsense here at Whateley. And lastly, if the FBI or the CIA were interested in Kerry, they’d just wait for her to graduate and try to recruit her during one of our ‘Job Fairs’. After all, why go to the bother and expense of training her, when we’ll do it for them?”

“And after that?”

“And after that, Kerry will have so many powerful connections in the Magical and superhero communities that the MCO will stay up nights figuring out reasons why they don’t come after her. Linda, the sorry fact of the matter is that the real reason why the MCO targets young, emerging mutants isn’t that that is when they’ll be the easiest to find and arrest- though that is an issue- it’s because they’re so young that they don’t have any political connections.”

“And exactly how is Kerry supposed to make these connections? More of those healings?” Linda’s narrowed eyes indicated what she thought of that. It wasn’t healing people by what amounted to magic that bothered her. It was the way that the process shifted the pain onto Kerry.

“Linda, Kerry does have talents beyond healing,” Charlie reminded her. “She can tap into the higher planes and-”

“Yeah, yeah, big whoopee, I’ve heard all this before. How does this get Kerry the protection that she’s gonna need, once she graduates?”

“Kerry’s higher energies can… magnetize… for want of a better word, materials so that they resonate with magic. She can empower mystic artifacts that would normally require conditions that occur once in several centuries to be re-charged.”

“So, she’s a magic battery re-charger.” 

“Far more than that, Linda. New artifacts that she imbues with her ‘angels’… well, they’re of a noticeably higher quality. They tap into the ambient magical energies far more efficiently, and they function far better. Legitimate mystic orders are already asking about having Kerry’s help in…” he saw Linda’s expression darken. “Kerry has a right to say ‘No’ at any time. And, she’ll be paid fair recompensation for her work. Linda, we have dealt with students who have rare or unique powers or skills before.”

“Yeah, yeah, so you say. And how does this translate into protection?”

“While the conspiracy theorists who see Masonic symbols in the layout of the streets in Washington D.C. vastly overstate the case, the various mystic orders do carry a lot of clout in the halls of power. I intend to involve several key players in Kerry’s education. There will be some jockeying for influence, but the emphasis will be on Kerry’s willing cooperation, rather than flat out possession and control.”

“And these people will be?”

“A rather varied lot.”

“You’re avoiding the question.”

“Yes. I am. To be honest, I don’t really have a plan. Tiny little things can upset plans if you lay them out too carefully, too long in advance. First, we get Kerry settled in, and then we see what happens next. Don’t worry, Linda, you’ll be kept aware of things as they happen.”

Linda Ellison sighed. She didn’t like being in such a passive position, especially when it regarded the welfare of one of her children. She vastly preferred a good, nasty face-to-face fight with people that she understood, with rules that she could look up. But this? This was way too large and abstract for her, and she knew it. Being out of your league sucked, big time. Charlie called Kerry and Madison in from the lake, and told them that it was time for Kerry to say her goodbyes. Kerry gave Madison and Corey big hugs, and there was an awkward moment with Ray. Then she kissed her mother and father goodbye, and it slowly worked itself out with the usual fits and starts. And suddenly, almost as if by accident, the Ellisons were driving off without Kerry. As Kerry watched them go, the fact that her life as she knew it in Glassboro was over forever came crashing down on her, and she felt very, very alone.

Charlie wrapped a comforting arm around her. “It does get better, you know,” he said.

“Yeah? When?” Kerry asked bleakly.

“Usually just when you get used to it sucking.” Charlie gently pushed her over to his jeep, and got her into the shotgun seat.

“Where’s Reverend Englund?” Kerry asked.

“Oh, he’s taking care of some important business,” was all that Charlie would say. But Kerry could tell that there was more to it than that.

 

‘Don’ Sebastiano Lorenz Valensuera y Ramirez trudged through the knee-deep snow along the isolated path to where Reverend Englund was waiting for him. Englund was reading a book on a bench that would have been quite comfortable and picturesque- IF it wasn’t in the middle of a copse of snow-laden trees overlooking a frozen pond in the beginning of January in New Hampshire, during one of the coldest winters in memory. The oak tree that would normally have spread its leafy branches to shield the bench was bare of leaves and offered no shelter at all. Not that the cold seemed to bother the Reverend in the slightest. He sat there placidly, as if warmed by some unseen inner heat. “Ah, Reverendo!” Sebastiano called out. “The concierge at Melville said that you wanted to see me the very instant that I returned to Whateley! I profusely apologize, but that first instant was wasted tracking you down! Tell me, what could be so important- and delicate- that you had to see me so soon, and all the way out here! I haven’t even had time to see my man Cavalier and have him kit me out for the weather!” Not that Sebastiano wasn’t well turned out for traveling through New England. For someone who wasn’t personally wealthy, Sebastiano had suspiciously elevated tastes.

Rev. Englund put down his book and favored Sebastiano with a mild smile. The Reverend cultivated Yankee candor, so he got right to the point. “Sebastiano, have you been following the developments in New York over the past few months?”

“Ah, the ‘Angel of Hell’s Kitchen’?” Sebastiano said warmly, “Ah, yes, I’d heard that you were involved in that. Such a shame that the Mother Church should be so disgraced, after lending the poor foundling sanctuary.” An acquisitive light entered his eyes. “So, you’ve brought her here, of course?”

“Quite.” The Reverend’s mild smile faded to his more usual glacial demeanor. “And I’d like for there to be no misunderstanding, Señor Valensuera. Let me put it to you as simply as possible- DON’T.”

“Don’t? Don’t what?”

“You would take that approach.” Englund sighed. “Oak!” Suddenly the tree sprang to life. One of the spreading branches formed into an arm with a hand, which grabbed Sebastiano by the arm and threw him up into the air. As Sebastiano landed, the Oak uprooted itself and trudged over to where Sebastiano was shaking his head to clear it. Like a character in a cartoon, Oak swung Sebastiano back and forth, smashing him into the ground at each end of the arc.

“Enough,” Englund said in a disinterested monotone. Oak stopped slamming the dazed Don and picked him up in one branch-like hand. He carried the Don to where the Reverend was standing by the pond, where the ice had mysteriously melted from the part closest to the path. Oak thrust Sebastiano into the frigid water, provoking a strangled gasp as the pretty boy snapped back to full waking.

Englund glowered into Sebastiano’s chattering face. “Normally, I deplore violence. But, there’s a saying in Missouri: ‘How do you get a mule to turn? First, you break a two-by-four over its head. Then, when you have its attention, you point it in the direction that you want it to go.’ Sebastiano, do you know why the Alphas have been allowed to get away running amok as they have? It’s because we in the Faculty know that there have always been bullies in schools, and there always will be bullies in schools. They’re unavoidable. It’s a behavioral niche that is filled as soon as it’s vacated. Remove one bully, and another person is compelled by social pressure to fill the void. We tolerated your predecessor, Freya, as her negative qualities as a bully and an instigator of pranks were relatively mild, and they were more than outweighed by her positive qualities as a social motivator. Sebastiano, you lack Freya’s positive social motivating qualities, and you are FAR worse than Freya ever was as a bully and instigator of pranks. And while bullies may be unavoidable, there still comes a time when a bully becomes so toxic, so unacceptable, that they must be dealt with. Your position here at Whateley is far more tenuous that you realize.

“This relates to the ‘Angel of Hell’s Kitchen’ thus- neither you, nor anyone in the Alphas is to come anywhere near her. Period. There will be no pranks aimed at the girl called Seraphim, no tailored rumors, no ‘accidents’, no elaborate schemes by remote control, no ‘plausibly deniable’ incidents, NOTHING. And believe me, I will know.”

“B-b-big talk, c-coming from a m-m-man who sent in a hit t-team to k-k-KILL a student last Halloween!” Sebastiano chattered in defiance.

“Oak.” The tree-man hefted Sebastiano up and dunked him in the freezing water again.

As Sebastiano gasped for breath, Reverend Englund held his face close to the boy’s and snarled, “That girl has suffered more pain than you could ever understand, with greater grace, courage and compassion than you could ever aspire to. She has the potential to be more than you could ever dream of being! She is not a toy for your amusement! Keep this in mind- if you or any of your pack of giddy delinquents cause her even so much as a moment’s pain, I will squash you ALL like the puny vermin that you ARE!” Englund punctuated this last part with gouts of hellfire from his eyes. “DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME, SEÑOR VALENSUERA?

Sebastiano nodded vigorously.

“Good. It is good to have a clear understanding in these matters. Oak.” Oak fell in with Reverend Englund as the older man walked calmly back towards the main buildings. As they walked out of sight, Sebastiano heard Englund say in a paternal tone, “Nicely done, Oak. Firm, forceful, with just enough force to get the point across, but not enough to cause permanent injury. Your fine control is coming along nicely. Now, let’s get you under some UV lamps. That wait in the cold couldn’t have been pleasant. I’m proud of you, my boy.”

It took a while for the raging torrent in Sebastiano’s mind to calm enough to the point where he could string together a cogent thought. ‘How dare he, how DARE he?’ Sebastiano raged, ‘How DARE that Protestant apostate threaten DON SEBASTIANO?’ Well, teacher or no teacher, there was no way that he was going to let that pompous hypocrite get away with this! He’d set Hekate on the man, and then let God Himself have mercy on the Protestant piece of shit! ‘No,’ Sebastiano grinned evilly to himself, ‘when Hekate gets back, I’ll have her set Nikki Reilly on the good Reverend!’ Sebastiano knew that both Rev. Englund and Mr. Lodgeman had strong, possibly questionable interests in the delectable Miss Reilly. Once Hekate did to Fey whatever it was that she’d done to Sky and Cav, Reverend Englund was as good as dust in the wind. And they’d never trace it back to him, no matter WHAT that pompous idiot Englund said.

And then, he’d see what was so interesting about this ‘Seraphim’ girl…

 

As Lodgeman’s jeep trudged up one of the hills to the cottage atop it, Kerry remembered something. “Mister Lodgeman, there was something that my Mom kept meaning to ask you, but she kept forgetting. The Press knows who I am, and I hear that there are still guys down in Glassboro trying to dig stuff up on me- howcum I haven’t heard anything on the news about the big scandal that the ‘Angel of Hell’s Kitchen’ is really a boy?”

Charlie gave a wicked grin. “Y’know, I really should be ashamed of myself, but it was such a lovely bit of work that I can’t. Like I told your mother earlier, I cast a magical spell that severed all the mystic connections between you and your family, and the hundreds of thousands of things that you’ve touched and handled over the years in Glassboro. Doing something like that is dangerous, because it causes a ‘fraying’, for want of a better word, in the way that things weave together. That is, unless you can find a way to handle all the ‘fraying’ that doing something major like that would create. Lucky for you, just that sort of thing is just what the witch doctor ordered. You know how sometimes you just can’t put two ideas together in your head, until somebody leads you through it by the hand- and not always then? And then it clicks and you kick yourself for not getting it? Well, right now in Glassboro, there are a LOT of people who are simply NOT putting ‘Kerry Ellison, the Angel of Hell’s Kitchen’ and ‘Kieran Ellison, High School guy’ together, because that ‘fraying’ that I was talking about won’t let them.” Kerry gave Lodgeman a strange look. “Hey, it was either that, or just pray that whatever form the ‘fraying’ took wouldn’t be that bad. Me, I was just grateful that it was that simple.”

Kerry gave a gusty ‘I don’t get it’ sigh, climbed out of the jeep and grabbed her bags. Charlie pointed her at the front door of the cottage. “Oh, by the way, if you’re wondering if it’s really working, keep this in mind- why do you think your mother could never remember to ask me that question?”

