A Whateley Academy Vignette
As Beauty Does
by E. E. Nalley
If you've got no place to go, if you're feeling down
If you're all alone when the pretty birds have flown
Honey I'm still free
Take a chance on me
Gonna do my very best and it ain't no lie
If you put me to the test, if you let me try
ABBA- Take a chance on me
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Room 315, Dickinson Cottage, Whateley Academy
Tansy's computer beeped, indicating she had a new email. She frowned, slightly annoyed as it interrupted the chain of thought for the paper on The Count of Monte Cristo she was writing. The annoyance disappeared as she called up her email program and read the subject line:
Your Recent Purchase from Frangle.com
Frangle.com was a retail website that sold everything from books to boats, most things heavily discounted, and was making a name for itself by giving competition to G-Mart Online and Amazon.com. Tansy had never bought anything from them, silly things like cost were beneath her. However, it was one of the first things she'd learned upon joining the Syndicate was how their emails would be disguised.
Tansy didn't know if the Syndicate owned Frangle.com or not, only that every time she'd gotten an email from the Syndicate it supposedly had originated from the retailer's servers. She looked over at Sahar who was frowning at her own screen, obviously deep in working out some problem with her Economics term paper. She had been complaining about the project all term and it held her complete and undivided attention.
Tansy opened the mail to find a simple invoice, claiming that her pre-order of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows had been accepted and would ship when the book was released in July. She discreetly pressed a series of keys that caused a program hidden very carefully on her computer to run. The invoice dissolved into a mash of square pixels, then reformed itself into a simple document.
Time to earn this privilege I've given you and live up to the potential I saw.
White Mountain Cafe in Berlin 2:00PM Today. Don't be late.
Tansy looked at the clock on the corner of the screen and saw she had only a few minutes to get to the bus stop and catch the shuttle to Berlin. She made a decision and closed out all her programs then quickly grabbed her purse. “I... I think I'll get some air...” she started but Semi didn't look up.
In the hall, she walked briskly, but without haste to the stairs checking that her force pistol was in her purse and fully charged. A part of her wondered what this 'Hindmost' would have done if she had been out, timing things so closely, which brought a frown to her face. Did whoever it was have eyes on campus? Was she being watched now? She looked about her nervously as she left Dickinson Cottage and headed to the parking lot in the front of Dunn Hall that was the Shuttle's drop off and pick up point. It was a cool day and the ground was wet with a light ran that morning and melting snow.
There were a couple of couples about and a number of the exemplar boys were playing some odd cross between tag and touch football in the hallow at the foot of O Henry Hill, but as it was a yellow flag day things were low key.
Anyone could have been watching her and she wouldn't have noticed. Tansy shook her head at wasted time, leaning so heavily on Flicker's whispers in her ear and not taking full advantage of what the school offered. She knew and understood that she wasn't that powerful of a mutant, guile had been her strong point before she'd manifested, guile had kept her out of the worst that Heather and Connie could dream up.
In a lot of ways, she admitted to herself, manifesting was the worst thing that could have happened to her. She'd become dependent on her beauty and let her brain languish. She got to the shuttle stop just as it was arriving and wiped her ID across the sign out kiosk as she boarded. She'd let Tatiana run her out of the covert operations classes she taken, but in her defense she had been a freshman and very much unsure of her new abilities... Tansy frowned and shook her head, “ Be honest with yourself, ” she muttered. “ She was just like Connie Goodkind and she scared the piss out of you.”
Still, she thought to herself, it's not a total loss. If I skip vacation this summer and take the summer session, I could finish my core and be eligible to graduate. That would leave my entire senior year for electives, things I can...
She sighed and propped her elbow on the window of the shuttle and used it as a brace to prop her chin. “Things I should have been doing for years,” she whispered, watching the shuttle pass the gate and begin down Stark Highway.
“Penny,” a voice asked. Tansy looked up into the smiling face of Kelly Donohugh.
“What? ”she asked. He just kept smiling and slid into the seat next to her.
“Penny for your thoughts,” he elaborated. “Everything ok from the courtyard? No lingering stiffness or anything? ”
“OH, no, thank you,” she stammered, feeling an embarrassed blush color her cheeks. “I didn't really get a chance to thank you, Kelly, for...”
He made a dismissive gesture. “Call me Doogie, and it's nothing, Tansy. I want to apologize to you for the way Sebastian over reacted. He had no business hitting you like that. ”
“I certainly am due worse from him,” Tansy heard herself admit.
After a long, measuring glance, Donohugh nodded as if he'd satisfied himself of something. “I had heard you'd had some kind of sea change experience. ”
“Saw myself for what I was and it wasn't a pretty picture,” she told him softly. “Compared to someone like you, I... I'm just...”
“Human,” he interrupted softly. “And being human, we all make mistakes. You can see yours early and do something about them. That's wonderful for you. ”
Without realizing it, Tansy turned in her seat and laid her hands on his arm on the armrest of the seat between them. “Did, did you do...?”
Kelly wasn't a mentalist and Tansy had years of practice. She slid past his awareness and the excited expectation of meeting a boy named Jim in Berlin who was a starter on the Mountaineer's hockey team, a big, macho athlete who had a weakness for romance novels and was Kelly's lover. She saw the doubts and wonders in his own mind if his power had had something to do with Tansy's change and that this conversation was what he thought was his subtle attempt to find out. “I... I don't think so,” he admitted, not noticing the girl in his mind. “I mean, my powers only fix physical things, but, I've never tried to heal someone who was...”
