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There's Something about Billie

a Whateley tale

by Starwolf, Joe Gunnarson, and Diane Castle

Chapter 1

 

Thursday, March 29, 2007

TENNYO

There were times the restrictions placed on me by the armband and tracker that marked me as one of the Ultraviolents could be really annoying. I had been wearing it ever since I’d nearly killed Hip back in November. In addition, mine was marked with an additional wide bright blue band that I’d learned was the Section 33 mark. It meant no one, and that meant no one, student or staff, was allowed to fight or mess with me in any way. Of course, no one expected that restriction to apply to words and innuendo. At least as long as they didn’t try to go too far, or backed off when warned by the Powers That Be.

But I had a pretty thick skin after everything that had happened since last summer, and unless the situation warranted it, I’d usually just ignore it and let it pass. As Hip had pointed out, if it wasn’t worth killing them it simply wasn’t worth the bother. Still, it made me all the more sensitive to those situations where someone else was suffering unjust persecution of a similar nature.

Take Jericho, who was one of the more easily recognized kids on the campus. Not only did he seem to epitomize the ‘Bumbling Devisor’ when he ended up getting involved in the inevitable scuffles that broke out throughout the school, but he had the unfortunate luck of being one of the truly human in the physical department. His great brain hadn’t brought any of the nice physical bonuses so many of the rest of us had gotten. And he was a pretty good guy when you got to know him better. A bit crazy, but in a good way. I guess he could be allowed a bit of leeway in how he handled what happened to him.

Not that some of us weren’t a bit upset by what luck had brought us too. Still, I shouldn’t complain. I’d have certainly wanted to date me when I was still back in Colorado last summer. A fact I really hadn’t learned to appreciate as well as I might have in other circumstances.

Jericho and his friends - some serious GSD sufferers who went by Razorback, Eldritch, Diamondback, Phobos, and Deimos - had formed a crew called Outcast Corner. Whatever anyone else said about them, the few times we’d gone against them in team training sims had been real challenges. Between Jericho’s gizmos, Eldritch and Diamondback’s magic, Phobos’ and Deimos’ powers, Razorback’s speed and regen, and the sheer physical prowess they all had not to mention some enviable teamwork and cunning, they were a nasty group to go against.

Not that Team Kimba was a pushover either. For sheer power we weren’t the worst around, and we were learning the tricks of the trade fairly fast too. Especially since it was considered business as usual to handicap us in ways to limit what we could use. Since no one was sure just how much damage I could take or give out and no one wanted me to go literally nuclear in order to find out, the sim guys would usually fit me with a sensor that would count me out of the combats as soon as I took a certain amount of damage.

They’d never tell us what the limit was though. One time I was taken out by a falling brick. The little red kind you make buildings out of. Fell off a building I was fighting next to and I didn’t see it coming. They had set the sensor to human norm. Sneaky little… well, it taught me to not take things for granted anyway. Not that I really needed it. I might be incredibly tough and a super regenerator, but it still hurt to get injured. When I got going I tended to ignore the pain, most good fighters do, but it’s still not fun. At least not to me.

The last time we went up against The Outcasts in the training team matches, I suspect Sensei Ito hadn’t bothered to set the sensor at all. It was just me, Generator and Shroud, and Chaka against Outcast Corner, with Phase and Lancer and Fey sitting on the sidelines. We all knew Phase didn’t like punching people, but she really hated being told she couldn’t help you. Anyway, I lost my temper. Razorback and I ended up going at it all out, just fists and claws, for maybe a minute before Jericho had stopped it by using one of his gadgets to knock Razorback out. He said in the briefing afterwards he did it because he was sure Razor had lost it and he didn’t want anyone to be hurt. Nice thought, but I’d felt a bit cheated. Still, it’s got to be tough when you have to watch the enemy and your own team too.

I thought it showed a lot about them and their character. The Outcasts were known for something else. My friends at Hawthorne made a point of telling me these things. Seems the Outcasts were around a lot of the time when bullies and the like got theirs. This kind of event was inevitable around a place like Whateley and you’d think the dorks bullying people would know this. Still, the Outcasts seemed to be a bit more involved than others.

Basically, what I knew about The Outcasts was what Nikki and Ayla had said, what I’d learned in the few times we’d gone against them, our pre- and after-action reports when we did so, what little interaction occurred during the normal daily activities, and the pile of rumors that always seemed to follow anyone who drew attention. The fact that Jericho was from Twain didn’t help much either. Ever since the dust up with Montana it was understood I should keep my distance.

Normally, I wouldn’t be getting involved with anyone I didn’t have to, but today was one of those days where I was feeling just irritable enough that the usual snide remarks made about others were bothering me. Maybe it was one of my demi periods. At least that’s what I call them. According to the doctors I didn’t actually have a period, at least not in the real ‘getting ready to have a baby’ kind, but whatever it was it mimicked a real PMS pattern anyway. All the downsides and none of the benefits. Maybe it was strange of me to think that and I’d never admit it to anyone, but that was how I felt about it. It worried me when I had the time to think about it. But I attribute what happened next at least in part to a demi period.

When we were in Sensei Ito’s class we were expected to be quiet and attentive, but some people never seemed to feel the rules applied to them. Gina ‘Silence’ Haskins and Faith ‘Gritty’ Corcoran were always trading comments during class. Both had gotten the benefit of the Exemplar good looking gene and wanted everyone to know it. Unfortunately for them, many of the others in school had benefited from the same genes. Many were even better looking than they were. In attempts to make up for that they dumped on anyone they could.

Gina could redirect sounds out of hearing range enough to keep the instructors from noticing them, but those of us with odd hearing ranges and close enough to them were subjected to a steady stream of comments about everyone else in the class. Still I’d never bothered to tell them I could hear what they were saying.

I was high on the list for barbed comments but I wasn’t about to break class rules and respond to them. Getting them outside class just wasn’t worth the bother either.

They were also blessed or cursed with a bit too much money. I hadn’t ever asked Ayla if they were in the Golden Kids. Betting on things seemed second nature to them. Another of the girls who was in the same class who went by Memo would handle their bets on a regular basis. It was understood she actually worked with Hazard in this respect, so anyone involved took their bets seriously. Even the silly ones were taken seriously if an agreement was reached. This would soon become important to me.

Today I didn’t have to worry about what they were saying about me. Jericho had somehow managed to outdo dressing himself today. Ignoring dojo dress rules he always dressed himself as badly as possible. Not only did nothing match, but even pairs didn’t match. His shoes were different. A Nike training shoe on his left foot and what looked like a hiking boot on his right. The socks were different colors and one was calf high and the other went over his knee. You could tell this because he was wearing a short, Stewart plaid orange and red kilt. He was also wearing a white blouse. Yes, a blouse. You could tell for certain because the buttons were reversed. Over all this he had his deviser gear. An interesting combination to say the least. But not the prettiest picture.

Not that we weren’t allowed some leeway in the way we dressed. I myself was dressed in a light gray bodystocking-style supersuit with a white, lightweight karate gi and pants over that. Tied off with a white belt. The variations on combat dress could be staggering at times. And usually the Senseis didn’t bother saying anything as long as it was practical or an actual costume suit. They must’ve given up on Jericho’s odd attire some time ago because no Sensei that I knew had talked to him about it.

Okay. He was blind, and a devisor, but he could obviously feel so he had to know his shoes and socks didn’t match. I’d figured out some time ago that he was doing it to get people’s goat. In fact, watching for his next attempt at socially unacceptable clothing was a high point of my day. Having to listen to these two harpies rag on him and his friends when they obviously didn’t know a thing about him wasn’t helping my mood too much. It became especially upsetting as they discussed how he would never get a date with anyone, much less someone good looking, because he was such a geek. I’d been having some distressing thoughts along those lines myself and I didn’t need reminders of it. Then I noticed the two of them getting a little too involved in their betting.

“You know Gina?”

“What Faith?”

“I’d bet a date with McIlsitine that Jericho over there couldn’t get a date with a pretty girl unless she was deaf, dumb, and blind. Maybe not even then.”

“Yeah? Well I’d go out with Jeepers if he did get one.”

Mickey McIlstine looked like he’d recently crawled out of his grave. He also had a talent for turning food in his general vicinity to an inedible mess. His unofficial code name was ‘Icky Micky’. I hadn’t ever heard anyone use a real codename, so I had no idea what it was. Ayla probably knew. Jeepers was the next best thing to Swamp Thing. Both were known to be desperate enough to accept a date from anyone. Even if they knew it would be a joke. I mostly ignored the comments other than noting how Memo’s ears twitched and then she quickly wrote something into the palm device she carried constantly. She then showed what she’d written to the two girls. The two of them thought about it for a moment and then nodded in agreement. Memo went back to her device while the two girls giggled. This was a sure sign that we’d probably see a posting of the dare/bet soon and people could lay their own bets.

