The Blazer’s wheels slapped against the ground rhythmically as they sped along towards the hospital. James listened to Joseph and Jason call gleefully from the back seat, pressed back into the bench seat between his mother and father to avoid the linked hands atop the gearshift. His swiveled from side to side, smiling broadly as he watched them, especially Jessica. The swell of her belly, her panting words amidst contraction… everything was great.
“Edward… oh… this is the one. This is our daughter… it is going to be so wonderful.”
Jeff continued focusing on the road ahead, driving skillfully. He seemed lost in thought as he replied, hand squeezing his wife’s in reassurance, “That’s it, honey… 10 minutes, no more.”
The love between the two was apparent. Nothing could keep them apart, not at this moment. Three boys, one confirmed as a mutant and with preliminary acceptance at WhateleyAcademy. Marie thought that everything was right, after all these years, the early difficulties and all that she and her husband had gone through.
James looked up at his father, pressed back against the seat to avoid coming too close to the arm outstretched to grip his mother’s hand. He smiled as he noted the wrinkle above his brow. Daddy was thinking again but it was not like that was anything usual. Turning, he absently noted something by the trees ahead as he now smiled up at the pregnant woman. She looked so happy right now… what was she thinking. One hand inched out of his lap and moved towards her by reflex but he stopped.
He felt something and then everything seemed to come apart.
As the Blazer began to skid, James watched with growing fear, turning away from oncoming disaster as he caught sight of something rippling and fading away some distance from the road and off to one side. For once, neither he nor his parents shrank back from the comfort of an embrace, rustling sounds almost hidden beneath the frightened wails of his little brothers as they fought against and released the tethering seat belts to launch themselves for Mom and Dad, as well. Only now did the screeching, tearing sound of tires fighting against friction, the grinding of the brakes locking come through, the dimly felt warmth of his father’s shielding chest and his mother’s side penetrating the shock of contact.
‘Nalley, Clariden Zürich, 41 1 205 62 62, extension 2930. Account Ludlum… what the ?!’ ‘The truck… who was that… stoooop…’ ‘Finally, a girl, I know it this time… I so hope she follows James to Whateley / They let my little warlock in! …what is happening?!’ ‘Turn away, what is going wrong… James, Marie?’ ‘Jeff… what is this, what is going on… we are going to hi…’ ‘Momma! Daddy!’ ‘…’
James felt her, felt his unborn sister, his mother and father. He felt them all at that moment, as he moaned out incoherently or perhaps only thought he did, ‘Please… please… I do not want to die… no, we can not die…. How can this happen…?’ The warmth of his sister’s spirit blossomed within him. He could feel it merging with a faint warmth on his closed eyelids and something pressing against his stomach.
The explosion reverberated in his ears and everything faded out.
NEW ORLEANS, LA: Dec 21, 2004
James looked over the medical file his father’s attorney had supplied from the vault, pulling himself back from unhealthy contemplation. It was not possible to forget it but that did not mean you dwelled on it. He looked over the business card and turned it over to scratch a few notes on the back. The doctors might not know how he survived the accident but he did.
It was unfortunate that things happened as they did. Momma would have gotten the daughter she wanted if it was not for the slick road and that truck on the shoulder. Instead… they were all dead. Even the one that would have survived on her own could not survive, still unborn in a dying woman’s belly. Hearing her fading cries…
The boy turned away from his thoughts again, focusing instead upon the pamphlets and brochures, admiring the graceful form of the young women and men. Whateley. The papers from the Swiss vault included a record of Mother’s communication with the school for mutants and wizards. There was even the preliminary acceptance letter. Just under two years and he could get out of this place, go somewhere else. Anywhere else. Even better, someplace that would not look at him like he was a freak.
The kitten purring at him from his shoulder brought a smile as he reached up to stroke her throat, sighing a bit. “Hello, Whiskers. I would tell you that cats are supposed to nap, especially this early, but… right.”
James enjoyed the simple fact of the kitten’s presence, the reverberant purr, the tongue he watched slip out to lick at his skritching fingers. It was still painful after all this time, watching people step away or grimace as soon as he came close. Being within a foot of someone seemed like such a privilege… but at least it kept the worst ones in the group home away, too. Well, the bad feeling kept them away but being seen beating up one of the youngest kids in the place and never being able to catch him asleep did not hurt, either.
Drawing a breath, he returned to his plotting, choosing to continue talking to the non-responsive companion if only to hear someone speak, “Ms. Nalley sent word that there were more details available but she would be unable to turn them over to me until I was 18. We definitely need to work on your written German, though, right, little one? But that account will do fine as long as no one in this…” James smiled as he watched Whiskers bite the side of his finger, tugging his finger away from the admonishment before returning to his stroking.
“Right, no language like that. But that account… $400,000? We will never have to see this place again, we could even go to school without a scholarship. Stupid, but we could. No, it looks like we can get a hardship scholarship because of… yeah, keep the money in reserve, especially until we can get out of the system. Do you think we could find someone up there? No, we can get Daddy’s attorney to look into that. We will definitely need to get more testing done but that should not be difficult. They will want to keep things quiet that there was a mutant in the home. I just wish…”
James did not feel the tears beginning to slip down his cheeks as he brought his head to lay upon the kitten, hearing the tone of her purr rise, as if she were trying to comfort him, as he whispered brokenly, “She died because Momma died. She protected both of us… all three of us, Whiskers… but it still could not save her or anyone other than you and me. Do… do you miss her, sometimes?”
The kitten answered James with a lick to his cheek, bringing a sad smile to his face as he tucked the medical file into the new backpack. He checked (closer to fiddled) with them for a while, focusing intently enough that he failed to notice the cessation of sound from the headset earphone settled over one ear. Everything was adequate. It looked like it would be no difficulty to make arrangements, after all.
WHATELEY ACADEMY : Sep 4, 2006
James stepped out of the van, nodding to the mover at the steering wheel as he lifted his backpack. He seemed a bit withdrawn, sad. It had only been eight hours since he had to release the eternal kitten outside the Concord airport but… he missed her terribly already. She had always been there, even in the hospital, every hour of every day for almost five years. Losing her now when things seemed they might be getting better was difficult but the introduction packet laid it out in uncompromising black and white: “No pets allowed.”
She would be alright, everyone loves kittens. But what would he do? Shaking off the thoughts, he looked up to the waiting man and nodded, handing over a paper. “Here you go, sir, remember, those lights are fairly important. The letter said Emerson Cottage and that there would be someone to…”
The boy turned as he heard someone cough. He nodded politely to the slim, grey eyed young man now behind him and reached up to extract the earbud of his iPod, allowing it to join its brother around his neck. The other offered a slight smile, “Hey there, kid. You said Emerson?” He pointed towards the far side of campus, “Over there, the cottages closer to the center, but you should probably wait here.”
James nodded, seemingly too nervous to smile back, “Thank you but I was told to check in with Schuster Hall, Administration? They would find someone to take me over there. Oh… uhh, James. I mean, I am James.”
The other chuckled and pointed at the architectural oddity in the center of the campus with a crystal dome, of all things. “There you go. Nice to meet you, I’m Hank. See you around.”
James drew a deep breath to still his nerves and nodded again as the other turned and headed back towards the smaller buildings off to one side of the campus, the cottages. Well, it had not been too bad so far. Instructing the mover to park and stay with the van, he headed towards the indicated building, skirting groups of other boys and girls on the way.
Following the cursory directions, James headed towards the building, eyes wide in amazement. Music continued to spill tinnily from the earphones around his neck as he and the others bustling about mutually avoid contact, garnering a few odd looks from those who veered into the area under his influence. Reaching his destination, James ducked his head against his chest and moved to the side, edging up against a bookstore’s window as he gave wide berth to a young woman chasing after a clean-shaven Indian… cowboy. He paused a second, a second appraisal earned by either the man or the fact that the girl, with that blue-grey hair looked… no, could not be. He merged into the flow, breaking away as he saw ‘ADMINISTRATION’ stenciled on the glass of an approaching door.
