User Rating: 0 / 5

Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive
 

A Whateley Academy Adventure

Buffalo Gal Won't You Come Out Tonight

by ElrodW

 

Chapter 5

Monday, March 12, 2007
Madison, Wisconsin

I awoke feeling tired and still unnerved. Peculiarly, the knife, in its decorative sheath, was clutched in my hand. It was a brutal reminder of the terrifyingly difficult battle with the serpent-creature. I knew little of fighting, and snake-face had been tough. Without the magic of the knife, I wouldn't have had any chance of survival, let alone defeating him. As it was, I would have lost even with the magic if it hadn't been for Debra. I hadn't won; we'd survived, but in a different sense, we'd won because I rescued her. I was rattled from what had happened to her, all because she cared for me. Would the creatures of nightmares now attack my family? It was terrifying to think that my very existence as Ptesanwi could threaten the lives of those close to me. I knew I would have to talk with Wakan Tanka about how to protect everyone I loved.

Mom gave me a wary look as I beheld the sheathed knife. "What ...?" she stammered, confused.

"This is the knife of Ptesanwi, Wakan Mila. It is a gift that Wakan Tanka gave it to me last night." I debated telling Mom about the dream-world battle of the previous night, before deciding that I didnt want to upset her, at least not yet.

I rose and put Wakan Mila atop my luggage, and then I showered and got dressed. Instead of going to get breakfast alone as I had before, I waited for Mom to do the same. For breakfast, in addition to a glass of juice, I got a cup of hot water. Back in the room, before I ate anything, I got out my medicine bag and mixed up some herbs the way Wakan Tanka had taught me. While the tea brewed, I ate the rest of my breakfast, so that by the time that was done, my herbal tea was ready.

I closed my eyes for a moment and went into dream-space, to get the magic chant from Wakan Tanka. I thought I remembered it, but I wanted to be sure. It turned out that I had remembered it properly, which pleased her. With my eyes still closed, sitting in the proper position, I did the chant, and then sipped the herbal brew. It tasted exactly as it had in my dreams, and within minutes I felt calmness return to me.

As soon as I was calmer, I called the Sioux Falls League, on a private number which they'd given me. Wish List answered the phone. "Hi, Wish List," I said, trying but failing to sound cheery.

"Kayda! What's up? Is everything okay?" she asked when she heard the concern slipping through my cheerful facade.

I sighed. "No. But it's not the trip," I assured her quickly. "It's ... Debra. She was psychically attacked and injured last night."

Wish List gasped audibly. "I ... I don't understand."

I sighed audibly. "I'm going to tell you something that you have to keep secret, okay?"

"Okay. If I can. You know the rules."

I knew. Some things she was obligated to report, either to law enforcement or the rest of the team. "When I healed Debra, I had to dream-walk with her. It was ... personal. Very personal. We dream walked several more times, too." I lowered my voice to a whisper so Mom wouldn't hear - hopefully. "We're kind of ... close."

"Ah, so that explains your ... fond farewell."

I could feel myself blushing. "Yeah, that too. But please keep it a secret!" I pushed away my embarrassment. "Last night, Debra was tricked in dream space by a creature that wanted to harm me. She was lured into a trap as bait to catch me."

I'm certain that Wish List's eyes were huge. "What ... happened?"

"She was attacked and assaulted. I ... got some help from Wakan Tanka, and I battled a spirit creature to save her." I could practically feel Mom's wide-eyed stare of disbelief at what she overheard.

"Is she going to be alright?" Wish List asked quickly.

"Yes, but that's what I need to tell you guys. She ... had some bad things happen to her in the dark dream-world, and to make sure she doesn't have long-term ... effects, Wakan Tanka and I are watching her for a while in _my_ dream world, where she's safe. We had to ... treat ... some of what the serpent creature did, or it would have driven her insane and killed her."

"Oh, my God!" Wish List exclaimed.

"She'll be okay, but she's resting. You aren't going to be able to waken her for a day or two, because she needs to be healed psychically in dream-space. Wakan Tanka and I will be with her to help her heal. I needed to tell you so that you wouldn't panic when she didn't wake up."

"I ... I appreciate the heads up. Is there any way ... that I can help?"

I thought a moment. "Maybe. Since you visited my dream-space when we were doing powers testing, and since Debra is in my dream-space, maybe if you try to link with her psychically, you will be able to link with her and Wakan Tanka. Maybe I can help you into my dream-space. I'll ask Wakan Tanka if it can be done, and I'll tell her that you are Debra's friend, and she and Tatanka shouldn't block you."

"We'll give that a try and let you know if it works. Thanks much for the information. Please keep us posted on progress."

"I will. Thanks." I felt myself a little choked up. "Even though it's only been a day, I really miss you guys."

"We miss you, too, li'l sis."

When I hung up, I turned to Mom, knowing that I had some serious explaining to do. I gulped, and then told her, in detail, what had happened. Mom listened without saying anything, but I could tell from her expression that she was very concerned about my safety, even if she didn't understand the whole thing. She wasn't alone in that regard; I didn't understand it, either. The difference was that I had a spirit who was teaching me. Mom had to trust me, and it must have been extremely difficult for her to not say anything.

Chicago, IL

We were on the outskirts on the eastern side of the Chicago metro area when the Check Engine Light came on about the same time as the car started to make strange sounds. To my experienced ear, it sounded very much like it was the transmission, and the noise was getting worse with every passing mile. I could have figured out more through the 'feel' of the car if I'd been driving, but since I couldn't, I had to go entirely on Mom's description and the sounds I could hear. We took an exit and stopped at a quickie gas place while I called the Windy City Guardians. One of them promised to be right over to 'watch' us, just in case.

My next call was to the rental agency, which was not thrilled to talk to me, since I wasn't the renter on the contract. They were even less than thrilled when I reported that we were having car problems and were currently stranded in Chicago. That started a snarky and scathing lecture about taking the car out of state, until I was able to interject some sense and remind them that our rental was a one-way rental, and they would have known that if they would have merely looked up the terms of the contract on their computers. Then they insisted on talking to the original renter, who was Wish List back in Sioux Falls.

Before I could call Wish List, though, a super dropped from the sky to the side of our disabled car. He looked at us, focusing on me. "Are you Kayda Franks?" he asked pointedly.

"Uh, yeah." I didn't feel very confident and I could feel Tatanka's nervousness inside me.

"I'm Wing Nut, with the Windy City Guardians. I got a call that you were having some difficulty." He smiled charmingly at Mom and me. "What seems to be the problem?" he asked.

"Probably the transmission. If I had to guess, the main pump is failing, because the transmission isn't shifting right and the torque converter isn't locking up properly because it isn't getting the fluid it's supposed to."

Wing Nut smiled. "For a young lady, you seem to know a lot about cars."

I shrugged. "It's something you learn growing up on a farm."

While we were talking, a man walked out of the quickie-mart, and when he saw the hood of our car up, with the two of us looking quite stranded and standing next to a superhero, he approached us. "Is there anything I can do to help?" he asked Mom. He was glancing periodically at the sheath on my belt, with the hilt my knife protruding.

"I don't know. Kayda's been trying to talk with the rental agency and the group who rented the car for us, but so far, we're getting the runaround.

The man extended his hand to Mom. "I'm Harold Eisenbach, but I go by Hal. If you ladies need help, perhaps with a tow, or temporary lodging, I can give you some recommendations." I could tell that he was being judicious with his choice of words so as not to sound threatening or predatory. He glanced at the super. "Morning, Wing Nut."

"Morning, Hal," Wing Nut replied in a simple, neutral greeting. I was surprised that Wing Nut knew the man who'd offered us help, and the fact that he knew Wing Nut seemed odd enough that a shiver ran down my spine.

Mr. Eisenbach turned back to Mom, smiling knowingly. "I know how much of a hassle rental car agencies can be. Who did you rent from?"

"Acme."

Hal grinned. "My office has a long-term contract with them. At least allow me to give you a contact in Acme's management chain to smooth the issues." He turned to Wing Nut. "What brings you here? I didn't know the Guardians were branching out into tow and mechanic services."

Wing Nut shrugged. "I'm just doing a favor for someone. What about you? Are you on duty?"

Mr. Eisenbach laughed. "No, I worked a long weekend, so I have the day off. I was just stopping to pick up a few snacks for Jimmy - you know how he loves the teriyaki jerky sticks? Well, this is one of the few places that have the brand he likes, and I kind of promised him." He smiled. "When you dropped in, my curiosity got the better of me"

"That's your standard excuse for showing up," Wing Nut replied with a chuckle.

"What exactly is this favor, if I may ask?" Mr. Eisenbach's questions weren't normal.

"The Sioux Falls League asked us to help a young lady on a journey."

"Oh?" His eyes narrowed. His entire demeanor seemed to shift ominously. "And would that be because, perhaps, she's a mutant on a car trip, and had some previous ... difficulties ... that she's trying to get away from?" he speculated. My blood ran ice-cold. He looked at me. "Could you please remove your sunglasses, miss?" he asked me. He was alternating his gaze between my sunglasses and my knife. To me, his request sounded more like a demand, and I started shaking.

Wing Nut put his hand on my shoulder. "Hal is with the local MCO field office. He's ...." That was as far as he got. My face was suddenly ashen, my eyes reflecting the terror in my heart, and my pulse raced as I considered that he was MCO. The same MCO that had such a bad reputation for making mutants disappear. The same MCO that had followed Mom and me. The same MCO that had delayed my MID as they hunted me.

Wing Nut felt me shaking with fright. "Don't worry. Hal is a good MCO agent. He's fair and honest. We work together all the time cooperatively. He's not like some of those bad agents you hear about."

"B...b...but ... in Sioux Falls, they ...." I broke down, trembling at memories and fears, unable to continue. Mom had to clutch me to her shoulder to prevent me from collapsing.

"Oh, not those assholes in Sioux Falls again," Mr. Eisenbach swore vehemently. "I don't know how many times I've told Bennie that we need to reassign them or fire them." There was visible anger in his voice. His tone softened immediately when he saw how terrified I appeared. "Sorry about the language, but I really get annoyed by agents who let their bigotry take them outside the law and our charter, and those two are among the worst. Can you tell me about what happened?"

I glanced at Mom, who shrugged with an uncertain expression, then at Wing Nut. He smiled at me. "Go ahead. Hal is okay to work with. And I'm here to protect you, just in case."

With that reassurance, I recounted briefly how I'd manifested, been nearly killed twice, had fled a bunch of vigilante mutant-haters, found out that they'd reported that _I_ had attacked the students and Doc had lied to back them, and then found the MCO office in Sioux Falls stalking us and being completely uncooperative in getting me an MID.

Mr. Eisenbach looked sympathetic by the time I finished. "I understand why you're a little frightened of me," he said soothingly. "But I want to assure you that the Sioux Falls office is pretty mutant-unfriendly, and they're in tight with the East-River, South Dakota branch of Humanity First. They aren't representative of the entire agency." He smiled. "How about if we go to the office, and you can tell your story to Internal Affairs so we can take some action against those guys, and then we'll get you that MID card that it sounds like they were deliberately stalling on. And I can use the agency's agreement with Acme to push them to get you a new rental quickly so you can continue your trip. I assume you're on your way to Whateley?" His smile was pleasant and disarming, but he still made me nervous.

Wing Nut clasped his hand a little tighter on my shoulder for reassurance. "I'll come with you, if that'll make you feel safer."

I was torn. Mr. Eisenbach was more like the MCO of the television shows, and seemed to genuinely want to help. On the other hand, he was MCO, and my experience with the Sioux Falls field office made me more than a bit skeptical. I was torn. Mom just shrugged and shook her head uncertainly when I looked to her for her opinion. "Can I call a friend for advice?" I asked. When they nodded, I stepped closer to the building, out of their hearing range, and called Vanity Girl, since Wish List was already on the phone arguing with the rental car agency. I figured I'd get the best advice from her. "Hi, VG," I said when she picked up the phone, using the nickname she'd told us.

"Kayda! I'm glad you called. Is everything okay?" I heard the echo which told me that she'd turned on the speaker-phone.

"Maybe. How's Debra doing?"

Vanity Girl sighed. "She's resting, but it's almost like she's in a trance. I'm glad you called us to let us know what happened, or we'd be very worried."

"Was Wish List able to connect psychically with her?" I asked.

"Yes, and she said to tell you thanks for getting Walkie Talkie and the buffalo to not attack her. She said they were very protective of her."

"Wakan Tanka. Tell her the name is Wakan Tanka."

I heard VG giggle. I was pretty certain that she and Wish List were just yanking my chain. "Wish List said that something really traumatized her, so Wakan Tanka had her drinking some of your stinky medicinal tea."

"Good. Wakan Tanka will take care of her, and I'm dream-walking with her as much as I can. Now, about my call. I need to ask a favor of you." I quickly explained the situation to her.

