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A Whateley Academy Adventure

Charge: le Snob Francais

by ElrodW

 


March 4. 2007
Dunwich Train Station

The train pulled into the small whistle-stop of a station without any of the classic flair of an old-fashioned steam locomotive, or the panache of a bullet train, or even the silent grace of an electric train. Instead, it had all the brutish inelegance of an old, almost worn-out diesel-electric locomotive which had been relegated to a backwater route from Boston through New Hampshire, pulling older, mismatched freight and passenger cars that had long since been retired from busier routes.

Inside the worn passenger cars were a few older people, but most of the passengers were high-school age, and varied beyond belief. Hair colors and styles, skin colors, and even body shapes were far from uniform, and the collective assemblage of kids swarmed off the train in an ungainly mass of mutant children eager to get to their destination, which it could easily be surmised was the same location.

A few students hung back, taking their time collecting personal belongings and moving slowly, even hesitantly, toward the door, apprehension on their faces branding them as newcomers to the destination who were worried about their place in the social and scholastic hierarchy that was the student body of Whateley Academy.

One girl waited very deliberately for the aisle of the passenger car to empty before she stood. Unlike some of the students, she looked mostly normal, if gorgeous Gallic features were normal. She had her dainty nose upturned a bit as her head tilted back, not deigning to look at the other passengers still seated, and she strode with a slow swaying gait that advertised that she was sexy and knew it, and considered everyone else beneath her.

Adalie 'Charge' Vitesse walked confidently around the side of the small station and into a waiting lounge that was crowded with the mish-mash of mutant students waiting for shuttle buses to Whateley. She looked around at the seats, and seeing they were all taken, sighed heavily and leaned against a door.

A young man looked at her, and then walked toward her. Uncertainty and doubt were written on his face, and he gulped visibly as he neared Adalie. "Uh, hi," he said, his voice cracking. His eyes reflected his nervousness. "You look like you know what's going on at Whateley. Are you an upperclassman?"

Adalie looked down her nose at the young man, or rather, would have looked down had she been taller and he shorter. At five foot four, she wasn't the tallest girl, and the interloper was almost six feet tall and gangly. "Non," she said snobbishly. "I'm a freshman," she said with a thick French accent.

"Oh. Are you from Europe?" the guy asked. His mop of brown hair was unkempt, matching his wardrobe, but he wasn't that bad looking.

Adalie looked at him like he was a bug-eyed alien. Then again, at the Dunwich station that served Whateley Academy, seeing a mutant that looked like a bug-eyed alien wouldn't have been terribly remarkable. "Oui," she said, seemingly affronted by having to state the obvious. "I am from France." Her voice had the tone of someone tired of stating such a fact to those of lesser station in life.

The boy stuck out his hand. "I'm Matt. Matt Walker. I'm just starting here this term."

"Are you a freshman?" Adalie asked bluntly, not taking the proffered hand.

"Yeah," the boy said with a confused expression. "I'm from Albuquerque. In New Mexico. In the southwest."

Adalie let her upper lip curl into a mini-sneer. "I am quite familiar with the geography of this country," she replied. "It was covered in one of my required classes last year. French schools are _quite_ thorough in world affairs and geography, unlike most Americain schools." The implied insult of American schools was plain to even a deaf-mute.

"Are there any tips you could give me about Whateley?" Matt asked hesitantly, put off by her snobbish attitude but still clearly attracted enough to her to at least attempt to converse.

"I would strongly suggest that you find an upperclassman," Adalie said coldly. "That would be more 'elpful to you, I'm certain." She felt no remorse for disappointing the boy with a display of French rudeness as he slunk off. He was, after all, another of the uncivilized Americains who she had to tolerate.

"Adalie!" a familiar voice called from the platform just outside the door.

Adalie turned and greeted the girl who walked calmly across the platform and swept Adalie into a quick hug. In finest Gallic tradition, they kissed each other's cheeks. "Nanette, mon cheri! How was your vacation?" Adalie bubbled enthusiastically in French.

"It was too short, as always," Nanette De La Fontaine, better known on campus as Chat Bleu answered sadly, also in French. "Not enough time to go home, and nothing really worth doing in this country." The two girls held hands in a sophisticated European way that suggested strong friendship rather than anything romantic. Nanette and Adalie were friends and roommates, fellow members of what was colloquially, and insultingly, called the Beret Mafia, and roommates in Dickinson Cottage.

"Mais oui," Adalie agreed. "I spent the week with my aunt in Boston. Oh, how rude les Americains are! There are few restaurants of any quality, and there isn't a competent maitre d' among them. The wait staffs are all insufferably obnoxious and unhelpful! It might have been better if we'd have gone to New York City shopping, as we'd planned, but there arose some diplomatic function at the consulate, and Aunt Therese couldn't escape her duties. Even that was awful! It was a meeting between Total S.A. and some people from," she shuddered visibly, "Texas!"

Nanette's eyes widened in sympathy. "Oh, you poor thing! How terrible to have to deal with ... them!" Her head turned suddenly. "I hear our shuttle buses. We can get out of this mob and back among people who are civilized, oui?" The two girls, carrying and pulling their bags, walked down a ramp from the platform to a street, where several passenger vans were pulling up along the small street. Nanette and Adalie waited, impatiently, for their names to be called, and then boarded a bus which contained mostly residents of Dickinson Cottage.

The ride was boring, that was, until it didn't turn onto the service road that would take the bus to Dickinson Cottage, but trundled directly toward Schuster Hall. "Ms. Vitesse," the driver called out.

"Oui?" Adalie answered, confused but not yet concerned.

"You are to go directly to a meeting with the Headmistress."

"But why?" Adalie was less than thrilled to hear of the meeting. "I 'ave to get my things to my room."

"Your luggage will be taken care of." The bus pulled to the curb in the roundabout in front of the administration building, Schuster Hall.

"I will see you in a few minutes," Adalie assured Nanette as she stood. "Whenever the incompetent administrators fix whatever mess their lack of competence has created."

Nanette frowned. "You might want to be a little less obvious with your disdain, mon cheri," she cautioned Adalie. "They _do_ understand French, after all, as you discovered to your dismay in the fall term."

"Bah! I refuse to stop describing stupidity and lack of couth as it is, especially from les Americains." Adalie stepped down from the bus. Practically before she had alit on the ground, the driver was closing the door behind her. With her head held disdainfully high, Adalie sauntered gracefully, at her own pace, into Schuster and down a familiar hall to the all-too-familiar offices of the school administration.

When Adalie opened the frosted-glass door into the office wing, the secretary, Elaine Claire, looked up. "Ah, Ms. Vitesse. Mrs. Carson will be back momentarily for your meeting. Please have a seat and wait for her." She returned her focus to her computer, ignoring Adalie in favor of her duties.

Sighing, Adalie took a chair. When she glanced at Assistant Headmistress Hartford, she thought she saw the woman smirk at her. She was impatient to return to Dickinson Cottage, and as the wait stretched past ten minutes, then past half an hour, Adalie's frustration grew. Sitting still for a teenager, with nothing to do, was difficult enough, but Adalie was also a speedster, and time dragged interminable for her. After nearly an hour, she stood and stomped to Elaine's desk. "'ow much longer must I wait?" she asked, annoyed. "I 'ave much to do to prepare for tomorrow's registration!"

Ms. Claire put on an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry for the delay, but arrival day at the start of a term _is_ quite busy. There are always unexpected things which the administration must deal with."

"Yes, yes," Adalie said angrily. "I could 'ave put my things away in my room by now and 'ad lunch with mes amies."

"I'm certain Mrs. Carson will be with you shortly. There are always issues with the student counselors which must be dealt with before the first student stars registration. She also had to attend to some rather nettlesome housing issues, and there are a few students with whom she absolutely had to meet today." Ms. Claire was trying to be civil with the girl who was getting more impatient and angrier by the minute.

After another fifteen minutes, which seemed an eternity to a speedster like Adalie, Ms. Claire cleared her throat. "Mrs. Carson sends her apologies for having to make you wait. She will be unable to meet with you today due to an emergency."

Muttering epithets under her breath, in French, Adalie sped angrily back to Dickinson, in what for a speedster was a slow, deliberate stride, but for most students, would have been a sprint. Her visage was a mask of powerful, negative emotions that had other students giving her a wide berth. As soon as she entered the cottage, Mrs. Nelson appeared in the foyer. "Adalie," she called, "I need to have a word with you."

"Oui, Madame Nelson," Adalie answered, politely for the first time since she'd gotten on the train so many hours ago. Mrs. Nelson was one of the few Americans to whom Adalie showed any respect.

"There have been a few room changes during the break," Mrs. Nelson said cautiously. "You're being reassigned."

"But why? Nanette and I are 'appy as roommates!" Adalie wailed in her shock at the news.

"The decision was made by the administration. Ours is not to reason why ...."

"This is an outrage!" Adalie screamed, slipping into her native French in her frustration and anger. "They can't do this to me! I won't stand for this!"

"You're being moved to Melville," Mrs. Nelson added.

"We shall see about that!" Adalie stormed.

"Adalie," Mrs. Nelson chided the girl, "Don't fight this. It's from the top, and after last fall, I don't think you want to offend the administration any more than you already have. Now, Nanette and Vera have already packed your things, so it'll be easy for you to get moved before dinner."

Adalie ignored the warning and instructions, and zipped up the stairs with her usual speedster pace. When she got to a specific room, she rapped loudly and insistently on the door; with her speed, it sounded like a woodpecker drilling into a tree. The door opened, and a girl looked at her, starting at the angry expression on Adalie's face. "What do you need, Charge?" the girl asked.

"I need to speak to Basimah on a matter of utmost urgency."

The girl shook her head. "She's not here. She was called to a meeting in Schuster."

"Aaarghh!" Adalie screamed. "Naturellement!" She shook her head in frustration. "'ave you seen Poise?"

"Same meeting," the girl explained. "Sorry. You'll have to wait."

Fuming, Adalie sped down to her room. Nanette was sorting her laundry, and looked up at Adalie's melodramatic entrance. "I see you have been told the news," she said simply.

"Oui," Adalie snorted. "It looks like I have no choice in the matter. Both of the fixers are in a meeting with the administration." Adalie's things were already packed, as Mrs. Nelson had said, and piled neatly, while the new girl's things were already visible in the open wardrobe and on the desk and bed. They were making it extremely difficult to undo the move.

"Probably to ensure that they do nothing to help you," Nanette speculated. "Mrs. Nelson had Charmer and I pack your things," she added with more than a touch of regret.

Not quite twenty minutes later, Adalie and Nanette carried the last of Adalie's things to the lobby of Dickinson. Mrs. Nelson met them beside the pile of Adalie's belongings. "I'm sorry that you're leaving us," she said, giving Adalie a hug.

 

The group which had been pressed into service by Mrs. Nelson looked like it was a personal retinue for Adalie, who walked carrying her carry-on bag and towing her suitcase from the trip, as if lugging heavier boxes was beneath her. Her nose was upturned in arrogance, and the angry sneer and fire in her eyes scattered the other students who had been in her path. As soon as the bearers entered Melville, for the most part they unceremoniously dumped their burdens and left the unwelcoming dorm of A-listers and snobs.

Chat Bleu hugged Adalie warmly. "I'm going to miss you, mon cheri," she said, her voice choking. "You were a good room-mate."

"And I will be again," Adalie promised her former roomie, "as soon as I get this mess straightened out," she said with confidence born of both her haughtiness and her anger.

"I look forward to your return," Chat Bleu said as she kissed Adalie's cheeks. "Bonne chance." She didn't sound nearly as confident as Adalie about the chances of their room arrangement being restored.

As Nanette walked slowly from the lobby of Melville back toward Dickinson, Adalie felt a momentary pang of loneliness. Her world had been upset in just her first hour back on the Whateley campus. She thought she felt like someone was watching her, and she turned.

"Ms. Vitesse?" The man speaking was standing in the door of a house-parent's apartment. He glided easily to her. "I'm Mr. Forrest. Welcome to Melville Cottage."

"I was supposed to be in Dickinson, with Nanette," Adalie said in a huff. "This change is most unexpected and most unwelcome."

Mr. Forrest chose to ignore her attitude. "You're in room four oh seven, with Alicia Thacker. Would you like help moving your stuff to your room? I'm sure I can find some willing freshmen if necessary."

Adalie turned up her nose. "Merci, non," she replied. "I would like to talk first with the gestionnaire de l'etudiant, the cottage student manager."

Mr. Forrest gave her a knowing grin. "Ah, our fixer. That would be Goldrush. Goldrush is currently unavailable, in a meeting in administration."

Adalie's had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach; three fixers of the two affected cottages were in meetings with the administration. Surely it couldn't be coincidental .... "Who can I talk to about the outrageous way I'm being treated?" she demanded. "Surely there is an assistant."

"That would be Jadis Diabolik," Mr. Forrest answered, still smiling. "She hasn't yet returned to ...." His expression changed and he looked at the door. "Ah, she _has_ just returned. Jadis!" he called to her.

Jadis Diabolik paused, and then changed direction, striding easily to where Mr. Forrest stood with Adalie amid Adalie's belongings. "Yes, Mr. Forrest?"

"I take it you had a good break," Mr. Forrest ignored Adalie's matter for the moment.

Jadis smiled. "It was okay. Nothing too exciting happened. What's up?" She was eyeing the member of the Beret Mafia and her belongings standing in the foyer of Melville.

"Ms. Vitesse has been moved to Melville," Mr. Forrest began.

"Without my knowledge or permission," Adalie added quickly. "Someone has done this great misdeed to me, and I want to get this mix-up straightened out and get back to my cottage."

Jadis looked blankly at her for a moment, weighing her options. After all, as the cottage fixer, she had an obligation to help straighten out those things that she could, even those who were as obnoxious as some of the French students. "Give me a few minutes to get my things put away, and I'll make a few phone calls."

"In the meantime," Mr. Forrest added, "get your things to your room. We can't have them cluttering up the common areas, now, can we?"

Adalie shot Mr. Forrest a disapproving stare, but his 'glare of authority' made her defiance wither, at least momentarily. "Very well. But I shall not unpack, because I intend to be back in Dickinson tonight." As she gathered her things, she saw his bemused expression, as if he knew something that she didn't.

 

"Hi," said a tall, svelte girl with her long, brown hair in a ponytail as Adalie tentatively walked into her new room. "Y'all must be Aydelee Veetess," she continued in a thick, unrecognizable accent. "Ah'm Alicia. Alicia Thacker, your new roomie." She held out her hand to Adalie.