Events had conspired to make me a bit more sensitive to the problem of relationships recently and the thought that someone was possibly suffering from such problems even more than me was at least a little interesting. Not that I felt I could do anything about it. Something would have to happen quickly or the bet would be out and trying to prove that someone wasn’t just trying to mess with the bet would be next to impossible.

Maybe Sensei Ito noticed my distraction. Things like that seemed to get his attention more often than I liked. Whatever the reason, the next thing I knew Sensei was calling me up for a cage session.

“Tennyo. Come out here please. Jericho. You too. You are both familiar with the rules so unless you need a clarification we will get started as soon as you are ready.”

I was surprised to say the least, but habit kicked in and I flipped on my portable camera to record my matches for later review. I rose, bowed to Sensei, and moved to the cage arena. Managing to look a bit surprised and stumbling into the arena came Jericho also. Some of the others might be fooled by this, but I’d seen him handle himself well enough at other times. He was probably trying to make me overconfident. You couldn’t see it in his eyes, but I was sure he was thinking furiously about our upcoming match.

Sensei Ito stepped up to me and pulled out the sensor. He held it for a moment and then dropped it back into his pocket.

“No restrictions. Either of you.” Turning he moved back to where he’d referee the match.

Now I’m always nervous about matches. It’s bad enough I have to be careful to not break whatever rules or restrictions they put on me, but I have to be very careful not to overdo it and hurt someone else. This usually means I end up getting my share of pain and humiliation before it’s over. But an all out match? With Jericho?

The last time I’d been allowed to go all out when it wasn’t against another Kimba or Sara had been a match with a sadistic kid who called himself Scythe. He could manifest a large scythe that could cut through just about anything. Some kind of TK projection he could attach to a heavy staff he carried around with him. I think Sensei Ito set him up for a fall because he was too cocky and rather proud of his rank of twenty first in the combat finals. I’d never been moved from forty nine, where I’d been originally ranked.

He was fast and skilled too. He managed to catch my sword arm when I got a bit too distracted. Hurt like mad and took my hand and part of my forearm right off. Poor idiot thought he’d won for sure and came at me in a follow-up intended to take my other arm. I think the sadistic bastard was hoping to get a few more shots in before the match got cancelled.

Unfortunately for him, I wasn’t in the mood. I stopped holding back, caught his scythe with my left hand as he swung at my left arm, and wrenched it out of his grasp. As soon as it was loose it became that staff again. Taking that in a two handed grip I gave him the good old baseball bat hit to the side of the helmeted head routine. Staff broke and he went cartwheeling across the dojo into a wall. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t a regenerator. The people in ER could put his cheekbone and jaw back together, but he was going to spend a long time recovering if the school Healers didn’t step in.

How did I get to hit him with a two handed strike after my hand was cut off you ask? Well, when people talk about regeneration I’m up at the top of the charts somewhere. Maybe off it. The recording of the match shows it very well when slowed down enough to follow the action. The scythe cuts through and the hand and part of the arm detach and start to fall away. Even as this is happening the detached part starts to fade and before it hits the ground it’s gone. No spurting blood or the like either. The Senseis say I’m one of the cleanest fighters they’ve ever had to deal with. I guess there’s a silver lining in every cloud after all.

Anyway, by the time he’s coming back for his second swing there’s an outline forming at the end of my severed arm of a hand and the rest of it. By the time I’ve wrenched the scythe away it’s nearly solid. It’s complete by the time I get around to hitting him with his staff. It’s like it was never gone except for my cut off sleeve. I haven’t figured out a way to get my clothing to regenerate yet.

Cool huh? Some people call it frightening, but ever since my change last summer it’s been getting faster and faster. I don’t know what’s going to happen next anymore. And the way I find out is when it happens. Life has never been dull since my change. And to think I used to dream about an excitement filled and adventurous life. Beware of what you wish for. Sometimes you get it. In spades.

Anyway, here I was having to face someone I really didn’t want to fight and to top it off there were no restrictions. Either the Sensei was having a little joke or more than likely he knew Jericho had something or some things up his sleeve to make the fight more interesting. I studied him for the few moments we had while Sensei Ito moved to where he would direct us to start.

My mind had been churning like mad, trying to figure out what I should do and then it was like a brilliant light went off in my mind. The idea that came to me was so full of possibilities I was nearly stunned. Then I couldn’t help but smile. Oddly enough, the blind guy actually flinched.

Then Sensei Ito gave us the command to bow, which we did. I noticed Jericho managed to bow a bit in the wrong direction even then. Then Sensei snapped out a command.

“Hajime!”

For a moment we faced each other and then, instead of charging in I gave a short bow to Jericho.

“Master Jericho? Would you be so kind as to consider an alternative to our normal course of events?”

Even blind guys blink. Especially when faced with an unexpected turn of events. He recovered fast though.

“What? Has my flashy wardrobe hypnotized you into submission as I knew it would?” Trust the chubby blind kid to strike a pose like a superhero or supervillain would do for a camera. Hard to believe, but he’s even worse in the sims.

I bowed again. “Please don’t think me rude, but may I approach you? I promise not to attack you without at least ten seconds warning but I’d really like to discuss some aspects of our match before we get into the nitty gritty parts.”

“Discuss? OH! Right! Sensei forgot to give me a handicap. Do I need to handcuff an arm to my belt or something?” Like I said. He’s obnoxious, especially when he’s acting suspicious, and the more I talked the more suspicious he got.

Smiling, I began to carefully approach. He shifted slightly when I moved and I noticed his hand was hovering near one of his belt pouches. I held my hands in what I hoped was a not threatening gesture.

“Please don’t panic or do something we’ll both regret. I mean what I say. I just want to quietly suggest a few things that would probably help us both.”

“Panic? Please, I get body-tackled by Razorback often enough that there ain’t much you can do to worry me. Besides, I wanted to mention something quietly to you too. You see, I figure you’d cause less explosions and be pulled off the Ultraviolent list if you quit eating bad Mexican food.”

Good thing that kind of comment doesn’t bother me. Then he held up a hand to keep me at arm’s length as I moved closer. “Hey hey hey, that’s close enough Princess Photon Torpedo. I don’t want any tricks out of you.”

I nodded. “No tricks.” We were close enough to talk quietly now. The growing rumble of confused voices around the contest area was helping a bit. We were within arms length of each other now.

He raised a skeptical eyebrow. “That’s close enough. What did you want to say?”

Oddly enough, now that I was close to carrying out my plan I found myself nearly panicking. My hearts were racing and for a moment I considered just going through with a regular match, but when I got a glimpse of Gina and Faith my resolve hardened.

Jericho was getting impatient also. “Well Chickory? Why are you hesitating? You wanted to talk.”

I still didn’t know how to ask what I wanted. “I’m sorry Jericho. It’s just that I have a favor to ask of you and I’m not sure how to go about it.”

“My Pappy always said to just up and ask. Not that he really meant it mind you.”

I sighed and made the leap. “You’re right. Anyway. Neither of us really want to go all out against each other. At least, I know I don’t and I’m pretty sure you don’t either. You’ve never struck me as someone who really likes to get hurt.”

He sneered. “Hurt is one of my natural states of being. You get used to it after a while.”

I shrugged. If he felt like that I might as well ask. “Well, I was wondering if you’d go on a date with me?”

I’m pretty sure whatever comment he was expecting, that wasn’t it, and he stood there with his jaw hanging for a few seconds before he recovered some semblance of his usual outwardly snarky and sarcastic behavior.

“I’m sorry. I think I might have misheard you, but did you say date?”

When I nodded quietly he got a puzzled expression, confirming to me at least that blind or not he was fully aware of what was going on around him. “Okay, not that I question the fact that I’m simply drop-dead-gorgeous I do have to ask, why me? I ain’t interested in some kinda pity date.”

I will admit, the way he reverts to the Texas twang in his voice when he gets flustered is kinda cute, but I had to shake my head. “No pity dates, man. I wish I could say it was something that innocent, but I’m really not THAT nice a girl.”

He considered my words for a moment. “Okay, that I’ll buy. It’s not pity, and it’s not like any of you Kimbazoids except Phase talk to any of us besides Eldritch outside the sims very often, so I’m guessing you haven’t in fact been pining from afar for my love, so what’s the angle?”

I nodded, careful not to nod toward the other students. “Gina and Faith over there. They’re making bets that you couldn’t get a date with a pretty girl if your life depended on it, and have set themselves up for some very painful situations if you do. What say we make their lives hell?”