The door opened up on a scene of mass confusion. There were at least five different lines of students to various desks and the occasional side office. It seemed everyone needed something in here today. Entering the line closest to the door, he noticed a lanky, chocolate-skinned man get turned away from a desk set off to one side near a door. James watched curiously as those about him cleared a bit of space for him, noting the clenched jaw and the grey eyes, fixed with purpose. The momentary look of satisfaction on the blonde businesswoman’s face might have been a bit startling but he could well imagine hearing her evil little laugh at having messed with someone’s day. That look told tales of someone quite content to hinder others so long as it did not take her out of her way but it was gone so quickly, he wondered if he had perhaps imagined it.
The packed lines of students trying to get information from the hapless staff in the Administration offices moved slowly and there were always others shifting here and there, hoping for a quick advantage. The security guard posted off to one side, almost out of sight, kept the more obnoxious from pressing their advantage with any powers they might possess.
James was left remarkably alone, however, moving along with the lethargic pace. He was able to listen in on the problems of the students before him, inviting curious or amazed glances in turn. The young man with the large, stainless steel briefcase was checking on the possibility of storing a plane at the nearby airport. The Asian girl reconfirming the arrangements for her horse, in particular, left him with a wistful feeling. Perhaps he did not have to abandon Whiskers, after all. But such wishes were out of time and beyond remedy.
Finally arriving for his own turn before the harried seeming staff, he quickly passed over the documents with the details of the scholarship and all of the other assorted paperwork. Raising his voice to be heard, he reflexively jerked his hand back as the woman took the file, “I have my m…”
“Not right now, what do you need… James?” She quickly glanced over the file, trying to see what crisis might be coming for this one.
“I was just told to report here when I arrived, something about a guide?”
Having found the insert she needed, she quickly put two papers in separate piles and put the folder on a rack of similar ones before turning back to the child, “Alright, stand over there near the security guard and I will have another student over as soon as possible to take you to the cottage. There will be someone there to take a group of freshman on a tour of the campus. Now, go along.”
James shrugged and moved over to the indicated portion of wall. The security officer blinked and rubbed his arm and stepped away as he took up his position, looking around with a faint frown. After a decent interval of time, the young man with the silver briefcase came over, one hand holding a thick, manila envelope that he extended in offer, “Mrs Shudengo asked me to bring your introductory packet. There are maps inside but our dorms are close together. Come on, kid. I’m Steve but I think I am going to go by RocketMan.”
As they left the overcrowded confines of the red brick building to head to their cottages, the boys continued to talk, “James. Rocket Man? You like Elton John?”
“What do you mean?”
“RocketMan. It was a song of his, pretty good, too.”
“Oh, you have to be joking me. I suppose that is out, then. I had thought about Mechano Man but I thought people might think I was a Deviser or Gadgeteer, maybe.”
It was James’ turn to look confused at that, “Devis… oh, never mind, I remember now. What are you, then?”
Steve gave a brief rundown of his ability to bond with vehicles and James responded in kind with a vague account of his aging and sleep ‘difficulties’. For the time being, he did not mention the reaction his presence caused. He had already seen Steve give him an odd glance a time or two and rub at his arm or neck when the crowds forced James to veer within a foot of him.
The journey across campus was not difficult, just crowded, and there were already four others clustered about the trees shading the entrance to Emerson Cottage when James arrived. He took up a spot against one of them and acknowledged the greetings and introductions with a quiet reply of his own, “Uhh… James. Hey.”
A tall, dark-haired young man soon came to join the five clustered about the front door. He looked from one to the others, green eyes boring into each of them from his pallid face as he introduced himself and called them to order, “Gentlemen, come along. I do not want to waste time. I am Cyril Huntley but you will refer to me as Nex and as little as possible, at that. Understood? Good. I will be showing you the campus.”
Cyril looked about at the gathered students, nodding slowly. At least with everyone returning to campus, no one had to shepherd more than six of the little punks around. He looked over his five and focused in on one, checking a sheet of paper in one hand, “I believe we shall start with Ian. Go ahead.”
James closed his eyes and leaned up against the tree, whispering to himself as the iPod started playing Good Charlotte, “Please…. Do not let him ask about my powers, just not right now.” The ebb and flow were slightly warmer than usual and he gave the tree a caress, shaking off a faint dizziness amidst the cyclical ‘draw’. Feeling someone’s attention, he opened his eyes and straightened as he stepped away from the tree with a nervous smile to Huntley.
The other three boys had already told of their powers and now the last looked like he was itching for the chance. Their guide shook his head and turned to him, “Yes, Larry? Finson… Mr. Finson, I do believe your father was also in Emerson Cottage, correct?” With the nod of affirmation, Cyril motioned to the boy to explain his powers now.
Larry almost preened as he got his chance to explain his powers, “Hey… Larry Finson. Get this, I can do things to females when we touch, healing, read their minds a bit or knock them out and stuff. It does not work on guys at all and it works better with closer contact. That and it feels really good. I was going to call myself Succubus, you know, those sex demons?”
James coughed and, in the quiet between the snickers, suggested quietly, “Ahhh… you mean Incubus, right, like the band? A succubus is a female demon, man.”
The others started laughing and adding in their own suggestions as Larry turned red, “Yah, Larry the Succubus. Going to call yourself Laura?” “Maybe you should move over to Dickinson!” “No, Loralie, Loralie!”
James started as Nex broke up the razzing, stern voice cutting through the strident tones of rampaging adolescents, “Settle down. You must think before you just ramble upon such matters, Mr. Finson, legacy or not. Alright, now we can begin our tour. Come along.” The others spared a brief glance for James, one with narrowed eyes, but turned and followed along as indicated with the final boy never having introduced himself.
The boy tuned out the almost droning words, closing his eyes and just focusing on the lyrics in his ear. He kept enough awareness to continue on with the group as they moved away from Emerson Cottage and towards the campus proper.
Their guide explained further after a warning, “As amusing as some of you might find it, I will not hear any of you referring to this place as Hogwart’s or the JediAcademy or any such nonsense. I hope that this is clear enough.”
The menacing tone and the total lack of a sense of humour communicated clearly to the boys and they nodded almost in unison. It seemed better to tread lightly here.
Cyril gave passing mention to the buildings as they passed them but seemed more intent on finishing the task than answering questions. Even the broad locker-lined hallways and majestic environs of Schuster Hall was given short shrift after he explained that classrooms were here on the second floor, labs on the third floor and the gymnasium could be found in the basement.
Hustling the new students along the required rounds, Nex did slow down upon the elevator ride for a demonstration. As the elevator closed, he tapped two buttons rapidly in sequence, ‘alarm-close-alarm-close’. The green stone set in the ring on his hand gleamed as he explained, the formerly clunky ride becoming markedly smoother, “That sequence will work on any elevator in the school and it is how you will access the underground tunnels once you have received your secure area pass. Now, however, we are almost done. Back for the required view of the HomerGallery and then lunch and I can drop you off back at the cottage.”
Safely returned to the first floor after the brief and unfruitful interlude in the basement accessway, our guide brought us to the impressive entry hall. Cyril approached a trim, older black woman in a blue dress who had taken up residence in one of the comfortable chairs, “Mrs. Linford? I need to get into the HomerGallery for freshman orientation.”
