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Yet Another Day as an Outcast

(Outcast Corner, Take me away)

By Joe Gunnarson

Whateley Academy, September, 2007

Razorback looked at the small motley assembly in front of him as Diamondback finished her story. The expressions on the kids' faces ranged from wonderment to a trace of fear. The three kids all had laughed their asses off when Jericho had rolled through his tale of random Whateley mayhem, and had been startled, shocked and a bit unnerved by Diamond's rendition of some of her weirdest and most confusing moments early on during the pair's freshman year. It was his third year at the academy, and he didn't expect life to get any saner.

He looked up as the kids talked to themselves when Eldritch walked into the room under Hawthorne that the Outcasts used for their impromptu music practices and mini-concerts for whoever decided to pop by. This could range from nobody to half of Hawthorne, Whitman or Twain at any given time. Today, however the instruments weren't in attendance, as they had new freshmen to break in.

Eldritch led in a rather blatantly exotic, redheaded girl, and settled her in next to the other three kids. Two girls, one boy and one somewhere in between but moving towards the male spectrum of life sat fidgeting and nervous. The girl Caitlin was leading in was already showing signs of severe GSD, as she sported black-leather wings, and the black-spade tail and horns of a succubus, as well as the claws and body to match. The boys looked fairly normal and were probably going to be paired off with some of the heavier GSD freshmen who they would likely get along with, as was the tradition of Twain and Whitman.

The pale girl had red hair and was sporting six dark eyes that seemed like pools of reflected red or lavender without any features depending on the light.  She had two on her temples and two on her cheekbones.  She had that waifish “vampiric” look, and the docs were fairly convinced her diet would move that way.  One of the boys was seemingly shifting and dissolving into shadowy mist and then phasing back to normal by parts when he wasn’t paying attention and odd mouths and eyes seemed to form in the dark parts to manifest on his skin, then vanish again.  The other boy lucked out, merely being stuck with red fur and a fox tail to match the red hair and fox ears on his head.  He looked more exotic than anthropomorphic, and oddly, he was the most self-conscious it seemed.

The two boys looked antsy, as though nervous about all the monsters.  Probably not far off given both of them, and their six-eyed companion had started off on opposite sides of the gender line.  

"Not much, we got done showing off the basics, did the tour of the Whateley 'I'm cool so it's mandatory that you see my stuff' exhibit." Jericho ticked off fingers as he talked. "We got bored waiting for you so me and Diamond both told stories about the kinda crap that happens around here at the school, all before we met you of course. You're just too normal to make good conversational material."

Razorback about barked out with laughter at that. Among the Outcasts Caitlin tended to make Jericho look sane and stable. Her and Razor both sported bright red armbands with UV stamped in black. Both of them were on the Ultraviolents list due to their... temper issues.

"Well, we were going to have Razorback tell one with his vodor when you walked in." Diamondback grinned. She and Eldritch tended to be thick as thieves whenever they got together.

-Maybe we should have introductions for our fourth lunatic.- Razorback signed, pointing at Eldritch.

Jericho grinned and pointed to the tattooed amazon, "Freshmen, meet Eldritch, Eldritch, meet freshmen. There we go. Eldritch is yet another contestant on the gender bender game. Hence why we dragged you lot in together."

"You're enjoying this far too much. So you all said Razorback was going to tell a story?" She looked very pointedly at the blind, dredlocked black boy with the fashion sense that could sink the Bismark.

Razorback put on the necklace with the vodor, and moved up to center stage while his three friends sat back and grinned.

-Eldritch can go next.- The vodor was tinny and emotionless but it got the point across when combined with body language.

"Oh hell no lizardman. I can't tell a story for shit. You all hired me for the drums, not my vocal talents."

"You know for such a big girl, you can be a real wimp sometimes," Diamondback grinned.

"Yeah yeah, laugh it up oh poisonous one. By the way the Freshmen are looking kinda like deer in headlights. What have you been telling them?"

"Mostly to avoid Nex and the Ultraviolents."

"Gee, that's helpful."

Jericho nodded sagely. "All right, once Razorback finishes we can do the support-group-chat thing. Ready Razor?"

-No.-

The blind kid laughed. "Good to hear, now regale us or it's the cattle prod again."

Per usual he brought out nervous giggles in the freshmen. Razorback just sighed and shrugged, then began the windup for his story.

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Monday, November 27th, 2006

There are days when I absolutely hate being a student here at Whateley. Little did I know it was going to be three days in a row of stress and screaming before all was said and done. It's no big secret that us Outcasts were on the short list for near-constant simulation drills at Arena 99, or Range 5 depending on who you talk to. It's supposed to be Arena 99, but the Range psychos and the Crisis Simulation Team invaded and now it's an eternal argument over what it's called depending on who's in charge at the time. I think it's Gunny Bardue's idea, personally. Him and that Smythe nut seem to take great joy in driving the tech-heads buggy without causing actual problems.

But like I said, well known fact that we're currently the most heavily drilled team in the school right now. How is it well known? We bitch about it loudly in the Crystal Hall and to whoever will listen. It's a stress-relief thing. So far during our first year we pretty much had a sim run three nights a week, minimum. Word from the Underground is that we actually have permanent statistics on the betting boards in Vegas because of it. Social underdogs we may be, but pushovers we are not.

This latest run had already been going for thirty minutes when the Grunts team finally rooted out the first signs of our presence in the simulation of the Chicago cityscape. I love Chicago, lots of places to creep, skulk, ambush and hide. I needed every one of them because these guys were good. Out of about eight runs against them so far we have had our asses fed to us on a platter eight times. It was rapidly apparent that we couldn't beat the odds in a straight-up fight so we started getting sneaky and mean. So far it's worked, but it means we lose about two or three hours of our free time every time we hit the sims with one of the power teams while they try to root our asses out, and avoid me and Diamondback playing movie monster thrill-killers. They also have to contend with Jericho's lattice of booby traps he sets for fun, amusement and the Outcast way.

"All right, the jerkeys are moving in on the target now," Jericho's voice came through on my comm set. He'd built the three subspace transmitters himself, and while not exactly subtle, they could get a lot more range than most communications microbeads. "Wait for them to get their two-man patrols going before we set the trap network live and start hunting. They'll put Mule on guard watch again, since he's the best for it."

"Think we'll beat these assholes this time?" Diamond sounded mildly bitter and irritated. I couldn't blame her. We tended to wind up outnumbered on these runs because of our mutations and methods.

Usually Whateley set up training teams around the traditional four-man super squad. A brick, a blaster, a brain and a speedster was the archetypical setup that they followed so that students could get used to the idea of working with other mutants who have dissimilar powers. We get to keep our three-man format because our powers have so much overlap. Well, except me, as I'm built exclusively for speed and in-your-face slashing and biting. Diamond's the strong Brick-type, but she's smarter than me and Jericho combined, and she can play blaster with magic if she can find a breather long enough to gather the energy for each spell. It's impressive, but it's freaking slow. Jericho's our devisor and gadgeteer. Of the three of us he's the weakest in physical combat, but he makes up for it by being a genius with booby traps and low, animal cunning. He also snaked a concussion blaster from another devisor that he helped build the power system for.

"Dunno about beat, Diamond, but I can say we will severely ruin their day." Jericho paused a moment and came back over the comm. "All right they're splitting off like usual. Breaker and Slapdash are patrolling along the west side of the battle area. Bomber and Bunker just took the north. Mule's on the target building with that giant cannon of his and Deadeye's nowhere to be seen, per usual. He'll be somewhere unobtrusive with his crosshairs on the prize no doubt."

"All right, so how we gonna play this?" Diamond seemed quiet.

I really hated being the only one who can't speak. All I can do is make dinosaur noises from this fanged muzzle of mine. Fortunately my ability to move like Speedy Gonzalez and hit like a jackhammer makes up for it... a lot.

