"To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; aye, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil?"
Prince Hamlet, Hamlet, William Shakespeare
Saturday, May 5th, 2007 - Late Afternoon, Nearing Dinner time
Holographic Simulation Center, Whateley Academy
Hank slowly removed his helmet and stretched, already hearing Jade as she ran past the door excitedly chattering at the latest successful insanity she'd inflicted on the Grunts. Gunny was going to ream them thoroughly for that, and it might be a week or more before the Grunts would so much as talk to him again. Sighing, Hank stood to make his way out of the Sim room before his delayed exit caused Jade to drag the rest of Team Kimba in to check on him and thus make them all late for Gunny's debrief.
Walking into the briefing room, Hank winced at the furious expressions and rigid body language of the Grunts as they marched in and sat down, pointedly looking only towards the front of the room and not at Team Kimba, who filed in noisily with an excited Jade still reliving her latest moment of glory.
As he sat down, Ayla looked over at the Grunts studiously ignoring Team Kimba and then glanced back to Hank with sympathy. When the door to the control room opened everyone's attention snapped to the front of the room as Gunny Bardue marched through. Unexpectedly he was alone, not followed by Admiral Everheart who had been running the Sim with Gunny. Frowning, Ayla turned to the rest of Team Kimba; even Jade was suddenly silent as they all eyed Gunny Bardue warily.
Speaking calmly with none of the suppressed anger Hank had been expecting, Gunny Bardue addressed the assembled students. "This debrief is cancelled. Grunts, please proceed to the lockers and get changed. Report to your Cottage parents immediately." Turning to the surprised Team Kimba, he continued in the same calm, almost compassionate, tone. "Team Kimba stay seated. Mrs. Horton will be here shortly to talk to you. Grunts Dismissed."
Shocked, Hank exchanged looks with the rest of his team as the Grunts filed out, their expressions just as puzzled as Team Kimba's. Gunny Bardue didn't remain either, but instead he disappeared like a specter back through the door and into the control room, leaving a bewildered Team Kimba sitting alone in the briefing room.
<Lancer: Did anyone do anything we need to know about? Generator? Phase? ... Fey?>
<Generator: Hey! How come you always accuse me first?>
<Phase: Nothing that I'm aware of.>
<Lancer: Generator that wasn't a "no".>
<Generator: I don't think so.>
<Chaka: You'll all notice that wasn't a "no" either.>
<Fey: Nothing that I can think of either, unless it's about Aunghadhail?>
Hank winced at the slightly depressed tone in Fey's comment, and felt glad for the instinctive hugs both Jade and Toni gave Fey as they too heard her wistfulness. Just then the door to the corridor opened, and turning that way, Hank felt a blow to his stomach as not just Mrs. Horton entered, but so did his girlfriend Lily Turner - Wallflower. Even from across the room, her grief-stricken expression and the desperate sympathy in her eyes staggered him like a body blow.
Team Kimba straightened; unconsciously their posture became alert and defensive as Wallflower dashed to the perplexed Hank. Mrs. Horton followed her, anxiously studying Hank, looking over the rest of the team in turn as she too crossed the room.
Gulping nervously at the attention being directed his way, Hank stood as Wallflower approached. The girl wrapped her arms around his waist, holding him tightly while Hank tentatively wrapped an arm around her shoulders, nervous about the sudden concern directed his way. Uncharacteristically Mrs. Horton walked up to Hank, and with a sad, worried expression on her face, wrapped him in a motherly hug that did nothing to dispel his unease.
Glancing around at the Team Kimba members Mrs. Horton sighed and resolutely turned back to Hank, causing him to unconsciously tighten his arm around Wallflower and stiffen as if preparing for a blow. "I'm so sorry Hank." She started. "I insisted that I be the one to tell you, and I asked for some time with just you and your friends." Looking around at the rest of Team Kimba she included them in the audience for her next words. "I know this is going to be difficult for you, but I'm afraid I have some very bad news. There has been a ...." she paused, her voice trembling and giving hint of something truly awful, "a horrible crime." Turning back to Hank she reached out to touch his arm. "I'm so sorry, but ... Jamie is dead."
"Dead?" Hank exclaimed in stunned disbelief as Wallflower whimpered and hugged him tighter and Mrs. Horton stepped forward to embrace the shocked boy again. Behind him, every mouth hung agape as Team Kimba collectively goggled at Mrs. Horton.
"How?!" Phase gasped as the open-mouthed stares of his team-mates turned to whimpers and cries of shock and horror at the awful news.
Keeping Hank clasped to her breast, Mrs. Horton looked over Hank's shoulder toward Phase and the others. "It appears that ... Jamie ... was ...," her voice cracked as she not-quite-completely stifled her own little cry of despair, "Jamie was ... murdered." Mrs. Horton had tears streaming down her cheeks as she delivered the terrible news.
Wallflower sobbed as she clutched Hank tighter, Mrs. Horton shifting her embrace to catch Lily in her arms too. Behind Hank, Nikki, Toni, Billie, and Jade clutched each other tightly in a group hug as their sobs turned to outright cries of distress, while Ayla stood, stunned beyond words. Eventually, noticing Ayla's absence, Nikki reached out and corralled him into the group, while Hank stood woodenly within Mrs. Horton's and Lily's arms, shocked still in disbelief.
Saturday, May 5, 2007 - Dinnertime
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Numbly, Hank walked between Lily and Fey as Team Kimba escorted him he-cared-not-where. Lily and Fey had accompanied him to the change room and honestly he had no memory of removing his simsuit and getting dressed, Fey could have magicked it off for all he remembered. Vaguely he noted Crystal Hall as they entered, and again when Jade pushed a tray into his unresisting hands, he could barely concentrate enough to hold it steady as she and Ayla competed to add items to his tray, items Hank neither noticed nor cared what they were. Instead, he just robotically followed the directions of either Lily or Fey who continued to guide him through the serving line, checkout, and around the various obstructions. Hank was still not really aware of anything happening around him as he tried to deal with the knowledge that Jamie was gone. Not just gone, but dead. Murdered deliberately by someone who was, as far as he knew, still at large.
The sudden abrupt halt of his team jogged some semblance of thought into his system, enough that the complete absence of sound in Crystal Hall penetrated his mental fog. He somewhat absently looked towards where everyone else was staring, eyes widening in disbelief as a handcuffed Kayda was escorted away by security. Around the dining room, whispered discussion and rumors of the charges Chief Delarose had levelled spread through the cafeteria like wildfire.
"Kayda? Kill Jamie? Are they even trying to solve this case, or are they jumping on the stupidest, most harebrained theory they can think of first?" Hank said as he automatically turned to follow the retreating security detachment escorting Kayda.
"Hank no!" Lilly cried, restraining him, while Ayla and Fey, too, stepped in front of him.
"Why do you say harebrained?" Ayla asked quickly, trying to get Hank distracted by talking.
"Just because Kayda had been with him sometime close to the murder didn't mean she did it! You know Kayda! If a man had attacked her and she'd had to defend herself again she'd be in Doyle, not eating with her friends! There's no way Kayda even knew Jamie was dead! She couldn't have been more surprised if Delarose had stripped naked and started dancing on the table! No way she killed Jamie! Why are they wasting their time arresting Kayda? We all know it's some bigoted ultra-violent that's finally gone too far and gotten the murder they've always wanted!"
Lily and Fey exchanged glances and winced at Hank's diatribe before both turned back to Ayla and pleaded with their eyes.
"Hank." Ayla tried attempting to again get his attention. "Please. We've been in the Sims. We don't know what's going on. Let me circulate and see what I can find. Go with the Fey and Lily to our table. I'll gather what information I can and we can work from there!"
"What are you going to do?" Hank demanded.
"What you know I do best. Work my sources and get us the real information." Turning to Shroud, Ayla quickly gave her his tray, not even glancing at it or making any attempt to ask her not to prank it. With a quick look to get an affirmative node from Hank, he made his way across Crystal Hall and towards the section of lower ground tables where the Outcasts, the Underdogs and some of the more junior divisors and gadgeteers frequented.
"Come on," Billie said, gesturing to the escalators and the upper levels. "Let's go and see who's already upstairs. Maybe someone'll know something more." Giving Shroud a pointed look, Billie steered her towards the elevators, proceeding Hank who was still being flanked by Lily and Fey and followed by a subdued Jade. Orbiting the group were both her Kitty Compact and a very intimidating Spinner, who's erratic darting movements ensured that Team Kimba was more than halfway up to the second level before any other student even dared think of following them up the escalator.
Sitting staring at his plate, Hank listened half-heartedly to the speculation around him from his teammates and the few members of Sara's Pack that were present. Hank pushed at his food with a fork, eating only when Lily or Fey pointedly nagged him until he put a forkful of food into his mouth. Swallowing the latest tasteless mouthful Lily had badgered him into eating, Hank looked over at the cold meal in front of Shroud that Ayla had still not come back to claim. He frowned at the extravagantly-presented morsels plated on Ayla's tray, wondering what had claimed Ayla's attention from a meal prepared especially for him by the kitchen staff he so respected.
A sudden cessation of chatter snapped Hank's attention back to his table-mates. Following their gazes, Hank turned to where Ayla was approaching the Beret Mafia. Ayla exchanged greetings and then talked briefly to Reach, who shook her head, shrugging. Ayla politely conversed with a few others before excusing himself and making his way across to the Bad Seeds table. Jadis listened to Ayla briefly and then looked calmly to the Team Kimba table, where it seemed to Hank like Jadis scrutinized him for a moment. Then it seemed that Jadis politely invited Ayla to sit and join her.
Ayla engaged in an animated discussion with Jadis, and Nacht and Techo-Devil joined the conversation. From the body language of the group, they were frequently interrupted by the other Bad Seeds sitting at the table with them. After a few minutes, Ayla stood, politely thanked those there, made some sort of offer to Jadis which she dismissed with a wave of her hand, and with a final exchange of pleasantries, returned to the Team Kimba table. He sat in his normal seat, politely nodding to Shroud as she slid his tray across to him.
Ayla exchanged glances between Fey and the gem--encrusted necklace draped on the condiments in the middle of the table. Puzzled, Fey reached out and took her magic privacy charm back, putting it away in her purse, all the while giving Ayla a curious glance.
"Jadis very strongly suggested that now is probably not be the best time for secretive behavior." He glanced around the table at his team-mates. Without betraying any emotion, he continued. "I completely agree. A State's Assistant District Attorney is on campus as the DPA representative to investigate Jamie's death." The others registered various expressions of surprise, shock, and bewilderment. "And has requisitioned Whateley Security to assist him. If that's not bad enough, he's apparently 'deputized' an MCO agent to assist."
Eyes wide, Fey asked. "How bad is it?"
"Bad enough that Mrs. Carson ordered Delarose to arrest Kayda pre-emptively ...."
"What?!?" The looks of shocked disbelief spread instantly around the table.
Ayla nodded grimly and continued his report. "... to prevent Kayda from being taken into custody by the MCO, probably to be 'disappeared'. My sources say that neither the Assistant State's Attorney nor the MCO agent are mutant friendly. In fact, they've been railroading the investigation down a single path - which is Kayda's guilt - and they are uncannily familiar with Pejuta's skills and recent history - and that's even before they got access to her security files."
"Why is Mrs. Carson allowing this?" demanded a stunned Jade.
"As my sources say, and Jadis confirmed, she doesn't have a choice. Mrs. Carson is the local representative of the Medawihla Tribe, so she needs to remain neutral and dispassionately review the evidence against a 'suspect'. Otherwise, jurisdiction passes from her hands, and Kayda goes into MCO custody. Further, she's required to review the evidence within twenty four hours so as to adjudicate whether the accused is to be released into the hands of the 'Authorities' or not. With the State's Attorney having deputized Security to be his investigators, and an actual MCO Agent on campus pushing for custody of the suspects, Kayda is in very serious trouble -whether she committed the murder or not. If she is taken into MCO custody ...." He grimaced at the implication.
"There'd be some sort of 'accident', or 'shot while trying to escape', or something similar," Fey said, color having drained from her face as she and the rest of the team realized just how serious this was. "Especially if it looks like there's enough evidence to prove her innocence."
Ayla looked around at the strained expressions of his companions and then looked down at his plate and sighed, picking up a fork and poking at the contents with a complete lack of enthusiasm.
"What about Jamie?" Hank demanded firmly.
Pausing in the act of examining the ingredients of an item on his plate, Ayla looked up to Hank. "Nothing," he stated in a muted voice.
"Nothing?" Hank asked disbelievingly.
"Nothing. There are no rumours. No group I talked to had heard anything about today's events before, nor any unusual or unexpected events or snippets of information that even remotely make sense now." Ayla sighed heavily. "The Spy Kids have noticed no unusual activity from those they monitor - nothing that could be linked back to this, not even with the benefit of hindsight. None of the Underdogs, gadgeteers, or divisors have noticed any extra hazing, violence, or unusual encounters. No sections of the tunnels or areas on campus that have mysteriously become dangerous to enter. Basically nothing, and that alone seriously concerns me."
"Why?" several of the Kimbas asked at the same time.
"Because a total lack of anything unusual that would feed the rumour mill is disturbing. That speaks of a well-conceived plan. A plot to entrap Kayda that's this well executed has to involve significant and effective resources here inside the school, and possibly has been coordinated with elements off-campus. That is a very serious threat, and nobody knows the ultimate goal. After all, if it's successful in snaring Kayda, what's to say they won't try again with Fey, or Billie, or any other one of us?"
All of them sat introspectively reflecting on Ayla's words, words that caused a loss of appetite for the whole table. Even Billie put down her knife and fork, leaving the contents of her fifth tray untouched. With each member of Team Kimba concentrating so much on their own thoughts, none of them noticed Hank's body language. Rather than the slightly-scared introspective expressions of the other Team Kimba members, Hank had a hard, grim expression, and his hands were clenched into fists, unconsciously crushing the cutlery still gripped within them. Standing abruptly, Hank gathered his tray, and not waiting for any other members of his team, not even for Lily, he stormed angrily for the escalators and down to the exits below.
May 5, 2007 - After Dinner
Looking down on Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
"What are you doing Hank?" Louis Geintz softly asked of the boy sitting on the grass looking down at Poe Cottage below him.