Mrs. Linford responded in her warm alto, “Of course. You have about 30 minutes before the next group should be here but do not dawdle.” She clipped over to a set of double doors with a bust of Homer set into a niche beside the doorway. Linford gripped the dome of Homer’s head and pushed back. The bust swung back revealing a lock set into the base of the bust. She inserted the key, and a panel in the doorjamb swung open, revealing a card-slot and a keypad. Mrs. Linford swiped a card and punched in a combination. There was a sound of bolts being withdrawn, and she pulled one of the doors open.
The guide acknowledged the deadline as he led the new students into the gallery, “Right, Mrs. Linford. What we have here is the HomerGallery, which is where we keep mementos of prominent alumni. The very nature of this place requires that we keep it locked off most of the time, just in case anyone who should not know these things drops by.”
Nex took them through a couple of exhibits, a symmetrical stack of gold, one of Champion’s old uniforms. On the way out, he slowed as if thinking about something and headed back towards the Champion exhibit. Stopping at a large oil portrait on the other side of the room from it, he sighed and added, “Last thing. Lord Paramount, Prince of Walachia. He and Dracula here have to be shown to all incoming freshman. There, we have seen it, we can get out of here.” He waved off any questions, obviously a bit irritated at the requirement or perhaps it was just the continued presence of the freshmen.
As Mrs. Linford locked the Gallery with 10 minutes to spare, Cyril added, “If you really want to, you can come back and ask her to view the gallery. Pick up a guide, they will tell you about each of the exhibits.” The woman looked a bit irked as she returned to her office and we headed off towards the cafeteria.
Two of the boys nearby in the back of the group began to talk as we approached the huge geodesic crystal dome, “Hey, talk about lunch, did you hear about the dragon that woke up in the middle of a national park a week ago? Apparently, he ate some livestock, a person or two and then just disappeared. Get this… they found this big rifle and some equipment just laying in the middle of a cave… not a mark on ‘em. What ya think it did to the poor guy?” “Added ketchup. He was crunchy.” They quieted down as our solemn guide glared at them, sweeping his hand towards the inside of the dome, displaying the wide spaces, trees and plants revealed within the enclosure. “This part is called Crystal Hall. Cafeteria and dining areas. Everyone, go ahead and get something to eat and then I will take you back to the cottage.”
James moved away from the others, sighing as he sank into a seat against one of the trees off to one side, half shielded from the main area. The ebb and flow was so soothing after the press of bodies and people. He saw a girl approaching his shelter and shifted a bit, watching her approach carefully and bringing a hand to his side to lower the volume of the music echoing in his right ear.
The girl raised a glass half-full of water and extended it to James. As they neared contact, however, both of them drew back, she with a slight grimace, “Hey there, I’m Kristen. You alright? Here with your folks to drop off a brother or sister?”
James shook his head as she placed the water on the ground near his legs, folded beneath him and to his left as he leaned against the tree. “Ahh… no. I am on the orientation tour?” His quiet voice almost made it a question and he leaned forward, securing the glass and giving a nod of thanks or appreciation as he just held it, “… thank you, though.”
Kristen straightened up, the odd chill and James’ manner absolving her impulse to check up on the kid hiding by the tree, “Oh, okay then. Nice to meet you.” She gave him another look and then moved back to join a mixed group at one of the tables.
The boy stayed there for awhile after the young woman went back to her companions, just relaxing against the tree. All too soon, however, he could see Cyril Huntley begin to gather his wayward charges once more and he levered himself from the ground. Giving the free a gentle pat, almost a benediction, he moved to follow along after the others.
Nex seemed relieved as they headed back towards the cottages, his obligation met and the brats soon to be anywhere other than around him. The new freshman hung back, giving him plenty of space so that he would not glare at them as they talked quietly again.
As they walked around the cluster of pine trees to turn down the path towards Emerson Hill, James was lost in thought as he stretched out his hand. The ebb and flow brought him back to himself, he could almost feel a burning in his hand and he stopped, amazed, just in time to hear a soft miau.
Rounding the tree with the unusual warmth of contact fading already as he lifted his hand, James looked down to see a very familiar form. He stared at her for a long time, unbelieving.
Meanwhile, Larry noticed their tagalong had paused and turned back to call, “Hey, kid, come on. His Lordship is going to get pissed off… what’s wrong?”
The succubus-to-be was approaching the tree as James roused himself from his stupor. He reached down to her and, as he felt a familiar warmth, he began to shiver in relief. How had she gotten here?!
The kitten began to purr as she was cradled in the young man’s hands and he quickly brought her to his chest and within his jacket as Larry rounded the tree and asked again, “What’s wrong? Come on.”
James gave him a furtive look, hunched over a bit as he replied quietly, almost guiltily, “Ahh… not feeling very well all of a sudden. Come on, we better catch up, right?” He quickly moved out of the tree’s shadow and towards the dorm, looking back over his shoulder every so often.
The redhead shrugged off the odd behavior. It is only to be expected of someone so young.
The rest of the trip back to Emerson Cottage was uneventful other than a few odd looks at the unusual antics from the youngest student. Even the brief interview with Mr. Dunne went fairly well. The house father seemed a bit concerned about the notice that a mover was waiting to bring some things in but shrugged it off. He was accustomed to the antics of the spoiled young men typically assigned to his care.
James looked around the small room and reached a hand beneath the concealing pillow, smiling as he imagined the hidden kitten nipping and tugging at his fingertips.
The shielded lights were already set up around the desk and mound of pillows. There had been a bit of difficulty about having one of the two beds removed but after he explained that he did not sleep, he did manage to get permission from.
He breathed a sigh of relief as he looked over at the empty side of the room. No one else was here yet to take over that space. He had a bit of time to think of what to do with Whiskers. She might have somehow gotten here but it did not mean he would be able to keep her.
Fishing her out from her cover, he lifted her up and brought her to his face, asking quietly, “What am I going to do with you. There are no pets here… you…” His eyes crossed as they tried to follow the tongue slipping out between the needle like kitten fangs and running along his nose.
“Whatever we do, it has to be before tonight. There will be dorm parties the next couple of nights and YOU do not belong out there where someone might see you and who knows when I will get a room mate. But for now…”
Sighing, he looked about the empty spaces once more before returning to the few comics he had brought with him, now scattered upon the pillows atop the ‘freedom gift’ he had gotten himself: a laptop computer, shielded and extravagant in capability. At the time, he had told himself that it would be useful at school but he knew it was just because his father might have gotten him one. Shaking off the momentary flash of guilt, he deposited the lethargic kitten amidst the cushions once more and curled up with the comics, starting with an old X-Men.
James thumbed through the comic book absently, wondering what it would be like if Rogue used her powers on Mystique. Well, the comic book Rogue, that is. She was cool. That cartoon on TV now was just silly and totally different from the comics, just like the movies but… not even good. Imagine, she could just make herself whatever she wanted to be, no one would ever know her. She would so be a better spy than Darkholme, just absorb their memories.
The comics provided a welcome relief from his worry but after a couple of hours, the sun bathing the room in a wash of light, he tired of them. Leaving them scattered on the floor, he dug out the kitten from the pillows and once more tucked her beneath his coat.
Leaving the room, he found others still arriving and being taken in turn upon their own tours. Noticing a few of the groups leaving and returning, he had an idle wish that he had arrived later. Most of these groups seemed to be under the care of less… unlikable guardians. But there was nothing to do about that now.
Sneaking the kitten out of the dorm proved not too difficult as a number of the freshmen and others about already seemed to have unconsciously or consciously reached the decision to give a decent distance to James. He still caught a few whispers and a glare or two as he abandoned the cottage environs for the solitude of the tended paths and nearby trees.
He relaxed in this manner for what seemed a timeless eternity, the shelter of the trees affording Whiskers and he the opportunity to play and talk. He impressed on her the need for secrecy and he imagined he could feel her amongst the ebb and flow between them. As night began to fall, he shoed her away with an admonition to meet him back here tomorrow and hide. No one and nothing else could see her here. The final caress and the returning lick of his fingers seemed warmer than normal but he shrugged that off. After watching her bound into the underbrush, he curled up with a sad smile.