Just as with the stranger in the station, Adalie didn't shake hands with the girl. "It is pronounced Adalie Vitesse," she corrected the girl. "And it seems that, due to an administrative mix-up, I am temporarily assigned to this room. But it won't be for long. Even now, I have people making inquiries to assist in my return to my old room and room-mate in Dickinson Cottage."

Alicia chuckled. "That's not what Ah hear," she said. "The way Ah heard, someone in admin decided that y'all need to be separated from y'all's little clique." She glanced at the pile of things in the hallway. "Y'all might want to move that stuff, before someone on this floor gets upset and some of your things get shaken up or damaged."

As Adalie contemplated moving her stuff, if only temporarily, Alicia continued. "Ah've got the bed on the right as you face the window," she declared. "Unless y'all want t' fight for it."

Adalie quickly moved her things into the room, zipping back and forth between the hall and the bed on which she set her belongings, and making no effort - yet - to put anything away. She didn't intend to stay long.

"Are you from Quebec? Or Loosiana?" Alicia asked.

"Non," Adalie said haughtily. "I am from la belle France."

"Oooh!" Alicia purred. "Then you speak French, non?"

Adalie frowned. "Of course I speak French. And what kind of accent is that?"

"Cajun," Alicia said proudly. "Most of mah ancestors are from France - a lot of generations ago. And in mah part of Loosiana, a lot of people still speak French."

"Obviously not well, though," Adalie muttered under her breath.

"What kind of powers have you got?" Alicia continued, ignoring the intentional slights in Adalie's side of the conversation. "Ah'm able to lower fluid pressures. Ah can make a person feel faint, or even pass out. It's limited to about ten feet, though. That's why Ah'm called Headrush."

"I'm Charge," Adalie said morosely. "I'm a speedster, and a low-level exemplar."

"Ah remember you!" Alicia announced loudly and suddenly. "Y'all got your ass handed to you in your combat final, didn't you? Pardon mah sayin' so," she continued apologetically, "but that was kind of funny to watch at first. Then Armadillo really got out of control, and it was pretty brutal."

"It was no fun to be on the receiving end of his senseless violence in that pointless exercise in stupidity, either," Adalie complained, unhappy at the reminder of that event which had landed her in Doyle overnight for some serious healing magic.

A knock sounded at the door, interrupting the conversation, and Jadis poked her head in. "I've got some news for you, Charge," she announced.

"Oh, good!" Adalie let her hopes soar. Her face fell, however, when she saw Jadis' expression. "Not good news, it would seem."

Jadis shook her head. "The orders for your move came from the top, from Carson's office. The word to us fixers is 'hands off'. You've made an enemy in the administration."

Adalie sank onto her bed, feeling suddenly overwhelmed by the circumstances. "There must be something that someone can do," she pleaded softly.

Jadis shook her head. "Not if Carson is behind it. And I wouldn't ask any fixers, house parents, or anyone else. The word is out - hands off of this move."

"But why would Mrs. Carson involve herself with your personal affairs?" Alicia asked.

Adalie shrugged. "I don't know," she complained. "Mrs. Carson and Ms. Hartford obviously don't like me."

"That's the understatement of the century," Jadis laughed. She sat down for what would obviously be a somewhat lengthy story. "You've only got yourself to blame for that." She turned to Alicia. "It started on move-in day last fall."

 


Monday, September 4, 2006 - Move-in Day
Dunwich Train Station

A number of the European students, predominantly French and all disdainfully snooty, had arrived on the same Air France flight to Boston and the subsequent train to Dunwich. Among them, Adalie Vitesse, Charge, and Primavera Villabianca, Charmer, were two of the more prominent French girls of the group.

In the large entrance foyer of Dickinson Cottage, the newly-arriving trio of European girls joined a larger group, which was greeted by Mrs. Nelson, the housemother. "Okay, girls, listen up," the attractive fifty-ish woman said, opening a notebook and slipping on her reading glasses. "Normally, we would allow you to choose your roommates, but since you're in the last group of arriving girls, there are few open rooms, so the administration asked me to assign you rooms."

"That's ridiculous!" Adalie snorted in French. "They favor the American girls, and change the rules for us? How typically American!"

Mrs. Nelson glowered at Adalie over the top of her glasses, indicating that she understood precisely what Adalie had either said or implied in her statement. "Your assignments are follows." She began to read names, with a room number for each. "Ms. Villabianca, you're in room two oh seven with Winnie Guthrie. Ms. de la Fontaine, you're in two eleven with Ellen Tremain. Ms. Vitesse, two oh two with Anna Parsons."

Adalie dropped her suitcase. "Excuse me, Mrs. Nelson," she began, forcing herself to be polite, "I'd like to change roommates."

Mrs. Nelson sighed. She had a sense of foreboding that Adalie Vitesse was going to try her patience. "The housing roster has already gone to the administration. Unless you can get someone there to change their minds, there's nothing I can do."

Adalie promptly lived up to Mrs. Nelson's fears that the girl was a bit of a hot-head by dashing full-speed, which was about eight-five mph, out of the cottage directly to Schuster Hall, to the administrative wing. Adalie was a speedster, an energizer with the power of moving extremely quickly. She barged through the frosted-glass door into the administrative suite and marched directly to the first desk she saw that was occupied.

A stern-looking woman, with her blonde hair in a librarian's bun, wearing glasses and a designer suit, was seated at her desk, her back toward the door, working on her computer. Seeing no-one else, Adalie marched up to the desk. "I would like to talk to someone about my housing assignment," she demanded, ignoring the normal office protocols of dealing with someone who was the Assistant Headmistress.

The woman stopped mid-keystroke, and slowly, deliberately turned. Her expression was harsh, her annoyance at being interrupted radiating from her in intimidating waves. "If you need something, you will make an appointment with the secretary."

"Why is it that the American girls are given the opportunity to choose their own roommates," Adalie continued angrily, and quickly, ignoring the warning glare and words from Amelia Hartford, "but the rules are different when we arrive? Is this more blatant discrimination against European students? I thought this school was supposed to be fair." Amelie didn't bother to read Ms. Hartford's expression, or she would have known that she was pushing way past the line.

"Ms. ..."

"Vitesse," Adalie replied with more than a hint of self-importance. "Adalie Vitesse."

"Ms. Vitesse," Amelia Hartford corrected herself. "Whateley is a diverse school, committed to and practicing the ideals of social integration and diversity. In the interest of that diversity, European students are frequently kept from clustering in little isolated groups. We are assigning rooms so that you will become part of an integrated, diverse school body."

"But the American girls ...."

"That is our policy. Good day, Ms. Vitesse." Amelia Hartford turned back to her keyboard, deliberately ignoring anything further that Adalie might have to say on the subject.

"But ...."

"I said, good day, Ms. Vitesse." The tone of Ms. Hartford's voice left no doubt that if Amelie continued to try to badger her way into a room swap, she would greatly regret it.

Adalie turned away, muttering under her breath, in French. "Stupid Americans following stupid rules at a stupid school. They expect me to mix with this uncultured lot of barbarians? They must be totally mad to believe that they can commit such stupid acts on us just because we're from France!" For punctuation of that first part of her rant, she slammed the door shut hard enough to rattle the glass, and then continued muttering her rabidly anti-American soliloquy under her breath all the way back to Dickinson Cottage.

Still grumbling as she toted her bags, Adalie pushed through the door into her new temporary home. The girl who was already unpacking turned, and then smiled. "Hi, I'm Anna," she said warmly. "I guess you're my roommate. Can I help you with your bags or anything?" The girl was, compared to many of the other girls, cute but not outstanding, with her brown hair worn in an unflattering style, she seemed a little plain and homely. Her personality, though, was perky, judging from the eagerness and friendliness of her first few words.

Adalie sighed. "No," she replied as she plopped the first of her bags on her bed. Anna might have seemed like a nice, friendly girl, but she wasn't French, and that fact made Adalie not want her as a roommate.

"Is something wrong?" Anna asked, immediately sensing Adalie's somewhat unenthusiastic attitude.

Adalie suddenly knew how to manage this situation as a rather devious plot hatched in her mind. "It's just that we French girls are so far from 'ome," Adalie began plaintively, pasting on a sad expression with the practiced ease that some people donned clothing.

"Yeah, I know what you mean," Anna piped in unbidden. "Zanesville is a long ways away and it's a pretty small city, and my family never traveled out of the state much, so this is all new and strange, and until a bit ago, I was the only mutant I knew, but now, like everyone around here is a mutant, and it's hard to imagine, so yeah, it's kind of weird and strange and ...."

"But you have it lucky," Adalie interrupted in her feigned distress. "You aren't in a foreign country, with a foreign culture, speaking a language that is foreign to you. Think of 'ow much more difficult it is for us girls from France."

"Oh, like that has to be way harder than just being away from Ohio," Anna chimed in. "I promise I'll be a good roommate and try to help you fit in and learn our customs and stuff."

Adalie shook her head, feigning a tear. "But ... you don't know what it's like to miss France!" she said with an exaggerated sigh. "Not even a roommate from France to 'elp commiserate on those nights when I might miss the sounds and sights and tastes of my beautiful France, to 'elp overcome misery by talking about fond memories of 'ome. And the administration didn't even give us a choice in this matter. They so 'eartlessly mixed us in, knowing that we would be lost without a roommate to share what we missed." She knew she was laying it on thick, but Anna had struck her immediately as a rather simple American girl, and thus vulnerable to tugging at the heartstrings. "It is as though they 'ave 'atred for us poor French girls, in that they're making us suffer."

"What can I do to help?" Anna asked innocently, having taken Adalie's emotional bait. "You can play French songs and put up posters if you want, and I promise I won't get mad if you have the other French girls come visit all the time, because I'll probably make new friends with some of the other girls and be in their rooms sometimes, so I wouldn't notice much, and even if I am here, it'd be really cool to learn about a foreign country and maybe learn to speak French, and I could try to learn to sometimes cook French pastries like my mom used to make, 'cause that might help you feel welcome and stuff."

"Merci, merci," Adalie said quickly, "but perhaps we can arrange a swap of rooms? Let me go talk to one of the other French girls, and if she and her roommate agree, we could swap rooms and all of us would be 'appy."

"But didn't they say you had to room with me?" Anna was confused.

"Oui," Adalie answered smoothly, "but in all of the cottages, they allow many students to select their roommates. This would be no different."

"I don't know," Anna hesitated. "I don't want to get in trouble or anything. I got in too much trouble in Zanesville when I became a mutant, and everyone didn't like me, and I had to leave because ...."

"If I get roommates to agree, and if I get permission, would it be okay?" Adalie interrupted.

"I guess so. Sure. Because I don't know anything about France, and if you got lonely, I'd probably say something bad and make you feel worse, and that would be really bad because we have to room together, so if you can get permission, I'll swap roommates with you. I know if I get sad and homesick, you probably couldn't help much because you're not familiar with the Midwest and small towns like Zanesville, and American customs and stuff, so I guess it would be best if you had a roommate from France, like you said."

Knowing that timing would be a critical element, Adalie sped around the hallway to Charmer's room, not that she was capable of much _besides_ speeding around, but she discovered to her dismay that Charmer wasn't around. Two rooms down, she heard a discussion in French, and she peeked in. "'ello," she said when the girls paused their conversations as Adalie knocked. "I couldn't help but overhear my native tongue," she said in French. "So there are more than three of us in this cottage?"

"Oui," one of the girls answered. "I am Genevieve Etincelle."

"And I am Romy Kumler," the second girl introduced herself.

"I am Adalie Vitesse, but I am also called Charge," Adalie introduced herself. She frowned. "How is it that you are rooming together, when they are not allowing the three of us who came this afternoon to choose our roommates?"

"We heard that they changed the policies in the cottages after the first group," Genevieve replied easily. "It seems they remembered their naive views of diversity and integration only after we had already selected rooms."

Adalie shook her head. "More Americain stupidity and barbarity! I hope to correct this intolerable imposition on at least two of us. If you will excuse me, I need to see if I can find either Primavera or Nanette to see about switching rooms. Perhaps we can meet for dinner?"

"Oui, that would be nice. But to an American palate, a greasy slice of potato they insultingly call a French fry is haute cuisine, so we probably shouldn't expect much!" Romy added with a snobbish sneer.

Adalie sped down the hall, looking for Nanette. Fortunately, both Nanette and her roommate were present. A few minutes of 'oh, poor me' and tugging at the heartstrings of Ellen, and Adalie had convinced her to swap rooms - but only if she got permission so she wouldn't get in trouble.

A quick four-way meeting convinced Anna and Ellen that they would be better off swapping roommates and sharing a dorm room, while Adalie and Nanette shared the other. Once the other girls had left her room, Adalie plugged in her computer and the small portable printer she had packed with it. A few minutes of very spotty wireless connection to the Internet and she had captured the image she sought. It only took minutes to put together a document that, at least at first glance, looked official, complete with the names of the intended recipients and a copied image of a signature from the Whateley brochure she'd found on-line. Five minutes later, she had a second document printed. She powered off her computer and slipped it and the printer back into her case.

The documents were sufficiently authentic-looking that both Ellen and Anna immediately accepted them as genuine, and became excited at the prospect of rooming together. She had a copy for herself, and one for Nanette as well, to minimize the likelihood that she'd be fingered as the perpetrator of this fraud. The second document Adalie handed to Mrs. Nelson, who scanned it thoroughly, and then, with a slight head shake and frown, as if she knew what Adalie was up to, she told the four girls to go ahead and switch rooms, and that she'd get the room assignment and mailbox assignment forms updated and submitted to the administration. It didn't take long for the girls to move their belongings and settle in to their new rooms with their new roommates, especially since at a slow pace, Adalie ran about twenty miles per hour.

 

At breakfast in Crystal Hall with the other French girls from the second floor in Dickinson Cottage, Adalie was startled when a uniformed security officer walked up to their table. "Adalie Vitesse?" he asked the group.

"That is me," Adalie acknowledged, suddenly feeling a little nervous.

"Please come with me. The headmistress wishes to speak with you immediately."

Feeling quite uncertain, Adalie figured she should get what information she could from the officer. "Why does the 'eadmistress wish to see me so early?" she asked. "Surely the school is not so uncivilized that it wouldn't let students finish a meal, or what the cooks 'ere generously refer to as a meal."

He shook his head. "All I know is that Mrs. Carson told security to bring you to her office immediately." He ceased responding to her questions.

Because Crystal Hall was attached to Schuster, the walk to the administrative offices was mercifully short, not giving Adalie time to think about the possible ramifications of having been summoned so early in the morning. She suspected that it had something to do with the room swap, but she _knew_ that she'd get off with a slap on the wrist, and that would be the end of that. After all, other students had swapped roommates on move-in day, and other European girls had been given a choice as to their roommates. So why should her actions warrant more than a scolding at most?