Coming out of his funk, Hank glanced over at the psychic representation of the man sitting beside him and sighed. "Hey, Foob. Sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you."
"You didn't. Mrs. Horton asked me to keep an eye on all the members of Poe cottage, but especially her changelings," Fubar said as he sat down beside Hank.
"Because we're dangerous, unstable mutants who are out to kill our own kind?" Hank snapped bitterly.
"No. Because you're emotionally troubled teenagers who have just had one of your own killed, and now you have to deal with the loss of your sanctuary. Your 'home', your refuge from an angry violent world, has been violated, and it must feel like it's anything but safe. You're all adrift, unhappy, and most of all scared. To top all of that, you're all grieving from the loss of a friend, especially you, and everyone in Poe is terrified that whoever killed Jamie is coming for them next. Especially after Apathy."
Hank blinked, stunned that the Psychic Arts professor had been so blunt, and startled that Fubar knew how he - and probably everyone else in Poe - felt. It had only been a few days since Apathy had disappeared and then been found murdered. This second attack shattered the cottage's sense of safety. "Are you supposed to tell us that?"
"You can't start healing if you don't know what's wrong. So, do you want to talk to me about it?"
"No!" Hand snapped, turning his face away from Fubar and scowling deeply.
Not even the slightest bit concerned, Louis just nodded. "That's understandable, but you will talk to Mrs. Horton or Dr. Bellows about it, right?" Pausing, he waited for an acknowledgment, and when that wasn't forthcoming, he sighed. "How about you tell me what you're doing after dark sitting on a hill all by yourself so far from the cottages? You know there's a killer on the loose."
"I thought we had her safely locked up - you know Kayda!" Hank growled angrily, turning to glare at Louis, but the psychic manifestation just shook his head in silent reproach. After a moment, Hank turned away from Louis and glared down at Poe Cottage gleaming in the darkness below him. His frown deepened when he saw a group of people emerging from the building, and he turned back angrily to Louis. "You called them? Sending them out to gather me up like a stray child?" he yelled at Fubar.
"Hank. I know you believe you can look after yourself, but what about other students? If they see you're out alone, don't you think some of them might believe they could be, too? I know Mrs. Horton asked you to stay in the buildings and high-visibility areas covered by cameras, and especially to stay in groups and look after each other."
"Like that helped Jamie! He was in the arena! Where were your precious cameras there?" the distraught student screamed at Fubar.
"Hank, we're trying to keep you safe..."
"Tell that to Jamie!" Hank yelled, pushing himself up and stalking away. "Don't worry, I'm going back to my room in Poe, where apparently I'll be safe, 'cause you know, that's not the same room Jamie had or anything!" Hank snarled as he strode down the hill toward the lights of Poe cottage. Behind him, Fubar stared after him sadly for awhile before shaking his head and fading.
Running to the fuming Hank as he stomped towards them, Lily demanded softly but insistently, "Where were you? We thought you went to your room!" Hesitantly, she reached out to touch his arm, then slowly enfolding him in a hug when he didn't flinch away from her despite his obvious anger.
"I was looking for Jamie" Hank muttered, causing Lily to stiffen and all of Team Kimba to look at him in concern.
"Hank, Jamie's dead..." Lily started, eyes wide and staring up at him fearfully.
"Our room ..." Hank sniffed. "It ... just didn't feel right. I ... I just wanted to find somewhere that did." Fighting tears, Hank slowly clutched Lily tightly. After a few moments, feeling back in control, he pushed back from Lily. "It ... the room. He doesn't ... feel gone. Jamie. I ...."
"Hank? You know Jamie is gone ... " Lilly tried again tentatively.
"I don't feel like he is.... It ... it doesn't feel ... it can't be ... it's not real! I'm. I ..."
"Do you ... need to ... see him?" Lily asked cautiously. His cheeks glistening with tears, not protesting as Lily wrapped him in her arms again, Hank just nodded. Lily glanced desperately at Ayla over Hank's her eyes pleaded for some wisdom or guidance. In response, Ayla just glanced helplessly around the other members of Team Kimba, painfully aware that, despite his business acumen and knowledge, death played no favorites, and there was no special insight the wealthy had when it came to dealing with the Grim Reaper. He shrugged helplessly at Lily, not knowing what to do or say - just like all his teammates.
Holding Hank close, Lily grimaced with determination as she turned away from Poe toward Doyle Hall, the medical building where she knew Jamie's body would be,
May 5, 2007 - Evening
Interview Room 1, Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
Chief Delarose entered the interview room and sat down opposite Hank. The head of security looked ragged, tired, and older than his years, the events of the day wearing visibly on him. "I'm sorry, Hank," the chief started. "I know you and Jamie were friends, and ... I know there's nothing I can do or say that'll make this any easier for you." The eyes that Hank had often seen as hard and stern reflected sadness that Hank had never seen, sadness that made Hank suddenly realize that this wasn't the first time the Chief had dealt with death, and it was possibly as hard for the him as it was for Hank. Somehow, that knowledge helped - a little.
Looking up at the silent boy, Delarose sighed. Tipped by Mr. Geintz, security had intercepted Lily and Hank on their way to view the remains in Doyle, directing them to Kane Hall instead. Everyone knew that Hank was in a state of shock, and viewing a mutilated corpse was not something he needed. The chief opened a folder he had bought with him, carefully ensuring that the photos inside were not visible before he laid it open on the table. "According to the computer logs Jamie entered Arena 77 at 2:15pm, alone. Because there was no scheduled sim, no security footage was recorded. The doors opened again approximately eight minutes later, and then less than a minute after that, they opened for a third time. They remained closed until 2:45pm, when Stronghold and Mega-Girl entered. Within seconds, a security report was called in that they'd discovered Jamie's body."
"How do we know it was Jamie who was murdered?" Hank finally spoke, interrupting Delarose. "Jamie's spirit is Heyoka, a trickster. It could be a trick..."
"Hank," Delarose said firmly, having noticed the boy's use of the present tense that indicated he was in a state of denial, "it's no trick. We've checked and double-checked ...."
"He was always doing things different, backwards! This might be one of his weird lessons ...."
"Hank, we've confirmed it. It's definitely Jamie." With compassion, Delarose stared at Hank before looking through the folder in front of him and removing a single piece of paper. With a wary glance at Hank, he started to read from it. "Blood type - confirmed match; height, weight, body shape ..."
"Jamie was a shape shifter! Each time he got a Spirit ...."
"But he wasn't shifted, Hank. You know that. Body - a match." He looked over the paper to the emotionally-stricken boy. "Even with the injuries, we confirmed facial biometric features and dental records. It all matches ...."
"But it could have been someone else shifted to look like ..."
"Hank, it's a match." Delarose said firmly and decisively. "It is Jamie." He laid the paper he held on the table in front of Hank, turned so Hank could read it. "There is a perfect DNA match between the body and the samples from Jamie's medical records." He signed, shaking his head slowly, knowing that he was crushing the boy's desperate hopes. "I'm sorry, but it is definitely Jamie."
Numbly, Hank picked up the paper that was difficult to read as the words wavered in front of him. Watching the boy unknowingly cry, Delarose reached over and gave Hank's shoulder a single squeeze. Taking the paper from Hank's unresisting hands, he put it back in the folder, closed it, and strode to the door. Behind him, the boy sat, unmoving, shell-shocked by the brutal news the Chief had had to give him.
Delarose stood to one side of the door as Lily raced in and wrapping her boyfriend in a hug, not caring that her makeup was thoroughly smudged by tears, Behind her, the rest of Team Kimba filtered in slowly past the Chief. He eased himself out of the room and let the door close. It was a time for Hank's friends to comfort each other and especially to comfort him. The Chief knew that they needed privacy, and that if he stayed, he would only be an intruder.
May 5, 2007, Night
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
Alone in the safe retreat of his room, having locked the world out, Hank sat on the floor in the dark, arms wrapped around his knees which were drawn up to his chest, continuing to stare blankly across at the empty bed in what small amount of light filtered through the closed window.
"I miss snuggling with a book."
Startled, Hank looked up at the intruding, unexpected voice, and his jaw dropped; Jamie sat cross-legged on his bed reading a book and shifting awkwardly. "Sitting just isn't as comfortable anymore. No matter what I do, it's always in the way!"
"No contrary talking today?" Hank inquired guardedly.
Jamie turned and smiled at Hank. "No, not today, girlfriend!" Jamie replied with a broad grin. Jamie was very obviously male at that moment, and the grin faded into a sad smile. "Come on, there must be something that you miss. I've heard you at night, it's not all sweetness and light for you. Share a little with your roomie here! What's your pet hate about your new body?"
Blank-faced, Hank gawked at the impossible - that Jamie was sitting in bed talking to him, just like he so often had. Jamie sat patiently, waiting for Hank to say something, that sad smile never changing in the slightest. "I miss my Dad hugging me." Hank finally said, tears in the corner of his eyes.
A look of surprise replaced the smile. "But, I thought your parents still welcomed you? That your father was alive?"
"He's alive," Hank replied sadly, "but I'm no longer his little girl. I'm not even his big girl." He lowered his gaze, finding his eyes misting for some reason. "Since ...." Hank shook his head sadly. "Dad hasn't hugged me the way he used to."
Jamie watched with a knowing, sympathetic look as the normally stoic boy across from him looked out the window with tears in his eyes.
"Before, he would wrap me up in his arms and hold me like he was never going to let anything happen to me. Now?" He wiped at a tear that was trying to slip from one eye. "Now that I'm his boy, he barely touches me. Sometimes a handshake. Maybe a hand on the shoulder or a pat on the back." Hank turned from the window and looked to Jamie. "You want to know what I miss from when I was a girl? I miss my dad's hugs."
Silently Jamie got up and glided across the floor to his roommate, wrapping Hank in a full-body, all-encompassing hug. Gratefully Hank let himself be hugged, luxuriating once more at the feeling of someone holding him like they were going to protect him.
With a solid, somewhat painful 'thump', Hank landed on the floor as the world seemed to twist around him. Looking up in the surrounding darkness, he blinked, confused. After a moment, he pulled himself up awkwardly, glancing across the room, worried that he'd woken Jamie when he fell from his bed.
Instead, though, the sight that greeted him was an empty, neatly-made bed. No Jamie. With an anguished sob, Hank curled up in a fetal position. No Jamie! he cried softly to himself.
"So Ayla sweet-talked all the girls but Bladedancer into dressing as French maids and serving at that party of his," Jamie leered across to Hank from his desk.
"More likely he bribed them," Hank scoffed.
"You've had a busy week, and with them all gone, you won't get a better chance to curl up and watch one of those DVDs your brother sent, the ones he meant to torment you with. The ones you hide in the box at the top of your closet pretending they don't mean anything to you anymore," Jamie suggested slyly to Hank as they both sat unable to focus on studying.
"You're just saying that because of all the estrogen flooding your system curtesy of your current spirit," Hank shot back, but in a friendly, almost-playful tone.
"That and the fact 'Hannah' has a stunningly good collection of DVDs," the very feminine Jamie countered. The wry smile broadened as Hank gave in and made his way over to the massive wardrobe, after detouring to lock the door first. Jamie just shook her head. "You know, you should invite Lily to watch with you. I'm sure there are lots of videos in your collection she'd like to watch with you."
"Jamie, I may succumb to temptation with you because you understand," Hank replied, his voice conveying a hint of warning, "but I'd prefer that no-one else finds out that I still enjoy these DVDs. They find more than enough to tease me about as it is. I'd prefer they not know all my deepest secrets." Hank glanced at Jamie again. "You promised, too!" he reminded his room-mate.
"I know you 'give in' and watch the romantic movies with Lily. You think she hasn't already figured it out?" Jamie shook his head. "Who are you going to get your fix with when I'm gone?"
Suddenly Jamie started fading, becoming translucent and ghost-like as he drifted up from his bed. Hank dashed across the room in a desperate attempt to catch him, diving forward as the room faded away into a large, black void occupied only by Hank and the ethereal Jamie. Faster and faster Hank flew toward the drifting spirit, but the faster he moved, the more distant the spirit became, and with it, the less substantial. Hank cried out in anguish as he struggled to catch his roommate.
"Jamie!" Hank found himself crying out and sitting up in bed. This time it hit him immediately, and with the force of an anvil. Desperately turning towards the empty bed, Hank stared in horror. Falling back on his bed, sobbing desperately in anguish, Hank rolled over to face the wall, determined more than ever to fight off sleep, afraid to any more face the memories of his missing friend.
Sunday, May 6, 2007 - After Breakfast
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
"Have you seen Hank?" an unhappy Lily quietly asked Fey, Toni and Ayla, a hint of desperation in her voice. Team Kimba, minus Hank, were in their customary corner of the second floor common room after breakfast, quietly talking among themselves.
"No Lily," Fey responded sadly. She, too, sounded worried. "The boys said he hasn't left his room at all this morning."
Nodding her thanks, Lily walked down the corridor and paused before Hank's door. Cautiously, she reached forward and rapped insistently on it. "Hank?" she called quietly, biting her lip in distress as she waited to see if he would answer. After a few long moments, she heard some shuffling and sounds approaching the door. Lily shifted from foot to foot, waiting nervously for the door to open, and as soon as the opening was wide enough, she dived through, arms outstretched to hug him.
"Oh Hank!" she cried, hugging him tight for a minute before taking a step back and looking at the disheveled figure. "Oh Hank, did you sleep at all?" she asked, already knowing the answer. He shook his head slowly, his blood-shot eyes attesting to the truth of his long, sleepless night. Wrinkling her nose at his smell and noticing he was still wearing the same clothes he'd worn the previous day, she gave him another embrace before she stepped to his wardrobe and grabbed a clean set of clothes and his toiletries bag. He hadn't moved from where she'd left him, which didn't surprise her; he looked physically and emotionally exhausted. Taking his hand, she forced a smile. "Let's get you cleaned up a bit,' she said as she pulled the door open. The smile became genuine when she saw the entire rest of Team Kimba standing outside the door, looking just as worried about Hank as she felt.
"Ayla, can you go see if anyone is in the boys bathroom?" With an affirming nod, Ayla ran off as Lily practically dragged Hank along behind her down the corridor. By the time they got to the boys' bathroom, Ayla emerged, having confirmed that it was unoccupied at the moment. Lily pushed Hank through, murmuring "keep the boys out," to Ayla as she tugged Hank into the bathroom .