Holding up a hand in a stopping motion he gave me an odd look and then got serious. “Wait wait wait. You come over here and ask me on a date to embarrass Team Bet-A-Bitch and are straight with me? Hang on while the shock passes.” Jericho did his dramatic sigh thing, like you expect to see a woman do in a Shakespearean play and then looked back at me. “Ok I’m in. How do ya wanna play this?”

I couldn’t help smiling a bit. “Well, we could both go to the cage and step in. Negotiations are a way to avoid conflict after all.” I idly buffed my nails on my outfit. “Or, we could go with Ito’s plan and beat the ever living hell out of you.” I flashed an evil grin at him.

He returned my grin. “What, and pass on the chance to get pummeled in close quarters by a hot chick in a skimpy outfit? Are you mad??? But first…” I was expecting the sarcasm, I was NOT expecting him to lunge forward and catch me, leaning me back and KISSING me like Bugs Bunny does to Fudd and all his enemies. “Until our bruises heal mam’selle.”

I think I might have creamed him if he hadn’t darted back and done the cocky martial-artist getting ready for a fight thing. A purely reflex thing of course. Although with the cheering on of Jericho by the Twainites and the jeering of everyone else I might have if I’d thought about it too much. Still, if I thought about it too much I might have to consider the thrill I’d felt when we were kissing. Of course, I’d never really kissed a girl when I was a guy and I hadn’t really had a chance to think about it as a girl. Getting my breath back I started to consider my options.

Ok, the gloves were off, and the devisor must pay!!! Fun time was over. I took a defensive stance and growled loud enough for everyone to hear.

“Okay. If that’s the way you want it. Ten seconds. Do your worst. After that your ass is grass.”

He stood up straight and gave me a short bow and gallantly declared. “I wouldn’t dream of it! It would be unfair of me to take advantage of you while you were still weak from the effects of my overpowering virility and manliness.”

“Riiight. I just want to give you a chance to make this interesting. Five seconds.”

He fell back into a defensive stance and smiled. “If you insist fair monster. But there’s more where that came from after we’re done here. I know you want to get back to that, so let’s not take too long.”

Then the air shimmered and an armored suit appeared around him. I’d seen the armor before, during Combat Finals when Jericho went rounds with Sara, and in Team Tactics class. It didn’t give him much more than a couple inches of extra height, but it resembled some kind of stylized, futuristic plate armor painted white with Blood-red medical crosses emblazoned on the chest, shoulders and one on the left thigh. The suit gave him a lot more in bulk, and he looked wider than Mule. The back of the armor had some kind of backpack rig with what looked like stylized angel wings that immediately formed pulsing energy at the tips of each “feather” and spread a power field around the suit. The huge inch-thick, octagonal, white plate of metal Jericho used for a shield on his right arm was big enough to cover half his body. I knew better than to laugh at the wings, as I’d seen Jericho throw a pickup at Sara with this armor.

I couldn’t help thinking a bit irreverently that he’d missed a bet by not doing some kind of flashy routine like in some of the Japanese shows.

Moments after that a disappointingly normal-size rifle of some sort appeared in his left hand and what appeared to be several dozen insectile and arachnid robot-like things appeared all around him. Some had unidentifiable appendages, though they had the definite appearance of weapons. Others had much more easily identified chainsaws, buzzsaws, razored limbs and guns. This might be harder than I’d thought.

Sensei Ito must have anticipated it though. As soon as the small robots or whatever they were finished appearing I felt the heavy duty screens come on line. He wasn’t taking any chances on my control I guess. Still, that told me the suit Jericho had on must have pretty good shielding also so I wouldn’t have to hold back as much as I normally would.

All of this contemplation took time. Jericho must’ve become impatient so he tried to goad me a bit. Or maybe he just couldn’t help himself and had to make a comment. In his usual snarky, irritatingly humorous way.

“Having second thoughts are we? Is it all my little helpers? Or maybe it’s my big gun?”

I had to say something and some kind of off the wall comment seemed appropriate. I straightened up out of my combat stance, put my left hand on my hip and waved at him with my right.

“Sorry Jeri. It was the shock of seeing you wearing something that didn’t clash with everything else. Are you sure you’re really the Jericho we all know? I mean, really! It’s just not you. And what’s with this just appearing out of nowhere thing? Aren’t you supposed to have some kind of silly pantomime and then a big flash of smoke or something? And then, aren’t you supposed to call in reinforcements after the first big monologue? I mean, what’s going on here? You’re missing all your cues.”

He thought about it for a moment and then straightened up too and bowed to me and then the audience. He belted out an amplified comment of his own.

“My bad. Sorry all. It won’t happen again. I assure you. But my tutu hadn’t gotten back from the cleaners yet and I just had to make do with what I had in the fridge. I’m sure you’ll all understand.” I could almost HEAR the grin when he continued. “However, you want clash? Then clash you shall have!”

Then he dropped back into a defensive stance and called out. “Ladies first!”

I dropped back into my stance and smiled. “My. Aren’t we just too gallant! Shiny armor and chivalrous to boot. They’ll be trying to get you on the Cape Squad soon.”

He staggered back a little and clutched at his heart. At least that’s what it looked like. As he did this he let out a loud, groaning, but understandable moan. “Arrrgggg! First blood goes to the lady with the sharp tongue. I know Ito said no restrictions, but isn’t that just a little too rough?”

I sneered. “Ha! You haven’t seen even a small part of the evil I’m capable of. I’ve just started to scratch the surface of the goody two shoes dialog I’m capable of throwing at you my Knight in Shining Armor!”

“Ahhhh! The pain! If not for the pride of my cottage I’d be overcome by now. But my courage knows no bounds! Onward! Onward into battle my minions! We’ll teach this sugar-mouthed babe the meaning of cutting comments. Though we face impossible odds, the good ole boys at Twain will sing my praises and eulogy for years to come! Have at thee Princess!”

The robots sprang into action, many pausing to fire guns and lasers while the others swarmed, bounced, and impossibly ran along the force-field towards me waving various implements of destruction. Jericho moved to a position he could fire from without interfering with his robots. I started to dodge and tried to get another verbal barb in.

“Princess!? I ain’t no princess! Now you’re really asking for it bub. Let’s see if you have what it takes!”

Not much of a barb, but we were a bit too busy for several moments after that to talk at all. He kept trying to shoot me with that gun of his while the robots swarmed around, making pests of themselves. One or two got in some good shots right off. Seems some of them had a little trouble telling who was fair game and who wasn’t. Most of them were after me, but a few were taking potshots at him also. Good thing for him his suit was working.

But while he was trying to avoid and control his own robotic minions he wasn’t aiming so well either. Whatever he was shooting wasn’t bullets. Instead, some kind of distorted ball would fire from the muzzle. This would impact with considerable force on whatever it hit. The two shots that did hit me were like being hit by a car. And I’ve been hit by cars before, so I should know. No unusual heat as far as I could tell, but something definitely was hitting me and knocking me into the force fields around our training area.

As for me, I sent several plasma balls out to his proximity and let them go. With echoing booms that reflected back at us from the shields they accomplished nothing more than to knock him around a bit and even get rid of a few of the malfunctioning robots. Even the flashbang and EMP type had no appreciable effect on him or his little toys. I was going to have to investigate some more options.

When the flashes cleared I saw him move from behind that big armor-plate shield and begin firing at me again. The plate shield was glowing and smoking a bit, but looked like it was still intact, and the next couple shots he fired literally exploded, turning near-misses into Mack truck hits.

With that in mind, and while I continued to dodge or shrug off the worst he’d thrown at me so far, as well as those irritating robots, I sent out several lower-power plasma balls and attempted to hit him with them. Some of the robots got in the way and I was able to establish that they didn’t have force fields like he did. Also, the balls I was able to push against his shields told me a fair amount about the screens and shield he was using.

Unknown to just about everyone was the fact that if I could touch a force field or object with my plasma I could get a feel for it and how it operated, or at least what wavelengths it operated against and if it shielded into other dimensions. It’s almost like I was pushing against it on all the various levels and given time would be able to tell where I was and was not getting resistance.

What I could tell about Jericho’s field was that it was a phased system. Fluctuating wavelengths generally made it harder to get around the shield, allowed oxygen and the like through, and generally defied most force-penetrating attacks better than rigid versions for less power expended.

Disadvantages were usually about the same. It took fancier hardware and more power to cover the larger spectrum, it let various unwanted gassy elements through, and it sometimes left chinks in the field that more intelligently directed probes could find a way through. Like Frank Herbert postulated in Dune. The slow knife was more effective.