"All right, let's mix this up a little. Every time we do this our heroes move in a patrol pattern that allows them to come back to the target zone fast. Razorback, I want you on Breaker and Slapdash. Keep that little shithead off my trap network, or better yet, run him into it. Diamond, you got Bomber and Bunker this time. Take out Bunker at all costs. If that little rocket-lobbing psychic gets into play we're screwed."

"Gotcha. What are you going to be doing?"

Jericho's voice carried a level of evil glee that was almost disturbing, until you compare it to the evil clown-cum-ambulance-driver outfit he was wearing. "I'm gonna ferret out our sniper. Deadeye's proven to be too much of a threat to let go in the past."

Diamond's voice hissed through the comm. "All right, I'm in position. Bunker's street-stalking while Bomber provides cover."

"All right you two, let's see how they handle this one. Targets are Bunker and Slapdash. Once they're down regroup at the rally point and bring the other two with you. Engage Breaker at point-blank so Bomber can't use his little cherry bombs. Diamond, do some mumbo-jumbo and make him fall down or something. That'll leave us with Mule and Deadeye."

I clicked my comm and moved out, ghosting to the western edge of the battle area as Jericho popped the lid on his traps. To my senses the area came alive with an electric humming noise and odd vibrations as well as metallic chitters as Jericho's presents activated and went live. Three seconds later, all hell broke loose.

Murphy's law states that no plan survives first contact with the enemy. I wanna find this Murphy guy and throttle the life out of him, then hire a necromancer to raise his corpse so I can use it for an eternal punching bag.

Holographic pedestrians and passers-by scattered when Jericho's toys began bouncing around and spraying streams of high-energy laser light everywhere. Don't let him bullshit you. He says he doesn't build weapons, but he's damned good at it. He just never uses them outside the simulators. Probably for the best since his idea of combat tricks tend to involve a lot of uncontrollable mayhem. I love it when a plan comes together.

I found Slapdash and Breaker separated about fifty yards apart trying to shoot down the sudden swarm of microlaser turrets and arachnoid things with mini-chainsaw bladed maws that kept trying to jump on them, or crawl up their legs and eviscerate them. You couldn't tell who was under the matte black riot armor and tinted visors under the helmets except by the powers they use, although Slapdash's heavy combat/power rig is rather distinctive he's not always the one driving it.

The storefront and skyscraper landscape took a pounding too and the crowded streets of the Chi-town cityscape erupted in chaos as holographic civilians dove for cover. The little mechanical nightmares attacked everything that moved, in keeping with our supposedly villainous intent on this run. I'm really getting sick of being the bad guy in these runs though. I will admit that watching one of Jericho's doberman-sized spider-hunters unloading an electron arc into a Macy's storefront and blasting out a good chunk of it was amusing as all hell. It was chaos, glorious and unfettered as cars were destroyed and the street seemed to come alive with things that had been using alleyways, rooftops and sewer grates as cover burst from their hiding places to help ransack the area.

Even as Slapdash blew off one of his EMP grenades and Breaker pulled his personal shockwave blast that more or less annihilated the little toy monsters crawling all over them I was halfway to my target, and thinking I might actually pull off this part of the mission without a hitch. Silly me.

I never even got close to Slapdash when both of the grunt boys' assault rifles began spitting bullets at me on the run. Whoever trained these jokers had definitely taught them how to do their jobs. Wish I could get our team an in-house combat trainer. I took four bullets in the side and got driven down an alleyway by the murderous fire. I shrieked and began to see red as my wounds began closing and I began hacking up the 7.62 millimeter slugs that liked to bury themselves in my ass whenever we squared off.

Keeping it together was almost impossible through the pain. I felt my rage rise and my inner beast began roaring for blood as my heartbeat tripled. I actually managed to hold out through the pain for a few seconds before my vision went red and I blacked out.

First thing you gotta remember about me and half of the fools wearing the various variations of the Ultraviolent armbands: we are damned close to incapable of controlling our tempers, to the tune of if you piss us off, we will probably try to kill you. This ain't a threat, or some kinda cocky bragging bit. It's a warning. Red armbands mean we have tempers that aren't anywhere near this side of the human norm. They call us ragers and any day we don't maim or kill someone by accident is a damned beautiful day.

Upshot of the rages? I don't have to remember what I did when I was out, and the docs say it causes my regeneration ability to spike through the roof. Downshot of the rages? I don't remember what happened so I could very well hurt someone I care about and never realize it. In the sims it's weird. I can't really hurt anyone, but I never know whether or not I'm still in the game until the red haze lifts.

In this particular case I came to while chasing an unfortunate car that happened to make the mistake of moving in my field of vision. I was in the process of ripping the roof off the holographic Chevy when I regained my senses while the holographic occupants screamed.

"Razor, Razor are you there?" Diamondback's voice was a welcome distraction as I leapt away from the wildly swerving car with it's panicked occupants.

I clicked the Mic once while I tried to get my bearings As I padded back in the direction I last saw Breaker and Slapdash I saw the shredded holographic corpses of no less than a dozen bystanders along the way, with clawmarks that I didn't need to look at closely to recognize my own handiwork. I really hate this rager crap. I can only be thankful that this is only a sim, and I'm supposed to be the bad guy.

"I got Bunker easy, but I'm pinned down in the sewers. Jericho got tagged by Deadeye, so he's out. Slapdash came back, Breaker's missing and I got the rest of the Grunts crawling up my ass! I need help!"

I clicked the comm again and put on my cruising speed of sixty miles per hour. I found Breaker's simulated dead ass where I'd left leave of my senses. I was a bit shocked at that, since Breaker's one of the mighty exemplar-fives in the school. Either he screwed up,. or I become a lot more deadly when I'm pissed off. In any case, I had to go find Diamond.

One manhole cover popped up later and I was in the storm drains, trucking off to hunt my favorite prey: Fools in the dark. I could hear screaming and shouts echoing through the storm drains as I cruised low and quiet through the tunnels. The voices were controlled but nervous. This was the part of the game the Grunts hated. This was the part where me and Diamondback got creative and played Sudden Death by Movie Monster Attack.

Except for Deadeye we'd gotten every single one of them at one time or another, just not enough of them to win. Problem with the grunts is they're really cagey and very coordinated. Unfortunately for yours truly, unless I have Jericho or Diamondback in support or I have some very specific circumstances in my favor, there's several of them I cannot touch.

Deadeye is the Grunts team leader and resident ninja. To my knowledge no one on campus has been able to ferret him out of his snipers' nests since his Sophomore year. If it weren't for the fact that he never misses with a firearm he'd be considered one of the low powered mutants on Whateley. Jericho checked his records once. In four years of Whateley Academy Deadeye has fired somewhere in the neighborhood of seven-hundred-fifty thousand rounds. He only has only missed eighteen times that the records show.

Breaker's the team's number two man, and he's a thundering hardass. As an Exemplar five he's probably the epitome of the words "shock trooper." Couple that with his ability to cause a twenty-meter detonation of concussive force that can rip concrete in all directions from his body and you have one nightmare fight on your hands. The fact that he's the tactics man of the Grunts only makes things worse.

Bomber's untouchable by me unless I can engineer things so I have the advantage. He's a flyer who can hit the four-hundred miles an hour mark, and has the capacity to create and throw or drop plasma balls that are powerful enough to vaporize some of the Bricks on campus. He's also a card-carrying nutcase. The only reason he's not an Ultraviolent like me, or in jail is because he's latched onto the Grunts as what he should model his behavior after.

Slapdash is the devisor, and while I've gotten him in the past, Diamond's the only one of us that can thump him on a regular basis. Word on the street is he's probably going to wind up the next Grunts leader even though Bomber's a Junior. He's a weapons devisor and some kind of electricity manifestor. Everyone dismisses Devisors and Gadgeteers as hired help at Whateley. From personal experience I know better.

Mule's the brick. Dear god that boy's not the most powerful TK on the planet but he's one of the best at what he does. He's like the everlasting gobstopper. No matter how bad you chew his ass up he keeps coming back for more. Add to his physical toughness the fact that he resists magic and psychics about as well as he soaks up bullets and you'll realize he's a rough one to deal with. Unfortunately Jericho's our only guy who can reliably put Mule outta commission, and Jericho got dropped by Deadeye.