He wanted to stay here. The faint woodland sounds and half-seen shapes were almost solemn. However, he had to return to the cottage, eventually. It was likely better if he did so now.
NINJA ATTACK: September 6, 2006
He had gotten into a bit of trouble with Mr Dunne when he returned but that did not dissuade James from his path. The next two days continued to find him slipping out of the dorms whenever possible and disappearing into the woods surrounding the cottages. He had gotten into the habit of ducking into the cafeteria during odd hours when the staff were about and getting food to bring to Whiskers. This could not keep on in the same manner, though. It was beginning to look suspicious.
Returning home to his computer and new roommate was the order of business as he lingered for one last moment amongst the trees. He was just turning down the path to Emerson Cottage when a loud shout from the main area of campus drew his attention.
There seemed to be something happening around the big building with the brick tower on the north end. For a second, James thought he saw something against the observatory dome but whatever it was quickly dropped from sight.
Shrugging, he began to move that way, soon joined by a number of people exiting the cottages in the wake of the shout. As he got closer, he noticed a couple of girls in nightclothes facing five black-clad figures. People were already starting to comment as the two groups seemed to be fighting. James even saw a security patrol off to one side unlimber weapons and disperse as he heard a faint chattering.
Another pair of girls arrived just as he did. At least one of these managed to get dressed before all of this and he ducked his head with a darkness-hidden blush as he realized the faintly familiar girl with the blue grey hair… well, never let it be said that a nightgown concealed all that much on a flyer.
He listened to some of the comments around him as he snuck admiring glances through his concealing hair. They were so beautiful, it would have been more than anyone could expect to not be a bit interested.
James ended up gravitating towards a knot of students from his cottage. He listened as one of the older ones, swarthy and with kind of shaggy black hair, said as he approached, “And that, boys and girls, is what we call an entrance.” There was a distinct note of satisfaction in that comment and he seemed to be watching the flyer in the nightgown closely..
Larry from the campus tour was also nearby and asked, “Which? The screaming nose-dive, or the arrogant float down?”
The two shared an appreciative nod and chuckle as I moved back. More and more people were arriving as things settled down, especially after the explosion. James was also beginning to feel a bit dizzy. Something strange was definitely going on.
He ended up heading back to Emerson. The shielded lights focused about his desk seemed to be doing a good job of easing the dizziness or maybe it was just getting away from all those people.
He spent most of the night like that, making certain to keep the visible light filter on as he glanced over to the cluttered side of the room. He had not yet caught sight of his room mate and it was beginning to bug him a little. The guy seemed to always be sleeping.
In the morning, as the room mate began to stir, he left a note on the other desk and quickly sneaked out of the dorm to enjoy the sunrise. The wash of the rising sun over his face, the imagined warmth and general… contentment of the moment did not quite blind him to the other goings on in the early light. He noticed one or two people jogging as he drifted along with the sound of Avril Lavigne from his iPod this morning. Toys were fun.
Still, the looming presence of the dreaded First Assembly (capitals required) and First Day of Class (ditto) brought he and the other early risers from their assorted diversions.
The assembly itself seemed to be proceeding in a surprisingly orderly fashion as he got back to the cottage. As he was dispersing the pingers (as most of the older students referred to the secure access passes), Mr. Dunne was explaining that the students were seated according to cottage placement and Emerson would strictly follow that idea. Freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors would be seated by some esoteric status hierarchy known only to the seniors and Mr Dunne himself.
As they filed into the auditorium, James noticed that this status seemed to have something to do with powers and appearance. The better looking and those with more power, especially mental power, seemed to ranked higher than their less fortunate peers. He ended up being placed in the mid-end of the freshmen somehow and settled down to a long wary speech, hemmed in between other students. All of them were doing their best to stay away from each other but the glares showed the difficulty in that.
As the speech went on from the impressive Mrs. Carson, he began to become aware of some murmuring from the middle of the student body. He turned down the gain on the music and could catch bits and pieces of someone closer to the front lampooning the speech. It almost sounded like he imagined MST3K would be like. A couple of times, James barely kept from laughing outright but he managed to keep that impulse in check.
He perked up a bit as he noticed her holding something up and then groaned as he recognized a very familiar case. That looked exactly like the shell on his own laptop. As more information was forthcoming, he could not help a rueful chuckle as he noticed the only slight differences. He did like the idea of the senior pranks and hoped that he might get one of those, just to see.
The assembly broke up and James managed to escape with only a few disgruntled couple and an accidental brush against someone. His heart was still pounding in his chest as he headed for his first class. Checking the schedule map he had printed up for himself last night after getting his schedule from Mrs. Hawkins, he made his way to Miss Devlin’s English class.
There were some initial difficulties during the first day of classes but not all of them were related to him and James began to relax. Even the odd tickle as he sneaked some more bits of chicken and tuna out of the cafeteria during lunch time to give to Whiskers later failed to faze him.
After lunch, the Hacking Theory class went alright and they even received their own laptops as they shuffled from the room. Most were disappointed to learn that they were not actually the first to receive them, however. The word processing class down the hall had been playing with theirs for the last hour.
By the time he trudged out of the lab on the third floor, however, James was stiff with tenseness. There was not a single song he found to distract him enough for relaxation and he could barely concentrate on the introduction to electronics or the cute lab assistant with the eggs.
By the time the first day of school was over, he was ready to cry and almost ran off when he saw a note on the school letterhead attached to his door. Drawing a deep breath, he took it down and discovered it was just a notice that he had been assigned for priority evaluation in the morning at 3am. Recalling an earlier lecture about leaving the cottage unannounced after curfew, he went down to the first floor and told Dunne of the appointment before slipping out into the woods for some welcome time with Whiskers and no one about. He heard a patrol once or twice but managed to slip by them with no ill effects.
The time with his partner, playing and talking beneath the silent trees with their ridged, craggy trunks, more than a few showing old scars and marks, served to put him in a better frame of mind for the events to come.
The kid started and looked up as a young, unkempt man in a lab-coat called out a name, holding up a chart, “James Bourne? Is there a James Bou…”
Rising from his seat, he made a hesitant gesture to attract the man’s attention and skirted the moving statue in the seat next to his. The harried technician nodded briskly and turned, muttering to himself, “The start of the term, ‘priority’ cases, exploding blood AND test ranges… what else can go wrong?”
Ducking his head, James silently followed, hand reaching out almost without thought to brush the small potted plant on the receptionist’s desk. He paused for only a brief moment to look back towards the secure door wistfully but the technician was already snapping, “Come on, kid, you’re holding things up.”
James clenched his jaw as he followed along after the brusque technician.
“Well, what do we have here?”
The doctor seemed friendly enough, stepping away and brushing a hand over the raised hairs on his arm as he looked over James’ chart for awhile before turning back to him, allowing a brief smile to grace his somewhat homely features, “Alright then, let’s just have us a bit of a chat first, alright? Things are running a bit behind tonight, this morning, whatever but we do need to get you checked out with a physical and a somewhat more complete evaluation. Sound good to you?”
James nodded briefly but held his hands up, scooting back and shaking his head as the doctor approached with an odd expression, “Ahhh… yes, I understand but… about the physical…?” He fell silent, looking very nervous and drumming his fingers together.
Sighing, the older man crouched to put his face on the same level as his patient’s, softening his voice a bit, “Come now, lad, it is not all that to fuss over. We will just go out, get a wee bit of a tune-up, check the oil, rotate the tires….”
The brogue in the man’s voice brought a smile to the child’s face but he again just shook his head, “No, I mean… it… is awkward. People… do not like getting really close. It feels weird.” He stumbled a bit, ill at ease with something.
