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A Whateley Academy Adventure

The Boys of Summer

by E. E. Nalley

 

Part Two

 

I'm supergirl, And I'm here
To save the world
And I wanna know
Who's gonna save me?
I'm supergirl, And I'm here to
Save the world
And I wanna know
Why I feel so alone

Krystal Harris, Supergirl

 


June 9th, 2007
Holbrook Arena, Whateley Academy

"You are going to be tested," Dr. Hartford warned her.

Tansy looked up from pouring the three glasses of punch from the punch bowl to lock eyes with her mentor. "Tested how?" she asked. "And by whom?" She had just finished spelling out how she planned to insert herself in Elaine and Kayda's trip home, which Hartford had approved of.

"By the people I work for," the Assistant headmistress replied. "To see if you live up to the amount of bragging I've been doing about you. As for how, you'll know it when it occurs; I can't say anymore without prejudicing the test," she replied quickly. "Just know that I have every confidence in your abilities."

"You're bragging about me?" Walcutt asked with a raised eyebrow. However Dr. Hartford refused to be baited and leaned in, obviously serious.

"This is not a midterm Tansy," Amelia told her in a low, intense voice. "What you will face will be deadly serious. The only concession I was able to negotiate for you is that you will not have to break any laws to pass the test, so remember that."

Tansy nodded as she finished pouring the third glass of punch. "I will. And when will you recall your promise to tell me who it is I'm jumping through these hoops for?"

Hartford held out her glass for Tansy to refill, which the newly minted senior did. "You're paying your dues Tansy," Hartford told her. "And in so doing you're making contacts with some of the most powerful people on this planet. People beyond government, some would argue beyond law, and such is the nature of power. The powerful expect results, and you're going to prove that you can bring those results. And when you have, when the introductions are made, then you will understand and I believe you'll find the compensation adequate."

Tansy paused for a moment of thought and expression on her face and asked, "You paid your dues, you have the introductions, you know who these people are. Yet, here you are playing second fiddle to Liz Carson. If these people are so powerful, why aren't you in charge?"

Hartford smiled as she took a sip of her punch. "Damocles suffered only a single night under the sword that hangs forever over the head of king Dionysus. There are many kinds of power Tansy, some more obvious than others. And if you get to choose, always choose the less obvious ones."

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June 12th, 2007
Interstate 80, just west of Fort Bridger, Wyoming

Tansy came to herself in an odd sense of slow-motion. She was pressed firmly into her seat by G forces because of the high-speed maneuvering that was currently occupying Elaine's complete focus. Eyes wide, Tansy saw the car leave the freeway to avoid the backup of stopped cars that suddenly appeared just as Baby Girl crested a hill; in the valley below there was already a tremendous wreck involving at least 10 cars that Elaine was trying desperately to avoid. Off to the right was a complex of low brick buildings that were on fire, black smoke billowing in the morning sky, while directly ahead armed figures exchanged gunfire with a massive, indistinct form that had been the source of the 10 car pileup.

Baby Girl's oversize Dunlop tires left the emergency lane and began to drag on the dirt and gravel overhang of the drainage culvert. Whereas most would have lost control the vehicle at this point, Elaine quickly turned the wheel hard over into the skid and so the car drifted, throwing up a massive cloud of dirt around the wreck and back up onto the freeway transgressing a full 360° before it came to a rough stop, causing all three girls to grunt in surprise.

"What just happened?" shouted Kayda from the backseat, but Tansy didn't wait for an answer. Clawing at the lap belt, she got it free, and at the urging of her new spirit, was out of its namesake and on her own two feet to ascertain what was going on.

Unfortunately she found what was going on was a full on machine gun battle between the indiscriminate form and a half-dozen uniformed personnel who must have come from the complex that was on fire. And evidently no one cared about the people whose cars had been in the wreck. "Of course, it couldn't be multiple-choice!" Tansy muttered under her breath as she charged around Baby Girl to the closest car. It was a sedan with a mother and several children inside, all staring in shock at the battle playing out a few dozen feet away. Tansy slid over the hood of the sedan to the unoccupied passenger side. Finding the door locked, she cursed, "Had to wear my Pradas today!"

She snap-kicked in the window; the wedge heel of the expensive boots she was wearing shattering the glass, which allowed her to get the door open. "Don't just sit there!" she shouted. "Out! Get to cover in the drainage ditch!" To add emphasis to her commands, several ricochets struck the hood of the sedan, unfreezing the mother and her children as they scrambled out the door.

The mother grabbed her phone off the dashboard she passed, causing Tansy to belatedly realize she had no way of concealing her identity. However, at that moment a sensation of power slipped out from a nexus that seemed centered on Baby Girl, followed hard on its heels by a feeling of compression as Tansy's close, but comfortable clothing became rigid. Looking down she found herself encased in the black armor number Ms. Rogers had made for her. Elaine was now encompassed in her black and white power armor and was floating 10 feet or so off the ground, while Kayda was done up as a Native American warrior like something out of a John Wayne movie.

Tansy risked a quick glance over her shoulder to make sure the mother and her children had safely gotten clear of the battle. Finding them safe, she turned back just in time to see Tatanka manifest into the real world at his full horrific size and charge the hazy humanoid form on the hill. Whatever the form was also saw this and turned. The weapon in his hand roared and the bison was cut down in a hail of machine gun bullets.

"Tatanka!" screamed Kayda in outrage and pain, doubling over as the bison faded away. Tansy remembered from the combat finals that Kayda felt the pain her buffalo felt, and she couldn't help but cringe sympathetically.

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June 12th, 2007
Cyberspace

"What is the delay of this image?" The Old Man asked.

"It's real time," The Guest replied. "I arranged to have a Predator drone from Arnold Air Force Base loitering in the area; this is the uplink from its feed."

"My word!" The Old Man exclaimed, watching the blast of magic that erupted from Kayda after her Buffalo spirit was banished in a hail of machine gun fire. "It was not my intention to lose an asset as valuable as Warhorse! Is he going to live through this?"

The Captain chuckled darkly as he steepled his fingers, his eyes intent on the screen. "Pierre is a tough son of a bitch," he said in an offhand manner. "I have no doubt The Professor's girls are good, but Warhorse is better. I'm not concerned."

The Guest got more comfortable in his seat and stroked the goatee that framed his lower chin. "It's a shame we don't have audio," he remarked as Tansy interposed herself between Kayda and her target of outrage. "I would love to know what Dague is saying here."

"I apologize for the technical difficulties," The Professor said evenly. "They are unavoidable considering the time frames involved. That being said, I have access to Dague's audio loop and I can tell you that she has turned Pejuta away from Warhorse and has her concentrating on healing the injured bystanders."

"Actually, after that combat final, I was in fact interested to see what Pejuta could do here as well." The Old Man tapped a bony index finger against his temple. "And the manifested animal Warhorse destroyed?"

"A spirit," The Professor told him. "Bound to Pejuta and manifested in the real world. Not permanently lost, as Dague pointed out to her." The committee watched in silence for several minutes, watching Warhorse attempt to withdraw only to be herded into a box canyon where he was cornered. His stealth field having failed, he put the massive machine gun down and warily raised both hands to the two girls that were approaching him.

"Unbelievable!" The Old Man exclaimed. "Three teenage girls have bested an operative of Warhorse's stature? You're not soft-balling me, are you Captain?"

The Captain only chuckled darkly. "Could Warhorse fight his way out of this?" he asked rhetorically. "Of course he could, but that would risk permanent harm to the Professor's protégé. I instructed him as this was only a test to put up a hard fight, but to surrender once things would have to get bloody. I trust that meets everyone's expectations?"

"Do give the Doctor my compliments on his creation," The Old Man remarked, but the Captain merely rolled his eyes.

"Don't inflate his ego any more than it already is," The Captain retorted.

The Guest leaned forward towards his screen with interest. "Let me see how they deal with the moral implication first…"

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June 12th, 2007
Wilderness, just west of Fort Bridger, Wyoming

Her arm outstretched, finger-pointing so that the muzzle of the particle emitter built into the glove tracked the big half-horse, half-man, Loophole descended like an Angel of Judgment wearing black and white latex . That beam had gotten close enough that immediately Warhorse raised a hand in surrender and lowered the big machine gun slowly to the ground. "You got me fair and square, Cheri, Ol' Warhorse come quietly."

"You're an Animan!" exclaimed Tansy.

"Yeah you right," the mercenary agreed in his decidedly thick Cajun accent.

"A what?" demanded Loophole without taking her eyes off the strange creature. Tansy walked up next to her friend.

"They're an artificial race created by Dr. DNA," the blonde supplied. "They took over this island in the Caribbean and made this really wild reality TV show." The silence hung heavy in the air for a long moment, until Tansy, exasperated, added, "Okay I went through a really intense horse phase when I was ten. Dad bought me the channel."

Warhorses muzzle split into a salacious grin. "Always nice meeting a fan…"

Tansy clicked the safeties off her force pistols. "Don't even think it!"

Loophole shook her head. "Ah don't know what was going on back there, or who you work for, but…"

"Tu es Mademoiselle Loophole, n'est-ce pas?"

Elaine took a wary half-step back in surprise. "Oui...," she stammered.

The grin on the strange creatures face went wider and more disturbing.

"Then I work for you Cheri!" The mercenary let the confusion settle in the young girls mind for a moment before he continued. "Oh, a big man write the check that I take to the bank, but this is all about you!"

The finger snapped up more rigid. "You have exactly 5 seconds to start making sense before Ah…"

The massive three fingered hands came up a bit higher. "Don't shoot, Cheri! Warhorse surrender already!" The creature tugged at a satchel he was wearing across his shoulder. "Look! Easy, and I show you."

The finger rose slightly. "Slowly take it off, and throw it over here." The creature nodded, and with exaggerated slowness remove the satchel and gently tossed it towards Tansy. Walcutt holstered her pistols and walked cautiously over to the satchel, kicking open its flap with a toe. Seeing there were only papers inside, she picked it up and removed them. Cautiously holding them up to where Elaine could see them, but not take her attention off Warhorse, Tansy asked,

"Does this mean anything to you?"

Even through the heavy latex and the macabre helmet Loopholes body language dripped shock and surprise. "That's mine! What are you doing with it?"

Tansy looked back at the documents, a series of technical diagrams meticulously drawn on graph paper with a series of handwritten notations in the margins in a pinched, precise handwriting. "What is it?" she demanded, confused.

"It's mah suggested alterations to NASA's Deep Star Ion drive! It's how Ah ended up at Whateley. Ah sent it to NASA, and they forwarded it to…"

"Monsieur Tyrone West," Warhorse finished. "That would be the big man with the check I mentioned."

Loophole whirled on the creature, her anger palatable. "Bullshit!" she snapped angrily. "Pegasus Aerospace is a prime NASA contractor! Why would…?"

"He hire me to steal them back?" the mercenary demanded with his crooked grin. "Perhaps Mademoiselle didn't notice the new addition to Pegasus sign? The one that says Pegasus Aerospace is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Goodkind International? You know why they do that? Because Helen Goodkind, the mutophobe, is so afraid of mutants getting good press helping humanity she bought the company just to suppress this. Monsieur West don't take kindly, so he hire Warhorse to go steal back the wonderful gifts Mademoiselle give him. That sums us up for those who came in late."