"Yeah, Wish List is fuming on the phone with the rental agency, but isn't making any progress."

"Uh, do you guys have any information on the MCO office in Chicago?"

"Why do you ask?" Vanity Girl replied, her voice suddenly serious and concerned.

"Uh, an agent from the MCO office was out doing some errands, or so he claims, and when someone from the Windy City Guardians arrived, he figured out what was going on. He ... demanded that I take off my sunglasses so he could see if I was a mutant or not." My voice was still trembling from the shock of learning who he was.

"What?"

"Wing Nut is here, too. The thing is, Wing Nut vouches for him, and he said he could help us with the rental car agency, and even maybe find out why my MID is stalled, and ...." I stopped because I was trembling too badly.

"Calm down, Kayda," Vanity Girl reassured me. "What's the agent's name?"

"Sorry. It's been kind of trying, with the nightmare last night, and now this. The agent's name is Hal Eisenbach," I answered.

"Wing Nut is with the Chicago group, and they promised to help protect you. They will, even from the MCO if necessary. Tractor is looking up the data, but if the local supers vouch for him, he's probably okay."

"But ...." I stammered. "They ...." I couldn't continue because I was so distraught.

"Wing Nut is there to help you," she reassured me. "And ... hold on. Tractor's got the data now. We're showing a green for Agent Eisenbach. If that's who he really is."

"Uh huh, I'm pretty sure. He showed me his ID card and badge, and Wing Nut vouches for him. Do you think I should trust him?" I asked bluntly.

"If I were you," she said hesitantly, "yes, I would. Having an MID would really make it less stressful for you to travel, and he might be able to neutralize the bad records from the Sioux Falls office. And he can get it set up to cover your former identity, so that you can use your old drivers' license and help your mom with the driving." She paused. "But I'm not you, so you'll have to make your own choice."

"Thanks. I miss you guys."

"We all miss our little sister, too. You and Walkie Talkie take care of Debra, okay? And please be careful driving."

"I will, I promise." I hung up and went back to the group. "My ... friend ... says that you have a good reputation, and that I can trust you." I glanced at Wing Nut. "I hope you don't think I'm rude, but I really want Wing Nut to come with us, too."

Mr. Eisenbach said with a knowing look, "I can't say that I blame you, after what some of our, ahem, more enthusiastic and less scrupulous officers did." He pulled out his cell phone. "I'm going to call Acme and get them on this right away. They'll either get it fixed ASAP, or they'll get you a replacement car while we go to the office."

"What about our luggage?" Mom asked.

"You can leave it in the car if you'd like. I know Acme won't touch it; we're too valuable a customer to annoy or anger. If they get a new rental, they'll put everything in the new car, and then request - strongly - that you inspect the contents to make sure everything is present and that nothing is missing or damaged. Or you can put it in the trunk of my car for the time being."

Mom glanced at me, and then at Wing Nut. "I think we can leave it in the car if you think it's safe. We're going to have to wait until they come to pick up the car, though, since I've got the keys."

Mr. Eisenbach grinned. His personality was slowly easing my fear, but I was still shaking inside. "I understand completely." He picked up his phone and called the rental agency. In less than five minutes, he had things settled. "There. That was easy. They'll have a truck here in a few minutes. In the meantime, they have a small sitting area inside where we can get a cup of coffee and donuts while we wait." He glanced at me again. "Um, the knife ...." I could tell he was uneasy that I had the large blade strapped to my belt.

"It has religious significance. I'm Lakota. Traditional religious items like knives _are_ permitted by federal law, except on airplanes and in some federal buildings."

"You know your regulations well." He chuckled. "I know it's going to make a few people nervous in the office. That should be amusing to watch."

When we walked into the MCO office about a half hour later, many the on-duty staff were looking at me strangely, and some stared pretty blatantly at the knife sheath on my hip. I was more nervous than ever, certain in my mind that everyone knew I was a mutant and hated me just for existing. But many of the staff members were as friendly as Mr. Eisenbach. He paused by one cubicle. "Steff, I need you to witness and record a complaint that I need to file with Internal Affairs."

With Mom, Wing Nut, and I in tow, he went to his office - a real office instead of a mere cubicle. I was stunned to see the title beside the door - Mr. Eisenbach was deputy administrator for the Chicago area office of the MCO. Steff was right behind us. With Hal prompting me, I went through the entire set of experiences - minus the gender change - and described my interactions with the Sioux Falls MCO office. When we were done, Steff left the office.

Mr. Eisenbach was, for a moment, businesslike. "We can't do anything about their deliberate stall on your MID. Regulations say that they have thirty days, and they didn't violate that rule. But the rest of it, coupled with the internal bulletins and reports they've filed, should - hopefully - be the nail in the coffin for their careers. I really have to thank you for helping. Most mutants are scared to death of us, and I have to admit with good reason, thanks to some rogue agents like those guys."

"Uh, I'm getting a little hungry," I said hesitantly. "Can Mom and I go get something to eat?"

He winced as he glanced at the clock. "I'm sorry," he apologized. "I lost track of what time it is. How about if I take you out for lunch? The agency can pay for something reasonable, since you did fill out a statement as part of official business. There's a wonderful little French bistro across the street. It's one of my favorite places to eat."

We took him up on his recommendation, and I had to admit that the food wasn't just good; it was heavenly. I'd never tasted such a delicate blending of flavors that were layered and interacted in such a perfect way. On Mr. Eisenbach's recommendation, I started with a pati sampler, which made me think that I thought I was in epicurean heaven. Then I had something called poulet ` la marocaine, which I was told meant Moroccan chicken. If I thought the pati was good, the chicken was food fit for the gods. I could taste several known and a few unknown flavors blended into the dish, which wasn't surprising, since Mom never cooked anything international. It was on a bed of something rice-like called couscous. Mom just stared at me and shook her head as I nearly had taste-bud orgasms, it was _that_ good. I'd never eaten anything so good before, and I doubted I would again for a long time.

Mr. Eisenbach noticed my expression as I ate. "Now you know why it's one of my favorite restaurants," he said with a warm smile. For some reason, his demeanor reminded me a lot of Dad, and I had to fight from crying because I already missed Dad a lot, even though it had only been a few days. His bravery when faced with an angry mob was permanently imprinted on my mind as proof that, no matter what, Dad loved me.

When we got back to the office, sated and still tasting the wonderful flavors of my meal, we started working on an MID card for me. Mr. Eisenbach checked the computer, and just as he suspected, the data had already been entered into the MCO database, along with a peculiar label of DFA.

"Oh, HELL NO!" Mr. Eisenbach roared when he saw that label.

"What does it mean?" I asked timidly, startled by the vehemence of his reaction. I saw Wing Nut glaring at the screen as well, his expression a mixture of rage and fright.

"It means," Mr. Eisenbach said through clenched teeth, "that two agents in Sioux Falls are going to be arrested by the DPA, the Department of Paranormal Affairs." He cursed under his breath. "Didn't those idiots get the memo about what happened to the Berlin office?"

I frowned. "What does it mean?" I asked again.

"It means, 'Deadly Force pre-Authorized,'", Mr. Eisenbach said, visibly struggling to control his temper. "It means that any MCO agent or law enforcement agent can use deadly force against the holder of an MID so tagged, without any other justification required."

I dont know who was whiter - mom or me. "You mean ...." Mom stammered.

Wing Nut nodded grimly. "It means that if you have _that_ on your MID, you could be killed for something simple like jaywalking if an officer was so inclined, and no-one would be able to legally do anything about it."

"It also means that the agents who did this are _definitely_ at the end of their MCO careers," Mr. Eisenbach said. "The office near Whateley put DFA on the ID cards of _many_ students, and when the DPA found out, they arrested the _entire_ Berlin office."

"Why?"

"According to US law, a DFA cannot be placed on the card of a US citizen who is a minor without due process of law. The entire Berlin MCO office was charged with numerous counts of civil rights violations and for conspiracy to commit mass murder of children."

"What?" I asked, stunned. I glanced at Wing Nut, and he nodded his affirmation.

"Several MCO officers from other offices have been likewise arrested or relieved of duty for the same things." He grinned. "Now I've got those bastards right where I want them!" He punched a button on his phone. "Steff," he barked, "get back in here. We've got a DFA violation."

Steff practically ran back to Mr. Eisenbach's office, and the two became _very_ busy copying and locking computer files. "Oh, this is going to piss off the DPA!" Mr. Eisenbach snarled at the screen.

I sighed. "What else are they trying to do to me?"

"They've put a priority threat tag on your case file." From where I sat, I could see him entering some computer credentials, and he began to type furiously in the computer. "Well, _that_ little piece of nastiness is gone."

"Do you have any power testing results?" Wing Nut asked, still looking over Mr. Eisenbach's shoulder at the screen.

"Yeah," Mom answered, digging in her purse. She produced a copy of the Sioux Falls League's report.

Wing Nut looked at the paper, and then the screen. "Oh, they _are_ getting creative, aren't they?"

"What do you mean?" I was more than slightly curious about _my_ file and MCO data.

"They're a little prone to exaggeration," Mr. Eisenbach said. "For example, the Sioux Falls League rates you as a Wiz-3, but the Sioux Falls office put you as a Wiz-5. They ranked you as Regen-5 as well." His fingers danced over the keyboard as he corrected the data to accurately reflect what the Sioux Falls League report _really_ said. A final flourish of keystrokes, and he leaned back. "Records copied for prosecution, your file has been corrected, and it's now locked for evidence, which means that they can't go in and redo their misdeeds."

"Good," Mom said. Both of us were breathing a little easier, I suspected.

"There's also the issue of your code name," Mr. Eisenbach said. "I seriously don't think you want to use the code-name those clowns entered."

"What did they put down?" I asked, curious.

"Injun," Mr. Eisenbach answered with a frown.

Mom and I both winced at that pejorative code name. "No!" I said firmly. " Absolutely not! What are the rules for a code-name?"

"You can use a temporary one until you're eighteen, but after that, it's very difficult to change. You can't use anything that's trademarked, and believe me, a ton of the possible superhero and supervillain names are trademarked."

I looked deeply into the fire, as if seeking an answer among the embers and flames, but nothing would come to me.

"You are troubled, Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka and Tatanka both noted as they sat beside me.

"I need a code name," I replied glumly. "Something meaningful, but that disguises my true nature, like wiciteglega does."

Tatanka smiled. "You learn well, Wihakayda."

"You are a dream walker," Wakan Tanka said.

"Yeah, but that tells people that I'm a shaman, doesn't it?"

"You are pejuta, a waphiya winyan" Wakan Tanka said. "Medicine woman. But you are _far_ more than just pejuta."

"Then I will use pejuta," I replied. "It's accurate, but not a complete description of who and what I am."

I smiled as I let the dream-world fade. "I think I'd like Pejuta  if I can."

Mr. Eisenbach looked curiously at me. "Pejuta?"

"It means 'medicine.' Properly, I'd use 'Pejuta Wiya', but that's a little long, I think."

"Okay," Mr. Eisenbach nodded. "Pejuta. How is that spelled?"

"P . E . J . U . T . A," I replied. "Pronounced pay-hoo-tah."

Mr. Eisenbach entered the data in his computer. "In accordance with the law and with your civil rights, this file should NOT have your name on it, only your code name. I'll try to clean off your real name, but it's in the database, so ..." The awkward silence let me know that the MCO might have something they weren't supposed to have  my real name. At least he was honest about it.

"One thing that's problematic - they have your file tagged as an 'active investigation', and I can't take that tag off."

"What does that mean?" I asked nervously.

Mr. Eisenbach frowned. "Unfortunately, it means that even though we can get you an MID, any use of the MID with an MCO checkpoint will result in you being detained relating to the active investigation."

"And there are more than a few ... unscrupulous ...."

"Mutant-hating," Mom sneered.

Wing Nut nodded, a grim look on his face. "Mutant-hating MCO agents that you would be risking detention  or worse  if you were to fly."

Mom sighed. "I was hoping we could just get tickets and fly the rest of the way. I guess not."

Steff laughed. "Isn't it every teenage girl's idea of fun to spend several days alone with her mother in a car, where she can't escape?"

Mom chuckled, but I was horror-stricken, and my expression must have showed it, because Wing Nut and Mr. Eisenbach joined the laughter.

"The good news is that the 'active investigation' tag will expire automatically in sixty days unless it's updated, and with where these two are going, they won't be updating any files anytime soon!" Mr. Eisenbach stood. "Your file doesn't have your biometric data, so if you can come to our lab, we'll get that data, get it entered, and you'll have your MID within an hour."

"Uh," I stammered, glancing nervously at Wing Nut, Steff, and Mr. Eisenbach, "I have my old drivers' license and school records in a different name."