Kerry felt her eyes go wide and cross as she tried to wrap her head around the implications of that. She shook her head and changed the topic. “So, this is a girls-only dorm?”

“Yup!”

“I heard that there are co-ed dorms. Howcum you didn’t put me in one of those?”

“So, you WANT to hang out with a bunch of horny teenage boys, looking like that?” Charlie said with a smile.

“Oh. Right.”

“Kerry, the early test results are showing that your body is settling into that form, and will probably continue to mature into an extremely attractive woman. Exactly what that all means, we still dunno. But, in the meantime, you have to get used to your body. The fact that you’re a still-untrained empath complicates that drastically. You need a setting where you can get used to being a girl without having to deal with things like the sexual interest that would be aimed at you almost 24/7 in a co-ed dorm. We could put you in Whitman, the other girls-only cottage, but that’s where we house the girls who are ‘obvious’ mutants. You’re going to have to empathically handle a lot of jealousy, without having to wade through the near-toxic resentment that some of the Whitman girls will probably feel to you. Dickinson is where we house the girls who we think need a nice safe place to get used to the weirdness that’s built into in their own mutation. The idea of putting you in here is that you’ll get used to the whole ‘girl’ thing without a lot of the… uhm… tensions… that would arise in another cottage. Just let yourself fit in, and learn from the other girls. But don’t work at it too hard, will you Kerry?”

‘Right,’ Kerry thought. ‘Just go along with the crowd. I’ve been doing that all my life, and see where it got me.’ There were vans parked beside the cottage, and girls were unloading their luggage and getting it inside. Lodgeman somehow walked Kerry past all of them and up to the cottage without sparking any comment. He took her to an office and stuck his head in the door. “Mrs. Nelson? I have your newest resident.”

An attractive, in a fifty-ish way, woman with long straight black hair surrounding a long regular face came out of the office and regarded Kerry curiously. “So, you’re the one that all the fuss is about,” she said with a mild Scots burr in an amused tone. “Come in, there’s no reason for you to get caught up in all this hubbub when you don’t have to.”

When Kerry was inside and the door was closed, Mrs. Nelson put a pair of glasses on her nose and carefully studied Kerry. “Well, you definitely look the part of an angel,” she said neutrally. “But I’ve seen that before. I do hope that you haven’t gotten used to the idea of being ‘special’ and the center of a lot of attention. Because Whateley is full of special young people.”

“Uh, Ma’am?” Kerry asked, “I just spent two months being ‘special’ and having a ton of attention rammed down my throat. Right about now, bein’ normal looks real good.”

Mrs. Nelson warmed a bit. “Well then, dear, you’re in just the right place.” Then she shifted her gaze to Charlie Lodgeman. “Though, I still don’t see why she wasn’t sent over to Poe. They’re a little rambunctious, but-.”

“Well, Rev. Englund didn’t like the idea of Kerry being in the same cottage as the Demon Princess-” Lodgeman said.

‘Demon Princess’? Kerry wondered to herself.

“-and by the time that we got the word that she’d voluntarily transferred over to Hawthorn, he’d come up with so many excellent reasons to not have her there that we couldn’t really just up and change it. One of the telling reasons that he came up with was that Fey still hasn’t completely gotten control of her powers. Kerry is a magic amplifier, among other things. If she ran into one of Fey’s hobgoblins, she’d amplify it to disastrous proportions.”

Mrs. Nelson nodded, but said, “You DO know that we do have our fair share of Mages and Avatars and other mystic types here, don’t you?”

“True,” Lodgeman conceded, “but none of them produce hobgoblins at a rate of three or four a week.”

Mrs. Nelson nodded again, conceding Lodgeman’s point. She turned her attention to Kerry again. “I’m familiar with the basics of your situation, dear, including that you weren’t born a girl. Well, you won’t just learn to be a girl here. You’ll learn to be a lady. Here at Dickenson, we expect a certain level of decorum from our girls. That means that you’ll have to show respect and consideration for the other girls, and to be gracious when they show respect and consideration for you.” She started to say something else, and then shook her head with a look of exasperated amusement. “Just… learn from the other girls, and remember that because our girls have a little more polish than the girls over in Whitman cottage doesn’t mean that they can’t be little hellions.”

She was about to say something else when there was a knock on her door, and a 17-year old girl with long luxuriant curling black hair framing a long narrow face, with a large dark sloe eyes stuck her head in the door. “Mrs. Nelson? You wanted me for something?” the girl asked in a sweet voice that was heavy with an accent that Kerry couldn’t place.

“Ah! Althea! My Secret Weapon!” Mrs. Nelson said gladly. “Right on time, as always! Are Basimah and Shannon back yet?” The girl, Althea Kerry guessed, nodded her head. “Excellent! Pass it around that we’re going to have a cottage meeting as soon as everyone’s back. I have an important introduction to make, and I’d prefer to have everyone there so that there’s no misunderstandings in the retelling.” Althea nodded and stepped out of the door. “Lord knows, there’s enough of that already...” Mrs. Nelson muttered.

There was a lot of talking outside the office and Kerry sensed frustration, confusion and curiosity. After a while, Mr. Lodgeman said that he had a meeting off-campus to get to, and he left Kerry with Mrs. Nelson. About an hour went by, when a girl with dark skin and Hindu features stuck her head in the door. “Mrs. Nelson? We have all the girls together. Well, those who are here, anyway. Some of them called in that they’d be late because of the snow, or come tomorrow.”

“Well, I guess that that will have to do.” Mrs. Nelson stood up and walked to the door. “I don’t know what I’d do without you three.” She paused at the door and turned. “Kerry?” Kerry hurried to her side and followed her to the common room of the cottage.

The common room was filled with teenage girls. Well, twenty or so. Every seat was occupied, and a few of the girls were standing. There was a buzz of speculation, which subsided when Mrs. Nelson cleared her throat. <ahem!> “Ladies! Girls, settle down. We have another new resident to greet.” She held off some annoyed commentary with a raised hand. “I am gathering you all, as there are aspects of this new girl that should be clearly understood. She’s not dangerous, as she’d be in Hawthorne if she were. Rather, I’m hoping to avoid confusion and to keep silly rumors from spreading, which might grow into unfortunate misunderstandings in the telling. This is Kerry Ellison, whom some of you may-”

“OHMIGAWD!” A voice yelped. “I recognize you! You’re the Angel of Hell’s Kitchen!”

 “That is rather the reaction that I was hoping to avoid,” Mrs. Nelson murmured as the room erupted in a roar of questions and babbling. Kerry winced as she was almost overwhelmed by the sudden outburst of intense interest and unbridled enthusiasm. She barely managed to retreat into the ‘safe room’ that the Psychic Arts instructors had helped her create. Mrs. Nelson blew into a whistle, quelling the din. “LADIES! PLEASE! One of the First things that you must understand is that Kerry is an Empath. And a newly emergent one at that.” Several of the faces in the crowd winced in sympathy. “So, please, restrain yourselves!”

The girls quieted down, but Kerry could still sense the mental ‘popcorn’ babbling of adolescent feminine curiosity. “Yes, this is Kerry Ellison, whom you no doubt have heard of as the ‘Angel of Hell’s Kitchen’. She will be moving in with us, and taking classes here at Whateley. First and foremost, you should all know that Kerry is just another mutant, just as are all of you. Questions of a religious nature would be misapplied.” Several hands shot up. “In anticipation of your questions, I prepared a ‘FAQ sheet’, I think that it’s called. I will both read it to you, and leave copies for you, should you have questions at a later time. BUT, just to get it out of the way- Kerry could you produce one of those lovely angels of yours for us?”

“Gladly,” Kerry said with complete sincerity. It would be one way of dispelling some of the energy that she was feeling, and maybe clearing the air. She closed her eyes, cupped her hands in front of her, and began to draw in the emotional energy in the room. The collected girls gave a muted gasp as the glow of light formed around Kerry’s head. One girl started to say something sharp, but the girl next to her gave her a sharp jab with an elbow. Kerry felt the energy form into a ball between her hands. Of course, she didn’t want to have one of her full-blown angels flying around with all those girls there- God alone knew what would happen! So she shunted most of the power from the ball into the wings that she manifested on her back. When Kerry opened her own eyes, the eyes on the girls looking at her were taking up most of their faces. She lifted off the floor with her wings, and let the little ‘angel’ loose.

It unfolded from the ball into the winged disk and floated down to the girls, where it hovered before dissolving into a spray of dust that covered the girls. They let out a collective coo of delight. The testing that they’d done had proved that the ‘dust’ that one of the least ‘angels’ that Kerry produced generally acted as little more than a mild stimulant and mood elevator. Sort of like a chocolate bar, without worrying about your teeth.

“And now that we have that out of the way, what say we apply ourselves to the inevitable logistical problem that always arises when there’s a new girl in the cottage?” Mrs. Nelson said brightly. Several of the younger girls held up their hands eagerly and a few were even hopping up and down. “I’m sorry girls, but the necessities of the situation require a specific kind of roommate for Kerry. Devaki? Are you here, dear?”

A gangling 14- or 15- year old girl with walnut brown skin, long straight black hair pulled back into a high ponytail, a narrow oval face and large doe eyes steeped forward. Kerry recognized her as an Indian- a Hindu-type Indian, not a Native American. “Yes, Mrs. Nelson?” she asked with a voice tinged with an accent. Kerry sensed curiosity, but not the razor-tinged eagerness that some of the other girls had.

“I remember that Alicia was pushing to be moved to a room with Linda. Before we go any further, would you mind taking on Kerry here as your roommate?”

“Of course!” Devaki said cheerfully. “Not a problem!”

“WHAT?” peeped up a short, tween-ish looking blonde girl with hair that seemed born to curl, “But Flex doesn’t even DO Magic!”

“Yes,” Mrs. Nelson purred. “That was rather the idea. Ladies, and especially the Mages, Avatars and other magical types; a firm word of warning IS necessary here. The Research department has done some preliminary studies on Kerry’s ‘angels’. They believe that they healed people by super-charging their metabolisms and reinforcing healthy biological patterns. Somehow, the patterns of traumas and unhealthy conditions was ‘echoed’ back to Kerry, who displayed the symptoms of whatever she cured. This apparently makes tons of sense to mystical types, though it makes the science boffins’ heads hurt. My point being, while having one of Kerry’s ‘angels’ touch them seems to do a world of good for mature baseline humans, we have absolutely NO IDEA of what it will do to developing adolescent mutant metabolisms. Also, please be advised- those ‘angels’ carry a LOT of magical energy in them. Any of you magician types trying to capture one for whatever purpose could find yourself in the situation analogous to hooking up a personal stereo to a Heavy Industrial power line. And remember, Kerry will be getting ‘echoes’ of whatever happens, so I doubt that she’ll be all that happy with what happens as well. 

“Now, let’s turn our attention to the sleeping arrangements, shall we?” From there, there was some spirited horse-trading in rooms and roommates. “Please! Ladies!” Mrs. Nelson tried to put a damper on it. “Please! Remember that the rest of the girls won’t be here until much later! Any more involved changes will require the input of all the girls.”

As the Dickinson girls did the ‘New Girl Shuffle’, Devaki asked Mrs. Nelson, “Is there any special reason why you chose me to be her roommate?”

“Yes,” Mrs. Nelson admitted. “We’ve decided to put that, ah, reticence of yours to good use.”