Straightening and brushing his lab coat, the doctor said, “Ahhh, I understand. I did not see mention of that. So, how about you tell ol’ Doc Kemmel how we are going to get around this while I check up on things.”
James nodded briskly and sighed a bit as he answered, “Yeah, sorry about that, sir. I just… you know. It… is safe enough, it just feels weird. I would not stay really close though. It’s something that has gotten worse over the last year or two, since… uhh… mom sent those tests.” He looked a bit crestfallen for a moment, ducking his chin against his chest and just looking down at the hospital gown.
Dr. Kemmel finally found what he was looking for and turned back, still smiling, “Buck up there, lad, I did see that. It will be alright. Is there anything to be done about it or am I going to have to send you to one of your school’s… ahh, ‘specialists’? This information needs to be on file but…”
Biting at his lip, James shrugged, “I do not know, sir. It just… depends, I guess. You can do observation but direct contact, or even really, really close, like this, can be… bad.” He held up his fingers about half an inch apart. The light flickered upon something, the boy’s fingertips, in fact, and the physician brought a pen up to scratch a brief note within the medical file.
Kemmel agreed quickly, “Good, good. We shall get all we can done and I will place a note for the school’s staff to complete the rest of the physical when possible. You are going to be good and go through with the evaluation, at least, however. It sounds like it is a bit more important than before, don’t you think?”
James perked up and nodded, his gleaming teeth again pulling at his lip, “Yes, sir. Just… sorry. I really do not mean it.”
“Pish tosh. Let me hear none of that. Okay, first things first, how long have you noticed these crystalline additions to your skin? What are your thoughts on the matter?”
His head cocked to one side, James suggested, “Actually…” He motioned towards the laden backpack lying atop the black jeans and long-sleeved shirt. “There is a file.”
With an arched eyebrow, Kemmel moved over and unzipped the bag, pulling out a somewhat thicker folder and holding it up, “This what you are talking about, son? Why do we not have this already? It seems a bit unorthodox for a lad your age to be carrying around your own medical file.” He opened it up and started to leaf through it, the innermost pages identical to those in his own file as if merely a more recent version.
James quickly reassured him, “It… I… found records of my father’s in some of the things I requested when I requested to reopen my m… parents’ request here.” He stumbled a bit as he continued his explanation, looking everywhere except at the doctor, “I had requested that all such files be transferred up here, of course, and my case file but they… I do not know. Maybe got caught up or something? But that has… ahh, my last physical, when I got out of the hospital? And some things my mom had gotten done before everything. There was another wizard’s evaluation, I know. Oh… and… it mentioned it in your file but… I… I am not THAT young. I am almost 15.”
Kemmel looked nonplussed for a moment, nodding as he checked the larger file once again, “Yes, indeed, 91… the retarded aging mentioned in my file seems to have continued… hrm.”
James sounded a bit bitter as he replied, “Yes, sir… I have the power to never grow up and to make people sick… I should call myself Peter Pan.”
Managing a chuckle at the observation, the doctor reached out and tousled the boy’s streaked brown hair before he could pull away, stoically shoving aside the sinking, pulling sensation he encountered before his hand departed the dyed strands. “Ugh… sit still, me boyo, no harm done. Seems a bit better already.”
The hint of pallor to the man’s skin, quickly fading but still there, belied his words but the boy spread his hands upon the cushioned tabletop, drawing in his breath, “Ahhh… yes, sir.” Faint traces of lines upon each arm caught Kemmel’s attention but merely caused another scribble within the file.
“Raise your arms there, lad. Back to those growths. Does your file note the location of all of them?” The doctor spent a bit of time referring from paper to body and back, nodding to himself as he noted that the file did indeed cover each of the minute traces, his own observations confirmed by the case notes of Dr. Albert Lake, MemorialMedicalCenter. Noting a psychiatric consult and a sheaf of notes beneath, his eyes widened and he brought a red marker from his coat pocket and circled something, closing the file to make a brief note.
The rest of the observation continued in a similar manner with the garrulous old doctor brought in for the physicals slowly trying to work the boy out, jotting notes upon the file and generally just setting him at ease. Not even a brief scare when blood was drawn proved to be beyond Dr Kemmel and the nurse.
After they had gotten the information it seemed feasible to get from the physical, Dr Kemmel told James, “Go ahead and get dressed, me boyo. They are backed up in Evaluation right now but you need to be back here at 10am sharp for your appointment. Understand, I would suggest getting you in now somehow but that is not how things are done. Go along, enjoy the morning.”
James nodded in appreciation and recovered his belongings. He looked a bit troubled as he ran his hands over the dimpled graphite of the laptop he drew out to arrange things to his satisfaction once more but then, he had seemed uncomfortable for the entire physical. Dr Kemmel nodded thoughtfully and put another note on the sheet and spoke quietly with the nurse after the boy had departed.
“Homework, please. Hand it to the student in front of you, and pass it up to the front of each row.”
James watched from the back of the class as almost everyone groaned at the announcement, coming just after the bell had settled everyone into their seats and rendered them quiet.
Miss Devlin seemed amused as she noticed, “I see that some of you apparently didn’t bother with your first night of homework.”
No one seemed ready to make any response other than a general, low key grumbling. The teacher seemed to expect something but finally stopped waiting to ask, “Well, isn’t anyone going to tell me that they have super powers now, and they don’t need to study stupid stuff like nouns and verbs?”
No confessions seemed forthcoming from the class, just some scattered mutters and finally Miss Devlin was forced to ask again, “Oh, come on. There’s always one.”
After the uneasy silence went on for quite some time, James finally sighed to himself and raised his hand.
He cleared his throat. “Excuse me, Miss Devlin, but we have super powers now, and I don’t see why we need to study stuff like nouns and verbs.”
That seemed to amuse the teacher, earning a wry smile. She proceeded to show the class pieces of a news report to demonstrate her point. The television and VCR in the front left corner of the room drew everyone’s attention. The discussion following the piece showed a definite recognition of her point. The buffoonish ‘hero’ came off second-best due to his difficulties.
The class ended upon a good note and James remained in his seat for a moment, watching the other students filter out until it was finally clear enough for him to slip out without being pressed in the crowd. He had to move quickly, though, to get to his next class in time.
The class was a bit more sparsely populated than the English class and he again slipped into an out of the way chair near the back. He blinked as he noticed a young Asian girl about his size. A wistful smile played across his lips for a moment as he remembered watching her during English class but he quickly averted his admiring gaze in case she might feel watched.
Algebra seemed like it might turn out to be fairly simple, however, and he found himself shifting in his seat, looking to the clock to check the time. About ten minutes into the class and after the teacher had finished her opening lecture, he left his chair to leave a note on the teacher’s desk as she started to move amongst the students with questions. At least Mrs. Bell did not assign homework the starting day.
His excuse delivered, he sneaked out of the classroom and ran for the stairs so that he would be on time for the further evaluation. The medical wing was still in brisk use as he arrived. Three other students were waiting for the guard to open the secure area door in the lower areas of Siegel Hall.
There were a number of nurses waiting for the others so the small knot of techs seemed destined for him. He noticed that same unkempt man from his prior visit. He was talking to an overweight man in an overburdened lab coat. The older man turned when James entered and moved his way with a genial smile and a note pad at the ready, “Hello, you must be Mister Bourne!”
The boy was a bit taken aback at the exuberant greeting and replied a bit nervously, “Ahh… yeah. James. I have an appointment?”
The energetic old man smiled cheerfully, “Indeed, you do. I am Richard Hewley. I will be evaluating your powers and abilities today. I understand the physical was not completed?”