The shield he was holding was odd. There was a thin layer I figured was some kind of enamel which burned through quick. But under that was what I could only describe as a very tight material. Most materials I encountered had definite spaces and cracks in them I could force my energy through and break up, burn, cut, whatever. This one didn’t have that. I wasn’t sure what level of energy I’d need to actually force it apart, but I was willing to bet it wouldn’t be good for the rest of the school and I wasn’t about to risk it. I’d have to ask him where he got it if I had a chance.

This didn’t help me all that much at first. Jericho obviously hadn’t been worried about concealing his suit. He wasn’t having the problem a lot of devisers and gadgeteers had of trying to get the same results with less material and smaller power sources.

However, the fact his robots weren’t protected the same way solved one of my problems. When I form a lot of plasma balls they look pretty and are usually not very effective when they blow up. On the order of a cherry bomb usually. However, they’re still made of plasma, and plasma is hot. Contained and directed by me, and if I don’t release them, They can still burn their way through most things that aren’t reinforced against very high energy assaults.

Forming a spinning cloud of these around me I dove into the middle of any concentration of robots I could. Another problem with smaller things is that any damage they take is relatively greater. I was literally able to make a guided area attack on the robots where I’d only been able to hit a few before.

Trying to use the tactic on Jericho himself tanked as he stuck that armor shield in their path and they simply popped like little soap bubbles with really cool flashes and with no effect other than to scorch off more of the white enamel from the almost obsidian-like black color of whatever the shield was made of.

I still managed to disable and cripple most of the robots before they got smart and dispersed. There were a lot fewer now and spread out. I was able to divert more attention to the match with Jericho now. Taking a chance I closed and grappled.

It was obvious that he’d gone for strength right off. I could probably match and beat him, but not without letting go of control of my power more than I was comfortable with. I didn’t know how good Jericho’s shielding was and I wasn’t certain the screens around us would hold either. What I did accomplish in close quarters was to spike his rifle. Another thing not shielded from my plasma drills. I actually had a chance to say something at this point.

“Not so hot without your gun are you?” His shield bash in response was crude, but it knocked me into the opposite shield wall again.

He tossed his now nearly useless rifle aside. “Is that all you hot chicks think about? The size of a guy’s gun? There’s other things much more important. Like this!”

The suit lit up like a Christmas tree in bright red and blue lights that were near blinding this close and an earsplitting siren shrieked out the message of rescue or pain, depending on the situation, into the air. It didn’t hurt just me. Most of the kids outside the shield were covering their ears, too.

He caught me by surprise. Up to now he’d been moving fairly regularly for a guy in armor. But now he came at me like a rocket. Seems he had boosters in his boots. I’d forgotten about that. If being hit with his rifle was like getting hit by a car, having him ram into me at full speed was like getting hit by a train. He slammed me up against the screens hard enough to knock the breath out of me. Unfortunately for him, I think he knocked himself a bit loopy too. At least I was able to recover first and dodge away.

The next minute was spent with him trying to ram me while I dodged and tried to get used to the bright flashy lights that were screwing up my vision something fierce. This gave me time to pick off a few more robots and come up with a plan to immobilize him. Only problem with the plan was it would require a lot of power and I wasn’t sure I could control it. I wasn’t even sure I could do it. Especially with distractions.

There were only a few robots left, but they were good at dodging and if I dropped my guard they were sure to take advantage of it. Time for a change. Gathering my plasma balls into a tighter loop about three feet across, I started shotgunning the remaining robots. Dodging a shotgun blast is a lot harder than dodging a single projectile, punch, or sword. In the end it worked out better than I’d thought. Soon Jericho with his last three working robots was at one end of the screened area getting his breath back and I was at the other. I’d never get a better chance to try than this.

I concentrated on the flows of energy in me. Recently I’d become aware of the two diametrically opposed energies I could tap into. If I forced them together I could produce a huge amount more energy than I normally could. Problem was that hard radiation output increased dramatically. And sometimes I did it unconsciously. I’d panicked the testers the first time I’d done it. Fortunately, I’d been able to stop before the screens they had in place burned out completely.

But I’d learned a few things since. I used some of the energy I was producing to help control what I perceived as streams of energy and imagined each stream going to areas on either side of where Jericho and his robots were. A small black roil of energy appeared to Jericho’s right and a glowing roil of energy formed to his left. By concentrating I anchored these in place and let energy flow to them. The resulting electrical light show was spectacular. And Jericho and the robots were right in the middle.

Funny thing about high powered electrical fields. Once they start flowing they tend to hold anything in them in place. Jericho and his cohorts were now stuck unless he could come up with enough power to actually force his way out, or could figure a way to make his suit get pushed out. I assumed he’d figure this out fairly quickly so I had to act fast.

I was assuming the suit was resistant to heat, radiation (I sincerely hoped), electricity, and had an enclosed life support. Many of the usual means of getting someone behind a screen like he had were blocked by this armor. But as I’d noticed before, if he was hit hard enough it hurt. Maybe he didn’t have enough internal shielding or padding to absorb the shock?

I waited too long, and the Dredlocked Lunatic actually managed to force his gun-arm into line with me and sprayed me and the area around me with a LOT of these tiny little darts packed with… something. It wobbled me a bit but the feeling of wooziness quickly faded. I guess no one bothered to tell him that most drugs pretty much can’t do more than annoy me. Pulling the little ceramic - so THAT’S how he got them past the electromagnetic storm - darts out by the dozen would have been a bitch if my body didn’t naturally force them out itself. Time for me to act.

Okay, this was going to hurt. But I was probably going to come out of it better than him. Drawing on even more energy, I braced and then launched myself full steam at the currently immobile form. I was moving at over 150mph when we hit. I’d let the force globes fade at the last moment so as to create a little shock-absorbing cushion. I didn’t want to kill the guy, but it couldn’t have been fun in the armor. I know I hurt like mad for a few moments. When my head cleared I could see he wasn’t moving anymore. It might have been a trick, but you had to take chances now and then. Taking this chance to finish off the robots I then dropped the force globes entirely and he dropped to the floor. This was the tricky part. If he was faking it I’d be somewhat vulnerable.

I dropped down next to him and took a closer look, but there was no way to tell what condition he was in inside the suit. I didn’t want to take him out of it either. Sometimes peeling a person out of armor could have detrimental effects on the person, not to mention the armor, and knowing devisers and gadgeteers I was sure he wouldn’t appreciate his pride and joy being ripped up. I would leave that to the experts. Hopefully he’d left a key with someone.

I carefully picked him up and moved to the cage. Hoping his armor would protect him from further damage I set him in the cage and closed it. Sensei Ito called out “Yame!” And the match was over.

A short time after that the screens dropped and two EMT’s rushed in to check him out. I stayed back to let them do their thing but didn’t leave. I could hear muttering from the audience but for now they were being quiet, waiting for the news on Jericho’s condition.

The cage literally came apart so they didn’t have to move him, and they must’ve had access to some way of opening the armor because the faceplate soon opened. I don’t know how much damage Razorback did to him on a regular basis, but I bet it didn’t include light bleeding from the lip, eyes, ears, and heavy bruising. I listened to the EMTs while they worked, ignoring me hovering over them.

“Hey Bill! The suits got built in health monitors! Look at this!”

“Yeah Jim. Looks like he’s one lucky kid. If these are functioning correctly I’d say he has a concussion and a few broken bones. The docs will have him on his feet in no time.” He plugged some kind of sensor gear into the suit. “DAMN! I’m getting medical stats on everyone in range! All of it! Heartrate, respiration, physical stress analysis, triage, JESUS!”

Jim leaned closer and examined them closely. “They look to be functioning fine. At least they seem to be as near as I can tell from what I’m seeing and what they show. Suit actually came out of it pretty well. A few bad dents and all. Mustn’t have been much fun being in it though.”

Bill nodded while working a sleeve off carefully. “Yeah. That girl’s mean when she gets going. Did you see the radiation levels while the fight was going? If the screens hadn’t been up we’d all have fried. This suit has got to have some really good protection. I understand we’re going to get some soon?”

Jim grunted, levering the breast plate off. “Yeah. Because Whateley is funding a lot of the research, the kid here agreed to give the first three to us for medical emergency work.”

Bill started helping with the torso. “After seeing this I can hardly wait. Can you imagine if we’d had these last Halloween?”

Jim sighed sadly and I remembered that we students weren’t the only ones hurt in the fighting. There were a lot of new faces in Security these days. “Yeah. Would’a been a lot more we could’ve done. And Brad and Gene would probably still be here too.”

Bill could only nod and sigh. “Yeah.”