Steff looked at me, and then a light bulb seemed to go off in her head. She took me by the elbow and pulled me aside. "We'll get you a note that all documents that apply to your old name are valid for your new name. But that'll only be temporary. You will have to file the proper paperwork with your state of residence to get records changed to your new name."

I was tickled because I loved driving, and the document would allow me back behind the wheel, because, to be honest, I was a lousy passenger. Mom was thrilled because she didn't like driving more than a few hours in a day.

It was after four-thirty in the afternoon when we finished up and met the rental car agency in the building's parking garage. They had a new car, upgraded from what we'd been driving. I hoped that Mr. Eisenbach hadn't used bonus points or frequent renter awards to get us the upgrade, but that Acme had done it on its own. When Wish List called to tell us that they were getting us a new car, and that our rental would be upgraded, I strongly lobbied for something like a Mustang GT or a Nissan 350Z, but Mom wasn't listening to me. She wanted something with a better ride. Eventually, realizing that she was intractable, I relented and gave in to Mom's wishes, and we took the BMW 5-series that they offered. And as Mr. Eisenbach had promised, when we checked our luggage, everything was there, totally undisturbed. By special agreement, they also had me listed as a driver on the new rental agreement. I knew that Cornflower was going to be so jealous. And I was forced to rethink my opinion of the MCO.

Since it was late, Mom and I opted to spend the night in Chicago rather than try to drive for a couple of hours. We'd get up early in the morning and try to make up for lost time. We got checked in, went out for a nice dinner, and had time to relax in the room before bedtime. I spent some of the spare time reading Tractor's book on Greek history, while Mom talked to Dad. I also called Julie, and we were able to talk for a few minutes before her parents came home. There wasn't much news in town; some of the townsfolk were publicly and vocally rejoicing that the mutant menace was gone, but a lot more were silent, and a few had been whispering about me in school, asking discretely if anyone knew how I was doing. I also had a strange text from Grandma Little Doe, asking if I knew who all had attacked me both times. When I pressed for why she wanted that, she replied that she wanted to avoid such evil people, and their family businesses. It was hard to read her emotions in a text message, and her excuse didn't convince me, but I sent her the list, as best as I could remember.

I called my friends in the league, and when Tractor answered, the first question he asked was if I knew more about Debra. The second question he asked was whether I'd had time to study any Greek history. Vanity Girl took the phone away from Tractor at that point; otherwise, he would have talked ancient history for hours. I found out from Vanity Girl that Dad had taken care of the paperwork and faxed it back, and had reviewed the pictures and marked ones that he thought were inappropriate. She laughed; the poster Debra had made and that I had autographed for her was on Dad's 'definite no' list. They already had a publisher for the posters and calendars; the publisher was very confident that those items would sell very well; they thought they'd have the posters in the stores within two weeks, and the calendars two weeks later. Wish List and Card Trick took her turn talking to me, and Wish List told me that she'd been able to psychically visit Debra several times during the day, and that she was doing better, mentioning in passing that Tatanka was acting like he was Debra's personal guardian.

That reminded me that I hadn't opened the gifts from Debra, so as soon as I hung up, I turned my attention to them. I'd tell her what I thought when I dream-walked with her that evening. The tube had one of the posters - the same one Debra had hung in her bedroom - but with a very personalized note by her. The box was even nicer - a very naughty lace teddy and panty combo that I _know_ Debra would have died to see me wearing. I wondered if I could wear it for Debra in dream-space. When Mom raised her eyebrows with a concerned 'Mom' look, I couldn't help blushing brightly.

It was still weird to share a room with Mom, and see her in various states of undress and showering and such, but I wasn't as freaked out as I had been the first night. Not quite as much. I wondered if I'd ever get used to it. All of a sudden, it dawned on me that Mom was doing that as 'shock therapy', to get me over the initial shock of common facilities with other females. After all, I was going to be using common facilities with a lot of other girls in Poe Cottage, and seeing _them_ all naked was going to be very weird unless I started to get over my feelings now. The thought of sharing a bathroom and showers with a lot of other naked girls was both frightening and thrilling. I was afraid that either I'd remember my 'boy days' and feel horny as hell at their naked bodies, or that I'd be so shy about them seeing _my_ body that I'd choose my shower times to avoid that.

I went to bed while Mom was watching the late shows on the television. It didn't take long for me to fall asleep, probably with a grin of anticipation of meeting Debra in dream space. I had a few surprises for her."

Debra clung close to me as we sat on a buffalo rug inside a tepee. It was late and a bit cool outside, and the moon wasn't out, so Wakan Tanka had started a small fire in the center of the tepee. Because I'd grown up under the partial tutelage of Grandma Little Doe, who'd made Danny and I build a reasonably accurate tepee, I knew that the design was very efficient at carrying smoke up and out, as if the entire structure were a well-engineered smokestack. The flickering light danced around the ornately-decorated inner curtain of tanned buffalo hides, actually making it quite cozy. I suspected that Wakan Tanka had come inside to give Debra the reassurance she needed.

With Debra at my side, I practiced the charm again and again, until Wakan Tanka was satisfied that I could shield Debra from the trick the serpent creature had done and keep him out of her private dream-world. She was still quite rattled by what had happened in the nightmare world, but time and attention from Wakan Tanka, Wish List, and me had helped her considerably.

"When this dream walk is over," Wakan Tanka said to me, and I translated, "you must awaken. Your body cannot stay asleep for much longer."

"I'm ...scared," Debra admitted in a meek little voice, clinging tightly to me.

"Wakan Tanka has taught me a spell which will protect you. Only I will be able to dream-walk with you," I assured her. "The serpent-demon won't be able to attack you in your dream-world." She was wary, but she nodded her acceptance.

"If you cast the spell," Wakan Tanka warned me in Lakota, knowing that Debra wouldn't understand, "the separation between your dream-world and Cornflower's will be reduced. It is possible that you will become closer, or even touch."

I looked evenly at Wakan Tanka, then at Debra, and then back at my mentor spirit. "I understand. If I do nothing, she could be attacked again, and injured." I looked once more at Debra, and then I cast the spell. Next, Wakan Tanka had me prepare the herbal healing and calming tea for her. When I finished, she drank, as did I. In moments, she was resting quietly in my arms.

Wakan Tanka rose and left the tepee, leaving Debra and I alone to cuddle, pausing at the entrance to give me a curious and knowing smile.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Chicago, IL

We got an early start on our driving; by the original plan, we should have been in Toledo or Cleveland last night; now, we were almost a day behind. With the way Mom drove - stopping frequently to stretch - she had set a goal of Erie, Pennsylvania for the evening. I tried to convince her to push for Albany, which would have put us back on our original schedule, but Mom never liked to spend more than seven or eight hours in a car, and she vetoed the idea. I even argued that the BMW would be so much more comfortable, and thus easier to go a long distance, especially with me helping with the driving. Mom nodded at my logic, and then stubbornly refused to change her mind.

Even though I now had a legitimate MID and the Mr. Eisenbach had cleaned up the MCO records of me, after consulting with the Sioux Falls League, we decided to continue using the anonymous cell phones and code information - just in case. There were a lot of people who were hostile to mutants, in the MCO, in government agencies, in Humanity First!, and in communities. There was no purpose to be served in taking a chance that some agency hadn't tapped our home phone.

Mom had me take over driving at the next rest stop, and almost immediately, a phone rang. I handed it to Mom after switching to the speaker.

"Hello," Mom answered.

"Hi, June." I heard Debra's chipper voice.

"How are you?" Mom asked immediately. "Kayda told me that you had a pretty rough time."

"It would have been worse if she hadn't saved me," Debra replied thankfully, "and then protected me in her dream world."

I smiled to myself. "I'm glad I could help," I replied.

"You're making a habit out of saving me," Debra chuckled. "Thank you, sweetie," she purred. "But how am I going to repay you?" There was a suggestively playful tone in her voice.

I could almost hear Mom's eyebrows rise. "Do you two have anything that you need to tell me?"

The grimace on my face told Mom a lot. "Uh, I don't think so," I said hesitantly.

Debra was nonplussed by Mom's concern. "Kayda," she chided me, "I think you ... we ... need to tell your mother."

I couldn't take my eyes off the road, but I could feel her gaze burning into me. "Uh, I ...."

"Kayda, what's going on?" Mom asked sternly.

"Um," I said, biting my lower lip as I winced, "when I saved Debra," I began nervously, "I had to, uh ... she had to stay in my dream world while she was recovering from the attack. Wakan Tanka and I had to use some powerful magic to, um, heal her."

"And?"

"You know what it means to be close in dream-space," Debra said as if reporting weather. "Kayda and I were ... close."

"Mom," I figured I should just tell Mom the truth before I lost my nerve. "I ... had to cast a protection spell," I confessed, "to protect her from the spirit that attacked us. But ..."

"You didn't tell me there was a 'but'," Debra said, her voice suddenly wary.

"Wakan Tanka told me, before I cast the spell, that if I did, Debra's and my dream worlds would be very close, or even touching, and that would make our connection even more personal," I blurted out.

"What?" both Mom and Debra asked simultaneously.

"You didn't tell me that," Debra said, sounding a little hurt.

"I ... I didn't have a choice," I said, trying to control the quavering in my voice. "If I hadn't used that spell, you'd have been vulnerable to more attacks," I told Debra, feeling my eyes moisten. Damned hormones! "I ... I couldn't let that happen to you."

"So, you ... sacrificed your privacy for her?" Mom asked carefully as she tried to figure out exactly what I meant.

I shook my head as if trying to shake off the tear which had suddenly appeared on my cheek. "No. I ... I wanted to," I confessed. "I ... wanted to be closer to her."

"I see," Mom said. "And I suppose that in your dream world, you two ...."

Neither Debra nor I spoke; I didn't know about Debra, but my cheeks were burning.

Mom sighed. "Well, I guess that when I joked that she's your girlfriend with Dad, I wasn't far from the truth." She sighed again. "Have you two started picking china patterns?"

"Mom!' I protested.

"I figured we'd ask for your help on the china, silver, and crystal, but not the dresses," Debra chuckled. "I'm thinking of a high-bodice dress accentuated with false pearls, and a moderately long train. Maybe sheer sleeves, depending on the time of year. How about you, Kayda?" She couldn't control her giggling.

"Debra!" I added, aghast that she had joining in the teasing.

"Maybe something like your long buckskin dress, but a little longer and in white, with white Lakota beading for accent?" Mom laughed.

"Mom! Stop it!" I knew it was a losing battle to halt the teasing, but I had to try. The two of them were embarrassing the hell out of me.

Lake Erie

The spirits in the water felt something reaching out to them through dream-space. That something had darkness about it, and it stirred the curiosity of the water spirits far more than the darkness repelled them.

"I request your assistance with a ... problem," the serpent creature said in the realm of dark dreams.

The Mishibijiw replied immediately. "What is your problem, and why would the spawn of Unhcegila require our assistance?" The voices sounded condescending that they were speaking to the mere spawn of a demon-serpent.

"_She_ has returned. My father requires that I stop her before she gains too much power."

"Why would that be our concern?" the Mishibijiw asked simply. "She is not our enemy. And why is he sending his spawn?"

"He is currently ... guarded. I do this task for him."

"She is not our enemy," Mishibijiw repeated.

"Not yet," the serpent creature replied angrily. "She will become powerful, and this fourth incarnation, the time of the white buffalo, will restore order and peace. It has been foretold by the Great Spirit. That means that our kind will be hunted and exterminated for opposing peace and order."

"She is not of our Nation," the Mishibijiw replied as one.

"The one she speaks for is of _all_ nations. The one she speaks for will try once more to unite the Nations, and then she will be of the One Nation," the serpent-creature answered. "You remember how she tried before. She had all the shamans and heroes of all the Nations gathered, and if not for the attack that destroyed the other ancient races, she would have succeeded. She nearly defeated all of us then, and she will try again."

"Your reasoning is sound, and your concerns are valid. How may we help?"

"She is near you. She travels toward the sunrise, toward the origin of my father. While she is near, you should have an opportunity to destroy her."

"Tell us where she is, and it will be done."

"I will touch the mind of one of you, so that you will know how to find _her_."

Near Lake Erie, on Interstate 90

After lunch, we continued to drive, alternating between Mom and me, with Mom's requisite frequent breaks. When Mom had been driving, I spent time in dream-space with Debra, Wakan Tanka and Tatanka, and whenever I drove, she read a novel she'd purchased in Sioux Falls for the trip. Mom was driving for a bit while I rested, so I went to dream-space.

Tatanka and I walked and looked for more animal spirits; I learned more about igmu taka, the cougar, who had the traits of power, swiftness, balance, planning, patience, and cunning. I knew that Tatanka was not-so-subtly reminding me that I needed to practice being patient, like igmu taka.