Not giving Hank time to protest, she stripped him and pushed him into the shower, turning the water on full and handing him a bar of soap before pulling the curtain shut, leaving him to robotically start washing. Gathering up Hank's dirty clothes, she took them to the door, where she handed the clothes to a concerned Jade. "Can you run these back to his room for me?" Nodding, Jade took the clothes, cast one of herself into them, and sent them on their way back to his room. With a nod of thanks, Lily disappeared back into the bathroom, the door closing behind her.
After a few minutes, Lily appeared again, passing Hank's toiletries bag to Jade and pulling a much cleaner and fresher looking Hank out behind her. As Hank's toiletries bag flew itself back to his room, Lily dragged Hank to the common room. Pushing an unresisting Hank in the lowest hammock in Kimba Corner, she climbed in beside him and determinedly wormed herself under his arm, hugging him tightly and supportively. She glanced back at Ayla. "Any new information?"
With a wary glance at Hank, who was now focused on him, Ayla nodded and sat while the rest of Team Kimba settled down comfortably in their usual perches, chairs, and hammocks. "Late last night, Mrs. Carson called in Janice Talbert, a teacher who used to be a New York Homicide Detective - and a very good one at that. She and Hive have pretty much carte blanche to investigate. The were out at The Nation's Sweat Lodge and firepit first thing this morning, so it's probable that's where Kayda was at the time of the murder. The Assistant State's Attorney is still pushing for MCO incarceration, but as you may have heard, Loophole managed to spring Kayda from security - at least for the moment. The Assistant State's Attorney is focused on hurrying up the investigation, and he's trying to find a way to get some DPA leverage to get around Mrs. Carson. She's using a clause to postpone the evidentiary hearing until tomorrow, but she can't delay past then before she has to make a decision on whether or not to release Kayda to state custody."
"What about Jamie?" Hank asked.
Ayla sighed, shaking his head. "I don't know. Delarose is playing it very tight to the chest. All the information is going only to him. It's not in Security's database yet. I couldn't get anything from my contacts."
Hank growled and tensed, causing Lily to wince her expression grew serious and she stood up, pulling at Hank's hand.
"Come on," she said to Hank, all but ignoring all of the rest of Team Kimba. "We all know Ayla's sources are the third platoon, and the last people Delarose would want to have any sensitive information would be them. It'd be sold to everybody on and off campus as soon as they got their hands on it. We're Security Auxiliaries. Chief Delarose trusts us way more than them. If we ask, I'm sure he'll tell us something. He was your roommate."
Pulling a reluctant Hank behind her, Lily led him down the stairs and into the tunnels to Kane Hall, while Team Kimba formed up in a protective escort formation.
May 6, 2007 - Morning
Interview Room 1, Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
Chief Delarose entered the interview room and wearily sat down opposite Hank. "Wallflower insisted I give you a briefing on the case." The Chief looked as tired as Hank felt; he probably hadn't slept much the night before either, but for different reasons.
"I don't want a briefing!" Hank snapped angrily. "I want an interview! A proper, by-the-book investigative interview where you question me about Jamie!"
Delarose sighed "I know this is tough for you, Hank, and I'm sorry for your loss ..."
"That was yesterday! I don't want sorry! I want action!" Hank retorted sharply.
"Hank, you're grieving, your roommate and friend was murdered, and you ..."
"What? Am I embarrassing you by demanding action?" the distraught boy replied, unable to curb his tongue in his state of emotional distress. "Because I don't buy the smokescreen that Kayda did it?"
"She was there, Hank! The RFID tracker said very clearly that she was at the scene at the time of the murder!" Delarose snapped back, trying desperately to get through Hank's anger and grief and shock and to talk some sense into the boy. "Jamie was killed with a tomahawk, and his other injuries are consistent with goring by a bull or a bison ..."
"So what? This isn't the first time Kayda's weapons have been stolen to frame her, and you still haven't solved that murder!" The boy was getting a bit irrational, the Chief feared. "I'm not letting you ..."
"You're not letting me do what, Mister Declan?" Chief Delarose rose in position, leaning forward on his knuckles in a controlled display of righteous indignation and authority, hoping to get through to the boy. "May I remind you that you are a student at this Academy, not a security investigator, and that this briefing is a favor for a distressed student!"
"At least I care!" Hank retorted, fighting back tears of frustration and grief and anger. "Doesn't anyone else see what's happening? Everyone has been so blinded by the fantasy that Kayda killed Jamie that you're all off investigating dead ends! Why aren't you looking into Jamie and all the people who might have want Jamie dead? Like ... like Gold Stallion? Or his cousin? What about them? Or ...."
"Hank you're exhausted and distressed! The best thing right now is for you to return to your cottage and see Mrs. Horton for help."
"That wasn't a suggestion, Mister Declan!" Delarose snapped, crossing to the door which he yanked open in an obvious gesture that the briefing was over. He stood, looking sternly at Hank while he held the door, waiting for the furious boy to march out the door where a surprised Team Kimba was standing, mouths agape in shock at what yelling they'd heard through the door.
Furious, Hank stood with his teeth clenched and his hands curled up in fists. Turning, he marched to the door, not even noticing Lily as she attempted to comfort him, shrugging his shoulders away from her attempted hug. With Team Kimba and Lily scrambling to catch up, Hank stormed back to Poe, slamming his door in their faces and locking himself in. Screaming in frustration, he threw himself face-first upon bed, burying his face in his pillow as he convulsed with sobs, his cheek and pillow rapidly moistening from a flood of tears.
May 6, 2007 - Mid Morning
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
Furtively, Hank poked his head out the narrow gap between the door and its frame, glancing up and down the corridor. Seeing nobody, he slunk out of his room, towel in hand, and darted quickly into the boys' bathroom. Sighing with relief that nobody else was there, he trudged wearily to one of the sinks. A splash of cold water on his face, with a little scrubbing, washed away the salty tear residue from his cheeks. After drying his face, he stared into the mirror. His eyes were red and puffy, but they were less noticeable than the large dark circles beneath them. They'd all figure he was exhausted; nobody could tell that he'd spent all morning in his room crying into his pillow like a little girl. Sighing, shoulders slumped, Hank exited the bathroom and trudged up the stairs to the third floor.
Mrs. Horton was a few steps ahead of him; she entered a room just as Hank got to the third floor. Curious, he walked down the hall, softly because he was somehow barefoot though he didn't remember taking off his socks and shoes, and he glanced through the open door into the room Mrs. Horton had gone into - the room he knew was adjacent to that of Mega-Girl. She was lying curled up in the lap of a statuesque red-haired boy, and Hank was surprised at the pang of jealousy he felt at the sight of a Megs being comforted by her boyfriend. He continued down the corridor and knocked at Lily's door. He was a little surprised when, instead of Lily, her roommate Angel opened the door.
"Oh. Um hi, Mary. Is Lily here? I ... um ... need to talk to her" Hank asked hesitantly. He winced when Angel's expression became teary, and she looked very uncomfortable. Belatedly, he realized how close to the door he had been standing. Quick-stepping back a bit, he apologized, knowing that Mary had a severe reaction to the touch or close presence of boys or men. "I'm sorry Angel. I. I didn't mean to get so close. Could ... could you tell me where Lily is?"
"Next door," Angel sighed sadly. "She's with Kayda."
Nodding his thanks, Hank walked quickly to the next room, eyes downcast and feeling guilty at the unwanted pain he had accidentally caused Angel by standing too close and nearly triggering her allergy.
Hank looked up and was about to knock on the door, but the door was already open. He peeked around the door jamb, and started when he saw Lily sitting on the bed, a sleeping Kayda lying in her lap as Lily stroked the Lakota girl's hair like she was comforting a small child. Hank stood frozen, jaw hanging agape as he stared; it was a mirror scene of Mega-Girl being comforted, but here it was Kayda being comforted by his girlfriend. Overwhelmed by jealousy towards Kayda and a sense of betrayal that Lily was comforting her instead of him, Hank dashed down the hall, dodging Loophole who was leaving the girls' restroom, back down the stairs, and into his room, locking the door and flopping down on his bed facing to the wall. Slowly his knees came up to his chest, and hugging them tightly, Hank fought a losing battle to keep silent the sobs that racked his body.
Lanie walked casually into the room with Kayda and Lily, and she froze when she saw the stricken expression on Lily's face. "What's wrong?" she asked immediately.
Looking past Lanie towards the door, Lily stopped stroking the sleeping Kayda's hair. With tears forming in her eyes, she replied with a single word. "Hank."
"Hank?" Lanie asked, puzzled. "He just ran past me."
"I heard something, like a ... whimper ... of distress, looked up, and I saw Hank for a second before he ran away. He looked horrible," she all but cried.
Lanie looked confused at Wallflower for a couple of seconds before she remembered. "Jamie was Hank's roommate!" she exclaimed. It all suddenly made sense - Hank was distraught, and instead of finding Lily to comfort him, he found his girlfriend comforting Kayda. "Damn it!" Lanie swore, darting out the door and desperately looking down the hall. Unfortunately, Hank was nowhere to be seen. "Damn," she mildly cursed again as she came back in the room.
Wallflower was trapped on the bed holding Kayda, who'd had almost no sleep all night and was exhausted to the point that Lily and Lanie didn't dare risk waking her. Quickly moving back to Wallflower's side, Lanie knelt and ever-so-carefully slipped her hands under Kayda's back and neck, and lifted the sleeping girl gently off Wallflower's legs. After Wallflower slid out from beneath Kayda, Lanie gently lowered the still-sleeping girl back to the bed.
Smiling her thanks, Wallflower darted through the door, looking both ways in search of Hank. Angel was still in the door of their room, and seeing her beckoning, Lily rushed to her. "Hank?" she asked worriedly.
"He was looking for you," Angel replied. "He really doesn't look good - like he's so sad."
"Jamie!" Lily explained in one word.
"He just ... froze," Angel explained quietly. "He got to the door, looked through it, froze, got even sadder, and then ran down the stairs - and I think he was crying."
"Oh crap." Lily cried before she turned and ran down the corridor, down the stairs, and to Hank's door where she started knocking insistently and calling out. "Hank? Hank, please it's me! Hank?"
Movement she caught in her peripheral vision interrupted her knocking, and her eyes widened in surprise. Angel was in boy's town, and coming straight toward her with a determined - and concerned - look on her face. "Wyatt's back,"Angel said insistently. "There's something important and security needs Loophole, so they need you back with Kayda right now!"
Almost weeping her distress, Lily glanced back and forth a couple of times between Hank's door and Angel before she noticed Mrs. Horton at the stairs beckoning her. Swallowing a distressed sob, she gave one final distraught glance at Hank's door before turning toward the stairs. Mrs. Horton could tell of Lily's internal conflict, because she immediately wrapped the crying girl in a hug and climbed the stairs with her.
In tears herself, Angel watched her room-mate leave. Shaking, she turned to Hank's door and fearfully reached out, but her fear of men overcame her, and she couldn't make herself knock. Defeated, feeling terrible at her inability to help Lily, she laid her forehead on the door, hearing the muffled sobs from within. Weeping herself for the fellow Poesie inside, her roommate's boyfriend who she could never comfort in his time of need, Angel turned from the door and fled in tears.
May 6, 2007 - Late Morning
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
"Hank? Please, Hank, let me in! Hank?" Lily was sobbing softly in the corridor knocking on Hank's door when a hand gently touched her shoulder. "Hank?" she cried desperately as she wheeled toward the owner of the hand. It drew back sharply in surprised reaction, and Lily found herself facing one of the second-floor boys, who had his hands up in a non-threatening position. "Oh, sorry Jeff," she said automatically. "I was just trying to talk to Hank."
"Um, he's not here. Mule came and took Hank to the Simulations," Jeff said quietly.
"Oh. Oh yeah." Lily said deflating. "I forgot he had a sim scheduled. Thanks." Turning away, Lily made her way back to the third floor.
May 6th, 2007 - Late Morning
Arena 99, Holographic Simulation Center, Whateley Academy
"Safe! Safe! Safe! Safe!" screamed a wild-eyed Hank, slamming the butt of his rifle down over and over and over, and when it broke, he continued pounding with his clenched fists, seeing nothing but a red mist.
A piercing alarm sounded, and then complete darkness descended and the echoing thunder of Gunny Bardue broke his irrational rant. "Simulation terminated. Grunts and Elite League, hit the showers! Debrief when you've changed. Lancer, briefing room right now on the double!"
Slowly, breathing frantically, Hank blinked a few times, and when he realized the threat was gone, he slowly reached up to remove his sim helmet. Hank blinked at the light as he sat there shaking badly. After several deep breaths, he grasped the side of the sim chair and shakily pulled himself to his feet. Lurching unsteadily to the door, he yanked it open, unaware of the damage he did as he crushed the doorknob and twisted the door in its frame. In the hall, the Grunts and Elite League were filing past him, looking warily at the shaken boy, but his emotions were too raw to notice how frightened they all seemed to be of him as he tottered to the briefing room.
Inside Hank came to a halt and forced himself to attention as a livid Gunnery Sergeant Oscar Bardue stormed through the control room doors. "Just what the hell do you think you were doing Lancer?!?" the crusty gunnery sergeant screamed, getting right up in Hank's face.
"Protecting my team. Sir!"
"Bullshit! In case it escaped your attention the grey stuff on your rifle butt before you broke it was Accelerator's brain matter!" the instructor berated him. "And when I ended the Sim your bare fists were busily reducing his chest to hamburger! If this hadn't been a sim, You. Would. Have. Killed. Him! Just what do you believe you were achieving there, Lancer? You were excused from this Simulation for a reason!"
"I have to protect my friends," Hank screamed back, on the balls of his feet and his fists clenched at his sides. "Sir!"
"By going insane on my battlefield?" Bardue roared back, red-faced with anger at Hank's behavior.
Past caring, Hank reached forward and grabbed Bardue's shirt, pulling him close as he lifted him and screaming right into his face "I have protect my friends! I will always be there to protect my friends!" He couldn't see how irrational he looked, nor did he recognize the cool, professional, dangerous look on Gunny's face.
"Hank Declan! Unhand your teacher immediately and turn around!"