Devaki gave an ‘aaahhh…’ of comprehension, but Kerry had to ask, “ ‘Reticence’?”

“It has to do with your empathy, dear,” Mrs. Nelson answered. “Ask Devaki later.”

After they got Devaki’s stuff moved from her old room (the logistics of the re-arrangement were rather involved), Mrs. Nelson bustled off to oversee the other moves, leaving them to get acquainted. “So…” Kerry asked, jumping at the obvious question. “ ‘Reticence’?”

Devaki gave a broad smile. “Well, it has to do with my mutation- and no, don’t worry, ‘what’s your mutation’ is a stock question here at Whateley. The joke goes that it’s our version of ‘what’s your major?’ at college. My mutation is that I am what is called a ‘Warper’. I can cause the very fabric of time and space to… well… _warp_ in the immediate vicinity of my body. As a result…” She indicated her right arm, which she promptly tied in a knot like a pretzel. She proceeded to twist and contort her body in ways that would have given the most accomplished yogi a heart attack. She stretched her arms out at least ten feet. And as a capper, she reached her arm out and it disappeared, only to reappear a few feet away. She waved with the seemingly severed hand that floated in mid-air, and then retracted it. She wiggled her fingers, to show that her hand was still in good condition.

“Well, that’s very… interesting…” Kerry allowed. “But what does it have to do with my empathy?”

Devaki nodded with a genial smile. “Well, you see, an aspect of the same warping effect that allows me to do all those dramatic- if not exactly bankable- effects is that I’m not quite a psychic Null- that is, someone whose mind can’t be read or affected by psychics. But I am very hard to read. And, more to the point, I tend to keep my thoughts and feelings to myself. At least from the psychic point of view. Which means that you shouldn't have to worry about picking up stray thoughts or emotional garbage, say when I’m having my period and thinking about chasing after Jaunt with an axe.”

“Jaunt?”

“She’s a girl on our floor,” a very pretty girl with black hair and violet eyes and a distinct French accent said from the door. “She’s a teleporter. She’s a very sweet girl, but she has absolutely no notion of the need for knocking before she jaunts in.”

“Jaunts… in…”

“Yes, Jaunt thinks nothing of just popping into your room, even if you’re dressing and telling you things and then popping right back out again.”

“She doesn’t knock?”

“Pardon,” the French (presumably) girl said, “let me rephrase… ‘Jaunt’ is a reasonably common term for ‘teleport’.”

“Teleport?” Kerry said things clicking, “So when you said ‘popping in’-”

“Yes, she literally ‘pops’ out of thin air, says something and then disappears again.”

“It can be quite off-putting,” Devaki said with a wry nod.

 

“Home again, home again, jiggety-jig,” Jadis ‘She-Beast’ Diabolik said wryly as she and her roommate, Cutlass, hauled their luggage into the lobby at Melville.

Cutlass just grunted, “Check me in,” and stalked up the stairs for the four flights up to their floor.

“What’s the matter with her?” Kate ‘Nacht’ Tvardovski asked. “She didn’t call you ‘Boss’ ONCE on the train from Concord.”

Jadis gave her ‘diabolik’ grin. “Oh, she sort of invited herself down to Karedonia, thinking that she could bum a free tropical vacation at the five-star resort that is Jobe’s place down there.”

“That sounds like Cutlass. And?”

“And I gave her a taste of what life in the Big Leagues is like. She didn’t like it.” Render reached over and bumped fists with her.

“Well, she wouldn’t have been there at ALL, if you hadn’t insisted on wasting time in New York, playing silly games with those DeVille Academy brats!” Jean-Armand ‘Nephandus’ St. Michel-du Chantraine snapped peevishly.

“What’s pretty evil boy’s damage?” Nacht asked.

“Oh, Jay-Arm’s still peeved that we had to leave New York before he could get his hands on one of those ‘angel’ things that the ‘Angel of Hell’s Kitchen’ was throwing around.”

“YES!” Jay-Arm snapped. “WHY is it, that when you were trying to track down that ‘Mister Cool’ idiot, everyone put their plans on hold. But when that was all taken care of, you couldn’t spare a couple of days for me to acquire the mystical asset of this new Millenium?”

“Because Jobe’s dad’s imperial jet was fixed by then.” Jadis turned her attention to Nacht. “So, how was Christmas by you?”

“Chestnuts were roasted on an open fire, Jack Frost nipped at my nose, Yuletide carols were sung by a choir, gingerbread cookies were eaten, there was Peace and Goodwill towards Man- mere words cannot convey the horror. The Horror!” Nacht shuddered delicately.

“I thought that you spent Christmas with your guardian in Los Angeles.”

“I was forcibly dragged up to Lake Tahoe to suffer through a ‘traditional Christmas’.” Nacht shuddered again. “She made me dress up in… festive sweaters!

“Yes, yes, I’m sure that it was all very traumatic!” Nephandus snarled. “But it does nothing to lessen the fact that I failed my father when he ordered me to obtain one of those angels!”

“Ah, Jay-Arm?” Thrasher said, “As I recall, yer dad just said that it would be a real good thing if you could get one of ‘em. I don’t recall anything about any orders.”

“So? I still failed!

Jadis was about to say something when Don Sebastiano came in, sopping wet, and slogged through the lobby, pointedly ignoring the odd looks that the students standing in line were giving him. “Interesting look, Sebastiano,” She-Beast said snidely. “A revival of the ‘Wet Look’?”

Sebastiano just answered her jibe with a sneer and got in the elevator. The concierge had sent his clothes up after he’d gone off on that fool’s errand with that fool Englund. He pulled his keys out of his pocket, but discovered that the door was already open. He found Cavalier and Skybolt waiting for him. He marched in, ignoring the stunned look on their faces. “Well! THERE you two are! I cannot BELIEVE what just happened! That pendejo Englund is going to PAY for this!” He wrestled out of his sodden over and under coats without waiting for Cav to try and help him. Not that Cavalier did.

“Ah! You’re here! Bueno! That means that Hekate is back as well! Perfecto! I have a little chore for her. Her and her new redheaded little playtoy.” The Don wrapped himself up in a thick dressing gown and removed his pants. “Cav, I want you to go and fetch Hekate. As for you, Sky, I’m cold.” He turned around, showing off his privates through the gap in the gown. “Warm me up.”

 

Wyatt ‘Kodiak’ Cody was just walking over to the stairwell to go downstairs and get himself something to nosh on. The change from Barrows, Alaska to New Hampshire may not have been as traumatic for him as it might have been for, say someone who had spent Christmas in Miami or Los Angeles, but he still had to fly all the way across the country- in Economy. And, he had to cope with the inevitable paranoid MCO/ TSA combo. The Bear wanted fish- preferably salmon- and Cody agreed with him. A little sashimi down in the luncheonette was just the thing to take the edge off a long tense trip.

Just as he was at the head of the stairs, he heard screaming and crashes and blasting coming from Don Sebastiano’s room. Curious, he went to the door, and just as he was about to knock to ask what was wrong, The Don himself ran out the door and shut it immediately behind him. The Don was a fright, a totally different person from his normal cool, calm, collected, and immaculately groomed image. His long dark wavy hair was askew and burned short in places. His face was wreathed in mortal horror and covered in bruises and burns and cuts. The dressing gown that he was wearing was in tatters and burned in places. There were several slashes along his bare legs- and bite marks in the general vicinity of his groin.

The Don barely paused, and ran with Exemplar speed to the banister at the stairwell. He leaped over the banister, down the well. Even from the Penthouse level on the Eighth floor, jumping down the space of the stairwell was a time-honored way of getting to the lobby in a screaming hurry (or just show off, if you could pull it off). Barely a heartbeat behind him, the door and wall exploded out into the hallway. Cavalier, his PK sword drawn and glowing, ran side by side with Skybolt, who had her power harness on, literally through the door, as if it weren’t even there. Screaming at the top of their lungs in French and German, they went to the banister and dove right after The Don.

 

The explosion threw The Don’s vault over the banister off, so he tumbled through the air and landed like a sack of wet cement at the base of stairwell. Terror overcoming trauma, The Don staggered into the Lobby. “SEÑOR FORREST!!!” He shrieked at the top of his lungs as he made his way to the concierge’s office.

“What the HELL?” Marian ‘Winter’ Kilgareth-Donnehammer said softly to the other Bad Seeds. Other Melville inmates made similar remarks of incredulity.

Just as Sebastiano made it to the office door, Skybolt came swooping down the airspace of the stairwell, and Cavalier landed nimbly just after her. Before The Don could start banging on the door of the office, Skybolt let off a burst that exploded off the door and knocked him back. Sebastiano tried to scramble to his feet, but instead he was levitated off his pins and floated back towards where Cav was standing, PK sword at ready. Both Cav and Sky were yelling at the top of their lungs in French and German, but there were enough people in the lobby who spoke those languages that there were as many expressions of disgust as there were of sheer surprise.

Cav and Sky fell on The Don in a way that reminded the Melvillains of the iconic Rodney King footage. Nephandus piped up, “I’d start wagering, but who’d take that obvious a sucker bet?”

Render nodded. “Still, you do have to admire their form.”

Winter winced, “I didn’t know that you COULD actually ram an entire lamp base up someone’s ass.”

“They could have at least unplugged it first,” Victor Alexander Maria ‘Cheese’ Stieglitz- Van Maas winced.

Mr. Forrest came out of the office and yelled, “What are you waiting for? Someone, pry those three apart!”

Gregory ‘Bravo’ Bravermann jumped on Skybolt and Powerhouse of the Cape Squad tackled Cavalier. Others started to join the fight as Don Sebastiano cowered at Mr. Forrest’s feet, gibbering in terror. Skybolt threw Bravo into the dark wood paneling of the wall across the lobby. Cavalier did a backwards kick over Powerhouse’s head, sending the would-be hero off balance, slipping out of his grip, reversing the hold, and doing a PK assisted throw into another attacker. Mace of the Tigers did an impressive tumbling charge at Cav, but Skybolt zapped him before he even got halfway there. With a sigh, Majestic crooned something and twiddled her fingers, creating a crown of glowing characters that danced around Cavalier’s head. Then Imperious stepped forward and created an arc of lightning between his hands that made a clap of thunder that stunned almost everyone in the lobby. Imperious raised a (what else?) imperious eyebrow at The Don. “And what did you do THIS time?”

Bravo and Mace now had Skybolt and Cavalier respectively in effective holds. Both Sky and Cav yelled at The Don in mixed languages until Mr. Forrest said, “ENOUGH! You… take Sebastiano to the infirmary. See if you can get that thing out of his… backside before he goes to the Main Infirmary. And unplug it, would you? You two, Watch them until Security comes for them. They shouldn’t be here. The rest of you… just… get to your rooms, it’s going to be a… interesting term.”

There was a general agreement of ‘Oh, HELL yeah!’

Spotting a golden opportunity, She-Beast said in a loud, clear voice, “I’ll pay $500 a shot up front for exclusive rights to any pictures of that! C’mon, people, PLEASE tell me that somebody GOT that!”

There was a general groan of disappointment at two missed opportunities.

 

The French girl, Vera by name and ‘Charmer’ by code name, was chatting up Kerry and Devaki in a way that certainly supported her choice of alias. Still, Kerry could sense a distinct motive in her winning ways. The two other visiting girls, ‘Lightweight’ and ‘Dragonrider’, were much different. Lightweight, who was apparently a French national of Arabic descent, was keenly interested in Kerry’s experiences with the Imperial City Guard- all four or five minutes of it. Dragonrider was purely curious about a girl who was supposed to be able to wield divine power on demand.