Then there's Bunker, dear little bunker of the fiery temper and the mouth of a drill sergeant. The girl's not as disciplined or experienced, but she's a package deal psychic. Her worst trick is her ability to cause people to completely lose touch with reality in a wave of confusion, miscommunication and hallucination. Fortunately, like most psychics she's long on mental defenses, short on the realization that mages can screw her world up because she's not ready for them. Unfortunately she has a knack for exploiting the reverse tendency in mages. With Bunker and Diamond it's always the question of who gets the first shot off. Oh yeah, and some twit's been giving her a quad-tube rocket launcher with thermobaric rounds lately. Not fun.

Be glad you're not an Outcast. This is the kind of opponent spread we routinely get thrown up against by the wonderful sadists on the Whateley Teaching Staff. Oh shit, I'm off track, again.

So as I'm stalking the corridors of the Chi-town underground I hear the sounds of gunfire and screaming, then the audible blast of one of Bomber's plasma baseballs going off. Hope Sandra's not out of it, because if she is I'm screwed. Silence reigns for about five minutes before I hear the distinct sound of Slapdash screaming. Sweet, Sandra did the movie monster thing.

I hit all fours and started pouring on the speed when I came around a corner. There was Diamond, grappling with Slapdash, or more accurately, squeezing him with her tail while she fired his sidearm down the corridor to keep the Grunts' heads down. As I watched, Slapdash flickered and faded, then re-solidified. Good, that meant according to the sims he was dead, and it evicted him, leaving a holographic corpse in his place. It also meant Sandra had twice as many takedowns as I did. This couldn't fly.

As I came closer I poured on the speed as hard as I could then hit the circular storm drain wall at an angle, causing me to run up the wall, over the ceiling and down the other side in a crazed corkscrew maneuver into the two remaining Grunts in the tunnels. Gunfire pinged all over the place while they tried to track me. Sandra moved forward and I heard a loud BOOM from further down the tunnel and a large flash. Something flopped into the muck behind me as Diamond succumbed to Deadeye.

Shit, well this was it, it was more or less over, so I hit Mule like a sack of hammers and proceeded to tear his armor apart, trying to get past him and onto Deadeye. No such luck. He grabbed me and screamed something and my vision filled with the bright blue-white light of the plasma flare that took us both.

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"Did you get all of that?" The girl grinned.

Her cohort looked over at her. "Yeah I did. Kinda a disappointing run for the Outcasts, but they did manage to do some damage."

"Hey as long as the bookies in Vegas keep wanting the three of them on the show it's all golden. Razorback's stunt running along the walls and ceiling in the Storm Drains down there was something straight outta Aliens."

"Agreed. And speaking of which, our account just cleared another check from the bookies and they're requesting another run."

"They'll have it tomorrow night. Bardue's been predictable, and no one realizes the Outcasts aren't supposed to be on the Active track for the sims."

"Who they up against?"

The girl looked down at the computer and grinned. "Oh this should be good. Bardue's got them up against another unconventional group. The Goobers."

"That'll make things interesting. What's the spread?"

"Five to one the Outcasts paste them. The three of them have been getting visibly pissed off over the last couple weeks in the sims. I'm setting up the Arena 99 feeds for the run tomorrow night."

"Put me down for twenty that Jericho actually nails someone this time."

"Done."

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As the bright spots faded from my vision I realized the sim was over and done with from the blank, hex-grid room with all manner of sensors and emitters clustered all over. Finally. That was another hour of my life I would never get back, burned off to the combat training gods who oversaw the sadistic training schedule here at Bizarro High School. After the glare blindness faded I palmed the keypad and walked out into the hallway. After a year and a few months at Whateley I knew my way around so I trucked over to the ready room for the post-action debrief.

Outside the ready room I heard the three dead grunts before I saw them. Sure enough there was Breaker, Slapdash and Bunker, in the push-up position, counting out push-ups with a rather severe looking instructor with buzzed black hair and old-school camouflage uniform with a black beret overseeing, while smirking at them. Must be one of the range guys. I've seen him before around campus quite a bit, but never really talked to him. I never had much reason to talk to the Whateley gun monkeys anyway.

I suppressed a chuckle that would have sounded wrong anyway and went inside to see the rest of today's Sim course victims all present and accounted for. Apparently my arrival was the signal for the three downed Grunts to get up and come in as well. The instructor didn't follow us.

All of us were decked out in our heroic and villainous best, courtesy of the costuming classes we all have to take, which I think is retarded. Even with the best costuming on Earth, there's no way me or Diamondback will ever be mistaken for anything but ourselves. But rules are rules and Arena 99 has a Masks Required policy to protect our identities, so here I am decked out in matte black armor plating with red runic markings that Diamondback came up with. My mask looks like a form-fitting piece that covers the upper part of my face, above my jaw.

Diamondback was all decked out in a blood-red skin-tight robe with a hood and white skull mask, in keeping with the whole evil dude look. It looks eerie the way her tail flows out from under the robe. Ok she was lazy when she made it. Like me, she sees little point in it as she's probably one of the most easily recognizable people in the freaking world, outfit or no. Her scales and tail are a dead giveaway.

Jericho was decked out in an EMT uniform, complete with an evil clown painted mask that was currently sitting atop his dreads. The name tag read Pennywise. Trust Jericho to be a thermonuclear smartass in all things.

The Grunts all wore matching Matte black body armor with matching helmets and shaded visors, thusly obeying the Masks rule. Word on the street is the armor is something called Dragonskin. I'd believe it, considering how much effort it takes to destroy the armor enough to get to the chewy center.

Gunny Bardue was already there, along with Mr. Andrews, the head tech on the Arena sim. Both of them nodded to each of us as we entered and took our seats. The grunts looked smug, as always. So far they were undefeated in the sims and they knew they had bragging rights on most of the school, having even taken down the Wild Pack, the Capes, and the "normal" training squads where students got mixed and matched according to the arcane training schedule. Personally I think they cheat, but I can't prove it.

It was unusual to have a group like me, Jericho and Diamond on regular sim runs together. Most of the time it was by Whateley Academy's team formula, which I believe is a load of crap anyway. How often are ya gonna actually find a balanced fight in real life? Six-on-three against the Grunts was actually realistic. It's how I'd have done it. But for some reason some of the Cliques like the Capes and occasionally the Turks would do the sim runs together. I dunno why it happened, and no one's ever bothered to tell me.

"All right settle down," Gunny Bardue began, "We'll get started with our bad guys for this run. You Outcasts have anything to say before we get to it?"

Hell yeah I had a lot to say, beginning with 'this is bullshit,' and ending somewhere with 'I need my beauty sleep.' Being as sexy as I am takes a lot of talent. What, you think these scales polish themselves?

"Yeah, why the hell is it every time we come in here we're outnumbered?" Jericho didn't even bother to raise his hand.

Bardue smirked. "Luck of the draw. Besides, watching the battle recordings of the lot of you if we gave you more teammates, you wouldn't be challenged as much."

I leaned over to Diamondback in the seat next to me. -And of course we couldn't have the Simulator champs challenged in earnest too often now could we?- I signed.

Diamond gave a slight smile. -There's gotta be more to it than that. That answer is loaded with 'I'm the teacher and this is a secret' bullshit.- She could sign back, and was better than Jericho at it, which was no surprise., Jericho liked to just get by, the lazy ass that he is.

"Cool, can we get a damned even fight one of these days?" I was a bit surprised. Jericho wasn't normally this blatantly belligerent, but then he'd had bags under his eyes for the last three nights trying to catch up in his schoolwork and getting his project in the Devisor lab up and running.

"Boy do you have a problem with my training schedule?" Even being blind as a bat, Jericho's weird-o-vision couldn't miss Bardue's expression, or his tone. And he wasn't daft enough to want to go cleaning up the messes in Hawthorne.