When she'd managed to pry me free of Tatanka's quite verbose lesson on patience, Wakan Tanka started to talk about how our magic could be used to defend us. I asked about using it to attack an enemy, and she became rather agitated, almost angrily reminding me that the People attacked only when necessary, and not as a first means of solving a problem. I had to learn how to defend and deflect attacks upon me. Only when I was schooled in that, and when she knew that I understood the lessons Tatanka was teaching me about pahi, the porcupine, who used his powers solely to defend himself, would I be ready to learn any attack spells.

I was a little disappointed, even though I understood her point. As Grandmother Little Doe had taught, the white man's history told that the People were savage and ruthless, always attacking, whereas the truth was that the desire of the People was peace, but they would aggressively defend themselves if required, and that some of the rituals of passage and hunting did seem a little unorthodox to the invading white men. I could tell that her lessons matched the philosophy that Wakan Tanka was trying to instill in me.

Wakan Tanka had given me tools to attack only when there was no other choice. Her spell had been focusing on healing and defense, and I could tell that she was concerned that I was thinking of offensive, attack magic.

I snapped out of dream space when I felt the car decelerating, and quickly realized that we were at another bathroom / stretch break.

"This is a good time to practice your ghost-walking in the real world, Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka said with delight.

"But ... I don't know that spell yet."

"Don't be silly, Wihakayda. We've gone over the spell several times. I know you have a good memory. Now all you need to do is warn your mother, and then practice the spell."

"Okay," I said hesitantly.

"No-one will notice you as you walk to the bathroom, and back."

I cleared my throat as Mom was pulling into a parking spot. "Mom, Wakan Tanka wants me to practice a ghost-walking spell."

"What's that?" Mom asked. Her voice conveyed clearly her concern that I was learning magic that she didn't understand.

"I won't be noticed by anyone while I have the spell. I won't have to worry about something like yesterday," I added nervously.

"Okay. What should I expect?"

"I'll kind of be invisible."

"Kind. Of. Invisible?" Mom's jaw dropped.

"Touch your mother after you cast the spell, and she'll be able to see you."

"Wakan Tanka says that once I cast the spell, if I touch you, you'll be able to see me."

Mom looked a little alarmed, but she shrugged. "Okay, I guess. If your spirit wants you to." She remembered how rattled I'd been from the unwanted attention the day before.

"This might not work, because I've never cast this spell before," I cautioned Mom. I did the chant that Wakan Tanka had taught me, and...

Mom's eyes popped wide open, and she stared at where I was, but clearly without seeing me. "Kayda?" she asked, more than a little alarmed.

I could see a faint silver glow around every other person, including Mom. When I saw how panicked she was, I reached out and touched her hand. Instantly, her silver aura vanished, and she sighed with relief. "Did it work?" I asked, pretty certain of the answer.

"For a moment, I couldn't see you, but now I can. You look kind of strange, like you're partially transparent," Mom said in awe.

I grinned. This could be really cool. "Let's see if this works like Wakan Tanka told me. How about if I walk a few steps ahead of you, and you watch to see if anyone notices me."

Mom nodded. "That sounds like a plan."

Mom and I got out of the car; I noticed an older man staring slack-jawed at my side of the car, and I had to suppress a giggle. If I really was invisible, then he saw a car door open, pause, and close itself with nobody near it. This spell could be a lot of fun.

After I'd used the restroom in the convenience store, I felt an urge to stay outside for a bit, because I'd been cooped up in a car for an extended period of time. I'd noticed the same thing at home before the second attack, and at the League headquarters. I used to be able to stay inside for days, occupying myself with reading, math, and other distractions, now it was much harder. It was almost like staying indoors for too long was very uncomfortable to my spirits that were used to the outdoor world.

Having this break, I took advantage of the short time to just stand outside enjoying the autumn day, even if it was only for a short time. We were close to Lake Erie, and I could feel the water spirit, but there was also something else that seemed peculiar. It was a bit like some animal spirits, but quite different. Curious, I cast the dream-walking spell and took a couple of steps into the large, lightly wooded lot next to the parking lot, toward the area I felt one of the odd spirits.

The situation felt wrong. The animal spirit that I sensed was very unusual, like a hybrid, and it seemed to be partly masked - and sinister. I looked around nervously.

Tatanka manifested without warning, catching me by surprise, and an instant later, he was knocked to one side by some powerful force, causing me to wince as pain shot through my body. I was learning, to my dismay, that I felt his injuries, only not quite as much as he did.

I gasped and froze a moment when I saw the creature which had struck Tatanka. It was a strange hybrid of a dark cougar and a dragon, with buffalo horns from the side of its head. The body was that of a large cat, with coal-black legs and head, while spines ran down its back to the large serpentine tail covered with scales and copper-tipped spikes. I felt some intelligence as I gazed into its malevolent stare, but there was something else that felt disturbing.

With feline grace, its clawed forelimbs outstretched toward me, the creature leaped over Tatanka, who was crumpled on the ground. I dodged to my right, and felt something rake my leg painfully. I summoned the shield spell to add to the ghost-walking spell, and moments later, the serpentine tail smashed at me, battering the just-created shield. I had a horrid thought that if not for my quick action incanting the spell, the spikes on the tail would have seriously hurt or even killed me. As it was, part of the massive blow against my shield was transmitted to me, dashing me about again.

Behind the creature, Tatanka rose to his feet, and after shaking his head to clear it, he charged at the creature, goring it with his horn as he roughly knocked it aside. His charge saved me from another battering, giving me time to draw my knife and infuse some magic into it. It came at a cost, however, to both Tatanka and me, because the fierce-looking tail spikes tore into Tatanka's flank, and I felt the pain ripping into my legs, staggering me and making me almost lose my grip on my knife. I regained my balance just in time to get clobbered with the tail swinging back from hitting Tatanka; fortunately for me, it had little distance to get much momentum, and the fierce-looking tail spikes were pointed the wrong way. I was knocked several yards, bouncing off a tree. I was starting to really hate snake tails.

Tatanka was back on his feet, and was warily circling the creature, which was trying to keep a watch on both me and him. This had all the makings of a standoff. Screw that! I didn't have time or patience for this kind of nonsense. I faked a lunge toward the creature, and it reacted by slashing with those nasty claws toward where I would have been had I followed through. Instead, I drew immediately back and to my left, just out of range of the vicious claws, and then leaped in behind the claws and slashed at its leg with my knife, rolling under the creature's snapping jaw. I was feeling pretty grateful that my reflexes had been enhanced, even if only a bit, by my mutation.

While I was attacking from the front, Tatanka gored its rear leg. The combination of injuries caused the creature to roar out like a lion, and then to limp back in retreat from Tatanka and me until it could watch both of us at the same time.

"Mishibijiw should not be attacking us. We have no quarrel with his kind."

"What is it?" I asked Wakan Tanka nervously.

"Mishibijiw is the Underwater Panther. They are not our enemy."

The angry underwater panther glared at Tatanka and me, limping back from us.

"Why are you attacking us, Mishibijiw?" we demanded. I hadn't even noticed that we were manifesting as Ptesanwi.

"We will not be banished by you, witch!" the beast snarled, surprising me that not only did it speak, but that I understood it.

"You were never our enemy before." We could feel some foul darkness clouding Mishibijiw's mind. "What has corrupted your thoughts?"

"That was before the coming age of the White Buffalo, the time of peace and prosperity for the People. We _know_ what you want. You claim that we aren't enemies," the underwater panther snarled, "but you _will_ come to banish us from this world, just as you will banish all spirits that don't bow down and serve you." Its ranting speech sounded quite angry, and in my estimation, quite insane. "We shall never serve you!" The cat snarled and leaped, swinging its powerful tail at Tatanka, and clawing at me.

Tatanka's reaction was immediate; he wasn't taken unaware as I was. Moving more nimbly than I thought he could, Tatanka leaped over the swinging spiked tail and then, lowering his head and sweeping it sharply to one side, he gored Mishibijiw again, this time more deeply.

Despite my best effort at evading the attack, I was raked once more by the razor claws, pain exploding in my arm as my flesh was rent. I rolled, trying to minimize the blow, and found myself under the face of Mishibijiw, staring up into his panther-like mouth with its plentiful sharp teeth, a mouth that was going to snap down on me, tearing me apart.

Somehow, the knife stayed in my hand, as if attached. In an act of pure desperation, I pushed all my magic into the knife as I thrust the blade upward. There was a bit of resistance as the blade encountered Mishibijiw's body, and then it sank to the hilt. I could feel magic pouring out of the knife into the underwater panther's body. Its snarl of pain and frustration gurgled in its throat as my knife pierced its heart and tore its lungs asunder.

Pain radiated through my ribs as Tatanka pushed Mishibijiw off me, using his massive head and horns like a giant broom, and then, satisfied that the underwater panther was dead, Tatanka demanifested. The world spun once or twice, and then it went black.

"Drink this, Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka urged, holding me up with one hand and offering me a cup with the other. "You must heal quickly before another comes."

I sipped the potion, and then drank greedily. "What happened?" I asked, confused.

"I don't know, Wihakayda. Mishibijiw was never our enemy. He should not have attacked. As he fought, I sensed something in his mind, a demon's touch that may have driven him insane. His spirit was corrupted." She looked at me. "You must heal yourself more. Your mother will worry if you don't, and you will not be strong enough to travel."

"I ... I used all my magic fighting off Mishibijiw," I countered.

"And the drink I have given you has returned some of your magic, since you are resting in dream-space."

I sensed Tatanka shambling to the fire circle. "You saved me," I said, smiling at him.

"I serve Ptesanwi," he answered simply. "There was nothing else I could do."

I thought a moment. "I'm curious. Whenever you are injured, I feel it. When you return to the dream-world, I feel more pain and fatigue."

"This is true, Wihakayda," Tatanka answered. "Because we are joined, injury to me is injury to you, and a wound to you is a wound to me."

"That kinda sucks," I grumbled. "I get you as an assistant, but if one of us gets hurt, it affects both of us."

"That is the way it is," Tatanka said philosophically.

"Wihakayda, cast your healing spell," Wakan Tanka directed. "Then take the copper spikes from Mishibijiw. They are wakan, sacred and magic, and can be made into tokens to help you. You will need every such tool you can get."

I cast the spell as Wakan Tanka directed, and I felt much of my pain leave me. I glanced down, and could barely see where the underwater panther's claws had savaged me.

With pain still radiating through my arms and chest, I sank to my knees beside the corpse of the unnatural creature and began breaking off the copper spikes on Mishibijiw's tail. The task was difficult, and I had to use my knife to cut through skin and bone at the base of each, but I retrieved them as Wakan Tanka had directed. They were too big for my medicine pouch, so I'd have to put them in my luggage. Each of the half-dozen points was the size of a railroad spike, and sharp; I could feel magic radiating from each as I held it momentarily. Once I had all the spikes, I glanced at myself; my clothes were tattered and bloody from the attack which had taken, remarkably, less than a minute. While I was fighting, it seemed that it had taken much longer. Knowing that Mom would have a fit, I strode purposefully to the car, opened the trunk, and got out a different outfit.

"Kayda!" Mom gasped, surprising me. I hadn't even closed my suitcase. "What happened?"

"A water spirit attacked me," I answered simply and unemotionally; the shock of the attack and my having to kill something hadn't worn off. And the healing tea had me calmed. "Tatanka and I had to kill it."

Mom's eyes were round as saucers. "I'm ... worried about you," she said. "This whole Ptesanwi thing is getting too dangerous for you."

"No kidding!" I said with a forced chuckle. I suddenly realized that this could be to my advantage. "Everyone said that Whateley is protected so these kinds of spirits and creatures can't harm me. It sounds like a reason to get me there as soon as possible."

Mom ignored my not-so-subtle plea and instead hugged me tightly, scared that I was in over my head. "I guess you're right," she admitted softly. "I ... I don't like how you're suddenly getting attacked like this, and in your dreams. I ... suppose it comes with your spirit, but I can't help worrying about you."

I let her hold tightly to me, because both of us needed comforting. Mom probably felt the way I'd felt when Debra had been psychically attacked now and earlier when the guys back home had tried to kill me. And when she learned about the fight in the dream-world. Maybe I was learning something about my parents that I'd never considered. Maybe I was growing up a little.

With Mom at my side - all the powers in heaven and on earth couldn't have made her let me go alone - I went back to the restroom, and ignoring the stares of girls and women at my tattered, bloody clothing, I changed in a stall, simply tossing the torn and stained remains of my old clothes into a trash can.

"Do you feel like can drive, or do you need to rest?" Mom asked when we got back to the car.

I sighed as I opened the passenger door and sank into the seat; I loved driving, probably more than Mom knew, but at that moment, all I wanted to do was to get my emotions under control from the attack. "I know you wanted me to drive, but I'm pretty tired." I closed my eyes and rested a bit.

"What is this water panther that I had to fight?" I asked Wakan Tanka and Tatanka as we sat by the fire. It was evening in my dream-world, and the fire radiated warmth that penetrated into my aching body, soothing the pain of the fight.