"You're lying!" Loophole challenged. The smile melted off Warhorses' face and his ears at the top of his head rotated backward.

"Pierre many things Mademoiselle, but never, ever, a liar,” he said low and dangerously. "Don't take my word for it. Bet you got Internet and everything else in that suit, eh? Call him up and ask for your own self."

Loophole and Tansy shared a glance. "Cover him," Elaine ordered. Tansy drew her pistols and waited. From the body language it was clear Elaine was speaking with someone, but her voice was muted and could not be heard outside the suit. Finally, after several tense minutes she walked over and picked up the satchel and returned the documents to it before handing it to the huge creature. "Did you hurt anyone?"

"I'm sure there's plenty of bumps and bruises to go around," the creature replied, taking the satchel from the young girl. "But nobody going to meet their maker because of the Warhorse. Things not so black and white out here in the real world, Cheri. Stick with your friend," he said with a toss of his head towards Tansy. "She's steer you straight."

"If those don't find their way to Mr. West, there's no place on this planet you can hide from me."

The horse man's split into his trademark grin. "Pierre stays bought, Mademoiselle. He do the job, he deliver the goods he gets paid. Everybody wins."

Elaine whispered, "Get out of mah sight before Ah change mah mind."

The soldier of Fortune retrieved his machine gun and set off at a loping trot that ate distance and in short order he was out of sight. Tansy walked over and placed a hand on Elaine’s shoulder. "I'm guessing Mr. West confirmed his story?" Elaine nodded staring off in to space. "Then you did the right thing," she told her earnestly.

"Ah just became complicit in a multi-felony robbery," she whispered.

Tansy reached over and hooked her finger under Elaine's chin forcing the girl to meet her gaze. "I didn't say you did what was legal," she said. "I said you did what was right. I'm beginning to learn that those two aren't always the same thing. Come on, I'm sure we have a mountain of paperwork to fill out and depositions to give."

Elaine shrugged morosely. "A couple of days' worth at least."

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June 15th, 2007
Headquarters, 17th Military Police Brigade, Fort Bridger, Wyoming

Elaine would come to regret her ready quip later on.

The MPs of Fort Bridger were not amused to say the least at the battle that had raged practically on their front doorstep. By the time Elaine and Tansy had returned to the scene of the automotive carnage, the MPs were present in force. Baby Girl was already being impounded and loaded onto a wrecker and a terrified looking Kayda was trying to answer questions from three different MPs all shouting at her.

When the MPs discovered that the mutants who had intervened were students, their lack of amusement had blossomed into a full-on dour disapproval. The girls were immediately detained, shuffled off to the base, and grilled off and on for three days. The soldiers and the DPA officials they summoned were remarkably immune to Elaine's arguments, as well as being un-swayed by Tansy's threats of expensive lawyers.

The regulations that they used to justify the multi-day detention were flimsy at best, and becoming more flimsy as the days went on. Tansy was beginning to wonder if she shouldn't lead the other girls in a violent breakout from the base when the door to her "guest quarters" that was only a step or two above a cell opened and she got her first surprise of the morning. Standing in the doorway was not the grim faced MP who had been her shadow taking her from quarters to chow hall to the MP building to be grilled all day and back.

Instead in the doorway, sly smile pulling at the corners of her lips, was an immaculately dressed Amelia Hartford. "Ms. Hartford!" Tansy exclaimed, surprised to say the least.

"Miss Walcutt," the Assistant Headmistress replied as she entered the room, closing the door behind her in the face of the MP that had opened it for her. "I see that your predilection for getting into trouble extends off campus as well as on."

Tansy stood and crossed her arms over her breasts. "Seeing as how I was being tested, I would submit this is a de facto campus annex."

Hartford's smile deepened. "Don't pick up any of Miss Nalley's bad habits," she advised. "And speaking of tests, congratulations - you passed. You made an excellent impression on some of the most powerful people on this planet."

The younger blonde rolled her eyes. "Oh goody! Does this mean I get the new set of steak knives? No! Wait, this is where you tell me the names of the members of the shadowy cabal I've somehow joined? Where I find out it's really Old Man Jenkins under the ghost outfit?"

Despite the sarcasm it was obvious Amelia was far too pleased with her protégé to allow the mood to be soured. "No," she replied evenly. "Jenkins is in the alien outfit, Smith is in the ghost outfit and as far as you are concerned outside of our conversations my dear, there is no shadowy cabal. I, and now you, are members of a select Committee; we exist inside The Syndicate, using and controlling it."

Tansy frowned, deeply in thought. "To what end?" She demanded, the question greatly pleasing Ms. Hartford.

"You'll learn more about that next year," Amelia assured Tansy. "In the meantime, you'll finish your road trip and return to the school where I expect you to be diligent in making up for lost time. I've arranged for Sensei Ito to give you some special instruction to catch you up. As you've seen, this position is not without its dangers and I want you able to defend yourself."

"Yes, ma'am," Tansy replied.

Hartford's eyebrow ascended her fore head. "No backtalk? No sarcasm?"

Tansy shrugged. “Needling you is sometimes good for getting more information, and it's certainly a good tool in the toolbox, but I can tell you've already said as much as you're going to, so there's no point." Hartford actually beamed in what seemed like genuine pleasure from the response.

"Miss Walcutt, you and I are going to do great things together. Now, get your things and come with me. How goes your infiltration into the graces of Miss Nalley?" Tansy blushed and shrugged as she turned away and quickly repacked the items that she'd been using while living out of her suitcase in the cell like 'guest quarters'.

"Fine, I guess. I mean, it's obvious I really misjudged her. She's a genuinely good person she deserves to have a better friend than a manipulative bitch like me."

Hartford was nonplussed. "The mere fact that you feel guilty over doing what has to be done tells me you're being a far better friend to Miss Nalley then you let on. Once you save the world you can pour out your heart and beg forgiveness or not as you please. Or, you can accept things for what they are and you can emulate my relationship with Mrs. Carson."

Tansy pulled the bag up on her shoulder and turned to face the older woman a hand on her hip. "And what about that should I emulate?" She demanded.

Amelia stepped forward until she was eye to eye with her protégé, her gaze intense and burning. "That any part of anything that I do that interfaces with Liz Carson advances her agenda, facilitates her win, or benefits her in whatever way I can make it benefit her. Because if Elaine Nalley is your yardstick of a 'good' person, then on that scale Liz Carson is a saint! So if you're feeling guilty, make sure Miss Nalley benefits in some way to assuage your conscience."

Tansy frowned, knowing there was at least one more very important question. "What about Kayda? Do you expect me to be friends with her, too? Because I can guarantee it'll be difficult to be friends with Lanie without involving her, too."

Amelia smiled broadly. "If you become friends with her, too, so be it. I know I don't have to warn you to not make an enemy of Miss Franks - not because of a threat to you, which I think you could easily handle, but because that would force Miss Nalley to make a choice, and that could irrevocably harm your relationship with her." She turned and raised her voice at the door. "Guard! We are ready to leave."

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June 15th, 2007
Interstate 80, just west of Rock Springs, Wyoming

Elaine and Kayda had been even more startled to discover the arrival of Ms. Hartford than Tansy had. Of course the administrator had on her stern, dour persona with none of the wry amusement she had shown her protégé. And she made certain that both girls knew how lucky they were that the school monitored a number of access points of information when the students were traveling to ensure they reached their proper destinations. Ms. Hartford's only comment on the incident with Warhorse was an icy command that the girls see to it they had no further adventures between where they were and where they were going.

After only an hour of wrangling with the motor pool sergeant, Baby Girl was brought forth, only slightly the worse for wear and mysteriously missing nearly a quarter of a tank of gas. The girls piled in and drove in silence for some time, each lost in their own thoughts. Finally, after a gas stop where the girls and the car were refreshed, as Elaine was accelerating back on the freeway, Tansy worked up the courage to ask, "So, what did Mr. West have to say?"

Elaine glanced over at her friend, her face unreadable. "To be honest, Ah'm still working through it. He didn't see anything at all wrong with hiring Warhorse to go in there and steal those plans back and shoot the place up as a message to the Goodkinds. The world might not be black-and-white, but Ah ain't ready to hear that it's as 50 shades of gray as he makes it out to be."

Tansy rolled a bit on her side, to more directly look at Lanie. "If you admit the world isn't black-and-white, what else can it be beside shades of gray? You wanted to help humanity by improving their design. Her burying it just for spite was wrong. So while taking it wasn't legal, it was the right thing to do."

Kayda leaned forward from the backseat to be more easily heard in the conversation going on up front. "You really believe that?" she demanded of Tansy.

The blonde shrugged and smiled a wry smile.

"If Lanie says she improved the design, then I'm sure it was. That's a plus for humanity. For Helen Goodkind to buy the contractor tasked with making it, just so she can break the contract and suppress it, that's wrong."

Kayda still was not convinced. "Yeah, but send in a mercenary to shoot the place up?"

Lanie shrugged her shoulders, her eyes locked on the road. "Sometimes you have to stand up to a bully," she replied softly. Looking up in the rear view mirror, Lanie saw that her friend was still hot to argue the point.

She was about to say something, when Tansy beat her to the point. "As I recall from history, didn't many Native American tribes do raids to 'send a message' to a potential foe? How is this any different?"

Kayda chewed on that a moment, trying to figure out how to rebut, when in fact part of her mind was telling her that Tansy was exactly right, that it was common to make sure an enemy got a message through a violent encounter. It helped keep things from escalating - most of the time. "But ... but that was a long time ago! We're better than that."

"Not everyone is," Lanie replied. "And those who aren't will bully and take advantage of those who are." She glanced in the mirror again, and decided she needed to cement the point that some people weren't so 'civilized' deep down inside. She said, "You haven't seen The Talk."

Kayda's nose scrunched up in confusion. "The Talk?"

"It's a one-day seminar," Tansy provided. "They give it in the fall to the sophomores. You came in too late this year to see it, so you'll probably have to take it this fall. It's called Paranormals: History and the Law. It's designed to scare the sophomores and make them realize just how deep the anti-mutant hate goes. The centerpiece is a TEDx Talk Helen Goodkind gave in 1998. It's on YouTube, so if you're interested look it up over the summer. Short form? The bitch talks about rounding us all up and putting us in camps."

Kayda rolled her eyes. "Well, speaking as someone who grew up spending time on a reservation that some of my relatives lived on…"

"Not a reservation!" Lanie interrupted sharply.

Tansy turned in the seat so that her blue eyes met Kayda's green ones. "Concentration camps, Kayda," she corrected softly. "No self-rule, no tribal police, no leaving. If you thought the reservations were bad, imagine what they could come up with using Auschwitz-Birkenau as the model? Just like the Nazi extermination camps. Helen Goodkind's 'Final Solution' to the mutant problem, as she sees it. If she had the opportunity, she'd kill Ayla with her own hand and believe to her dying day that she was doing what was right." Tansy shook her head sadly. "The only thing I'm sorry for? Is that the bitch wasn't there to get shot herself."

"So, what are you saying?" Kayda asked, looking back and forth at the two older girls. "Everyone just does what's right in their own eyes?"

Tansy shrugged again. "Isn't that what superheroes already do?" she asked philosophically. Kayda had no answer, and so a silence fell on the girls as the miles slipped away.