“Crazy? ”she asked with a hollow laugh and pulled her power from him and sat away from him, a bit ashamed of what she'd done.
His smile was a bit lopsided. “Let's say mental health issues,” he admitted. He turned, his gaze far away. “I guess... I guess I really ought to try, shouldn't I? I mean, think of the good...”
Tansy snorted. “I don't think you have to worry about your halo tarnishing any time soon.” He started to protest, but she only smiled to show him she'd gotten under his skin.
“Well, if you need help polishing yours, let me know,” he told her.
She blinked, saw that he meant it and spend the rest of the trip in silence, unable to comprehend how someone as good as he was, could see good in someone like her.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
White Mountain Cafe, Berlin, New Hampshire
White Mountain Cafe was like something out of a sit com, that folksy kind of sophisticated caffeine wholesaler that makes a perfect set for the main characters to talk about what ever crazy situation they'd gotten into this week. From the little wooden tables and the hand carved signs, it seemed more like a television set that a working business. Tansy was on her second double vanilla latte and was trying to keep her skin from crawling.
Every man in the place, and four of the women, were watching her and she knew it.
While she was 'only' an Exemplar one, Tansy was one of the most beautiful girls on the campus and even in lowly Berlin where they were moderately used to exemplar teens wandering around, it was still as if a goddess had descended from Olympus. Just being stared at would be bad enough, but being a telepath and an empath, she knew what was being thought of about her. For ten minutes she'd been pretending to read a paperback she'd picked up in the small bookstore portion of the shop. She was having a bit more privacy since she had put the book down five minutes ago, locked eyes with the worst of the starers and demanded in a voice that carried throughout the shop, “Does your wife know about your obsessions with little girls and dogs you disgusting pervert?”
The man had flushed and fled at the gasps and mutterings in the crowd. His wife had been hot on his heels, screaming obscenities and throwing her expensive beverage at his departing back.
If she felt a bit of a pang over the emotional 'push' she'd given the wife, well, the woman could do better which meant Tansy was really doing her a favor. So she read some insipid paperback, one eye on her Rolex, wondering what to expect. At the stroke of two exactly, a young man walked by her table and noticed that his shoe was untied. He set the brown paper parcel he was carrying on the table and knelt to tie it.
“Tally ho,” he whispered as he rose and walked out, leaving the parcel and keeping his back to her until he was out of sight.
She didn't immediately do anything, merely sitting and pretending to read and drink her latte. When it was done, she returned the paperback to it's place on the rack, bought a New York Times and dropped it on the table, over the parcel. She made a show of returning her wallet to her purse, then picked up the paper and the parcel under it and walked casually out.
Two blocks up from the cafe, past one of the omnipresent McDonald’s, was a small park that over looked the Androscoggin River that was the shuttle stop for the school. As it was deserted, she sat down on a bench and cautiously opened the parcel. Inside was sheaf of papers, a couple of manilla folders along with a collection of photographs and a small box. Photographs of her, she realized, last year at the Christmas in the Caribbean photo shoot on Grand Cayman. Her shouting match with Debra Matson, loosing her temper and slapping Elaine Nalley that caused her to drop that damned Hasselblad camera and what a stink that had raised.
Then a picture of her in the Crystal Hall, back against the pool, every Divisor and Gadgeteer in the hall on their feet and Loophole in her face, daring Tansy to hit her again on the single most horrific day of her life. She hadn't noticed at the time how enraged Lanie had been, her focus was on her own indignant funk, how dare she be challenged, but Loophole was in a rage, red faced, fist balled and finger in Tansy's face, just under her chin.
Tansy couldn't help but wonder how fortunate Mrs. Carson's arrival had been.
Then another, this one from just a few days ago, her sitting with Elaine in the terrace, Lanie's hand up in offer to share her memory of what love was really like. There were other photos, pictures of Lanie and Kayda, Lanie as Wicked, Lanie possessed by her new spirit, Lanie and Wyatt. Finally, between the pictures and the folder was a letter.
Nice to see you're mending fences.
I had begun to think I had misjudged your promise the way you've been sulking with the Don after being deposed. It's a wonderful object lesson to show you what happens when you reach the top and rest on your laurels. Though, I must compliment you on ingratiating yourself with the girl who deposed you in the first place, whatever you're planning, that shows me I was not wrong in recruiting you. You DO have a place among us.
The photos are to show you I know exactly what you're up to, so don't think this is random guess work on my part. I sponsored you to the Syndicate because I felt you would be of use to US. You've certainly availed yourself of the access I've granted you and now the bill is due. I'm not interested in your money so don't think you can buy me off. If I wanted your money, I could take it and nothing you could do would stop me.
There's a larger world out here, Miss Walcutt, a world you had best be about deciding what you'll do in it. You could find yourself a trophy husband, hang yourself like an ornament on his arm and turn your life into a bad reality show fit only as tabloid fodder, but that isn't the top. You've been at the top, Miss Walcutt, important, feared, respected, you can have those things again.
Or you can 'service' the Don, whoever he is this month and see your drunk, outraged photographs in grocery stores and news stands. Your choice.
If you want to be back on top, it's high time you learned how. For starters, we'll play in high school for a bit longer before you're ready to swim in a much deeper ocean, with much more dangerous fish. Wyatt Cody has formed a group on campus, a group he calls The Atlantean League. The folders include what we already know, and some information about Atlantis and other known Atlantian Societies.