When Adalie was marched into the administrative office suite, she couldn't help but gulp nervously at the furious glare Ms. Hartford was directing her way. Perhaps the administration was a little more upset than she'd expected. Adalie quickly convinced herself otherwise; with over six-hundred students, surely the administration had many more important things to worry about that their stupid housing policy. Besides, they were just stupid Americans, and wouldn't figure out that the documents were forged. And even if they did miraculously determine the falsity of the papers, it couldn't be pinned on her.

"Please be seated and wait for Mrs. Carson," the secretary said, her voice completely devoid of emotion, let alone sympathy for Adalie.

Adalie sniffed disparagingly at her. Of course the staff would be rude. After all, they were Americans. She sat down, turning up her nose at the icy stare from Hartford and the narrowed eyes of the secretary. Two could play the emotions game, and if they wanted to try to intimidate Adalie, she was going to do her best to NOT be intimidated, but to show them that they were beneath her dignity.

She'd only been in the chair for a couple of minutes when a door, labeled 'Headmistress', opened. "Send her in," a voice called out sternly from beyond the door.

Adalie didn't wait to be 'summoned' by these gauche Americans, but instead immediately stood, as if the request had bypassed the underlings and come directly to her. With her head high, she stepped defiantly into the inner office. Her calm facade almost broke, however, when Assistant Headmistress Hartford rose and followed her in.

Headmistress Carson wasn't at all what Adalie had expected. She's assumed a dour, frumpy old woman nearing retirement, peering through her reading glasses, with gray hair tied up in a librarian's bun - an older, more bitter version of Ms. Hartford. Mrs. Carson's appearance, though, surprised her. The headmistress looked like she was in her early thirties, and cut an attractive figure that, for a moment, had Adalie feeling jealous and inadequate in comparison. Her eyes, though, weren't at all youthful, but seemed full of wisdom and experience far beyond her age. At present, those eyes had a hard cast to them, and her lips curled down in a seriously discomforting frown that radiated her unhappiness.

"Sit," Mrs. Carson commanded. Adalie, a little cowed by the headmistress' overwhelming presence, took a chair, and Ms. Hartford sat beside her, her head partially turned so that she, too, could glare at the French girl.

"Do you know why you're here?" Mrs. Carson demanded.

"Non, Madame," Adalie pled confusion.

In response, Mrs. Carson shoved a couple of papers across her desk to Adalie. "Do you recognize these?" she demanded icily.

Without even looking, Adalie knew what the papers were, since they were the forgeries she'd produced. Still, she could act, and thus fool these silly Americans. She picked them up and looked at them, taking a deliberately long time to scrutinize the familiar pages. "They are authorization to swap roommates," Adalie said, still feigning innocence.

"And they are forged!" Ms. Hartford growled. "Do you think you could kindly shed some light on _that_ fact?"

Adalie gulped - hard. Her ruse had been caught. "Forged, Madame?" she asked, still trying to play her role to the end.

"Forged, Ms. Vitesse. Further," Mrs. Carson continued, "Ms. Parsons and Ms. Tremain both attest that _you_ gave them these documents. And _you_ handed the other document to Mrs. Nelson. Would you care to explain _that_?"

Adalie's stubborn streak and her sense of Gallic superiority took over at a point when she should have simply acknowledge that she'd been caught and face the music. Instead, he launched into a tirade. "Why not? You 'ave roommate policies which blatantly discriminate against French, indeed _all_ European students, as if we are second-class citizens! You allow the American students to select their roommates, but deny us the same choice. And 'ere this country professes to be about fairness and equality! Where is the fairness in _those_ policies, eh? Or do you not even try to 'ide your anti-European and anti-French rules and policies? I was apparently wrongly informed that Whateley 'ad no double standards."

"Enough with the lofty rhetoric," Ms. Hartford barked. "In case you forgot, your admission packet included legal forms giving the academy and administration full rights in loco parentis to act in ways that _we_ consider to be your best interest. That includes your housing arrangements. We are _not_ a trade school for forgers and other petty criminals."

"Your discrimination is not fair," Adalie stuck with her 'poor, persecuted French girl' line of defense. "You 'ave a blatant double-standard which unfairly impacts us Europeans!"

"One of the functions of this institution," Mrs. Carson said through clenched teeth, visibly fighting back her frustration with this impudent, self-righteous child, "is to foster a community. When the European students, or any other small group of students, not only room together, but dine together and belong to exclusive little clubs that match their cliques, such as the Euro-Promotional League, it makes it difficult to establish that sense of community and camaraderie." Her tone of voice left no doubt that she wasn't buying Adalie's act.

"But, for the American students, it is not so difficult. Returning 'ome for us is very difficult because it is so costly and time-consuming - much more so than for American students, and that leads to a deep sense of isolation, of being cut off from our culture and communities. Surely you can understand why we would want to room with someone with whom we share an 'omeland, to 'elp reduce the inevitable anxiety and 'omesickness!"

Ms. Hartford clapped her hands thrice sarcastically. "Bravo, Ms. Vitesse. An Oscar-winning performance if ever I've seen one. Unfortunately, this school is about education and community, not bratty, spoiled children trying to play games with the rules."

Adalie frowned. This was _not_ going as she'd hoped. The two women were far beyond being merely upset. She hadn't seen anyone seething with that much anger since the maire and the chef de la police of her hometown of Chaniers had sicced the French MCO on her when she manifested. Like Madame Carson and Ms. Hartford, they hadn't been in a rage, instead seething with a barely-hidden anti-mutant hostility. Madame Carson and Ms. Hartford displayed the same simmering volcano of hostility to the degree that it was evident to any who looked, possibly even to some who weren't paying attention. The degree to which the two women fumed was discomforting to Adalie.

"The _only_ reason I don't move you back _right this instant_ is that your room assignment data had already been entered into the computer systems by last night's data entry staff," Mrs. Carson glowered. "And with a veritable mountain of registration, state, federal, and international education forms to be completed, and some foreign mutant affairs paperwork, all within very specific deadline, the staff won't be able to correct minor things like your dorm assignment, mail routing, and phone number for at least two weeks - if we're lucky!" She leaned back in her chair. "So my hands are tied. I can't move you for a couple of weeks, and it would be grossly unfair to the other girls to move you after that. The bureaucracy has tied my hands regarding your room and roommate, Ms. Vitesse, but I'm not going to just roll over and let you enjoy your little victory. Instead, I'll introduce you to the fine Whateley tradition of detention, to emphasize my displeasure with your little stunt and forgery."

Adalie's goggled the headmistress. "Detention, Madame?" she asked nervously.

"Yes, detention. How are your computer skills?"

"I am fairly skilled at using a computer, both for the internet and for office programs. It is something taught to even the youngest child in French ecoles."

"Spare me your Gallic superiority!" Ms. Hartford chided the girl. "Attitudes like yours are part of the reason we have a policy of integrating students of different cultures, a policy which _you_ ignored because you think you know better or because you think the rules are beneath you. In case you don't realize it yet, the rules _do_ apply to you, and you _don't_ know better than the administration, faculty, and staff of this institution. The rules and policies apply to _all_ students, including you. Do you understand?"

Adalie tried to remain stoic about the tongue-lashing, but she flinched a tiny bit, enough that Hartford noticed. "Oui, Madame," she squeaked.

"For your detention, you'll be working one and a half hours every night for the next two weeks assisting with data entry." Mrs. Carson leaned forward menacingly on the desk, her elbows resting on an old-fashioned blotter on the surface of her ancient, massive oaken desk. "You may think you've gotten away with something, Ms. Vitesse, but you are off to a very bad start with Whateley, and if you wish to stay, you'd better seriously contemplate how to comply with the rules and policies of this school instead of trying to subvert them. Do I make myself clear?"

"Oui, Madame," Adalie answered softly, looking down to avoid the piercing stare of Mrs. Carson.

 

"And so they had no choice but to leave the room arrangements the way they are," Adalie practically gloated to other French girls seated at a table in the Crystal Hall for dinner.

The other girls slowly turned their attention not to Adalie, but behind her, and as her words drifted off, she sensed, somehow, a presence behind her. She turned slowly, and saw a girl looking at her with a bemused smile. "It is not wise to anger Mrs. Carson or Ms. Hartford," the girl said in flawless French.

"Bah! What they were doing was discriminatory. And no-one was hurt, despite their vigorous and false protests to the contrary," Adalie countered.

"You do not know who Mrs. Carson was, do you?" the newcomer asked with a hint of a wry smile. "She used to be Lady Champion."

"Who?" Primavera asked.

"A very important American lady super-hero, some time ago. It is said that she was extremely powerful," the girl explained.

"Is she some cheap American copy of Soeur Justice," Adalie asked scornfully, referring to her idol from the Heros Glorieux de Bordeaux, the Bordeaux heroes organization which had helped liberate her - on a legal technicality - from the clutches of the French MCO when she manifested.

"It is more the other way. They say that Soeur Justice is a copy of Lady Champion. Ah, but I should introduce myself. I am Korende Mitterand, also known by my code-name as Kismet. I am a proud member of the Euro Promotion League."

"And what, pray tell, is the Euro Promotion League?" Nanette asked the question that had almost instantly and simultaneously materialized in everyone's mind.

"It is a social group for those of us who are exiled 'ere, in this culturally-forsaken land," Kismet replied with a smile. "It is nice to dine with those whose taste for French cuisine is finer than fried, egg-battered, poor imitation of bread covered in sickenly sweet syrup or greasy potato slices."

>Adalie chuckled. "Oui. The one thing I miss most from 'ome is the cooking of Chef Daphne, the private chef my pere hired for our maisson after ...." Adalie's voice suddenly cut off as she realized that she was saying far more than she'd intended, and she turned quickly away from the girls and wiped the corner of her eye. After a moment, realizing that all eyes were on her and the table was silent, she turned back to the group. "Chef Guimond never made us eat slop like they expect students to eat here! Not even in the ecole!"

"Did your chef teach you how to cook anything?" Kismet asked, choosing to ignore Adalie's minor emotional reaction.

"Mais oui," Adalie affirmed, turning back with an obviously feigned smile. "My sister and I were expected to cook at least one fine meal each week. My pere insisted that we learn to cook for the days we would go to the universite, and Chef Daphne would not allow us to cook ordinary fare."

Kismet's eyes lit up. "Then you will _love_ the Euro Promotional League! We have our own meeting space, with a properly appointed kitchen, where we can eat _real_ food from time to time!" She grinned. "But the rule is that you may _never_ allow any English member to cook for us!"

The girls giggled at the joke about English cooking skills, or the stereotypical lack thereof. "Come," Kismet said. "Allow me to introduce you to the members of our club." She led the newcomers to a table populated by the older European students, where everyone partook of a round of introductions, followed by friendly banter and talk about their various homes. The conversation was interesting, reminding Adalie of Chaniers almost too much.

"You know," Adalie said thoughtfully as the girls walked back to Dickinson Cottage, "I want to join the Euro Promotional League. Anything to lessen our suffering around these American oafs!" she added with a laugh. "And their truly despicable foods!"

 


March 4, 2007
Melville Cottage

"And _that_ was Adalie's introduction to the administration, and vice-versa," Jadis said. She stood. "I've got a few things to do before registration tomorrow. If there's anything _else_ I can do for you, ask. Just don't ask me to do _anything_ on your current housing arrangements. Not only are you in deep trouble over that, but everyone who might try to help you has been warned that _they_ will get in serious trouble if they even offer you assistance." She left the room, shaking her head slowly.

Alicia pulled a soda from the small refrigerator and offered it to her new roommate. When Adalie looked at the soda with the same regard one would give a pit viper, Alicia shrugged and opened the can with a fsshhh, then took a good swig. "Well, if'n y'all ask me, you're in mighty deep shit with the administration. Ah think Jadis is right; Ah wouldn't count on them helping y'all get back to your old room."

"I would agree," a voice sounded from the door in flawless French.

Adalie turned to the door, and her face lit up. "Genevieve!" she exclaimed, leaping to her feet to hug her fellow Beret Mafioso.

"I heard a rumor that you were moved over here," Genevieve said as she hugged Adalie.

"Oui," Adalie replied with a snort. "Ms. Hartford and Mrs. Carson are trying to ruin my life." She slumped onto her bed, drawing her knees up to her chest as she leaned back against a wall.

Genevieve shook her head as she sat at a chair by Adalie's desk. "You can't say that they don't 'ave reason," she said.

Alicia chuckled. "Jadis told me all about her adventure moving in, and how Adalie pissed them off."

Genevieve chuckled. "That's not 'alf of why Mrs. Carson and Ms. 'Artford don't like her."

"Oh?"

"Adalie managed to really anger Mrs. Carson and Ms. 'Artford just before our combat finals."

"Genevieve, you don't need to talk about that again," Adalie said with a scowl.

Alicia noticed a look of discomfort at whatever memories Genevieve had dredged up. "Now y'all _have_ to tell me," she giggled. "Ah want to know all about mah roomie!"

 


Friday, November 25, 2006

As Adalie and Romy neared Genevieve's lab, they couldn't help but overhear Genevieve excitedly describe her latest project, a tarry black symbiot goop, to the boy who seemed interested in Genevieve, an American boy named Harlan. His offer to help retrieve a stolen piece of her equipment called an ENI was plain, as was her use of a pleading feminine voice to spur him on his new quest.

Adalie stepped into the doorway. "Ahem," she cleared her throat, interrupting the two's conversation. "Am I interrupting anything?" Adalie asked with a frost-tinged French accent.

"As a matter of fact, _yes_," Harlan said amiably. "But, it's nothing that I can't get back to." Adalie didn't get the expected verbal riposte from the boy that she'd expected. Demeaning arguments with les Americains were fun for her, and this boy had denied her a bit of sadistic pleasure. "I'll get back to you, Jenny-hon!"

Adalie tried to warn Genevieve not to trust that 'Americain boy', but she was making no progress. Genevieve's heart was involved, and logic had been thrown out the window. But it was a surprise to Adalie when Genevieve stood up to her instead of merely 'going along' as she usually did. It led to some loud, French discussion about Harlan's possible motives and Genevieve's interest in the American boy. The more Adalie pointed out that he was an unsophisticated, Southern boy, the more Genevieve defended him. As Adalie rolled her eyes in frustration, she saw the boy pass a blonde exemplar, but she missed the shocked look on the blonde's face.

 

Adalie found herself unexpectedly confronting a blond girl in one of the maze of tunnels beneath Whateley. "Excuse me, Adalie?"

"What?" Adalie's large gray eyes narrowed. She didn't trust Americans, especially blonde exemplar ones who went around flaunting their over-ripe charms.