“Oh, don’t get started on THAT again!” Kerry groaned. “I don’t know WHAT it is that I do, and I don’t think that the big shot researchers here at Whateley know anymore’n I do! I’m not an angel, and I don’t talk to God! Or, I DO, but he doesn’t talk back to me, anymore than he talks to anyone else!”

“But the gossip in the magical community is that your power is really big league!” Lindsay said.

“There’s a magical community?” Kerry asked, more than a trifle aghast.

“Oh, very much so,” Vera confirmed. “In Monaco, there was only a little coverage of your plight- just another piece of bizarreness from America. But you were quite the hot topic on the Magical Chat rooms!”

“Mages have chat rooms?”

Their conversation was interrupted by a knock at the open door. “Hello, hello!” A very attractive 17-or-so blonde girl stood at the doorway.

“Hello, Dale!” Devaki said. “What’s this? I would have thought that you were above coming to gawk at the new girl like everyone else!”

The girl, Dale, shot Devaki a ‘very funny’ not-smile and said, “No, I’m here to shepherd the new girl to Orientation.”

“Orientation?” Kerry peeped, “But I’ve already been here for days! Why do I need to be told where everything is?”

“Maybe because you haven’t been shown everything? Besides, it’s SOP; if we don’t have you do it, people will think that we’re making special allowance for you, and that never works out well in the long run.”

Devaki shooed her out. “Go! Maybe all the moving and settling it will go smoother if you’re not here attracting rubber-neckers. Shoo!”

Kerry grabbed her down coat and knit cap and headed for the stairs. “Oh, by the way, my name’s Dale,” the blonde said. “Dale Townsend. My handle’s Mindbird. I’m a Peacekeeper.”

Kerry rose to the bait.  “Okay, I’ll bite- what’s a Peacekeeper?”

“Well, while it’s pretty dang unique, Whateley’s still pretty much a high school down where it really counts. Which means that you’re gonna have bullies, and thugs, and wise-asses, and thieves, and con artists and all the usual small-time predators that you would at any other school. Only HERE, the small-time predators have super powers and plans to become actual supervillains! Well, some of them do, anyway. And while we have Security, their real job is keeping the BIG TIME predators out, not riding herd on hormone-addled assholes. And, unlike most other schools, where most of the kids have the common sense to hang back when a bullying attack goes down, here we have kids who think that being a mutant automatically means that they’re superheroes! Things can get very heavy. So, they have teams of students who have proven that they’re trustworthy who make the rounds and back up Security. When things get heavy, we step in and keep them from going critical.”

“So, in other words, you’re just like those superhero wannabes that you were harshing on before.”

Dale gave a pained smile and said, “Not quite. We’re trained to defuse tense situations, not make them worse. Besides, the badasses know that we’re Peacekeepers, which is sort of like being a cop with a badge, so they usually stand down instead of taking it as a challenge.”

As they came down the stairs there was a small knot of girls at the bottom of the stairs talking animatedly about something. “And speaking of people who are useful, Kerry, this is Althea. She’s one of the ‘Fixers’ here at Dickinson. ” Dale indicated the dark-haired girl that Mrs. Nelson had referred to as her ‘secret weapon’.

Althea nodded her head. “We’ve met, sort of. Hello, Kerry, nice to meet you in person this time. My name’s Althea, but my code name’s ‘Pythia’. I’m a ‘Package Deal Psychic’ like miss super-pants over here. If you have any problems, especially if your Empathy goes out of control, come to me; I’ll…”

“Ex-CUSE me?” cut in a snippy looking blonde who was still wearing her cold-weather overcoat. “We were talking about getting me OUT of that room with that back-stabbing SAHAR!”

“Tansy, I keep telling you,” Althea said in the voice of tried patience, “I’ve been asking around, and there’s no way that I can arrange for a single for a Sophomore. And nobody wants to share a room with Sahar.”

“I wonder why…” Tansy said with a sneer. “But if everyone’s trading around, then why can’t you hook me up with anyone reasonable?”

“All I can do is ask around.”

“But I’m an ALPHA!” Tansy whined.

“Well then, you don’t need me to make your arrangements for you, do you?” Althea gave Kerry a passing glance. “Oh, by the way Tansy, this is Kerry, she’s the new girl.”

“Hello, Nice to meet y-”

Tansy just cut her off with a ‘speak to the hand’ gesture as she pulled out her cell phone with the other. “Yeah, yeah, whatever. Flicker? Tansy. Any word from that arse-haul Goldrush about getting me in over at Melville? Damn! She-Beast? Oh, HELL, no! I am NOT owing that freak a god-DAMNED thing! Deal with the devil, my ASS!” she flicked an annoyed look in Kerry’s direction. “Are you still here, Jersey Girl?”

A Hindi girl a few years older than Devaki came down the stairs with a very pale girl with silky long black hair in tow. “I found the other one, Dale,” the Hindi girl said, “but I can’t find the last one.”

Tansy muttered something about ‘Tunnel People’ and clumped up the stairs, never taking the cell phone from her ear.

“What’s her name again?” Dale asked.

“Lambert. Regina Lambert.”

“uhm, Excuse me?” came a small timid voice from the lobby.

“Are you sure that you checked everywhere?” Althea asked.

“YES!”

“What about Shannon?”

“She has her hands full with that Junior girl trying to wheedle her way into a single.”

“Well, we can’t just let this Lambert girl slip between the cracks.”

“Pardon me?” came the small voice again.

“Well, she can’t have gone far, I mean, look at it outside!”

“But where could she have gotten to?”

“Excuse me?” went the voice again.

“We NEED to get these girls to Orientation!”

Kerry tapped Althea (or Pythia, or whatever she went by on a regular basis) on the shoulder. “Pardon me? I think that THAT is Regina Lambert.” She pointed at the source of the little voice, a lanky-thin girl of average height with a huge mass of chestnut colored hair all done up in a bun that was half-undone, who looked like she wished that she could disappear into the wall paper.

The girl gave a wan smile and said in a near whisper, “Yes, I’m Regina Lambert.”

“Oh! There you are! You should have said something.”

“I did.”

“Anyway, it’s well past time that you got to Orientation.”

“Hold on,” Basimah said, “we still need to get these two rooms. And if they just go off, we’ll lose track of them again.”

“True,” Dale said with a sigh.

The black-haired, pale skinned girl that Basimah had come down with asked with a burbling Hungarian accent, “Why don’t you put me in a room with the mouse?”

Regina tried to say something, but Althea overran her. “Okay, that works. Two fewer bodies adding to the chaos. As the new girls, you’d get whatever room was left over, anyway, so this works. Leave your stuff with Mrs. Nelson, and we’ll get you moved in wherever when you get back.”

The Hungarian girl brought her luggage- all eight pieces of it- down and shrugged on her coat. Regina already had her coat, and Dale herded them out the door. As they trudged down Dickinson Hill, the Hungarian girl looked at Kerry and asked, “What was all that noise about you being an angel? You got wings or something?”

“What?” the mousy Lambert girl asked, “Didn’t you hear about it? It was all over the news!”

“I been busy the past couple months,” the pale Hungarian shot back. “Very hectic. I didn’t have time to see television.”

“And beside, just because it was all over the news here in the States doesn’t mean that it’s big news over in Europe,” Dale pointed out. “I’ve always noticed that most people are less interested in the war over there than they are in the poor cat down the street that got run over.”

“What was all over the news?” the Hungarian asked.

“Let’s save it for Orientation,” Dale said. “There won’t be many of you, so they’ll probably do a meet and greet, and here at Whateley, ‘what’s your mutant power’ is sort of like what ‘What’s your major’ is at most colleges.”

Dale took the three girls into Schuster Hall, barely pausing to name it for Regina and Erzebet, the Hungarian girl, and took them up to the classroom on the second floor for Orientation. Dale looked in the door and said, “Sorry we’re a little late. There was the usual insanity, what with playing Musical Rooms.”

“Not a problem,” the man leaning on the desk said as he casually checked his clipboard. “Twain and Whitman are running a little behind, but then they usually do. Ladies, help yourselves to a seat.” The man was tall, athletic and was almost ridiculously good-looking, more like an action-adventure movie star than a teacher. He wore a corduroy jacket over a plaid shirt, and had jeans and boots on. And it wasn’t just the way that he dressed; like Mr. Lodgeman, there was a palpable sense of personal power that was idle, but still there.

There were four boys already sitting in chairs, all of them good-looking, though they still didn’t really do anything for Kerry. She got input of general appreciation from three of them, and a sort of vague sense of resentment from the last one. One of the boys just gave them a wide grin, and the other two made a few appreciative sounds. Regina sat down by herself, but Kerry sat next to her. Erzebet said something in what must have been Hungarian to the rather sulky looking boy and sat down next to him with a sense of expectation that the boy pointedly ignored.

The boy with the Bulls parka was trying to chat up Kerry. “Y’know, when I heard that I was coming to a school for mutants, I was, y’know, expectin’ the kids t’be all weird, and deformed lookin’.” He looked Kerry up and down with relish. “But so far, the kids are lookin’ mighty goo- OH MY GAWD.” The kid’s face dropped as he looked at the door.

Following his gaze, Kerry looked toward the door, which was almost filled with a large, wide-shouldered form. Having seen some in the tunnels, Kerry recognized that the boy (she assumed that it was a boy) had a pronounced case of GSD. He was still humanoid, but what showed through his clothing didn’t look human. He was tall enough that he had to duck his head to get through the door, and he had a Pro Wrestler’s physique. That is, if Pro Wrestlers were hunchbacked and had arms that reached down past their knees. The head that jutted forward from the massive shoulders was blue, hairless and was either frog-like or reptilian, depending on your perspective. He didn’t seem to have any lips, and his skin was ‘pebbly’, like a Gila Monster, with horny projections here and there. He was wearing bib overalls, the sort that Kerry recognized were favored by ‘very, very, very big people’ (i.e., either morbidly obese or so abnormally over-muscled that nothing else would fit), a very bulky hand-knit sweater, and boots that looked like they’d been inexpertly stitched together just to fit him. The hands that stuck out of the sweater’s sleeves were massive, larger than most people’s heads, with claws at the ends of the fingers, and there were horny spurs jutting forward from the backs of his hands. He stepped completely into the room and faced the other kids. Despite the unreadable stoicism of his face, Kerry felt a mixture of keen anxiety, despair and frustration from him.

Then from behind the enormous figure stepped another figure that was as far removed from the first one as you could get without actively trying. Kerry’s first thought was that he looked like Willy Wonka. The Johnny Depp/ Tim Burton version, not the Gene Wilder version. He was short- or shortish- or at least he seemed short next to the towering aberration-, slender, and he had an androgynous, delicate, slightly fey beauty to him. To complete the absurdity, he was dressed in Edwardian clothing, complete with an ascot (not a tie, but an ascot), a brocade waistcoat, and a high silk hat. “Please do pardon us,” the shorter boy cooed in refined tones, “but I somehow managed to get lost, and this fine fellow was good enough to guide me here.”

Wilson raised an eyebrow- more for the boy who’d spoken than the GSD kid. “Okay, the only guy we have for Twain is Frobisher- that would be you-” he indicated the large faux-amphibian- “So you would be Rose?”

“By any other name,” said the young man as he touched the brim of his hat.