About this time Jericho, who was in some kind of white body suit, at least where it wasn’t stained with blood, groaned. I had to admit, my respect for Devisors and Gadgeteers shot up about two dozen notches. Jericho had apparently been fighting me to a near-standstill in armor tweaked for emergency rescue and medical response. I’d hate to see what he came up with if he got military on us.

Bill carefully placed a brace on Jericho’s neck. While he did this he talked to his patient. “Kid? Can you hear me? If you can, quack like a duck.”

Jericho’s eyes opened. It was impossible to see if he was focusing on anything, but he did take a deeper breath and mutter. “Quuaaaaccck! Now can I have my pudding?”

The two EMTs chuckled. Jim nodded. “As soon as we get you to the infirmary I’ll have Sadie get some of the special pudding out, just for you.”

Jericho groaned. “Gods no! Anything but that! You trying to kill me?”

Bill Grinned. “No. You’re doing just fine on your own. Hear that Jim? Sense of humor intact. Higher brain functioning seems good. Keep him from going into shock and he’ll be fine in no time.”

I interrupted. “He’s going to be okay?”

They glared at me. It can’t be fun having to deal with this all the time. Bill growled, “I think you’ve done enough young lady. Mind letting us do our job?”

I can only be pushed so far before I push back. It’s not like I wanted this to happen. Ignoring them I settled down near Jericho’s head. Then I loudly proclaimed for everyone to hear. “I just want to make sure my boyfriend here is okay. How about it darlin’? You gonna be up for that date?”

Give him this. He’s quick with a retort. Even if it was in a groan. “That you dear? Just give me a moment to catch my breath and I’ll show you what Heaven is like. Again.”

I can dish out a bit too. “Now, now dear. Don’t push yourself too far. I wouldn’t want you killing yourself trying to please me. Let’s stick to what you’re capable of.”

He closed his eyes and sighed. “Ouch.”

He must’ve been really hurting. I’d expected more. Considering the glares I was getting from the EMTs I was pressing my luck with them also. It was time to get out of the way. There was one thing more to finish though. Leaning down, trying not to show how my hearts were pounding like mad, I placed a tentative kiss on his lips.

I think I actually surprised him. At least he stiffened and his eyes popped open. Of course, it might have been the cut on his lips hurt a bit. I didn’t know what to do, so I just gently traced the cut area with my tongue while covering what I was doing with my lips. After a moment I straightened up. He didn’t do or say anything and I was left wondering if I’d done the right thing as they bundled him up to be moved the infirmary.

I mean, you’d think it wasn’t any big deal. We were just doing it to give grief to those two bitches. But it was also essentially my first kiss, at least that I’d initiated, and I was experiencing a lot of emotions and feelings I wasn’t quite expecting. And it hadn’t been like what I’d been expecting either.

It was dry. Not slobbery at all. So much for exchanging spit. His kiss at the beginning had been a lot wetter. But the emotions when I kissed him were so much more extreme. Exciting. Maybe because it was intentional on my part and not a surprise but what I was feeling now was much more than the brief thrill I’d gotten from the first one. That one had been in a word, disgusting. This had been… interesting.

Suddenly thoughts I’d been ignoring or avoiding for months came to the front of my mind. I’d been sure there wasn’t any chance of me ever getting involved in any way with anyone, much less a guy. But now, if this was any indication, maybe I should be reconsidering.

I might have kept thinking about that except it suddenly became obvious to me that everyone was watching me now that Jericho was gone. It was time to move to the next stage.

I might not be a natural at the slinky, assured stride some of the other girls were capable of, but I’d actually practiced a bit when I thought no one was watching. Just to be sure I could do it if I ever had to. Trying it now, and hoping I wasn’t overdoing it, I moved back to my spot at the edge of the mat.

At this point I’d normally turn off the digital camera I’d set to record the match for later critiques of my own. But now I left it running. Things hadn’t settled down yet and they were still putting the cage back together. Some Security types were running around with what looked like geiger counters also. I figured I could get away with a little lack of discipline.

Putting a big smile on my face I threw my hands in the air in an obvious sign of victory and a loud enough “Yes!” to grab everyone’s attention in my immediate vicinity. Gina and Faith couldn’t resist. Gina spoke up.

“What are you so happy about, weirdo? That geek nearly took you out. If that’s the best you can do I don’t see where you get that stupid rep you have. Or why you’re so happy about taking out a weak geek like him anyway.”

I smiled back at them. “You can’t bother me, guys. I’m way too psyched to let you get me down. I’ve got a date!”

Their eyes got big for a moment and then the sneers came back. It was Faith’s turn.

“You? You’ve got a date? What unlucky freak asked you out?”

Keeping up my enthusiasm I simply smiled and put what I hoped was a conspiratorial look on my face as I answered. “He didn’t ask me. I asked him. And he said yes!”

I had them totally confused, but also the undivided attention of most of the people around me. Together the two asked. “Who?”

Squirming happily, like I was having a hard time containing my excitement, I gushed. “Why, couldn’t you guess? It’s Jericho! I finally got him to say yes! As soon as he’s out of the infirmary he and I’ll get a chance to go out. Steady. Whatever it’s called around here.”

Their jaws nearly dropped off. Gina was the first to recover. “Jericho? But…”

I turned my glance into a glare. It actually shut them up for a moment. I wasn’t above putting a bit of sneer into my reply either. “Don’t even think of trying to horn in, guys. Just because you got left in the dust is no reason to try and ruin it for me. I know you’re jealous but if you snooze you lose. Just ‘cause you can’t get a date near as good as mine. I can’t help it you’re not as good looking or lucky as me.”

I think they were actually speechless. The look of shock and indignation on their faces was priceless. I was going to have a lot of fun showing everyone that recording.

Before they could recover Sensei Ito called the class to order. Saying something about the maintenance crew having some cleaning up to do, he dismissed us with orders to study the next lesson on spotting people tailing us. He also warned us there would be a test on it in the next session. As soon as he released us I sprang up grinning again. They were both glaring at me. They were sure I was up to something, but just not sure what.

“Sorry to skip out like this girls, but I’ve got to go check my wardrobe. I wonder where he’s taking me? Oh? Is Memo trying to get your attention? I think she wants to talk to you.”

I’d pointed to where the girl in question was rapidly heading our way and as soon as I did and they looked that way I saw them both go still. I think what they’d just done was coming back to them. I didn’t have anywhere I had to be just yet so I decided to stick around a bit longer to see what was going to happen.

What followed was an interesting argument about how the bets were off or not.

First, they said I didn’t have a date, but enough people had heard enough of our conversations to confirm it.

Second, they tried to worm out of it by saying I didn’t count as a pretty girl. But some of the Venus Club cut that down. With Nikki’s help some of us had put together a calendar of Exotic Whateley Girls 2007. The centerfold was a group shot of the girls, including me. The July girl. Anyway, since some of the Venuses were in that they couldn’t very well call me a skank or some such.

The calendar had mostly been for practice and most of the model-oriented girls had created one of their own with their friends as a semester project. So it wasn’t unique and not likely to bring in much money. Still, it was an interesting way to spend a day.

These thoughts flitted through my mind in moments. Eventually, consensus was reached that their bets wouldn’t come due until I and Jericho actually went on a date. But as soon as it happened the two had better show proof of paying off their debts soon afterward or there would be consequences.

The glare they gave me after they realized I was watching gave me a tingle of pleasure. Waving happily I headed back to Poe.

I love it when a plan comes together.

In fact, the good mood held right up till I got back to my room and sat down. I finally had a chance to think beyond the immediate problem of getting the date and having to actually get ready for one.

I mean, I had a pretty good idea what to do as a guy. Even if I’d never done it. It would be up to me to ask the girl for a date first. Then making plans about the place to go, what to eat, and what to do were all parts of that. Of course, it would be wise to check with the girl and get some input. My mom had told me girls really didn’t like surprises when I’d asked her a little while back, before all this started and I was actually thinking of trying it.

But now? Let’s face it, I’d already gotten off track by asking for the date to begin with. Now that I had, was I supposed to carry on and make the other decisions? I just didn’t know. Combat decisions are relatively easy. You go with the flow and what needs doing. But dates? What are the rules? There’s got to be rules. I just knew it. There were rules for boys. There had to be rules for girls. But what were they?

These questions kept bothering me the whole time I was getting ready for dinner. By the time I got to our table I was still concentrating so hard on the problem I didn’t notice how quiet everyone else was at first. I’d started to eat automatically when I realized everyone was staring at me. For a few moments I wondered why and then Jade came dashing up to the table.

“Billie! You have a date?”

The silence around us spread and I realized it wasn’t just our table that was quiet. I could’ve slapped my head. Though I had to wonder at how fast the word had gotten around and why everyone was so interested. Still, it wouldn’t do to act too surprised or reluctant either.

