A Whateley Academy Tale
Imp 4: A Teacher's Tail
Whateley Academy, Wednesday lunch, Sept 5th, 2007
I’ve always considered people watching to be a spectator sport. I’d find a nice comfortable spot, then sit down and just watch the people who went past. Some of them, I’d pick out at random and silently cheer them on, but for most, it was silent mockery instead.
This time, I was sitting on a bench in the Quad, and as strange as it was for me, I was actually out in the open with no chameleon field and no disguise. Students walked past, and though some of them gave me odd or even nervous looks, none of them ran away screaming or tried to attack me.
It was a green flag day, which meant the freak flag was flying. Everyone was walking around out in the open, and some were even using their powers.
I saw the velociraptor kid walking across the Quad, right beside some boy whose clothes were so garish and hideous, that they could probably qualify as GSD. Then, as I watched, they met up with a girl who had a long snake tail from the waist down.
“Unbelievable,” I mused, still in awe of a place where people like me could walk around in the open. As I watched these kids, many of them with GSD, I had to wonder what my life would have been like if I’d known about Whateley when I was their age. “You don’t know how lucky you kids are.”
I let out a long sigh, thinking about yesterday and just how close I’d come to leaving Whateley. I was still pretty bummed about the whole incident, and had even gone through my morning classes with barely having cracked a joke. That was pretty shameful of me, because those kids deserved much better than some boring version of the Imp.
Just then, I noticed Williams walking past in the distance, and I smirked faintly to myself. I’d promised to be on my best behavior, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t have some amusement at his expense.
“That rassin frassin rabbit,” I muttered gruffly, imagining that Williams was the one saying it. Sure, he was too tall for a proper Yosemite Sam, but the red hair still made it work. “I hate that rabbit…”
I was just starting to mock Williams some more, when I noticed a student walking past me, seemingly lost in her own little world. She had pure black skin, but what immediately caught my attention, was that she also had a devil’s tail very much like my own, as well as a pair of large horns that curved back.
“Impressive horns,” I commented, which made the girl jump a little.
“Fuck off,” the girl immediately responded, but as she turned to look at me, with a deep sneer on her face, her expression suddenly changed. As soon as she saw me, her eyes went wide in surprise.
“Those are an impressive pair of horns,” I told the girl again, smirking faintly and swishing my tail back and forth so she could see it.
For a moment, the girl just stood there, staring at me in amazement. She’d obviously noticed our resemblance, the same way I had. To anyone looking at us, we might even appear to be related, but that was in the same way that any two blond-haired, blue-eyed exemplars might appear to be related.
“I am the fabulous Imp,” I introduced myself to the girl. “I’m the new art teacher.”
Her eyes widened even more at that, and she blurted out, “I thought only pretties could be teachers…”
“And you’re saying I’m not pretty?” I asked in mock offense. Then, I flashed her a grin and continued, “Well, Williams is a teacher too, and I think he’s butt ugly, so obviously, that isn’t the case.”
The girl snickered at that. “I’m Darqueheart,” she introduced herself to me, looking just a little self-conscious. “That’s my codename. I don’t use my real name anymore because…” She paused at that, and from the pained look on her face, I could make some guesses.
“That’s all right,” I told her. “I don’t use my original name either.” Then, I asked, “Do you mind?” I gestured to her horns, then when she nodded hesitantly, I carefully reached out to touch one. “How long have you had these?”
Darqueheart scowled, and I saw a flash of bitterness and anger pass across her face. “They started growing about six months ago…”
I nodded at that. “I’ve had mine for thirty years…”
“Fuck,” she exclaimed, giving me a curious look.
“Mine aren’t quite as impressive as yours,” I admitted, “but they do the job. Now then, how have you been taking care of these…?”
“Taking care of them?” Darqueheart asked. “What the hell do you mean?”
“Of course,” I responded with a sigh. “No one told you about the proper care and maintenance of horns. It’s such an under-appreciated but necessary part of personal hygiene.”
Darqueheart narrowed her yellow-slitted eyes and gave me a suspicious look, as though she thought I was messing with her. “What are you talking about?”
With a faint smile, I reached up and touched one of my own horns. “If you rub your horns with a light coating of mineral oil about once a week, and keep them polished, it will help protect them from chipping and cracking, and make them look nicer.”