"To some Nations, Mishibijiw are considered evil monsters of deep water, responsible for drowning men and women. To others, they are neutral, causing neither good nor harm, but instead guarding the secrets and treasures of the deep." She shook her head. "In ages past, when we have dealt with Mishibijiw, they were always fair."

"So what happened now?"

"I fear that something touched his mind and drove him insane," Wakan Tanka said ominously. "Something powerful doesn't want us around."

"My ghost-walking spell did nothing. He could see me."

"He is a powerful spirit, and I haven't taught you the more complex spells that would hide you from the spirit world as well," Wakan Tanka sounded annoyed with herself and apologetic to me. "We shall have to work harder on your lessons." She sat back and drew a deep breath. "For now, though, Wihakayda, you should rest."

My battle with the underwater panther changed Mom's mind about how long we should drive, and we pressed on further than she was comfortable with. After a stop for dinner, I was rested enough, both physically and mentally, that I switched driving with Mom and drove until we finally stopped at a small city in the middle of New York State. After we checked in, while Mom went to the bathroom to clean up, I immediately called Debra. Mom called Dad, but that didn't stop her from rolling her eyes at me periodically, which made me chuckle aloud.

Debra and I stayed on the phone for over an hour, during which time I slipped into the bathroom, put on the lacy teddy and panty set she'd gotten for me, and then I described what I was wearing. I know she was trying to visualize that, because she was quite distracted, so I promised to take a selfie and send it to her. Mom overheard that, and she got a very serious frown, which gave me cause to believe that I was in trouble. Eventually, after telling Debra that I wanted to try something with our dream-walk, I hung up.

"You can't send Debra a picture of you in that!" Mom said with a scowl. "It's ... indecent."

"How about if I pose, and you take a picture that you don't think is indecent, then?" I challenged Mom. From her expression, I saw that she was boxed in by my reasoning, and she knew it.

In the picture, I was lying on my front, with my back arched and my shoulders raised, as I rested on my elbows. I had a come-hither look on my face, and my lower legs were bent at the knees toward my butt, with my ankles crossed, just like in the picture on the poster. Mom couldn't object; from that angle, I looked sexy, or so I was convinced, but there was nothing indecent. I sent the picture, which got an immediate and enthusiastic reply from Debra.

Mom just shook her head. "Debra was right. You're a natural. You _should_ try out for that modeling club she was talking about. And if it's a school-sponsored club, they won't let you model anything indecent- I hope," she muttered under her breath, but loudly enough that I heard.

I wasn't too sure, because of what I'd learned of exemplars and what I saw with Debra, Vanity Girl, Wish List, and Card Trick. All of them were exemplars, and all of them were beyond just gorgeous. I didn't know how in the world I could compete in the looks department with them, even though all of them, and Mom, had been repeatedly telling me that I was extremely attractive. There had been girls in my class who didn't have much self-confidence, and it affected how they presented themselves, and thus how people perceived them; it seemed that I was suffering from the same malady. I was very self-aware about my changed body, and I knew that I didn't think like a girl. Or maybe I was thinking too much like an insecure girl, because I was so new at it.

I called Dad, too, since I hadn't talked to him that day. As we talked, I started wondering if I would be able to dream-walk with him, and if he'd let me. Mom must have realized that something was on my mind, because she took the phone and told Dad to hold a bit.

"What's on your mind?" she asked.

"I ... I want to dream-walk with Dad, but I don't know if I should ask him."

Mom looked a bit teary, and hugged me. "I think that would be wonderful for both of you," she said. She handed me back the phone.

"Dad," I said, "I want to ask you if I can do something with you?"

"What is it, sweetie?" He had a bit of dad-suspicion in his voice, not knowing what I might be asking him, but trying to sound supportive of the fact that I was a teenager.

"I ... I learned how to dream-walk, which means that I can be a part of someone's dreams, and interact with them."

"Okay," Dad said slowly, not sure where I was going with the conversation.

"I wanted to know if you'd ... let me dream-walk with you, because I miss you."

"That ... that would be ... nice." Dad sounded choked up.

I was eager to get to bed that night; I was going to dream-walk with Debra, and try to replay one of our 'picnic' dreams together, and I was going to try to dream-walk with Dad. Of course, Mom had to comment that she hadn't seen me this eager to get to bed early since I was four. She knew that I was frequently dream-walking with Debra, but she kept her mouth shut. And she knew that I was eager to try dream-walking with Dad.

I walked into an older high school building, where the boys were standing around discussing sports and girls, waiting for the morning bell. A few boys were talking one-on-one with girls - probably their girlfriends. I saw one boy in particular who looked very familiar, and instantly I recognized Dad. He was a handsome young man, as good-looking as any of the boys there, and I realized that, in the years since he'd been a teenager, he still was a good-looking man. I understood why Mom had found him attractive. When I walked toward him, I was aware that every eye was tracking me; the guys were looking at me like I was Miss America, and the girls' eyes were shooting daggers because they thought that I was better looking than they were, and thus a threat to their status.

To the amazement of all the guys and girls, I walked boldly up to Dad and gave him a warm hug and kissed him on the cheek. "Why are you here?" I asked him.

"This is where I first met your mom," he said with a smile. "This is the day I asked her to our senior prom, and she accepted."

I was going to miss prom, I realized sadly. Since she was a junior, Julie had already made plans to ask me. Now, I'd only get to see prom through Dad's and Mom's eyes.

I smiled at Dad, despite my inner sadness. "There she is. You'd better go ask her."

He smiled at me, and the surroundings changed, to a hospital room. We wore surgical scrubs, and were in a room with Mom, who was lying back on bed, her face sweaty, as she fought a major contraction by tightly grasping Dad's hand. I watched in awe, holding Dad's other hand, as Mom delivered a tiny, fragile baby boy. Dad and Mom both looked at the baby with beaming eyes, and then Dad turned to me. "You're not quite what I expected on the day you were born."

His words stung, and I felt my eyes watering. "I'm sorry I disappointed ...."

He didn't let me finish, but swept me into a bear hug as he instantly regretted his unfortunate choice of words. "No, honey," he said quickly, clutching me tightly to his chest. "I'm not disappointed. I love you, whether you're my son or my daughter. Don't you _ever_ think that I'm disappointed in you!" He held me tight, reassuring me until my tears were gone.

"Where do _you_ dream?" he asked me after I had calmed. "Is there a special place?"

I smiled, and instantly we were in _my_ dream space, on a hill overlooking a river valley and a small Indian village. "Here is where Wakan Tanka lives," I said with a smile. It was night, and the sky was crystal clear and studded with sparkling little gemstones. The moon was nearly full, casting its silver light over the valley, bright enough to see the tepees and trees and river clearly.

"Will you introduce me to her?" Dad asked.

"And more." We walked to the camp, with his arm around my shoulder. As expected, Wakan Tanka and Tatanka were seated at the fire. What shocked me was that someone else was seated at the fire - in her nightwear. My heart leaped into my throat.

Dad strode to Wakan Tanka, who rose to greet him. She spoke a few words of Lakota. I scampered to his side to translate, but was beaten by Tatanka. "Greetings, father of Wihakayda. You honor us with your presence."

Dad's eyes bugged out when Tatanka spoke, but then he grinned at me. "Your mother said that you had a talking buffalo. I guess I didn't quite believe her." His eyes, though weren't on Tatanka or Wakan Tanka, but on the girl sitting on the log in a nightie that was only barely decent.

Cornflower rose gracefully and sauntered sexily to my side. I was wincing inwardly; Dad was going to have a cow that _she_ was in my dream-space, too, especially dressed as she was. She walked up beside me and boldly put an arm around my waist, pulling me against her. I was torn between anxiety at how Dad was going to react, and pride in my dream girl.

"And you are ...?" Dad asked nervously.

Without batting an eye, Debra replied, "I'm Debra, also known as Cornflower," she said with a smile. "And to answer your next question, yes, I'm Kayda's girlfriend - at least in our dreams."

I was aghast, expecting some kind of explosion from Dad, while in the background, Tatanka and Wakan Tanka chuckled at my plight. I spun toward the giggling buffalo. "Knock it off! This is awkward enough without you laughing like a hyena!"

Dad chuckled as well. "It _is_ pretty funny," he said through laughter. "At least from my perspective." He extended his hand to Debra. "I've heard a lot about you. And those pictures don't do you justice," he added with a wink.

That broke the ice - sort of. We all sat around the fire, while Dad regaled Debra with embarrassing stories of when I was a tyke. I sat there helpless, unable to deflect the conversation, and feeling outnumbered as Tatanka translated so Wakan Tanka could join in the amusement.

We talked much, and Dad spent a lot of time asking questions of Debra. I felt like a girl who had to introduce a date to an inquisition by a protective father, and then sit nervously and helplessly through the interrogation.

After a bit, Debra yawned sleepily, and then excused herself to go rest. She gave me a kiss on the lips, adding to my embarrassment, and then, with an alluring sway to her hips, she sashayed into one of the tepees.

Dad looked at me and grinned. "I suppose at this point I'm kind of a third wheel, aren't I?" he asked. He had noticed that Wakan Tanka was entering her own tepee, and Tatanka was quietly ambling off into the prairie.

My cheeks were burning at what Dad was implying. "Uh, we can talk some more."

Dad smiled and kissed me on the cheek. "No, you need your private dream-time. Thank you for sharing your dream-world with me, and for introducing me to Debra. She's a sweet girl." He sighed. "I just ...."

I kissed his cheek. "I know. You're like Mom. You're worried about me getting hurt."

"I guess I'm pretty transparent, aren't I?" He gave me a big hug, and then he rose and followed Tatanka out of the fire ring, pausing a moment between two tepees. "Can you visit me in my dreams again?"

"As long as you promise to not embarrass me again," I teased.

Dad smiled. "I'm a parent, so I can't make that kind of promise. But I'll try to behave." With that, he turned and departed, leaving me alone in the fire circle. I watched the direction Dad had gone for a bit, and then I smiled and went into the tepee where Debra waited.

Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota

Dan Bear Claws dialed a number and held the receiver to his ear. Eventually, the phone was answered.

"Hello," the person on the other end of the answered.

"I have something I need you to do."

"Who is this?" the voice snapped.

"I am Dan Mato Sake, a wicasa yata pi of the Lakota."

"What do you need?"

"There is someone special coming to a place called Whateley Academy. I want her to not stay, but to come home to her people."

"I see. Run her out and chase her home? I know the school. I have a contact ...."

"I want no details," Dan Bear Claws said gruffly. "She is a very important young girl of fifteen. She should arrive at the academy on Thursday or Friday." He listed some details that he knew about the girl.

"Interesting. The best approach would be a psychic ...."

"No details!" Dan snapped. "Just do it." He slammed down the phone, and then smiled, knowing that the girl would be coming home, and much sooner than anyone expected. He had much to do to prepare for her arrival.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Olean, New York

The low-hanging, grey clouds that greeted us when we walked out to the car didn't bode well for the day. I'd been too busy the night before talking to Debra, and then hastening to sleep so I could dream-walk with them both, but Mom had taken time to watch the weather. We had over five hundred fifty miles to drive, many of them on older highways, through mountains, and now in inclement weather.

Tractor had called earlier, and when he discovered that I had been remiss in reading my history, he gave me a minor scolding. Because of that, and because of my curiosity, when I wasn't driving, I spent time reading more Greek history. I know I should have been well into the Greek Dark Ages if I'd been reading steadily, but with everything that had been happening, I was only in the middle of the late Helladic and late Minoan periods, which happened after the Cycladic civilizations had converged with the Minoans during the Middle Minoan period.

After a while, I took over driving from Mom, and she was resting instead of reading. Naturally, we hit the first of the sleet almost as soon as I took over, a dreary, grey, drizzly sort of miserable icy rain that made driving tedious, tiresome, and quite dangerous. Even though I'd grown up in snow and ice, and had driven in it since I started driving, I wasn't comfortable, and as the miles wore on, the tension in my shoulders increased steadily. After half an hour or so, the sleet turned to snow.

From what I'd read about Whateley, and from what Cornflower had taught me, I really needed to learn more magic and how to have Tatanka help me, because I got the impression that a normal day at Whateley was rougher than freshman hazing had been in football - a lot rougher. On the other hand, could it be as hard as fighting off a serpent creature or a water panther? I hoped I'd be able to just blend in, but I really was getting worried. I needed any and all time I could get to learn magic from Wakan Tanka, and I wanted time to work on math and read more history.

I wanted to push hard in driving, skimping on breaks, but Mom didn't feel the urgent need to get to Whateley as soon as possible and at any cost, especially given the weather; she was arguing with logic and facts. When I continued to argue, she threated to call Dad. When that didn't stop my arguments, Mom upped the threat level to a call to Debra, and I folded like a tent. She knew how to blackmail her children!