Putting a smile on my face I tried to beam happiness at her with my reply.

“Yep! Had to beat the crap out of him to get him to agree, but I finally got Jericho to say yes!”

Everyone seemed confused. Toni asked the question I think everyone was thinking.

“Uh. You beat him up and he agreed to a date?”

I continued the happy banter as if it was the most normal thing in the world. “Yeah. He’s pretty shy, but he did agree to going out as soon as I beat him. It was harder than you’d think too. That guy has a lot of tricks up his sleeves.” Now was as good a time to see if anyone could give me some clues as to what was expected of me now. “But he fainted right after. I wonder how long he’ll be in the infirmary? Maybe I should visit him after dinner?”

Nikki smiled an interesting smile I didn’t remember seeing before. Almost like it pained her. “I… Uh, I think you might want to hold off on the visits Billie. It’s not exactly polite to go and comfort the guy you just clobbered.”

I didn’t have much trouble looking confused. “Oh? Should I go see him after he’s out then?”

Nikki sighed and then smiled again. “He lives in Twain doesn’t he?”

I nodded. “Yeah.”

She shook her head in a mildly negative fashion. “I really think you shouldn’t do that either. Not after the trouble we had last time.”

I pouted a bit. “Then what should I do? I mean, I’d really like to know what to expect. I want to know if I have the appropriate dress and all.”

Nikki thought about it for a moment. “We’re talking about Jericho aren’t we?”

“Uh huh.” I nodded affirmative.

“Then I really don’t think you have to worry about it.” Leaving me with that ambiguous statement she went back to eating.

Realizing that the question had been tabled I went back to eating too. But I still had some doubts about what my next move should be. I let the conversations, which had picked up after everyone realized the one about my date was over, just roll over me as I thought about what I was going to do. The only distraction from my food and thoughts was the glare Ayla was giving me. But I couldn’t think of any reason she should be upset with me so I ignored it.

Soon I’d finished my food which I was finding less satisfying no matter how much I ate or what I spiced it up with. Not that I wasn’t full, I just wasn’t satisfied anymore. There was always a nagging desire for something more. Which wasn’t helping my mood all that much as I got up to get ready for my dance class.

Since Nikki had dropped the subject everyone else seemed to have let it go too. I was sure I’d hear more when I got back to Poe but for now I wasn’t going to get any answers. Then I spotted a possible solution.

The Outcasts had their own corner. Jericho and Eldritch weren’t with them right now, but Razorback and Diamondback were there. Most people avoided them like the plague. GSD wasn’t always pretty and they’d caught it about as bad as you could and still be functional. But I was also a victim of it, if not so obviously, so I hoped it would help me now.

As soon as they became aware of my approach I became aware of a certain animosity directed towards me. Well, I’d beat on their teammate pretty good and I couldn’t really tell them why any more than I could tell everyone else. Not without giving away too much and ruining the ploy. But we had a story to maintain and I was going to work with it. Besides, I was pretty sure they wouldn’t try anything. Ever since I’d gotten the Blue Band of Death I was pretty much untouchable. As irritating as it could be at times it could still work for me in some situations. So I put a smile on my face and waved.

“Hi!”

The two exchanged glances and then Diamondback answered with a definite, ‘What in the world are you doing here?’ attitude.

“What do you want?”

Not to be deterred, resistance only makes me more stubborn anyway, I continued smiling.

“I was wondering if you could contact Jericho for me? He hasn’t set a time for our date. I want to make sure I have the time off from my work if that’s necessary. I’d contact him myself, but they wouldn’t let me go with him to the infirmary and you know how it is with me and Twain. I was kind of hoping you could get hold of him for me?”

From the stunned looks on their faces I had the immediate impression no one had thought to clue them in on what was happening. Razorback even made an interesting cheeping eeping kind of noise. Diamondback took a few moments and then got a curious look on her face. One that quickly became incredulous as we talked.

“A date?”

“Uh huh.”

“With you?”

“Yep!”

“Didn’t you just beat the hell out of him?”

“Wellll, kinda.”

“Kinda?”

“He didn’t make it easy. But in the process he did get a bit shaken up. Still, he did agree to go on a date before he fainted. So I was trying to find out when he’d be free?”

The two just stood there staring for a few moments before Diamondback nodded. “Okay. We’ll check with him. You better not be joking.”

I put the three middle fingers of my right hand into the air. “I’m not joking. Scouts honor!”

That got a few confused blinks and then a nod. “Riiiggght. We’ll see. If it’s legit we’ll give you a call.”

Still smiling I turned away, waving as I went. “Thanks! I’d appreciate it! Please tell him not to keep me waiting too long.”

Diamondback chuckled. “I don’t think you’ll have to worry about it.” Razorback confirmed that comment with a short bark-like noise.

I’d done just about all I could. Now I was going to just have to wait. Have I ever mentioned how much I hate to wait?

I hadn’t gotten far from Crystal Hall when I realized Ayla was standing in front of me with that glare on her face again. I stopped in front of her. I couldn’t think of any reason she’d be mad at me either. “Uh. Hi Ayla. What’s up?”

She wasted no time getting in my face. Normally I’d feel more threatened, but I was pretty sure Ayla wouldn’t do anything stupid like attacking me so I just stood there and tried to figure out what the problem was from what she was saying.

“Do you have any idea how much this little dust-up of yours is going to cost?”

Okay. Color me really confused. Even then I managed a quick reply. “Huh?”

“Don’t try the innocent approach with me Billie. I know you too well to believe it. This could be detrimental to the entire project.”

“I’m really sorry Ayla, but I really don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t give me that crap! Do you have any idea how much is riding on developing and marketing Jericho’s suit? Getting it all broken up right now will not help the marketing in the least.”

I was starting to get some idea of what she was talking about. I seemed to remember that Ayla had gotten into some deals with some of the other students to market some of their ideas. I hadn’t realized she must have been working with Jericho. If what I’d done was seen in the wrong light it might very well cause problems for her in the future. As soon as I realized what the problem was the solution also popped into my mind.

“Ayla! Calm down. It’s not as bad as you think.”

“Calm down my ass! We’re talking about millions here. And we haven’t seen any return on the investment yet and this could interfere with the marketability, the timelines, the…”

“Just calm down. You’re wrong about how this is going to affect the value of Jericho’s armor.”

“Riiiight! Like you know about the psychology or marketing. What do you know that I don’t?” Ayla can be pretty stuck up at times. I understood she was upset and only venting but the attitude still irked me a bit. I started to push back a bit. Ticking off items with my fingers I answered back.

“First! I didn’t ask for this. I even offered an option where we both backed out.”

“But.”

“I’m not finished yet.” Something in my attitude got through and she didn’t say anything else.

“Second! I didn’t wreck the suit. Last I heard it was in better condition than Jericho. And considering the effort I put into the fight I can only think it was a testimony of how good the suit really is. Not to toot my own horn but I’m not exactly chopped liver when it comes down to laying down damage and I’m perfectly willing to attest to the fact I had to work at beating Jericho.”

I took a breath but didn’t give her a chance to break in. “And third. You weren’t there but the two medics who will be among the first to see the benefits of the suits were anything but disappointed in how the suit performed. They were practically ecstatic about getting some to work with. Now, do you have anything else you want to talk to me about?”

She still wasn’t going to let me have the last word. “You could’ve killed Jericho, or put him in the hospital for an extended period. Where would the project be then?”

“I didn’t. And like I said. I tried to avoid it completely.”

“Like either of you could back down in a situation like that. Or are you saying you offered to throw the match to him?”

She had me. I might have been willing to accept a draw but I certainly wouldn’t have forfeited without a much better reason. I suspected the same could be said of Jericho.

I admitted, “You’re right. There wasn’t any way we could avoid the fight. At least not any way we’d have been willing to accept. Still, in my defense I will point out that if I’d been serious about hurting him the fight wouldn’t have lasted nearly as long as it did. I won’t mention that of course. It wouldn’t sound so good to your buyers.”

She thought about it for a moment and then nodded. “So you’ll be willing to help hype the benefits of the suits?”

“That and the other things he used. If they can be duplicated I have every confidence you’ll have a very good market for them.”

She got a shrewd look on her face. “Would you sign a contract to that effect?”

I gave her the same look back. “What do I get for it?”

For a few moments we locked eyes. Then she smiled. “I’ll get back to you on that. For now we only have projections to work with. Until I have a more concrete feel for what we’ll get from it I’m hesitant to make promises.”

I nodded. “I understand. Feel free to get back to me as soon as you know.”

She nodded in return. “I will. And Billie?”

“Yeah?”