Startled at the forceful voice in his head and the strange compulsion it carried with it, Hank dropped Gunny Bardue and turned, fighting against his own rage and his own unhinged emotions. Before him stood the psychic projection of Louis Geintz, whose psychic power was one thing that Hank was most vulnerable to. That and magic. "Louis I ..."
Addressing the stuttering student in a soothing, non-threatening voice, Louis Geintz continued. "The men's locker room is empty. I want you to go there directly and change out of your sim suit. Please remain there waiting for an escort to take you to Doyle Medical Center. Dr. Markham has been notified and she's on her way to her office. I can tell you're very upset by what happened to Jamie, but Dr. Markham can provide the help that you very desperately need.
"I don't need ..." Hank started to protest.
Louis interrupted him. "I hate to say this, Hank, but if you don't cooperate, you will be restrained and put into custody for your safety and the safety of those around you! Is that clear?"
"Yes Mr. Geintz." Hank replied through clenched teeth, his anger suffusing through every fiber of his being.
May 6, 2007, Before Lunch
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
"Ayla?" Putting aside his b-phone Ayla turned to the interruption. Mrs. Horton and Louis Geintz stood in the open door to his room; both wore grim expressions.
"Yes, ma'am? Dr. Geintz?" he asked respectfully as he puzzled over the meaning of their presence.
"Ayla if you could please go with Mr. Geintz? We need your help with Hank."
Arching an eyebrow in a very un-Ayla-like display of emotion and nodding, Ayla put away his phone as Mrs. Horton nodded towards Louis and left.
Louis' expression was grim, which caused Ayla to flinch slightly. "Do you have your anti-PK holdouts with you?" Louis asked as Ayla's eyes widened in surprise. "Something that could affect Hank? Neutralize him if needed?"
Shocked, Ayla blurted. "I'm ... I'm not sure I could contain Hank. Maybe you should get ..."
Louis sighed. "Ayla. I truly hope you don't need to fight him." Louis said gently laying a hand on Ayla's shoulder. "I'm counting on the fact that Hank is your friend and that he wouldn't want to hurt you. I believe Hank is most likely to go with you peacefully and without incident."
"Foob," Ayla said calmly, "I need to know what's going on if I'm going to be prepared."
"There was an incident in Arena 99 a few minutes ago," Louis said sadly. "Hank ... lost control." Louis shook his head slowly, as if to punctuate his words. "If it hadn't been in the holo-simulators, he would have killed another student."
Ayla's eyes widened, and then he nodded in understanding. "I'm ... I'm not sure that I could make Hank do what he doesn't want to do." Ayla sighed worriedly.
"Don't worry Ayla. Mrs. Horton is getting another student to help you. And I'll be riding shotgun to restrain him psychically if necessary. What we want is for you to calmly escort Hank from the Simulation Center to Doyle and wait with him until Dr. Markham arrives. Your presence should help him stay calm and rational. But if the situation gets out of hand, you'll need to restrain him. Okay?"
Gulping nervously and uncharacteristically, Ayla nodded. Reaching down Ayla checked his belt pouch, double-checking the location and readiness of a few items before looking back to Louis Geintz and grimly nodding to affirm his readiness.
May 6, 2007, Before Lunch
Arena 99 Locker Room, Whateley Academy
Hank was just finishing tying his shoes when the locker room door opened and a visibly embarrassed Ayla entered, following the psychic projection of Louis. Ayla held back from Hank, but Louis walked directly in front of Hank. Sitting up straight, Hank stared past Louis Geintz, scowling at Ayla, who was fidgeting and very deliberately not meeting Hank's gaze.
"Hank, I want you to go with Ayla. He'll take you to Doyle and wait with you until Dr. Markham dismisses him." Louis' voice was calm and soothing. "If necessary, Ayla has orders to restrain you."
Glaring past Louis, Hank growled at Ayla. "I can take you."
"Yes, well, we were hoping to avoid this." Louis turned and beckoned, and a visibly-upset Fey came into the locker room, looking at Hank in distress. Turning back to Hank, Louis just raised an eyebrow. "Well?" he asked simply. "Will you cooperate with us?"
"Please, Hank," Fey pleaded. "It's ... it's for your own good."
Glaring at Louis, Hank stood tall, pushed back his shoulders, and with head high, he marched himself to the locker room exit, studiously ignoring Ayla and Fey. As he passed Fey, she tried to reach out to him, but stepping to one side, he turned his back on her and marched for the door, a strange mixture of anger and sorrow on his face.
Ayla gave Fey a tiny hug to reassure her, and then the two of them hastened from the locker room to follow Hank, trotting so they could catch up and flank him.
May 6, 2007, afternoon
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
Interrupted in his studies by thunderous pounding, Ayla opened his door to a furious Lily. "Where is he!" she demanded as soon as Ayla had the door open.
"Of course Hank! Who else? Where is he? What have you done to him? Where did you take him!"
"We didn't take him ..."
"Don't lie to me Ayla!" Lily screamed. "Everybody in the Sims saw you and Nikki escort Hank away. Where is my boyfriend!"
Ayla sighed. "In his room, honest. Louis asked us to take him for counselling at Doyle and then Dr. Markham told us to bring him to Poe. Really, he's back in his room where he locked himself in ever since we got back."
Lily turned and bolted down the corridor to Hank's room. "Hank?' she asked insistently, knocking loudly enough that several heads poked out of other doors to find out the source of the racket. "Are you in there? Hank?"
Back against the wall and knees pulled up to his chest, Hank sat on his bed, glaring across the room at the neat, tidy, and above all, empty bed, unaware of the tears streaming down his face. Hugging his knees tighter Hank ignored the girl's voice calling through the door, just as he had the many other times that afternoon. He didn't want to add a fight with his girlfriend to the list of horrors the weekend had already dumped on him.
"Hank?" The room echoed from the pounding on the door. "Hank? I know you're in there! Open up or I'll get Mrs. Horton to let me in!" Lily demanded .
Recognizing the futility of trying to ignore her, the distraught and disheveled boy laboriously dragged himself upright, and with a heavy sigh, he stumbled to the door, unlocking it but not bothering to open it. Instead, he turned back and slumped on his bed again, curling up protectively and once more fixing his gaze on the empty spot in his room that symbolized the suddenly-empty spot in his life.
Cautiously opening the door, Lily glanced in. With a nod to those behind her in the hall, also curious about Hank, she slipped through the opening, closing it firmly behind her, and made her way over to the bed. Sitting on the edge of the bed, facing Hank, she leaned to hug him. "What's the use of a girlfriend if you won't talk to me or tell me what's bothering you, or even let me comfort you?" She asked quietly.
"Please go away." Hank asked quietly, wiggling out of her attempted hug. "I ... I need to be alone."
"No, you don't," Lily spoke firmly, leaning her head on his shoulder and wrapping her arms around his shoulders from the side, hugging him as best she could, although Hank continued to hug his knees and made no attempt to return her embrace.
"Please?" he almost begged.
"No," Lily said insistently. "I'm your girlfriend and I'm not leaving you alone like this. It's not good for you."
"Please, I'd don't want to argue with you," Hank's plea sounded more desperate and pitiful. "I ... I just need to be alone right now."
"I said no," Wallflower snapped, surprising even herself with her firm rebuke. With a heavy sigh, she quietly murmured. "I love you. It hurts me to see you like this - so down, so miserable, so unhappy, so hurt. I ... I just want to help."
"I don't want to argue." Hank was begging.
"I'm not here to argue with you. I can sit quietly with you. Please, don't push me away."
"I don't want to sit quietly!" Hank cried out angrily, startling Lily. "I want to know who murdered my friend!" Hank forced Lily away and stood up, tears of frustration streaming from his eyes.
Seeing Lily's stricken face, he started, and then forced himself to relax the fists which he hadn't even realized he'd clenched, took a deep breath, and once again tried to calmly speak. "Lily, please. I don't want to hurt you! Just leave me alone. I'm not safe."
"Security is looking into who killed ..."
"No they're not! They are just trying to prove Kayda didn't kill Jamie! Everyone's trying to prove Kayda didn't kill Jamie!" Hank yelled pushing past Lily before turning back round. "It's all about Kayda, not Jamie! We all know she's innocent, it's all over the cottage, there is a friggin tape of what she and Loophole where doing! Nobody is trying to find out who killed Jamie and the killers are getting away with it! "
Spreading her hands in a non-threatening way to try to calm Hank, Lily cautiously stood. "You know that it's the same thing Hank. Proving Kayda innocent, finding who framed her. Once they know that it'll lead back to Jamie's killer."
"What if it doesn't? What if they aren't related? What if someone wanted Jamie dead and it's all just a smokescreen so that get away with it? Framing Kayda has got everyone - security, Carsen, that State's Attorney - they bought in even a private investigator - all of them are only interested in Kayda!" Hank screamed. "I'm sick of hearing about God-damned Kayda! I want someone to talk to me about Jamie!" Hank yelled pounding on his desk so hard that a normal desk would have been crushed.
"I want to talk to you about Jamie." Lily cried helplessly, not knowing how to help her boyfriend in this state that was, she had to admit, rather frightening.
Gritting his teeth Hank visibly controlled himself before turning back to her. "No. No you don't. You just want to talk about me. I'm Jamie's friend, his roommate! Why hasn't anyone interviewed me about Jamie at all? Why hasn't security collected all his belongings, his computer, his clothes? Why hasn't the whole of Poe been bought in to ask about every single thing we can remember about what Jamie did for the last week? Why is nobody investigating Jamie?"
Blinking back tears, Lily stopped trying to calmly inch her way to Hank and looked startled across the room, to Jamie's desk, Jamie's bed, Jamie's wardrobe. Finally she cautiously turned back to Hank and asked. "Nobody's been into interview you about Jamie?" Hank shook his head. "Nobody has been in to look through Jamie's things? Examine his computer?" Again Hank silently shook his head no.
Lily let her head lower as she thought. With a determined look, she took Hank's hand. "You're right. Come on." She turned to the door, but Hank stood immobile and bewildered, and she was snapped back in front of him. "You are right, Hank. They're not investigating Jamie's murder. So are you just going to let it lie, or are you going to stop sulking and investigate it for Jamie yourself?" Turning Wallflower released his hand and strode through the door, not even waiting to see if her boyfriend was following her.
The insistent rapping on the door shattered Ayla's concentration; with a heavy sigh, he let his head droop as he shook it sadly, indulging for a moment his frustration at the near-constant interruptions. However, given the events of the weekend so far, it was far from unexpected.
"I believe this would be your two o'clock appointment," Vamp snarked from where she sprawled on her bed, back against her pillow propped in the corner formed by a headboard and the wall. She made a show of glancing at her watch. "They're late. Shall I send them away and ask them to reschedule?"
Ayla shook his head, refusing to let his roommate get under his skin. "Come in," he invited, spinning his chair toward the door.
The door opened cautiously and two figures peeked in. "Are you busy, Ayla?" Lily asked hesitantly, shooting a wary glance at Vamp.
"Not overly," Ayla replied. "What can I do for you?"
"Um," Lily hesitated to answer, glancing nervously at Vamp. "Can we talk ... privately?"
"I know when I'm not wanted." Vamp closed her book, scooping it and a couple of notebooks up in her arms as she scooted off the bed. "I'll be down in Jana's room - as if your royal highness would even care."
"Have a seat," Ayla offered. "Can I get you anything? Soda? Coffee? Tea?"
Hank remained standing, while Lily sat gracefully in a chair. "No thanks," Lily answered, while Hank stood stone-faced.
"What can I do for you?" Ayla asked politely once Vamp had left, closing the door behind her.
"Do you have any information about Jamie's death?" Hank muttered angrily.
"Of course," Ayla replied calmly. "What little that's been entered into the security computers, as well as what my other sources have found."
"The recordings of Kayda and ..." Ayla stopped in surprised at the disgusted snarl from Hank. Slightly perplexed, he looked towards Lily who gently shook her head.
"Anything else? Anything about Jamie!" Hank demanded.
"I'm not sure what you're after. With the plot to frame Kayda and the outside interest ... " Again, Ayla paused, sensing from Hank's growl that he wanted something else. Ayla shot a quick glance towards Lily, who was looking very concerned towards Hank, half reaching out to him before gulping uneasily and pulling her arms back to hug herself.
Looking back to Hank, Ayla tried a different tack "What do you need?"
Closing his eyes, Hank drew a deep breath, slowly exhaling before looking towards Ayla, his eyes pleading. "Your help."
Not even blinking, Ayla nodded. "Okay." He let his simple reply and the sincerity of his look speak for him.
"Thank you," Hank blurted, thankful that someone was finally going to take his concerns seriously. Realizing that his eyes were moistening with gratitude, he quickly turned away and roughly swept the back of his hand across his face.
Pretending not to notice his friend's emotions, Ayla leaned back with his hands wrapped around a knee and asked. "What do you want me to do?"
"Nobody is investigating Jamie..." Hank began.
"I assure you, Delarose and Carson have bought in very experienced people to look into..."
"And are they investigating Jamie? Or are they too investigating Kayda?" Hank snapped, his anger flaring once again.
"Of course they're investigating Kayda? What do you expect..."
"I expect that when a person is murdered people would investigate him, not waste time on an obvious red herring!"
"Kayda is alive Hank! Jamie's dead!" Ayla snapped. "Do you think they should stop everything they are doing and let the MCO have Kayda? Will that help Jamie?" He shook his head slowly, looking sympathetically but sternly to Hank. "They don't have time to investigate Jamie at the moment, Hank! They have twenty four hours to save an innocent girl!"
Closing his eyes Hank's shoulders slumped as tears began running freely. "She's innocent, and it's all a waste of time! Please! I need your help to find out who killed Jamie!" Hank pleaded.
"Hank," Ayla said softly, "if they find who framed Kayda..."
"What if it's not about Kayda?" Hank snapped before taking a deep breath and visibly fighting to control himself. "What if she's a decoy, a misdirection? If someone wanted her dead, surely anyone who could have killed Jamie could have just as easily killed her! There's no need for all this big production trying to get the state to kill her! She's almost died multiple times as it is! What if it wasn't Kayda they were after, but it was Jamie all along, and now because nobody is investigating Jamie, they're getting away with it? What if ..." Hank paused to try to organize the emotion-confused jumble of thoughts in his head, "... what if ... it's just a coincidence, and the two aren't even related?"