"No sir. Sorry, I'm just tired." Jericho's response just goes to show you. Never underestimate the intimidation power of a sixty year old black man, who happens to have been a Marine Drill Sergeant or something. Or Drill Instructor, whatever. Military terminology isn't exactly my high point. My experiences with the military are limited to getting shot at with automatic weapons. Long story. Don't ask.

"Thought so." Bardue turned to the viewscreen and pulled down the image of me charging Breaker and Slapdash while Jericho's little nut-bots were doing the crazy-shoot-me thing. "Breaker what the hell were you thinking here? We've seen this twice now, and each time you've gotten eaten by Razorback."

The Chinese exemplar took off his helmet and sighed. "I got caught up Gunny. Razor was going for Slapdash, and we needed to be able to neutralize Jericho's battle-bug things or we'd have gotten picked apart. Dragonskin armor only does so much against low-power laser-burns and if you get enough of them we'd have been cooked alive. Needed Slapdash functional until Deadeye took out Jericho."

Bardue nodded, seemingly satisfied, and turned to Jericho. "All right, you're supposed to be the leader here. why'd you split your team into singles? I understand the whole death by a thousand frustrations bit, but the three of you would have been a lot more effective as a cohesive unit."

"We're working on it, but we keep bumping into the same problems with that. Nine times out of ten we're outnumbered and outgunned." Jericho was really tired, speaking slowly and having a hard time keeping his eyes open. "Never mind that on any given team we've fought the ones who thrash us consistently have something that can take us out johnny-one-shot style. The Grunts have two of those."

"Explain."

The rest of the grunts leaned forward. Deadeye was taking notes in the corner and Mule was leaning against a wall, alternately keeping an eye on me and Bomber. Bunker was trading evil looks with Diamondback, and the rest of the Grunts looked bored. Me, I was just wanting the training schedule to slow down at this point.

Jericho managed to look somewhat awake and hostile. "You got two teams and two floaters in the Grunts. Breaker and Slapdash and Bomber and Bunker on one team with Mule and Deadeye floating. Bomber does that plasma thing and as the sim shows, even Razorback can't do much against atomic level vaporization. Then you got Bunker with her psychic schtick and confusion aura. But that's not her worst trait. The worst part is what she's usually armed with those thermobaric rounds she packs in that four-shot launcher of hers that can burn out an entire building."

Bardue nodded. "So you had Diamondback take her out first."

"Yeah, She's tricksy, but she keeps making the mistake of discounting mages. Diamond may take a while to charge up a shot, but Bunker's usually not ready for it, and vice-versa."

Diamond cut in at this point. "And Bunker's quicker on the power draw than I am, so we're at a serious disadvantage here. Gotta drop her first or the rest of us are screwed and we get mopped up like happened the first time we played sim chumps with these guys."

Bunker, of course, got a smug look on her face.

"Did it ever occur to you all to simply sneak in and take the objective while the Grunts were patrolling?" Bardue pulled up the battle map and pointed at the building Mule had been guarding until the fracas had escalated to the sewers. "The objective was item retrieval, not "wipe out the home team."

-You try slipping past that bastard sometime. He looks big and dumb but outside Deadeye he's the best at catching sneakers. Never mind he's smarter than he looks.-

"Ok what the hell did he just say?" Bardue pointed at me. I repeated, Jericho translated.

"Gee, thanks Razor, you're a pal." Mule grinned widely when I flipped him the middle-finger salute. Me and him get along pretty well after last year. Moreso than most, but only because we both have this thing for pounding bullies that crop up around campus. Mule's a total Boy Scout type, but don't hold that against him. He can be a decent human on occasion.

All in all us Outcasts and the Grunts manage to keep things civil. We just don't run in the same circles, and occasionally we do something wiseass that tickles their funny bone. They are somewhat less amused by our antics in the sims, since we have come fairly close to stomping them once or twice. Ok ok, we kept getting our asses handed to us. Jesus, let me enjoy my delusions!

"In any case," Bardue began, pointedly ignoring the rude gesture, "Jericho found out that Deadeye was also covering the target zone. Speaking of which, Jericho I recommend you find yourself some kind of armor. Of all the people who run these sims you're one of the most vulnerable."

"Working on it. Shi... Stuff's expensive and I have to live on a budget. Not all of us have wealthy mommies and daddies."

This time it was Breaker who gave Jericho the finger.

"All right, children, I want to keep this short and sweet. Outcasts have sims tomorrow night against the Goobers, their first time in the sims as a group, and the next morning against the capes." Our three cries of protest were firmly ignored. "Go get some sleep."

He turned to the Grunts. "As for you little rats, I'd yell at you, but I want to get home to my beer, so I'm delegating your ass-chewing. Go see Sergeant-Major Smythe on Range 4 for your full debrief and analasys. He's wide awake and looking forward to your arrival. And since he owes me for covering him last month he's missing his rugby game on the tube for the benefit of your education."

A near unanimous cry of "Oh shit." "Goddammit!" and "Jesus you Outcasts always get us in trouble," rang out in the room as Grunts and Outcasts gathered up our gear and wandered off to our rooms and "Incentive training."

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Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

When I arrived at the Crystal Hall the next morning I recieved a treat to the senses. That's right, Jericho in his flaming weird best sitting at the traditional table wearing his kilt, penny loafers and a bright pink shirt with "FUCK YOU!" in blue lettering emblazoned across his chest. Yup, Jericho was in a grand mood, I could tell.

I sat down, grumbled to myself and proceeded to assault my tray of meat in various forms ranging from "egg product" to "well done" with a smattering of still screaming and bleeding. I decided that today would be a good day to shred through it, and I did so. Then I went back for seconds. Then I went back for thirds, all while my partner in crime sipped coffee from his gynormous sixty-four ounce coffee mug. By all rights he should be dead from caffeine overload.

By the time Diamondback arrived things were starting to become normal. Jericho was looking somewhat awake, and I was ready to assault the day and all contained within. I wonder if Delarose is cued into my weird little moods. It might explain his near-psychic knack for predicting the days I was going to have a blowout.

"How you doing, guys" Diamondback slid into her customary seat and began tearing apart HER pile of meat foods and we played the carnivore game while Jericho stared at his pathetic, untouched plate of two eggs, a slice of bacon and a grapefruit half.

"Tired. So very tired." Jericho took another pull on his mass-dose of coffee while starting at his plate disgustedly.

Sandra and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes and I picked up Jericho's plate and dumped the bastard, bringing back a real breakfast rather than this diet crap he's been going on with. I'll give the boy credit, since apparently he's lost about a hundred pounds, but he's also doing sim runs that are stressful as hell, and I've been helping him in the weight rooms to strengthen up. This california anorexic diet shit has gotta go, otherwise he'll kill himself.

I dropped the plate in front of him and he looked in my general direction, confused.

-Eat, jackass. You're starving yourself too much.- I signed at him once he realized what I had done.

"I'm trying to lose weight." Jericho shouldn't have been THIS tired. He'd gotten enough sleep after the sim run. He'd slowed down on the weight loss a lot, and seemed to be holding steady. I'd talked to the docs and apparently this kinda thing was normal, but Jericho's level of activity was probably causing malnutrition at this point.

"No Joseph, Razor's right," Sandra cut in, invoking the dreaded 'real name,' "This diet was working just fine for you up till we started the heavy sim runs, and you started pounding the weights with Razor and running a lot on your off-time. But it's not enough to keep you going. So eat. Please."

Jericho looked at his plate, rather annoyed for a few minutes before slowly starting to pick at it. Diamondback watched dispassionately for a few moments, then held up five fingers, dropping them one by one on a countdown. I'd seen her pull this kinda shit with Jericho before. It's both creepy and uncanny. Sure enough as her last finger fell away Jericho tore through the food on the plate with a gusto I had rarely seen outside a pack of energizers.

I feel for Jericho, I really do. Nine times out of ten he's just another fat kid in a high school full of pretty people. Never mind he never picked up any powers beyond the devisor/gadgeteer slant, so in most normal fights he has all the terrifying power of the average, normal fifteen-year-old. He always blows it off but it rankles. You can tell. What REALLY burns his ass is the fact that by and large, the devisors and gadgeteers are largely seen as second-rate heroes and villains, or hired flunkies. The kid who's been dealing with various social stigmas all his life gets yet another social stigma in a new place.