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Friday, June 15, 2007 - Late Afternoon
Sioux Falls, SD

"I know it's only four, and you could drive for another four or five hours," Kayda protested strongly, "but after ...," She hesitated, wincing at the memories of the little misadventure. Or big misadventure, if Debra's view of the situation was to be believed.

'Baby Girl', sat inside a large, empty warehouse, with Elaine - Lanie - leaning against the front fender in a carefree posture, wearing shorts and a buttoned shirt that was mostly open and tied beneath her large bosom, exposing a light blue tank-top underneath it. It was a 'car porn' poster-girl pose, and it could have graced any month of a mechanic's calendar showcasing hot cars and hot girls.

Tansy Walcutt, just as casually dressed but somehow looking more like a runway model than anyone else in the room, even in such attire, stood a bit aloof, while Kayda stood beside her girlfriend Debra Matson, their arms around each other's waists affectionately and possessively. The warehouse was the property of the Sioux Falls League group of superheroes, one of the entrances to their secret underground headquarters and occasionally a storage space for equipment.

"We've got a long drive to Atlanta," Lanie countered, "and Ah'd rather get on the road. Besides, Tansy has to fly from Atlanta back to Whateley for summer classes," she added.

"Which don't start for a week, so you have plenty of time," Debra rebutted. She was a stunning beauty, with long, silky, blonde tresses that were the epitome of sexy, wavy hair, and gorgeous cornflower-blue eyes set in a face that was somehow both gorgeous and approachably-friendly at the same time. "Kayda's mom is coming down later this evening to spend a little time with us before Kayda jets off to Louisiana to meet up with Addy and Headrush, so we can have a pleasant 'ladies night' tonight." She smiled warmly at the two girls. "Besides, you haven't met Vanity Girl, Wish List, or Card Trick yet."

Tansy stiffened a bit; she had met Wish List and Card Trick the year before when all were at Whateley, and she held no doubts about how they were going to react to her.

"Come on, stay," Kayda pleaded. "I know you're a bit tired, and a nice home-cooked meal…"

"We're going out tonight," Debra interrupted me. "Your mom wants Japanese again tonight." She smiled. "Your mom really is developing a taste for sukiyaki and sushi."

"Hmmph!" Franks snorted. "Figures she'd do that - after I left for boarding school!" Her feigned fit elicited giggles from Lanie and a wry smile from Tansy.

"No, really," Lanie protested, "we should get on the road."

"Lanie," Debra dropped her arm from Kayda's waist and slipped out of her embrace, "you've been driving for hours ...."

"Kayda and Tansy took turns," Lanie protested.

"Let's take a walk so you can stretch." She took Lanie's arm and the two strolled across the warehouse, away from Tansy and Kayda. Both girls could see that Debra was talking to Lanie, but they were too far away, and the noise of the fans in the warehouse made it impossible to hear their private conversation.

"I wonder what that's about," Tansy commented with a slight smirk.

Kayda shrugged. "I don't know."

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"Okay, what's this about?" Elaine asked once she and Deb were far enough away from Tansy and Kayda to not be overheard.

Deb was cross. "You don't know?" she demanded. "You're four days late and Kayda is clingy. And Kayda only gets clingy when she's feeling guilty about something. So were you attacked by another lust demon that it took you four extra days to get here from Utah?"

Elaine crossed her arms over her breasts. "Well, that didn't take long! Jesus Christ, Deb, you weren't this insecure last year!"

"Last year you weren't banging my girlfriend!" Debbie shot back. "Or are you claiming to have thawed the ice queen of denial herself and you've got Tansy Walcutt buttering your biscuit for you?!"

Elaine couldn't help looking over at Tansy where she stood with Kayda, looking at them. Tansy was in the process of smoothing an errant lock of hair behind her ear and seeing that Elaine was looking at her smiled a shy, friendly smile. It's set in motion in her mind thoughts she had never thought of before; thoughts of how pretty a girl Tansy was how much she had been enjoying the trip with her new friends. "Me?" she demanded of Debbie. "And Tansy? Really?"

Debbie became more angry. "Don't toy with my emotions, Nalley!" She ordered. "Did you and Kayda…?"

"No," Elaine declared forcefully. "Not that it's any of your business, but the last time Ah had sex was over a week ago with mah fiancée!"

Cornflower's eyes searched Elaine's face for any sign or telltale that she was lying. Seeing only the truth written on her friend's face, Debbie sighed and shook her head in embarrassment. "I'm sorry Lanie," she admitted softly. "It's just… Kayda is all I have. When you didn't call…"

Elaine sighed and rubbed the other girl shoulders. "Ah'm sorry Deb, we should've called when we stopped the first night in Salt Lake City. And then the thing with Warhorse happened and we've been practically in jail for the last three days! We never meant to make you worry…"

"Water under the bridge," Debbie replied with a forced smile. "Now, now you have to stay so I can make it up to you."

Lanie rolled her eyes. "Debbie…"

"Oh come on, Lanie!" the blonde begged. "We'll have a great dinner, and it will be like a slumber party! Please!" Lanie couldn't contain a smile and shook her head in resignation.

"Oh, all right."

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June 15th, 2007
Sioux Falls League HQ, Sioux Falls SD

Tansy leaned against the corner of the wall, concealed in the shadow, as she watched Elaine enter Kayda's room. As the minutes slipped past, it became more and more obvious that Elaine would not be coming out, possibly until morning. This realization turned her emotions into a jumbled knot in her breast. The fierce redhead had entered the rotation of girls that paraded through Tansy's dreams, much to her shame, since January when Elaine had backed her into a corner, in the Crystal Hall in front of everyone, her rage radiating off her.

Tansy liked being in charge, she loved the thrill of power and control. It had been one of the few things that she had enjoyed in making puppets of the boys she had slept with. But since that day in January, that day of being challenged and stood up to, and the dreams that followed that night, Tansy found that there was a side of her that thrilled at being controlled, submitting to the will of another. It wouldn't replace the joy of being in control, but being in a place where she could relax and let down her guard with someone she trusted - that was a rare pearl indeed.

A single tear escaped her eye and slid down her cheek, to be wiped furiously away adding to the confusion that already gripped her mind. "You won't find satisfaction out here watching," a sweet tenor whispered in her ear to go along with the hand laid casually on her shoulder. Tansy looked up into the stranger's long, nose dominated face. He was obviously strong, but lithe and gangly in the mold of a distance runner. He had a wide mouth with full lips and deep chocolate eyes under a wild mop of russet hair. Tansy had never seen him before, but knew instantly he was the human form of the spirit that rode her. He looked rather like a cartoon minstrel come to life, and was dressed to match in a simple peasant shirt and wrap pants.

"You can manifest into the real world?" she asked, amazed.

The spirit smiled and winked at her.

"Yes, but that's not what we're doing now," he replied blithely. He nodded behind Tansy and she turned to see herself leaning against the corner of the wall gazing at the door. "Go knock on the door," he encouraged her. "Aren't you supposed to be getting close to them? How much closer can you get than in their bed?"

Tansy's body and her shade shivered at the suggestion. "That's not who I am!" she protested vehemently, turning to stare fiercely up in the long face of her spirit.

For his part, Mustang crossed his arms over his chest and cocked his head to one side.

"What are you so angry about?" he demanded. "Even the greatest stallion cannot see to every mare of his herd every night. It's only natural the mares see to each other. It reinforces the bonds of the herd."

"I am not gay!" Tansy shouted at the spirit.

Mustang snorted and rolled his eyes in disgust. "Now who's lying to whom?" he demanded. "Of course you're not gay, you're not a stallion."

Tansy's face contorted. "What kind of misogynistic bullish it is that?" she hissed. "Are you actually claiming that under every lesbian is a panting little whore who just hasn't found the right Dick yet? You think Kayda, who was gang raped, is just cruising around looking for a real man?"

Mustang smiled a salacious grin. "The Ptesanwi isn't my concern, you are. I'm merely saying that presented with the right man and the right manhood, any mare will lift her tail. I'm also saying there's nothing wrong with two herd sisters showing affection for each other. Do you think I don't see what you imagine when you touch yourself in the night? When you remember her stallion having his way with you, isn't she there? Isn't she always there?"

Walcutt blushed fiercely right up to the roots of her blonde hair as the spirit's barb found its mark, cutting her to the quick. Of late, she had been remembering the last time she and Wyatt had made love. She'd been tired, too tired to try yet again to exert her power on him, and so she had merely submitted, waiting for him to finish so she could get some sleep. And looking back on it now, she realized that in the waiting, and giving him the access he wanted, without the mental exertion of trying to dominate him, the feeling of him being inside her was actually becoming pleasant.

And in the fantasy as she relived it, as a pleasure began to consume her, Elaine was always suddenly there.

Tansy's blush deepened and she turned away from the spirit as the memory of the pornographic fantasy played out in her mind. "It's nothing to be ashamed of," the spirit whispered in her ear. "Besides, if you did not love your herd sister, would it be so easy to nurse her foal when it is hungry and its mother is not at hand? Your foal, her foal, what does it matter? Are they not both children of the same stud?"

"You told me you could help me be comfortable in my own skin!" Tansy accused bitterly. "You told me you could make me just like Lanie!"

"I am," the stallion protested. "The Pict Daughter understands that all women are bisexual to some point, but only a stallion can give her the children she wants. And in this understanding she is at peace with herself. And when you achieve this understanding, as I teach it to you, you will also find this peace. "

Tansy whirled her eyes wide with shock and outrage. "You're trying to make me bisexual?!"

Mustang shook his head, the smile never leaving his face. "No, you're already bisexual. I'm just trying to make you realize it."

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June 16th, 2007
Sioux Falls League HQ, Sioux Falls SD

It was a beautiful morning as Tansy stepped out the door of the warehouse that disguised the entrance to the headquarters of the Sioux Falls League. It was warm enough to be comfortable, but still cool enough that the cup of coffee she took with her was welcome. In a move that had surprised her almost as much as it had those who saw it, Tansy had offered to help Mrs. Franks with the morning dishes, but was told that as a guest, her help was not required.

And so Tansy was outside, enjoying the quiet, the sunrise, and a surprisingly good cup of coffee. Though outwardly she appeared calm, her mind was a jumble of thoughts and confusion. Conflicting emotions about the previous night, conflicting emotions about having fallen asleep in her dream space in the comfortable arms of Mustang's human form. While others might have pled innocence of the bonding with host and spirit, Tansy was brutally honest with herself; there was quite a bit sexual about the comfort her spirit had given her and she had no doubts in her mind that if she offered her spiritual body to the spirit that Mustang would only be too happy to service her need.

A part of her wondered if Lanie or Kayda were so intimate with their spirits.

As usually seemes to be the case, such peaceful quiet moments were seldom allowed to last very long. Another door from the warehouse opened with a bang and Kayda's younger brother Danny came storming out. It was obvious from the young man's body language that he was enraged, embarrassed, and humiliated, but being a psychic only made it worse as Tansy experienced some of the emotions boiling off the young man.

Hard on his heels was the source of his bitter emotions, a laughing Gina 'Wish List' Martin who was chasing after him. Doubtless, she would call the taunts she yelled at the younger boy teasing, but Tansy knew what it was like to be on the receiving end of that kind of teasing and her own temper as well as the temper of the spirit that rode her flashed up behind her eyes. In a shout given volume and weight by Mustang, Tansy shouted, "Gina! Leave him alone!"