Ayla bit his lower lip as he considered Hank's thoughts, adding it to the data he'd already collected from his other sources, mentally sifting and sorting things to try to get some order out of the chaos of limited evidence and facts. "It's possible I suppose ..." Ayla said slowly. "Based on my sources, the whole investigation is assuming that either Kayda had a vendetta against Jamie ..."
"That's a stupid idea!" Hank spat angrily.
Ayla ignored the interruption, "or that somebody wants Kayda dead, or at least removed from Whateley. Nobody is working the supposition that Jamie was the intended target from the get-go." Ayla thought more, his gaze fixed above his door on the line between the wall and the ceiling. After a few seconds, he turned his gaze back to Hank. "How can I help you? What do you need?"
"I don't know!" Hank started to cry, both from relief that someone was listening and from not knowing how to proceed. "I don't know how to investigate a murder! I just want someone to take me seriously and interview me professionally to find out if there is anything I know that could help! I was his friend, his roommate! There has to be something I heard, something I saw, that would indicate who it was! I was his friend!" Hank exclaimed starting to cry. "I had to have seen something!"
Awkwardly Ayla watched his friend weep before glancing to Lily for help. Biting her bottom lip, the white-faced girl looked achingly at Hank, desperate to help him but terrified of him pushing her away again. She pulled her arms in tightly again, turning to Ayla with a pleading look as she silently begged him to help Hank.
Taking out his phone, Ayla glanced at Hank. "We'll call Trin and Maintyre, okay? We'll see what kind of help we can get from them, okay?"
"Really?" Hank whispered, overwhelmed by Ayla's gesture of assistance.
Expression firm Ayla pulled back his phone and started dialing as Lily unwound, allowing herself to finally reach out to gather Hank to herself, gently pulling him into a chair and offering what comfort she could.
May 6, 2007, Late afternoon
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
Hank was once again numbly contemplating the empty bed across his room; this time, though, Lily was sitting with him. In fact, since they'd come back from Ayla's room, she hadn't left his side. The phone call with Ayla's investigative service had done wonders for Hank; he was still distraught and definitely grieving Jamie's absence, but at least he felt like someone was looking at the crime from Jamie's perspective. A knock on the door startled the two teenagers; Hank practically jumped off his bed to the door. He stepped back almost instinctively, allowing Mrs. Horton and an older Hispanic woman to enter.
With a sympathetic, sad smile, Mrs. Horton gently laid her hand on Hank's shoulder. "How are you doing?" she asked compassionately. "You know my door is always open if you want to talk, or even if you just need a motherly hug?" Patting his arm at Hank's stiff nod, she turned to Lily and sighed. "I'm sorry dear, but could you go upstairs and stay with Kayda for a bit? I know it's inconvenient, but the duties of a Security Auxiliary call at all hours."
Distressed, Lily gave Hank a worried look, but she knew Mrs. Horton was right; she had to do her job. Giving Hank a quick hug, she reluctantly left the room.
Turning back to Hank, Mrs. Horton introduced the other woman. "This is Ms. Guzman, Jamie's guardian. She's here to take care of Jamie's things. If you're up to it, I'd like you to help her," Mrs. Horton said, scrutinizing Hank extensively. "If you're not sure, or if it gets to be too difficult emotionally, I can get Jody to help." Turning to the woman she indicated Hank. "Ms. Guzman? This is Hank, Jamie's roommate."
Hank nodded a silent greeting to Ms. Guzman, and then looked back to Mrs. Horton, shaking his head. "No it's fine. I ... I'd prefer to help," he said, his voice cracking slightly. "I ... I need to help. For Jamie." Droplets of moisture were gathering in the corners of his eyes.
Seeing the tears. Mrs. Horton wrapped the boy in a firm hug before standing back and holding Hank by the shoulders, scrutinizing him to convince herself that he could handle the task. Nodding she let him go. "Thank you Hank. If it becomes too much, please let me know and I'll send Jody." Nodding to Ms. Guzman, she left the room, closing the door behind her.
Turning towards the fifty-ish Hispanic woman, Hank just waited while she sized him visually. Finally she smiled a sad smile. "Jamie told me a lot about you," she commented.
"My friends and I lead interesting lives," Hank murmured in reply, not quite sure how to deal with the wealthy woman.
She gave him an amused look. "Not that. That I could get from newspapers. Jamie told me all about the things you and she did, things that you probably keep from your friends." She smiled knowingly as she watched the startled look grow on Hank's face. "Like those movies and TV shows she kept on her computer for you to share so that your teammates wouldn't find them." Hank blushed and looked away, not seeing the bemused expression turn to pain as Ms. Guzman looked at Jamie's side of the room and at Jamie's belongings.
Stepping slowly and hesitantly across the room, Ms. Guzman eyed the various posters on the wall, the green dressing screen, the neatly-made bed. Turning to the wardrobe, she opened it, reached out, and gently caressed the face of the poster tacked on the inside of the door. Kayda. "And people think this poor girl could have kill Jamie, Jamie's only friend from her own tribe."
"You think members of a tribe wouldn't kill each other?" Hank asked woodenly.
Turning to Hank, Ms. Guzman barked a sharp laugh. "I know full well that human nature is too covet and desire that which they can see and touch. No, Native Americans, be they Lakota like Jamie, or Aztecs like me, or any of the Nations, are much the more likely to kill each other." She sighed. "After all, we spend so much more time together, more than enough to covet what the other has." Turning back to the poster, she again caressed it. "No, Jamie told me Wihakayda and the Lakota Spirits she hosts. Jamie explained their importance, and the connections between them and her own spirits. There is no way Wihakayda's spirits would have bonded to a person who could have done this to a host of an important Lakota spirit like Heyoka."
Giving the poster a last pat, Ms. Guzman turned to Hank. "I assume all the clothes in this wardrobe are hers?"
Hank nodded and pointed to the desk closest to Jamie's bed. "That's Jamie's desk too. Everything in and on it is Jamie's, except the laptop; that's the schools." He suddenly thought of something. "I can run over to the school store and get a thumb drive if you want to copy its contents. Jamie had a lot of pictures on it."
Ms. Guzman shook her head. "The school already offered to do that for me. I just need to leave the computer with security and they'll take care of it." Closing the wardrobe door, she wandered over to the desk and almost absently trailed her fingers over some of the contents there before she reached down and opened a drawer, pausing silently to contemplate its contents, then she gently pushed the drawer shut again.
"Ms. Guzman?" Looking towards Hank, the older woman arched an eyebrow curiously. "Jamie has some bags in storage down in the basement. Would you like me to get them?"
"Please." she said absently sitting on the bed and gazing consideringly at the dressing screen.
Nodding, Hank padded softly to the door, pretending not to notice the tears as Ms. Guzman picked up Jamie's pillow and cradled it to her breast.
When Hank returned with some suitcases and a duffle bag, Ms. Guzman was still sitting on the bed, but this time she was holding a native dress, one that Hank remembered Jamie was extra careful with, often pausing when dressing to stroke it. It had always intrigued him since it wasn't a Native Lakotan dress, nor even a Tribes dress at all, but instead a rather simple but pretty Hispanic dress, possibly Aztec; Hank had never asked and Jamie had always quickly hidden the dress if she noticed his curiosity.
Looking up, Ms. Guzman noticed him staring at the dress and smiled a heartbreakingly-sad smile. "Jamie wore this for my birthday. I have no idea where she got it - probably some market." She laughed, but it was a sad, hollow sound. "I ... I have no kids of my own, nor am I likely to now. Jamie didn't get me a present that day. She just came in wearing this dress and hugged me, and she told me she loved me," Ms. Guzman didn't bother to wipe at the tears trickling onto her cheeks, nor did she seem bothered by her voice cracking with emotion, "and she wished me a happy birthday. All the time she was there after that, whenever I had a guest, she would wear this dress and stand next to me to greet them. She never offered any explanation."
"She loved you," Hank said simply. "She was grateful to you and she loved you like you were her mother. That's how she always talked about you. Is any more explanation needed?"
Ms. Guzman broke down and started weeping. "I sent her here to be safe! I was happy here, and I wanted her to be happy too. I sent her here to be protected!" Not knowing what else to do Hank knelt down and awkwardly reached out to the crying woman, extremely surprised that instead of pushing him away, she leaned forward, embracing him, crying unashamedly on his shoulder, clinging tightly too him. Even more surprising, Hank found himself clinging to her and weeping on her shoulder, too - both of them finally able to share their grief with someone who they each knew felt the same pain.
May 6, 2007, Early Evening
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
Hank finished loading the last of Jamie's bags into the trunk of Ms. Guzman's limo, having shrugged off assistance from her chauffeur, and he finished just as Ms. Guzman exited Poe. Waiting politely for her to pass, Hank was surprised when Ms. Guzman detoured and embraced him. After a long hug, she stood back and looked him in the eye. "You'll think about what we discussed?" Hank nodded cautiously. "Don't go off on a pointless crusade for Jamie, Hannah. Jamie loved life and laughter too much for you waste your time trying to do something for her. If you have to do something, then make sure her death isn't used to harm her friend Wihakayda. You know she'd never rest peacefully if that was to happen." Hank's winced but he stiffly nodded his assent as Ms. Guzman leaned forward to give him one last hug.
As she turned away, Hank called out. "Ms. Guzman?"
"Yes?" she answered immediately.
"Why do you have a ton of gold on display in Homer Gallery?" he blurted out, embarrassed.
Smiling mysteriously, Gabrella Guzman laughed. "Do you envy me that pile of gold?" Hank shook his head. "Do you desire my ton of gold? Do you covet it? Spend hours contemplating it and how to much you want it, need it, must have it?"
Hank kept shaking his head confused. "No. Why would I want it? It's pointless! Why do you have every student shown a pointless pile of gold when they arrive here?"
"Because that's the point of my 'pointless pile of gold'," she smirked with a broad grin before coming back to Hank. "It is a dirty, dusty, waste of space, so unwanted by its owner that it is thrown to a school to clutter up its museum of artifacts." Smiling, she embraced Hank and stepped back turning serious. "A ton of gold is pointless Hank," she emphasized. "And especially the poorer kids who come here, those that could never have dreamed about the lifestyles of those who parade in Melville and all over campus in front of them, they need to be shown just how pointless gold, indeed all wealth is. There is so much to be found here that's far richer then gold that it would be a waste to squander the opportunities they have been given in the rather pointless pursuit of wealth."
With those words, Ms. Guzman gently patted Hank on the shoulder then climbed into the limo, the driver holding open the rear door for her. After the door closed and the driver climbed in and drove away, leaving Hank standing, pondering the wisdoms Ms. Guzman had left him with. As the car drove out of sight, Hank straightened his shoulders, turned, and marched determinedly through the door back into Poe.
"Lily, can I please talk to you?" Hank asked quietly as Lily followed Loophole and Kayda out of Kayda's temporary room.
Startled Lily looked up, and seeing Hank, turned and pleaded with her eyes to Loophole.
Lanie just smiled. "Go ahead, Wallflower. There'll be someone from Security at the entrance to escort us." Winking at Lily, she glanced knowingly at Hank before turning and walking with Kayda toward the staircase.
Gesturing to her own room, Lily waited for Hank's nod before she opened the door to check it was empty before leading Hank inside.
As Lily closed the door behind herself, Hank stood in the middle of the room looking nervously at the floor before he took a deep breath and looked up at Lily. "I'm so sorry, Lily. Please forgive me."
"Forgive you?" Lilly asked blinking stunned.
"You've been nothing but nice to me, trying your best to comfort me and support me, and all I've done is to reject you."
"Hank you're scaring me," Lily said, moving to touch him but, Hank gently stopped her.
"Please, Lily, let me finish."
"Hank, are you ... are you trying to break up with me?" Lily asked, tears in her eyes.
"Wait, what? No! I'm trying to apologize for being a jerk of a boyfriend," Hank replied sharply once his brain was working again. Then he stopped and softly continued, looking down again. "But ... I'd understand if you want to break up with me after how badly I've treated you these last two days."
"Oh Hank," Lily cried softly, swiftly moving forward to wrap her arms tightly around him and lean against his chest with her eyes closed and a happy smile on her face. "I understand. I don't expect you to be perfect, especially not right now!"
Hank just started crying, hugging Lily to him. "But what if it was my fault Jamie was killed? What if I could have done a more to protect Jamie..."
"Hank!" Lily snapped, pulling back and grabbing his head firmly between her hands so he had to her in the eyes. "You think it was an accident that they killed Jamie when they did? When both Team Kimba and the Grunts where in a Sim match together? You, Mule, nearly all the people who would have been with Jamie and might have been able to protected him? I'm convinced that it was planned that you couldn't be there Hank! It was not your fault!"
"But it feels like it was," Hank sobbed as Lily once more cradled him to her, holding him tight and letting him cry it out.
Eventually, Hank stopped crying and Lily guided him to her bed where she gently pushed him down and snuggled up beside him. "Who was that with Mrs. Horton?" She asked softly.
"Ms. Guzman, Jamie's ... Jamie's sponsor and guardian. She was here to pack up his things."
"Oh Hank ..." Lily cried pulling him tight to her again. When Lily released Hank, she grasped his hand and cradled it in her lap, silently encouraging him to continue.
"It ... It wasn't that bad. We talked ... about Jamie..." Lily squeezed his hand. "She ... she reminded me that Jamie loved life, and that even worse than dying, he'd hate that Kayda was getting framed. That ... that if I want to do something for Jamie, I ... I should make sure his death doesn't lead to hers."
Lily just reached over again and quietly pulled Hank to her breast, letting him have the time he needed. Eventually, she quietly asked, "Hank, have you eaten at all today?"
Hank thought for a moment before shaking his head. "I didn't get up for breakfast, and after the Sim ...," Hank grimaced, "I just came back to my room."
Lily stood and pulled Hank up, sighing. "Come on. Let's get you over to Crystal Hall and get something into you. It doesn't do you any good to starve."
Leading Hank out of her room Lily wormed her way under his arm and smiled dreamily as he absently pulled her to his side. Leaning against his solid presence, Lily walked with him toward Crystal Hall.