"You're friends with that devisor, I think she calls herself 'Spark'?"

Adalie's sharp features hardened even more. "Oui. What of it?"

The girl, Heartbreaker, bit her lower lip. "Earlier, when I was in the Workshop, I passed a boy who was leaving. His thoughts were full of a strange black tarry substance in a glass drum, an electronic device, the security layout of the Workshop, and thoughts of theft. As I got the impression that Jello was involved somehow, I tried to get more from him, but he was already leaving. All that I was able to get was the thought 'this is my chance! I'll show them!' I think that he's trying to rush one of the cliques, and is planning on stealing something to prove his mettle. I, ah, won't say exactly which group I think that he's rushing - for various reasons."

Adalie's hand lashed out and grabbed the girl's arm. Her large gray eyes bored into her blue ones. "This boy who was 'e?"

"Well, I don't know his name, but he's right over there." She pointed over to where Harlan was sitting with Holdout and Rez, as they poured over Rez' laptop.

"Je le savais!" Adalie snapped. "_'im_!" Immediately, she dashed out of the Crystal Hall at nearly 90 mph. She _had_ to find Genevieve and warn her of Reach's treachery

 

Genevieve clutched at a pillow for comfort as her big green eyes filled with tears. "Mais porquoi? Why? I thought that he _liked_ me?"

Adalie, pacing at a frenetic pace, or at least such a pace for a non-speedster, summarized what she knew. Harlan was trying to get into a spy club, and had probably stolen Genevieve's ENI device to prove that he had the 'right stuff' to be a spy. One of the masterminds had told her so. And that Harlan was interested in Genevieve's prototype symbiot goop, and was planning a heist of _that_, too. The girl who'd given Adalie the information had good cause to stop Harlan, and as a telepath, knew what Harlan had been thinking.

Genevieve cried in outrage. "He was very interested in the symbiot culture, when I was setting it up in the lab! _Too_ interested!" She knew that if he got his hands on it, he could become very powerful. If he stole it, he'd spoil months of research, and many dollars that Genevieve had invested in the project would be wasted.

"Bien alors!" Adalie said with a shark-like grin. "We will just have to stop him, and teach the backstabber a lesson that he won't soon forget, now won't we?" She was already scheming and plotting a way to catch Harlan in the act.

 


Tuesday, November 29, 2006

Adalie Vitesse stood nervously in front of Mrs. Carson's desk, very late at night, fidgeting nervously and trying to avoid the iron-hard scowls of Mrs. Carson and Ms. Hartford. Despite their casual clothing, they both looked extremely professional and extraordinarily intimidating, mostly through their dual "glares of supreme authority" that they were directing at the students. She stood with four other girls, and one boy, in what felt like an arena of judgment.

Carson and Hartford began a tag-team interrogation, starting with Eve Hilton, Heartbreaker, a member of the Masterminds who seemed completely confused as to the reason for her presence. From what Adalie could ascertain, the administrators were curious as to whether the Masterminds were rushing a boy named Harlan Sawyer, aka Reach.

"I'm drawing a blank on this 'Reach' guy," Heartbreaker said with total honesty.

"Does _this_ help?" Carson showed her an 8x10" portrait of Harlan Sawyer.

"Oh, _him_!" Eve said, her photographic memory coming to her aid. "No, never met him."

"Are you _certain_?"

"Yes'm. Absolutely sure."

"Then why did you tell _her_-" Hartford pointed at Adalie, who was silently bristling with indignation, "- that the Masterminds were rushing him, and that he'd not only stolen Miss Etincelle's Neurological Engram Inducer, but was planning to steal something called a Dermal Symbiot proto-culture as proof of his burglary skills?"

"Because I didn't!" Eve bristled right back. "A few days ago, I passed him in the Workshop, and I *ahem!* 'overheard' him thinking about a lot of stuff, including burglary, high tech, some black stuff in a bottle, and my friend Jello. I tried to get more, but all that I heard was 'this is my chance, I'll show them!' Later, I saw that he was hanging out with two of the Spy Kidz, and figured that he was rushing for them. Adding what I heard with the Spy Kidz, I figured that he was gonna try to swipe a prototype or something James Bond-y like that."

"The Cadets are _not_ thieves!" the only boy, Holdout, blurted out.

"Yeah, yeah," Heartbreaker jeered.

"_Silence_!" Hartford snapped.

"_Quelle_?" Genevieve blurted out, looking at Adalie, "But you said that you had positive proof that 'Arley was stealing from me! You call that _proof_?" Adalie responded with a brisk fusillade of French, which sparked a lively argument in that language, which was firmly and loudly interrupted by Mrs. Carson.

"I _still_ say that this 'Reach' was trying to steal the symbiot proto-culture," Adalie said with stiff dignity. "How did he get into the lab, if not by breaking in? Why break in, unless it was to _steal_? And our trap was set only to go off when the proto-culture drum was lifted from its cradle. The proof of his guilt is in the fact that he was caught," she finished with smug triumph at what she considered to be impeccable logic.

"We went to the bay to return Spark's ENI gizmo," Holdout retorted in a flat weary tone.

"Which you _stole_!" Adalie shot back.

"Which we recovered from Belphegor."

"So you say!" Adalie retorted angrily.

"So do the two security officers who saw the whole thing."

Carson held up a report. "I have the incident report right here. At 4:15, the students code named Holdout, Rez and Reach assisted Lt. Reynolds and Sgt. Harris in locating a secret laboratory created by the student code named 'Belphegor'."

Genevieve, aka Spark, gawked at the revelation, as did Adalie and Romy, aka Migraine.

"In Bephegor's secret laboratory, they found 14 separate pieces of stolen equipment." Mrs. Carson paused and glowered at Charge, Spark and Romy. "Even with those thefts, he's in a lot less trouble than _you_ three are."

One by one, unbiased testimony and physical evidence overcame Adalie's accusations and objections, knocking them down like a chain of dominoes. As each new piece of incontrovertible evidence was brought in, Adalie retreated further into bitter silence, Romy looked sicker, and Jenny got greener with shame and remorse.

When the last of Adalie's objections had been overturned, Carson leaned forward with her hands folded on her desk and very sternly gave the three girls what she called her 'Vigilante' speech, which she usually reserved for extreme incidents and events, a speech designed to put the fear of God into the students receiving said lecture.

She concluded her stern lecture. "Today, to be a vigilante is to take the Law into your own hands, on spurious accusations, usually with ulterior motives, with little to no real evidence, without hearing testimony, and meting out a punishment that may not be warranted against a person who may be innocent. Those of us with super powers are extremely vulnerable to the lure of vigilantism.

"Ladies, what you did today was Vigilantism, pure and simple. You acted on an accusation that wasn't even an accusation, just a suggestion that someone may have done or may do something wrong. You asked no questions, you sought no evidence, and you considered no alternatives. You did not take your grievance to any mature authority but decided the matter yourselves. Acting on flimsy evidence and testimony, you took it upon yourselves to try, convict and sentence another student. You laid down a punishment that would have been excessive, cruel _and_ unusual, even _if_ Sawyer _had_ been planning to rob you! And worst of all, you did all of this to a boy who was not only innocent of all charges, but going out of his way to _help_ you!" Carson hit the intercom. "Bring in Sawyer."

The door opened, and a Hispanic woman led in a girl wearing the black turtleneck sweater, cargo pants, cross-trainers, finger-less gloves and a utility belt favored by the Spy Kidz. The girl was curvy, tall, athletic and absolutely lovely, with glossy black hair in a somewhat unflattering shag-cut. Her sweater and cargo pants were small, accentuating her curves and a couple inches too short for her arms and legs.

"Who's she?" Rez asked.

"That's Sawyer," Hartford said with her usual sardonic relish.

"_Reach_?" Holdout blurted out, "Is that _you_?"

"Yeah, it's me," the girl replied in a weary clear contralto that still carried a touch of her Kentucky accent.

"What did they _do_ to you, man?" Darren asked, horrified.

"Well, apparently," Carson started, peering through her reading glasses at a report, "Miss Etincelle modified her 'Exemplar State Inducer' to superimpose a specific BIT upon Mr. Sawyer, thus resulting in that. By the way, Miss Etincelle, exactly whose BIT did you use?"

"Well, we used the BIT recording of that Poe Girl, Zenith," Jenny said timorously.

"What you did was inexcusably _stupid_!" Carson snapped.

"Excuse me?" Harlan interrupted, "But what exactly _did_ happen? The last thing that I remember, I was going into Jenny's lab there was that drum of symbiot goop on the floor  I put the drum back in the cradle then somebody shoved a live wire up my ass, then I woke up in the infirmary, with _her_ telling me not to get upset!" Harley finished by pointing at the Hispanic woman who had come in with him (or her).

Mrs. Carson very calmly spelled out the entire sequence of events, winding the story up with, "And you should be grateful that you were unconscious for the Imprinting stage of the process. From the eyewitness accounts, it would have been excruciating."

Harlan looked at Spark aghast, and visibly distressed emotionally. "Jenny! How _could_ you?"

"I was upset!" she whimpered, obviously all too aware that that wasn't a valid excuse, but it was all she had. "Oh, 'Arlee! I'm so _sorry_! I'll do anything that I can to make it up to you!" she burst out crying.

"I don't see what everyone's so upset about," Adalie said nonchalantly. "So, we were wrong. So what? He's fine, and Genevieve's process is only temporary, so he should change back in a week. Or two. Maybe more ..."

"_So what_?" Carson snarled, "Do you have any _idea_ of what you did? You blithely tampered with someone's mind and body! You imposed defining characteristics on someone who you never gave a chance to defend himself! You used untested, unproven Devisor level equipment on an unwilling subject! You not only risked driving Sawyer insane or crippling him or inducing GSD that could scar him for life, you risked _killing_ him! Even if Sawyer _had_ given his permission, you not only performed this process without Workshop oversight, you did it by fu - freaking _remote control_! Miss Vitesse, that goes far beyond reckless or irresponsible, and well into the legal definition of 'Malicious'. Miss Vitesse, Miss Etincelle, Miss Kumler, you should realize that it is well within my power to have you arrested and extradited to the State of New Hampshire to be tried for Assault, Mayhem, and Attempted Murder!"

Both Jenny and Romy blanched, but Adalie stubbornly held her ground. "So? I'll be deported back to France"

Carson gave her a 'don't mess with me, you little bitch, I'm meaner than you are' look. "True. And the French MCO will of course, have to be alerted that a reckless and dangerous mutant was expelled from the United States for Attempted Murder. Of course, you remember that France operates by the Code Napoleon, under which the burden of proof lies with the accused ..."

All the blood drained from Adalie's face at the thought of coming under the jurisdiction of the Bureau de Commission de Mutant Francais - again. Her first encounter with them had been far less than pleasant.

Carson gave an acidulous grin and said, "Oh, and Miss Vitesse? For me, this _is_ playing with kid gloves." She leaned back and glowered at all three of the European girls. "Indeed, there is only one reason why I'm not telling Security to fit you for power restraints right now. From what you're saying, and by Mr. Colm and Miss McAllen's testimony, it sounds like someone changed your trap." There continued a long discussion of the mystery of _who_ had changed the trap, why, and what everyone present was going to do to help solve things. Adalie found the discussion boring, as she had no direct involvement in the investigation or the machinations of the Spy Kids' interactions with security. She merely stood, ignoring the conversation while she tried to work math homework problems in her head - mostly unsuccessfully.

As the French girls walked back to their cottage, Adalie couldn't help but vent her frustration. "That was so pointless," she declared scathingly. "Madame Carson could have let us go after her little lecture. At least I would have had time to study my math!"

Romy and Genevieve were far less dismissive of what Adalie was referring to as a 'complete waste of time,' and much more cognizant of what they had done. "We got off pretty easy, considering what happened," Romy mumbled.

Spark frowned. "'Arley didn't get off lucky," she complained bitterly. She glared at Adalie. "Thanks to you and your 'proof', 'Arley is stuck being a girl for the next couple of weeks - we hope!"

"I was trying to help you, cheri," Adalie said soothingly to Genevieve to calm her down.

"Some 'elp! I find a boy who's nice and who's interested in me, and thanks to your 'proof', 'Arley will probably 'ate me forever!" she wailed in distress.

"Carson and Hartford over-reacted," Adalie said bluntly. "Things aren't that bad for 'Arley."

"Not that bad?" Genevieve practically screamed. "Thanks to you and your 'evidence', he was turned into a girl!"

"It's only temporary," Adalie said nonchalantly.

"Madame Carson threatened to expel us and turn us over to the French MCO!" Romy fussed. "How much more serious could this be?" Romy asked, amazed at Adalie's attitude.

"'Ow can you be so callous about 'Arley?"

"It's not so bad, Genevieve," Adalie tried to reassure her friend. "'Arley will change back in a few days, and everything will be back to normal."

"Assuming that 'e will even _speak_ to me after what happened!" Genevieve was on the verge of tears.

"Everything will be okay," Adalie tried to reassure Genevieve, putting her arm around her friend's shoulder as a gesture of support as the trio entered Dickinson Cottage.

Angrily, Genevieve shrugged off Adalie's arm. "After what you did, don't touch me! Don't talk to me!" She ran off up the stairs, away from her stunned friends.

Romy shook her head. "I think you owe Genevieve an apology."

"Pour quoi?" asked Adalie, stunned that Romy was apparently siding with Genevieve.

"Because she thinks it's your fault that she became angry and set the trap for 'Arley, and thus it's your fault that 'Arley was changed. And she's probably angry that you don't seem to think there was anything wrong with that!"

Adalie thought for the briefest of moments, and then shook her head. "It was all a misunderstanding, and everything will be fine. She'll see. And why should she be so upset over ... un Americain?"

Romy shook her head. "Sometimes, Adalie, you can be so dense! It's une affaire de coeur, an affair of the heart! C'est l'amour! And it _was_ your fault!"

Adalie shook her head, sighing. "She has l'amour for an Americain boy, who is gender-confused? Impossible!"

"No, it is not impossible! And Genevieve thinks that you've come between her and her love. Wouldn't you be upset if it were you?"

Adalie gawked at Romy for a moment. "Impossible! I could never be attracted to an Americain, especially one that's so gender-confused!" She saw the angry glare Romy was giving her. "Very well," she said reluctantly. "I shall apologize."

"And you should be very careful with the administration. It's not wise to anger Madame Carson or Madame 'Artford. And this is the second time you've garnered their personal attention."

 


March 4, 2007, Melville Cottage

"Holy crap on a cracker!" Alicia mouthed softly. "No wonder Mrs. Carson has it in for you."