“Okay,” Wilson said with a touch of a sigh, “Rose, take a seat. Frobisher, you look like you mass over four hundred pounds?” Frobisher nodded. “You’ve probably had problems finding chairs that will hold you. Y’see those chairs up against that wall, the ones with the red bars on top of the back? They’re made with special graphite nano-tube compounds. They’ll hold up to eleven hundred pounds. You’ll find chairs like those in practically every classroom. Find one you like and settle in. We have one last girl from Whitman coming. Now, please, I know that you’re all new here, but try and cut her a break? Believe me, no matter what you’re going through, she’s going through as much, if not worse.”

Kerry reflected that she’d seen a few of the Whitman girls. Whitman was the cottage where they housed the ‘Obvious Mutants’, the ones who were anything from cute little cat-girls to girls who were the female version of Frobisher over there. It occurred to her that while no one likes being ugly, it must be particularly hard on girls. 

“Okay,” Wilson continued, “since it looks like Miss Gunnerson is gunner be late, let’s get this started, shall we? I’m am Sergeant Wilson, I’m going to be giving you the orientation lecture that we give all the new kids, so they’re not wandering around and getting lost. Usually, at the beginning of the year, we let the cottages handle this with a student guide, but we handle mid-year transfers with these little classes. Get a few things understood out front, clear up any misunderstandings, and generally get you off on the right foot.

“Okay! Let’s start off with the obvious, and see where that leads us. Whateley is- duh!- a school for mutants. That much is pretty dang obvious. What’s not obvious, both to people outside the school and to a lot of kids IN the school, is that this is not a school for superheroes. We are not here to teach you to fight for Truth, Justice and the American Way. We’re here to teach you how to control your powers, how to use them effectively and responsibly, and most of all, how to survive.”

The ‘survive’ part was unexpectedly underlined when a girl bolted through the door. “Am I late?” she said breathlessly. She definitely looked as if she had barely survived something. She was tallish and stocky, but she looked as though she’d just been in a fight. Her dark blonde hair was longer in places that it was in others, and the bangs that hung over her eyes was uneven, with the short part dyed a violent shade of purple. The left side of her face was pinker and more flushed than the other and was peeling, with dark bits that looked like burn marks. There were several smudges and suspicious smears on her wire-framed glasses. She was wearing a red plaid flannel shirt over a Shania Twain tee-shirt, and the sleeve of the flannel had been burned off, showing that her left hand and arm was just as red and peeling as her face. The jeans she was wearing were wet and ripped in several places, and her hiking boots were caked with mud.

“Sorry I’m late, but I had an unexpected date with Demona’s fire-flinging sist-AH!” the girl was scanning the room and recoiled in shock when she spotted the GSD boy. She flinched badly and some of the coffee that she was carrying jerked out of the paper cup. The boy’s face remained impassive, but there was a tightening of his shoulders and the way that he held his hands together in front of him; Kerry didn’t need her empathy to sense the painful rejection that he felt.

“Okay, I’m sure that it’s a fascinating story,” Wilson said. “You’ll get a chance to tell it a little later.” He repeated for Miss Gunnerson’s benefit the bit about Whateley not being a school for superheroes. He filled them in about the basic nature of the cottages, which Kerry already knew. “From here, I’ll take you on a tour of the campus, show you around so that you have an idea of where things are when classes start. But first, you’ll go around and introduce yourselves. Here at Whateley, ‘what’s your mutant power’ is sort of what ‘what’s your major’ is at most colleges. So, tell us a little about yourself, your power, and if you had an interesting manifestation, tell us about that. And, the rest of you, listen in; you might learn something.

“Well, since we have a celebrity in our midst, let’s get her out of the way first. Seraphim, come here, and tell us about yourself.”

Kerry flushed a little, stepped forward and faced the others. She took a deep breath and- with a few politic omissions- told them about how her power manifested itself do dramatically at Times Square, and her experiences at St. Gregory’s. “So, after I tried to gut Father Carmody and my mom decked the Cardinal, they figured that it wasn’t a good idea for me to stay in New York, and they brought my whole family up here from Glassboro. My folks left this morning, and they’re going into some kind of ‘witness relocation program’ that they got here.”

The scrawny black guy raised his hand. “Yeah, the guys here were shittin’ in their britches when they saw you zap that big ice giant- can you do that all the time?”

Kerry bit her lower lip. “Errr… no. I had a lot of help, a lot of people. I mean, there were a LOT of people who were sort of believing in me, ‘cause they’d sort of been told by the media that I could do it, and ‘cause if they didn’t Ymir would’a mashed the place flat. No, to be honest… I don’t really know WHAT happened then.”

Regina raised her hand. “Why did he call you ‘Seraphim’?”

Wilson cut in and answered for Kerry. “It’s part of the powers training program. You’re expected to pick a code name for powers training and group training exercises. You’ll answer to your regular names during normal classes, but during training exercises, you use code names, which are sort of like call signs for pilots- or superhero names,” he allowed with a nod. “The idea was originally a way of keeping regular school records and Research monkeys’ notes separate. After all, if you have it under control after you graduate, is it really of your college or bosses’ business that you can fly at what speed? Of course, these days, there are tons of holes in that, but we keep it up mostly out of tradition. Besides, when kids come here, they sort of expect to get a jazzy super-name.”

“What’s a ‘Seraphim’?” asked the boy in the Bulls parka.

“Well, apparently they don’t just have ‘angels’, they have different ranks and choirs and bands and all like that,” Kerry explained. “The Seraphim are a kind of angel that’s supposed to be really big news. Actually, ‘seraphim’ is what they call all of them. Individually, they’re ‘seraphs’. But I just thought that Seraphim sounded better.”

The crotchety boy sitting next to Erzebet raised his hand and said in a dismissive tone made worse by an Eastern European accent that sounded like he’d learned English by watching old movies on TV, “Why would anyone think you a angel? I mean, you cute, but please! How could anyone be that gullible?”

“I think that you’re going to have to show them, Kerry,” Wilson said.

Hoping that she wasn’t going to have to do this three times a day with a Saturday matinee, Kerry drew on the power around her and did the whole thing with the halo and the wings, and produced another angel. The little ‘angel’ unfurled, and even the blasé European boy’s eyes popped. Regina and the Gunnerson girl leaned forward, and then the angel popped, showering them with the dust. Regina cooed and her tight face blossomed like a flower. But the Gunnerson girl sort of twitched. And then all hell broke loose.

The black kid yelped and suddenly erupted in a crackling field of arcing electricity. The supposedly unbreakable chair under the huge GSD boy gave way. The dapper Edwardian kid’s clothing disappeared, was replaced by a comfortable if rather sloppy sweatshirt and jeans for a second, which was then replaced by a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit, complete with blonde sausage-curl wig and large lollypop. The smiling guy who was keeping his shaggy dark blonde hair out of his eyes with a set of goggles disappeared within a whirling sphere of some amber-ish material. The snotty European boy’s right arm started spasming furiously, battering the writing deck of the desk to splinters. Next to him, Erzebet disappeared in a thick cloud of smoke. “What the hell did you DO?” yelled the guy in the Bulls parka.

Kerry looked at her hands, aghast. “That never happened before!”

The Gunnerson chick pulled the stopper out of the thermos she was carrying, and started drinking straight from the mouth. The room started to come back to a semblance of normality. The black kid stopped arcing, and pulled back his sleeve to fuss at a burned-out piece of equipment strapped to his wrist. Rose was back to his natty- if outdated- look. The Eastern European guy got control of his arm back. And after a bit, the whirling amber sphere faded, revealing the guy with the goggles, who was fiddling furiously at a small contraption. Seeing that he was finally free of the ball, he snapped, “Blue Blazes, Girl! What did you think you were doing?”

“Where’d Erzebet get to?” Regina asked, looking around.

There was a general babble in Kerry’s direction, and she was too upset and confused to effectively shield the emotional out-lash.

“QUIET!” Wilson barked, standing there with a very military posture. “Seraphim didn’t cause that, DID SHE, Miss Gunnerson?” The girl in flannel took her mouth away from the thermos with an abashed grin. “I think that you just cut to the head of the line, didn’t you? Kerry, sit down. Joanne, why don’t you come up here, introduce yourself, and explain what just happened?”

Joanne grumped a ‘not this again’ face, slugged down a shot of coffee, and trudged to the front of the room as Kerry sat down. She faced the other kids and said, “Okay, it’s like this- things just go kind of wonky every so often when I’m around. Y’see, they tell me that I can sort of, y’know, twist, like, REALITY in this weird way.” She held her hands in front of her, and there was a bizarre sort of wrinkle in the air that formed. “But, y’see, it’s not like clay. It doesn’t just stay there when I twist it like that. It’s kinda like rubber- you stretch it and then it either snaps back or it breaks.”

“FASCINATING!” said the grumpy European boy. “What’s that got to do with my ARM going crazy?”

Joanne shot him a sharp look. “Well, besides all the reality clay stuff, somehow what I do… sort of… makes weird stuff happen. They said that I change the chances of things happening. I can’t make things happen that I want, I just… change the odds of it happening. Sometimes, million-to-one flukes happen. I think that when that angel thing hit me, it triggered an outbreak.”

“SO? If you did all that, WHY did you make my ARM go crazy, you stupid-” he sputtered something in Hungarian or Russian or whatever it was he spoke, which wasn’t understandable, but still sounded real nasty.

Joanne narrowed her eyes at him, and suddenly his arm started spinning like a propeller, throwing him around and shaking the chair that already been weakened by the battering apart. “I, ah, can’t control it very well, when I’m surprised or pissed off.” She said the last bit at the Slav boy in a way that sort of left some doubt as to her sincerity. She took another hefty slug of coffee.

“What’s with the coffee?” Wilson asked.

“Oh, the coffee sort of calms me down. I sorta got issues, y’know, with anger and stuff.”

“Well then! Bottoms up!” Wilson said.

Then a girl poked her head in the door. “Excuse me? But there’s a naked girl in the ladies, and she wants to know if someone will take her clothes to her.”

“That must be Erza!” Regina said, “I’ll get it!” She picked up Erzebet’s clothing, being careful to avoid the Slav boy’s wheeling arm, and scurried out the door.

Joanne gave a martyred sigh and said, “Look, weird stuff just keeps happening to me… AND around me. That’s why I’m here. They kicked me out of my old school, and the school district wouldn’t let me transfer to anywhere in freaking Alaska.”

“Alaska?”

“That’s where I’m from.”

Wilson prompted, “So, aside from being an Odds Mangler-”

“Odds Mangler?”

“That’s what they call what you do, though the more proper term is a ‘Probability Warper’.”

“There are MORE people who do this?” Joanne sounded aghast.

“Yep,” Wilson said, “as a matter of fact, we have FOUR- sorry, FIVE of them right now, counting you.” He checked a PDA. “Which cottage do they have you in, Joanne?”

“Whitman.”

“Right.” He checked his PDA again. “Talk to Mrs. Savage, and make sure that she knows to keep you and a girl called ‘Kismet’ well apart.”

“Hunh? Why?”

“Well, kid, it’s like this- Warpers interfere with each other, sort of like radio waves can interfere with each other. Sometimes they cancel each other out, sometimes they amplify each other, and sometimes they just get weird. With Manglers, they tend to kick up the weirdness factor by a couple of degrees whenever two or more of ‘em get close together.”

“What? Then why didn’t they just put me in another dorm?”

“Because all of the dorms that take girls already have a probability warper. Well, except for Hawthorne. Putting you in Hawthorne would be just asking for a disaster.”

“Why?”

“We’ll cover that later, during the tour.”