And you were all wondering why he's so warped in the head.

"Oh god I feel so much better." Sure enough, Jericho was coming around and alert. I've been hungry enough to feel sick and tired before myself. Stupid thing is, eating causes and immediate recovery. The human, and not-so-human body is creepy like that.

-See? I told you Jackass.-

Diamond immediately threw in with "Your starvation diet privelages are revoked. You will eat like a normal human from now on."

"But how will I maintain my girlish figure?" Yup, he was back to being Jericho again. The bloody smartass.

-Not my problem, mate. You're the bugger who wants to fit into a dress.-

"Gee Razor, you're a pal. So are we on for our torture session tonight?" Jericho hated working out, but he saw it as necessary.

-Of course. Tonight's schedule we do your favorite thing. Two mile run.- I love watching hope die. I really do. It's funny as hell and the expression on Jericho's face was priceless. I wanted a camera.

"He's kidding Jericho. We have a date with this Goober crew, remember? More fun with the sims under Arena 99." Diamond smirked as Jericho breathed a sigh of relief.

I nodded a bit. -Much as I love watching you gasp and puke on the track we have to be ready for whatever these goobers can throw at us. Do we know anything about them?-

"Just that they work for King Fundie." Diamond, being a pagan, has no love for Reverend Englund's Hellfire and Dalmatians sermonizing.

"Great. Well they can't be as bad as the fucking Grunts." Jericho let a small smile. "Oh my if they're Englund's pet geek squad we might be able to play 'em. I'm gonna hit the Devisor Lab and see if I can't whip up something to draw attention. I'm gonna keep the Rafe Armor in reserve until we get tossed at another confirmed power team."

I grinned, which more or less amounts to hanging my jaw open slightly and showing off my meat-tearing choppers. -Confusion and chaos time?-

Jericho shook his head. "Not this time Razor. Let's throw something that looks suitably demonic at them. Once we get their attention let's hit 'em as hard as we can. Screw this pussyfooting around. You two are powerful enough on your own to handle a good number of goons on campus. Let's abuse this. I'll take a page out of Deadeye's book and play shock-rifle sniper for their benefit."

Diamond nodded, and uncoiled herself from the seat. "All right, while you two do that I'm going to see what the Whitman girls know about these goobers."

"Good idea. Razor, go poke around Twain. Get intel from Thuban if you have to but don't promise that shifty bastard anything ambiguous. Make him spell out terms from the get-go."

-Got it. I might be able to weasel something out of his info network. Probably won't be much though.-

"Something is better than nothing. Let's get to it."

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I should have known better than to think I could just get to Thuban and get the info without something stupid or crazed happening. It was a green flag outside, and everybody and their freaking brother was out enjoying the freedom to be ourselves with no reservations or stigma. Well, mostly no stigma. Us GSD types still have to put up with prejudicial assholes like anyone else.

Sadly, there are worse things to be at Whateley than heavily GSD. Being blessed with shitty, nearly nonexistent powers is one of those things. I get odd looks, scared stares and generalized contempt. What I don't get is bullied for the most part. This is partly because I'm as nasty as I look in a fight, partly because everyone who's been at Whateley for more than a year knows I'm an ultraviolent rager. Some kids don't even have that, and me and one or two others around campus make it our personal mission in life to make sure they don't get tortured much by the powerhouse students. An exemplar 1 with no other powers is easy meat for most of the rest of campus.

I bring this up because my post-breakfast activity was noting four of the Underdog girls trying to leave the Crystal Hall area and being blocked by Aries, that hackwit jackass speedster who I damned near maimed permanently my freshman year when he decided to pick on the GSD freak.

Sure enough, Sue, Lucille, Rhiannon and Anna were tightly packed and giving the bullying shithead as much space as they could. It wasn't much considering Aries is faster than I am by a fair margin, and he has this nasty habit of slipping just inside your personal space-bubble when he's least wanted. He never would lay a hand on the girls in a place this public, but he wasn't above intimidating and harassing, since he could be on time to class from here with thirty seconds until the bell rang.

In short, he's a fucktard.

Who are the Underdogs? As I mentioned before, they're the kids with suckass powers. Hell, I think Anna's an Avatar with a squirrel spirit or something rediculous like that. They take the phrase "sucks to be you" and give it a whole new spin.

"Come on Anna, I just want to see what Squirrel powers are. C'mon, you can show me." Aries was using his greasy, mocking tone of voice as he made sure he was in the girls' collective space bubble and leering.

"Aries we need to get to class!" Bless Sue's heart. She's the bravest of the lot, even if she's about as powerful as one of Jericho's tracker-cat robots. "Let us go."

"Very well. You may go. She has to stay until I see the mighty squirrel power!" True to Alpha form, he was so intent on the victims of his asshole behavior that he never considered that someone like Me, or Mule, or Jimmy T might decide to punk him. Nobody messes with the Alphas, right? Right. And if you believe that I got some naked pictures of your mom I wanna sell you.

"Back off, Aries, you don't know what you're up against." I saw Sue's quiet smirk and damn near lost it to a chuckle as I crept up right behind Aries and settled in for some fun.

"Oh I'm sure, and exactly what are you going to do to stop me?" Cocky Alpha asstick.

"Not us... Him." Sue let out a beatific smile as I exhaled sharply through my nostrils, hitting Aries' neck with a short blast of hot, stinky, carnivore-breath-smelling air.

Aries stiffened and turned a mite slowly and looked to see me crouched low, in an attack posture, with my spines upright and primed for violence, claws extended seemingly for him.

Poor Aries. He downplays our little encounter last year as just another thing, trying desperately to keep his Alpha cool rep intact, but when I catch him off-guard... Hooo baby! Perhaps shrieking in his face with my jaws wide and showcasing the teeth with bits of breakfast meats still stuck in them was a bit overboard. Nah. Watching him go ghost-white and bolt in a panic was just so worth it.

I think it's a law of the universe that if you make a bully shit himself, no one who matters will be around to see it. Me and the Underdogs got ourselves a good chuckle at Mr. Alpha's expense of course, but there really wasn't anyone around to whom it would matter in any way that Aries would care about.

Check that. While I was laughing I saw Delarose standing about fifty paces out with a slowly shaking head and a look of mild disapproval directed at me. Oh yeah. I wasn't supposed to pull shit like that on campus. A simple twitch of his head in the direction of survival class and a pointed finger later and I got the hint and bugged out. He was letting me off the hook IF I immediately followed his unstated but very clear instructions.

A few days later Sue told me that as soon as I bailed Delarose actually smirked, started chuckling to himself and wandered off whistling to himself obnoxiously. I swear one of these days I will figure out what his angle is, and the arcane methods he uses to determine wether a situation is worth his intervention. Then I'm gonna have me a heyday stomping some new mudholes in Alpha asses without breaking his rules. HEY! I can dream, can't I?

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I wasn't able to link up with Jericho until after dinner, and Music class wound up being too frantic to talk once someone decided it would be a brilliant idea to rewire the amplifiers to cause nausea theough sonic amplification. I was not happy.

Jericho was sitting across from some exemplar chicka at our usual table and me and Diamondback didn't feel like enduring the freaked stares of one of the pretties. It was almost surreal. She had been there at both lunch and dinner. I didn't get close enough to have a look. Me and Diamond just grabbed a to-go barrel and wandered out to eat our heap of dead thing in private.

Thuban was a bust. The draconian sonofabitch wouldn't lay out terms or even admit to knowing anything useful, and when I finally had had enough of both him and my vodor driving me bugshit with that shards of salt under my scales feeling I finally left. I imagine the Vodor MIGHT have survived the full-strength throw into my room as I passed, but I was neither counting on, nor hoping for it.