May 6, 2007, Late Dinner
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Surrounded by plants in an out-of-the-way corner of Crystal Hall, Hank and Lily were squeezed together in one of the few so called "lover's booths", enjoying its seclusion and relative privacy in the loud and crowded ground floor of the cafeteria. Starting with the soup, as Lily had insisted, Hank was replaying over in his mind the conversation he'd had with Ms. Guzman, trying to sort out his feelings about Kayda.
With Lily pressed up beside him, resting her head on his shoulder and with an arm snaking behind him to encircle his waist, he could honestly acknowledge that the majority of his problems were simple jealousy. He had lost his friend and he was upset, but it was Kayda who was getting all the attention, all the help, and most upsettingly, all the time with his girlfriend. And even then if he was being totally honest with himself, Hank had to admit that it was he who had pushed Lily away by not accepting her offers of comfort and of support, and not Kayda who had been coming between them. Hank swallowed and grimaced to himself. Truthfully, there had been many friends over the last day and a half who had tried to help him, but he'd either pushed them away, or locked himself in his room and refused to come out or let them in.
Sighing, Hank hugged Lily, resting his head on hers, accepting the pleased smile she directed his way, happy for the first spontaneous gesture of affection he had made towards her since he found out Jamie had died. Pleased at his gesture Lily decided to try some light conversation.
"What do you want to do after dinner?" she asked quietly.
Hank reflexively clenched his spoon tightly, and then realizing what he was doing, he carefully placed it down and turned to Lily. "I ... I need to help Kayda" he said.
Concerned, she reached out towards him. "Hank ..." she began.
Shaking his head slowly, Hank interrupted, "No Lily. I need to do it. I ... I have to make sure Jamie's death isn't used to prosecute her like they're trying to do. She's innocent." Lily clutched tightly to him, looking up with concern etched on her features. Giving her a gentle squeeze, Hank tried to smile for her. "No Lily, it's not about Kayda, I promise. It's about me, and it's about Jamie. Ms. Guzman put it best. There's no way Jamie can rest peacefully if his death is used like this against an innocent, especially one of his own People. One of his friends. I need to make sure that I do everything I can to prevent that."
"So you still want to go to Kane Hall after...?"
"I have to, Lily." Hank said looking pleadingly to her.
Nodding, Lily tightened her hug and then extracted her arm from behind Hank. "Then eat up. You didn't eat much for dinner last night and you didn't even bother with breakfast or lunch today. If you want to help her, you need to make sure you don't drop from hunger." With a 'don't you dare argue with me, Mister' look, she drained the last of her soup and reached for a plate of salad, glaring at Hank until, with a chuckle at how she was mother-henning him, he dug into his food, realizing he was starving.
May 6, 2007, Evening
Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
Nervously, Hank sat on the edge of one of the visitor's chairs beside Lily. When they'd arrived at the security desk and politely asked if there was anything he could do to help clear Kayda, the desk officer called Samantha Everheart, surprising both him and Lily. Standing nervously, almost fidgeting, he endured a silent look from Sam that seemed to last an eternity as she both studied him and thought. Finally, she simply said, "Wait here," and left.
After nearly half an hour of waiting, Hank glanced uneasily at Lily. "Do you think she forgot us?" She just shrugged her shoulders, a somewhat-worried look on her face. Then she looked up, past Hank, causing him to turn as well to follow her gaze.
"So, Mister Declan, you want to help clear Kayda's name?"
Startled at both the man's appearance and his question, Hank jumped up and turned to the man who had addressed him. "Um, Mr. Two Knives," he stammered to Kayda's instructor in Native American fighting. "Uh, yeah."
"Billy, please," Billy Two Knives said with a friendly smile, but his expression hardened. "How much do you want to help Kayda? What are you willing to do for her? Are you willing to risk getting hurt in order to help her?"
Hank blinked and glanced worriedly at Lily for a moment. She looked as perplexed as he felt. "Of course" he blurted.
A particularly devious smile worked its way onto Billy Two Knives' face. "Well as it happens, I have something in mind that those ... gentlemen ... trying to get Kayda are really not going to enjoy, and it happens that I need someone exactly like you to pull it off." Gesturing towards the exit of Kane Hall, Mr. Two Knives laughed. "Come. We'll discuss this in a much more private setting to make sure our little surprise doesn't get back to them." Smiling at Lily, he gestured for her to come with them as well, and as he led the pair out of Kane Hall, he began to question Hank in detail about the limits of his PK field.
Sunday May 6, 2007, Late Evening
Guest Cottages, Whateley Academy
Lying on her side, Gabriella Guzman absently stroked the simple fawn dress laid out carefully on the double bed beside her, tears falling unchecked into the pillow clutched tightly to her breast. Night had long ago fallen, but she neither noticed nor cared. Lights programmed to turn on automatically at twilight when the room was occupied went unnoticed, keeping the rooms pleasantly illuminated, but her eyes didn't really notice; at the moment, the passage of time was meaningless.
Somehow, muted tones penetrated her trance-like state, recognizable at last to her as knocking on the door of the Trustee's Suite in the next room. Stiffly, wiping her cheeks, she robotically pulled herself upright. "Just a moment," she called out to whoever was knocking. A quick stop at the mirror allowed her to dry her eyes and cheeks with a tissue, and then she took a few seconds to touch-up of her makeup. Walking out of the suite's bedroom to the door in the living area, she passed by a plate of food sitting cold and uneaten. Fastidiously smoothing the fit and lay of her clothes first she opened the door.
"Yes?" she asked to the security officer standing in the hallway.
"I'm sorry if this is an inconvenient time," the man started.
Ms. Guzman gave him a dismissive wave. "Not at all. How can I help you?"
"We finished copying Jamie's computer, and when I noticed the lights were still on, I thought you might want this now rather than waiting for the morning." He held out a small drive to her.
"Thank you. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and courtesy." Smiling her thanks, she took the drive and closed the door, unaware of the security officer's look of sympathy at the grief she was unsuccessfully trying to hide.
Her own laptop was set up on the suite's desk, so she sat down and plugged in the drive, rousing the computer from its cyber-sleep. With hardly a thought, she absently type in her password.
With her curiosity outweighing a sense of dread, she glanced through the contents. Her hand paused, her eyes already misting, when she came to a folder titled simply 'photos'. Hands trembling, she opened it and hesitantly started clicking through the pictures one by one. Smiling, crying, even laughing sadly, she clicked through the parade of pictures until she got to one very surprising picture that she had no idea Jamie had, let alone who had even taken it. Shock and grief rocked her back in her chair, her knuckles at her mouth, her other hand desperately groping for anything to steady herself.
With an anguished cry, she bolted from the room, tears streaming down her face, running from the picture and the memories. Behind her, the source of her renewed grief still showed on the computer screen. A porch swing. A girl in a fawn dress. A lady. Everything screamed 'mother and daughter', 'innocent pleasure'.
It was a picture taken after her birthday, a function that had continued well into the night, so long that Jamie had disappeared from the reception. After the last well-wisher had departed, Gabriella had gone looking for Jamie, and found the girl sleeping in the porch swing, tucked away in the corner of the deck out of the wind. Barefoot, her knees pulled up inside her 'special' dress, the epitome of peace and innocence.
Originally, she had sat to waken Jamie, but instead of waking, Jamie had snuggled up to her, placing her head in Gabriella's lap and with the most innocent and contented of smiles, settled back to sleep. Enchanted, delighted, Gabriella had found herself swinging softly, stroking Jamie's hair and watching her sleep happily humming to herself until the dawn sunrise.
Collapsing to the bed, she fought the sobs, clutching the fawn dress to her breast. Crying aloud, Gabriella Guzman curled protectively around the dress, holding it tight, desperately clinging to the last piece of Jamie available to her.
Monday, May 6, 2007, Before Breakfast
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
In the middle of a herd of Kimbas, with Lily tightly clutching him, Hank descended the stairs to the ground floor of Poe on their way to breakfast. But the group pulled up short as Mrs. Horton stepped out of her apartment. "Hank," she began, stepping forward and wrapping him in her arms. "Are you okay?"
Hank nodded, returning the embrace and luxuriating in her caring, motherly hug, eyes closing as he just stood allowing her arms to communicate her love and to comfort him. Stepping back, she gestured the group into her apartment "I need to discuss some a few things with all of you," she explained as she herded them in.
Giving hugs to them as they entered her living room, Mrs. Horton waited until they were all inside before shutting the door behind herself, signifying something very important. Surprisingly, Rosalyn Dekkard was already inside, seated at Mrs. Horton's table. "You all know that the hearing about Kayda is this afternoon, starting at one. Some of you," she glanced at Hank and a couple others, "have been asked to testify. You know who you are." She didn't let the others speculate. "I've been asked to tell you that there is an informal briefing right after breakfast, and if you will testify or otherwise participate, there will be a formal briefing at twelve-thirty in Schuster room one-oh-two." She looked around again, and her countenance was grim. "My intuition tells me that this is going to be ... difficult, and probably upsetting. I've already written passes for the whole afternoon for all who attend the hearing, and the counseling department will bring in extra counselors in case they are needed."
At the stunned expressions, Mrs. Horton nodded grimly. "Try as they might to discourage it, the administration knows this is going to be a bit of a circus, even though it's a deadly-serious hearing. They are restricting spectators. Also, you're all friends or associates of either Kayda or Jamie, so I've arranged passes to the hearing for those who aren't testifying."
"You're making it sound like ...." Fey began hesitantly, "... like the Nuremburg trials or something.'
Mrs. Horton sighed. "I want you to all be prepared for anything. This is an informal hearing, not a full-fledged trial, and the rules are a little less strict, but the administration would like you to not discuss the matter until the hearing. Clear?"
The students nodded, some like Jade quite nervous. "Go get some breakfast and try not to think about this, okay?" As they nodded and began to file out, she handed out afternoon passes to everyone. As Hank accepted his paper, Mrs. Horton put a hand on his shoulder to stop him. "Remember, after breakfast you have another session with Dr. Markham?" she reminded Hank.
May 6, 2007, Breakfast
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
With the rest of Team Kimba around him, Hank topped the first flight of stairs at the second level, turning to ascend to the third when a crash caused him to look right. Blanching, Accelerator stood above the remains of his breakfast tray goggling at Hank, an expression of fear on his face. The boy started cautiously backing away from Hank, looking like he'd turn and run at any hint of trouble. Bewildered, Hank looked around; the table where Accelerator stood, still backing slowly away, was full of kids gawking nervously at him. At the next table over, the Grunts sat, staring at Hank, their posture hinting that they were ready to bolt into action if needed. Blushing bright red, Hank's shoulders slumped forward, and looking down out of embarrassment, he turned and quickly climbed the stairs to the third level, seating himself deliberately so that his back was to the rest of the floor.
"Ah, Hank, why was Accelerator doing a Bloodwolf at the sight of you?" Billie asked cautiously as she sat down. Hank just hunched further down in his seat as Lily quickly slid in beside him, putting her arm around his waist, pulling him tight to her.
As they sat down opposite Hank, Ayla shot a disapproving glance at Fey, which halted her almost-automatic action of getting her privacy charm. She turned back to Hank, a sympathetic and concerned look on her face. "There have been some rumors about yesterday's Sim, Hank. And Ayla and I were asked to escort you to Doyle. I think it's time you told us what happened there." Fey urged.
Hank sighed. Looking down at his plate, he softly answered, "After yesterday's ... meeting with Chief Delarose, I went to a scheduled sim with the Grunts, but Gunny said that I was too ... emotional for the match, and that I was excused. I ... was pretty insistent, and they reluctantly let me participate. I ...," Hank grimaced. "Gunny described it as 'going insane on his battlefield' ..."
"Mule's words were 'going postal', smashing in Accelerator's brains with your rifle butt until it broke and then making a meat pancake of Accelerator's chest with your bare fists. Gunny did an emergency cancel of the sim." Toni interrupted absently as she intently studied the breakfast burrito she was concocting, before picking it up and taking a huge bite. Looking up at the stunned silence she chewed quickly and swallowed. "Oh come on, don't tell me you missed Elite League's expressions? Even the Grunts were nervous, so I asked!" Ignoring the silent frowns, she took another bite from her burrito.
Hank looked down sheepishly, highly embarrassed by the incident. "In the sim, Accelerator got Bunker. I ... I kind of lost it, I guess."
"Was ... was this why Louis had you escort Hank to Doyle?" Lily asked, staring at Ayla.
"Umm, ... that was after." Hank explained embarrassed. "I ... ah ... I kind of confronted Gunny and he, ah Louis had to psychically stop me," Hank finished, mumbling to the incredulous stares from everyone at the table.
Squeezing Hank's hand tightly, Lily looked across the table to Ayla, aghast. "I'm so sorry about my accusation yesterday" she whispered apologetically.
Ayla shook his head firmly. "No. I'm sorry. I should have gotten word to you as soon as we got to Doyle. I failed to consider how much Hank needs you ... um" embarrassed Ayla stopped talking, glancing towards Hank and Lily before quickly looking away again.
In an obvious attempt at distraction Jade loudly asked what it was that Ayla had been given on the serving line while silently, Shroud drifted over and sat on the opposite side of Hank from Lily, squeezing up tight to hug Hank too.
"Would you like someone to come with you to Doyle?" Ayla asked quietly when breakfast finished and they stood to return their trays.
"Umm, Lily is coming with me. I hope Dr. Markham will let her stay for the whole session." Hank replied to Ayla's nod.
"Would you like us to meet you after first period's finished?" Ayla offered instead.
"I ... ah ... won't be finished then," Hank replied, embarrassed. "Um, the session is scheduled for the whole morning, right up to lunch time. Mrs. Horton gave me a note excusing me from all classes today."
Ayla nodded. "We'll meet you at Doyle then if you want to have lunch together. Then we can all go together to Schuster afterwards."
Smiling, Hank whispered "thank you" gratefully before Lily once again wormed her way under his arm. Together, they strode toward Doyle.
As they walked across the quadrangle, Hank turned to Lily. "Thank you for doing this for me."
"Shhhh. I want to help you!" she replied sternly. "I'm happy that you're letting me be there for you. Now hush and we'll see if Dr. Markham agrees."
An arm wrapped tightly around her waist, Hank sighed contentedly. Inside Doyle, he paused, taking a deep breath to steady himself, and then knocked loudly and opened the door as soon as he heard the call of "come in".
"Dr. Markham?" he asked hesitantly, "is it all right if Lily stays with me for this session?"