Adalie frowned, upset at being reminded of that overblown incident. "Bah! Everything worked out."

"Did you and Genevieve ever make up?" Alicia asked next, eyeing Genevieve carefully as she watched for a reaction.

"Oui. As I said, all worked out in the end."

"Not for 'Arley!" Genevieve snapped. "What 'appened to 'im was completely unfair! "And I still 'aven't forgotten what you did to 'Arley and me."

"I told you that it would all work out for you, did I not? Are you not now sharing a room with 'im? Are you not lovers?" Adalie asked with a smirk.

"Part-time roommates," Genevieve said softly, blushing furiously at Adalie's statement. "There are times when 'e changes back to a boy and 'e rooms with Thiago."

"See?" Adalie asked. "It all workedout. Everyone is 'appy."

"Except that Madame Carson and Madame 'Artford are both still quite angry with you."

"Oh, please!" Adalie said caustically. "Madame 'Artford has no time to think of anything besides 'er computer. She 'as forgotten by now."

"Perhaps," Genevieve said. "But it doubt that Mrs. Carson 'as forgotten. Nor 'as she forgotten about your combat final."

"Oh, please!" Adalie said, rolling her eyes. "Stupid, moronic Americain, violent culture of fighting! Just like that idiot cowboy president who wants to start wars and fight instead of acting civilized! The whole thing was a farce, a stupid comedy of bloodshed to entertain uneducated students and teachers!" Adalie was on a tear, ranting so savagely about the combat final that she'd slipped into French without knowing.

"Ah suppose y'all are going to have to tell me what happened," Alicia said to Genevieve. "It looks like she's a mite too upset to be talking right now."

"I'll try," Genevieve said, wincing, "but you must understand that at the time of Charge's combat final, I was in the 'ospital. I can only tell you what I 'eard from Chat Bleu."

"Ooohhh," Alicia grinned. "Second-hand stories and rumors! Even juicier!"

 


December 11, 2006

"What?" Adalie screeched in shock and disbelief at the Beret Mafia table in the caf, drawing much unwanted attention from students all over the cafeteria.

"I said," Chat Bleu repeated, "they called your name to report to Arena 99 for your combat final."

"Impossible!" Adalie snapped. "I don't have a combat final! I'm taking swimming, not fighting! I'm not taking any stupid martial arts classes, so I should not have to fight!"

"Everyone has to fight in the combat finals. It is mandatory. If you don't show up in fifteen minutes," Kismet sternly warned Adalie, "you'll automatically fail, and that will significantly impact your grade in PE for the term."

"Oui," Charmer added. "And if you fail, Madame Carson can easily justify kicking you out."

"Come," Chat Bleu said to her roommate, taking Adalie by the elbow. "Let us get to the arena so you don't fail."

"C'est stupide!" Adalie began a nonstop stream of vitriolic French against the idea of combat finals, against the instructors, and against American violence-loving culture in general.

Ten minutes later, the two girls stood by the entrance to the combat area of Arena 99, with Adalie only have just quit her invective. On the screen, Adelie's information was prominently displayed:

 

Mutant Identification Card

Code-name: Charge
Ratings: Energizer - 2; Exemplar - 1
Techniques: Speed (escape)
Weak vs: Strength, Flight, Psychic, Magic
Backup / Team Affiliation: Euro-Promotional League

 


Also displayed was her intended opponent for the match:

Mutant Identification Card

Code-name: Armadillo
Ratings: Manifestor -2; Telekenisis - 3; basic martial arts
Techniques: Telekinetic throws, telekinetic projectiles, manifested armor
Weak vs: Energizer, Strength, Psychic, Magic
Backup / Team Affiliation: Faction 3

 


Adalie's opponent was already in the arena, with his manifested segmented gray leathery armor and helmet which was his namesake. A gray mask under his helmet hid his eyes, and he flexed his hands and cracked his knuckles, manifested armadillo claws visible for all to see.

Adalie wasn't paying too much attention to Armadillo. She marched up to one of the officiators at the entrance. "What is the meaning of this outrage?"

"Your combat final, Ms. Vitesse," the official replied simply. "Do you have a costume?"

"A ... costume? C'est ridicule! I am studying to be an interior designer, an artiste, not some absurd violent super-'ero or policeman! Why would I want some absurd costume?"

The official sighed, and then took a mask from a small stash of them. "Put this on. It is required that you conceal your identity in the arenas."

Adalie looked at the proffered mask with horror. "What? You want me to wear this insane piece of cheap circus-performer costume?"

"Required."

"And if I do not participate in this ridiculous ... charade?" Adalie asked stiffly.

A voice came over her shoulder, a booming, commanding voice. "Then you fail the test, and you will fail your fall term PE course," Sergeant Wilson snapped at her, his voice ringing with the firmness of steel.

"This is stupid! I took a course in swimming!" She slipped into French in her intense frustration and anger at the situation. "Only an idiot would think that swimming has anything to do with some stupid, violent fight! Only an _Americain_ idiot! This is totally unfair!"

Sergeant Wilson barely noticed Adalie's glowering expression. He'd seen far worse. "Put on the mask and get into the combat area."

"And if I refuse to participate in this act of American violent stupidity because of I object to senseless violence?"

Wilson shrugged. "If you are a pacifist, you had until two weeks ago to register with the administration and security, and you would have been given an exemption. Since you didn't register within the allotted time, you are required to participate. If you refuse, I don't think Ito, Bardue, or Carson will lose any sleep if they have to give you a zero for the exercise."

Adalie sighed angrily. She was well and truly boxed in. "What are the rules? I'm 'oping that even an American institution would 'ave some type of rules for a contest!"

Sergeant Wilson silently counted to five to allow his annoyance at the snobbish member of the Beret Mafia to wane. "It's a simple contest. Only one of you can enter the spindle, input your information, answer a few questions, and thus win the scenario. You may have to fight your opponent to disable his ability to win. It takes long enough to enter the data that an opponent can easily disrupt your focus and you'll have to start over."

"You cannot make me fight!" Adalie stormed.

"Be that as it may, your grade will be based on inventiveness and use of your skills, not necessarily on whether you win or lose. You don't necessarily have to fight to win, but you have to outdo your opponent."

"Ce qui est totalement stupide!" Snarling in frustration, Adalie snatched the mask from Sergeant Wilson's hand and, after slipping it on, stormed through the portal in the force-field protecting the assembled spectators from the goings-on in the arena, and stepped to what was indicated as her starting spot.

"Ready? Begin," the loudspeaker announced.

Charge glared at her opponent, who was stalking toward her slowly and deliberately. She glanced around, and saw the spindle. "Very well," she said angrily to herself. "If I do not need to fight to win, I will just answer the questions and end this, denying the stupid teachers the privilege of drooling over some gladiatorial combat!" Charge crossed her arms defiantly, her nose upturned snobbishly. "This is a total waste of my time!" she snapped toward Armadillo. "I do not fight."

Armadillo grinned. "Y'all better either fight or run," he said in a thick, slow drawl. "Ah'm fixin' to win this match one way or another, and Ah can't do it if'n y'all can interfere with me."

Charge looked that the evil leer on the boy's face and realized that he was looking forward to a fight. "Naturellement," she sneered, "you stupid Americains _want_ to fight, even when it's not necessary!" She turned to walk off, and tripped, barely keeping from face-planting in the dirty street. She looked down, and saw that her shoelaces had been tied together. When she looked up, she saw Armadillo laughing at her; he must have used his telekinetic power on her shoes while she was talking.

Charge untied her shoelaces as the boy walked slowly, deliberately toward her. "Y'all going t' fight?" he taunted. "Or are you chicken, just like all Frenchies?"

Charge clenched her jaw in anger. "Absolument stupide!" she said, shaking her head. "You're just a typical, brainless Americain oaf! All you uncouth barbarians know is how to fight!" She started to walk toward the spindle again.

Armadillo frowned; while he didn't understand French, there was no mistaking that this French bitch had called him a stupid American. "It's mah grade, so Ah'm fixin to fight if Ah have to." He grin broadened. "Or if Ah want to, like if'n y'all keep insultin' me."

Charge suddenly fell from a hard telekinetic shove to her back. As she rolled to her feet, she stared at the boy, shocked, as she read his expression. "So typically Americain!" she said disdainfully. When he was within ten feet of her, and still closing, she turned and zipped off, using her energizer speed to run toward the spindle at just under ninety miles per hour.

"Runnin' away? Why don't y'all just do the normal Frenchie thing and surrender?" Armadillo taunted her. "Or did you forget t' bring your white flag?"

Before she realized what was happening, a large crate jumped in front of Charge, propelled by Armadillo's telekineis, and she couldn't stop or swerve quickly enough. Instead, she smacked into the obstacle at nearly full speed, and she rebounded into a crumpled heap on the street.

Behind her, she heard Armadillo laughing aloud. "Ah _knew_ y'all 'd pull that basic French maneuver of runnin' away," he continued the taunting.

"Typical unintelligent American babble!" Charge said disdainfully, her nose turning up in disgust. "Of course, such is to be expected in a state where a family reunion is also a place to pick up girls."

Armadillo's features clouded at her insult to _him_, and as Charge turned to dash off again, he raised his hand toward her. Charge stumbled and tripped when her mask shifted unexpectedly so that her vision was blocked. "Did the poor little French girl forget her white flag to surrender?" He sprinted toward the temporarily blinded girl.

"'Ow clever! 'Ow long did it take you to come up with that one?" Charge retorted angrily as she adjusted her mask so she could see again. "Is it true that in Texas, a condominium and a trailer park are the same thing?"

Armadillo got close enough that he took a poke at Charge, but she managed - somehow - to step back from him quickly enough that he swung through empty air. She turned and darted, at full speed, toward the spindle again. "Fight, you coward!" Armadillo said as he used his telekenisis to stop Charge and pull her back in front of him, holding her inches above the ground so her speed couldn't be used.

"I refuse to participate in this display of idiotic violence!" Charge snapped at Armadillo. "Put me down, you buffoon!"

"Aw," Armadillo sneered, "does the poor, defenseless cheese-eating surrender monkey want to be put down?" He punched her hard in the face, and then telekinetically slammed her to the ground. "Whassa matter, Frenchie?" he taunted. "Can't do anything since there aren't any Americans to bail your sorry ass out of a fight, like we had to do in two World Wars?" Grinning maliciously, he used his telekinetic power to rip the girl's skirt from her, exposing her panties to the spectators.

Fuming silently at the embarrassment this demented boy was causing her, Adalie stepped out of the torn skirt around her ankles and rose to her feet, backing away from Armadillo as she did so. "I bet this is the only way you'll see a girl's panties. Is beating up 'elpless girls some sick sport in Texas? Or are you compensating from getting your asses 'anded to you at the Alamo?"

She heard Armadillo's primal scream of rage as her taunting hit home with the proud Texan. There wasn't even time for her to react before she was slammed bodily into a nearby replica of a building. A scream erupted from her lips as pain coursed through her torso. She crumpled in a heap next to the building. Wincing, she dragged herself to her feet, and she saw Armadillo stalking slowly toward her, ignoring the spindle and his opportunity to win. "Not so funny now, is it Froggy? he sneered. "You're like all Frenchies - all bluster and no fight!"

Charge struggled painfully to her feet. "What does this prove?" she asked Armadillo bluntly. "That you can beat up a girl who refuses to fight you?" She sneered at him. "'Ow utterly manly and Americain of you!" Drawing herself up proudly, ignoring the pain she felt, she spoke to the violent boy. "Go a'ead and use the machine to win. I won't try to stop you."

"Fight me, you stupid Frenchie!" Armadillo roared at her. His eyes burned with fury at her passive nature. "Or wave your panties like a white flag to surrender!"

Charge turned and dashed away, limping, and surprising Armadillo by running not for the spindle, but for the now-closed portal in the force shield. "Let me out, you idiots!" she screamed as she banged uselessly against the containing field. "'E's going to kill me! Stop this stupid charade, now!" she demanded, oblivious in her pain and frustration to the fact that she'd slipped back into French. "Let me out! I demand that you let me out! Stop this lunacy! Stop, I tell you, stop before 'e kills me!" Her rant continued as she banged on the force field. Beyond it, she could see Sergeant Wilson staring at her with a level, unemotional gaze, as if she wasn't even present or was in no danger.

Armadillo ran toward her instead of to the spindle, oblivious now to anything but a good fight. Before he'd manifested, he was a bully in his school and neighborhood, and the powers only increased his toolbox for tormenting others. While not a UV - yet - he was prone to losing his temper and thrashing anyone who pissed him off. Coupled with a year and a half of martial arts training, Armadillo was more than a match for someone like Charge, especially when angered. He used his power to yank Charge away from the force-field and body slammed her onto the ground again. "Fight, dammit!" he screamed at her. "Fight!" He stood over her, eyes burning with fury, a snarl on his lips, and his fists raised to strike the girl when she stood again.

Chat Bleu had watched the lopsided farce of a battle, and as Adalie was tossed yet again, she was on her feet, with most of the crowd, screaming for someone to do something before Armadillo killed her, which, judging by his loss of control, he was about to do. The entire crowd raged against the murderous debacle going on, except for the Ultra-violents, who were getting their sadistic pleasure from the beat-down, but even over the roar of the crowd, the loudspeaker could be heard blaring at full volume to stop the fight. Chat Bleu was certain that Armadillo didn't hear, because he didn't even turn his attention from the crippled girl he was physically battering. She dashed down the arena steps to the portal, to Sergeant Wilson. "Stop 'im!" she screamed. "'E's going to kill 'er! For God's sake, stop this!"

Charge struggled to rise. She was hurt too badly, and in too many places. "Are you 'appy?" she hissed at the approaching boy. "You got to beat up a defenseless girl. Does that make you feel like a big man? Per'aps you should go out and celebrate your 'uge triumph tonight, eh? Like any stupid Americain, who takes glory in causing pain and suffering, you're just a bully and an uncivilized punk." She turned to walk away from him. "I 'eard that other states send their least intelligent people to Texas, and it raises the average IQ in both places!"

Armadillo roared at her. "Shut up, bitch!" He reached out with his TK field, and lifted her off the ground, only to slam her down again - hard.

After the knockdown, Adalie looked up, and struggling against immense pain, sneered at him, and raised her middle finger. "You're a piece of Texas cow shit!" she hissed.

Armadillo lost it. Any remaining tiny shards of control vanished at her rude gesture and insult. He telekinetically slammed her across fifty-feet of mock street into the side of a building, and before she could even crumple to the ground, he stomped angrily toward her limp body, his claws extended as he flexed his fingers and arms. He was going to give the girl an old-fashioned beat-down to show her that one didn't mess with Texas, or Texans. He didn't care that she wasn't moving, even the tiniest bit, and it looked like there was a pink spray from her mouth when her body spasmed with a cough.