James nodded quickly and hurried to explain, “Yes, it should be in the file, sir? I have an aura that is a bit… uncomfortable.” He looked a bit uneasy at that, ducking his head down.
“That should not be a problem. Let me just get something from my office.
Mr. Clark, could you lead the team and James to Lab 5, please, I will be right down.”
Clark nodded to the Doctor and waved in a peremptory fashion. James hid a faint thrill of glee at the weariness in the man’s voice as he led the way to the lab, “Come on, kid.”
The lab was outfitted with a wide variety of sensors and an Arabian looking man seated in a pentagram, his eyes closed. Bourne took a moment to look at him curiously and was startled when the man’s eyelids popped open and revealed gleaming silver balls of fire where his eyeballs should have been.
Hewley entered as the boy hopped back with a start, chuckling, “Oh, there were notes from your prior testing we wanted to check out, Mister Bourne. Now, before we begin, do you have a code name?”
James shook his head, “No, sir, my powers are not anything useful. I do not need a code name.”
Hewley tut tutted that suggestion, “You never know, young man. We need something to use to protect the confidentiality agreement but you do not have to adopt it as an official code name.”
“Ahhh, alright… how about… Timeless?”
“Alright,” he said as he pulled a remote from his pocket and pressed it while pointing it at the ceiling. “This is classification interview, 86, on Monday the 8th of September, 2006, subject Timeless. Young man, just so you are aware, this interview will be taped, please only use your code name from this moment forward and all aspects of the confidentiality agreement will be kept. Timeless, I wonder if you’d mind telling me, in your own words, what your powers are and how you think they work?”
Hewley said this with the air of an oft-repeated catechism and James settled into the interview process in the same manner, “I… do not know, sir. I never get tired or sleepy, hungry or thirsty. And I seem to have stopped growing several years ago. Oh, I seem to draw in energy from a close range about me but not so much when I am out in the sun, somehow and it does fluctuate. Mag… err, that is, Compile, the Wizard who did those tests? He noticed a decrease in ambient mana level in a very low radius from my presence.”
The doctor nodded slowly and tapped at the PDA as initial reports did not begin to come flowing from the sensors activated by the remote, “So, you feed on magic and use it to shield you from time somehow?” He looked around and the technicians and wizards on duty were looking a bit frustrated, concentration apparent on most of the faces.
James shrugged to that, but kept looking down at his hands, “I suppose so, sir. That must be it?” He made the statement a question but there was a definite uneasiness in his voice.
Clark spoke up from the terminal banks, “Doctor, we have recalibrated five times. We are getting nothing from him. It is like he is just absorbing the active sensors and the passives are just getting static or silence. There is something going on in the ultraviolet range, however.”
Hewley turned back, looking a bit perplexed, “The initial assessments did not mention that, Timeless, can you explain?”
James looked up and seemed as baffled as the staff, “No, sir, not at all. I do not know… but… there are physical examinations? Dr Kemmel did some of those yesterday, drawing blood, epithelial scrapes?”
The magician within the pentagram spoke up, eyes a comforting hazel nearly matching the subjects, “I can do nothing here. This creature eats of my essence, the might that Allah has granted.”
Another man, this one in a simple blue robe snorted and translated as his associate stood and stalked out of the room, “Ignore him. But… Timeless does seem to unravel magical probes and absorb them. There is less of a dent upon the manaweb when that happens, though. Perhaps that field might be lessened through regular maintenance?”
Dr. Hewley nodded to the two magicians and looked to another of the terminals, “Any information upon the physical samples collected in the physical?”
The woman at the computer ignored the question but her cohort spoke up in her place, “Blood chemistry and chemical makeup is definitely affected. His weight indicates lowered density, of course, and blood test came back with unusual composition. Silver and silver-based compounds are present as well as abnormally low levels of cyanide but the most significant is a partial replacement of water in blood plasma with titanium chloride. Definite signs of dystrophy, doctor.”
There was… something in James’ voice as he heard that and spoke up, “Dystrophy? I am changing?”
Hewley, still seeming quite excited at the whole process, reassured the young man, “No, Timeless, Gross Structural Dystrophy merely means that your physical makeup is markedly different from human baseline. We will keep an eye on things but you will need to come in for regular retests. You might need to be placed in a cottage suited to support any changing needs.”
James looked a bit frightened at that thought and shook his head, “But.. I am in Emerson already. They would not transfer me out just because of something no one can see, would they?”
Clark spoke up at that time, having joined the woman and the other man going over physical results, “Look at that. His blood is clinically precise, sir, definitely Exemplar of some level. Looks to be O- but with the odd chemical byproducts and low blood pressure, he will not make a good donor. Do you think we could remove some of the crystal formations, see if they might contain some of those chemicals? Maybe see how deep they go?”
Bourne blanched at that idea, visible even on his pale features. Dr. Hewley was speaking up chidingly even as that happened, “Mr. Clark, please. Would you care to have your own skin peeled off for the sake of curiousity? The ill mannered young man does have a point, however. If you notice that the formations flake off, we would appreciate your informing us and we will be taking a scraping for analysis.”
Jason nodded but something occurred to him at that and he quietly offered, “Ahh… one problem. I do… am not certain my file mentioned it but… my senses?”
“Yes, I cannot really smell anything and I can barely taste anything. I mean, I CAN eat, it just does nothing, it seems like a lead weight for awhile and why bother when I do not need it, right? Oh… and my sense of touch is kind of messed up as well.”
“Messed up in what manner, Timeless. Please, be specific and provide examples and what you think might be happening.”
“Just… I barely feel anything. It is as if I was wrapped in fur or a towel. If I notice it at all, it feels very faint. That and heat and cold, all of that.”
“Really? No, that was certainly not mentioned. How is your balance?”
James looked confused as he answered, “My balance is alright. Well, very good, actually. Why?”
“Please check on C fibers in those skin samples and see if there might be something unusual going on with any attached neurons. Well, your sense of touch is important to your balance. Let me make a note of that and we will likely need to perform further tests. How are you responding mentally to all of this?”
“Ahhh… alright, I guess. I mean, I suppose it is neat to be different but… I kind of wish it was something… useful?”
“I meant the sleeping. You do not have any difficulties with hallucinations, memory… speech perhaps?”
“No, why would I, sir?”
“How about sickness, do you seem to catch a cold or the flu more often? Perhaps things seem blurry at times?”
James seemed to be growing more anxious at this line of questioning, shaking his head, “No, none of that. Please, sir… what are you trying to say?”
Richard ceased the interrogation to smile exuberantly, “Nothing at all, if we could get good readings, we might be able to see how you are avoiding the effects of sleep deprivation.”
James looked much less excited at the mysterious nature of his gifts than did Dr. Hewley as he again ducked his head and looked down at his hands while the technicians went over their limited information thus far before going on to the next test.
The range of tests he had been given was breathtaking, considering that well over half of them had to be cancelled due to the lack of ability to get the necessary readings. The supplementary physical exams had to be deferred once again as, even with the shielding, the techs still could not maintain close contact. He seemed to either drain the shields or caused enough interference that the samples were rendered useless.
Dr. Hewley finally returned from a long, hushed conference with the others. “Sorry about that, Mister Bourne, we were just intrigued. We are going to preliminarily classify you as an Exemplar 2 due to mental enhancement. Energizer 2 and…” He looked a bit tentative for a moment and nodded, slowly, “let us just call that field Warper 2 with Natural Magic or possibly some sort of Instinctive Psychic defense, level 3 or 4. There is just no way to tell until we come up with some way to receive readings. We will definitely be continuing further but I want some time to think on this. Somehow, you are drawing in ultraviolet radiation and magic and keeping your entire body in stasis.”
James nodded slowly to show he understood but shifted nervously. Unable to meet Hewley’s eyes, he asked quietly, “Do you think that is it then?”