"Lily?" Dr. Markham stood and came to the door, studying the girl. "Lily Turner isn't it?" she asked to Lily's nod. Turning to Hank, the counselor quizzically raised an eyebrow.
"Lily is my girlfriend." Hank explained, squeezing her hand. "She ... she helped me a … a lot last… last night," Hank explained, swallowing nervously as his eyes misted.
As Lily clutched Hank tightly, Dr. Markham studied the body language between the two. Her mind was made up quickly, and she smiled and gestured for them to enter the office. "Please, come in. Why don't the two sit down while I make us some soothing tea? Then I'd be very interested to hear more about how you've been doing since yesterday." She pointedly looked at Lily, implying with a glance that the subject of her comforting Hank would come up.
May 6, 2007, Lunch
Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
If Hank harbored any doubts that he had supportive friends, the fact that all of Team Kimba stood waiting for him outside Doyle put them to rest. Gratefully, he accepted hugs from the girls, and was secretly pleased to see them hugging Lily supportively as well. Once the supportive embracing was done, the group turned toward Crystal Hall and lunch.
"Hank and I are required for questions this afternoon." Ayla quietly stated. "While we're getting the official briefing, which I expect will summarize the nature of the proceedings, the rest of you will probably want to get to the hearing early. Word is that everyone will be trying to attend, so it's apt to be standing room only."
Hank sighed. "Mr. Two Knives has asked me to participate in a demonstration with him. He says it will help Kayda, so I agreed."
Ayla nodded and quietly continued. "Off the record, the evidence is solid that Kayda didn't commit the crime. If one of you gets questioned, answer politely and don't make a fuss or get emotional. Just answer the questions completely and politely and let the process take care of the rest. Nothing else."
Looking like he was sucking a lemon, Hank reluctantly nodded, and under Ayla's scrutiny, the rest of the group nodded - some reluctantly. "OK. No more talking about the case. The last thing the administration wants is accusations that people colluded on Kayda's alibi." Waiting for nods of agreement Ayla continued. "Let's try to have a pleasant lunch under the watchful eye of security and close circuit TV cameras."
Toni rolled her eyes at the absurdity of the request.. "Like they have any hope of people not gossiping over lunch!" With a shrug, she continued. "Well, if we're not allowed to talk all afternoon, at least we'll have plenty of time to catch up on all the work we're missing being there." The chuckles and grins emphasized agreement with the sentiments she'd voiced.
May 6, 2007, Afternoon
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Following behind a Security Officer, Team Kimba docilely sat in the indicated chairs, suitably chastised by the long-winded, rambling admonition from security about procedures in the hearing, respect, silence, and so on that they, and every student attending the hearing, had endured. Judging from their chastised expressions, Hank and Ayla had suffered their own brand of hell in their pre-hearing briefing. An unknown man had all but accused them of colluding and perjury. Hank and Ayla sat in the front row, with Team Kimba in the second row directly behind them.
"So, that was the Assistant District Attorney that briefed us?" Fey whispered to Ayla, seated in the first row.
"Yes." Ayla answered nonchalantly. "He's trying to intimidate every student who attends."
"He's not long on manners or witness grooming," Toni, seated beside Nikki, commented.
"I heard what he was telling you guys. You're lucky; Hank and I got the fire-and-brimstone version. Even then, I suspect he deems us minor witnesses at best." Ayla commented. "And I suspect he's quite hostile, too." Ayla nodded to the members of Kayda's training teams and friends, entering the room to sit behind Team Kimba. At the same time a doctor, Truck, and Billy Two Knives were being escorted by security to seats in the front row.
With a great deal of dignity, Ms. Hartford entered next, escorting a well-dressed woman, with two students following her. "Paige Donner?" an astonished Ayla identified the first student in surprise as Ms. Hartford curtly indicated chairs for them. Wearing glasses and a prosthetic arm, the girl meekly sat, with an armed security guard next to her. Ringo sat down on the other side of Paige. "Interesting," Ayla observed coolly. "I think we're in for some computer surprises."
"Why?" Billie asked from the second row.
"I'll tell you later. When it's more secure," Ayla said enigmatically. He turned and noticed Hank gawking at the well-dressed woman who noticed him, and with a smile, walked over to the boy, who rose respectfully.
"How are you holding up dear?" she quietly asked as she gave Hank a warm hug.
"I'm ... doing better Ms. Guzman. I appreciate your advice. I ... I needed it. Um, how are you?"
She smiled sadly. "I won't lie and tell you I'm okay," she said bluntly. "It's hard, but ... in a way, spending time with you yesterday helped me a little."
"I hope I'll be able to help Kayda," Hank said, "because I know Jamie would want that."
"I hope so, too. Good luck." Squeezing his shoulder, Ms. Guzman nodded before stepping back to Ms. Hartford, sitting gracefully, almost regally, in the indicated chair.
"What's the problem Hank?" Ayla asked curiously as Hank continued to study Ms. Guzman as he sat back down. "You look confused."
"Ms. Guzman. From what she told me yesterday, I thought she wasn't that interested in wealth. But ... there she is seemingly reveling in it. Designer clothes even I can see are expensive. Diamonds, jewelry ..."
"Wealth is just a tool Hank." Ayla explain with a knowing smile. "It has its uses. Ms. Guzman is making a conspicuous display of her wealth to make sure the person she wishes to send a message to will recognize her and receive that message."
"Money is power, especially in politics. Our ambitious Assistant DA is being reminded that Jamie has some powerful friends, friends that can hurt him in ways that are meaningful in the corridors of power and wealth to which Assistant District Attorney Jerome Hervik aspires."
Startled, Hank turned to Ayla. "Would she?"
Ayla studied the outwardly composed posture of Ms. Guzman. She was politely ignoring the chaos behind her as students filed in to be seated, focusing instead on an apparent casual examination of the 'prosecution' table, presently staffed by the Assistant DA and another man who had to be the MCO agent the DA had brought to 'help'. "Oh she already has" Ayla smirked. "Her eyes haven't looked anywhere else. She knows the enemy and she's making sure that he knows that she's focused on him." Sitting back Ayla made himself comfortable, content to watch Mrs. Guzman intimidating the Assistant DA.
A commotion at the back of the room drew everyone's immediate attention. The anger in the front three rows was palpable as Kayda was practically dragged along by two Security Officers, handcuffed, humiliated, and looking only at the floor as she was paraded through the room and to the table before them, where she sat, dejected, flanked by Dr. Bellows and a woman Hank was unfamiliar with.
"That must be Janice Talbert." Ayla mused, also looking towards the table Kayda was seated at. "She has an excellent record as a detective in the NYPD in the paranormal division."
"Are the cuffs necessary?" Hank growled glaring at Kayda's dejected posture.
"No. But I think our Assistant States Attorney is also trying to make a statement. He'll be surprised thought to hear how people are interpreting his statement, I suspect it's not anything like the message he was wanting to send." Calmly Ayla studied the Assistant States Attorney, his bland face giving away nothing of the thoughts going on behind its blank expression.
Hank looked around more; the room was a veritable "who's who" of campus organizations. With the room setup - a long table set at the head of the room and two tables for the 'prosecution' and 'defense', the classroom had been transformed into a courtroom. He gulped at that thought; despite Ayla's confidence, Hank wasn't so sure, and he felt sick at the thought that this room might result in Kayda being turned over to the MCO. The sense of foreboding wasn't helped by the sight of three fully-armed security guards standing at parade rest against each wall, with two more flanking the doors at the rear.
Mrs. Shugendo, Mr. Lodgeman, Reverend Englund, and the other trustees, obviously the panel who would decide Kayda's fate, filed in and sat down at the head table. Predictably, the center seat was empty, no doubt for Mrs. Carson.
At precisely one o'clock, Mrs. Carson walked into the hearing room, causing an instant shuffling as students, used to courtroom dramas, rose to their feet.
"Sit down," Mrs. Carson ordered sternly. "This is not a courtroom, and I'm not a judge." She circled the table and gracefully sat down at the center chair. "This is not a trial, nor is it an expulsion hearing," she began, glancing around the room. "It is an evidentiary hearing in accordance with DPA regulations twenty-four B seven and the US criminal code. Under these rules, anyone asked a question is required, under penalty of law, to answer truthfully. Is that clear?"
The Assistant DA rose. "Madam Chairman," he stated in a self-confident tone that made Hank want to punch him in the face, "I would like to proceed according to DPA guidelines, section fourteen, paragraph 2, point C."
Mrs. Carson frowned, but nodded. "Request granted. Proceed Mr. Hervik."
"First, I present the condition of the body," he said, "and more specifically, the fatal wounds."
Mrs. Carson interrupted. "I would remind all in attendance that this evidence is confidential, and some will be disturbing ... very disturbing. If you wish to leave, do so now." She paused, but not a single person moved. "Proceed."
"Dr. Rascomb, could you please describe the nature of the injuries to the deceased?"
"The first blow was a tapered, dull object tearing open the abdominal cavity, causing severe trauma to the victim's intestines. The second blow was a hand-held edged weapon ..."
"Yes," Rascomb admitted. "In the frontal skull, smashing and splitting the skull and embedding itself in the cranium."
"Is this the picture of the victim at the time of discovery?" Hervik pressed a remote and the room's projector cast a picture on the front wall - a horrific image of Heyoka lying, body torn asunder and skull split with the tomahawk still embedded. The gasps of shock in the room were accompanied by hasty footsteps as some students fled before they upchucked at the gruesome scene. Not everyone made it out of the room in time.
Shock. Horror. Jamie's last moments flashed before him without warning, and the smug, smarmy bastard smirked like he'd pulled off a coup.
"I’ll kill him!" Hank barely breathed the words, his anger incandescent.
"Hank no!" Ayla whispered, afraid that Hank wasn’t kidding. Moving fast, he crouched in front of Hank as Lily dived to enfold him tight from behind, holding him seated in his chair. "Let it go Hank!" Ayla pleaded. "Give them a chance Hank. Let the system work."
"He doesn’t care for Jamie! Jamie’s not an object, some trump card played for shock value and points!" Hank snarled through clenched teeth.
"I know Hank." Ayla desperately pressed. "Nobody but him believes it. Let it go. He's digging his own grave, and he doesn't even realize it. Mrs. Carson is not going to let him get away with this, I promise you, and Mrs. Guzman will bury his career."
Fighting his rage, Hank glanced at Mrs. Guzman, concerned about how this image was going to hurt her. He flinched at the expression on her face.
Gone was her placid, self-confident, unflappable expression; in its place was raw unfiltered hatred. If looks could kill, Assistant District Attorney Jerome Hervik would be stretched over an alter to the old gods and knives would be carving out his heart slowly and agonizingly. This was a momentary display of biblical hatred. In mere seconds, though, her composure was restored, calm returning, a blandly placid expression fixed on her face. Ignoring the disgusting picture displayed, she returned her focus, laser-like, to intimidating the DA. Whatever Jerome Hervik had hoped to accomplish was lost, Hank was certain that Mrs. Guzman would dedicate her considerable resources and personal attentions to ensure Assistant District Attorney Jerome Hervik suffered for turning the death and mutilation of her ward, her daughter of the heart, into a mere opportunity to be exploited at the temple of his ambition.
The Assistant DA looked at the front row. "Are students Lancer and Phase present?"
Grimacing, both of the Kimbas stood. "In your sparring with Miss Franks in your martial arts classes, have you encountered any episodes of PTSD-induced rager behavior?"
"Yes," Ayla and Hank answered unhappily.
"If you were baselines, or significantly more vulnerable, can you describe what you think the outcome of the attacks would have been?"
Hank looked like he was sucking a lemon. "The attacks would have likely been fatal." He felt nauseated, like he was driving a nail into Kayda's coffin. Ayla simply nodded in agreement, equally grim-faced.
Hank hoped things were going to go better after the break. Before Dr. Bellows had asked for a break, Adalie and Rosalyn had had to testify about Kayda's actions, and the devastating RFID tracking evidence was presented. And if anything, Kayda looked even more rattled - if such a thing was possible - when she came back from the break, while Dr. Bellows and Janice Talbert were visibly angry. The evidence after the break was more favorable to Kayda, fortunately, but Hank sat in his chair, fidgeting nervously. He had to help her; Jamie would want that. He was terrified that he'd let her down.
Knowing his part was coming up, Hank felt more nervous and less able to concentrate. Mr. Two Knives answered some questions from Janice Talbert about Native American fighting skills
"Rosalyn Dekkard and Hank Declan, could you come to the front of the room please? Doctor Rascomb, could you please come forward for a technical analysis of the results?" Billy asked. Nervously, both stood and strode to the front of the room. "Miss Dekkard, have you ever used a tomahawk before?"
"No," Ros squeaked.
"And your rating is Exemplar-1 - so you have no special strength or speed?"
Again she shook her head. "No sir."
"Very good. Mister Declan, you have a PK shell which is nearly impenetrable by normal weapons, correct?" Hank nodded affirmatively, gulping nervously. "And you've sparred with Miss Franks when she used a tomahawk, and emerged with no injuries?" Again Hank nodded.
Billy took a tomahawk from his waist. "Mister Declan, I would like you to participate in a demonstration of the use of a tomahawk, but I cannot force you to do so. You understand the risks?"
"Yes, sir. I'm willing to do my part," Hank said firmly. He glanced to the side and saw Mrs. Guzman give him an approving nod.
"Very well." He handed the tomahawk to Rosalyn. "I want you to strike Mister Declan with this tomahawk - right between his eyes, with all your force." He read the nervous expression in her eyes and turned back to Mr. Two Knives and Ros, feeling more confident.
Ros looked terrified, as if she was the one being asked to take a tomahawk to the head.
"Ros, it's okay. I sparred with Kayda. You can't hurt me with that," Hank assured her, watching as she nodded.
Ros took a deep breath and swung. Hank couldn't help but grin. With her arm up like that, and her eyes shut tight, the hardest thing to do wasn't standing there not flinching, but restraining himself from stepping forward and yelling "boo!" in her face.
Once assured that the tomahawk couldn't hurt him, Ros was able to do a proper blow following the instructions of Mr. Two Knives. Doctor Rascomb assured everyone that the blow would have been fatal to anyone without a PK field. Another piece of circumstantial evidence - that the death blow had required Kayda's unique skill - was shattered.