You're going to infiltrate this 'League', you're going to find out what they're up to and you're going to keep me apprised of their actions and goals. If you do, things will remain on course and you'll see your fortunes continue to increase. If not, get comfortable with the Underdogs, it's where you'll be spending the rest of your life.
The box contains a phone you can contact me with. Do it discreetly and keep it with you until we settle on a more permanent protocol. Or, throw it and your life, away.
Tansy carefully set the folders down so she could open the box and look at the phone. It was a nice one, a Gizmatic Communicator IV, top of the line, state of the art with a nice sized touch screen, Gizmoto OS with an interesting collection of apps, it was as far from 'disposable' as you could get in the phone world. Not that Tansy was a techie, by any means, but like most rich people, she had a good sense of what was 'the best' of a given thing, if not the most expensive.
This implied 'Hindmost' whoever they were, considered their relationship to be a long term one. She picked the photographs up again and looked, something bothered her about them. Not being able to put her finger on it, she committed them to her exemplar memory and spent the twenty minutes waiting for the shuttle flipping through the information on Atlantis based or themed societies.
May 12, 2007
Headmistress' Office, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
“Liz? Mr. West is holding for you on line one,” Amelia's voice drifted from the speaker.
Elizabeth Carson wasn't looking forward to this conversation, regardless she smiled and forced her tone to be pleasant. “Thank you, Amelia,” she replied as she pressed the button on the phone. “Good afternoon, Mr. West.”
“Are you ever not in that office?” the creature's deep, oily voice asked from the speaker. Still, Lady Astarte had been dealing with the 'Gray Eminence' of the United States since she'd been calling herself Comet Queen and knew his tone to have some genuine worry about her in it.
“I knew the job was dangerous when I took it,” she replied with a lighthearted smile. “What can I do for you?”
“For starters I can give you some good news,” the heavy voice drawled. “Nikki Reilly isn't a murderer...yet. ”
Liz felt her eyebrows ascend her face in astonishment. “Kallysta isn't dead?”
“No,” the creature replied. “A... friend...in the Boston Coroner’s office confided in me that the body they took to be Hekate wasn't actually human. By that, I mean, it was flesh, in her shape, but the skeleton was incorrect in subtle ways and several internal organs were wrong, wrong sizes, wrong placement, wrong composition. What they have is a simulacra, not a body. ”
“No,” the dragon replied, “more likely some kind of reshaped summoned extra dimensional being, human enough, Kallysta enough to trick the Black Hand Miss Reilly cast, which brings us to my call.” A grating sound drifted from the speaker as Tywyswyr shifted his bulk and his tone was one of intense displeasure. “There are crimes to be considered, Mrs. Carson, of both legal and magical natures. Legal problems I can...deal with... However the magical ones concern me. If Fey were half the mage she thinks she is she would never had attempted to cast such a difficult and dangerous curse. There are reasons the Black Hand is forbidden! If it becomes public knowledge that a student...”
“I'm aware of the consequences,” she replied. “What would the Board have me do? If I punish her for casting a forbidden spell, she'll know that Hekate is still at large and it may prompt further action on her part, or misguided efforts of her friends. If I surrender her to the DPA for trial for attempted murder, likewise she learns Hekate is free and alive and Hekate learns her ploy has failed!”
“Fortunately, whatever Miss Reilly intended, what has actually occurred does not rise to the legal definition of even attempted murder. In fact, this de facto banishing she's accomplished, however by accident is somewhat encouraged. Not that I want that repeated to her...!”
“Give me some credit,” muttered Liz. “Where does that leave us? How do I take her to task without opening a larger can of worms?”
The tone that rumbled out of the phone was smug and crafty and once again Liz Carson reminded, despite the creature's extra terrestrial origin, of the dangers of dealing with Dragons. “I have an idea...”
May 12, 2007
Loophole's Private Lab, Kane Hall Tunnels, Whateley Academy
Elaine was bravely fighting back tears.
For ten days she had fought with the little scanner Mrs. Savage's husband had made. She had tested every capacitor, every circuit, every resistor; she had painstakingly de-soldered every chip on the wafer board and tested them. Ten days of frustration, rage, melancholy and one crying jag that had ended with a pint of Edy's Tin Roof Sundae and binge of Baby Ruth bars that had actually made her sick after. A large, and growing larger, part of her wanted to snatch up the device and fling it against the wall into a million pieces.
Fortunately for the fiery red head, before that desire could take hold, Carmen's voice spoke up. “Miss Walcutt to see you, Miss. ”
Elaine sighed and rubbed her eyes. “Let her in, Carmen,” she directed. “Hello, Tansy,” she said to the sound of the door opening. “What can Ah do for you?”
“Is everything alright?” she asked as she entered, laying her purse on the table.
Loophole shook her head. “Ah'm just tired and this piece of crap is kicking mah ass. ” Lanie looked up and the blonde's clear blue eyes blinked.
“So, it's true, you have lost your gadgeteering...?”
“No!” she protested. “Not, 'lost',” she hedged. “It's complicated, but with mah merge with Grizzly Ah have to re-learn how to use it is all. What can Ah do for you?”
For the first time in Lanie's memory, the older girl smiled, really smiled, not leered, not smirked and it caught something inside her what a beautiful smile it was. “Well, maybe I can do something for you,” Tansy replied. “Mr. Parker always says the best way to learn something is to teach it. ”
“What's that got to do with the price of tea in China?”
“You know a lot about computers and phones and electronics, right?”