Yeah, I know, I'm using a vodor now, but this one doesn't have the same... maddening feeling I get when I used most of them in the past. I really can't describe it, but I can say whenever I used to use them it left me on the verge of a maddened frenzy. Hell, my freshman year I DID go into a frenzy because of it, a couple times.

But when we got together it was a jeering sneer-fest. "New girlfriend Jericho?" Diamondback asked archly. I knew damned well she didn't care beyond the girl taking up our accustomed space.

"Huh? Oh, yeah. Sorry guys. Met a new girl to the school. She's just starting and she didn't gimmie the standard level of love, so I got curious and distracted." Jericho didn't look the least bit apologetic.

-Yeah, sure, distracted... By her boobs I'll bet.- I couldn't resist.

"Hey! That was uncalled for!" Jericho began.

"But it's true." Sandra interjected.

"Although I will admit, they were pretty nice."

Sandra just rolled her eyes as we entered our favorite hiding place under Hawthorne. The large stone room was a junction area for electrical systems around campus, and Jericho had taps on the lines for our guitar amps. Our guitars were, of course elsewhere as we hadn't come to practice. We were here to brainstorm. And if that failed, to make sarcastic remarks until our tongues fell out. Whichever comes first.

"So, what we got for information?" Jericho began the official portion of the little meeting without fanfare or ceremony. Thank god. He can get obnoxious when he works at it.

I replied quicker. -Not a whole lot. Thuban was being his typical, mysterious prick self. He was alluding to the idea that certain parties should become regular attendees over at Faction 3.-

"Like hell." Diamond wasn't fond of said meetings, even though Thuban CLAIMED that things were improving by leaps and bounds.

"I agree, so I take it you didn't commit us to his cult of lack of personality?" Jericho asked smoothly.

-No. I've no interest in the damned GSD pity party. Besides, I have far more fun asking Phoenixfire out every couple of days while she tries to be polite letting me down. It's a little game in my twisted mind.-

Jericho chuckled while Sandra just shook her head. Like hell I'm going to a damned pity party. I figure if people can't take me as I am, I'll just ignore their stupid, shallow asses and truck on. Although harassing Phoenixfire's starting to get old, and she's starting to catch on. Maybe I'll go bug that elfy girl, Fey. I'll have to do it with Stalwart in the area for maximum fun and sputter factor. I don't expect anything to come of it anyway. What girl in her right mind is willing to date a big velociraptor anyway? Oh well, No fear, no regrets.

Shut up you guys, I don't want to spoil that story just yet.

"Alright Sandra, you get anything?"

Sandra grinned, showing off her fangs and nodded. "Oh yeah. You'd be surprised at just how much Silvermoon will chat about her team and that wonky old right-wing fart who's teaching them to become monster-hunters." She looked pointedly at me, "And she still thinks you're a rabid animal that needs to be put down, sorry."

-No worries. The fact that she thinks the same about Bloodwolf takes away some of the sting.-

She nodded, knowing full-well I could care less what the werewolf bint thought of me. "But what we got is a hodgepodge of oddballs, led by Nightbane."

"That Buffy wannabe?" Jericho groaned. "Jeez, what did we do to deserve her lackwit humor?"

-You were born, now shut up.-

Jericho, of course gave me the finger.

"You boys want to hear this or not?"

Both me and Jericho apologized and got attentive quick.

"Now we've got Silvermoon, who's almost a carbon-copy of Bloodwolf, power-wise but with better control. Ecto-Tek, you'd know more about, Jericho."

Jericho thought for a minute. "Yeah, Ecto's an odd duck even for the devisor crowd. Not as odd as Jobe by any stretch but still odd. Most of his gadgets revolve around supernatural detection or combat. He's a specialist type. Always talking about things from Lovecraft novels and shit. He claims that that Sara Waite chickadee who hangs with the Kimbas is one of the Great Old Ones' daughter."

"Sounds about right." Diamond nodded. "Anything we need to worry about?"

"Not so much. I mean he's all coked up for spirit-detection and stuff but we don't have any Avatars in the three of us, since both you and Raz are Exemplars." Jericho thought for a moment. Really all we should have to worry about from him are the usual devisor bag of tricks like robots, laser cannons, for lack of a better term, and force fields. Those are beatable."

Sandra nodded and coiled up her body and went into her weird sitting position on the floor. "Next we have Beacon, who does this funky light-thing that's pretty useless but he claims is like sunlight to a vampire against spirits and demons and stuff, so again, no huge worries there. He is a lowbie Exemplar, so watch out for his right cross."

Me and Jericho nodded.

"Last on our list is Oak, that tree-kid from Twain."

-Oak's a good guy for the most part. A bit sarcastic, but a good guy. Got fused with some kinda demon-weed before he came here, so he's like a cross between a TK brick, an exemplar and a regen, all bundled up into a tight wad of fun. He'll be a tough nut to crak. We might have to use fire, but that could get out of hand really quickly.-

"Let's try to avoid deadly force unless we have to." Diamondback didn't much like fighting, but she was pretty frightening at it.

"Ok, I have something cooked up thyat'll get their attention pretty solid. I just need to go talk to Bardue about running a scenario we choose this time." Jericho mused.

-YEAH! We get to pick one scenario type per month in the sims if we do more than five.-

"We do?" Diamondback asked, surprised.

"Yeah, it's all part of the whole Whateley emphasis on self-defense. We can get some say in our training pogrom, I mean program."

Diamond snickered.

-So we hit 'em hard this time rather than playing "pick off the stragglers?"-

Jericho nodded. "Yup. I got something that'll get their attention and then we slam 'em while they're trying to figure out what the hell is going on."

"All right," Diamond said, "let's get ready for this."

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Bardue had cackled evilly when we brought him our scenario request. Since this was the Goobers' first run in the sims as a team we decided to welcome them, Outcast style. So we found ourselves hooded and masked in the center of New york's Central Park in the main arena above the linked sim rooms.

OH! sorry, I forgot you're not familiar with Arena 99. Well, up top you got the big stadium, also known as the Thunderdome to the more crass among the student body. In there, automated construction units build, demolish and rebuild the terrain into anything from a cityscape to a moonscape. There are bleachers, an announcer's area, all very Roman gladiator colliseum-esque. The terrain's fully destructible and there's a force-field there to protect bystanders. The place is goddamned impressive. It's also wired to hell for those mutant deathmatch games that Vegas shows. Yes friends, Whateley's the source of those broadcasts.

Down below the arena you have the interlinked sim rooms. Each room is meant to house one student in an interlinked scenario formed of solid holograms. Basically it cuts you out of the sim if the computers determine you would be fatally wounded or incapacitated. Don't think it's safe. If you fall you can break your neck. The laws of physics are not suspended in the eyes of superscience, and a bullet that hits you in a nonlethal spot will still tear your ass up.

So like I said, we were up in the main arena with these black and gold robes that Diamond borrowed from the magic department that were supposed to be some sort of mystic power focus. I hesitate to say steal since we gave them back in the condition we got them. I prefer Cait's definition. A Field Expedient Acquisition for Nefarious Purposes. And you couldn't get more nefarious than demon-summoning in central park to welcome the newest simulator bitches into the fold.

We heard them arguing before we saw them, and I about gagged. They were arguing about plans of attack and ambushes, and what we were up to. Jericho had a disgusted look on his face when he caught them in earshot after I did.

"Amateurs." His one word about summed up what we were all thinking at the time, since we had to learn the hard way with the other teams about being stealthy. These guys might as well have been carrying road flares and singing Hymnals.

"I got a signal, a spirit-lock." It was that Devisor, Ecto-Tek talking as they started shifting in our direction. Weird, there shouldn't have been any spirits around us, and none of us were Avatars.

"Showtime." Sandra breathed as Jericho handed her the trigger on his little toy and me and him took our positions, bobbing up and down like the good little cultists we were. Sandra began a long intonation in her sexy alto and began the so-called ritual that was the Goobers' mission to disrupt.

We saw them while Sandra was facing away from them, her tail trailing a ways behind, and her skull-mask not visible to any of us. Me and Jericho, however, had a clear view as the lot of them crept slowly out of the treeline along a bike path, coming towards the lake we had chosen for our nefarious purposes. I will admit, some days I love being the bad guys.