With loud use of words that at least sounded quite profane, the European boy managed to get control of his arm back. Wilson pointed to him and said, “Well, after that, I think that we have another volunteer. Mr. Radu, why don’t you come up here and explain what’s going on with that arm of yours?”

Radu got up with a muted growl and stumped up to the front. He was good-looking, in a rugged, square-jawed sort of way, but he appeared to have a scowl welded onto his face. “My name is Konrad Radu,” he stated. He told them that he was from a suburb of Bucharest (none of them quite caught the name, and he didn’t repeat it), from an ‘average’ home. It appears that a few months ago, he learned that he could make himself invisible. He disappeared by way of illustration. He reappeared and sort of glossed over ‘experimenting’ with his invisibility. From the emotional undertones and the way that he was stressing certain things, Kerry got the distinct impression that Konrad had been doing some ‘shopping at the five-finger discount store’.

Then apparently someone sold him out to the Romanian MCO- or, Kerry reflected, quite likely he was just so blatant that they figured out what he was doing- and they set a trap for him. They used SWAT style tactics to herd him into a derelict warehouse and exploded pre-placed demolitions packs, collapsing the building on top of him.

Konrad briefly gloried in the appalled looks the others gave him. “My force field saved most of me, but equipment on the roof fell on my arm and crushed it. When Dozan Brozva-”

“Dozan Brozva?” someone asked.

Konrad drew himself up, as though disdainful of ignorant Americans, who knew all about worthless rock stars, but knew nothing of a great man like Dozan Brozva! But before he could say anything, Wilson cut him off. “Dozan Brozva is a monster hunter who operates mostly in Central Europe. He hunts vampires, werewolves, strange beings that seem to think that they have a license from God to hunt humans, the odd Left-Hand Path witch and so forth. We share information with him and a few others like him every so often. At least we do as long as it doesn’t threaten school neutrality.”

Konrad nodded, as though finding the teacher at least sufficient in his knowledge of worthwhile things. “Yes. Brozva is a great man. He dug me out of the rubble before the MCO could find me. Unlucky, my arm was beyond saving, and it had to be removed. But, from this tragedy, I find new strength. My arm is gone, but I still feel my hand. I reach out with it-” He reached out his arm in demonstration and one of the empty chairs floated up. “I have an arm, but it is the ghost of an arm. Still, I can lift 50 kilos with it. Later, when they put on this new steel arm, I find that I can use ghost arm to make steel arm stronger. I can lift almost 200 kilos with it!

“As I am recovering, Brozva hears that a vampire is running amok in Budapesht, attacking people in their homes. Of course, he goes to track down this monster. Of course, I go with him. It turns out that the monster is only the girl, Erzebet. So, we take her with us, when we go to Wallachia. There, Prince Vlad Brâncoveanu gives us asylum.”

“Prince Vlad who?” the guy in the Bulls parka asked, bewildered.

Konrad shot him a glare of withering disdain and opened his mouth, but Wilson beat him to the punch again. “You might know of Prince Vlad Brâncoveanu better as ‘Lord Paramount’. He’s a mutant who took over a northern region of Romania back in the Eighties and has been running it ever since. He’s also a Whateley grad.”

Konrad nodded again and went on about how Lord Paramount was impressed by his work with Brozva, and had offered him a position with his army. But Konrad was insistent that he go to America to complete his education. Kerry smothered a smirk and wondered how much rationalization Konrad had had to go through to get things to work out that way.

Konrad was finishing up, when Erzebet and Regina came back in. Erzebet was almost to her chair when Wilson stopped her. “Don’t bother sitting down. We’ve heard Konrad’s side of how you two met. Why don’t we hear your side of it, and maybe let us in on how you wound up, ah, embarrassed in the powder room?”

Erzebet flushed and walked up to the front of the classroom. She told everyone that her name was Erzebet Novak. She was from Budapest, and she came from a large family. A large family that kicked her out when her mutant trait manifested itself on Halloween. She mentioned a prank that went bad, but didn’t go into any great detail. The prank wound up not only getting her kicked out of the house, but getting the cops set on her for ‘attacking the girls’.

“Why did they think that you were attacking your sisters?” The guy with the goggles asked.

“Well, I wasn’t entirely human at the moment,” Erze admitted. “You see, I’m a shapeshifter. I can change my body. Some times, it’s small,” she held up her hand and it turned into a claw. “But sometimes, it’s not. I have four forms. One of them is a big cat-like thing. But not really a cat. Sort of a cat-weasel. I was a cat-weasel when I crawled in the window to my room. My sisters weren’t happy to see me.”

She had four forms. The cat-weasel form, her human form, a sort-of-bat-but-not-really form, and the mist that she’d turned into earlier. She’d been a fugitive in Budapest for about a month when Dozan Brozva and Konrad showed up. Kerry wasn’t sure what to make of Erzebet. She’d seemed very confident and sure of herself on the way over from Dickinson. But the second that Konrad entered the picture, it was like Erzebet was a little girl, A little girl who was scared of doing the wrong thing.

The Bulls fan asked, “You look sort of like a vampire, and you got vampire powers. Do you drink blood?”

“NO, köszönöm anya Mária! And I don’t burn up in the sunlight, or burn from a cross, either!”

“Americans full of shit about vampires,” Konrad rumbled from where he sat. His attitude spelled out that he felt that Americans were full of shit about everything. Erzebet wilted a little again, and Kerry got a very bad feeling about that situation.

Wilson had Erzebet sit down and looked at the froshes. “Well, no obvious volunteers, so let’s go alphabetically.”

The next one was Eddie Brysen, the Bulls fan. Apparently Eddie was gonna be the next Champion, as he was super-strong, nigh-invulnerable, and could fly.

“So, are you a PK superman, an Energizer superman, a Gravatic superman, or what?” Wilson asked.

“What?” Eddie asked.

“Do you get your powers from psychokinesis, or are you charged with electromagnetic energy, or do you bend gravity, or what to get your super-strength and all that?”

“You mean… there are more guys like me here?” Eddie asked, the wind taken from his sails a bit.

“Oh Yeah,” Wilson said. “Not exactly what I’d call common, but there are one or two in every year.”

Eddie sat down, not sure as how to handle that news. Wilson called Jamal Castle next. Jamal had had a close call when he manifested his power too. He’d been hanging with his buds, when he felt way too hot for December in Baltimore. Then, suddenly, he found himself in the middle of a classic Energizer eruption, with sparks flying everywhere, his friends running for their lives and someone calling the cops. But Jamal had been too much for the cops (or, at least, so he said), so they called out the Knights of Purity on him! But him and his girls-

“Excuse me?” Wilson cut in. “Girls? I thought that your friends had cut out on you.”

“Yeah, but-” it appeared that Jamal had gotten some help from out of left field in the form of two superpowered girls. “Anyway, Me, Chaka and Chou-”

“Chaka?” Wilson cut in again. “Chaka was involved in this?”

“uh, Yeah. Why? You know Chaka?”

“We haven’t met personally, but I’ve heard a lot about her. She has quite a reputation.”

“Reputation?” Jamal didn’t like the sound of that.

“Yeah, for jumping into things without looking.”

“Yeah. Well. Still, y’gotta admit, she’s foine! I mean, her’n Chou, we are talking two PRIMO babes! I’m gonna look ‘em up, once school starts. And I am looking FORWARD to this school!” It turned out that Jamal saw Whateley as his way of getting out of East Baltimore. While his neighborhood in the Hopkins district wasn’t as bad as the notorious ‘Zombieland’, the high school that he had been attending was definitely not the stuff that Archie comics were made of. “But this?” he gestured around him, “This is doin’ it RIGHT! I am jumping ON this, and MAKIN’ it!”

“So, you talking about being a superhero or a supervillain or what?”

“Hey,” Jamal shrugged, “How would I know? I’m only fif-TEEN! I’m gonna find out what I don’t know first. But I DO know this- this school is my chance, and I ain’t lettin’ it go without a fight!”

Wilson had Jamal sit down, and told the hulking GSD case to step forward and introduce himself. The huge misshapen boy stepped forward, and opened his mouth. He introduced himself as Baird Frobisher, but told everyone to call him ‘Froggy’. He came from a small town in the north of England called Little Thripping on the Pewtey. His manifestation of his mutation had sort of crept up on him, and he’d spent much of July August, and September trying to cover it up. And then he’d spent most of October, November and December hiding out in the wastelands when he couldn’t hide it anymore. His story was only mildly interesting, but his delivery as absolutely riveting. In stark contrast to his bestial appearance, Baird’s voice was absolutely gorgeous. He had a wonderful, rich, smooth, golden baritone that could make masculine music from reading the ingredients of a packet of instant oatmeal. He managed to turn his rather pedestrian tale into a Shakespearean sonnet, purely on his enunciation.

The guy with the goggles, face a totally boggled blank, raised his hand. “How can you speak so well without any LIPS?”

“Well, that’s rather the point,” ‘Froggy’ admitted. “When my body changed, well, my lips turned into this-” he indicated the befanged maw that he spoke from, “so I wasn’t able to speak for months. Which really didn’t help as I was trying to convince people that I wasn’t a bloodthirsty monster. Which is hard enough, when you have to steal chickens to eat. But the inside of my mouth is shaped differently now as well, and… well… if you’re going to have to re-learn how to speak all over again, you might as well do it RIGHT this time! Smartest thing I could have done. I managed to get a reporter to listen to me before she saw my face. And I’d warned her before she did manage to see me, so while she did get a nasty shock, she didn’t get hysterical. She sat still long enough for me to explain who I was and what had happened. I managed to convince her that I wasn’t a threat, and it went tolerably well from there. I was interviewed by the British MCO, and Miss Brace, the reporter, managed to get in touch with someone who knew about Whateley. And, well, here I am.”

“The MCO just let you GO?” Jolt asked, rather incredulously.

“Yes. I was rather surprised at that myself.”

“I, ah, think that I may have a notion about that,” Wilson drawled as he kicked back in his chair.

“Oh?” Baird asked in the tone of seeking enlightenment.

“Baird, ironically, you have a much better chance of walking out of a MCO office than, say Kerry does.”

“Oh?” Baird asked in the tone of ‘pull the other one, it’s got bells on’.

“Look at it from the point of view of the MCO- let’s face it, Baird, you are a very scary looking guy. Having you running around loose makes people jittery, and makes them want to be protected from monstrous mutants. Which means that they’ll be that much more inclined to let the MCO do whatever it wants. Also, when people accuse them of ‘disappearing’ mutants, they can point at you and say, ‘Hey, if we’re disappearing mutants, then why his HE still around?’

“On the flip side, Kerry here is very threatening to the MCO’s position. While you and other ‘monstrous’ mutants send the message that mutants are horrible and dangerous and need a very expensive corps of highly trained operatives to keep them in line, Kerry, Exemplars and other ‘pretty-pretty’ mutants send almost the opposite message. That mutants are beautiful, and powerful and helpful. That they should be encouraged, and not watched like hawks. That the MCO should be made to answer to the local authorities for its activities, which, after all, are against citizens who may not have done anything wrong.

“SO, from the point of view of the MCO, the more people see of mutants like YOU, and the less they see of mutants like Seraphim here, the better.”

While his face was as uncommunicative as ever, Baird’s posture showed a touch of confusion.

Jolt raised his hand. “Howcum you don’t just, y’know, trim those ripper-things on the backs of your hands? I mean, those gotta get in the way of pickin’ things up, and, ah, let’s face it, dude- you don’t exactly got a problem with lookin’ scary. Er, I mean, it’s not hard for you to look dangerous, and all.”