Both figures stopped instantly, as Tansy's voice rang out like a gunshot in the warehouse office park where the building stood. No longer the focus of Gina's attention, Danny's fur slowly melted back into his skin revealing it still to be ruddy from his embarrassment. The smile of amusement faded from Gina's face as she cocked out her hip and rested her fist on it. "What's it to you, Walcutt?" she demanded. "You think just because you're Freya's lickspittle that gives you special privilege out here?"

Tansy smiled a sarcastic smile. "Well, I'm a senior, and Freya graduated last year. What's your excuse for still living in high school?"

Gina's face flushed scarlet with embarrassment and rage. "How dare you?" she hissed.

Walcutt's eyes narrowed and she set the cup of coffee down on the electrical junction box she was standing next to. "I don't like bullies," she replied coldly. "That's how I dare."

The word penetrated Gina's anger and she looked back and forth from Tansy to Danny. "I'm not… I wasn't… I was just teasing!" she stuttered.

"I'm guessing because Danny was walking away, and you were chasing him, he didn't find your teasing very funny."

Gina looked back and forth again before an angry grimace settled on her face. "Oh, I get it. This is where we see the new," and she held her fingers up in air quotes, "Tansy is such a hero, right? Well, you may have them fooled, but I know you for the bitch you are!"

Tansy took a step forward, her face set. "I don't give a fuck what you think of me, but you will leave him alone!"

"You don't give a fuck?" demanded a shocked Gina. "Since when? Giving fucks is what you do best!" Martin spun on her heel and stormed back into the warehouse slamming the door as she did so. Walcutt watched her go in and once she was satisfied Gina was not returning, went back to her coffee cup and picked it up. Danny hesitantly walked over with a strange expression on his face.

"Thank… Thank you, Miss Walcutt," the young man said with some obvious difficulty due to his embarrassment.

A smile pulled up the corners of Tansy's lips and she looked over the young man before her. His clothing was too big for him, but not in a hand-me-down kind of way; they were too new. It was as if they had fit him at one point and he had undergone some kind of reverse growth spurt and become smaller. He didn't appear sickly at all, in fact his muscles were quite well-defined but in the sleek, svelte manner of a male dancer or gymnast. Tansy wasn't sure what kind of man, if any, she liked, and while she was certain that Danny Franks was not it, there was a certain nebulous attractiveness to the young man she couldn't put her finger on. "Think nothing of it, Mr. Franks," she said with an ironic smile.

Danny blushed again and his eyes fell to his toes. "Oh, I… I wouldn't dream of being familiar to a lovely lady like you." His attempt at being debonair was spoiled by his inability to make eye contact and a slight stutter in his embarrassed voice, but Tansy couldn't help but smile at the young man's timidity in trying. It was quite endearing.

"Well," Tansy replied. "I was mercilessly 'teased' by Heather and Connie Goodkind when I was younger, so I know what it's like." She casually laid a hand on his shoulder and pretended that she didn't notice his blush deepen at the contact. "Though I imagine it's harder for you, being a well-brought-up young man having girls tease you."

He looked up and Tansy knew the expression on his face very well. It was the expression men got on their faces after she implanted feelings of intense infatuation in their minds to manipulate them. Not that she had done so to Danny, she had in fact not manipulated him at all; except for being a very attractive young woman and taking a sympathetic interest in him. "It smarts a little not being able to fight back, but I've had worse."

The door next to them opened, revealing Kayda, a somewhat forlorn look on her face. "Tansy, Lanie is getting ready to leave."

"Can't miss my ride!" Tansy said as she gulped down the last of the coffee. Turning back to Danny she favored the young man with a brilliant smile. "Oh, and Mr. Franks, my name is Tansy to you."

Danny could only stare after the blonde goddess, his mouth agape and his mind spinning furiously with new fantasies he would never, ever admit to.

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June 16th, 2007
Interstate 29, south of Omaha Nebraska

Tansy had expected the drive to be filled with Ansel Adams like magnificent vistas of mountains and trees, unspoiled wilderness and pristine magnificent cityscapes. Nebraska, as near as she could tell, was simply one gigantic wheat field. It was becoming apparent to Tansy very quickly why this was referred to as "flyover country." A pedestrian, if filling, lunch behind them in Omaha, the drone of Baby Girls V8, the hum of her tires over the asphalt, and the seemingly endless wheat field, so poetically referred to as amber waves of grain, was becoming too much for her.

She turned in to look across the cabin at the redhead she was sharing the car with. Elaine was slouched in the seat, a gray tank top emblazoned with the Ford logo impressively stretched out from her chest. Her jeans were well-worn, obviously from use in wearing and not from becoming "distressed" at the factory. Her hair was back in a ponytail and she was tapping her nails against the steering wheel as she held it, beating out the rhythm of a song Tansy almost recognized.

Tansy compared the reality of the girl across the transmission hump from her with the wanton fantasy of her dreams. There was something to be said for giving in completely to one's passion, but surprisingly Tansy was finding she preferred the reality of the gearhead slouched in the seat over the leather and silk clad apparition her mind conjured up. She desperately wanted to know if what Mustang had told her was true, if Lanie's acceptance of her bisexuality was the key to her confidence and composure now. After a few miles, her unnaturally green eyes came from the road to regard Tansy for a moment, in a smirk pulled at the corner of her mouth. "Penny?"

Walcutt blinked in confusion. "Sorry?"

"Penny for your thoughts," Lanie elaborated. "Y'all been staring for a couple miles."

Tansy actually felt her cheeks warm in a blush and she directed her gaze back out through the front windshield. "Just wondering about some stuff my spirit told me," she replied. "Lanie, can I ask a question? I mean, a really personal question?"

Elaine shrugged philosophically. "It depends on the question Ah suppose." She said after a moment. "You can ask, and Ah can guarantee Ah won't be offended by the asking, but Ah reserve the right not to respond."

"That's fair," Tansy agreed. "I'm sorry, I know this is absolutely none of my business, but you have had a spirit longer than I have, and I'm trying to wrap my head around all of the … nuances." The blonde sighed and shook her head as she massaged her temple. "There's just not a polite way to phrase this, so I'm just going to come out and ask."

"Okay."

Tansy bit her lip, then finally screwed her courage to the sticking place. "When… When you're in your dream space … And …, Maybe, maybe it's …." Tansy nearly jumped when she felt Elaine's hand on her knee. Looking over she found the other girl smiling at her and felt her rub her knee in encouragement.

"Just take a deep breath and let it out," Lanie assured her. "Ah promise Ah won't get mad."

After forcing a smile she didn't feel, Tansy nodded, took a deep breath, and asked, "You admit that you're bisexual. And I presume that means you have desires sometimes for men, and sometimes for women. Based on how you reacted in Salt Lake City, it's obvious being faithful to Wyatt is important to you. So, when you do … desire … a woman, do you go into your dream space and … with Grizzly?"

Lanie licked her lips and nodded her head a few times, removing her hand from Tansy's knee and returning it to the steering wheel. "Well, Ah do see why you were so reluctant to ask. Normally, Ah wouldn't answer a question like that because, yes, it's mighty personal, but Ah know you're coming to grips with a lot so …."

She drove for several minutes having trailed off in silence, until finally Tansy felt the need to say, "I'm sorry for putting you on the spot."

Again, Lanie nodded and then shook her head. "Ah know you're asking out of a genuine need. The answer is, no Ah don't. Grizzly is somewhere between mother and aunt to me. While Ah feel like I could ask her anything, even stuff like this, Ah also know that her love for me isn't in any way sexual. It's very nurturing, and comforting, but it's a completely separate feeling than lust."

Tansy looked at her nails, unable to look her friend in the eye. "I'm sorry…"

Lanie laughed an awkward but also genuine kind of laugh. "Don't be!" she said forcefully. "You needed to know, and now you do." Walcutt smiled and took her phone out of her purse and began manipulating it. "What's up?"

"I'm making it up to you," Tansy assured her. "We're stopping at the Four Seasons Hotel in St. Louis," she said brandishing the phone. "We have reservations!"

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June 16th, 2007
Four Seasons Hotel, St. Louis Missouri

Elaine sighed as she eased into the hot tub, loving the feeling of the hot water further relaxing the muscles that the spa masseuse had already massaged into compliance. While they had only driven eight hours from having left Kayda and Sioux Falls, Tansy had insisted in stopping in St. Louis, and paid for the two of them to undergo the full spa treatment at the Four Seasons. In fact Lanie felt wonderfully relaxed and was not in the least put out because of the stop. She settled into the molded seats in the Jacuzzi and let the jets bombard her muscles and she sighed in contentment. "Ah could get used to this," she called out to Tansy who was still in the main portion of the suite they were sharing.

"What are friends for?" Tansy replied, her comment punctuated by a loud pop. The blonde giggled and lifted her voice in a very pleasant contralto, "She keeps Moët et Chandon in her pretty cabinet!”

Lanie returned the giggle and called back, "'Let them eat cake, ' she says just like Marie Antoinette!” Tansy walked into the room with the familiar deep emerald bottle that she was pouring into a pair of flutes as she came.

She was nude, and she didn't seem to care.

She put the bottle in a sculpted electric cooler made for it and set into the side of the Jacuzzi, and then she presented Elaine with the other flute as she sat and dipped her feet into the hot tub and took a sip. "Brothers! I've tasted the stars! Thank you brother Perignon for your diligent contributions to winery." Tansy looked down from where she was sitting on the edge of the tub to see Elaine blushing and looking away.

She also noticed the redhead was wearing her bathing suit. "Oh," Tansy muttered softly. "I'm sorry, I thought, I mean the last time - your memory and Kayda's." Tansy sighed and mastered herself. "I accidentally read Kayda's mind, and she remembered the last time you two were in the hot tub and everybody .…"

"Was naked," Elaine finished. "The lesbian and bisexual hot tub social, it's a bi-yearly meat market, but Ah don't mind." Elaine set her flute down, stood, shucked off her bathing suit, wrung it out, laid it over the side of the tub, and sat back down. She couldn't help but notice that either Tansy was obsessive, or was in fact a natural blonde.

The carefree, playful manner with which Tansy had entered the room with was visibly muted as she slid into the tub and took the other seat opposite Elaine. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you feel like you .... I wasn't trying to put you on the spot."

Elaine smiled and shook her head.

"You're trying to fit in and make me feel comfortable. Ah appreciate that. Speaking of feeling comfortable, how are you liking Mustang? How does it feel having a spirit?"

Tansy's face lit up with a truly beautiful smile and some of her carefree nature returned.

"Interesting," she declared. "And a little frustrating." She squirmed a bit of the seat and rolled her eyes. "I don't have a lot of experience in dealing with being horny!"

"Mmmm," Lanie muttered around a sip of her champagne. "The boys claim cold showers help, but that never worked for me."

"What does?" the blonde asked pointedly.

Elaine smiled a somewhat bashful smile and shook her head.

"Well, sex of course," and she shared a giggle with Tansy over the joke. "Sometimes you just have to take care of things yourself," she admitted frankly. "If you're hard up, I have some toys I wouldn't mind sharing .…"

The expression on Tansy's face was confused. "Toys?"