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Sara Waite was bored out of her mind when she walked into the Arena area. Between getting her work finished for class and a severe lack of desire to socially interact with anyone today she found herself at loggerheads. Hippolyta was busy with her martial arts practice, Gypsy was doing something with the other Fortune-tellers of Whateley, and she wasn't going to be visiting Merry in her hidey-hole for another two hours once she got the all-clear from Fey that she wasn't being watched to follow her off-campus.

She was also troubled by other events, like Lenston, and Merry's instability and fear of snakes that she couldn't even pin down. That girl was going to take some adjusting. On top of that was the sneaking feeling that something big was about to go down, and the fact that she couldn't pin the feeling down to a source was aggravating to say the least.

She picked the arena on a whim, and wandered in, noting the various students there doing homework, or watching the occasional bout down below the force field. Bloodwolf, Maggot and Killstench were leaning over the edge of the arena practically drooling at the potential for bloodshed. Idly, and on a whim she leaned over and looked down.

Lo and behold some of her least-favorite people on Whateley campus were readying to mount an attack on the three chanting figures by the lake, standing in a crudely drawn summoning circle. The robed figures seemed oblivious to their danger as Ecto-Tek levelled his blaster and fired while the others charged forward in something resembling a formation pattern. The liquid-green energy discharge exploded on an unseen barrier between the two groups, and the ground around the oncoming attackers suddenly boiled and erupted as small, skittering mechanical monstrosities erupted from the earth around the Goobers.

The little monsters were spiderlike or centipede-like and carried a strange mix of blades and energy attacks. The most disturbing part of the little chromed monstrosities were the faces draped over their bodies like obscene clothing, all wearing makeup. It was like they'd ripped off all the faces of the people in clown makeup in a hundred miles and were wearing them for a party. The mayhem, panic and confusion was beautiful, with the Goobers' attack choking and stalling as the murderous little things shot, stabbed and chewed on anything that moved.

The ritual continued unabated, and while there was a trickle of power from the figure in the center of the circle, female by the voice, with a long snakelike tail where her legs should be. It wasn't enough for what the ritual LOOKED like, but the Goobers were going nuts trying to get at it. It was almost formulaic. By the time the Goobers subdued or destroyed the little bug-monsters the ritual ended, and Sara saw a pinprick of energy as the ritual leader released the power she had been building slowly over a minute. The field became a rampant scene as the shadows seemed to animate and come alive, caressing the goobers and making distorted images in the tree line.

The Circle erupted and from the water a giant mass of whitish-yellow knotted tendrils erupted as a giant mass of what looked like oversized spaghetti noodles dripping marinara emerged from the water. A pair of gigantic meatballs were firmly ensconced in the noodle-monstrosity's "face" and the two eyes on noodle-like stalks were just icing on the cake. Sara started giggling as she recognized the Flying Spaghetti Monster of Internet fame, as big as a house and writhing and whipping about like some mad thing. The Goobers looked confused for a moment and went wide-eyed.

It was too tempting, and too easy. Sara took in a great lungful of air and shrieked out excitedly, carefully watching the goobers' confusion turn to horror as they stared up at her.

"DADDY!"

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I'm not sure what triggered the giggling and laughter first, the demon-girl Sara screaming DADDY!, or her quiet and smug "oops, my mistake" that I'm pretty sure only I heard, the growing look of horror on the Goobers' faces when the implications began to sink in, or Diamondback's immediate toss of a salute/wave to Sara while yelling "Thanks for the help!" without missing a beat. Whatever it was, while the holographic spaghetti-thing floated towards the Goobers I couldn't stop laughing like a maniac, sounding like a wounded seal caught in a blender.

While I dropped to all fours, laughing, Jericho was doing a very good impression of a villain with his laugh, although it was ruined by the absolute mirth in his voice. Diamondback just started giggling like she'd lost her damned mind, holding her stomach and letting the laughs flow. The humor must flow. The humor is the soul. The soul is the humor.

It could have cost us a lot in this battle were it not for the fact that the Holographic monster was more or less invulnerable, being composed of solidified light bands trapped in a forcefield. I dunno how it works and Jericho's explanations always give me a headache.

The Goobers found their resolve and attacked with gusto while we rolled about like a buncha thunderstruck idiots. Ecto-Tek was the first on the ball as he unloaded the green-energy-blasting ray gun in his hands into the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which triggered a roar of outrage and an immediate response as the hologram wrapped a tentacle around Oak and pitched him across the park. Give the verdant bastard some credit, because he got right back up and charged, howling like a lunatic with rage or something.

Nightbane was up and attacking in a flash, whipping a katana with golden-colored etchings at the holographic horror, slicing away a tentacle that wrapped around her waist and eliciting a disgusted shriek. The tentacle bubbled and dissolved as it hit the ground. "Kalamari anyone?" I can personally do without her weak-ass Buffy-wannabe humor, and apparently so could me compadres.

That broke the giggling mood as Silvermoon shifted her body to the hulking, silver-furred wolf-woman with claws, fangs and mucho ferocity and began bouncing around like an enraged ping-pong-ball with motive and intent, slashing at the tentacles that threatened to hurt her friends. Beacon began blazing away with his oddball beams of light that seared through the body of the hologram and closed just as fast. Jericho had programmed his scientific minion well.

Beacon was the first "casualty" as the noodle-tentacles wrapped around him and pulled him up to be absorbed into the writhing mass of noodles and marinara. the whole "body" of the beast writhed and wriggled like it was digesting while Beacon let out panicked screams from inside.

"BEACON!" Nightbane yelled and her teammates all added oaths and curses to the mix. "All right you tentacled thing! let Beacon go!"

Right about then the sound of a belch and a bubbly voice going "Yum!" sounded out from our technological terror.

Oak charged and leapt at the Flying Spaghetti Monster from the side, his momentum knocking it from the sky as more tendrils erupted from the noodle mass to ensnare all of the Goobers, who thought they were fighting for their lives against a real demon.

"Think now's a good time to do our thing?" Sandra asked lightly from within her hooded robe.

Jericho smiled. "Sandra you take Oak. I got Ecto-geek. Razor, keep Nightbane and Silvermoon occupied till me and Sandra get our thing done. On me."

I heard Ecto-Tek mutter "it's not real" while staring at one of his instruments. He raised his voice to say "Hey GUYS! It's not..." Whatever he was going to say got cut off when we threw the robes off and Jericho fired his shock-rifle at the poor devisor geek. The untested weapon worked like a charm, throwing him on his ass and scattering his myriad bits of gear around like confetti. Sadly it didn't knock the little geek out as it had hit a personal forcefield.

In any case we didn't give him the chance to warn anyone as Sandra slithered over to Oak and gave him a tail-slap that sent him reeling. Now you'd think a Brick's a brick, but Exemplars, TK's and whatever Oak is are odd, varied and hardly ever operate as straightforward power-wise as most folks think. Oak got up, shook off the dazed look and dove straight at Diamond, only to run afoul of her stupid-fast reflexes as she grabbed him and sent him spinning into the dirt, digging a furrough five feet long. Then Jericho and Ecto-Tek started exchanging fire, blasts hitting and caroming off both their personal forcefields, and things got confused right quick.

I took the opportunity to charge Silvermoon full-tilt and drive her into the rapidly recovering Spaghetti-monster's writhing noodle body. I bounced off her, kicking her into the thing and charged Nightbane, driving her into the ground and causing her to lose her grip on her sword. While Silvermoon was trying to fend off the emerging noodles to keep from becoming engulfed, I rolled with Nightbane on the ground, each of us trying to get a grip on the other when her hand grabbed my snout.

I'd like to speak of my grand personal bravery in the defeat of my goody-good foe, but when she touched me skin-to scale it hurt! The pain lanced through my body and started my muscles convulsing so hard that I kicked her away and bolted on all fours away from them as fast as I could go. When I recovered my senses from instinct I had a scant moment to reflect that whatever she'd done had fucking HURT!