“Yeah, it's part of mah Gadgeteering. ”
“Well if you teach me, it may help you remember or get past the block or whatever. ”
Elaine could not have looked more dubious if she'd tried. “You want to be a gadgeteer?”
“Inventor? Goodness, no,” the blonde replied. “But, daddy always said people don't get rich by spending money. If I can look after my own toys, and make sure they're secure let's say, think of all the money I'll save not having to farm out work. ”
“You're serious?” Lanie demanded.
“Have you known me to kid around?”
Elaine crossed her arms over her ample bosom. “Tansy Walcutt, what do you know about electronics?”
“I know that I want to learn,” the blonde replied primly. Then she reached over and picked up Mrs. Savages' device and held it up. “I may not know a lot about computers and electronics, yet, but I do know enough to know that batteries don't both go the same way.” She pried one out and flipped it before returning it to the cradle. Instantly the device beeped and turned on.
Lanie blinked in shock. She stared in growing horror as the little screen finished it's boot and came up to a password prompt. It was all she could do not to roar in frustration. “There are not words for how much Ah hate you right now,” the red head muttered.
“You'll teach me?”
“Ah'll teach you.”
Tansy smiled again and looked around the little workshop as if for the first time. “You know, I don't have a bit of privacy what with sharing my room with Semi. ” She spun in place and tapped a finger against her lip. “How do you go about getting a room like this down here?”
“It came with mah matriculation fees, but you're not an engineer,” Elaine replied as she turned off the little gadget and began to return it's case to it. “Ah hear Jadis controls a lot of real estate down here. Maybe she can set you up. ”
“Yes,” drawled Tansy thoughtfully. She turned back to the red head and smiled again, feeling the other girls' mood had lightened enough and she decided to follow her gut. With her elbows on the work bench Tansy smiled again and leaned forward in a conspiratorial manner. “So, what's the story about Wicked? ” she asked.
Sunday, May 13th, 2007
Fixer Patio, Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
“You want what?” repeated an incredulous Jadis over the top of her coffee.
Tansy was unfazed as she mixed a few sugar packets into her latte and stirred without looking at the other girl. “You heard me,” she told Jadis. “Is it so surprising I'd like a little privacy? Is it a problem?”
“You mistake in-credulousness for difficulty,” Diabolik replied. “Had you asked for a little love nest the better to cast your 'spells' over the more simple minded examples of the male species I would have simply quoted a price. I'm even doing hourly rates now. ”
“And I thought you were all business,” Tansy shot back. “Do you insult all your clients, or are the catty remarks a marketing gimmick? If you're waiting for me to rush off and gossip with Hayley or Nancy about what that bitch Jadis said, you're in for a long wait. ”
Jadis smiled thinly with a frozen expression on her face that she could have killed someone wearing. “ Touche,” she admitted. “And these days I hear you're more likely to be gossiping with red headed wild wrench wenches.”
Tansy secured the lid to her cup and turned to face Jadis with a thin smile. “Wonderful alliteration. ”
“I was inspired. ”
“If you can't supply my needs, I'll be happy to take my money elsewhere.” Tansy's eyes fell on the table she had shared with Elaine so recently. Something about the angle of her gaze bothered her and she couldn't help wondering what it was.
“I didn't say we couldn't do business,” Jadis returned. “Give me an idea of what you're looking for. California king bed I'm guessing?” Jadis led the way back to her table from the bar and the point of view once again pinging something in Tansy's subconsciousness.
“Well, according to Hamlet, it's a couch that's best for luxury. ”
“I was inspired.” Tansy opened her purse and with drew a sheet of paper that she'd sketched out a wish list on and handed it to the younger girl. As she did so, her eyes were drawn up the wall of Schuster hall and a small device caught her eye, attached to the wall, protected by the overhang of the roof and gutter.
Jadis was silent for a long moment, reading the note and finally arched an eyebrow. “This is for you?” she asked, her voice thick with disbelief.
“I said it was, didn't I?”
“Fair enough,” the sophomore conceded. “How long do you require the space?”
“The rest of this year and all of next year. ”
Caught uncharacteristicly flat footed, Jadis whistled in appreciation. “I...see...” She took a pen from behind her ear and scribbled short hand on her pad. “Some of these items will take some time to get a hold of. ”
“So long as the rooms are finished before the end of term, I'm satisfied, and I can use the space in the mean time. ”
“I'll go over my inventory and have you a quote by dinner. ”
“Wonderful,” Tansy stood, nodded her good bye, and acting on her triggered memory went into the Crystal Hall. She walked over to the pool and looked about. It was difficult as the Senior Legacy had extensively changed the interior of the Hall, but some things, the kitchens, the serving lines, the doors were untouched. She found the spot where she'd been standing and looked up. The security camera was hanging under the second tier now, moved slightly from it's old perch on the super structure of the Crystal Hall, but not by much and the twisted pipe that guarded it's cables snaked back to it's old location.
“Interesting,” she said to herself.
May 13th, 2007
Zen Garden, Faculty Housing Complex Green Space, Whateley Academy
“ Osoreirimasuga, masutā.”
Tatsuo Ito grunted in rough amusement which was the only outward sign he had acknowledged his unlikely visitor. The Faulty Housing Complex formed a cube of three long, low buildings in the center of which was a green space that held it's pool, tennis and basketball courts and the long, low 'amusement center' that capped the cube that gave extra space for the adults to gather and socialize that their apartments might not allow for. It made for an odd aesthetic as all the members of the complex were either single or newly wed without children. Staff with families were allotted one of the small houses in the little subdivision that surrounded Whateley House.