“Please TRY not to hurt him too bad in the future. He’s really kind of necessary to some of my projects.”

I wasn’t too sure what she was getting at but I nodded and smiled anyway. “I’ll try. I really didn’t want to hurt him at all, but he was a bit stubborn about the whole thing.”

“Okay. Thanks Billie. I’ll be seeing you later.”

She waved as she moved off and I was left to wonder if my little plan was going to get any more complicated.

I was pretty distracted through the evening but everyone seemed to be willing to keep out of my way so it wasn’t too much of a problem. At least until I got back to my room. The fact that Nikki, Ayla, Toni, and Hank were in the room along with Jade was a pretty good indication I had some explaining to do. Still, revealing our plan would only risk jinxing the whole operation. I’d have to put up some kind of smoke screen, and with the people who knew me best this would be difficult. At least it was easy to act a bit confused and concerned.

“Uh. Hi guys! What’s up?”

They all glanced towards Toni who was apparently going to be the spokesperson. She held up her left hand and raised a finger for each point she was making.

“One, you. Two, date. Three, Jericho. Four, what the heck?”

I put a smile on and acted like it wasn’t any big deal. “Oh. That. Well, it’s no big deal. I’ve kinda wanted to go on a date for a while and Jer seems like a nice guy. It took a bit of work, but I finally got him to agree. But I wasn’t expecting a Spanish Inquisition either.”

It was too good a line to pass up. Next thing I know all of them were grinning and rasping out, “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

“Come on guys. What’s the big deal? I mean, really. It’s just a date. You’ve all gone on dates. Why have conniptions just because I get one?”

Toni raised an eyebrow. “Cause it’s you. Since when have you started to go on dates?”

There it was again. The ‘world is ending’ thing. I thought back a bit and managed to come up with an answer I hoped would work. “Well. There was the time I went fishing with Harry.”

She shook her head. “That wasn’t a date. That was just a fishing trip. What we’re talking about here is an honest to goodness date! You and a guy. Out to dinner or whatever. What’s going on?”

I wasn’t too thrilled with the idea that even my friends seemed to think the idea of me going on a date was almost like a sign of the apocalypse. I mean, I’ve really been too busy to pursue things like that. But everyone had been saying from the beginning I ought to act more like a girl. Now I do something like that and it’s like the world was ending or something.

I spread my hands to my sides in a no big deal gesture. “C’mon guys! It’s just a date! Not a marriage proposal or anything. And Jericho seems nice enough, in a weird kinda cute way. What’s wrong with it?”

“Sorry Billie. But it’s just not like you. We’re worried is all.”

It was nice of them to care. Even if it was a bit annoying. “I thank you all for your kind support, but I’m a big girl now. I don’t need someone holding my hand all the time. I’m sure I can handle a simple date. No one is using blackmail or secret mind control rays. I just think I like the guy and want to go out with him. Where’s the crime in that?”

Toni can be real sarcastic when she wants to. “Weird, in a cute way. Probably a shoe-in for first place in America’s top ten worst dressed. A deviser-”

Jade was up on my side in a heartbeat. “Heyyy!”

Toni managed to look sheepish. “Oops! Sorry Jade. But you can see what I mean. It is a little odd.”

I shrugged. “What can I say? But really. Have any of you heard anything bad about him?” I held up a hand to stop the inevitable comments. “I mean on the character side. He is a little weird, but I wouldn’t mind having him back me up in a tight spot. You’ve seen what the Outcasts can do.” And I’m sure you know some of the other things I’ve heard.”

They continued to argue. This might not go well if it continued either. They would start prying into things they probably shouldn’t and the cat would be out of the bag. Time to take a few risks and hope they could take a hint. I wasn’t totally sure of our anti-spying protections in here since Nikki hadn’t done one of her spells, but a non-verbal approach might still work.

“You know guys. If you look CAREFULLY into some of the things that happened about the time Jericho and I agreed to this, especially with some of the more irritatingly stuck up members of my class you might think of this little show in a better light.”

It was a risk but I felt it was worth it. They were still quiet but in a more thinking it through type of way. Then they all looked at Ayla who had her little BunnyPhone out. It took a few moments but then Ayla looked more closely at what was displayed. And then grinned.

She passed her pad around to the others. No one said anything but there were several grins in place now. Everyone shared some glances. Then the nod was given to Toni.

“Okay Billie. We’re with you on this. Don’t forget it. And if he screws up he’s in deep doo-doo.”

It was strangely heartwarming. I just knew they meant it. And I knew Ayla had probably showed everyone the betting lines on my date, and what was about to happen to Silence and Gritty. It was really handy sometimes hanging out with smart people. So I just smiled and hugged them all.

“Thanks guys! Really! I’m… well, overwhelmed. You’re too nice to me.”

Toni nodded. “You better believe it girl! So don’t screw this up. Okay?”

I nodded, feeling a bit teary-eyed for a moment. Everyone but Jade shuffled out then and back to their homework. In moments we were back to our routine, except I found it very difficult to concentrate. After the third time of doing the same set of problems for my math class I decided to call it a night and go to bed. Jade was already sound asleep by then, her others busy working away at all the tasks she’d set them. All in all a good day. Now why was I having so much trouble falling asleep?

        *        *        *        *        *

BUSTER

He stared at his ceiling over his bed. He still hadn’t fallen asleep. Frigging Tennyo. Pretty much the whole school was talking about it by the time dinner was over and people got back to the dorms. Tennyo had a date. With that nerd Jericho.

He had gotten his ass handed to him when he tried to get that loser Negator to help him beat her up. Then he’d gotten in even more trouble afterward. And now the bitch had that Section 33 thing going for her, so he couldn’t take another shot at her, even if he got Crunch and Strongarm and the guys to help.

Okay, Crunch and Strongarm were still in detention from that thing they pulled. He was really happy to hear they had his back, but it was really sucky that they got their butts kicked by the squirrel chick. At least as an Exemplar he was all healed up from his combat final and his hair was grown out enough that his pals weren’t giving him shit about it.

But there was no rule that said you couldn’t go fuck up a Section 33’s date.

        *        *        *        *        *

TNT

Nitro sat on the edge of his bed while Truck talked.

Truck insisted, “No, I’m not shittin’ you! Tennyo and Jericho! Diamondback was bitching about it to some of the other Whitmaniacs. Tennyo beat the shit outta Jericho in aikido class and won a date out of it!”

Nitro angrily snapped, “That’s fucking crazy! I mean, it’s crazy even for those Kimbas!”

Truck stood his ground. “So what? It’s Jericho what part of Jericho doesn’t say ‘crazy-ass loony’? You got a guy who rooms with Razorback and hasn’t asked for a transfer in what, seven or eight months? He probably WANTS Tennyo to blast his ass sideways.”

Tee-Kay said, “But Jericho wants a date with a hot anime chick? And he’s got it lined up? After all the crap he and his pals have dished out to us, I say we should take the opportunity to serve up a little payback. Trash his plans, maybe piss off his date, maybe make it look like he did it on purpose and she’ll kick his ass. If we get him blamed for ‘starting a fight with a Section 33’ we can get him kicked out of here. And maybe we can get her in trouble too.”

“Well how are we supposed to do that?” asked Truck.

“There’s no way they’re just gonna play into our hands like that,” complained Nitro.

Tee-Kay smirked. “Maybe, maybe not. I say we line up two plans. Our usual, in case we get a chance to knock both of them around without getting caught. And something special for that dick Jericho, with me using a little TK to screw that date up for him, and you two backing me up.”

“That could work,” Truck muttered.

Nitro frowned, “Just as long as we don’t get caught rumbling a Section 33.”

Tee-Kay smirked, “No problemo.”

        *        *        *        *        *

Friday, March 30, 2007

TENNYO

I wish I could say I’m a good morning person, but the fact is I’m only a morning person out of necessity. I’m still not totally keen on showering, shaving (something I’m eternally grateful I don’t have to do despite the envy of the other girls), and doing the other morning oblations to the Deities of Appearance and Propriety. So lots of times I get in as early as possible to get that, except the shaving, all out of the way before most everyone else shows up to use the bathrooms.

Anyway, it meant I was actually dressed and ready for my morning Flight class when a message was sent up to our room, telling me there was someone at the front door of Poe with a personal message for me.

I guess it was inevitable that I’d collect a following as I went down to find out what it was all about.

Now some of the kids at Whateley had come up with an idea for their own business many years ago and the tradition had kept up over these many decades. Not wanting to be beholden to the school administration for their funds, they’d applied for and gotten a business license and started an inter-campus messenger service. Need privacy? Got it. Need security? Got that too. Need a singing telegram or pie in the face delivered? Guess who had it covered?