Darqueheart’s eyes went wide, and I could see from the look on her face that she’d never even thought about that. I put a gentle hand on her shoulder and said, “I know you might be a little hesitant to show off your horns, but they’re a beautiful pair and deserve to be shown off.”
“Now you’re just fucking with me,” Darqueheart snarled.
“Oh no,” I assured her with a smile. “This is one of the few times when I’m being serious. Most people are plain and boring looking, but you’re different. You’re unique. There aren’t many people around with magnificent horns like that, so you should take pride in them.”
“Everyone calls me a fuckin freak,” she spat out bitterly.
I nodded in understanding and sympathy. “Being different is never easy,” I admitted. “Trust me, I know exactly how people like to treat those who look like we do, and it isn’t always nice. If you ever want someone to talk to, a sympathetic ear, or just some advice on how to deal with your horns and tail, come and stop by my classroom.”
“Um…thank you,” Darqueheart responded, giving me a tentative smile which quickly turned into a real one. “I might do that… But right now, I kind of have to go…”
“Then I’ll see you later,” I told her.
Once Darqueheart was gone, I sat back down on the bench, feeling oddly happy about that brief encounter. Darqueheart reminded me a bit of myself when I was that age, and if I could do anything to make her life a little easier than mine had been… Well, that was one of the reasons I’d come to Whateley.
Whateley Academy, Wednesday afternoon, Sept 5th, 2007
“No more pencils, no more books, no more students’ dirty looks,” I called out when the final bell of the day rang. Some of the students in my class laughed at that, while I just grinned and added, “I’ll see you all tomorrow. Same Imp time. Same Imp channel.”
In spite of my rather jocular ending to the class, I’d been fairly serious and professional during the lecture itself. Of course, today, I was able actually to give the lesson on art history, and that was a topic I enjoyed talking about.
Rusty hadn’t been a problem today, mostly because he hadn’t bothered to show up. It seemed that Rusty was playing hooky from my class, not that I could blame him. Still, I was curious if he’d show up tomorrow, or if he’d try to get his schedule changed.
“Let’s see if he shows up or not tomorrow,” I mused to myself as I straightened up the classroom and then locked the door.
I was just about to make my way to the Village, when a familiar voice called out, “Imp, Imp, Imp.”
“Long time, no see,” I greeted Melissa, whom I’d last seen this morning in class.
As usual, Melissa was bursting with energy, though what was unusual, was that she wasn’t alone. The other girl was petite, with long magenta colored hair, pointed ears, and somewhat fine and delicate features.
“This is my roommate Maxine,” Melissa proudly exclaimed.
“Hello,” I greeted the girl, who was watching me with a guarded expression.
“Hello, Ms. Imp,” Maxine said. “Melissa has told me a lot about you…”
“Nothing good, I’m sure,” I responded with a grin.
“I suppose that depends on your definition of good,” Maxine replied with a wry smile.
“I didn’t know Imp was gonna be here at Whateley,” Melissa gushed out to her roommate. “This is so awesome…” She nearly bounced in placed for a moment before giving me a pleading look. “Are you gonna finish teaching me about locks? Please…”
“We’ll see,” I told Melissa with a chuckle, earning an excited ‘sqee’ in response.
“Oh,” Melissa exclaimed a moment later, “Did I tell you, there’s a boy who actually turns into a super cute kitten… He’s so adorable…”
“Oh, really?” I said, watching Melissa in amusement.
Maxine rolled her eyes. “I think Melissa wants to make him her pet…”
I blinked at that. “I think it’s usually against school policy to turn other students into pets…” Then I shrugged and gave her a grin. “But why not?”
Melissa giggled. “He’s got really soft fur too…”
“It was nice meeting you, Ms. Imp,” Maxine told me politely. “But we have to go…” She gave Melissa a meaningful look.
“Fine,” Melissa responded in a pout, right before she grinned at me. “I can’t wait until class tomorrow… Drawing is gonna be so much fun…”
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” I promised Melissa.
Then as Melissa and her roommate left, I heard Melissa telling her, “See, I told you that Imp was really cool…” That just made me smile.
After this, I started back to the Village, but instead of going to my apartment, I had a different destination in mind. A short time later, I stepped into the Flying Blue Squirrel, which was an on campus pub, reserved for the staff and faculty.
“Barkeep,” I called out. “I’ll have a Flaming Moe.”
“A what?” the man behind the counter asked, giving me a blank look.