Furthest from the sport and louder recreational activity areas, for the last ten years Sensei Ito had been amusing himself by planting a Zen garden. It now boasted a small Koi pond, a bonzai forest that was barely knee high and a moderately sized karesansui or sand and rock garden he was currently drawing a design in with a traditional bamboo rake. He paused, the white and black hakama he was wearing rustling softly in silk on silk before he demanded , “Why do you call me 'master', Miss Walcutt? What use have you for my teachings? ”
“Can a fool never learn from their mistakes and turn from their foolish ways? ”the girl asked.
Tatsuo chuckled darkly and continued to draw his design. “You must think me an old fool, as easily toyed with using words the way you toy with the boys on this campus. Do I look like someone who has time to waste?”
“Sensei has nothing in his past he regrets? ”
“Nothing I will discuss with you, Miss Walcutt.” The lines the rake was drawing were not as graceful as he wanted, a sign she was getting under his skin. He carefully put the rake aside and re - centered himself before he rose and walked casually over to her.
She was a very pretty girl, with a subconscious grace and the effortless flow of Water from one movement to the next. “Why do you come here on a Sunday, Miss Walcutt?” he demanded. “Two years ago you could not leave my classes fast enough! Now you insert yourself into my free time, you upset the harmony of my garden, even the Cicada do not sing becuase I must deal with what you want.”
She bit her lower lip for a moment, then cast down her eyes and bowed formally, lower and more correctly than she ever had in class. “Please forgive my intrusion, Sensei,” and then she turned to go. His astonishment did not keep his hand from reaching out to take her arm. She paused, still silent, waiting for his command and he made a decision.
With a gesture, he led the way over to a small pagoda he had built on the edge of the garden that was open on two sides to appreciate it. There he had laid out a traditional low table and seating cushions which he indicated to her and continued past, opening the cubboard to remove the kettle, cups and other supplies. He returned to the table to find her still standing, but, after he had unburdened himself, she bowed again and sank with remarkable grace onto the cushion.
Tatsuo shook his head to clear his thoughts of what might have been and busied himself with the precise motions of making the tea. Once he had her cup full and steaming, he gathered up the sleeve of his kimono and slowly pushed the cup to her silently across the polished table without spilling it or making a sound. “You do me great honor, Sensei,” she said softly with another bow, but did not reach for the cup until he had his own and had sipped from it.
“You won't like it,” he warned her as she reached for the cup and took her first sip. Her movements did not have the practiced precision of his own, long studied in the art of it, but her grace was remarkable.
“I have given you too much offense to add more,” she replied. Her face showed that the bitterness of the tea was a shock, but there was a little softness that showed she had found and could appreciate the subtlety so her palette had not been ruined by the constant bombardment of sugar that was the American diet. “I hope someday I might appreciate the flavor. ”
“Ha !”barked Ito as he took another sip. “Your preformance is masterful, Miss Walcutt! Modest, humble, respectful and tailored perfectely to your audience.” He raised his cup. “I salute your effort.” She bowed, neither really admitting her guile or completely accepting his praise of it, drawing another smile from him. “So,” he drawled, his gaze intent. “What has threatened you, Miss Walcutt that you are so desperate that you come to me to learn?”
“Te no hōhō is not about violence, but mastery of oneself,” she quoted back to him.
Again the teacher let a chuckle rumble out of his gut. “The Way of The Hand is about perserving your own self through violence otherwise you will not live to reach mastery and you see violence coming. Now, if you would learn whatever butt kickery from me that you can, do not continue to play the hopeful aspirant and answer me plainly, what has threatened you? ”
She sighed and set down her cup before she looked him in the eye. “Recently, I was attacked by a tree and my own conscience even I thought long lost and a boy I had done wrong who had the right to avenge himself on me. ”
“I heard about your little scuffle with Montana, and I also heard you used nothing that I had already taught you.” He took another sip and looked out over the garden. “Continue.”
“Have you ever been ashamed, Sensei?” she asked softly. “Been forced to really see the evil you had done, see that you had desired it, and seen the price you had paid for it?”
After a long moment of gazing at the garden, Tatsuo Ito whispered , “Yes, I have.”
“I had my nose rubbed in the evil I have done here, the petty cruelty, the same evil that had been done to me when I was fat and ugly and innocent. Perhaps I would be a better person if this beauty had not come to me, but I have it now and I've misused it and I seek to atone for what I've done. Yes, I have enemies that will seek to do me harm, no matter what act of contrition I perform.” She finished the cup and gently placed it back on the table within his reach. “But, that should not stop me from making those acts. And, through them, perhaps others will be spared what I endured.”
Ito looked back at the girl and for a long moment said nothing, allowing the peace of the moment to settle on him and give him clairity of thought. “Beauty is, Miss Walcutt,” he said finally. “As beauty does. If this were a movie, I would ask questions about if you were sure you knew what you are getting into, if you were truely comitted, or aware of the difficulties that lie ahead, but something tells me you already know that. I will contact Miss Grimes tomorrow and make arrangements for time in your already busy schedule as her teaching assistant.”
She bowed. “Thank you, Sensei. ”
An evil grin split his wizened and aged face. “In fact, bring your charges with you. Might as well start them early. ”It was with great force of will that Tansy kept the horror she felt off her face, not that kept him from noticing it. “Yes, and we' ll have more time over the summer to get you caught up.”