The rotund man still looked exuberant after the drawn out three hours. James was not quite sure what to make of it but it was kind of contagious, “Oh, I am certain we will be able to determine more, we will just have to think of something. However, there is a note here for you to report to Dr. Hayes in the Counseling office following your evaluation.”
The boy looked confused at that, “Really, sir? I already met my counselor, though.”
Hewley nodded firmly and extended the file, “Quite certain. Now, go ahead and take that along with you. You should have enough time but no sense being late. The appointment is for noon.”
James took the file and tucked it into his backpack, carefully and methodically arranging it within the framework of the two laptops. “Thank you, sir. If you do not mind… could we possibly arrange any further tests to not interfere with classes, perhaps in the morning, I mean… if this is going to be regular?”
“Of course, Mister Bourne. You are here to receive an education, as well. Your next appointment… how about the 19th at 3am?”
James nodded absently and headed out of the medical wing and Sigel Hall entirely. Out in the midday sun, he looked wistfully to the woods at the far side of campus but he did not have time to visit with Whiskers right now. That thought left him amazed as he crossed over to Schuster Hall only to find Whiskers gamboling down the path to the admiring comments and glances of a number of other students.
Retrieving the kitten, he switched channels to radio long enough to check the time. With a few minutes to spare, he went to the shelter of a nearby pine tree and brought the kitten up to face him directly, worry mingling with the easy ebb and flow of the ‘draw’, “Whiskers?! What are you doing… ohhh… it is so good to see you but… you cannot come into the middle of campus. You have to get out of here and let NO one see you, understand? No one can see you.” He emphasized that as he felt the warmth spike between them. He gave an exasperated sigh as he watched her nip at his holding fingers as he bent to release her and he made a dismissing motion.
Knowing Whiskers would wait for awhile before heading to safety, James took a moment to compose himself. He still felt the better for having had the chance to see her. The reconnection gave him the impetus to jog to the Counseling office, ignoring the occasional glare from those he passed closely or the rushing of others intent on heading to lunch.
The Counseling office was still in session when he arrived, however. He noticed a stocky older man with thinning grayish brown hair exiting behind a couple of other students and slipped in the door before it could swing close after them.
James approached the desk and set his medical file down. “I am here to meet with my counselor… Hayes? There was a note but there must be some mistake. I already met with Mrs. Hawkins about my classes?”
The blonde seated behind the desk looked up and smiling briefly to set the nervous boy at ease before she looked down to the schedule. Straightening, she asked him, “James Bourne? Oh, it is no big deal, advisors trade students to whoever is best suited to handle them.” She kept herself from adding that Mrs. HAWKINS traded students, especially. “Dr Hayes is running a bit late but she will be finished soon. Just go ahead and sit down. Do not worry about your classes, they will still be excused.”
James nodded slowly and moved to rest in the indicated seats, still looking nervously at the medical file half-hiding the secretary’s nameplate. After a short time, the door opened and an almost liquid seeming girl came out. It seemed like… she was a wax doll that somebody left next to a hot stove, melting even as she moved. He looked away so as not to stare but watched her from the corner of his eye as she shambled out. An older woman came out and called to the secretary in a weary sounding voice, “Valerie, is my 12pm still here?”
Valerie perked up at that and retrieved the medical file from her desk. Beckoning James, she brought the file up to Dr. Hayes, “Here you go, Katherine. James Bourne?” She tapped at the folder significantly before handing it off.
The woman took a moment to glance at the folder and then open it up with a solemn expression. After a moment of reading, she nodded absently and turned back into her office, her voice carrying over the whisper of papers being shifted, “Come along, James.”
The boy stood, nervousness apparent in his stance, and followed his advisor into her office as he noticed a couple of other students enter the Counseling office.
Dr. Hayes smiled with a faint edge of worry as she watched James walk away from the door, “Good, I will see you next week, then. And I know that oversleeping is not going to be one of the excuses you use with Valerie, is it?”
James nodded slowly, nervous but at least a little more relaxed than when he entered the office an hour before, “Yes, ma’am. Sorry to disrupt your lunch hour.” Barely acknowledging her response, he departed the office to return to his cottage and a lot of thought.
As he slipped open the fine-grained doors to the office, he heard Dr. Hayes behind him, “Valerie, please see to it that his file gets down to Debbie Carstairs in Administration. Is there another session?” The weariness present in her voice for the entire session seemed to be deeper.
Sep 29, 2006
That conference left a lot of things for James to think over. Most of those were thoughts about the wisdom of the course that his actions had chosen for him.
He ducked into the Hacking Theory class and quickly moved into his corner. As Mr Babage turned and began class, the boy at the computer next to him whispered, “Hey, you heard that someone tried to break into the Administration servers again this morning?”
James shook his head to Adam as he looked away from his monitor, “Nah, I was playing around online this morning on Dragonrealms. You know Foxglove? Human rogue, hangs out down in Shard? Anyway, she was helping me level someone.”
The pizza-faced young man at the next computer rolled his eyes, “Whatever. I heard from Snykt that she was actually a guy.”
The other boy shrugged a bit and looked down, returning most of his focus to the classwork but still maintaining the quiet conversation, “Who cares, it is only a game. I mean, it would be weird if we knew her, him, whatever, of course… but… no huhu.”
“Yeah, I suppose. Have you tried GEO yet? It is amazing. I am pretty sure I am going to drop all my other games, anyway.”
“GEO? What is that?”
“You have not been paying attention. Only the best new game to be had, it blows away nearly everything else.” The greasy haired young man continued to enthuse about the latest MMORPG for awhile until the younger boy cut in.
“Come on, Greasy. Get off of it, maybe later. Anyway, anything new going around school?”
“You hear about the girl in Dickinson whose parents sent her a POLEARM for a birthday present? I heard Duplex said it had a some spikes and something like a pronged hammer.”
“Ravin’, right? Long as that creepy guy you hang out with did not tell you. I mean… come on, why do you bother? He was snooping those ninja-girls in Poe, seriously uncool. Just stay away from him, man.”
Adam looked uncomfortable but shrugged it off, “So what do you think of them, anyway?”
It was James’ turn to look uncomfortable, a bit of a blush apparent on his pale features, “Ahh… alright, I guess. Tennyo looks so much like Ryoko from Tenchi Muyo. I guess that would make her more demon than angel, though. She maybe should have gone with Oni.”
“Yeah, and the black girl is amazing. I wish Montana had not been so stupid in that duel, she won fairly and then he had to do that…”
“Ooooh, yeah, I heard about that. Silly, I guess, but she is supposed to be a GREAT fighter. Someone said she totally ‘got medieval on his rear’.”
Both boys shut up as they noticed the Goth girl off to the side glaring back at them. What was up with /that/?
The two geeks-in-training settled down after that, Greasy looking a bit guilty somehow. James took little notice of it, losing himself as always as they logged into the class server. Today’s exercises were supposed to be the start of a series of exercises to encourage cooperative hacking and how to defend against such mass intrusions.
He had achieved the beginning of a stable alliance with ‘Mister-Anderson’ and ‘h!_j@Ck’ when he noticed a commotion up at the front. The server being used for this exercise was beginning to glow and it was not something Mr. Babage had planned from the way he was glaring around and yelling at everyone to shut down… just as the server exploded in a shower of fiery red sparks.
The students seemed to assume a collective stillness as the teacher looked around, just waiting for anyone to say something. Finally, with a heavy sigh, he spoke as he opened up a drawer and brought out a toolkit, “Class dismissed for the afternoon. Save your session logs so you can see the results of catastrophic meltdown on an intrusion attempt… and whoever did this may avoid detention if they can document the process and submit a written report, due no later than 24 hours after I finish tracing the signals.”