Lanie couldn't help but chuckle and shook her head in amazement. "Adult toys," she amended with heavily implied meaning.

The confusion was replaced with shock. "You mean … plastic … male .…"

"The word you're groping for is dildo," the redhead supplied. "And yes, that's exactly what Ah mean. And a vibrator. You know Tansy, it surprises me that someone with your … reputation … is so, Ah don't know if innocent is the right word, it but certainly fits."

Tansy took a sip of her champagne and was obviously somewhat glum. "That's me, the virginal slut."

"Ah didn't mean…!" Lanie quickly said.

The blonde waved off her protest with a soft gesture.

"Don't worry about it, Lanie," Walcutt replied morosely. "I've been called worse and deserved it. I have no idea why you put up with me, but I am grateful."

Elaine stood, refilled her own glass, and then Tansy's, before she crossed over and sat down next to the blonde to put a companionable arm around her shoulder.

"Ah thought we understood that that was water under the bridge," she told the older girl while lightly touching her flute to Tansy's. "You're making amends, and what kind of person would Ah be if I didn't help you?"

For a long moment Tansy looked away and the little trembles of her muscles under Elaine's arm made her think that perhaps she was crying. Immediately feeling contrite, Elaine set her glass down and went to hug the other girl to console her just as Tansy turned back and suddenly the two girls were locked in a passionate embrace, tongues dancing in the searing kiss that took both their breath away. After a timeless eternity Tansy lips withdrew and Elaine opened her eyes to find her friend's icy blue eyes had thawed and filled her vision. "I…" Tansy panted. "Can … we ...?"

Elaine licked her lips, tasting champagne and Tansy's lipstick. A shudder passed through her as her mind filled in the image of fantasies with the blonde in stark, photorealistic detail; she realized that her hands were full of Tansy's pert, full ass. She forced her hands open and slid them to a more neutral location of the blonde hips. "Tansy …," she whispered, "Ah … Ah can't .…"

Tansy withdrew slightly, biting her lip in a contrite expression. "Wyatt?" she whispered.

"It's not that Ah don't want to!" Lanie added quickly. "Oh Lord, do Ah want to!"

The blonde propped elbows on the side of the tub and leaned in so the girl's noses were touching, a salacious smile on her face. "Where is he?" she asked, her tone dripping innuendo. "Alaska? I'll buy him a plane ticket! If you don't mind sharing, I can have him here in eight hours.”

Lanie shuddered again as her fantasies changed gears from naughty to pornographic. "You," she panted, "are an evil, evil bitch for tempting me like this!”

Tansy's chuckle was straight out of evil overlord laughter class. "You say the sweetest things!" she whispered as she leaned in and kissed Elaine again. Tansy felt Elaine's hands come up her torso and for a split second cupped her breasts. The feeling ignited a firestorm of emotion in the blonde that she never felt before. Despite all the sex she'd had in her life, Tansy felt actually virginal, and was consumed for the first time in her life with the desire to please her partner; to truly make love for the first time.

However Elaine's hands didn't linger on her breasts, but instead traveled up and took her by the shoulders, gently, but firmly pushing her back. The kiss broke and both girls sighed at the intensity of it. "God, give me strength to do what's right," Elaine whispered.

"Lanie?" Tansy asked, feeling more vulnerable than she ever had in her entire life.

The green eyes opened and they were full of tears. "Tansy, first and foremost Ah want you to know that if Ah was single there would be no question about how this night would end."

"I'm sorry …," she started and began to pull away, but Elaine's grip was strong Tansy allowed her to pull her into a hug of surprisingly soothing gentleness.

"You have nothing to be sorry for," Lanie whispered in the blonde's ear. "But, if Ah take advantage of you, then Ah have something to be sorry for. Do Ah mind sharing? That's a horse of a different color! Practically getting to have mah cake and eat it too! But Ah know for that to work is going to take a lot of work, a lot of conversation, and isn't something we should do with our blood up in the heat of the moment."

Tansy sat up and nodded, wiping away tears as she sat in Elaine's lap. The redhead reached up and wiped and errant tear from her cheek. "Ah don't mean to hurt you…"

Walcutt forced a smile and touched the other girl's nose with the tip of her finger. "You haven't hurt me," she assured Lanie. "You're going out of your way not to. Besides, we don't even know I like girls, do we?" She shrugged and took a sip of her champagne. "It could be the booze, or just Hercules syndrome, or the fact that this spirit has me so god damned horny …!"

Elaine licked her lips and cautiously said, "Well, if you need an answer to that question, that could be arranged."

"How so?" asked Tansy with a frown.

Lanie made a gesture, which caused her to stand so the redhead could get up. She stood, dried her hands and dug into her purse which was nearby and pulled out her cell phone.

"We're in St. Louis," she declared mysteriously. "If you want, Ah can set you up so you could have a little fling with a girl who Ah know is hot for you?"

Tansy gulped uneasily. On the one hand, Lanie seemed to be almost recklessly rushing her into new adventures - perhaps so Tansy didn't have time to second-guess herself or chicken out, and she had been getting more and more curious. On the other hand, all those years of indoctrination by her parents and the preacher .... Still, she couldn't help but tremble with excitement at the memory she'd inadvertently gotten from Kayda once when she touched the dusky-skinned girl's arm - an intense, overwhelming, unbridled sense of raw, primal passion and pure physical pleasure that she'd shared with Lanie. It had been such an unexpected and powerful sensation that Tansy nearly recoiled from the touch. Instead of frightening her, it only heightened her sense of curiosity. She trembled involuntarily at the still-strong memories. And as for just now, she could barely control herself.

Gritting her teeth as she steeled herself, Tansy nodded. "Maybe."

"Are you sure?"

"No. But ... if you can make it happen ...." Tansy definitely sounded uncertain. "Before I change my mind."

Lanie nodded and pushed some buttons on her phone then put the device to her ear. "Hello? It's me, Lanie."

"Nah, Ah'm just taking a little road trip to get home the long way."

"Nah. Say, listen, do you remember what ... and who ... you were talking about at the hot tub party a year and a half ago?"

"Ah've got a good memory, that’s how," Lanie laughed into the phone. Hearing only one side of a cryptic conversation was starting to get maddening to Tansy, as she suspected but wasn't certain what Lanie was talking about.

"No. The reason Ah'm asking is really two-fold. One, do you still feel that way, and two, if so, do you want to do anything about it?"

"Tonight. Ah'm actually in St. Louis, and so is she.

"Okay, Ah'm not trying to tease you, but maybe ...." Lanie glanced at Tansy, smiling. "Don't get out your leather bustier and body oils yet, but Ah'll call you back and let you know." She hung up the phone.

As Lanie slid her phone back into her purse, Tansy glanced her way, looking more than a little consternated. "What was that all about - as if I have to ask?"

"You remember Marla Fontaine? Going to be a senior next fall?"

A frown creased Tansy's brow as she refilled the glasses of champagne. "Yeah. Wizard. Tall and brunette. Extra curvy. Wears her hair very long and dresses rather ... provocatively. Why?"

"She's kind of ... adventurous," Lanie replied a little hesitantly; though her trust in the blonde had grown considerably and she had no issues discussing her own sexuality, she was still reluctant to say anything about anyone else's.

"And?"

"And, well, she once said she thought you were hot and wanted to spend some, ahem, personal time getting to know you better."

Tansy's face flashed crimson as all the memories of what people had done to her came rushing back. "You're not thinking of whoring me out, are you?" she spat angrily.

"Whoa," Lanie objected, holding her hands up in a semi-defensive, semi-surrender position. "Not at all. It's all your decision." She shrugged, smiling. "You were the one who said you were curious; Ah just arranged a way to ... scratch that itch, so to speak."

"And it's my decision?" Tansy asked hesitantly.

"Entirely. Up to the last moment, you can back out."

Tansy sat silently for a few moments, contemplating, her new spirit with its enhanced sexuality stirring her curiosity. "Say I do say yes. What ...?"

"If you want to, then Ah'll call back to set up a ... date. Ah don't think she is very far away. "

Tansy sat quietly, absorbed in thought, so Lanie sat back and rested. She didn't know what the blonde exemplar was going to do, but she had an opportunity, and it didn't involve Lanie doing anything that would interfere with her relationship with Wyatt. Or, she added in an afterthought, in her 'special' friendship with Kayda.

That thought jarred her - was Tansy becoming a better friend than her Lakota companion? Lanie knew that Kayda had worried a lot about that very thing, and now, Lanie realized she wasn't sure. Spending time with Tansy was fun, she had to admit, much more so than she'd have ever thought. But ... Kayda was still special. On the other hand, Lanie couldn't deny that Tansy was very attractive, and seemed to be getting sexier by the day as she adjusted to her new spirit and the heightened sense of sexuality it brought to her. It had taken everything she'd had to interrupt the blonde's seduction of her. The last thing she wanted to do was betray Wyatt again .…

Don't kid yourself, Grizzly whispered in her ear. Wyatt is a fine young man, but if you ask him if he'd like to be put to stud servicing you and the Princess over there, we both know what his answer is going to be. Her mental voice snorted in wry amusement. Can you blame him?

Elaine looked at the beautiful blonde across the hot tub from her and felt another thrill ran up and down her spine. No, she admitted mentally to her spirit. No, Ah can't.

Think long and hard about what you're considering, the spirit warned her. It's all well and good to consider fantasy for a night. Now think about how things will be in ten years when you wonder who is more important to your shared husband? You, and your kids, or her and her kids?

You don't believe love conquers all? Elaine thought at her spirit.

The bear snorted in disgust. I believe envy, wrath and lust are deadly sins for a reason, she answered cryptically.

"Could you?" Tansy's voice brought Elaine back to the reality of sitting in the hot tub in a hotel room in St. Louis.

The redhead looked up, confusion on her face.

"Could Ah what?" She asked.

Tansy looked back into Elaine's face from where ever her thoughts had taken her. "If you were unattached, in my position, could you just go have sex with someone you just met? Seems like that's all I've done my whole life, meaningless sex with people that I didn't care about. I don't see how doing more of that would help me understand myself, so I ask you if you could?"

Elaine sighed and shook her head. "When you put it that way, no Ah couldn't. Ah'm sorry for bringing it up, Ah thought it might help."

Tansy forced a smile.

"You're trying to help. But, my apologies to Marla, I think I'll pass. I … I have feelings for you. And, believe it or not, I kind of have feelings for Kayda, not as strong, but more than a friend. So, I think I've had too much sex for a while and not any making love. That's where I need to put my focus. I hope you won't hold this against me."

Lanie stood and carefully walked over to the other girl. Tansy's eyes get as big as saucers as the redhead gathered her into a hug and squeezed gently. "Not at all," she assured the other girl. "Believe it or not, Ah think Kayda is developing some ... more than friend ... feelings toward you, too. Ah'm sure that if she and Ah weren't in relationships, we'd probably both invite you into a little troika relationship. Ah hope you don't feel like we're teasin' you. We both do want to help."

Walcutt smiled and leaned forward to lightly kiss the girl once more. "Thank you, Lanie," she whispered. "I think I'll head to bed."