After Armadillo's first, vicious body slam of Adalie, Sergeant Wilson and Gunny Bardue had burst through the portal into the arena. As he continued to batter the helpless girl, they charged him while bellowing loudly at him to stop. Armadillo didn't even notice them because he was entirely focused on the girl, his judgment completely clouded by his anger. The pair split up, in case he did notice and decided to use his telekinetic power against them, too, in his rage. Sergeant Wilson was the first to get to the angry boy, landing a haymaker on his jaw; a follow-up punch to his solar plexus stunned him, at least momentarily. "Stop!" Sergeant Wilson ordered loudly, while Gunny Bardue tackled the boy and rolled him face down into the dirt, his arms held painfully behind his body. "Stop!" Gunny barked at him. "The fight is over!"

Slowly, with pain killing his ability to focus his telekinesis, and the two large men holding him down in a very uncomfortable position, the anger slowly faded from Armadillo's rage-addled mind. He turned his head to the side to avoid inhaling the dirt, and the instructors could see that the raging fire in his eyes was dying down and his breathing became more regular. "Huh?" he stammered slowly, not quite aware of what had transpired during his mental lapse into anger.

Behind the two instructors, Band-Aid and Jericho rushed into the arena, with Chat Bleu close on their heels. Band-Aid bent over, and almost immediately began to focus his power on the battered girl, while Jericho used his scanner devices to determine just how badly Charge was injured. He frowned deeply at the readings he saw. He dropped the device and began to tend to a jutting, ragged, bloody bone sticking through the skin of Charge's right upper arm, one of her fractures that needed the most immediate attention because it was bleeding profusely.

"Doyle ER, we're bringing a trauma case from the arena," Jericho spoke into a communication device pinned to the collar of his shirt. He turned to one of the instructors. "Get a litter, stat!" Back to the comm device. "Code name Charge. Compound fracture, right humerous, severe hemorrhaging. Fractured rib, with evidence of a punctured lung with internal hemorrhaging. Probable skull fracture. Probable fracture, left tibia with severe hemorrhaging. Internal hemorrhaging in liver. Tell Caduceus to be ready immediately when we arrive." Jericho let his finger off the comm device. "Is she stable enough to transport?"

Band-Aid looked up after focusing his powers on Charge. "We don't have a choice," he said grimly, before returning to using his powers to try to stabilize the girl.

Gunny saw Chat Bleu from the corner of his eye, her expression a mixture of anguish over her injured friend and rage at the instructors for having put Adalie in a no-win situation where she'd been so badly injured. As Sergeant Wilson escorted a pacified Armadillo from the arena in handcuffs, he turned to Charge's roommate.

"Why? Why did you make her fight? Everyone knows she hates violence!" Chat Bleu screamed at Gunny. "You almost got her killed! And for what? So you could enjoy watching a one-sided beating? To satisfy some sick bloodlust? To use her bloody corpse to prove some demented point about fighting to your sick, violent students?" She was in tears and lashing out verbally at what had happened to her roommate, and wisely, Gunny declined to try explaining the instructor's rationale for trying to force Adalie to learn to defend herself. "If anything happens to 'er, it's _your_ fault!" No matter what he said, Chat Bleu wouldn't be listening. Instead, he turned and walked from the arena, ignoring the emotional and screaming girl who was dogging his steps, venting her frustration in a loud soliloquy. There were more combat finals to be held.

 

A sea of red pain filled Adalie's vision, but it slowly parted as she cautiously opened her eyes, the bright lights of the room stabbing her eyes but not as painfully as the soreness in the rest of her battered body.

"Where ... where am I?" she asked softly, tilting her head very slightly, and painfully, to look around. It appeared that she was in a hospital room, and the sensations against her skin indicated that she was quite heavily bandaged.

Dr. Tenent, Caduceus, came to her bedside. "You're in the hospital, dear," she answered, even though she hadn't understood the girl's mumbled question in French.

Adalie frowned, and even that caused her pain. "I told them that fighting was a stupid idea," she cursed. "But it seems that the instructors were determined to see me physically beaten."

Caduceus bent over the girl and began to incant another of her healing spells. A few of the more intense aches in Adalie's body waned as the magic knitted together fractured bones and torn tissues. "Now rest, dear," she said to Adalie slowly. "If you stay quiet and let the magic finish knitting your bones together, you should be able to return to your cottage tomorrow _if_ you promise to rest for a few days."

 

Adalie lay in her bed, unwilling to move much because of the pain motion caused her, not really aware of how much time had passed as she swam in and out of a sea of pain. As she rested, careful not to move so as to avoid more pain, she thought, and she grew angrier and angrier with the administration and instructors for having put her in harm's way in the first place. The entire concept of combat finals was, to her, only more proof that the American culture was bereft of any redeeming qualities, barely even qualifying as a civilization.

After what seemed an eternity to Adalie, two figures came through the door. "How are you feeling, dear?" Madame Carson asked gently as she and Sensei Ito walked to her bedside.

The intense frustration and anger Adalie felt about being forced to participate in a combat final erupted with more force than a volcano. "How the fuck do you think I feel?" Adalie yelled in anger, in hate, and in French at the person she felt was most responsible for nearly getting her killed. "And why should you even fucking care? Have you come to gloat about seeing me beaten and almost killed? Is that why you're here? To revel in seeing me in pain me just because I offended you earlier this year? To punish me for pointing out and counteracting some of your hypocricy? Because you hate people who aren't Americains like yourself?" Adalie was on a tear, and her French was unmistakably vicious. "You Americains claim to be so good and noble and fair, but you're just a bunch of bumbling, barbaric buffoons, getting your jollies out of seeing helpless girls battered almost to death by uncivilized, uncouth hicks! Why are you even here? What do you fucking care if he nearly killed me? Are you going to torment me more by making me return to your bloody arena to fight even more, even as injured as I am, until perhaps one of your typical Americain thugs succeeds in killing me? Is that what you came for? Uncivilized pieces of Americain shit! You don't care about rules, or civility, or anything besides your wild-west, cowboy fight-first mentality! Fucking idiots! Bah! Even the Bureau de Commission de Mutant Francais follows rules, unlike this supposedly fair, stupid fucking place! Go away! Leave me alone, you stupid, uncaring, uncivilized idiots!" She continued in this manner for several minutes, her diatribe growing more vicious and vile with each passing moment, until finally, she was emotionally spent. Clenching her jaw painfully, she turned her head away from the Headmistress and Sensei. "Just leave me alone, and take your gloating somewhere else!" she snarled. "Go away!"

Mrs. Carson waited until her rant was over, and then walked around her bed to the other side, where Adalie was staring. In response, the girl turned away from her, but as Ito had stayed on the one side, it was impossible to not look at one or the other if her head was turned either way. She looked straight forward, her angry gaze piercing the acoustic tiles of the ceiling.

Mrs. Carson wasn't deterred. "Adalie," she began again. "How are you feeling?"

Leave me the fuck alone!" Adalie screamed, ignoring the pain in her ribs as she yelled with renewed vehemence. "I don't want your uncivilized Americain revelry and gloating at my humiliation in your disgusting, stupid piece-of-shit gladiator's arena!"

"That will be _more_ than enough of that kind of bigoted, foul-mouthed rant!" She spoke with the 'tone of supreme authority, and while her French was accented, it was clear enough to pointedly remind Adalie - again - that Americans weren't the hopelessly mono-lingual people of European stereotypes of the western continent. Mrs. Carson had understood all too well the vicious diatribe Adalie had ranted in her anger. "It may not have occurred to you, but I _do_ care about you and your well-being, like I care for all of the students here at Whateley. The problem is that _you_ are too busy thinking that you're too good for the rest of us, or culturally superior to us, that the rules don't apply to you. The idea that we _do_ care can't penetrate that obstinately thick skull of yours!"

"You got your revenge!" Adalie spat, this time in English. "Now go away! Leave me alone."

"Regardless of what you may think," Ito said calmly, "this was _not_ about revenge."

"Non? Then what was it? A sadistic American arena show to satisfy the bloodlust of the masses? Some kind of sick gladiatorial combat to prove who is the strongest?" She scowled. "Bah! It's all merde!"

"In case the thought never crossed that Euro-centric, anti-American, bigoted mind of yours," Carson said very sternly, her voice barely containing her frustration with the obstinate girl, "and as you should know more than most after your little tete a tete with the French MCO, this world isn't exactly friendly to mutants. In fact, sometimes it's extremely _dangerous_ to be a mutant."

"So? I don't plan on being a super-'ero!" Adalie retorted quickly. "I'm planning on a career in interior design and architecture. So there was no point to make me fight - unless you were out for your revenge, or I was just cannon fodder for your stupid blood sports!"

"Your home-town turned on you, and it was your mayor and chief of police who turned you in to the Bureau de Commission de Mutant Francais," Carson said. She saw the look of disbelief on Adalie's face. "I read the case file that was sent with your application."

"I will _not_ participate in your foolish, dangerous blood-sports, nor will I become a cowboy who fights before thinking! That may be the Americain way, but it is not the way of truly cultured societies like France."

"That's not what Combat Finals are about," Ito said calmly. "It's about seeing if you learned anything which will help you survive, so that you don't get killed a week after graduating because you didn't know how to handle an anti-mutant situation."

"France is more civilized than this ... island of barbarity!"

"How did that civility work out for you last time with your hometown and the French MCO?" Carson asked bluntly.

Adalie ignored Carson's question. "And 'ow the 'ell did you expect that learning to swim would 'elp me in combat?" Adalie questioned sharply. "That was an idee stupide!"

"What the hell were you trying to do in the arena?" Carson snapped at her, tired of listening to the bratty, self-important girl.

"I was trying to not fight," Adalie responded bitterly. "If you hadn't put me in there with a sadistic ...."

"In the real world, you don't get to choose who you fight against. Besides, your anti-American rant and anti-Texas insults weren't exactly endearing you to Armadillo, now, were they?"

"Bah! Even a child in an ecole would know better than ...." Adalie began.

"Enough!" Carson roared at her, startling the girl. "I've had more than my limit of your arrogant, bratty, condescending, anti-American ranting. Shut up and listen for a change!"

Adalie's eyes widened; she hadn't been spoken to like this for a long time, and she was startled into silence by the commanding voice and 'I'm in charge' glare from the older woman.

"Why should I let you continue to take up valuable classroom space in my school?" Carson demanded rhetorically. "You've made it more than clear that you don't like the school, the instructors, or the other students. Can you give me just _one_ good reason why I, or the other staff, should put up with you any longer?" Her gaze bored into Adalie's skull like laser beams, focused and burning in intensity. After a few deliberate moments of silence, in which the girl didn't speak but just clenched her jaw in anger, Carson continued in a slightly less harsh tone. "Your arrogance has gotten our attention, in case you didn't notice, and it will _not_ be tolerated any longer. If you are _ever_ as disrespectful to the faculty or staff as you just were to me and Ito Sensei, or as you were in the arena, you _will_ be expelled. Do I make myself clear?" She towered above the injured girl, glaring at her with steely, piercing eyes.

Frowning, Adalie tried to stare down Mrs. Carson, a task that over the years many students had tried without success. "Oui, Madame," Adalie squeaked after she, too, failed.

"And to close out this little _friendly_ discussion_, your arrogance and your mouth have earned you an F in your combat final. You were insulting and taunting Armadillo. You used your talents very poorly in your attempt to avoid a fight. While his behavior and rage are inexcusable, you aren't blameless, since your attitude and diatribe seriously provoked him."

"An F? When I had no chance against him?" Adalie sputtered. "'Ow unfair, like always!" She muttered under her breath, "Stupid Americain bias against Europeans!"

"Zip it! Your mouth made a bad situation worse," Ito snapped. "You _could_ have gotten a decent grade by using your speed to avoid a fight in the first place, because you had no realistic chance of winning against a martial-arts-trained telekinet. It was only after some embarrassing stunts on his part that you _finally_ decided to evade, and by that point, you were very clearly angry and not thinking straight - and that's including the taunting. Because you decided to taunt him into further violence instead of evading him, we gave you the grade we did. If we could have given you a lower grade, we would have, but there _is_ no lower grade! As it is, you _barely_ passed PE for the term with a D-minus."

"That is not fair!" Adalie complained. For some reason, her eyes stung and tears were trying to leak out.

"Life isn't fair," Sensei Ito explained simply, his voice carefully neutral once more. "It's time you got off your idealistic cloud and faced that fact."

"You'll have overnight to rest here and think about what we've said," Mrs. Carson continued, but in a calmer, less threatening tone. "You're only a teenager, and you have a lot to learn, despite what you _think_ you already know. There is a lot we can teach you, if only you'll let us."

"Bah! There is nothing you can teach with such barbaric stupidity!" She turned her eyes back to the front, away from Ito and Carson, glowering at one particularly offensive ceiling panel. "And what about ... Armadillo? 'Ave you rewarded him for his skill and mastery of that great American art of attempted murder?" Adalie asked sarcastically, afraid of hearing an answer that she wouldn't like, but which would prove her assertions of bias.

"That's none of your concern," Ito said evenly. "If I were you, I'd focus on my own grades, attitudes, and behaviors."

Carson and Ito walked to the door, but Carson paused and turned back to Adalie. "I'll come by later to check on you," Carson said, her voice surprisingly devoid of anger, but instead reflecting concern.

After Carson and Ito departed, Adalie didn't know whether to scream in rage or to cry. She ended up doing a lot of both, despite the fact that both hurt. She'd even been denied any form of consolation that Armadillo might have gotten in serious trouble or failed because of his display of uncontrolled fury. Even that, she thought, was unlikely, because the administration tended to overlook most acts of bullying and brutality on campus. Stupid fucking Americans!

And yet, there was something in what Carson and Ito had said that stuck in her mind. _Was_ she so blatantly anti-American and snobbish that she was inviting hostility from the other students? Was it possible that they were right? Between her pain and the nagging of her conscience, she had a very fitful night of sleep.

 


March 4, 2007, Melville Cottage

Adalie frowned deeply. "The worst part was, I couldn't travel 'ome for a few extra days because Dr. Tenent wanted to make sure my lung was properly healed."

"Your lung?" Alicia asked, wide-eyed.

"Oui," Genevieve said with a nod. "She 'ad a broken rib that punctured 'er lung."

"Is the combat final the reason Armadillo has a UV armband?" Alicia asked.