I rolled my eyes. “No appreciation for the classics.” Then, after letting out a sigh of disgust at this clearly unqualified bartender, I sang out, “One bourbon, one scotch, and one beer.” This time, he got the reference, or at least, he got my drink order.
Once I was comfortably seated with my drinks in hand, I looked over the menu and ordered some onion rings. The Flying Blue Squirrel was a pub, but they didn’t really do any of the cooking themselves. Instead, the food orders went next door, to the Brown Moose Café. They had pretty decent food, so the pub and café partnership seemed to work out pretty well for everyone involved.
I had just received my onion rings, when someone sat down at my table, right across from me. Amelia Hartford had taken off her glasses and let her hair down, which made her look both younger and less strict. However, when I looked up and into her eyes, I saw the steely look that I’d long since come to recognize as an indicator of a dangerous individual.
Without saying a word, Hartford set a metal cube into the middle of the table and pushed a button. Several LEDs began to glow on the top. I didn’t bother to ask her what the cube was, because I’d seen that model of devise before. It was a form of very effective eavesdropping protection.
“Imp,” Hartford greeted me politely, right as she slid a folder to me. Then, she took a sip from her glass of wine but kept her eyes fixed on me.
Inside the folder was a photo of a painting, a beautiful example of the Barbizon style. There were other photos which showed close-ups of the painting, the author’s signature, and even the frame. There were a few other things in the folder as well, but it was the first and best photo that really drew my attention.
“Three years ago,” Hartford told me, “an acquaintance of mine had this painting stolen from his private collection. There was never any evidence of who might have committed the theft.”
With a faint nod, I glanced over the first photo again, seeing what she was getting at. “I never forget a painting,” I finally said, “and I’ve never seen this one before. I can assure you, that this wasn’t one of my jobs.”
Hartford took a slow slip of her wine before pointing out, “You were one of the prime suspects.”
“Where did this job occur?” I asked curiously.
“A private residence in Boston,” she answered in an even tone.
That made me nod faintly in acknowledgement. “Until very recently, I haven’t been in Boston for about five years.” I paused, biting my lip for a moment as I considered the situation. “Like I said, this wasn’t one of my jobs, but I know plenty of people in the business. I’ll ask a few of my contacts and see what I can find.” I gave Hartford a steady look. “I assume your interest is in recovery.”
“You assume correctly,” she responded.
I nodded my acknowledgement of that, then took a sip of my scotch. Without a word, I pushed my bowl of onion rings over to Hartford as an offer to share. She hesitated a moment, then carefully took one of them.
“Your reputations are…interesting,” Hartford said. I didn’t miss the fact that she’d used the plural form.
“Well,” I said with a grin. “I am many things, but rarely boring.”
Hartford bowed her head slightly in agreement. “You have a reputation for being reckless, impulsive, and frankly…extremely frustrating to deal with.”
“Cheers to that,” I said, holding up my beer.
“But among those knowledgeable in your field,” Hartford continued, “you also have a reputation for skill, expertise, and as hard as it is to believe…professionalism. At first, I was confused by your contradictory reputations.” Her eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “But after meeting you, I see that you prefer it that way.”
“You have a few different reputations yourself,” I pointed out pleasantly, thinking about what my contacts had told me about her work with the Syndicate. “But in our line of work, that tends to be expected.”
“Indeed, it does” she responded, staring at me for a several long seconds before reaching over to turn off the cube. After this, we finished our drinks and made some polite conversation, but avoided any further business talk.
Whateley Academy, Faculty Cafeteria, Thursday morning, Sept 6th, 2007
Shrimp and grits. At one time, if someone suggested that I should eat something called ‘grits’, I would have wondered why they thought sand was edible. However, last spring, Alicia had introduced me to the dish, and I’d been pleasantly surprised at how good it was. Now, I was having shrimp and grits for breakfast, right before I was going to teach a class where Alicia was one of my students.
While I was contemplating how small the world was, I glanced across the table, where Maria sat. She had a worried look on her face, and I knew that she’d been having problems, though not quite the same as mine.
“What’s up, Doc?” I asked Maria.
Maria gave me a wry look. “If you think it’s difficult to earn respect as a reformed criminal…”
“Retired,” I corrected her with a smirk. “Not reformed. There’s a big difference.”
“Okay,” she responded slowly. “If you think that it’s difficult to earn respect as a RETIRED criminal, you should try it as a former student.”