"Ah'll be along," Lanie assured her. "Just have to dry off." Tansy smiled and walked out, drying herself with a towel she went. The redhead watched her leave, a final shudder running up and down her spine. "Oh," she whispered. "Ah'm going to go to the special hell."

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June 17th, 2007
Dream Space of Elaine Ethel Nalley

Tansy lay in a dream.

Physically, she was on the bow of Lanie's little sailboat Picket's Revenge, which bobbed at anchor. It was a perfect early summer day, just warm enough, just a cool enough breeze, and they had the lake to themselves, so of course it could be nothing but a dream. The young woman couldn't help but marvel at how perfect the Mindscape was. She could and had created Mindscapes in the past as part of her training in her powers, and she admitted to herself, as part of her misusing those powers. But this dream space Kayda, Lanie and Grizzly had introduced her to was absolutely remarkable in its perfection.

She knew that her physical body was in a bed she was currently sharing with Elaine, the two girls having fallen asleep in each other's arms. Elaine's bedroom had been practically a window into who she was. Half the space was the domain of a tomboy's tomboy - car posters, spacecraft, tools and car parts; the other half would not have been a bit out of place in Tansy's own room. There were stuffed animals, unicorns and Pegasus posters, along with a vanity that was well stocked with the latest cosmetics.

Tansy found it charming.

When they had arrived, Elaine's mother insisted that Tansy stay for several days to have a proper vacation and a sample of Southern hospitality. While Mrs. Nalley had been faultlessly polite, it was quite clear she was a southern matriarch, and she was going to be obeyed one way or the other. Tansy had graciously accepted the offer.

So after Tansy had called her broker to arrange the airline tickets for Wyatt, she and Elaine had gone sailing on the little boat that was Elaine's pride and joy. Tansy was no stranger to yachting. Her father owned an International America's Cup Class twenty-five meter yacht that had competed in the race the last three years, and having finally won the race last year, she was certain that victory had made her father insufferable at the yacht club.

But the Tansy IV as the racer was named, had been custom-built for that race, and comfort had not been a priority to the designer. Picket's Revenge, on the other hand, was a leisure craft built for cruising, and while it was obvious Elaine took pride in squeezing every knot of speed out of her, she was a far more comfortable craft to ride.

So, a pleasant afternoon of sailing behind them, it was only natural that when the two girls had retired for the night and slipped into the dream space together, they continued the activity they that had so much fun doing. Which was why Tansy was laying on the bow of the little sailboat in her favorite bikini. She shielded her eyes from the sun and smiled up as Lanie approached, a pair of bottles in hand. Walcutt accepted the beer and took a sip.

Tansy was not much of a beer person, but like everything else in this idyllic place, this was idealized beer and so she found a panoply of flavors in the cold beverage as it slid over her tongue. "So, Ah gather you had fun this afternoon?"

Walcutt made a dismissive gesture. "Oh, sure! Yachting and polo are my sports. I crewed on my daddy's yacht in the last two America's Cup races."

Elaine sat down next to her, a faraway look on her face. "Oh, Ah'd love to do some deep ocean racing! But, mah daddy would kill somebody if Ah spent two weeks being the only female on a boat!"

"What if it were all women?" Tansy asked. Seeing the look on Lanie's face, she decided to press her advantage. "This little sloop of yours is pretty fast. If Kayda is at all interested we could practice all year at school and then in June we take part in the Newport to Bermuda yacht race. If memory serves, the smallest boat to win that race was a 28 foot, with an all-female crew that has to be a record."

"That's not a bad idea!" Lanie agreed. The girls giggled and tapped their beers together in toast. After Tansy took a sip she placed the beer in a cozy that was hanging from the lifeline to hold it, then produced a bottle of tanning oil from her bag and held it up so Elaine could see it.

"Would you mind?" Tansy asked with a smile. "I'll do it for you."

Tansy watched several expressions march across Lanie's face. She'd gotten used to Lanie being practically an emotional void in the space around her due to Grizzly's protections of her mind. It trained her to use her eyes and note Elaine's expressions in place of simply reading her emotions.

Lanie licked her lips and hesitantly reached out for the bottle. "Ah … Ah guess it's okay," she said after a moment of thought. "This is just a dream."

As she reached up behind her back, Tansy smiled at her, then untied and removed the bikini top, baring her breasts to the other girl for a moment before she lay down on her belly and made a pillow of her arms. Walcutt watched through her eyelashes, as Lanie had a war with herself before finally popping open the bottle and squirting a generous amount into her hand.

Elaine's hands were strong and nimble as she smeared lotion across Tansy's shoulders and back. At the touch of her skin Tansy was finally able to sense the girl's emotions again, not prying into her thoughts but listening to the emotions that rolled off the redhead through her hands. As she expected chief among them was a growing attraction and arousal. The application turned into a massage, the most enjoyable one Tansy could remember. This was primarily due to the fact that even though Elaine desired her, her feelings of attraction were very different than what Tansy had experienced before. The boys who touched her this way had only felt the desire to possess her, to use her for their ends and enjoyment. While there was a hint of that lust in Elaine's emotions, there was also a desire that Tansy enjoy being with her as much as Elaine wanted to enjoy being with Tansy. It was a new and interesting flavor of emotion Tansy couldn't remember having felt before. Part of her wanted to break down and cry, never having experienced something this pure and sweet before as part of her, she realized, desperately wanted to be that playground for Elaine.

Tansy let her glamour soak up the emotions Elaine was dripping off and was surprised to find that her physical self did not change but there was a slight desire for a more direct signal from her. Making a decision, she reached down and pulled on the drawstrings of her bottom and flicked the material away. It was several minutes, but eventually she felt the redheads oily hands slide over her buttocks and make sure her legs were coated.

This was not cold calculation on Tansy's part. If Elaine is getting aroused, then Tansy was practically panting in desire. Tansy felt her spirit urge her and finally gave in, rolling onto her side to look up at Elaine. The redhead was also wearing a bikini, but had a pair of cut off Daisy Dukes over the bottom. Her unnaturally green eyes were watery and she was biting her lip as Tansy lay before her nude and uncaring. "Tansy, Ah … We …"

Tansy reached up and pulled the drawstring on Elaine's top. The small swatches of fabric came away, bearing her breasts. Tansy sat up and smiled as she gently rubbed Elaine shoulders. "It's just a dream," she repeated back the other girl. "This doesn't count."

She pulled and leaned forward, and Elaine did not resist. Their lips met and for the first time in her life, Tansy Walcutt made love.

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June 17th, 2007
Cyberspace

The Captain shuffled papers on his desk, obviously busy and doing several things at once, but still giving most of his attention to the screen of his laptop and the camera mounted above it. "So, our Guest has his plans once more, my compliments to you, on the impression your protégé has made. The Old Man seemed quite taken with her. Not to mention we have at least one other asset that seems amenable to being turned and the potential of a third. All's well that ends well!"

The Professor smiled into her camera and raised the cup of coffee she was drinking in silent toast. "It would not have ended nearly so well without your able assistance, oh Captain, my Captain!"

The Captain smiled a charming, roguish grin. "I'm pleased I was able to help, and Warhorse's rates are usually quite reasonable. So, on a more personal note, my dear Professor, what are your plans for the summer?"

"Well, my protégé is attending the summer curriculum for extra training and I .…" The Professor trailed off mid-sentence as she took in the face of the Captain more cautiously, noting a familiar glint in his eye. "On the other hand, my handsome Captain, what did you have in mind?"

The Captain's smile became salacious. "Oh, the boring usual -five star dining, palatial accommodations, servants at your beck and call, and of course all the spoiling only a head of state can offer." He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively drawing a most undignified schoolgirl giggle from the Professor. "We may even find time for a spanking, if you're sufficiently naughty."

The Professor leaned forward into the camera, making sure it played up her decolletage nicely. "Why Captain," she purred in a suggestive tone. "You know what a naughty girl I am…"

With a gesture, the Captain emptied the room of his servants, set his papers aside and gave the screen his full attention. "Indeed I do," he agreed with a smile. "It's what captivates my interest. Shall I have my favorite paddle oiled in anticipation of your naughtiness?"

The Professor sniffed in disdain.

"Save your paddle for whatever little trollop graces your bed when I'm unavailable. If you want to spank my ass, you'll use your hand and you'll like it!"

The Captain discreetly changed his position in the chair. "As my lady commands," he replied, dripping innuendo. He leaned forward intently into the camera. "Again, my dear, I will express my gratitude in your understanding of a man's needs and again I pledge to you that no woman lays claim to my heart other than you."

A slow, coy smile spread on the Professor's face. "Just so long as you understand that I have needs just as much as you, and you are always capable of meeting them when our hectic schedules allow."

"What was it the vizier told his sultan?" the Captain asked with a wink. "My life is but to serve you, my lady?" He leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. "How soon can you be here?"

The Professor sighed and shook her head. "I can't get away until at least mid-July," she admitted sadly.

The Captain reached across his desk and pressed a button out of the range of the camera.

"Jacob? See that my aircraft is made ready and have my valet pack a suitable wardrobe for a New England summer."

"At once, your highness." Jacob's voice replied.

The Captain smiled into the camera. "Fear not, fair maiden. Your Prince will come to you!"

The Professor smiled. "I'll be waiting at the airport."

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June 18th, 2007
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

“The white zone is for immediate loading and unloading of passengers only. There is no stopping in the red zone.”

The busiest airport in the world was having an average day. By midnight better than 260,000 people would have swollen the population of Atlanta as travelers passed through, changed planes, arrived, or departed. One of the few pieces of security theater that had actually stuck was the restriction of people who did not have a boarding pass from going out to the terminal gates. This meant one couldn't meet one's client or loved one at the gate and shepherd them through one of the most complicated airports in the world. No, they had to navigate that by themselves, because as close as non-ticketholders could get was the main terminal and its check-in counters.

By the escalators that led up from the underground railroad that serviced the various terminal buildings was an area cordoned off with ropes for people to wait and meet their arriving parties, Elaine and Tansy stood; Lanie's face down in her smart phone, the other shifting her attention from the huge arrival board to the escalator every time a new gush of people arriving would come up. "The website says the planes landed!" Lanie complained.

Tansy shrugged and stuck her hands deeper into the pockets of the light and sassy vest she was sporting. "What can I tell you, Lanie?" she asked philosophically. "The board says it's still in transit."

Elaine sighed in exasperation and returned her phone to her purse. "He gets here when he gets here Ah guess," she allowed. "Y'all sure you want to go through with this?"

Walcutt arched an eyebrow. "Are you kidding me?" she asked. "I'm not sure of what I want to take next semester, let alone something as permanent and earth shattering as the rest of my life! That said, considering the," and she cleared her throat nervously. "… dreams … we've been having, and certain experimentation with certain novelties that will remain nameless …" She stopped and squared off to look her friend in the eye. "I don't know if this will be a fling, or friends with benefits, or we end up fighting to have bigamy laws struck down. I know that even if you don't love me, you are my good friend you have my best interest at heart."

"God keep me so," Lanie affirmed, rubbing her friend’s shoulders in encouragement.

"I know I need to figure out who I am," Tansy declared firmly. "That you are willing to help me do that means everything to me. And I will do my damnedest to make it up to you."