Froggy held up his huge ham-hock hands. The two nasty looking spurs on the back of each hand jutted out almost as far as his clawed fingers. “I know what you mean,” his voice, the most expressive thing about him, was curiously flat. “They do make handling things sort of clumsy. And I can cut them. I had to use a hacksaw to do it, but I did cut them. Then I found out that its not a good idea to do that.”

“Okay, I’ll play straight man,” Wilson offered. “WHY isn’t it a good idea to cut them, Frobisher?”

“Don’t ask my how or why, but they help it when I do THIS.” Frobisher swung his fists wide, as if gouging out a big gaping tear in the air. And there, as if he had, indeed, ripped a long tear in the very air, there was a… tear in the air that hung there. It roiled and snarled, and it was distinctly unsettling to look at. The air in the room rushed about, and Kerry felt a sense of vertigo setting in. “Coooolllll…” Joanne breathed.

The boy with the goggles whipped a handheld set of some sort out of his overcoat and pointed it at the tear. Multiple antennas wiggled in the tear’s general direction, and the boy read some sort of low-tech readout with dials and needles. “Great Tesla’s Ghost!” he burst out, “These readings indicate a major abrasion in the etheric cohesion! You literally ripped a hole in the fabric of reality!”

“That’s not the point!” Eddie yelled as he hunkered down defensively, “The real question is: Can you close it?”

“Normally. I. Can.” Baird said in a labored voice, “But it’s being… difficult… this time… something fighting me… rip’s starting to fray…”

Wilson stood up and snapped, “Bryson! Get Gunnerson OUT of here! NOW!” Not getting it, but figuring that following an order was better than standing around with his gums flapping, Eddie scooped up Joanne and flew her out the door.

Once Joanne was out the door, ‘Froggy’ seemed to have an easier time of it. Finally, he managed to ‘knit’ the tear shut. “I’m terribly sorry about that,” he said with a deep breath. “Those tears have gotten away from me before, but only when I just left them by themselves. I don’t know why it was so hard to repair this time.”

“I think that I have an answer for that,” Wilson said. He walked over to the door and called out, “It’s safe! Come on back!”

Joanne walked in, bubbling with enthusiasm. “That was So Kewl!” she gushed, “Can you do that again?”

“NO,” Wilson said firmly. “Frobisher, I’m not an R&D egghead, but I think that it’s pretty clear that you’re what we call a ‘warper’, like Miss Gunnerson. As you can probably guess from what Gunnerson described, a warper, well, warps the very fabric of reality. That ‘rip’ in the air was a rather nasty warp. I’m not a hyper-spatial physicist, so I won’t go any further on that. But the thing is that warpers sort of create ‘waves’ in the fabric of the universe, and the effects- gravity changing, odds going goofy, people shrinking or growing or whatever- are secondary effects of these waves. But, when you have more than one set of waves in an area, they interfere with each other, like radio static. When you have two warpers in an area, they affect the way that each other warps. The result is very individual. I’d say that having Joanne here around when you make one of those tears interferes with the warp so that ‘sewing it shut’ like you just did is a lot harder.” Froggy gave a ‘okay, if you say so’ shrug.

“But it was so cooolll…” Joanne whined.

The guy with the goggles was rapturously consulting his doohickey. “So, what can you do with your warp?” he asked.

“DO?” Frobisher asked slightly askance.

“Sure! I mean, can you teleport using that thing? How far? Can you carry anything?”

“Are you joking?” Baird was aghast. “I’m not even putting my hand in one of those things, let alone my head!”

“Then…. How do you use it?”

“Use it? They just happen every so often, and I just try to survive them!”

The goggle-guy looked nonplussed. “What’s the point of mutations that you can’t use?”

“Evolution doesn’t work that way,” Wilson said sternly. “If anything, evolution is the polar opposite of genetic engineering. Genetic engineering starts with a desired effect and messes with DNA sequences to get it. Evolution, on the other hand, starts with an altered DNA sequence, and doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the effect it has. If the mutant lives and thrives, fine. If not, evolution just tosses that mutant aside and tries something else. Frobisher here-”

“Call me Froggy.”

“Okay, Froggy here can cause these rips in the fabric of reality. It’s up to him to find ways of controlling it, and to find beneficial ways of using it. Some ways of using a mutant trait are obvious. Some ways aren’t. And some mutant traits just plain don’t have a beneficial use. Oh, and speaking of beneficial uses- Froggy, are you proportionately strong to that muscle-bender frame of yours?”

Froggy shook his head. “No. I’ve lifted range rovers over my head and thrown them several yards. I’ve been hit with birdshot from about a dozen or so meters away, and barely felt it. And I can jump, about, oh, a parking lot in a single bound. It made getting away from the dogs much easier.”

Wilson had Froggy sit down and called Regina Lambert. The contrast was startling. Froggy had a huge looming presence that sort of forced itself upon you whether you wanted it or not; Regina, on the other hand, sort of shrunk in on herself under the gaze of her fellow students. She was still coltish and awkward, with a head that seemed like an apple on a stick. Still, for all that, she had a ‘cute shy girl’ sort of charm going for her. She had a delicate face, with a small nose and large gray eyes that her oversized glasses made seem huge. Kerry mused that she would have probably had a huge, but very quiet, crush on Regina, back when she was still a guy. Which brought up the question of who would she date now? Guys? Kerry’d heard about lesbians, but it never occurred to her that she’d wind up as one.

Regina pursed her lips, squirmed in the spotlight and finally managed to make herself talk. She told everyone that they should call her ‘Gina’, since ‘Regina’ meant ‘queen’, and, well, she just wasn’t up to that. She blushed and admitted that she wasn’t very powerful, especially compared to someone like Kerry. Which made Kerry feel bad, that she was making Gina feel bad.

Gina didn’t have a big ‘manifestation story’, and her power was pretty wimpy (her own words). When the boy in Edwardian wear asked what she did do, she concentrated for a moment, there was a blurring, and suddenly there were two of her. “See? Now, instead of just one useless hostage, I’m TWO useless hostages!” they said in perfect unison.

“Which one is the real you?” the guy in the goggles asked.

“We both are,” they responded in unison again. “It’s more like my left hand and my right hand, than there’s two of me.”

“Do you always speak in that annoying chorus?” Konrad asked with a mild sneer.

“No,” one of them said, “but talking one at a time takes a little more effort.”

“Then apply yourself. It is very annoying.”

Kerry shot Konrad an annoyed glower, but the boy was impervious to hers and the others’ looks. She returned her attention to Gina. “So, can you do more than one thing at a time? I mean, one of you do one thing, and the other something else?”

They looked at each other. One said, “Yeah, but it’s like-”

“Trying to do two things at the same time,” the other one finished.

“What happens when you get hurt?” the guy in the goggles asked. “Do both of you get hurt? Or only one? What happens when you rejoin?”

“I don’t know,” Gina answered. “I try to avoid getting hurt.”

“Which just shows that you have good sense,” Wilson said gently. He told her to sit down, but added quietly to talk to him, he might have something for her. “Okay, Mister Rose, it’s your turn in the barrel.”

The faux-Edwardian boy stood and faced the group with the gravitas of an undertaker. He opened his mouth and a soap bubble rose up from it. It rose a bit and burst, releasing the word “Well” from it. “I am more or less what happens when the Teacher’s Pet learns that he’s been egregiously HAD by underpaid, overstressed civil servants for ten years.” As young mister Rose described himself, he was the ‘good boy’ who was kind, polite, considerate, helpful, thoughtful, unselfish- and utterly clueless to the obvious facts that Life rewards the cruel, rude, inconsiderate, obstructive, thoughtless and selfish. He described his feelings when, after years of diligent effort, he discovered that not only was he never going to be rewarded for these efforts, but that they were regarded as a bare minimum expected of him by others. At the same time, while he was taking the small piece and waiting his turn, the louts and bitches who not only took the big pieces for themselves but grabbed second pieces, and cut in line for themselves and their friends, were being rewarded for being complete and utter swine. As he spoke a large neon-blue lollipop with the word ‘Sucker’ printed in red floated over his head.

“Bitter much?” Jolt said wryly.

“Just a touch,” Rose admitted. “After this cruel epiphany, I briefly experimented with ‘Emo’-” Rose’s outfit changed to a tattered-and-safety-pinned ‘Alternative’ outfit, complete with overwrought makeup, and maudlin ‘Warped Tour’ music played somewhere. “Now, I’m not proud of it, but honesty compels me to admit it. Unfortunately, I tried to be ‘Emo’ in Provo, Utah and it didn’t go over very well, as you can imagine.” He was suddenly swathed in bandages and splints.

“Of course, the three hooligans who put me in the hospital and almost killed me were most contrite- or at least their parents said so. Or, rather, their parents’ lawyers did. I’m still not completely sure precisely WHAT they did, but those lawyers somehow turned it all around so that _I_ was for all practical purposes on trial. None of those three rowdies so much as spent a night in jail for almost murdering me. Indeed, the news came to me that, if anything, they were regarded somewhat as conquering heroes in the halls of my Alma Mater. I will confess to a small measure of… displeasure…” his eyes flashed with crimson flame, “when I heard that my classmates greeted my maiming with such joyous acclaim.

“BUT!” he punctuated with a Shakespearean flourish, “When I discovered that the three scapegraces had indeed caused my mutation to manifest itself, the situation changed dramatically. I healed myself completely within three weeks, instead of the years of painful physical therapy that had been diagnosed. Indeed, in the process, I managed to… improve… my physical esthetics to the empyrean heights you see before you.” He stood before them in his normal mode- well, the trellis arch of white roses was new, as were the black doves perched on it.

“Indeed, I must admit that when I realized the full magnitude of my new abilities, my first thoughts were… less than genteel…” Rose took on a far more sinister, more menacing aspect, and the trellis disappeared in a gout of flame, replaced by a panorama of hellish destruction and anguish.

“But then it struck me,” he resumed his more usual (if not normal) mien and the apocalyptic vision behind him faded, “that I had excoriated just such behavior when it was used against me. Were I to exact such revenge upon my attackers, I would be descending to their level. Indeed, my rage was as much against the barbarity and injustice that they had perpetrated as much as the pain. So, I resolved to aspire to true civility, to become a gentleman of the Old School.” He struck another pose.

“If you’re such a gentleman,” Wilson cut in with a wry smile, “why are you still wearing your hat?”

“I am?” Rose answered back. “Indeed, I am! How gauche of me! Please, DO forgive me ladies!” He took his high silk hat by the brim and took it off. And took his head with it. He tucked both in the cradle of his arm, and the head continued speaking. “At any rate, when I returned to my school-”

The goggle-guy, his grin knocked off his face, cut in. “Okay, since no one else will ask- HOW THE DEUCE ARE YOU DOING THAT?”

“Ah Yes! Explanations!” Rose laid his hat on one of the desks, brim up, took his head in both hands and cracked it like an egg on the brim of his hat. “You see, there is a mysterious substance called ‘ectoplasm’, which is most often associated with ghosts and fraudulent mediums.” A grayish goo oozed out of his cracked head like the whites from an egg into the hat. He replaced his head on his shoulders and began vigorously beating the substance in the hat as though in were in a bowl with a whisk that came from nowhere. “I create ectoplasm in vast quantities- there is some debate as to whether I generate it or merely collect it, or a measure of both. Now, I can not only create this goop, and mold it to whatever form takes my twisted desire-” he poured the stuff in his hat onto the desk, which settled in the form of a chicken with two shapely showgirl legs in stockings and high heels. “But animate it as well.” The chicken started doing a Charleston on the desk.