Whateley Communications Inc. That’s who. They’d even wrangled the flower delivery options for FTD and the like. They had their own distinctive bellhop-like uniform and heaven help anyone who interfered with their deliveries. I’d even considered signing on myself. I’d heard the pay was pretty good and you got extra for the more difficult jobs. Still, I had a pretty good gig going for myself and it allowed me some leeway toward the repairs to campus I’d been stuck with since I’d gotten here. Besides, something about that dark purple and gold trimmed suit just sent shudders up and down my spine.

Anyway, I got to the entry way, no easy thing with the crowd gathering and lo and behold, there’s this good looking Latino guy in the classic bellhop uniform. He looked kind of familiar and I seemed to remember him hanging out with the Venus crew at one time or another.

So as I came into the entryway he stood to attention when he saw me, put a little whistle on a gold chain to his lips, blew a short tweet, and then went down on a knee and sang as he held out a bouquet of roses and a box of chocolates. The tune was like one of the old Superman jingles.

Dearest girl of mine always!
Please be swift and save my day!
I’ll come for you just after eight!
You’ll break my heart if you are late!
Food and dance and then the show!
This is from your love you know!

He stopped singing but continued to hold out the flowers and candy with his head down and kneeling.

I didn’t know what to do. I was frozen for several moments when a loud whisper from behind me broke the silence. I don’t know who it was, but I was indebted to them anyway.

“Take the gifts and tip him!”

Taking the gifts was easy, but I had no idea what to tip him. I reached into one of my pockets, (An execrable holdover from my former days according to Nikki, but one I wasn’t ready to do without yet, and I pulled out the snack money I’d put in there for emergencies. I handed all twenty five dollars to him.

He stood up briskly and smiled.

“Is there any reply Ma’am?”

“Uh… Tell him… I’ll be ready?”

He bowed with infinite grace. “Yes ma’am. I’ll be off now if there isn’t anything else?”

“Don’t let me hold you up.”

“Thank you! Have a good day!”

In moments he was gone and I was surrounded by a crowd of people, both male and female, all wanting to see what I had. Attached to the candy was a note from Jericho. But I wasn’t about to read it here in front of everyone. Fortunately, Mrs. Horton showed up then. With a calm voice that somehow overrode all the other conversations she started to break up the crowd.

“All right everyone! Show’s over. I’m sure you all have things to do. Get about them now.”

The crowd reluctantly started breaking up and I was able to get back to my room fairly easily, only having to dodge a few attempts to get the flowers, candy, and note. When I did get back I had a crowd waiting for me, and I don’t mean just Jade and crew. Toni as usual was the spokesperson.

“Well?”

“It’s from Jericho.”

“What a surprise! From Jericho. What’s it say? And is it true he had it delivered by a good looking, singing guy from WCI?”

“You know, this might be kind of private. And yes, it was a singing deliveryman.”

None of them moved. The concentration was almost unnerving. Toni made like she was going to grab the note if I didn’t do something with it quick. “Yeah, yeah. Now, what does it say?”

I put a finger on my cheek and looked towards the ceiling.

“Let me see. It was a cute jingle. Kinda like…”

Some impatience was acceptable I guess.

“The note! What does the note say?”

“Oh, that. Uh, I haven’t had a chance to see yet.”

I had to snatch the note out of the way as Toni made a half hearted attempt at grabbing it. It was obvious they weren’t leaving until they got satisfaction.

“Okay, okay. Just give me a moment.”

“Hurry up!” That seemed the sentiment of everyone so I carefully pulled the small card out and looked it over.

Dearest Tennyo,
Please join me for an evening at the Crystal Hall Theater at eight thirty PM for an evening of good food, some dance, and a showing of ‘Spirited Away’.
Jericho.
PS: Sorry about the show if you don’t like it, but that’s all that’s playing today. We can do other things if you feel like it.
J.

It was a shock. I’d never expected this. He was going all out. I’d expected something like a trip to the Insta Burger or something like that. This… This was a date! Just then I became aware of Jade reading over my shoulder as she asked a question.

“Say guys. What does he mean? Other things if Billie feels like it?”

Okay. We all knew it probably meant something like a root beer float in the Crystal Hall or something like that. But of course as soon as she said it other ideas had to spring to mind. Considering the knowing looks and occasional smirk I saw on the others faces I figured I wasn’t the only one getting those thoughts. Time to think fast.

“Uh. He probably means something like going for a root beer float instead.”

The number of hurried assents was probably a bit overboard and Jade isn’t stupid, but it put an end to that part of the conversation. Still, I had questions and this would probably be the best chance I’d get.

“So guys. What do I do now?”

The next ten minutes was filled with a lot of answers. The overall impression I had afterwards was that I was on my own and would have to play it by ear.

According to my friends, first dates should be fairly easy because not all that much is expected. It’s more of a get to know each other kind of thing. Finding out what the two of you like or dislike doing and what you might like or dislike about each other. Hopefully that would be the case for this one. So I was going to have to tough this one out.

The rest of the day wasn’t a disaster, exactly. But I definitely wasn’t at my best. Being distracted can do that.

In Flight we had a quiz. I apparently had studied the wrong chapter last night because the questions didn’t look familiar at all. Still, I had enough background to pull off a passing grade. But it wasn’t my usual higher marks and Dr. Buttons made a point of encouraging me to do better next time.

Genetics was something I’m normally more interested in, but the class just seemed to drag.

Math was purgatory. It lasted forever and it wasn’t like we had any tests or quizzes either. But I didn’t make a fool of myself and at least it wasn’t going to affect my grade any.

Powers Theory, the same. At least Harry and I were able to keep each other awake, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember what we talked about.

Lunch was fairly normal. Nothing distracts me too much from my food but I did see Jericho and his friends and he waved at me. I returned the wave with a smile. He somehow seemed a bit worse for wear, but with the way he dressed I couldn’t be sure.

Would you believe I managed to burn the biscuits I was baking in Home Ec? I think it was something about the idea that I might be doing this for a family sometime in the future. It hit me while I was setting the timer and I forgot entirely to check what I set it at. My next clear memory was the smell of smoke and quickly putting out the small fire on my baking pan. Everyone got a laugh out of it anyway. And then it was on to my next class.

I can’t even remember what we studied in Powers Theory Lab. I at least didn’t fall asleep.

Martial Arts was my last class, but you can’t afford to be distracted in it. Habit kept me on my toes. I did see Jericho again and he looked even worse for wear somehow. As we left class he caught my eye and held up eight fingers.

I smiled, nodded, and blew him a kiss. He proceeded to act like he’d been hit with Cupid’s Arrow, happily dancing away towards Twain while people scrambled to get out of his way. I did notice that Diamondback seemed to be sticking close and looked like she was watching for something. I wondered for a moment why and then another thought hit me.

I was going on a date! At eight tonight! I needed to get ready! I hardly noticed the people scrambling out of my way as I headed for Poe. I had to get my dress ready before supper. I wasn’t going to have much time after that.

I was nearly to Poe when a good looking male student who went by the code name of Suave stepped in front of me and wouldn’t get out of the way. He looked like a classic Norse prince. Blond hair, blue eyes, six foot six if he was an inch, and all suntanned muscle. I usually didn’t bother to notice such things but in his case the thoughts just seemed to spring to mind. As soon as I realized he wasn’t going to just let me by I stopped and snarled at him.

“Out of my way. I’ve got things to do and I really don’t have time to waste.”

He just smiled and starred into my eyes as if nothing else mattered. I didn’t know what his problem was, but I really didn’t have time for it. I glanced over at the flag, but the red one was up so I couldn’t just fly over him. Looking back at him I realized he seemed surprised by something. I decided to try the polite approach.

“Look. I’m sorry but I think you have the wrong girl here. I really have to go and get ready for a date. I’m sure you’ll find who you’re looking for soon.”

As I said this I tried to walk around him, but he reached out and grabbed my arm. I could tell he was stronger than he looked which was saying a lot. Probably an Exemplar of some sort.

The time for politeness was over. I stiffened up and gave him his last warning.

“Take your hand off me or unless you’re a good regenerator it may be the last time you’ll be attached to it.”

He didn’t get the hint. Instead he kept his hold and smiled at me. “Please don’t be in such a rush. I thought we’d get going on our date right now. Just come with me and I’ll show the best night you’ll ever have.”

He said it like he meant it and he was smiling the whole time. Something was totally whacked about him and I wasn’t going to put up with it anymore. I made a fist and punched him. He flew back a few feet but easily caught himself. Then he came right at me.

Well, I tried to punch him again. He easily parried my strike and came back with a lightning-fast kick.

to be continued