Adalie shrugged. "Probably no. I bet 'e 'ad one before, and 'e was selected especially for Madame Carson's revenge. Madame Carson was very angry at me in the 'ospital afterward, and she didn't care at all about my injuries or about punishing a bully for 'is 'einous act." She snorted derisively. "'e was probably given special treats for 'is performance!"

"You're not being fair," Alicia said with a frown. "Mrs. Carson is very reasonable, when someone doesn't try to take advantage of her.

"Bah! She's just a typical American bureaucrat that thinks nothing of violence or discrimination despite loft words proclaiming the opposite."

Alicia noted that there was something different about how Adalie had spoken her last dismissive words, as if there was something hidden that Adalie was hesitant to share. Despite the continued anti-American rhetoric, was there perhaps some grudging respect hidden in her tone of voice?

A knock sounded at the door, and before either Adalie or Alicia could answer, Chat Bleu poked her head in. "I thought I'd stop by to see 'ow you're doing."

"Wonderful," Adalie said sarcastically. "My 'ole life 'as been upended and I'm supposed to feel good about it?" She sighed and let herself sink onto her bed. "The administration must be laughing themselves silly right now at what they've done to us."

"We 'ave registration tomorrow, cheri," Chat Bleu said as she sat down on the edge of Adalie's bed. "This term should be much better than the last, eh?" she added with a wink.

Alicia picked up Chat Bleu's teasing. "Another story here?" she asked, already certain of the answer.

"Non!" Adalie snapped. "It is _not_ another story."

Chat Bleu laughed. "Adalie got herself in trouble with the administration - again - when she didn't like her winter term class assignments."

"It was the stupid counselor that made 'uge mistakes in my classes!" Adalie protested, knowing that Chat Bleu was going to tell Alicia the story regardless. "It was a disaster." She decided to tell the story first, so her former roommate couldn't exaggerate.

"Someone in the administration got the wild idea that I should take a self-defense class. I wanted art or design or decorating. My advisor wanted me to take an English special topics class, because she reminded me that I almost failed English last term."

"Don't forget the cooking class," Chat Bleu said gleefully.

Adalie snorted her disgust. "All my life, I've cooked beside our chef. Good French cuisine. When I told my advisor that I would take a gourmet class if one was offered, she signed me up for the class without thinking! She also signed me up for a self-study class in math ...."

"Because you failed algebra last term," Chat Bleu added unnecessarily.

Adalie glared at her former roommate. "Oui," she said sternly. "The instructor was an insufferably boring idiot, and his grading system was impossible!"

"The advisor signed her up for American Civics, too!" Chat Bleu said gleefully. "As if knowing about American government is of any use to us!"

"Assuming, of course, that anything in a course of American Civics made any sense to any rational person in the real world," Adalie added with disgust.

"She got out of the self-defense class with the promise of an interior design class," Chat Bleu continued, wiping tears of mirth from her eyes. "It turned out the class was in secret 'ideout design!"

"Idiot advisor!" Adalie snapped, frowning. "She didn't tell me the details, and after wearing me out with 'er stupid requests and inane chatter for over an 'our, she just signed me up and told me I'd love the class."

"And then, once Adalie found out exactly _what_ the classes were, they wouldn't let 'er change any classes!"

"Ah s'pose y'all went to the administration to complain, too," Alicia commented, having already figured out that her new roommate probably would have griped and tried to get her way.

"Oui," Adalie said, stretching her legs on her bed. "And Madame 'Artford took great delight in 'umiliating me once again." She frowned. "That ... woman ... 'ates me."

"Nah," Alicia chuckled, "she hates _most_ people. She's just a bitch. What'd she say?"

Adalie frowned. "She said she could let me out of the 'ideout design, civics, and Scandinavian cuisine classes."

"Why do Ah think there's a big 'but' here?" Alicia asked with a grin.

"She said that _she_ would choose my classes, and that she would have me expelled if I complained about them to 'er any time during the rest of the term," Adalie grumbled. "When I objected that it wasn't fair, and that she couldn't do that, she reminded me of the in loco parentis forms my pere signed."

"And?"

"And I asked 'er what she would put me in. She told me only that she'd keep me in math, and transfer me to the English special topics class, which was doing a play."

"And the others?" Alicia asked, eager to hear the rest of the tale.

"She wouldn't say. Then she gave me two minutes to decide."

"And?"

Chat Bleu interrupted. "And now Adalie knows 'ow to cook lefse and lutefisk, knows about 'ow the American civic system is supposed to work, and can design comfortable and stylish secret 'ideouts!" she laughed. "She wouldn't take a chance on what 'Artford would assign her to."

Alicia laughed. "Based on Hartford's reputation, that was a smart move. Do you know what she _would_ have assigned you to?"

"Self Defense for non Martial Arts types, and Exemplar Grace," Adalie mumbled, scowling. "Both are combat training classes. Idiot!" She snarled. "'Artford is just a bureaucratic moron with no sensibilities!"

"At least you're the only secret 'ideout designer who can make sure a villain's lair is designed with proper feng shui!" Chat Bleu giggled.

"And Ah bet all the traps you design would be color coordinated with the latest styles," Alicia added with a grin. From Alicia's comment, it was fairly certain to Adalie that her having taken secret hideout design was a joke on the campus.

"And if you want some fine lutefisk or lefse, Adalie can now cook it for you!" Chat Bleu grinned.

"Idiots! Any fool knows that there is no such thing as 'aute cuisine from Scandinavia!" Adalie snorted. "Like 'ideout design, it was a total waste of my term, just like civics was!" She shook her head in resigned disgust. "'Ave you met your new roommate?"

Chat Bleu smiled broadly. "Oui, and she seems very nice. She's taking French for 'er language requirement, so we try to talk mostly in French so she can practice. And 'er family spent a couple of summers in Nice with relatives, so she knows a lot of 'ome."

"Ah speak French, too," Alicia interjected, beaming proudly. "Mah family is from a part of Loosiana where people still speak French."

Chat Bleu's eyes widened, and she cringed at the way Alicia was mutilating the beautiful French language. "What the 'ell kind of French is _that_?" she blurted out, dumbfounded by the atrocious accent.

"It is something that is called Cajun French," Adalie said with a resigned sigh, knowing that she was doomed to put up with hearing that abominable molestation of her language for the rest of the term.

"Mah foreign language is Spanish," Alicia added. "Ah don't s'pose y'all are taking Spanish this term so _we_ could practice like your friend and her roommate, are you?"

"Non," Adalie said, glancing at Chat Bleu and rolling her eyes at Alicia's enthusiastic, if misguided, request.

 


March 5, 2007

Adalie stumbled to the Beret Mafia table for breakfast, looking like she was hung over.

"Are you okay, cheri?" Charmer asked as Adalie sat down. "You look terrible!"

Adalie sighed. "You would too, if you 'ad the roommate from 'ell!" she muttered.

"Oh?" Chat Bleu asked, curious about Adalie's new situation.

"Oui," Adalie said wearily. "She woke up at five for her morning run, and she was so damned cheerful. She even invited me along, as if I'd _ever_ go for a run that early! The worst part, though, was what she called music that her alarm played - very loudly. It was some awful noise that she called zydeco, or something like that. A hideous combination of accordion, something making a rasping sound, and bad lyrics in an awful French dialect part of the time! It sounded like someone was trying to make music from the screeches of a half-dead cat while singing off-key with a three-year-old's mastery of French mixed with banshee wails!" Adalie complained.

"Surely it cannot be 'alf as bad as you describe it!" Chat Bleu countered.

"Non? If I knew who'd created that ... awful noise, I'd have a devisor invent a time machine, go back in time to meet 'is parents, and have a long talk with them about birth control. And if that didn't work, I'd take more extreme measures to keep them from reproducing! It's truly atrocious!" Adalie expounded on her previous statement. "And that's to say nothing of her unbelievably bad French!"

Chat Bleu nodded her agreement. "I heard her last night. It was something to behold - and I don't mean something good!"

"The worst part is, she's _proud_ of it!" Adalie shook her head. "I know I'll be spending a _lot_ of time in our clubhouse this term!"

"Speaking of which, Have you decided on classes for the term?" Genevieve asked. She was, as usual, sitting with Harley, who Adalie barely acknowledged. After all, it was Harley who started the entire mess with Genevieve's lab project that resulted in Adalie getting in trouble.

"Non," Charmer replied, "not yet, but I know a few courses I _want_ to take. I heard that Ayla will be teaching assistant for business accounting again, and I'll need knowledge of that for my family's business."

"As long as it's not a disaster like the winter term," Adalie said, unable to disguise the bitterness in her voice, "I will be happy."

"Speaking of which," Genevieve said with a grin, interrupting her private aside with Harley, "how is your secret hideout interior decorating business going? Any customers yet?"

"I'm sure Gizmo and Dr. Diabolik would _love_ to have their 'eadquarters done with proper feng shui and modern themes and patterns!" Chat Bleu chimed in with a giggle.

"Very funny!" Adalie snarled. "You are both regular Jerry Lewises!" She stood and picked up her tray. "Now if you've all had your laughs, I have an appointment with Madame Prudhomme."

"I thought Madame Hastings was your faculty advisor," Charmer said, puzzled.

"Oui, but I requested a different advisor," Adalie said, "through proper channels, of course, with the correct forms and paperwork."

Chat Bleu smiled at the others. "All of these adventures, and she's learning. There may be hope for her yet!"

Adalie ignored the snickering among the girls and bused her tray. A few minutes later, she was seated across from Madame Prudhomme in the latter's office on the third floor of Schuster Hall.

"Ah, Ms. Vitesse. Let me pull up your file," Madame Prudhomme said, turning to her computer and entering a few keystrokes. She scanned the file. "I see you took secret hideout design for the winter term."

"Even though I wanted something that would be practical for an interior designer, not some stupid course on designing villain's lairs!" Adalie complained. "Even a simple art course would 'ave been much more practical."

Madame Prudhomme didn't skip a beat. "Well, Adalie, there _is_ a limited selection of courses during the winter term, so you have to take what you can get. Besides, superheroes deserve nice headquarters and hideouts just as much as the next person."

"And that waste of time in Scandinavian cuisine! Bah! I don't even want to _talk_ about what a monumental waste of time _that_ was! I feel like my cooking skills were set back by years!"

"There were a few courses in self-defense that you _should_ have taken."

"Non!" Adalie objected instantly. "I most certainly will _not_ take any courses that involve fighting!"

Madame Prudhomme flinched visibly. "Okay. Now what are you looking at for your electives? You _will_ take English and Algebra."

Adalie cringed. "English is a complete waste of my time," she protested. "It is a useless language. Any child in a French ecole learns far more of English than even high school seniors! Why don't we 'ave a course in French literature, eh? It would be far more useful."

"For someone who learned more in an ecole," Prudhomme said sarcastically, "your grade last term was pretty abysmal. You will take English. According to Mrs. Carson, your French grammar needs some work, too, so we'll sign you up for independent study in that area." She looked at the computer. "We'll sign you up for the second term of Algebra."

"But of what use is algebra for an interior designer? It is another waste of my time."

Madame Prudhomme smiled. "Algebra will definitely be of use when you have to calculate materials you'd need to decorate a room or a house." She smiled when she saw Adalie start at the news, her eyes wide with the thought that math _might_ be of use after all. "I would strongly urge you to find a tutor, because your grade last term was very poor. If you fail again, you could be expelled. Now for an elective, I would suggest Home Ec."

Adalie wrinkled her nose. "Why?" she objected. "What use would that be?"

Madame Prudhomme started to say something, but then she stopped herself. "Ah, yes. Your family has domestics for cleaning and cooking, doesn't it?"

"Oui. What difference does that make?"

Prudhomme sighed. "Did you always have servants?"

"Non," Adalie said. "We didn't need them until after mama ...." She stopped her words, her lower lip trembling, and she wiped at a sudden tear. "After mama died."

Madame Prudhomme felt a significant stab of psychic pain in the young girl. She was still in pain, nearly five years later, but according to school records, she had always refused any offer of counseling to deal with her long-standing grief. "Do you expect to _always_ have enough money?"

"Mais oui," Adalie replied, regaining her composure.

"That's not good planning," Prudhomme said, shaking her head. "You should _always_ be prepared to take care of yourself. Your mere knew how to keep house. Don't you think you should, too?" She didn't give Adalie time to respond. "You'll take home-ec."

"Oui, madame," Adalie acknowledged, as humbly as she ever had addressed a staff member. She had respect for Madame Prudhomme.

"You didn't take Power Theory or Power Lab last term. You should take those."

"But ... I want a class in art or decorating," Adalie protested.

"No choice here. This one is by direction of the administration."

"What? What gives them the right to ...." Adalie began, half rising from her chair, her face clearly showing her anger.

"The administration has the right to assign any student to any class, as they determine is in the best interest of the student." She looked directly at Adalie. "In this case, I happen to agree with them. You have very little training in using your power. This course is necessary for you."

"I don't like it at all."

Madame Prudhomme sighed. "And I know you're going to go over my head directly to the administration, aren't you?" It was a rhetorical question; everyone knew how stubborn Adalie was, and how easily she went straight to the top to resolve problems. "Okay, that leaves your last class. You have your choice of Basic Martial Arts, or Self Defense for non-Martial Arts types."

"Non!" Adalie shouted. "Absolument pas! I will _not_ take such a course! I know I can take ballroom dance as a PE course!"

"Then you'll have to take that up with the administration. I was directed to assign you to either of those two classes. For the time being, I'll sign you up for BMA." She entered a few keystrokes, and then waited as a schedule printed. "Would you like an independent study class in interior design?"

Adalie's eyes lit up for the first time in the so-far-depressing meeting. "Oui, oui!" she exclaimed. "That would be wonderful!"

Madame Prudhomme typed more on her computer and then printed a document, handing it to Adalie. "Here you go. English in period 1, followed by Power Theory, Algebra, Home Ec, Power Lab, and Basic Martial Arts. I have you signed up for independent study in French Grammar, under my tutelage, and independent study in Interior Design."

"The 'ole subject of powers is useless to me, and I'll talk to Madame Carson to straighten the whole situation with PE. I can't be made to fight!"

Madame Prudhomme shook her head sadly. "That didn't work out well for you last time, did it?"

"I know that I can register as a pacifist and I'll be exempt from fighting.

She sighed. "I really have to advise against talking to the administration, but I know you won't listen to me. Very well. Bonne Chance."

 

Nervous and anxious about her schedule and her past interactions with the administration, Adalie crept through Schuster to the administration office suite, which by any other standards was a speeding blur. She darted - slow by her standards - to the desk of Elaine Claire, the receptionist who knew Adalie from less-pleasant meetings.

"Is Madame Carson available?" Adalie asked before Elaine had even looked up.