“Have any of your students tried to attack you?” I asked her innocently.
“Not physically,” she admitted with a sigh. “Verbally, yes.” With that, Maria paused for a moment to take a few bites of her breakfast. Then, she continued, “You know I only graduated a year ago. Well, some of the students here remember me from when I was one of them. And unfortunately, a few of them have old grudges.”
“Yeah,” I nodded agreement. “I imagine that could make things rough.”
Maria nodded as well. “Unfortunately, the students aren’t the worst of it.”
With that, Maria glanced to Williams, who was just starting to walk past. Unfortunately, he noticed her gaze and immediately began to sneer.
“It’s appropriate that the two of you cling together,” Williams commented in a contemptuous tone. “Birds of a feather and all. Between the two of you, I’m beginning to wonder about Mrs. Carson’s judgment where hiring is concerned…”
“Did you hear something?” I asked Maria with a look of mock innocence. “It sounded like someone just farted.” She struggled to hold back a laugh, while Williams glared at us both and continued on his way. “So, he’s been giving you a hard time too…”
“I had his World History class in my junior year,” Maria responded with a sigh. “Let’s just say, I wasn’t always an ideal student in his class.”
I snorted at that. “I have a feeling that his ideal student has their mouth sewn shut, and isn’t able to think for themselves, or question whatever God given wisdom he decides to impart.”
Maria chuckled at that and admitted, “You may be right. He is a little full of himself at times.”
“A regular donkey’s behind,” I agreed cheerfully.
After this, Maria’s mood seemed to have lightened a bit, and we continued eating in peace. Before long though, breakfast was over with, so I said goodbye to Maria and started to my classroom. My first period class had both Melissa and Alicia in it, which made it my favorite class of the day. I could barely wait to begin.
A short time later, I was sitting on the edge of my desk, watching as the students poured into the classroom and took their seats. It was early, so a lot of the kids were still half-asleep, though that wouldn’t last long. If there was one thing that I was good at, it was getting people’s attention.
To my surprise, as well as curiosity, one of my students walked straight towards my desk, and it wasn’t either Melissa or Alicia. Monkeywrench was a boy with GSD, which gave him a rather noticeable resemblance to a monkey. His entire body was covered with brown fur, and he even had a long furry tail. However, it wasn’t his GSD that drew my attention so much as the fact that he was wearing a brightly colored lab coat, which looked almost like a Hawaiian shirt.
“Here,” Monkeywrench said with a broad grin as he handed me a banana. “I know apples are more traditional, but I prefer bananas…”
“Thanks,” I told him with a chuckle. “I see you don’t mind playing to the stereotype…”
“What stereotype?” he asked with a look of mock innocence, which made me grin. “The way I figure,” he finally said, gesturing down at himself. “Looking like this, I can either hide out in my room crying ‘woe is me’, or I can own it…”
“And you own it well,” I told him in approval.
“Just wait until I finish my banana replicator devise,” Monkeywrench exclaimed. “I will cover the world in bananas…” He let out a bit of mock maniacal laughter, which made me grin even more broadly.
As Monkeywrench went to his seat and sat down, I watched him in amusement, deciding that I liked this kid. He obviously didn’t take himself too seriously, and he’d relaxed enough to joke around with me. If nothing else, he was probably going to make the class more entertaining.
However, I couldn’t help but thinking about someone else I’d known with the same codename. The other Monkeywrench had been a rookie villain, with an unfortunately short career. I really hoped that this kid had a much better future ahead of him.
“Okay, I guess it’s time to get started,” I announced as I looked around the students. “I have a nice long lecture planned for you all today…” I picked up my lesson plan and began, “Yakety shmakety, blah blah blah…” That got a few chuckles from the students, though I also heard a distinct snore. “Uh oh. Someone fell asleep in my class…”
With an evil grin, I pulled an air horn out of my desk and noticed several students immediately clamped their hands over their ears. I saw one boy, who was flopped face down on his desk, already asleep. I made an exaggerated effort of tip-toeing over to him, which caused a few snickers and chuckles. Then, once I was standing beside the sleeper, I let loose the air horn. The boy bolted right awake and even jumped up in shock.
“What is the answer?” I demanded, before he could get his bearings.
“Pythagorean theorem?” the boy responded in a daze.
“Good try,” I told him with a chuckle. “Wrong class, but still a good try.” The rest of the class was laughing at this point, now fully wide awake.