Carefully avoiding the DA's angry glare, hiding his satisfaction, Hank returned to his seat, feeling a profound sense of relief that he'd been able to help in Kayda's defense.
Hank hadn't realized how tense he was until he heard the DA asking if there was a pattern to her PTSD reactions. When Sensei Tolman and Chief Delarose hesitated, Mrs. Carson was forced to intervene. "Answer the question please."
Sensei Tolman spoke first. "Kayda's reactions have all been caused by contact - deliberate or inadvertent - with ... male students or instructors."
"I see. So, Doctor, would you speculate that Miss Franks has an aggressive phobia of male students? One that can manifest itself as either withdrawal or aggressive attack? And if so, what would cause such a thing?"
Mrs. Carson's face was fiery-red, even redder than Dr. Bellows'. "Mister Hervik ...," she began thunderously.
"Yes," Kayda screamed yelled, bolting to her feet, exhausted, her face wrought with anguish, "it's all guys! You know why?" She ignored Dr. Bellows hand on her arm, trying to calm her, to get her to sit down and shut up. "Because they fucking raped me!" she screamed in her emotional venting. "When they tried to kill me, they fucking gang-raped me!"
Jaws hit the floor, as Kayda sank back to the desk, her face buried in her arms as she wept, her body convulsing with her sobs. "Is that what you wanted?" she yelled through her sobs. "To completely humiliate me?"
Dr. Bellows was angrily saying something, but the total shock numbed Hank to what he was saying. As the trustees, Mrs. Carson, and Kayda and her representatives walked out, Hank realized that the girls from Poe had looks of profound sympathy and understanding, unlike everyone else in the room, including him. For the briefest of moments, he felt a little hurt that he, a fellow Poesie, hadn't known, but he quickly realized that he was no longer Hannah, and that he was no longer privileged to know some of the things girls shared with each other. And in a profound way, that saddened him a little, reminding him again of what he had lost.
May 6, 2007, Dinnertime
Kimba Corner, Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
"I don't get it," Billie said, floating upside down near the ceiling of the common room and doing the impossible of eating a slice of pizza upside-down. Actually, it was two slices put together like a sandwich so toppings wouldn't fall off in her gravity-defying position, but still .... "Mrs. Carson, the trustees, Mrs. Donner, and even the Chief said there insufficient evidence! Why do they ....?"
"Why do they have to keep Kayda in custody? Because the Assistant DA set his sights on crucifying Kayda because she's a mutant, and he's not about to let her go without trying everything he can," Alya replied with a disgusted expression. "He's too biased to admit the case doesn't exist."
"It's not fair!" Jade pouted. "Everyone knows Kayda didn't do it!"
Fey nodded sadly. "And everyone now knows about the rape and that she's a lesbian." She sighed. "It's going to be pretty rough on campus for her."
"He doesn't even have jurisdiction here!" Jade protested. "How can he get away with that?"
"Somehow, he weaseled authority from the DPA, and they do have jurisdiction. Which means that he's going to use every regulation he can find to try to get Kayda into his custody."
"So Kayda won't ever ..." Toni started, her somewhat frightened look matching those of every girl present, including Lily. Reflexively, Hank pulled his girlfriend closer to reassure her.
"If I know Mrs. Carson," Ayla said calmly, his demeanor and certitude calming to those around him, "she'll be in contact with the DPA tonight, if she hasn't already called. She'll have all of this cleared up before the continuation tomorrow, and she'll use the continuation to slam-dunk Hervik and Dougan and kick them off campus."
Hank shook his head slowly. "I'm glad Kayda's been proven innocent, just like I knew all along. But I wish," he lamented softly, "that they'd have caught Jamie's killer."
Presently, Naomi and Evvie came in, more for company than food, because the general mood among the girls in Poe was not in the slightest bit cheery. When Ros came down from the upper floors, it wasn't a surprise, nor did anyone blink when Zenith wandered in. Slowly, it became clear that all the changeling girls from Poe were congregating, and even though Ayla had more pizza and soda delivered, none of the girls were overly hungry or thirsty. Instead, they seemed to need to comfort each other, to be thankful that it wasn't them who'd had to admit their sexuality or a rape to all of the campus. Knowing that life was going to be tough for Kayda, they all privately thought of the Day of Remembrance, and worried in their hearts about Kayda and what the admissions meant for her safety. They worried about someday being in the same spot, of having to confess to a hateful world that they were gay, or worse, that they were changelings.
And Hank was out of place. True, he was a changeling, but he'd gone the other way, and he no longer had one of the biggest fears that these girls had. Realizing this, he rose silently, and when Lily looked up at him, he swept the room with his eyes without moving his head, indicating silently that he knew he didn't belong. Even as he helped her to her feet, CeeCee and Beltane wandered into the room, and as he and Lily walked down the hall, Chou was walking, looking unhappy, toward the informal gathering, with Delta Spike half a hallway further along. Silently, Hank passed them; no words were necessary. As he opened the door to his room, Ayla was leaving as well, knowing just like Hank that he didn't fit in.
May 6, 2007, Evening
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
Mrs. Horton poked her head into the second floor common room, looking around, and somehow not surprised that all her TG girls were gathered for mutual support. "Have you seen Hank?" she asked when she didn't spot him in the throng of changelings.
"I think he went to his room," Nikki answered after glancing around. Like many of the girls, she had been so absorbed in her own thoughts that she hadn't seen Hank - or Ayla, for that matter - leave.
With a nod, the housemother strode quickly down the hall, knocking insistently on Hank's door. A few seconds later, Hank opened it for her. "Yes, Mrs. Horton?" he asked as soon as he recognized her.
" Chief Delarose just called. He would like you to meet him in Kane Hall right away."
"Just me?" Hank asked cautiously.
"I'm sure Miss Turner's presence would be OK, but no-one else," Mrs. Horton replied evenly.
Nodding his understanding, Hank glanced over his shoulder. "Come on, Lily," he said, a little worried. "We mustn't keep the Chief waiting."
With her holding Hank's hand, the two of them strode nervously down the hall, following Mrs. Horton down the stairs. Behind them, several doors opened and heads poked out to see what was going on. At the far end, seven or eight girls were watching from the common room, all curious about why Hank would be asked to see the Chief - and at this hour.
May 6, 2007, Evening
Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
No sooner had Hank and Lily entered the security desk area than the desk officer waved them past to the Chief's office. "The Chief is expecting you. He said to go right into his office as soon as you arrive," was the only comment from the officer manning the desk.
Puzzled Hank and Lily, walked past the desk and into the Chief's office; the door ajar and Delarose visible sitting at his desk carefully reading a report. When Hank politely knocked, he looked up. He looked less harried than he had only hours before; Hank couldn't help but wonder what was going on, and from the quick glance he stole at Lily, she was equally confused. "Hank, have a seat" he invited giving a pointed look to Lily. Nodding Lily stayed outside, closing the door to give Delarose privacy for his discussion with Hank.
Delarose stood and walked around his desk toward the two chairs in front of it, one of which was occupied by Hank. He sat in the other." I thought you'd like to know. We got him, Hank."
"Who?" Hank asked, his head awhirl in facts and innuendo and speculation from the afternoon's hearing.
"Edward Rutherford confessed to killing Jamie."
"What?!?" Hank exclaimed, stunned.
"Eddie killed Jamie. Darren Haskins was the ... instigator, the planner, but Eddie committed the murder."
"But ... why?" Hank had to ask. If nothing else, he had to know why someone would kill his friend and roommate.
"I assume you know of Darren's ... issues ... with Kayda and Jamie?" He saw the blank look on Hank's face. "There's some long-standing racial hatred between Darren's tribe and Kayda's and Jamie's." Hank nodded numbly.
Leaning forward Delarose gently squeezed Hank shoulder. "You were right Hank. It wasn't just about Kayda; she was just a way for Darren to get both Jamie and Kayda. From what Eddie said in his confession, I don't think Darren cared which one they killed, so long as he framed the other one. Jamie died because of some random decision on Darren's part."
Hank fought his eyes trying to tear up. "That ... that doesn't make any sense."
The Chief shook his head. "Murder never does," he said sadly. Delarose sat quietly watching Hank's reaction before once more squeezing Hank’s shoulder and standing. "I want to thank you for the help you gave Kayda today at her trail." Delarosa said, offering Hank his hand.
Numbly standing too Hank shook it, leaving through the door Delarosa held open for him, walking forward into Lily's embrace. "They got him" he whispered tightly hugging her. "Jamie's murderer. They have him, he … he confessed." Breaking down Hank silently cried into her shoulder.
May 6, 2007, Evening
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
"Edward Rutherford." Hank sat straight as he could on the beanbag in Ayla's room where Mrs. Horton had firmly steered him and Lily on their return to Poe Cottage, ushering in the rest of Team Kimba behind them before firmly closing the door.
"Quickdraw?" Ayla confirmed to Hank's nod.
"He confessed," Hank continued. "He said he did it for Speakeasy, Darren Haskins. Darren ... had issues with Jamie and Kayda, with them being ... Lakota. It was ... a tribal thing."
"Wait," Jade asked, confused. "Isn't Darren Native American, too? Why would he hurt one of his own people?"
Hank shook his head. "Darren is Crow."
"Of course!" Ayla interrupted. "Damn, why didn't I think of that!" he chided himself for missing what he thought should have been obvious.
"What?" Nikki asked, as perplexed as everyone but Hank and Ayla, who was busy kicking himself for having overlooked something important.
"The Crows and the Lakota are bitter enemies, going back centuries," Ayla explained. "Some would say mortal enemies."
Toni got it first. "So ... Darren wanted to get them both off campus - for revenge for a centuries-old rivalry, or some warped racist thing?" She looked thoroughly disgusted by the thought that someone could be that racist.
"Apparently," Hank answered, "the plan was to kill one, frame the other for the murder, and get them both. If Kayda was convicted, she would be dead."
Ayla silently considered this. "And now?"
"They'll announce it tomorrow at the hearing, the continuation." Hank said and shrugged his shoulders to let them know he knew nothing else. Lily, sitting on the beanbag beside him, snuggled up to give him a comforting hug.
After a few moments, Fey stood, crossed to Hank, and pulling him up, hugged him warmly and silently. Toni followed, then Jade, and even Billie before Lily returned to her place at Hank's side and renewed hugging him, while the other girls quietly drifted out of Ayla's room.
Releasing his embrace of Lily, Hank squeezed Lily’s hands reassuringly. "Can you ... can you please wait for me outside?" Hank pleaded. Nodding, Lily left the room, closing the door behind her as Hank turned to Ayla.
Leaning against the wall and expecting that Hank would have a lengthy conversation with Ayla, Lily was surprised that she had barely settled against the wall next to Ayla's door before Hank emerged holding a small box. Reaching out, Hank again took her hand in his and silently led Lily down the corridor, into his room, seating her on his bed.
Retrieving his laptop, he opened the box and removed the projector he had borrowed from Ayla and started connecting the two devices.
"We're watching a movie?" Lily asked, surprised.
Hank nodded. " Jamie and I spent a lot of time watching movies and TV. Special ones, ones I shared only with Jamie." From the top shelf of wardrobe, Hank removed a box and carried it back to Lily, gazing at it intently for a moment before placing it on the bed next to her.
Puzzled, Lily pulled the box onto her lap and looked at the name written on the top in permanent marker. "Hannah?" she read out loud looking up to Hank for an explanation.
"My brother and I ... didn't get along, even before I manifested. You know what he did when I manifested, right?" Pausing Hank looked to Lily, who nodded. "Well, he sent this to me. It wasn't meant as an apology. I'm sure he meant it to be an embarrassment." Despite the explanation, there was no anger or bitterness in Hank's voice as he recalled his brother's actions, only a sad recognition that any relationship they might have had in the past had been irrevocably shattered.
"What is it?"
"All my favorite things from before - when I was Hannah." Hank said softly. "Jamie ... Jamie was also a normal girl before she manifested." He looked down, his voice cracking. "I ... I wasn't strong like Jamie. I couldn't ... can't ... handle people thinking I am not normal, not one-hundred percent male."
"And this box?" Lily asked warily.
Silently, Hank looked down at the box. "These are still my childhood treasures" Hank said softly, his voice wavering as he fought to force himself to confess his inner secrets to his girlfriend. "When I needed ... need ... comfort. When I miss my family. I." Hank started to cry softly. "It's what Jamie did for me. She understood, had her own items. When I needed to remember she'd be there for me. Be with me. Jamie helped me ... keep it secret, but still ... have it to remember."
Slowly, realizing that Hank was entrusting her with one of his deepest secrets, Lily opened the box. On the top of the mementos were a couple of Barbie dolls and a teddy bear. She couldn't help smiling as she removed them, carefully placing them on the bed. In the next layer down, she pulled out some books, many of the ones she herself had on her own comfort shelf:. Anne of Green Gables, The Baby Sitter's Club, the Twilight saga, and several others popular girl's books. Below that was a find that made her eyes go wide in both surprise and joy. DVDs, lots of DVDs. Disney's Princess collection, Princess Bride, Mean Girls, Bend it Like Beckham, "Bride & Prejudice!" she exclaimed. "You have Bride & Prejudice!" she looked up at Hank in excitement."
Hank sighed. "Of all the ones there, you pick out that one?" he asked, wincing.
Lily smiled. "Well, all the rest show good taste." She smiled reaching across to hug him, then quietly asked. "Why now?"
Hank quietly stood up taking the Bride & Prejudice DVD from Lily "I love the songs," he noted softly as he inserted the disk into his laptop and started the movie. As the projector flickered to life, he cuddled up to Lily. "Because Jamie always said I should have invited you to our movie sessions, and now ... now I'd like to share this with you as a way ...." Hank stopped and swallowed, eyes misty. "In memory of ... of Jamie" he finally finished, wiping at one eye.
Leaning across, Lily kissed Hank, whispering "thank you" as she clung tightly to him. She realized that Hank now was indirectly asking her to fill the role that Jamie had, someone he could and needed to trust with his innermost secrets.
Leaning his head on hers, Hank let the tears slowly fall as he turned towards the wall with the movie projected on it. An empty wall, above an empty bed. Holding Lily close, Hank let the tears fall unchecked in remembrance of his best friend, Jamie, who was no longer there with him.