Her face shot up, astonished that he somehow knew her intention she had only really just come to yesterday and had not acted on yet. Ito only laughed and set about refilling the tea cups. “You have no secrets from me, Tansy Walcutt,” he told her. “But it will be amusing to watch you try. ”
May 13th, 2007
Unallocated Clubhouse, Dunn Hall Tunnels, Whateley Academy
There was no dust over everything, no furniture covered in drop cloths, no cobwebs in the corners. In fact, the rooms were emmaculate and the air was quite crisp with a hint of ozone in it. This was the largest of the rooms, about twice the size of her dorm room in Dickinson, it held a small kitchenette on the wall with the door, complete with a stocked dorm fridge, hot plate and even a sink. Deeper into the room on that side was what looked like a bank vault door and then, incorriguiously, a small living room group with a large screen TV on the wall.
Across the back wall were a pair of doors that framed a small, round table of some kind and a rack of computers of some kind. Then down the left hand wall was a work bench with a well stocked set of cabinets, tools and parts bins. “I think you' ll find this what you' re looking for,” Jadis said as she led the way into the room. “This was Cyber-scarabs private lab last year, the work bench is complete, electronics grade and I've kept it stocked for the renter's convenience. The vault is five feet square, fully climate controlled with a Diebold Titan Class II door, rated for 60 minute resistance. Restroom with shower,” she said pointing at the right and door, then moved to the other. “The other room is the size of this, with the cut out from bathroom.”
“The bathroom is accessable from both? ”
“Yes, I already have some equipment and weights in, but the mat had to be done custom.”
Tansy walked over to round table, to find it was solid, with a sunken well and a set of heavy looking cables coming out the bottom and going into the rack of computers. “What is this?” she asked, realizing what ever it was was unique and likely quite valuable. Jadis saundered over a with a smile and pressed buttons.
“This, made Cyber-scarab the envy of the labs,” she declared. The IBM logo apeared, floating in ghostly three dimensional hologram above the center of the well. “It's the same CAD / CAM system Dashboard invented and sold to the school. Karl bought one from her himself and had it installed here. You put these gloves on and they react to the senesors in the ceiling there. Create whatever you like and manipulate it here with gestures. Then send the file to the GE Fabricators under Kane Hall and go pick it up after the machine makes it for you. Your friend Loophole can show you how it works. ”
“He didn't take it with him when he graduated?” Tansy asked in frank curiosity. Jadis just kept smiling.
“I convinced him he would be better off purchasing a new one and bought him out of this one.”
“I'm surprised the nerds aren't tripping over themselves trying to get in here !”
“They are,” Jadis replied with a smile. “I just know what I have, and what it's worth. And while a number of them are far more liquid thanks to young Ayla Goodkind, none of them have the level of resources you do. ”
“You didn't lower your price even though you knew your target market couldn't afford it? ”
“I knew the right renter would come along,” Jadis replied. “Meet your needs?” Tansy spun in place, smiling as she took in the crysalis in which she would transform herself.
“I'll take it.”
Monday, May 14th, 2007
Unallocated Clubhouse, Dunn Hall Tunnels, Whateley Academy
Tansy came out of the shower, absently drying her hair and feeling wonderful. It had been a long time since she could cut loose and really work up a sweat. Holding back her strength and reflexes so she kept up the appearance of being an exemplar one as it said on her MID was taxing some times. But being underestimated was worth it in the long run; that was a bitter lesson taught to her by Heather Goodkind and she would never forget it.
“For now though,” she told herself, looking around her new domain, “I need to have a name for this place. Something classic, perhaps...” she shrugged and turned on the Blade Center that ran the CAD/CAM holowell. “It will come to me,” she told herself as she pulled on the gloves. “In the meantime, some retail therapy I think.”
The Blade Center had finished booting and accepted her password. Once it loaded up things, she called up a browser and headed over to Sin d'Rome's. She'd carried a Remington Pocket Defender Force Pistol since she was sixteen, but the little hold out was, in fact, a little hold out. If Kody was recruiting, he wasn't going to be looking for subtle...
Tansy paused in her line of thought for a moment. “Stupid,” she chided herself. “You were just thinking about how valuable it was to be underestimated and here you are underestimating Wyatt Cody!” Tansy knew personally Wyatt had deep reserves of guile most didn't give him credit for, but he did respect strength. It would be prudent to be able to show she wasn't the shrinking violet most took her for. She frowned as she looked at the page. She'd have to balance what she wanted to reveal versus what she needed to conceal. Still, having a weapon that had a range from bitch slap to knock down a brick wall was a handy thing to have around. A pair of Crusaders, the Pocket Defender's big brother went into her cart. Of course they would require holsters and gun belt, extra batteries, and the carriers to hold them followed. She flipped over to 'dirty tricks' and went on a bit of a spree of simple gimmicks that were easy to use and practically fool proof. Her trust fund fifty thousand dollars lighter, she then flipped over to Rodgers Fabrics and scheduled a consultation along with a quick notation of her ideas.
The reading about Atlantis themed societies included with Hindmost's package was an eclectic mix; everything from conspiracy theory nuts, New World Order tinfoil hat wearers and assorted harmless New Age lunatics that had escaped their keepers. There were some sharks with the minnows, shadowy groups with body counts that rivaled some countries, but they were rare, all but unknown and unlikely to be something Wyatt Cody would be mixed up with.