“Remind me not ta fall asleep in class,” Alicia told the girl beside her.
“Monkeywrench,” I said, gesturing for him to come to the front of the class. “You’ve been volunteered to be my teacher’s pet for the day…”
Monkeywrench stood up and started to come forward, giving me a curious look and asking, “Should I be offended by that?”
“Only if you want to,” I responded with a smirk.
“Ma’am, yes ma’am,” he exclaimed, snapping a salute.
I handed a stack of blank paper to the furry student and told him, “Hand these out to the class.” Then I called out, “Alicia, come on down. You’re the next contestant on who wants to hand out pencils…”
“But I wanted to help,” Melissa whined.
“You’ll get your turn,” I told her with a grin. “All of you will eventually.”
“Okay,” I said once everyone had pencils and sketch paper. “Yesterday, we started on sketching, and today we’ll continue with that. I’ve got some techniques that will help you move beyond stick figures. And for those of you who are more scientifically minded, the same techniques can help you to make notes and sketches for the various doodads, thingamabobs, and whatchamacallits you come up with. And yes, whatchamacallit is a valid scientific term…”
“I thought it was a candy bar,” Melissa exclaimed with a giggle.
“And a very tasty one,” I agreed. “Now, let me show you all a little something…”
Whateley Academy, Area 91, Friday afternoon, Sept 7th, 2007
Nearly two dozen students were lined up in front of me, all of them wearing exercise clothes. This wasn’t one of my normal classes, but there were still a few familiar faces staring back at me. Usually, I had fifth period free, but Kurt Anderson couldn’t make it to his Survival class today, so I’d been asked to play substitute.
“Hello,” I greeted the students. “I am your new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.”
Several students chuckled at that. Melissa excitedly asked, “Does that mean you’re gonna teach us magic? Magic is so cool… But I didn’t think you knew magic…”
“What I mean by the dark arts,” I said with a faint smile, “is anything or anyone who chases after you. I don’t know what Anderson had planned for today, so I’ve decided that we’re going to practice a bit of evasion…”
“Like, not answering a direct question?” Monkeywrench asked with a grin.
I grinned back. “That depends on what you mean by the word direct…” Then, before we could get sidetracked any further, I quickly continued. “Whether it’s a superhero, villain, Humanity First, or just some schoolyard bullies, I can guarantee that sooner or later, almost every one of you will have someone coming after you.” There were a couple nods from the group. I paused to look over the students, taking note of their expressions. “How many of you have had people chasing after you before, and not just schoolyard bullies…?”
One girl hesitantly raised her hand, then said, “After I manifested, a couple cops tried to arrest me…and I kind of ran away from them.”
“I’ve been there,” I told her with a sympathetic nod.
“A couple guys thought I might be a baby bigfoot,” Monkeywrench volunteered with a chuckle. “And they kept trying to catch me for some kind of reward…”
“And I wonder if someone might have encouraged that idea,” I said, while Monkeywrench just grinned.
Someone else announced, “Humanity First tried to catch me…”
Then, I looked to a student, who I knew for a fact, had experience in this area. “Melissa.”
“Jerk Rabbit…I mean Jack Rabbit caught me,” Melissa said. “And then Parakeet…I mean Paradigm…” I smiled in amusement at her nicknames. “But you know that, because you saved me from both of them…”
“You saved her?” someone blurted out in surprise, though I didn’t see who.
“I thought you were a villain,” Monkeywrench added, looking just a little confused.
Then, to my surprise, Melissa continued, “And I had a couple car thieves chase me…which was really fun. And while I was talking to Blue Diamond, Ultramax showed up and started chasing me too… I hit him in the face with a pie…” She burst into giggles at that.
“That sounds like quite a story,” I said, silently promising myself that I’d get the whole thing from her…later. “But right now, we’re going to play a game. Think of it as a cross between hide and seek…and tag. I’m going to break you all up into small groups of three or four, and one person in each group will be the chasee, while the rest will try to catch them.”
I went over the rules for the game, keeping them pretty straight-forward and simple. One person from each group had to run and hide, while the rest of the group came after them. If the runner could evade the rest for five minutes, they won the round. If another member of their group managed to touch them before those five minutes, then they won. Either way, they’d all get a brief review of what they did right and how they could improve, then they’d try again with a different person playing the runner.