We stopped at a Denny's restaurant, which was a good compromise. Mom could tell I was getting antsy as we sat and ate; I wasn't very hungry because of my anxiety about getting to Whateley, and she had to remind me to eat. I was getting upset that she was treating this trip like a leisurely stroll instead of a time-crunch to get me to a school where I was _already_ late!

"You know we aren't going to make it today," Mom dropped the bombshell that I knew was coming.

"But ...." I started to protest.

"I've been watching. You don't have the driving endurance and tolerance you used to have. It's raining and snowing, we won't be on interstates, and we're already behind." She looked square in my eyes. "You know I'm right, don't you?"

I nodded slowly, even if the truth wasn't what I wanted to hear at that point. "Why am I going at all?" I whined, fighting tears. "I know I'll never fit in ...."

"Kayda, stop it!" Mom snapped at me. "Stop feeling sorry for yourself for a minute, and think about how you'll have a far better chance of fitting in there than at home! It's not likely that every other student is going to want to kill you, are they?"

"No," I admitted meekly. "But socially ...."

Mom nodded. "It's going to be a little difficult, but answer me this: would you rather be beaten to death, or have a little bit of inconvenience in your social life?"

I hung my head, ashamed of how I had been acting. "Not being beaten to death every time I tried to leave home." Admitting that Mom had a point came very hard; the words almost stuck in my throat. I knew that it was doing to be tough being the 'new kid', but that was far better than being deceased at the hands of a mob of former friends and classmates. Or was it? My mind still bore the scars from that brutal year and a half after Dad sold his first farm and we moved about a hundred miles so he could take over his father-in-law's farm that Mom had inherited. Was it really any better? I was left with a choice between two bad options, and I had to select the least-bad option, just like Debra had told me. "Maybe we should have tried home-schooling," I suggested softly, trying desperately to find a third path that didn't include either of the negatives of the first two.

"You're terrified of being the new kid, and of not fitting in, aren't you?" Mom asked, having suddenly realized just how much that thought bothered me.

"Do you remember when we moved when I was little?"

"Yes. Why?" Mom had a bewildered look at my question.

My voice choked, and my cheeks were moist as I told Mom all about what had happened after we'd moved. Since it was a small town, there weren't many new kids, so I was the bullies' victim for a long time. It had been a very painful time, and even recollecting it hurt emotionally.

"Oh, my God, sweetie! How come you never told us?" Mom said, aghast at what she was hearing for the first time.

"Because some older, meaner kids told me that if you talked to the principal or teachers, they were going to beat me up until I was crippled." Tears were falling off my cheeks and I didn't even try to stop them. "And I knew that if you understood how much I was hurting, you _would_ have talked to the school, and then it would have only gotten worse."

Mom started to deny that they'd have done something, but she caught herself, because she knew that she and Dad _would_ have tried to help me out by complaining. That ended the conversation for a while. Mom really didn't know how to respond about my current situation, either, because from what she'd read in the brochure and what we'd learned from the Sioux Falls League, she knew that there were a lot of formal and informal cliques and clubs, and that my fears had at least some basis in fact, and my previous experience amplified those fears. She was young enough that she remembered her own high school days, and the way cliques and friendships could be very exclusive, and newcomers faced an uphill battle fitting in. She also knew that, for me, this might be like reliving the worst year and a half of my life, which had emotionally scarred me far more than even I'd admitted, an experience that she and Dad had never known.

We just drove through the whitish-grey cloud of swirling snowflakes, the weather outside a perfect metaphor for how I felt inside. It was six in the afternoon when we got to the Vermont - New Hampshire border and got back on an interstate; the road from Albany to the border had been two-lane, winding and hilly through wooded countryside, and there were a lot of side roads and driveways, with traffic joining or leaving the road and causing significant slowdown in spots. According to the GPS, we had just over three hours to get to Berlin, NH - if the roads were perfect, the weather was perfect, and there was no traffic - and then it was a short drive from Dunwich and Whateley. Unfortunately, there _was_ traffic - lots of it, and the weather decided to get crappy on us, with the light flurries turning into a steady, heavier snowfall, which in turn slowed our progress into what seemed to be an agonizing crawl that, at times, felt almost like we were moving backwards.

Mom surprised me by getting fast-food in a little town instead of a sit-down meal, and then we drove north on interstate 91. She was driving, and I fully expected to stop for the day after about an hour, but Mom just kept driving through the snowstorm. We finally stopped at a little town at the junction of interstates 91 and 93 for a rest break, and then Mom asked me to drive. When we drove another hour and hadn't stopped, I gave Mom a worrying glance, but she was peacefully reading her book and didn't seem to notice.

It was almost ten-thirty when we pulled into Berlin, New Hampshire, and into a motel. I hadn't noticed, but Mom must have used her cell phone to make a reservation on-line while I was driving, so we were very quickly checked in, and moved our suitcases to our room.

As I crawled into bed, Mom gave me a kiss on the forehead and tucked me in, and the look on her face told me everything. She understood how important social life was to me after finally realizing the hell I'd gone through when we'd moved so many years ago. Fatigue showed on her face, but she kept a smile - for me - and soldiered on, sacrificing her comfort to help me. I cried as I hugged her good-night, thankful beyond what words could express, even though I tried.

Thursday, March 15, 2007
Berlin, New Hampshire

We had a leisurely continental breakfast, checked out, made a stop in a department store to get some school and dorm supplies like sheets and towels and toiletries, and then began our short drive to Dunwich, and from there to Whateley Academy. The snowfall had ended sometime during the night, and the sky was a light shade of grey. It would have been more scenic if the sky was blue and sunny, but driving would have been treacherous due to both the fresh snowfall and blinding glare from the white lands.

Mom was driving, and she was taking her time, and using that time to have a brief 'mother-daughter' talk about high-school life. I was quite embarrassed, and even pointed out that I'd gotten most of the information from Wish List and Cornflower, but Mom told me that it was her duty as a mother to have 'the talk' with me. I hadn't realized, but Mom had been two-months pregnant with me when she graduated, and Dad's proposal had been preceded by the question of, "You're going to have a WHAT?" She knew how hormones affected teenagers, and, without saying as much, was hoping that I'd get the message that, if I was going to have sex, that I needed to be very careful so I didn't end up a teenage mother as well. In her case, she pointed out, things had worked out marvelously, but she'd beaten the odds. I understood her message, even though the discussion was, at times, a little embarrassing.

The entrance to Whateley seemed odd - it was protected by a stone fence, and flanking the driveway were two creepy gargoyles without faces We drove through the gate to a security check point, where two men in uniforms verified that we were expected and called ahead to let the administration know we were on campus. The road, lined with snow-capped trees, was quite an improvement after the rougher, bumpier, but picturesque roads we'd been on between Berlin and Whateley. The drive was rather long, and wove in and out, up and down the white-frosted hills and some wooded areas, before buildings came into view on top of a small hill. At first glance, it looked to me more like a college campus than a boarding high school. We passed an eclectic mixture of buildings, from a barrel-shaped multi-story building that was quite traditional in style, to a brutish, concrete monster opposite it. Adjacent to the hulking concrete behemoth stood a stately, tall building with what looked like an observatory attached to it, probably Kane hall from what I'd read in the brochures.

Our destination lay straight ahead; a statue stood in the center of a roundabout in front of another older, traditional-styled building, with a sign out front proclaiming it to be "Schuster Hall". More bizarrely, a huge crystalline geodesic dome was attached to the rear of the building; Debra had told us that this was aptly named Crystal Hall, the main dining hall. On three low hills near Schuster Hall, separated from the main buildings by swales, were three of the cottages; I was a little excited to look for the one I would live in, namely, Poe. To the northwest and northeast were two four-story buildings whose architectural style matched Schuster and Kane, and I would bet that these were Emerson and Dickinson cottages, based on what I'd remembered from the brochure. Betting on my guess would have been a sucker bet though; since my manifestation, my memory was nearly perfect.

On a hill to the south was a tall building, at least eight stories, in an architectural style that was much more modern and didn't at all fit in with the older, more traditional buildings. This had to be Melville, the home of the snobs and social climbers. Beyond it, somewhere down hidden behind the hill, was Poe, which would be my home-away-from-home for the next three years, and beyond that was Hawthorne. I didn't want to think about what would happen after my graduation; it was too far away and too depressing to contemplate. I had to deal with the here-and-now, which meant Poe Cottage. The campus grounds were all covered in a thick white blanket of snow, obscuring the landscaping, and with bare deciduous trees scattered among evergreens, it looked almost barren. I hoped that without snow, it was well-kept, because living in a campus with shoddy landscaping was not my idea of fun. Brick walkways connected the buildings across vast fields of snow, hiding what I hoped was grass beneath the winter insulation. The overall appearance would have been extremely stately, if only all the buildings shared a common architectural theme, but the hodge-podge mixture of styles looked rather haphazard and disorganized, as if some giant had plucked a building here, a building there, and plopped them down willy-nilly across the hills, not caring what the result looked like. The only other explanation was that the campus had been a field laboratory for would-be architects to experiment with different styles without any consideration for harmony. It was not aesthetically pleasing at all.

"There are very dark forces near here, Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka and Tatanka told me simultaneously. "Very dark forces indeed."

"It is as if there are dozens of gods like Unktunktahe and Unhcegila at rest here, waiting for their chance to awaken or to be set free of their bonds," Wakan Tanka continued.

I felt a lump in my throat at their revelations. "What does that mean for me?"

"This is a dangerous place. Much dark magic is concentrated here. You must be careful, Wihakayda," she said solemnly.

Great. As if getting beaten and nearly killed, fleeing the MCO, driving halfway across the country, fighting a serpent-demon in a nightmare, and a water-demon in real-life, and losing everything weren't enough, now I had to watch out for Native American spooks.

Mom parked the car near the statue that had to be the founder, Noah Whateley, based on the information Debra had given me. Beside the unimposing bronze figure was a flagpole, on which hung the US flag, and below it, a flag bearing the Whateley coat-of-arms. I would have never noticed but for Debra's information; the border of the Whateley flag was red, indicating to students that it was what was called a 'red flag' day, and students were not allowed to display their powers. I chuckled; the flag was very likely because of Mom and me being on campus, or more specifically, because of Mom. I was a mutant, after all, and presumably I could handle seeing other kid's powers on display.

As we walked toward the entrance to Schuster, I spotted a boy flying rapidly up the path from beyond Melville hall toward the observatory building. Suddenly, he spotted the flag, and in an even more conspicuous display, halted in mid-air, dropped to the ground, and continued to walk while glancing around to see if anyone had noticed his indiscretion. I chuckled at his predicament; a couple of other students were converging on him, and they didn't look too happy. He probably hadn't checked the flag color before going 'superman'.

Inside, we paused to orient ourselves, looking for some type of signs. A student in a standard black and white Whateley uniform stopped and looked at us, critically noting that I was of high-school age, but wasn't wearing a uniform. "Do you need assistance?" she asked with a smug air of superiority that seemed to defy any attempt to not act like she was better than I. There was something unusual about her eyes, not quite human, but ice-blue and almond shaped, tilted inward slightly. I guessed that she was the same height as me, but where I was wearing flats, she had at least a two-and-a-half inch heel, which put her height nearer five feet three. The most impressive thing, though, were the tips of obvious elfish ears jutting out of her thick shoulder-length, coiffured mane of blonde hair. She carried herself with an air of confidence, or even smugness that was a little off-putting.

"We're looking for the Headmistress' office," Mom said quickly. "We need to get my daughter Kayda, checked in."

The girl looked at me like she was measuring me - carefully. "New student?" I merely nodded, deciding that I didn't like her attitude and condescending smirk. "Welcome to Whateley. I'm called Sanctuary," she said with a bit less of an attitude. "The office is down the hall, last set of offices on the left," she said, as if the answer was obvious. She pointed in the general direction as well, before lowering her hand and striding off with her nose lifted slightly, snobbishly.

"Thank you," Mom said graciously, and she elbowed me sharply when I said nothing.

"Yeah, thanks," I added unenthusiastically at the retreating figure.

The girl paused and glanced over her shoulder. "You might not be thanking me after a couple of weeks," the girl said with a smirk before she turned and strutted away.

Beyond a door with frosted glass, many staff members sat at desks arranged in neat rows in one large office space, sort of like a cubicle farm without the cubicle walls. On one side was a slightly larger desk, set apart from the others by a bit more space, and with the title of 'Assistant Headmistress' boldly proclaimed in a plaque above a name - A. Hartford. While the name seemed innocuous, the appearance of the woman behind the desk was anything but. Stern and harsh were thoroughly inadequate adjectives. She wore her blonde hair up in a librarian's bun, and the unstylish glasses added to the impression of being haughty and unapproachable, as if she was better than everyone around her, or at least considered herself so. Her business suit was impeccably tailored in an unmistakable display of status and wealth. She was typing rapidly on her computer, glancing up from time to time at notes and not deigning to look at us mere mortals.