From the corner of her eye, Adalie saw motion from Ms. Hartford's desk. "Ms. Claire, I'll handle this," Ms. Hartford interrupted.

Adalie gulped; of the two administrators, she believed that Ms. Hartford had far less tolerance of her.

"Sit down, Ms. Vitesse," Ms. Hartford ordered in a guardedly-neutral voice. She waited until Adalie had nervously perched herself on the edge of a chair in front of Ms. Hartford's little dominion. "What can I do for you?"

"I received my class schedule," Adalie began, "and there are some classes to which I've been assigned, but I 'ave no desire to take."

Hartford turned to her computer and entered a few keystrokes, calling up Adalie's file to her display. She turned her monitor so the document was visible to both Adalie and her. "What classes would those be?"

"I 'ave no desire to take any martial arts classes. I can satisfy my PE requirement with ballroom dance," Adalie said firmly, hiding the quavering fear in her voice.

"I see. Has your father completed the paperwork, form 3867B, Religious or Other Exemption Request?"

"I am not certain," Adalie said hesitantly.

"We have no form 3867B on file for you, so he must not have. Without that form, and under the in loco parentis responsibility of the school, the administration has directed that you enroll in a martial arts class to improve your self-defense skills."

"But that 'as nothing to do with my desired profession!" Adalie objected. "And the other classes, too, 'are useless for preparing for a career in interior design and architecture!"

"Be that as it may, _we_ have a choice in your classes, and after your grade in PE last term, we have selected a course that should significantly help your PE grade." Ms. Hartford frowned. "I see that Ms. Prudhomme has given you _two_ classes in independent study. Considering your grades from the fall term, that's probably too much of a class-load for you." She moved her mouse around the screen. "Since French is your native language, keeping the course in French grammar is the most practical."

Adalie's eyes shot open in horror - if she understood correctly, Ms. Hartford was about to yank her _only_ desired course, the independent study in Interior Design and Architecture, from her schedule. "But, Madame 'Artford," she objected, "the one useful class for me is the second independent study course!" She fought the stinging sensation in her eyes as she realized that Ms. Hartford was about to take away everything she wanted. "Why am I forced to take Power Theory and the lab, when they won't 'elp my career?"

"Again," Ms. Hartford said with a sadistic smile, "it is in your best interest."

"But, it is not what I want!"

Ms. Hartford glared at Adalie. "Ms. Vitesse," she began in a curt, stern voice, "what you _want_ versus what is _best_ for you are two different things. You are a child, and as such, your desires come second to what _we_ are empowered to do for you in your best interest."

"Ahem," came Mrs. Carson's voice from the door of her office, interrupting Ms. Hartford mid-keystroke, and startling Adalie. "Is there a problem here?"

Ms. Hartford spoke before Adalie could. "We are correcting an irregularity in Ms. Vitesse's schedule," she said imperiously.

"I am being forced to take courses I 'ave no desire to take, and being denied a class that would 'elp my career goals!" Adalie complained bitterly.

"Amelia," Mrs. Carson said, "allow me to handle this? Ms. Vitesse, please step into my office." As she rose, suppressing the instinct to glare maliciously at Ms. Hartford, Adalie thought, for the briefest of moments, that she saw Mrs. Carson wink at Ms. Hartford. Adalie seated herself in front of Mrs. Carson's desk, while the headmistress eased herself gracefully behind the massive oaken edifice. "Now, Ms. Vitesse," Mrs. Carson began easily, "what seems to be the problem?"

"I 'ave been placed in Powers Theory and the lab, and in Basic Martial Arts, contrary to my wishes," Adalie stated quickly. "I wish to take ballroom dance and more pertinent electives, such as art, which will be useful to my career."

"And that career would be in ...?"

"Interior Design and Architecture," Adalie said firmly.

"Ms. Vitesse," Mrs. Carson said slowly, then stopped herself. "Adalie," she continued in a more familiar, less formal tone, "what do you want from this school?"

"What?" Adalie was shocked by the question.

"Do you wish to continue at Whateley?"

"But of course!" Adalie responded.

"Then why are you being so difficult?"

"Moi?"

"Yes, you. Your grades are, to say the least, atrocious. Last term, you failed algebra, you were one point from failing PE, you were close to failing English. You took no courses which would have helped you understand and use your powers. Why are you here?"

Adalie started to frown at what she considered an inane question, but then looked down. "Because I cannot attend a school in my 'ome," she said softly. "The MCO 'as made certain of that after I was taken from my 'ome."

"Why did you come here, though?"

"Because Seour Justice of the Heroes Glorieux de Bordeaux urged me to attend here. She said Whateley would provide a school that was safe for mutants such as myself," she said, her voice heavy. "She knew that I couldn't return to my 'ome for schooling."

"Ah, Justine Leger. She's an alum of Whateley. Did you know that?"

Adalie's eyes widened. "Non, I didn't."

"What do you want to do when you graduate?" Mrs. Carson asked.

"I want to attend Ecole d'architecture Athenaeum and become an interior designer and architect, like Madam Rousseaux."

Mrs. Carson smiled. "Do you know that Yvette is _also_ an alumnus of Whateley?" she asked. She saw Adalie goggle in surprise. "Class of 1978, to be precise. And then she spent time with the Paris superhero group as la Mere de Tuteur, Guardian Mother, until she decided to attend the university." Again, Adalie was stunned beyond words.

"Now what are we going to do about you? You aren't exactly cooperating with your classes," Mrs. Carson stated bluntly, "and, quite frankly, your grades were quite terrible.

"I am a good student," Adalie protested, but unconvincingly so, "if the subjects are interesting or useful."

"I would think that by now, you would appreciate how useful self-defense can be. Or understanding your powers and how to use them." Mrs. Carson shook her head, cutting off the protest that Adalie had intended to give. "We could debate that point all day, and I know there's no way that I'll change your mind, nor will you, since, unlike you, I've had to battle unknown and unpredictable opponents."

"I intend to be an interior designer and architect, not a super'ero," Adalie protested.

"If, and I use that word strongly, you say at Whateley, you will take the classes in our core curriculum, and you will take electives that we assign, regardless of your personal preference. Is that understood?"

"You don't control my ...."

"Yes, we do!" Mrs. Carson answered very sternly. "Your parents gave us ..." She halted suddenly at the look in Adalie's eyes, the pained expression on her face that she was trying to hide. "I have permission from Nicole Vitesse ..."

"Nichole is _not_ a Vitesse!" Adalie cried, a mix of anger and pain in her voice. "It's Nichole Beaulieu, not Vitesse!" She turned away suddenly as her voice choked. "My ... mere ... died four years ago." Adalie wiped her cheeks, and after several awkward and silent seconds, turned back to Mrs. Carson, her eyes blazing. "Nichole will _never_ be my mother!" The anger in her voice was unmistakable.

"I'm very sorry, dear," Mrs. Carson said. "Your personal file didn't include that information. I assumed that Nichole _was_ your mother."

"My papa turned 'is back on the memory of my mama," Adalie said softly, "when 'e met Nichole. 'E's 37, and she's only 21. She acts like she wants to be mere to me and Amelie and Therese, but she will never be, at least not to me. Poor Therese remembers nothing of mama, though."

"Is she the youngest?" Mrs. Carson's voice had lost its steely edge, and she sounded friendly and even sympathetic.

"Mama died giving birth to Thirhse," Adalie sniffled. "Papa gave Therese mama's name to honor 'er." She sighed and shook her head sadly. "Now, they 'ave forgotten my mama. Only Amelie and I remember 'er."

"I bet your father still misses your mother very much," Mrs. Carson said soothingly. "But he's lonely, and raising three girls is hard work. He needed a companion. Can you fault him for that?"

Adalie thought for a few moments in silence. She didn't quite know what to say.

"Just because he has a new ... companion ... doesn't mean that he loves or misses your mama less. Can you understand that?"

"That is what the counselor in Chaniers tried to tell me," Adalie admitted. "But they wanted me to accept Nichole as my new mama, and I can never do that."

"You have a lot of pain that you have been hiding, and it's taking its toll on you. You need to meet with a counselor."

"Bah! The counselors in France did nothing good! They were a waste of my time."

"Who do you talk about this with? Anyone? Your friends?"

Adalie shook her head vehemently. "It is not anyone's business but my own," she said. "I should not 'ave told you."

"Then I'm going to make one counseling session a week mandatory. You _have_ to talk to someone before this destroys you emotionally," Mrs. Carson said.

"If you so order," Adalie said, sounding almost defeated instead of defiant. Her secret would be spread through the campus by dinner, and she knew that she'd get no end of false pity or malicious ribbing about it. It was _her_ family problem, and no-one else's.

"It would be best for you, in my opinion." Mrs. Carson smiled. "And since I'm the headmistress, my opinion is the one that counts." She watched until Adalie nodded, ever so slightly, acknowledging the direction. "Now, let's get back to the main topic - your classes."

"I do not wish to take any classes associated with fighting or combat," Adalie stated firmly. "I was told by Madame 'Artford that there is a form which I will need to complete."

Mrs. Carson nodded. "3867B. Yes. After your rather ... unimpressive showing in your combat final, I took the liberty of sending the form to your father."

Adalie's eyes lit up. Salvation from the stupid martial arts class was at hand. "Thank you."

Carson shook her head. "Not so fast. I explained, in a letter, why self-defense was one of our main principles, and explained to your father that if he wished you to be excused from such classes, he needed to complete and sign the form."

Adalie had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. "And?" she asked hesitantly.

"Nichole and your father both explained to me, in a telephone conversation, that they felt it best that you know how to use your powers to defend yourself. It seems that your first encounter with the Francais Bureau de la Commission Mutant left them both rather ... shaken, and they both feel that you need instruction in this area."

"I will call my papa, then," Adalie said firmly. "I'm sure 'e will complete a form once I explain things to 'im."

Mrs. Carson shook her head. "I spoke with him this weekend, and he said he wants you to take the course. If you'd like, we can call, but I think your father is on a business trip, so it would be Nichole who would make the decision for your classes."

Adalie bristled at that news; she _hated_ the idea of having to take direction from her father's lover, a woman who was only a few years older than herself, and by accident of being attractive to her lonely father, was in a position to direct Adalie's life.

"Now it's your choice, Adalie," Mrs. Carson continued. "Do you want to remain at Whateley?"

Adalie sank into the chair, defeated. "Oui," she mumbled. "I 'ave to."

"What do you mean, you have to?"

"Because ... Amelie needs to come 'ere for 'er safety next fall," Adalie said softly.

"Do you think she's going to manifest, too?"

Adalie nodded. "I _know_ she's going to manifest sometime this summer. She'll need protection from the Francais Bureau de la Commission Mutant, just like I did.

"How do you know?"

Adalie shrugged and shook her head. "I don't know 'ow. I just know. I 'ave 'ad many very real dreams that she was being pursued by the Francais Bureau de la Commission Mutant, and that I 'elped 'er escape and come 'ere."

Mrs. Carson frowned. "Have you ever been tested to see if you're a precog?"

"Non, Madame," Adalie answered after thinking a moment.

"I'll arrange some testing for you."

"Oui, Madame," Adalie answered simply.

"Your class schedule will remain the same, including the independent study in Interior Design," Mrs. Carson said. "I would have thought that your combat final would have taught you something about the need to defend yourself. As it has not, we'll have to take the direct approach and consult with your father on classes you should take in that area."

Adalie nodded. "Oui, Madame. And for the sake of Amilie, I will do my best with my classes. Except martial arts. I will not like it, but I will not try to transfer from that class any longer."

Mrs. Carson smiled. "It's not the most positive attitude I've heard, but it's a start in the right direction." She rose. "If we're finished, you should go to the bookstore and get the materials you'll need for classes. And don't forget to purchase a gi for martial arts." She saw Adalie's eyes widen. "Yes, I know they're not very fashionable, but they _are_ required."

 

Adalie was mostly silent as she sat, picking at her food, at the Beret Mafia table at dinnertime.

"You aren't very talkative," Chat Bleu observed. "Bad day?"

"Oui. I have classes that I know I'm going to 'ate."

"Such as?"

"Madame Carson has convinced my papa that I must take basic martial arts and the powers classes." She shook her head. "At least she let me keep my interior design independent study class."

"That will make you even _more_ qualified to design modern, fashionable lairs for supervillains. Perhaps you should talk to the Bad Seeds," Charmer chuckled. "I'm sure they could get you references to villains who could use your services."

"That quit being funny after the second time you told that joke," Adalie complained.

"Hah, Aadalee!" a voice sounded, which set Adalie's teeth on edge.

"Merde! It is my roommate from hell!" She wiped the frown from her face. "Bonsoir, Alicia," she said, her voice careful to not show the disdain she really felt. "'Ow 'as your day gone?"

"Just peachy! Ah found out that we're in the same basic martial arts class, and mah advisor said that you are really excited about the class! It'll be a lot of fun to get to work on martial arts together!"

"Oui," Adalie deadpanned, while the other girls giggled. "I _so_ look forward to it." She glanced around uncomfortably; the others should have already shown disdain for and scooted away any American interlopers. "Alicia, this is a private dining group," she tried to explain diplomatically. "The Euro-Promotional League."

"Yeah," Alicia grinned. "Ah heard someone call y'all the Beret Mafia. Ah think that's funny."

"Yes, well, we don't. And we talk about club business and such while we dine, so ..."

"Oh, Ah get it," Alicia said with her cheesy southern grin. "Well, Ah'll get back to mah own group. Ah just wanted to say hah, and invite y'all to a special dinner A'm cookin' t'morrah night. Mah daddy sent a mess o' bugs and shrimp, and Ah figgered a good ole crawdad boil would be a fun way t' get t' know y'all! And since je parlais Francais, Ah figgered we can talk in French, and y'all can tell me about France, and Ah can tell y'all about mah part of Loosiana!"

"Excuse moi," Charmer said, looking a little green. "Did you say 'bugs'?"

"Sure," Alicia answered, still smiling. "Mudbugs." She saw the looks of confusion. "Crawdads. Crayfish." Still there was no indication of comprehension. "Like little lobsters. And Ah've got a few CDs of good Zydeco music we can play. It'll be a great time. A'll see y'all around!" With her grin still in place, Alicia turned and walked to a group she had been sitting with.

Adalie face-palmed, her expression stricken. "I 'ave died and gone to 'ell!" she exclaimed.

"Was she serious?" Chat Bleu asked nervously.

"Oui." She groaned and then looked skyward. "Mon Dieu, why am I being punished so?"

The other girls would have giggled, but the thought of crawfish, shrimp, and zydeco music had them all frantically thinking of excuses to miss Alicia's little soiree. "We are all being punished, I fear," Charmer said fatalistically.