The playground for this particular game was Arena 91, which was currently set up to simulate a couple city blocks. There were buildings, streets, back alleys, and even a park, all of which provided plenty of opportunities to hide from or evade pursuers. Part of my job, at the moment, was to see just how well they take advantage of those opportunities.
As soon as I told the kids to start, most of them began to really get into the game and were having fun with it. I watched as closely as I could, enthusiastically cheering the runners on, but making mental notes of how they could have done better. For the most part, the kids were getting into the game so much so, that I wondered if they even remembered that this was actually supposed to be educational.
“Good job climbing out of reach,” I told Monkeywrench with a thumbs-up. “Just keep in mind, that if you’ve got a flyer on your tail, getting on the roof could make it easier for them to find you…”
Then, I turned my attention to a boy who’d also just ended his term as a runner. “You lost, but it was a good try. If you hadn’t tripped when you did, you might even have made it…”
“It’s all her fault,” the boy grumbled, glaring at a blonde girl who’d been among those chasing him.
“How is it her fault?” I asked, more curious than anything else.
“She’s bad luck,” the boy responded, giving the girl an accusing look.
I glanced to the blonde girl, who looked rather smug. “I’m Jinx,” she announced. “I’m a probability warper…”
“Ah,” I said, nodding in understanding. “A literal jinx.” I looked back to the boy and told him, “Luck isn’t always on your side. When it isn’t, skill and paying a little extra attention to your surroundings can help compensate.”
“Just be thankful you didn’t fall and break both your legs,” someone told the boy, giving Jinx a wary look. She just looked a bit chagrinned. “Or your neck.”
I continued watching the matches and giving bits of advice, though I was also tempted to get involved a little more directly. But as fun as that would be, I couldn’t afford the distraction. I couldn’t do that and keep an eye on all the players at the same time.
Then came Melissa’s turn, and I paid even closer attention than I had to any of the other matches. She started off strong, getting ahead of her pursuers and turning invisible. All she had to do was hide until the five minutes were up and she’d win.
I wasn’t surprised when Melissa jumped out, yelling, “BOO!” to one girl, making her jump in surprise. Melissa burst into giggles and began running again, calling back, “Neener neener neener…”
“Not the smartest move,” I mused to myself with a grin, “but absolutely hilarious.”
A girl named Peacock nearly caught up with Melissa, who gave her a mischievious grin and suddenly vanished, teleporting a short distance away. Then, Melissa blew her a raspberry.
“You’re really starting to get on my nerves,” a chubby boy named Blackbox exclaimed in frustration. “I hate running…”
Melissa slowed down, looking tired, though I could tell it was only an act. The goofy grin on her face gave that away. She even let her three pursuers catch up...almost. Then, she ran around the corner, and as soon as their eyes were off her, she turned invisible and ran back past them, popping back into visibility after they’d turned the corner.
“Hey,” Melissa called out, “Where’d you guys go…”
“She went that way,” Blackbox yelled in frustration.
I laughed at the look on their faces, and on the expression of joy on Melissa’s. It was so much fun watching her, as she was a natural at this. Of course, I could see a few places where she could improve, but for now, I was enjoying the show.
“I have an idea,” Peacock exclaimed, suddenly coming to a stop. She called out, “Hey Mischief…”
“Yeah?” Melissa responded with a grin.
Suddenly, a glowing transparent peacock tail appeared behind Peacock. It was absolutely amazing and I couldn’t help but staring. However, neither could Melissa, who just stood there, staring at Peacock while Blackbox simply walked up and touched her on her arm, ending the game.
“Oh, that’s not fair,” Melissa grumbled. “I almost won…”
“Almost only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and thermonuclear weapons,” I told her with a chuckle. “A good try, but you failed to escape…”
“Good distraction,” Monkeywrench told Peacock.
“Did you know she could do that?” I asked Melissa.
Melissa nodded reluctantly, almost pouting. “Sorta…”
“Listen up everyone,” I called out, deciding that it was time to dispense another piece of hard learned wisdom. “There’s an old cliché about how knowledge is power. Well, it might be a cliché, but it’s also true…”
“Every gadgeteer knows that,” Blackbox pointed out while the other techie kids nodded agreement.
“It’s true in situations like this too,” I said, gesturing around the playground. “If you have the chance to check the terrain out ahead of time, you can locate all the best hidey holes and escape routes, just in case you need them. That will give you a huge advantage in this kind of escape… In fact, take the time to check out the area around your homes, around campus, and anywhere you expect to spend much time. Knowing the terrain can save your life.”