There didn't seem to be anything in the 'background' information that wasn't thinking in a wrong direction. However, there was the concrete notation that Wyatt was recruiting some of the heaviest hitters in the school and that demanded the question, why? Was Wyatt going to war? It certainly seemed to be the case, but that begged the questions who was his enemy and when was the shooting likely to start?
She couldn't risk her budding trust with Elaine to ask her out right, and without some way to prove herself, they wouldn't come to recruit her. She needed an in, some way to show she was an asset, reveal a bit of what she'd kept under wraps, but not look like she'd set the situation up. Tansy paused and quickly flipped the browser over to the schools website. There, the school calendar confirmed her suspicions.
It would require some finessing with the school's server, if she was right about what she suspected, that wouldn't be a problem. But, it couldn't be obvious, it couldn't be her just happening to be assigned. There were rumors though, deep, ugly rumors. Tansy bit her lip, if she did this, if she manipulated things the way she wanted, it could cost Elaine her best friend and if it ever came to light, well, Elaine had warned her this was her second chance. “But I have to,” she said softly, aware that she was really trying to convince herself. Convince herself that slipping back into her old ways for 'good' reasons wouldn't matter, that the end would justify the means. “I...I'll make it up to her,” she promised herself. “This, this will be the last time. ”
Now, if Hindmost had the connections Tansy thought she did, her way in would be simple. Which required the last pieces of the puzzle.
Her email gave her the report from a certain website her father didn't know she knew he had access to, let alone what his password was and so gave her access as well. A smile spread across Tansy's face as she read. “Thought so,” she said to herself as she checked the clock.
She had time.
Tansy picked up her change of clothes and returned to the bath room through her little exercise room, being sure to move the markers for the weights she was using to values that ninety eight pound weakling Tansy Walcutt wouldn't raise an eyebrow about using if someone got in here. She had an appointment to keep.
May 14th, 2007
Staff Parking Lot, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Mondays were usually the worst day of the week. Everything piling up that was pushed off from last week that had to be handled now as well as the joys and problems of the new week getting started. Amelia Hartford couldn't remember when she'd left on time on a Monday. As it was, she felt a bit guilty as Liz was still in her office, trying to get a head start on the End of Year report to the Trustees and insisted, despite Amelia's repeated questions and offers to assist, Liz had been adamant that there was nothing Amelia could do to help.
So the Assistant Head Mistress had packed her laptop and was headed to the parking lot to her BMW, looking forward to an evening of nothing more grand that soft music and enjoying the bottle of red wine currently cooling in her refrigerator. She might even get reckless and do the newspaper crossword, but after the day she'd had online, newsprint was the absolute technology limit of the evening. It was a matter of some surprise to come out the door closest to the staff parking lot of Schuster Hall to see a student leaning casually against her M3, eyes on the door she'd just exited, arms across her bosom.
Amelia rolled her eyes, some long days just didn't seem to want to end.
It was a new car, in fact the new body style of the coupe convertible, technically not yet released in North American and wouldn't be until July. It was good to have friends, so it was more than a bit annoying to find someone leaning on it. “Can I help you, Miss Walcutt?” she demanded, shooing the young blonde off her car and opening the trunk to put up her laptop bag.
Tansy shrugged expressively. “Well, I thought I'd call, but then I realized these types of relationship conversations should really be done in person. Don't you think so, Hindmost?”
“Good,” complimented Amelia, and her tone sounded genuinely pleased, as she shut the trunk and turned to face Tansy. “Wonderful to know I wasn't wrong about you. Get in. ”
“Where are we going?”
“To have your conversation,” Amelia replied as she made her way to the driver's side. She paused, the door open and gazed coolly at the younger girl. “Or don't, it's still your choice.” Tansy crossed to the passenger side and slid into the seat easily.
The car started with a muted purr and was soon pointed at the main gate. “The staff housing complex is the other way,” Tansy pointed out as Ms. Hartford shifted and picked up a bit of speed.
“Never work where you live, Miss Walcutt,” Hartford replied. “I keep an apartment in Berlin. Costs me more, but I don't worry about money and I get to leave every evening. ” She turned onto Stark Highway and the little coupe roared down the road. “So, this still being High School, you're required to show your work. ” Amelia smirked at Tansy's frown. “How did you figure it out?”
“The photographs of me at school were captures from security cameras,” Tansy replied.
“The network could have been hacked, or some other faculty member could have sold the pictures to a third party. ”
“Not your network,” the blonde snorted in derision. “More to the point, only four people saw the picture Freeze Frame took of me slapping Elaine Nalley on Grand Cayman last year; Freeze Frame, Mr. Parker, myself and you. ”
“It could have been stolen from my desk,” Hartford replied.
“A hind is a female deer, the male of which in similar archaic use is a Hart, your last name is Hartford,” Tansy looked out the window. “Though, I'll admit the weird looking alien from Larry Niven threw me for a bit until I realized it was a play on words.”
“It's all still speculation and conspiracy theory,” Amelia told her.
“Body of evidence,” Tansy shot back. “Between the code name and the picture from Grand Cayman the probabilities favor you being Hindmost. A little searching on websites my adoring father with his wonderfully predictable passwords has access to tells me that you almost got put away for a very long time, and it was our beloved Headmistress who testified on your behalf and got you the job here. Might not convince a jury, but we are in your car having this conversation. ”
“Bravo,” Hartford complimented. “I didn't know you were such a well spring of trivia.”
Tansy suppressed bad memories of being ten years younger and eighty pounds heavier while she rolled her eyes. “Oh, you have no idea. I'm a veritable font of useless information. ” She sighed and looked back over at the Assistant Headmistress. “So, are you taking me somewhere to kill me? Because that won't end well for you.”