So far, the place was oh for two in friendly attitudes. Was this bitch central? Snobby rich kid high? If so, I vowed I wouldn't put up with the smug, self-righteous attitudes, but would rather take my chances elsewhere. Maybe the League could home-school me under a guardianship or something....

A receptionist or aide looked up at Mom and me from behind one of the plainer desks centered opposite the door. "May I help you?" she asked in a warm, friendly voice. One for three. Her friendliness matched my first visual impression of her; she had shoulder-length auburn hair, and her face exuded approachability. I couldn't help but steal a quick glance at the assistant headmistress, who seemed to completely lack even the vaguest hint of human social skills.

The nameplate on her desk read Elaine Claire; I stifled a giggle at the absurd thought that people might frequently call her E Claire, implying a pastry joke from her name. As quickly as that thought came, I had the realization that she'd probably heard _all_ such related pastry jokes and was sick to death of them. I'd often heard Dad say that the quickest way to go nowhere with a company or business was to annoy the reception and secretarial staff. They could be your best friends or worst enemies, and it all depended upon how you treated them. I gulped as I realized that a bad impression with Ms. Claire wouldn't be a good start to my time at Whateley.

"I hope so," Mom replied sweetly. "My ... daughter recently manifested as a mutant, and we, that is, the Sioux Falls League and I, got her accepted here. I hope it's not too late ...."

A door behind the receptionist opened, and a remarkable looking woman strode out energetically, with a pleasant smile. From Debra's description, I knew her to be Headmistress Carson. "No, it's not too late to start classes," she said, answering Mom's question. Mrs. Carson looked at me, and I flinched a little bit; she had an air of power and confidence about her, and she exuded wisdom born of long years of experience, even though she appeared to be only in her mid-thirties. She _belonged_ in a powerful role, of that I was certain. "You must be Kayda Franks." She extended her hand to me. 'We've been expecting you."

Nervously, I shook her hand, knowing I had a worried expression. What if she was a telepath or something, and could tell what I was thinking? Had she read the part of my application that proclaimed my gender change? Was _that_ now public? Were people in the office going to stare at me or laugh at me because of that?

I must have looked quite nervous, because she smiled and laughed. "No, I don't read minds, but I've heard every question that uneasy teenagers - and their parents - might ask, or not ask, as the case may be." She turned to one side and gestured into her office. "Why don't we have a nice chat, answer your questions, and make sure your paperwork is complete? Then we can get you moved in to your residence cottage. You'll be in ...."

Elaine didn't even look up. "Ms. Franks will be in Poe Cottage," she answered efficiently. "Mrs. Horton has been advised of her arrival, and has a room ready for her."

Mrs. Carson smiled and led us into her office, closing her door behind us as we sat. While Mom and Mrs. Carson talked about tuition, room and board, and scholarships, I dearly wished that I had a book to read - even a romance novel would have been better than listening to all the financial details. What I did pick up from their conversation was that I was getting a partial scholarship, and that in exchange, I was expected to have a 'work-study' job on campus, which would be arranged through my counselor. From the way Mom and Mrs. Carson talked, the scholarship was a formality and a tax gimmick. Mom and Dad paid part of my tuition directly, and made a generous tax-deductible contribution to Whateley, which in turn would be used for scholarships like mine. In exchange for this, I had to work, which I knew gave the administration _more_ leverage over me. It was a tidy little game.

Forty-five minutes later, I walked out of the administration office, dazed by the information overload, while Mom stayed behind to finish filling out paperwork that gave me permission to participate in martial arts, to use the training ranges and simulators, for medical treatment for any injuries sustained curing the course of instruction - the order seemed ominous to me - and a general in loco parentis form which allowed Whateley to make decisions deemed necessary for my welfare and well-being in the event they were unable to get ahold of Mom or Dad. I felt like Mom was signing my life away to this unusual and mostly unknown academy.

Mrs. Carson had noted that it would be easiest for all the other students if Mom didn't help me move my stuff; what she really meant was that I wouldn't look like a poor helpless girl who needed Mommy to move into a dorm. I agreed, even if it hadn't been what Mrs. Carson had said aloud. Perhaps it was because I was feeling a little paranoid about being at a new school, and having mutated and then attacked, but there was something in the look that Mom and Mrs. Carson were exchanging that made me nervous. I forced aside such silly feelings, and we made plans to meet for lunch at the cafeteria once I got moved in.

I was given a choice of waiting outside with the cast-iron bitch while Mom and Mrs. Carson discussed more business things, or taking my things to Poe. Normally, the house-mother of a cottage, in this case Mrs. Horton, would send an upperclassman to escort a new student to his or her cottage, but it would be a while before a suitable escort could be sent, since most of the students were in class. Already bored by forty-five minutes of dull talk about forms and signatures and tuition and such, I leaped at the chance to get out of there, and I let Mrs. Carson know in no uncertain terms that I'd reviewed a campus map, I knew where Poe Cottage was, and I could get my things there on my own. It wasn't going to be a difficult task; I had left most of my things at our farm when we'd had to flee, and I had only one large and one medium suitcase and a smaller, carry-on bag of toiletries to move, plus a box of room supplies Mom and I had bought that morning.

I could tell that Mrs. Carson wasn't happy, but she acquiesced. I got the suitcases and the box all stacked and strapped together, so I just had to pull the largest rolling suitcase and all my worldly belongings followed along like a well-behaved dog on a leash, while I toted the carry-on bag. It was a bit depressing to realize that everything I had now fit into this meager pile of luggage, at least until Mom got home and started sending me stuff like my math books, more clothes, and other things that she would probably believe that I needed for my dorm room. And chokecherry jelly. She _had_ to send me a supply of chokecherry jelly.

It must have been between class periods, because I noticed that I was attracting quite a bit of attention from a lot of passing students, and there were even a couple who seemed to have gone out of their way to pass near me so they could get a better look. My heart raced and my throat constricted uncomfortably, because many of the spectators and onlookers were boys, and the looks on their faces were more than idle curiosity, which made me unnaturally nervous, bordering on a sensation of abject terror.

I soon had four guys walking with me - two on either side. The one closest to my right had wavy dark hair and an olive complexion that hinted at being Mediterranean, while two of the other three looked like big, bulky bullies. The fourth member wasn't small, but there was something shifty about his demeanor. The four could have easily worn signs advertising "bullies" and "trouble." I hastened my pace as I fought a massive surge of that irrational panic I'd felt at times before, but the quartet of boys kept step with me.

"Since you're obviously new here," the guy on my right said, by way of crude introduction, "I would be delighted to help you with the ... intricacies of Whateley - the best classes, the best and worst teachers, the various campus groups ...." He had a foreign accent that I guessed was Italian, and with a classic aquiline nose and sparkling eyes, he had the general appearance of an Italian flirt.

My heart was racing. "Thank you," I began, struggling to contain my fear and at least be civil, "but I ... I don't need any help," I stammered, trying to quicken my pace. The 'personal' attention I was getting from these boys was frightening me far more than I thought reasonable, but it was hard to form a rational argument when panic had overwhelmed the logic centers of my brain.

"Where are my manners?" the boy asked with mock horror. "Permit me to introduce myself. They call me Cagliostro, and my friends are Truck, TK, and Nitro." He smiled at me with what should have been a pleasant, friendly smile, but there was something deceitful in his expression. In all honesty, he had the looks that I would have envied only a few short days ago. In my old high school, he'd have been fighting off the cheerleaders and popular girls. I suspected that more than one girl thought him dashing. I wasn't one of them, however. "And you are?"

"In a hurry to get moved into my cottage," I answered hastily, trying to sound discouraging but not rude, "so I can finish checking in and get my class schedule." I cringed inwardly; any of the girls from my school, even the most socially awkward, would have known how to give these creeps the brush-off, but I had no clue, and was operating mostly on fear.

I didn't like the fact that we were attracting quite a bit of attention from a group of students, many clad in their distinctive Whateley uniforms, watching as I walked with my trio of unwelcome shadows. I felt that I was part of a sideshow, and that others were probably betting to see how long it would take for me to succumb to Cagliostro's charms, or what I would do to escape them.

"Then by all means, gentlemen," he said to his sidekicks, "help the lady with her luggage."

"Uh, no thanks," I stammered, getting more unnerved. "I've got it balanced, and it's easy."

"Oh, but we insist," Cagliostro continued smoothly. "It's the gentlemanly thing to do. Surely you would not be so crass as to deny us an opportunity to demonstrate our chivalric skills, would you?" His accent was like honey, smooth and probably alluring to most girls.

I heard snickers and guffaws in the small crowd that was gathering. I wanted desperately to get out of this crowd, because I was feeling more and more like the star attraction in a circus, and I didn't like it. As I fought off a surge of genuine terror, I did the only thing I could think of - I called the chant to ghost-walk, as Wakan Tanka had taught me, hoping that it would envelop my luggage as well. I watched the silver aura form around everyone, but then I noted, as I glanced around, that one girl didn't have an aura, and she was smiling at me knowingly, as if this were all a game to amuse the student body. I was startled to realize that she was likely unaffected by the ghost-walking spell.

"She ... sees me?" I stammered to Wakan Tanka.

"Some with powerful magic can see through the spell," she explained. Great - my invisibility wasn't completely invisible.

I hastened away from where Cagliostro and his friends stood, watching them cautiously as I moved away. They spun around, searching for me, Cagliostro frowning. He frowned, and then he seemed to be concentrating on something. I felt something like a smack to my head, hard enough that I staggered, and I lost focus on my spell.

The silver auras were all gone, and people were staring at me again. I was also very confused. Why was I walking away from this very nice young man, who was also quite attractive, when he'd offered to help me? That was being quite rude, and I should let him help me, and then find some way to show my appreciation for his generosity. Maybe he'd take me on a date...?

Those strange thoughts were ripped apart suddenly and quite violently, and I felt a touch of nausea as a whiplash effect of force and counterforce dazed me. As my own panic returned, I realized that for a few moments, I'd felt like I had when Wakan Tanka had first dream-walked with me, leaving me dazed and open to suggestion. But these suggestions were no herbal tea to calm me; these were the suggestive hints of a boy trying to telepathically persuade me to date him, something that struck at the heart of my unidentified terror.

"Get out of my head!" I screamed wildly at him, still fighting the dizzying effects from Tatanka shielding me from his unwanted psychic attempt to plant thoughts in my head.

I saw Cagliostro stagger, holding his head with a look that was equal parts surprise and agony, while his friends stared for a moment. Their thoughts were written plainly on their faces; even if they didn't understand it, they didn't like what I'd just done to Cagliostro, and weren't going to let me get away with it. Truck grabbed my arm firmly. "All we're trying to do is help," he said sternly. "You don't have to be so rude about it." I tried to pull away, but my arm could have as well been embedded in a block of concrete for all the good my tugging did.

Cagliostro shook off the effects of the block Tatanka had given me, and he turned back to me, I saw his unpleasant expression. Quite simply, I panicked, and screamed. I don't quite know what happened, except that Tatanka manifested full-sized, aggressively knocked Truck away from me, and then stood between me and Cagliostro, snorting, his gaze angrily fixed on the boys.

"Security!" I heard from behind me suddenly. The students who'd been spectating suddenly vanished like specters at sunrise, leaving me alone with the four boys who'd tried to mentally and physically assault me. "What's going on here?"

"She assaulted us!" Truck claimed quite firmly. "Look!" He showed off the place where Tatanka had torn his shirt and drawn a little blood.

"Yeah," Nitro chimed in. "We were offering to help us, and she suddenly got mad and manifested that ... thing, and it attacked Truck."

"And she did some kind of mental assault on me, too," Cagliostro added, giving me a nasty smirk.

One of the officers glared at me. "Let's go. You're all coming to the office." He glared at me. "And demanifest that ... that thing," he snarled at me, "unless you'd like to be in more trouble for resisting security in the performance of their duties." I realized that Tatanka wasn't letting anyone near me out of fear for my safety. He looked at the other officer. "Call for backup and get Truck to Doyle for a medical exam. Get his statement, too."

I recalled Tatanka, and the officer stepped to my side and took me by the elbow, holding me a little more firmly than I would have liked. I had to abandon my luggage to the care of a junior from Poe Cottage, who was apparently an adjunct security officer, and after assuring them that she'd see it safely delivered, they marched me off. I felt like I was being treated as a criminal as they escorted me to Kane Hall, the building housing the security offices, with students all around me pausing to watch me being taken away by the officers. The only thing missing from this miserable scene were manacles on my hands and ankles. I felt humiliated at how I was being treated when I was the victim.