"Make what up to you?" Wyatt asked as he sat down his bag. Elaine squealed with delight and wrapped herself around her fiancé, kissing him passionately. Tansy smiled, genuinely happy, possibly for the first time in her life, for her friend, for someone else. The two finally separated and Wyatt smiled at Tansy. "Hey, Tansy, I really appreciate you flying me down here…"

Walcutt smiled as she reached up and collected the big man's head in her hands. "I'm sure you'll appreciate it more presently," she said before she pulled him down and kissed him just as passionately as his fiancée had. When she released him and he stood up, the priceless, confused look on his face was saved for posterity thanks to Elaine's iPhone and its built-in camera.

"Wait… What…?" Wyatt shook his head and crossed his massive arms over his chest. "What exactly are you two up to?" He demanded. The girls looked around making sure that no one was watching or paying attention, and they both casually reached out and grabbed a hold of Mr. Cody by his important brain.

"Have we got an offer for you!" they chorused.

Heh, heh, chuckled the Kodiak in Wyatt's ear. Get yourself a shovel, boy, you're in deep shit…

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June 19th, 2007
The Emerald Tower, HQ of Empire City Guard, New York, New York

Stephen lay in his bed, his hands behind his head, a goofy grin plastered across his face. He had been very pleasantly surprised when Mrs. Carson had informed him and Marty that they had succeeded in their efforts to prove themselves to Mrs. Turner. Part of him had been certain there would be some last-minute catch or excuse as to why they would not receive their prize, but Mrs. Turner had been magnanimous and gracious in her praise of their efforts.

Indeed, it was obvious that Mrs. Turner had taken delight in introducing Marty and him to Daniel 'Magno-Man' Tatum of the Empire City Guard. And in his victory, Stephen had learned several important things - he learned how to win graciously, and through Mrs. Turner's efforts he now knew with certainty how to lose with dignity, and perhaps most important of all, he learned that Elizabeth Carson was a woman of her word.

Mr. Tatum had not taken Marty and him into some kind of glorified internship, nor were they given fluff PR duties. Mr. Tatum had immediately put them into a grueling training regimen of how to work with a superhero group in general and the team tactics of the Empire Guard in specific. They had stood watches in the command center, gone on patrols around town with various members, and today? Today had been the pinnacle of it all.

Today was Stephen's sixteenth birthday.

Today he and Marty had been on patrol with Lioness when they had happened across a robbery in progress. It was a group of uniformed henchmen that Lioness referred to as 'themed thugs' and the up-and-coming villain that employed them. Lioness hadn't made them do crowd control, she hadn't waited for backup or told them to get a rooftop and stay safe; instead she dove right into the thick of it with Mega Girl and Stronghold at her back.

Stephen had been in his first real superhero fight.

He was sore and had bruises to show for it, but the henchmen and their employer were waiting on their trial at Rikers Island. It had easily been the best birthday of his life and he couldn't imagine it getting any better.

At least he couldn't until the door to his room opened.

Stephen looked up, surprised, and stunned into immobility at what he saw. Standing in the doorway, silhouetted by the hallway lights, one hand on her hip and the other arm leaning up against the door jamb stood Marty Penn. She wore a diaphanous merrywidow, with a matching panty and robe all in a soft pastel that complemented her perfect peaches-and-cream complexion.

It was also completely transparent and put all of young Ms. Penn's charms on full display.

Stephen's boxers instantly became tight and uncomfortable due to certain portions of his anatomy displaying his appreciation of the vision before him. Marty let herself into the room and closed the door behind herself, mincing forward in a suggestive gait that set her hips to swinging. At the same time she allowed the robe to slide off her arms. With a single finger she reached out and pressed against Stephen's forehead, playfully pushing him back down onto the bed.

She kissed him with a searing passion that set his heart to racing and left them both breathless as she pulled up, her face a few inches above his. Then, in a surprisingly dulcet and throaty manner she began to sing. "Happy … Birthday … To … You …"

She leaned down and began leaving a trail of kisses down his neck and chest as, forever in his mind, she put Marilyn Monroe's version of the song she was imitating to shame. "Happy … Birthday … To … You …" Marty arrived at his boxers and effortlessly with her strength removed them from his body. They were ripped to shreds and ruined and he couldn't have cared less.

"Happy … Birthday … Mister … Strong … Hold …"

Marty took a hold of him, gently in her soft hands, and turning, she looked over her shoulder and fixed her gaze on his eyes. She kissed the very tip of him and he lost all capacity for cognitive thought. "Happy … Birthday … To … You …" Then Marty gave him her present and cemented in his mind that this was in fact the best birthday of his life.

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June 30th, 2007
2170 Kellogg Creek Rd, Kennesaw, GA

“Where are we going?” demanded Wyatt in good spirits as he followed Elaine down the stairs. It was a fairly long set, turning twice so far and the air had gotten noticeably cooler. That was a relief for the big Alaskan. They had just returned from the airport and seeing Tansy off on her flight back to school. It was 'only June' she'd said and already the highs were already getting into the 90s, which was bad enough, but the humidity! It felt like you'd need gills not to drown on just the air and made the already bad heat miserable in a close, sweaty personal way.

Of course, she just blithely ignored the heat, and had only smiled cruelly and taunted him once about New England winters and revenge. “Ah told you, wait and see,” she scolded him as the stairway finally opened up into a room. She'd grown up in a big house, a mansion by Wyatt's standards, but she'd scoffed at the notion and taken him in Picket's Revenge by some of the sprawling estates in Victoria Landing just across the bay from her house. “Those are mansions,” she'd told him.

Evidently the properties there started at a half million and went up very, very quickly.

The room at the bottom of the stairs was tall, easily fifteen feet high and lined with odd looking bead boards. It wasn't a basement in the strictest of senses as the walls were lined with shelves and everything seemed to be about storage. It was obsessively clean, with a couple of butcher block tables in the center of the room, and while they kept the upstairs 'room' temperature, that was still warm in Wyatt's books. Down here it was well below sixty degrees and he was liking it. “What's this?” he asked, looking around.

“Root cellar,” she replied. “The house predates refrigeration, and you may have noticed it does get warm in the south.”

“No, really?” he asked, dripping sarcasm.

“Back in mah great grandpappy's day, this was how the food didn't spoil.” He looked around, seeing that the shelves were lined mostly with traditional canned and dry goods now, obviously the family's pantry. On the wall with the stairs, there was a little hatch set into the wood which he opened, revealing a box about three foot square. She came over chuckling. “It's called a dumb waiter. It's a little elevator between here and the kitchen, which is above us.”

“This is what you wanted to show me?” he asked in puzzled voice. She shook her head and reached into the dumb waiter. With one hand she raised it up slightly, with the other she found a hidden catch by touch. There was a click and the wall with the hatch in it swung open making a door way, revealing the shaft down to the floor and up through the ceiling. A counter weight fell and the little car rose up its track. When it reached above head height, it stopped and the floor of the shaft dropped open revealing a black shaft the light couldn't illuminate.

Finally, a spring loaded door in the side of the shaft opened and a fireman's pole came out of the wall and locked into place. “What the hell?” he demanded, startled.

“Wanna find out?” she asked coyly. “Ride the pole.” She paused holding the door open before she added, “Don't fall, it's a long drop.”

He stuck his head into the shaft and looked down into pitch blackness. “What's down there?”

“Ah found this when Ah was fourteen. Ah made a couple of carefully worded, but vague inquiries, but mah Daddy actually doesn't know it's down there. Granddaddy suspected, but after Great Grandpappy went straight, Ah don't think he wanted his boy misusing the place.”

He took hold of the pole and tested it. Despite having moved a moment ago, it was nice and solid now. “This thing will take my weight?” he asked, dubious.

“Not when Ah found it,” she clarified, “but Ah've fixed things up to code so to say. If secret criminal lairs have codes.” He took hold of the pole and slid down into darkness. It was hard to say how far down he went as it was pitch black and that was quite disturbing. Finally his feet landed on a cushion at the bottom. Looking up, he could see she was only a couple of stories above, perhaps thirty feet at most.

She stepped in and pulled the 'wall' shut which plunged them into darkness for a split second as she was descending, and then a single light bulb mounted into a fixture in the wall turned on. She slid down the pole and landed lightly next to him. She walked over to a circuit breaker box and shot him a smile as she threw the main. “Welcome to The Still.”

A series of fluorescent tubes lit up, revealing that Wyatt stood in a substantial cave, carved from the pure granite of the Georgia bedrock. It had been wet at one point, based on the smoothness of the walls, but was well dried now, save for a chill damp that clung to the air. The cave floor had been flattened by a series of wooden decks and metal platforms that were linked by stairs and railings. In one corner was a massive copper kettle and tube contraption that looked like something out of a B movie. A road bed had been laid that ended in a turntable like a railroad might use, and on it was a large, boxy shape concealed by a tarp. The road went off deeper into the cave.

“What is this place?” he asked, walking away from the pole.

“Mah great granddaddy was a bootlegger,” she replied. She pointed to the copper kettle. “But he did a bit of his own when he had a mind. That's his still.” Wyatt wondered over to the platform that held a dozen barrels on their side.

“1924?” he asked, reading the stamp off the closest barrel. “Is this what I think it is?”

“Yep, that's a fifty-three gallon barrel of eighty-three year old, single malt Whiskey.”

“My dad is into Scotch, but the oldest I've ever seen him drink was twenty years,” he breathed.

“Well, this isn't Scotch,” she hedged. “Ah had to do a lot of research when Ah found this. As it turns out, 'Scotch' can only be called Scotch if it's from Scotland.”

He chuckled and shook his head.

“Ok, so what's this? Moonshine? White Lighting?”

She waved her hand back and forth. “Moonshine is usually made from corn, which this, according to Great Grandpappy's notes, isn't. It's made from Rye. So it technically isn't bourbon either which is made from corn and barley. And even though Great Grandpappy was born in a little town in the center of Ireland called Tullamore and probably learned his whiskey making at the local distillery, it could only be called Irish Whiskey if it had been made in Ireland. So, it's a single kettle, yeast fermented, one hundred percent Rye Whiskey. There's only one other label in the world made that way and it's called Alberta Premium and the oldest they offer is a thirty-year old. This is just shy of three times that.”

“Jesus, is it still good?”

She walked over and leaned against the barrel and presented a letter. “Yep,” she told him with a grin. “Ah learned how to tap and sample one, drew off a sample and sent it off to be analyzed.”

Wyatt read the document and boggled when he got to the offer. “He's offering you fifty thousand dollars a barrel?” he demanded. “Good God, even if these barrels are only half full from evaporation, that’s...”

She shook her head. “Look again,” she instructed, drawing her finger down the side of the joint between the slats of the barrel. “Great granddaddy was Irish, and an experimenter. This cave stays a constant fifty three degrees year round with a high relative humidity. The moisture in the air keeps the wood expanded and the joins tight. The rest, he put a bead of wax down every seam. Near as Ah can measure these barrels haven't lost a gallon yet.”

Wyatt blinked. “That's...that's a lot of money...”

“And that's how we'll pay for the stuff we need to trick out your Atlantean League secret headquarters, well, once we spruce the place up a bit.”

He looked around. “Here?”