Silvermoon extricated herself and the two goobers darted out of reach, squaring off against me. Oops, they were catching on to the more or less harmless nature of our noodly god-demon-thing. I darted back in and grabbed the sword, pitching it into the lake as they charged at me. One less implement of dismemberment for their side as I proceeded to bounce between the two, and running circles around them. I put my claws to good use tearing out Silver's hamstrings, but they knitted back together almost as fast. Almost as fast as mine were prone to doing in fact, which put her ahead of Bloodwolf on the regen tree by a slight margin.

Change of plan. I dove on Nightbane, slamming the blonde to the ground and pummeling her for all I was worth, pain or no. And it WAS painful to say the least. Every time I hit her that searing agony lanced up my arms and legs, threatenting to take me away to oh-shit-Razor's-gone-berzerko-again-land. Not right here, not with my opponents being living, breathing humans even if they were the competition and the fundie apprentices.

Unfortunately it wasn't meant to be as Silvermoon hit me like a freight train, claws tearing into my scaly ass like jagged razorblades and tearing strips from my hide. I lost it. I saw red, tasted blood and felt nothing, punctuated by flashes of consciousness and the knowledge that I was savaging Silvermoon for all I was worth before her claws or her jaws sent me back into rage again.

The last time I came conscious it was to the feel of a Mack truck hitting me in the side and pitching me like a rag doll across the lawn area. As I shook myself awake I saw Jericho aiming his shock-rifle at ME. I was about to shriek at him when I saw Silvermoon lying flat-out on the grass, gasping shallowly, while her wounds knit painfully slowly to mine eyes, even though her healing rate far exceeded a human's. Even creepier was I didn't even feel like I had a bruise, even though the armor plating of my costume had been rent and bent badly and I was dripping blood.

Nightbane was on her butt a few yards away, wincing and holding her upper chest where there were three horizontal slash marks right below her neck that were a shoe-in for my toe-claws. Oak was on the ground, out cold, his wooden carapace cracked and healing visibly, evidence of Diamondback's handiwork in a close-up. She was pulling Beacon out of the rapidly fading mass of our noodle monster, while Ecto-Tek was face-down on the ground and out cold.

We'd won.

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Bardue was both amused and annoyed when he talked to us while the Goobers got packed away to the infirmary. None of them had been seriously wounded, but they were shaken up quite a bit. Nightbane hadn't been actually torn up that badly to my knowledge, and Silvermoon wasn't in grand shape despite her healing ability and her frequent ass-kicking sessions with Bloodwolf that somehow never made the school blotter. Oak would recover easy. He was just winded and bruised after Diamond had crushed the air out of him in her coils. Nightbane gave the lot of us some truly nasty looks while they were being patched up. I guess, rather like us in our first sim run, they were expecting to waltz in and clean house. Welcome to reality. I have frequent flyer miles here.

"Jericho are you trying to make a mockery of my sim runs?" Bardue asked while we cleaned up our stuff.

"I've decided that my strength is psychological warfare, sir." Jericho smirked without missing a beat.

"Which aspect, trying to kill the staff by making us laugh or by making our brains implode from looking at your clothing choices?"

"Yes sir."

Bardue shook his head. "All right smartass. I just came down to say good work. I was surprised by how you handled that even if the Flying Spaghetti Monster schtick was a bit much. I also came down to tell you that your next sim run is tomorrow morning, and your opponents will be chosen right before you arrive from the groups in the mash."

"In the morning?" Jericho's jaw dropped. "What time?"

"Four AM."

All three of us stood there with our jaws hanging open in disbelief for a few minutes even after Bardue left. Then the swearing began.

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Wednesday, November 29th

I don't even want to go into the morning run in the arena. It was a disaster and a half. We got teamed off against most of the capes at the last minute, which left us painfully outnumbered and outgunned, per usual. The thing that sticks in my craw is the fact that we were tired and off our game enough that the capes managed to sweep us up without taking a single casualty. Fortunately the Capes weren't feeling mean so we found ourselves hogtied and restrained rather than beaten mercilessly.

In any case I found myself at breakfast staring at Jericho over my plate of meats. I was watching a certain metallic-haired brunette who was seething and sparking like some kinda energy generator from hell as she wandered over to load up a tray of food.

"Twenty bucks says beyond being a bit startled she doesn't bat an eye." Jericho smirked as the girl started walking away from the food line and in our direction.

-You're on.-

I watched the girl and noticed a few oddities that weren't connected to her black, seemingly chromed hair or her steely, runed eyes. First was the thought that no way was this girl a tenager. She had to be fully developed, and adult. I mean exemplars are all hotties for the most part, but they don't have that "finished growing" look to them yet. The second was the fact that this girl's walk was all wrong, like she was primed for a fight at any moment, and not even Hippy could have matched that particular bit of posture. The last was that before she saw me, she was scanning the crowd in that way you see trained cops and soldiers looking for threats. They don't realize they're doing it, they just DO it. All in all this one was an odd package from the get-go even before we met.

She stopped and looked startled when she laid eyes on me sitting across from Jericho. No surprises there. Most people have to do a double-take when they see me for the first time. What surprised me was she shook it off and continued moving forward like she had a purpose in life, with that blitzed out energy field snapping along her body and clothing like something living.

What really surprising when she put her tray on the table and unceremoniously plopped into the seat next to me. Jericho was wearing his patented shit-eating grin, and she looked at us both. I realized that Jericho might possibly, just MAYBE have found a keeper.

The girl looked confused for a moment. "What?" She asked.

Jericho's grin got wider. "Pay up Razor."

"Oh great, I'm now the subject of a betting pool." She looked a bit rueful. "Razor huh?"

I nodded, mildly amused.

"Yeah. Caitlin, this is Razorback, one of my friends I was talking about before..."

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Whateley Academy, September 2007

-And that was when I met this bloody amazon here, which led to even more chaos than usual.-

"Oh admit it, you'd be bored without me around." Caitlin smirked as the vodor spit out Razorback's story ending.

-True. I'd have no one to stare at except the usual exemplar ornamentation. Speaking of which I haven't ogled Fey since school ended last year.-

Diamondback shook her head. "Boys. They never grow up."

"Nope, we're against this whole growing up thing." Jericho put in.

The new froshes had relaxed a lot since the Outcasts started the story round robin, and were beginning to look a bit tired and hungry from the long day of introductions to the school. The spiderlike girl was looking at the Outcasts with a mix of nervousness and relief, the latter of which seemed to be echoed by the other four.

-Come on Freshlings. Let's go get you some chow and get you lot settled in. Tomorrow's gonna be another busy one.- Razor's vodor and sign language spurred the kids to hop up and start moving as the big lizard, who had grown a few inches in height and spine length, began heading towards Crystal Hall.

When the newbies had gone, Jericho looked over at Caitlin. "God I hope this helps. Those kids need a bit of support. Not a one of them's prepared for this kinda shit."

Diamond nodded. "I am glad that we're allowed to help, but damn! Four TG's in one year? I thought there was only supposed to be like one for every hundred mutants or so from the books."

"Yeah. I was thinking the same thing," Caitlin said quietly. "It should be only about four-to-seven kids in that boat on-campus in any given year, but lately..."

"You thinking something's going on, Cait?" Jericho asked.

"I'm actualy starting to think some kids are being tampered with. There's way too many if you only include the ones we know about, and add these five..."

"And you start seeing a pattern." Diamondback started her thinking game, playing over scenarios. "Are we thinking genetics, magic or other for tampering?"

"Dunno yet," Caitlin mused, "but it's starting to look like something unnatural is going on here."

"Maybe I should see what I can do about getting some DNA scans done to check for alterations." Jericho stood up as he spoke.

Diamondback looked at Caitlin seriously. "Even if we find out that there IS tampering, we haven't asked the question that needs to be asked."

Caitlin nodded. "Why the hell would someone set up kids to go through that, and are any of us a part of it without knowing it?"

It was at best, a coldly sobering thought.