At least those who'd assaulted me were also going to the security office, mostly, but whether that was to file a complaint to get me in more trouble or to be questioned about the incident remained to be determined. This was just great - I been on campus fewer than two hours and hadn't even gotten moved into my cottage, and I was already in what looked to be serious trouble. I figured that Mom was going to have to take me home now, too, and I'd be back where I started - stuck living on a farm near a town where everyone wanted to kill me. I felt dampness on my cheeks. Damned hormones.

Cagliostro had a smug smile as he walked into the security offices. He obviously knew how things worked around campus, whereas I didn't, which gave him all the advantages. I felt something in my head, and just as quickly, felt Tatanka blocking it. I glanced, and Cagliostro raised an eyebrow at me, a most curious action given what had happened.

I decided to try something. I told Tatanka to not block him telepathically for a moment, but to be on guard just in case.

"Agree to a date, and I can make this all easy. Otherwise, you're going down for assault." He had an annoying smirk.

"No!" I thought back strongly. "You attacked me." I had Tatanka slam my mental barrier back up, startling Cagliostro and making him wince from the brutality of Tatanka closing the mental door to my mind again. I was grateful that Tatanka could shield me so effectively from psi effects.

With two security officers standing ready, the remaining four of us stood in front of the main desk in the security offices. A stern-faced lieutenant on duty stood from his desk and walked our way. "Well, well, if it isn't my friend Cagliostro?" he said as he looked up and down the group. "And you're hanging with TNT now? What kind of trouble are you causing this time?" From his tone, these guys apparently had a rep with security that wasn't good.

Cagliostro stared evenly at me. "She manifested an animal and attacked us," he said without batting an eye, "without any reason. We had just offered to help her move her luggage to her cottage when she flipped out on us. You saw how she injured Truck."

"That's a lie!" I snapped to defend myself. I wasn't about to let these three bozos railroad me, when they'd been the aggressors. "I was just ...."

"You'll have your chance to speak," the lieutenant, Reynolds from his name tag interrupted, an unpleasant frown on his face. I felt a shudder of fear; he sounded like he believed Cagliostro and the others, and disbelieved me. "Breen, you and Grimes get Cagliostro's statement. Matthews, same for Nitro." He glanced over his shoulder. "Kretch? Interview TK." He looked back to a desk where a young woman was working. "Emily?"

"Yes, sir?" She turned from doing paperwork at her desk.

"You and Sergeant Harris get a statement from ...." He stared at me blankly for a moment. "You're new here, aren't you?"

"I just got here today," I answered, my voice trembling to match my nerves. "I'm Kayda Franks."

Lieutenant Reynolds sighed and shook his head. "Getting an early start with us, aren't you?" He drew a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "Get a statement from Ms. Franks."

His snarky comment and attitude really pissed me off. I followed Sergeant Harris, a burly, no-nonsense security officer, and Emily, who in contrast, was a rather petite young woman with average looks, and with her hair in a low-maintenance style, which made her blend into the background. I expected an interrogation room - harsh lights, uncomfortable furniture, the whole miserable thing portrayed in movies and on TV, but instead, the room was a comfortable but small conference room.

The way Emily started the interrogation surprised me, activating a recording system. "Why don't you tell me what happened, from your viewpoint?" I'd been expecting harsh, accusatory, demanding questions.

"I ... I was walking to my cottage to move in," I said, fighting back tears, "when these four guys started following me. They were trying to sound nice and helpful, but ... I got scared because they were following me, so I tried to walk away. When that didn't work, I tried a ... trick ... I learned so that they wouldn't see me, but one of them did something so that broke my concentration. Then the big guy grabbed ahold of me, and I panicked, and I guess I manifested Tatanka to protect me."

"Tatanka?" Emily asked skeptically.

"My ... white buffalo."

"This white buffalo of yours injured a PK brick! Do you know how hard it is to hurt a brick? That doesn't sound exactly innocuous and defensive to me if you manifested something that would attack and injure someone like Truck." Harris's comments _were_ accusatory and rough. I realized this was a good-cop, bad-cop routine that they probably had down pat.

"I'm sorry," I said, starting to bawl. "I didn't mean to, but they wouldn't leave me alone! I just wanted to get moved into my cottage, so I could get away from people like my old friends who tried to kill me!" I didn't even try to wipe at the tears streaming down my cheeks.

"Is there anything else?" Emily asked soothingly, in contrast to Harris' no-nonsense, rough, hostile demeanor.

I nodded. "He - Cagliostro - was doing something in my head. I could feel him trying to make me think that he was so helpful and that I'd be lucky that someone like him would help me out on my first day, and that maybe I should go on a date with him out of gratitude, but Tatanka picked it up and blocked it."

Harris looked at Emily, frowning deeply. "I'll go tell the Lieutenant. We'll have to get Psychic Arts involved." He purposefully stalked out of the interrogation room.

After at least another hour of question and answer, most of which was repetitive and, at least from Harris' point, harsh, Emily led me back to the main office, where I took a seat on a bench as far from Cagliostro and Nitro as I could sit. Cagliostro still had his smug smile, but Nitro looked a little worried. A couple of minutes later, Truck came in with a security escort, bandaged from where Tatanka had gored him. Sergeant Harris immediately took Truck to a room to get his statement, too.

I sat, trying not to be nervous, but worry came as I heard the Lieutenant speaking softly behind his desk.

"Hartford wants the reports now," he muttered, "but we don't have anything yet from Psychic Arts." He glanced at Harris. "Anything from the cameras?"

I saw Harris shake his head. "Nothing definitive as to who started it," he answered. "There's some obvious discussion, and Cagliostro is knocked backwards. It shows Truck grasping her arm, and then the white buffalo appears and knocks him away."

Lt. Reynolds sighed. "Go give Chief the rundown, and then send what we have for reports."

"Chief Delarose is at the range with Gunny," an officer replied immediately. "Should I disturb him, or get ahold of Everheart?"

"Everheart. She should be on roaming patrol; tell her we need her in the office ASAP." He glanced at another of the officers. "Grimes, any leads on witnesses?"

Grimes sighed. "The usual. When we show up, they disappear."

"The incident was pretty close to the nuthouse, er, I mean Poe. Call Mrs. Horton and see if any of her students saw anything," the Lieutenant suggested.

"I already called. She hasn't reported anything yet."

"Damn." Reynolds thought a moment. "Okay, keep trying. Check the camera footage again and see if we can identify any of the students who were actual witnesses. And get moving on it - Hartford is really pushing on this for some reason."

One of the men seated at desk, with a phone at his ear, looked up sharply. "Lieutenant, Hartford wants the reports now!"

"Tell her we're haven't got all the data, and I'm not releasing anything until I have a report from Psychic Arts about a possible psychic attack," Reynolds barked at the man. "Then tell both Everheart and the Chief that they're going to get angry calls from Hartford, and tell them what's going on." He started to turn, but then looked back at the man. "And get me Carstaires or Fubar or Ms. Montaigne now!"

"Ms. Montaigne is off campus on an errand. Carstaires and Fubar are in the middle of classes."

"Damn."

The conversation was not making me feel any more confident. I was slowly coming to the conclusion that I was being railroaded despite the fact that I'd been the victim in the whole incident. On top of that, it had taken long enough that my stomach was rumbling from hunger.

"Uh, excuse me?" I asked meekly.

"Yes?" Officer Grimes turned to me, barely trying to smile.

"Uh, I was supposed to meet my Mom for lunch over an hour ago," I said meekly. "She's probably worried about me, and I'm kind of hungry, too."

Grimes shook his head. "Sorry, miss," he said. "You can't go until we complete our investigation."

"But ... I told you what happened."

Grimes shook his head. "We have a possible psychic component to the incident, so we can't do anything until we get a proper evaluation. We have to keep you and the others under close observation until a psychic probe is completed to make sure there isn't any outside interference with our investigation that might conceal or obliterate any traces."

"Can I call Mom to let her know what's happening?" I begged.

"I'm sorry, miss, but that's against procedures. I'll send a message that you've been delayed, though."

After another half an hour, a moderately tall but young woman strode into the security office, wearing something that looked like military fatigues, with a pistol holstered at her waist. I figured she was important by the way everyone turned to her, even though she appeared to be only eighteen or nineteen. "Sitrep," she said simply, her request sounding like an order despite her very feminine voice.

Reynolds' spine almost snapped as he bolted to attention. "The statements are in the computer with the preliminary data. There's a potential psychic component, so we're waiting for someone from Psychic Arts. Hartford is demanding our report now, and she's getting impatient."

The woman paused, staring across the room as she stood immobile for a few seconds, as if her mind were somewhere else entirely. "Okay, I've got the data. The assistant headmistress is entitled, by regulations, to access our preliminary data. She also wants to meet with Ms. Franks." She turned to me. "Let's go."

I gulped as I rose, and followed the woman out. "By the way, I'm Samantha Everheart," she said to me in a matter-of-fact way.

"I ... I'm Kayda ...." I began

"Kayda Franks. I know. New student, arrived on campus today. Originally from South Dakota, mutation manifested approximately 15 February. Rapid mutation, probably caused by low- to mid-level burnout. Warrant for arrest by Sioux Falls MCO office was overridden by Chicago MCO Internal Affairs office." It sounded like she was reciting a computer database. "I'm familiar with your file." She sort-of smiled. "You've had a busy few weeks."

"I ... I have a file?"

Samantha nodded. "We gather all the information we can about our students, including applicants."

"Uh, how much trouble am I in?" I whimpered. "I didn't do anything! They started it, and ...."

"Calm down, Kayda," Samantha interrupted. "Since you haven't even had an orientation, I doubt that you're in any kind of trouble because you don't know the rules yet. Misunderstandings like this happen all the time."

"Misunderstanding?" I cried, feeling my tears resume. "He wanted me to ... to go out with him, and he was trying to make me!" I sobbed. "I didn't do anything!"

Samantha nodded. "The administration has the preliminary statements. I've been asked to take you to see Assistant Headmistress Hartford as part of the investigation."

"But why just me? Why not them, too? They started it!"

"I'm not privy to why the administration operates the way they do. I do know, however, that there are regulations and rules by which they must abide in any incident like this."

I decided to shut up. Sam Everheart wasn't going to tell me any more than she already had, but at the same time, she was being as supportive as I guessed she could be, given her position in security. Tears continued to trickle down my cheeks, and as we walked, I was aware that students were watching me critically, probably pre-judging me as guilty as news of the incident spread around campus like wildfire. I knew how school gossip networks operated. This incident was yet another thing that was going to make life difficult for me.

Samantha escorted me into the administration office where I'd been several hours earlier. I was surprised when I saw the clock; it was after two in the afternoon. I'd been in security for over three hours, I was hungry and frightened. While Ms. Hartford continued to work on her computer, we were directed to sit in chairs by the door. There were chairs in front of Ms. Hartford's desk, but she hadn't deigned to let us sit in her presence yet. I suspected, strongly, that it was a tactic to increase my sense of fear and intimidation. It worked, because I was quite terrified.

After a few moments, Ms. Hartford cleared her throat, a sound directed not at us, but at the receptionist. Ms. Claire looked at us. "Admiral, Ms. Hartford will see you and Ms. Franks now."

Admiral? Samantha Everheart an admiral? But ... wasn't she too young? Then again, the security officers had shown her great deference. And stranger mutations had occurred besides slow aging. The intimidation factor went up significantly. Everheart glanced my way as she stood, perhaps in an attempt to reassure me, but more likely to signal me that I should join her at Ms. Hartford's desk. Swallowing hard, I stood with her and walked to the chairs before Ms. Hartford's 'throne'. My knees felt like they were knocking together, and as I grasped the arms of the chair as I sat down and keep my hands from shaking.

Ms. Hartford glanced at her computer screen. "According to the security report, you assaulted another student with your manifestation," she said at me in a very accusatory tone.

"But ... he started it," I protested, feeling my tears trying to start again. I sensed that Hartford had already made up her mind that I was guilty.

"According to your statement," Hartford continued, looking at me disdainfully, "you panicked, and you weren't aware that you manifested your animal, which attacked the student."

"He was defending me," I protested.

"But you didn't have control of his manifestation?" Hartford asked directly.

"I ... I... he was holding me," I tried to explain, "against my will. Hard! I tried, but I couldn't get away from him!"

"You didn't have control of your manifestation, correct?"

"I ... I don't know."

"And your manifestation injured the student, who is a PK brick, correct?"

"He was defending me!"

"And on at least two prior occasions, your manifestation penetrated force fields and injured another person, correct?"

My jaw dropped open. "That ... that was during my powers testing," I protested. "And the other was protecting Mom and me and Deb ... Cornflower during a robbery!"

"Nevertheless, your manifestation injured Tractor and the Gemologist, correct?"

"Yes, but ...."

"I think we know enough to determine that you are not in full control of a dangerous manifestation. As a result, you are reassigned to Hawthorne Cottage, which is better prepared to deal with students such as yourself whose powers are not in full control. Once you learn to control your manifestation, we can see about moving you to another cottage."