She nodded. “Ah can build a standing wave teleport gate over there and tie it into Whateley's network. The 'clubhouse' is off campus and secure, well out of Foob or anyone else's eavesdropping range, but also convenient for us to come and go to. Ah'll rope Maggie...” She paused, her throat closing over her voice and pinching off as the emotion rose up within her. Swallowing it down she shook her head as Wyatt tried to offer a conciliatory gesture and pressed on.

"Ah'll rope Kayda into some protection wards and Interface to help me set up the physical and computer security. It will take a lot of work to make this place comfortable, and useable, but Ah figure we have the strength, and once Ayla finishes doing his thing, we'll have the cash.”

Cody turned back to the shapely redhead, a curious expression on his face. “Ayla...? The Goodkind, right? Why her? The guy in your letter...”

“Is low balling to the point of being insulting,” she interrupted smoothly. “Whiskey this old sells for six figures a liter retail. This is way beyond 'top shelf' Name Brand, lover. Granted, we won't have a name brand, but Ayla is handling that. And making it nice and legal all for a mere 10%... and a case of his own. And he moves in the circles of people that drink six-figure single malts, so we get the name we don't have now. Believe me, it's worth it.”

He rubbed the back of his head in amazement. “Good Lord, even wholesale pricing it in liter bottles at half the retail that makes these barrels worth...”

“One hundred and seven million, seven hundred and seventy five thousand dollars,” she finished with a smile. “That's assuming a mere fifty thousand per liter and minus Ayla's commission of course.”

He came over and picked her up by her waist and sat her on the barrel. “Sounds like you've got this all worked out. Funny, I never thought I'd say this, but my Dad was right; smart is sexy.”

“Oh?” she demanded. “What's got you more worked up? That Ah'm sittin' on better than a hundred million in booze, or that your John Henry is snug and cozy up against mah lady bits?”

Wyatt held her to him and kissed her, to have her kiss back, as fierce and with more passion than he was already filled with. She wrapped her arms around his back and her legs around his hips as though she was laying claim to his soul. “Do I have to pick?” he asked breathlessly as he freed his mouth from her searing kiss.

“No,” she panted, her hands coming back from around his back to urge him out of his shirt. “You just have to get naked!”

He swallowed, trying hard to keep ahold of his lust as his mind played over the conversation he had had with her father. A conversation about his daughter, his extensive gun collection, and there 'being more than one body in that lake'. “If your dad catches us...!”

She peeled off her top, causing her full and heavy breasts to flop free of their confinement in front of him, her sizable rosy nipples instantly stiffening from the chill, crying out for his tongue. “What did you expect falling for a white trash redneck like me?” she demanded, her hands down his trousers, fishing for the object of her desire.

He gently caught her face in his hands, but firmly made her look him in the eye. “You are not white trash,” he ordered for however playful his expression, the tone of command was inescapable.

She rolled her eyes and grinned while her hands freed him from his jeans.

“Fine, Ah'm not,” she acquiesced. “But Ah am a redneck woman and you knew the job was dangerous when you took it!”

From the shadows across the space, The Kodiak tried to ignore the two lovers and the feelings that 'leaked' from his host to him through their link. He looked about the space, amazed and pleased with the solid feel of the rock, the safe, secret feel of all of it. It was perfect, and that it was a cave appealed on a primal level. The Kodiak shuddered as the feeling of his host claiming his mate ran up his spine and couldn't help but turn back to look at them for a moment. They made love with the invulnerability of youth and the certainty they would live forever.

For all his sullen cynicism, seeing the young man he inhabited finally learn the difference between love and lust was gratifying. The Kodiak was grateful, that even with him having overplayed his hand on the she-bear, she had come back to Wyatt. He turned his attention to the house above them and subtly made sure no one would notice the two were missing. Not mind control in the strictest of senses, that would violate his oath, just a failure to notice and associate the time passing and the lack of Cody and Elaine. It was, he was sure, an ironic sidestep of the 'rule' of the oath even she would appreciate.

Still, she was becoming reckless, trying so hard to emulate the false personae the teacher had made for her. That wouldn't do. Invisibly, the Kodiak wandered over to the pair, so enamored of each other that they would have failed to notice him even had he been projecting himself completely into the real world. It's for your own good, he told himself as he hooked a claw into her aura and, right as their passions claimed them both he tugged at it imposing a simple new pattern on the matrix.

She was lost in the throes of her pleasure and so didn't notice the extra little chill that ran up her spine as his spell took effect.

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Epilogue


July 15th, 2007
Master Dojo, Laird Hall Annex, Whateley Academy

"Are you sure you want to go through with this?"

Tansy, dressed in a gi, sat in the center of the training circle, her legs crossed in the lotus position, the backs of her hands resting on her knees, thumb touching middle finger, and her eyes closed in the classic Zen meditation pose. Her breath was even and controlled and there was a calmness throughout her center that have never been there before.

She had applied herself with a diligence that was amazing. In fifteen short days she had gone from basic form review into advanced moves and throws, absorbing the knowledge and its attendant muscle memory like a sponge dropped in a bucket of water. Twenty minutes previously Sensei Ito had brought in six of the Whateley security guards, all combat veterans, all dangerous men in their own right, and all used to working together.

Tansy had beaten them.

Not merely bested them, not squeaking by or pulling victory from the jaws of defeat; she had danced among them, flowing from combatant to combatant with a grace and precision that was eerily unnatural. She had taken advantage of being alone and had instinctively used their numbers against them, causing them to trip and get into each other's way, making their superior numbers a liability instead of an asset. In short, she had humiliated them.

"Are you sure you want to go through with this?" Ito asked again. "You are shaping a devastating weapon here, and devastating weapons have a terrible habit of falling into the wrong hands and being misused."

"The swordsmith shapes the katana," Amelia Hartford told the glass of the window she was studying her pupil through. Finally she looked down at the diminutive martial arts instructor standing next to her. "But the katana is merely a tool, the samurai is the weapon. Do you doubt Miss Walcutt's sincerity? Or is it her past that bothers you?"

"We all have pasts we regret," Ito replied softly, his mind long ago and far away. His dark eyes looked up from the same admiring gaze he had been giving his pupil into the Assistant headmistress's eyes. "There are times I regret sponsoring you to The Syndicate. Your initial mistakes are still something of a legend. Were it not for the conscience of Liz Carson you would be in a jail cell now."

The smile on Amelia Hartford's face was predatory. "There is not a prison on this planet capable of holding me, but that is neither here nor there. I have learned from you, I have learned from Liz, and now I take what I have learned from both of you and I forge this. Humanity must evolve; that's why we formed The Committee."

Ito snorted and turned back to the window to gaze at the meditating student. "The evolution of humanity is not what we are making here. And we both know it. I can forge your katana, I can make Miss Walcutt as deadly as her namesake. But whatever it is that brought about this change in her attention span and scholastic endeavor, she is now the most diligent student I've ever known. The question remains, are you sure you want to go through with this? Because no matter which samurai you have in mind for her, katanas can be stolen."

Hartford returned her gaze to the meditating student as well and smiled to herself. "You worry about your miracle sensei, I'll worry about mine." She turned away and gathered up her coat and briefcase from the chair they had been laying on. The diminutive sensei watched her, his eyes intense and questioning. "If you need me, I'll be in Wallachia until Faculty Report Day. You have my contact information there." She paused by the door, feeling her old teachers eyes on her. Smiling she turned and said, "Yes, I am sure I want to go through with this. And when we are done we will have created something that will make the entire world S.M.I.2L.E."

* Finis *

Comments   

0 # Wrayth 2017-01-10 04:50
Wow ... I NEVER would have pegged Ito for being a member of the Syndicate.

Amazing story, please keep them coming, Mr. Nalley.

I still want to see the beat down applied by Murphy on Tansy and or Lanie.

Thank you for this awesome tale. May your muse continue to give you tales to share with us.

Wrayth
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+2 # E. E. Nalley 2017-01-10 05:17
Quoting Wrayth:
Wow ... I NEVER would have pegged Ito for being a member of the Syndicate.


Wrayth



Why do you think the ninjas attacked the school all the way back when?
:-*
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+1 # Badkitty2 2017-01-10 11:26
When did Tansy get a spirit?? I knew she was capable of holding one, must have missed that tale!
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+1 # E. E. Nalley 2017-01-12 05:56
Quoting Badkitty2:
When did Tansy get a spirit?? I knew she was capable of holding one, must have missed that tale!


Actually you are in the tale where it happens! Check out The Boys of Summer Part One.
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0 # Horrid 2017-01-11 18:31
Here I go and make it (more) clear that I am some sort of dumb bunny. Surely, the answer to my question was somewhere in the story and I merely lacked the perception required to see it. But...

Who are the "Boys of Summer" of whom the title of the story speaks? It seems to me that "The Girls of Summer" would have been a more apt title. Besides Tansy, Elaine and Kayda the most important character in the story seems to be Amelia Hartford.

Thank you for your posting, EE. Here's hoping that this story being posted means you are feeling better. Happy New year to you.

:-)
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+2 # E. E. Nalley 2017-01-11 18:56
Who were the boys of summer? Well, that title was chosen to play up to the Don Henley song bearing the same name. Specifically addressing Tansy's lack of knowledge addressed in the lyrics:

I thought I knew what love was
What did I know?


And so it was through this journey that Tansy discovered what love was. As far as who were the boys? Basically you could argue that the boys of summer were Wyatt and Steve, who's love was strong.
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0 # Horrid 2017-01-12 15:45
OK oh great one, because I am so pleased that you read my post and responded to it I will credit your explanation of the title as borderline plausible. Although the song lyrics DO apply well to Tansy,,,

More importantly, I am noting that you read my post (and, one might presume you read all the posts in the forums about your stories) and responded so quickly and I am going to consider this more evidence that maybe you are feeling better. I have been reading the forum thread concerning your medical journey(s) and it makes my head hurt trying to figure out what they mean. I will take anything I can get which might be a seely auger of your recovery.

:-)
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0 # E. E. Nalley 2017-01-12 15:59
Well, I'm getting by thanks for the concern! Tomorrow is surgery which will hopefully be the permanent solution to this. We shall see…
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0 # Horrid 2017-01-13 23:58
Quoting E. E. Nalley:
Well, I'm getting by thanks for the concern! Tomorrow is surgery which will hopefully be the permanent solution to this. We shall see…


OK rhere you have it folkd. They say there are no atheists in foxholes. Everyone pray for the success of EE's procedure and his recovery and health and happiness! God bless you, sir!
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0 # Horrid 2017-02-05 05:55
EE, I have been thinking about you every day since the 15th of January or so, hoping that we would get word of your condition. Just wanted you to know, you are loved.
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0 # E. E. Nalley 2017-02-05 15:26
Thank you Horrid! The surgery helped quite a bit and we're little better each day. Still not typing yet but the hands are slowly getting better and the constriction of the chest is gone, which honestly was the worst of it.

My surgeon was an artist and I don't believe that the incision is actually going to scar! He did an amazing job.
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0 # jmhyp 2017-01-18 01:47
LOL

"Don't you tell me which zone is for loading, and which zone is for stopping! "
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0 # Forum_Solipsist 2017-01-19 18:35
Timothy Leery inspired the syndicate?

Space Migration, Intelligence Increase, Life Extension.
It's been a long time since I read that particular acronym.

One wonders what the Great Old Ones will make of all this.
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