“Why would I go to all this trouble to recruit you just to kill you when you'd not only lived up to, but exceeded my wildest expectations?” Hartford demanded. “Fools and bad movie villains take out their frustrations on their associates and minions, Tansy. In the real world, people who do well are rewarded.”
“Let's be clear, I'm not your minion. ”
“I prefer to think of you as my protege,” Hartford replied. “I am, in fact, quite interested in you doing well, going far, and so are the people I work with.”
Tansy turned back to the glorious display of spring in the Presidential Mountains. “The Syndicate. I knew you were a hard ass,” she said finally. “But I didn't think you were a full on super villain.” Harford burst out laughing, drawing the younger woman's annoyed gaze back into the car. “What's funny?”
“The thought of me running around in spandex while trading blows and soliloquies with Liz Carson,” Hartford replied.
“No big fight that leveled half of Metropolis?”
“I wouldn't have figured you for the comic reader type.”
Tansy rolled her eyes. “It was a phase, I grew out of it.” She sighed and steeled herself to ask the question that was the 2 ton elephant in the back seat. “What is it you want from me?”
The car pulled to a stop in front a very nice, but some how also nondescript building on the outskirts of Berlin. The cars parked in front of it, likewise were nondescript but all new, well appointed and understated. Immediately, a sense Tansy had no name for but was well used to told her she was at a place where money and power were brokered. “A mutually beneficial arrangement,” Amelia told her as she shut off the car and turned to face her student. “There is only so much one can do remotely. There are very, very few hackers as good as I am, but even these days, some things are off line, physical or just not accessible through a computer. The people I target are the same kind of people that made a show of spitting on you until you were attractive, now they're hoping you'll have a short memory and let them use you a different way. I'm offering you the opportunity to learn how to really hurt the people who hurt you. Not pin pricks and not 'living well' but real comeuppance to the nastiest of the nasty. And, if you need to feel altruistic about it, doing a bit to further the true destiny of mankind. ”
“I...I don't...I've changed...”
Hartford smirked. “You are a manipulative bitch, Tansy Walcutt,” she told her with a smile. “You were a manipulative bitch when you were eight and fat and trying to shift Heather and Connie Goodkind's attentions from you to anyone else. You were a manipulative bitch when you manifested, came here and started climbing the hardest high school social ladder there is. And despite this new leaf you've supposedly turned over, you will be an manipulative bitch to the day you die.”
“Oh, don't take it personally,” Hartford crooned. “What do you think I am? You've learned petty cruelty and evil for it's own sake is a suckers game, excellent. Liz Carson taught me that lesson and now I'm paying it forward with you. Good? Bad? They're just colors, Tansy, hats we wear so simple people can think they understand why we do things. I am a bitch, but I'm Carson's Bitch, because she's a white knight and she needs someone for the students to hate. But if you think she doesn't know how many laws I helped break to clear Kayda last week, you're fooling yourself. ”
Tansy's eyes threatened to leap out of her head. “Mrs... Lady Astarte broke laws?”
Hartford frowned. “Grow up, Tansy,” she snapped. “There is no one, no one in this business who doesn't break laws, period, full stop, end of sentence. District Attorney’s turn a blind eye to lantern jawed heroes who keep the collateral damage down and are popular with their constituents. Governors and Presidents turn a blind eye on 'hero' teams who help them keep dangerous free lancers in line, the United Nations turns a blind eye to Lord Paramount and Gizmatic and Dr. DNA because they clean up third world shit holes while making themselves wonderfully unifying targets for those idiots in ten thousand dollar suits who think they rule this planet. And Lady Astarte turns a blind eye to how a goal she wants is accomplished so long as her nose isn't rubbed in it. ”
“In New York,” Tansy whispered. “She watched Loophole break in to the Emerald Tower...”
Hartford snorted in disbelief. “Loophole didn't 'break in' anywhere. What you saw was a very carefully scripted piece of security theater. ” The Assistant Headmistress saw her student had doubts and so continued, “Who do you think made an entry for 'Wicked' in the Syndicate Database?” Hartford asked smugly. “And who do you think asked me to do it?” Amelia watched the girl goggle for a moment, her world view obviously shaken. Finally, Amelia ordered her own thoughts and put a hand on Tansy's arm. Instantly she felt the tell tale, incredibly indescribable sensation of another mind inside her's. “The world needs us manipulative bitches, Tansy. If you want to wear a white hat all the time doing it, that's fine.”
Her blue eyes looked into Amelia's as the Assistant Headmistress felt the girl read the thoughts Amelia wanted her to read. After a long moment, Tansy hesitantly licked her lips and asked, “Why do you want me to infiltrate Wyatt's Atlantean League?”
“The school shuttle bus stop is right over there,” Amelia replied, pointing with her head. Tansy turned and looked, amazed to realize she had seen this building dozens of times and never noted it. “You can catch the last shuttle back in thirty minutes. Or you come inside and find out the answer to your question. But be warned, these people value their privacy. And they protect it, violently. Understand?”
Tansy nodded. “There...there isn't any going back if I go in there, is there?”
“No,” Hartford replied. “But what would you go back to? Being the Don's whore? You're better than that, Tansy. ”
After a long moment, Tansy made a decision, sighed and looked her mentor in the eye. “Show me how deep the rabbit hole goes, Morpheus. I'll take the red pill.”