Everyone was watching me, perhaps a little surprised by the fact that I was being pretty serious at the moment. I looked around, keeping my serious face on so that they knew I actually meant this. As I’d just told them, this information could save their lives someday. I’d certainly used it to save my own often enough.
“The more you know about the people chasing after you,” I continued a few seconds later, “the better your odds. If you know they can fly, find an overhang or some other spot to hide you from the air. If they have enhanced senses, look for something really stinky or loud to overwhelm their senses and provide cover. And if you know that they can daze you just by looking at them…” I looked straight at Melissa, “you avoid looking at them.”
“Okay, okay, okay,” Melissa pouted. “I get it…”
“Other than that, you did pretty good,” I told her with a smile. I looked around the students and added, “And of course, this works the other way around too. The more they know about you, the more they can use it against you. That’s why you always want to keep a trick or two up your sleeves, just so you can surprise people if you have to.”
“Okay,” I said, looking at the clock. “It looks like we’re out of time for today, so go ahead and hit the showers.” The kids immediately took advantage of that to leave, though I pulled Melissa aside and said, “I’d like you to stop by my classroom after school. There’s something I need to talk with you about.”
Melissa immediately brightened up at that. “Are we doing to practice with handcuffs? You never finished teaching me…” She gave me an accusatory look, though it was almost immediately replaced by one of excitement.
“I’ll see you then,” I told her with a chuckle. Then, in my best WC Fields voice, I said, “Now get out of here kid. You bother me.”
Once all the students were gone, it was my turn to leave. After all, Survival might have been a fun class to teach, but I still had my own Art Appreciation class to get to, and as the teacher, I didn’t want to be late.
By the time I reached my classroom, I found that several of my students had already arrived. The Goodkind girl was already present, and was typing furiously on her laptop. I had no idea what she was working on, but doubted that it had anything to do with my class. Still, since my class hadn’t actually started yet, I didn’t really care. So far, she’d been well behaved…almost boringly so…and quite knowledgeable about the class material, so even if she had been working on something else during my class, I would have been likely to cut her a bit of slack anyway.
I sat down on the edge of my desk, watching as the rest of the students came in and took their seats. Then, just when I thought all of them had arrived, one more student came through the door. Rusty was hesitant, looking almost as though he was going to turn and leave again. However, he took a deep breath and came towards me.
“I…I want to apologize for what I did on Tuesday,” Rusty told me, looking suitably chastised and even a little ashamed. He still wouldn’t look me in the eyes, but there was a notable difference in his behavior and even how he carried himself. “I was way out of line.”
“Okay,” I responded with a nod and a faint look of amusement. “Accepted.” I gestured for him to take his seat, adding, “Just make sure you catch up on the class material.”
Rusty let out a sigh of relief and hurried to his seat, carefully not looking at Porcelain or any of the other kids with GSD. However, some of the other students were watching him, perhaps expecting him to do something else stupid, or maybe just surprised to see him back in class.
“Today, we’re going to start off with a pop quiz,” I announced, and was immediately met by groans from around the room. I pointed to one student at random and asked, “Okay, Coke or Pepsi?” He gave me a blank ‘deer in the headlights’ look. “Okay, we’re done with the quiz…”
“You know, that was the easiest quiz I’ve ever had,” one boy commented with a chuckle.
I glanced to Rusty, who was still behaving himself. Either the meds were doing the job, or Carson’s detention was. Either way, I hoped he didn’t flip out again and force me to do something nasty to him.
With that, I started off the lecture saying, “Wah wah waah wah,” in my best impression of Charlie Brown’s teacher. A couple of the students chuckled, so I flashed them a grin. “Okay, I’ve always wanted to do that.” I flicked my tail back and forth as I added. “Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, let’s start this class for real…”
Whateley Academy, Friday late afternoon, Sept 7th, 2007
The official school day was over and all my students were gone, yet I remained in my classroom, looking over my lesson plans for Monday and waiting. I was good at waiting. It was a hard-learned skill, and one that I’ve had a great deal of practice with, but it was not one that came naturally to me.