Goggle-guy had his gizmo out again and was fiddling with it furiously. “This can’t be right,” he muttered.

“You’re absolutely right.” The chicken stopped doing the Charleston, and began Riverdancing. “Much better.” Rose settled his hat over the chicken, and when he placed it back in the crook of his arm, the chicken was gone. “At any rate, I can create these various images, and certain effects along with them, as my whimsy takes me.

“Now, to resume my stirring narration, when I returned from the hospital, the three thugs who put me there completely forgot all that alleged contrition that their lawyers spoke of.” Three large, rather brutal young toughs loomed up behind Rose. The likenesses were very specific, and Kerry had the feeling that they were very much based on real persons. “Still, they did learn from their previous narrow escape. This time they planned and timed their attack so that there would be no witnesses. Ski masks appeared on the three thugs’ faces, and they had baseball bats. Rose smiled viciously. “Let’s just say that the results were… entertaining… and leave it at that.” The image of the three thugs changed again. Now, one was wearing a blue ‘Baby Girl Doll’ outfit with gaudy yellow polka dots, with a big matching bow in the blonde sausage curls. The second one was wearing a ‘Mickey Mouse’ outfit, the one with the red shorts and big white gloves. And the third was done up in a 1940s ‘Samba dancer’ outfit complete with a Carmen Miranda fruit hat. They looked uniformly spooked. “After that, I let it be known that I would no longer answer to ‘Bob Rose’. Rather, I would be known as ‘Thorn’.” With another grin of evil glee, long, sharp, very nasty looking thorns sprang from every part of his body. “To let it be known that you pluck this Rose at your own peril.”

“But I fear that my merry antics drew the attention of less than appreciative parties.” Thorn became a Neo (from The Matrix) clone and a lineup of ‘Agent Smiths’ with red ties sprang up behind him. “They kept detaining me ‘for questioning’, but never asking any questions. And then, when I left to be home in time for dinner, they kept complaining that I'd ‘escaped from detention’, even though that’s not a crime. And, strangely enough, they complained this, even after they’d stated that they’d never detained me in the first place. Perhaps they simply found my company so entertaining that they couldn’t bear to be without me.” The ‘Agent Smiths’ all grew hobo-clown makeup.

“In time, it was agreed by all parties involved that it would be best if I took classes here at Whateley.” The scene behind Thorn shifted to an image of a battered, nearly shattered high school.

“Okay, Rose- er, Thorn,” Wilson said. “That’s enough from you. Very well, Mr. Swift, you’re last- let’s see if you can make yourself as memorable as Thorn here has.”

Well, the boy definitely had a leg up on that. He was tallish and athletic looking, with a long regular-featured face (if a bit much with the jaw). His brush of dark blond hair was kept back by the goggles. He cocked a pose with his fists on his hips, shoulders thrown back and his big grin back on his face. He was wearing riding boots tucked into jodhpurs. Yes, Jodhpurs. He was wearing a red jacket of an odd design that took Kerry a moment to place. It had a front panel that was fixed by buttons,in the style of the leather jacket that the lead character had worn in the old movie, ‘The Rocketeer’. Curious, Kerry snuck a peek at his back, and yes indeed, he was wearing some sort of metallic pack, and there was some sort of pistol holstered on his utility belt.

Beaming out at his fellow students he proclaimed, “GREETINGS! I am Buck Swift, Boy of Tomorrow!” Kerry had the distinct impression that there should have been a logo of some sort that went with that introduction, one that incorporated an art deco/ pulp magazine image somehow.

“No, no, no…” Thorn tutted. He was wearing pince-nez glasses, and had a white plume quill poised over a large book, as though checking an entry. “Tomorrow is simply no good for me, I’m booked solid. What about the day after tomorrow?”

“No, sorry, Thorn,” Froggy said in his glorious voice. “I have my manicure that day.”

“Saturday?”

“Saturday is good for me.”

“Oh Pooh!” Joanne giggled, jumping on the bandwagon, “That’s no good either! I’m washing my hair!”

Thorn peered intently at the ‘datebook’, “Well then, what about Sunday?”

Kerry jumped at the opening, but Erzabet beat her to it. “What? No! Never, ever, on Sunday, a Sunday, a Sunday, because that’s my day of reeeessstt…” she sang to the old song, with the others joining in, Thorn whipping up a Greek outfit complete with tambourine.

“Well then! What about Monday?”

“It’s cool with me,” Jolt drawled, “but think about Buck here. ‘Buck Swift, Boy of Monday?’ Give the guy a BREAK!”

“Excellent point, my galvanic friend,” Thorn allowed, “Tuesday then?”

“I think that I have Tennis on Tuesday,” Kerry managed to get in.

“Botheration!” Thorn scribbled. “Well then! Wednesday! Anyone have any problems with Wednesday?”

Eddie decided to get in on the act. “Well, I’m cool, as long as it’s not in the morning. I’m a bear to get up in the morning.”

“Very well! Wednesday afternoon! Is everyone free Wednesday afternoon?”

“Why not?” Konrad drawled, making a production of being elegantly bored by the routine.

“Excellent!” Thorn scribbled in his book and shut it with a snap. “There! You’re Buck Swift, Boy of Wednesday Afternoon, weather permitting.” Buck wilted a tad as most of the class was barely managing to keep from cracking up.

“Buck up, Buck,” Wilson said, masterfully keeping from snickering. “With an opening like that, in this school, you got off easy.”

Buck bucked himself up, threw his shoulders back and gave it another whack. “I am Buck Swift, Inventor and Adventurer Extraordinaire!” Thorn started to say something, but Wilson fixed him with a glare that would have stopped Rush Limbaugh in mid-rant. “While I possess no remarkable preternatural abilities as all of you do, I DO possess a mind that has been developed to the very pinnacle of human ability! You must understand that I am a genius. This is no brag, I’m just telling the simple truth. In defiance of conventional thinking, I have perfected an entire technology based around manipulating Ether.”

“Ether?” Kerry bleated, ‘Y’mean, like chloroform? Like they’re always using in old gangster movies?”

“I think what Buck here is talking about,” Wilson cut in again, “is a mysterious substance that Physicists were talking about back in the 19th Century. It was all based on some hoo-haw about how light acted like a wave, but in order for it to wave it needed something like water for the light to wave IN. So, they came up with ‘Luminiferous Aether’ to fill the bill. The problem was, none of the experiments that they did produced the results that they would, if Ether existed.”

“AH!” Buck interjected with enthusiasm, “But just because Nineteenth Century science couldn’t detect it, doesn’t mean that it’s not THERE! I have, as I said, developed an entire technology around the manipulation of the permeating Ether, which will some day revolutionize everyday life!”

“Let me guess,” Wilson said as he massaged the bridge of his nose. “You just happen to have a few impressive examples of this technology on you.”

“Why YES!” Buck enthused. “You all saw my Etheric Protective Sphere earlier, when it was activated by *ahem!* ‘outside forces’.” He shot a glare at Joanne who withered a little.

“So?” Wilson said, “Here at Whateley, you’re not really taken seriously as a Devisor- or even particularly safe- if you don’t have a Personal Force field Generator.”

“And, this is my Empyreo-Propulsive Strato-Pack, with which I can pierce the very heavens and dance on the top of the clouds!”

“In other words, it’s a flying rig,” Wilson said. “Got anything interesting?

Buck drew a Flash Gordon-ish looking pistol from his holster, leveled it and turned to face the other students. “This is my Aethero-Plasmic Projector-” As he turned, the other students all scrambled out of their seats and hugged the floor.  Thorn threw up a ‘Wall’ of iron (complete with reinforcing bars and rivets), Kerry created one of her angel-shields, and Froggy covered Gina and Joanne with his bulk. “Hey, it’s-”

Wilson cut him off again, this time with a loud voice that snapped like a whip. “PUT. THAT. GUN. DOWN! NOW!” Before, Wilson had been rather easygoing, letting the kids keep the stage. But now his presence overwhelmed the room as his voice thundered and echoed.

“But it’s just-”

“On the desk! NOW!” Wilson raged, fury blazing in his eyes as he stabbed a finger at his desk.

“But it’s-”

“ON THE DESK!” Wilson’s posture was one of someone who was ready to pound the crap out of someone (specifically Buck).

Buck gingerly laid the pistol on the desk. “It wasn’t dangerous,” he pouted.

“You flagged four people with that thing when you were waving it around. On top of that, you had your finger on the trigger. If it had gone off, you could have shot someone.”

“It’s not a firearm. It doesn’t-”

"A weapon is a weapon is a tool of death and destruction! The fact that you are carrying it implies that you intend to use it! You cannot use a weapon without accepting the possibility that you will use it on a living person. You cannot attack a living person with a deadly weapon without accepting responsibility for killing them. Therefore, by that inexorable logic, you were willing to kill four people."

Buck wilted as Wilson picked up the pistol, but managed to say, “It’s not charged.”

“Oh? How do you know that? I don’t see a charge indicator. Or anything that I recognize as a safety, either.” Wilson spared a glance for the other students. His visage softened noticeably, and he said, “I think that I should explain. My regular gig here at the school is that I’m one of the instructors at the Firing Ranges. Yes, we have firing ranges. No, you won’t be required to take shooting classes. I recommend it, but it’s not required. We offer classes in gun handling, self-defense, survival, and group tactics.”

“I thought you say that this wasn’t superhero school,” Konrad growled.

“It’s not,” Wilson replied with careful dignity. “But YOU, of all people, must realize that this world has a lot of people in it who go a little crazy when mutants enter the picture. The foremost priority of this school is to train you all to SURVIVE. As we like to say, what’s the point of all this expensive education, if you go out and get killed by a lynch mob the week after graduation? Besides training you in the safe uses of your powers, we offer those classes in gun handling, self-defense, survival and group tactics that I mentioned. Even if you don’t decide to become a superhero, supervillain, or whatever, knowing how to handle yourself is crucial in tight situations. And, as mutants, your chances of finding yourself in a tight situation are at least ten times greater than any baseline’s.

“Buck, you are GOING to take a gun handling course. Period. But you’re not getting this blaster back until you do, and I’m going to make a note that every blaster or energy weapon that you build in the Workshop be confiscated until you pass just such a course.

“And, for those of you who do make the wise decision to take a gun handling course and get assigned to my range- what you saw just now with Buck and his little popgun is only the tip of the iceberg. When I have my Range Instructor hat on, I have NO patience, NO sense of humor and NO mercy! The term ‘Range Nazi’ isn’t an insult, it’s a badge of HONOR!” His posture and tone changed, becoming harsher and more strident.” Now, I know that some of you Europeans think that we Americans treat guns like toys. Not. On. MY. Range. On my range, Safety is the First, Last, and Foremost concern. My considerable wrath will fall on ANYONE who points a gun, loaded or unloaded, at anyone else, even if it’s only a joke! All guns WILL be treated as loaded at all times! You will shoot only when you are given the signal to shoot, and when the alarm sounds for you to stop shooting, you will STOP! PERIOD!”

The kids recoiled from his tirade. Wilson softened. “However, that’s only on the range. That sort of thing is necessary on a firing range. But, for today, I’m your guide to Whateley. Feel free to relax and ask any questions as we move around the grounds, getting to know the place.” He gestured towards the door.

 


TO BE CONTINUED...