Everyone seemed to slump in relief and James, struck by a sudden impulse, raced out of the classroom before the others.
The hallways were deserted and he took the opportunity to almost dance along the empty, broad stretches. No need to avoid anyone, it would be another five minutes before anyone else would be out. Stepping out of the stairwell, he brushed a hand along the fern framing the doorway with a fond smile, closing his eyes as he felt the faint warmth of the ‘draw’. It ceased far too soon as he slid into a convenient space as the time for the bell came.
He wished he had the time to stop in and check on Whiskers but she would do well enough and he needed to pay attention in this class. The older students were thankfully not the sort to be running over any distracted freshthing that might be hanging about. After the leisurely exodus so different from the mass rush for the door of other classes, James made his way into the Electronics lab and breathed a sigh of relief. Fifty-five minutes more and he could check in at Emerson before getting out into the forest for awhile.
The boy chuckled, starting as a high pitched voice asked, talking rapidly, “What’s funny? Come on in, just getting today’s project set up before Mr Mooney comes back in. I don’t know why he insisted that Harvey couldn’t stay and help out, though. It was really kind of silly unless… did an Energizer transfer into this class?” The short blonde lab assistant with the spaniel ear’d blonde hair looked horrified at the thought.
James looked befuddled for a moment, either that or poleaxed by the girl’s rapid delivery and overly cute voice. Thankfully, the other lab assistant was coming back in and beginning to help out after reassuring his coworker and before the other students arrived (or James could decide to flee). Scott seemed to be a bit less knowledgeable about the course material but the white-blonde Boy Scout was always willing to help and seemed to have a knack for explaining things in that resonant baritone he used.
The class actually went fairly well. It was an individual experiment so he did not even have to stir from his corner station or involve himself with any of the other students. Unfortunately, after the first time coming over to check on his progress left her feeling out of sorts, Bunny did not return. He only had Scott to ask questions of after that.
Classes absorbed his attention for the next couple of weeks. Keeping his head down and his nose out of other people’s business seemed to be paying off. Even the weekly sessions with Dr. Hayes where they both took turns saying nothing of import and he did his best to conceal any measure of his thoughts and reactions to her increasingly pointed questions were settling into a comforting monotony.
James slipped out of his room once more, the door of 201 once more swinging closed on the blanket-enwrapped form of his still unseen room mate. He quickly passed by that recent transfer student, Mike or Mark or something. He was talking to a dread locked young man with a milk chocolate complexion. They looked vaguely familiar together, however, so maybe he was one of the sophomores who kept to the third floor, normally.
Shrugging it off, James hurried to get to the library before the early classes began. He needed to do a bit of research for Spanish. He passed by a couple of early risers and avoided any gawking until seeing a trio of girls clicked his recognition. The uniform of the black-haired girl brought to mind the two boys he had left in the cottage and another girl, a redhead, disappearing from the cafeteria a week or so ago. Both she and Tennyo slowed as they noticed the recognition or perhaps they just responded to his own slow but the winged girl accompanying them laughed and urged them along with a friendly nod, saying they would be late.
James breathed a sigh of relief and drew in at that. It was better to not attract attention, no gawking like that. He made his way into the library, a familiar sight to Miss Henderson. Settling in for the morning, he checked to make certain that the note excusing him from his first class was still secure beneath the closed top of his school laptop. With that potential problem averted, he settled in for a long session of study. A couple of other early birds were talking about Team Kimba’s shootout with the Alphas in front of the cafeteria and last week’s attacks on those Ultra-Violents but he tuned those out before they got to the wagering on who would be next. Well, who would be next other than Liu Random Dragon sparring with Ken Random Tiger. That happened almost daily.
He studied long enough to almost make him late for his 8am appointment with Dr. Hewley. Yet another unproductive hour of baffling Wizards and stymieing sensors left him looking for something useful to do. The thought occurred to him as he headed for his locker. He had just enough time to get down to the daytime Spanish I class and maybe sit in on the lecture. He was almost dancing as he ran down the empty halls, even allowing himself a laugh or two.
The bell clamoring the end of the period signaled the end of the young man’s carefree demeanor, however. All too soon, the halls were crowded with students once more, heading to their next class. He waited long enough to allow the door to clear and headed for the class, just behind an amber-eyed African American female as another woman called out from behind him in a Southern California accent.
James ducked into the classroom, avoiding the Hispanic girl with the red streak in her hair as she moved to one of the seats in the back. He glanced curiously after her as he moved along the outskirts of the class towards the teacher and she settled in beside the athletic looking black girl but turned back as he reached the teacher.
The aging Latino behind the desk looked up from his own appraisal of the pair of girls in the back with a shake of his head to look at the boy, “Si, hijo? Que necesitas?”
James replied with an atrocious accent, looking down as if aware of his own limitations with the spoken word, “Cuando es.. est un tiempo bueno para ayudar, senor?”
Chuckling, the teacher shifted to English and patted the top of the desk, “Try that again, that time was a bit awkward. Are you a new transfer, perhaps in the wrong class? I am certain I would have remembered someone so young.”
James shook his head, breathing a sigh of relief, “Thank you, Mr Ramirez. No, I am in the night class, with Senor Schmidt? I just needed a bit of help with last night’s work and thought I might sit in today, if that is alright. Hear the lecture again?”
Mr Ramirez paused, again looking towards the back. After a moment of consideration, he nodded and waved dismissively, “As long as you are not skipping a class, that is fine, chico. Take a seat.”
The boy began to explain, “No, I have a note, evaluation…” but trailed off as the teacher waved off the explanation and turned back to his regard of the two girls, now joined by a third, a small Caucasian girl in punk style with short, spiky black hair. Shrugging, he moved away from the normal students, ducking his head to avoid the glare of a bulky young man he moved too closely by.
James remained quiet as he listened to the lecture once more. He sighed to himself as the bell came far too soon and resolved that he would spend the evening on Spanish before class. He could not wrap his tongue around it, not quite yet. He shook off that line of thought as he almost stumbled into the three girls on the way out of the classroom, the sound of the punk chick joking with the black girl about having to run off to bat around little balls for a grade bringing him to his senses close enough to avert contact.
Up ahead, he caught sight of a familiar form and slowed to see if he recognized her. Yes, that was… Jade, from Algebra and English. His steps slowed further as he absently turned down the volume of his music.
James paused a moment to one side of the hallway, watching the young Asian girl as she walked towards him. Unfortunately, the pause in the midst of a passing period left him vulnerable to another student rushing to get out of the building. Spinning, he caught sight of the bared black shoulder in the tiger-adorned gi before the momentum imparted sent him stumbling into someone else, bringing him and his inadvertent rescuer to the ground. His muscles tensed to stand and spring away as he looked up at the long black hair and Asian features… of Jinn.
‘…gods, she is so cute… Hello Kitty, too? She is so lucky, I wish I could… like… her, she gets… be… “I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me but it’s hard to stay mad when they’re so much beauty in the wor…” SPIRIT?!’ The boy’s thoughts jumped from subject to subject chaotically as Jinn once more felt the insistent pull of an Avatar upon her substance, gleaming crystal walls of ultra-violet pulses surrounding her now in dizzying complexity. The terror overlaying his thoughts was the last thing she saw before being shoved through a spiraling gateway in those walls and into darkness.
The ‘drawing’ was strong, urgent this time as a hosted spirit met up with James’ abilities. The process was completed before realization had a chance to sink in. As he tried to shove her away, out beyond his mental shields, he could sense her recognition through the swelling bond. Her thoughts echoed as he fought and severed the link, sending the spirit back to her host.
The others about looked on in various degrees of alarm and confusion as the young woman that had caught the stumbling boy crumpled into a pile of clothes and then the boy leaped to his feet, running. He had to get away. He had to get away NOW.