My classroom door was currently open as an invitation for people to enter. Of course, there was also a sign on the door which may have had the opposite effect. It said ‘ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER’. I wasn’t sure who put the sign on my door, but suspected it was probably Melissa or Monkeywrench. Either way, I actually found it somewhat amusing, so hadn’t bothered to remove it.
Just then, there was a hesitant knock on the door and I looked up with a grin, feeling a little disappointed to see that it wasn’t the person I’d been expecting. However, I smiled since I was still happy to see the young woman who had just hesitantly come into my room.
“Darqueheart,” I called out. “Come on in…”
“Um…hi,” Darqueheart said as she came in, walking a little funny. I knew that particular walk quite well.
“Are you okay?” I asked her, my eyes going to her tail.
“I accidentally caught my tail in a door,” she admitted, giving me a defensive look as she added, “It hurts…”
“Trust me,” I responded with sigh and a sympathetic smile. “I know exactly what you mean. I don’t know how many times I got my tail caught in the door after I first manifested…”
“Really?” Darqueheart gasped in surprise.
I nodded at that. “Yeah. And I don’t remember how many pillows I destroyed while sleeping…” I tapped one of my horns and Darqueheart gave an understanding nod. From the looks of her horns, I had no doubt that she’d been dealing with similar problems.
“How do you keep it from happening?” she asked, gently holding her tail, which was obviously still sensitive.
I paused at that, having to actually think about the answer for a moment. I’ve dealt with my tail for so long that I’ve almost completely forgotten what it was like to not have it. Dealing with my tail is so automatic now, that I don’t usually give it much conscious thought.
“Whenever I go through a door,” I finally told her, “I tend to keep my tail close to my body, usually letting it hang down near my leg. I walked about five feet, demonstrating what I meant. “It’s become such a habit, I don’t even think about it anymore.”
“Thanks,” Darqueheart said, “I’ll have to try that…”
My eyes went to her tail again and said, “You aren’t a regenerator, are you?”
“No,” she answered with a shake of her head and a scowl, right before puffing up. “I’m a mage…”
“I’m sure that could be useful,” I told her with a smile, thinking about how many times I could have used a spell or two to help me out. “You should probably learn a healing spell or two, because that kind of thing can always come in handy.” I gestured to her tail. “But for now, you should head over to Doyle and let them patch you up…”
“I fucking hate doctors,” Darqueheart spat out with enough vehemence that there was obviously a story there.
“Healing spells,” I pointed out again, thinking that she should probably make it a priority if she disliked doctors that much.
“You said something about polishing my horns,” Darqueheart blurted out, reaching up to touch her horns with a self-conscious look on her face. “How do I do that?”
Without a word, I went to my desk and opened one of the drawers. “Here,” I said, pulling out a small bottle of mineral oil and handing it to her. “Rub a little of this along your horns about once every week or two, and it will help them stay healthy and looking good.”
“Thanks,” Darqueheart responded with a self-conscious smile.
Darqueheart looked like she was about to say something else when there was a knock from my open door. It was Melissa, who’d changed out of her school uniform and was now wearing a red leather jacket.
“Hey Melissa,” I waved her in. “Nice jacket…”
“Thanks,” the blonde girl responded with a broad grin. “Aunt Brandy made it for me…” She paused a moment, suddenly looking a little unsure.
I responded with a wry smile, pretty sure that ‘Aunt Brandy’ was also the hero Brandywine. After all, I knew that Brandywine was Chickenhawk’s sister, and with that name…
“Do you two know each other?” I asked, looking back and forth between Melissa and Darqueheart.
“Not really,” Darqueheart answered, giving Melisa a somewhat hostile look.
“Wow,” Melissa exclaimed, her eyes locked on Darqueheart. “You’ve got horns and a tail…just like Imp. That’s so cool…”
“What?” Darqueheart gasped in surprise and confusion. However, she quickly covered up those expressions and replaced them with a scowl. “Whatever…”
“I have horns too,” Melissa continued, apparently unaware of the look that Darqueheart was giving her. “But mine are plastic, and I don’t wear them anymore because Imp autographed them, and I don’t want them to break… But wow, yours are real, and so big, and…”
“Shut up, pretty,” Darqueheart snapped.
“Darqueheart,” I warned her.
“You think I’m pretty?” Melissa asked, looking rather pleased. I rolled my eyes at that. Melissa was a good kid, but there were some things she just couldn’t understand. And honestly, I hoped that she never had to.
“You stay here,” I told Melissa, then put my arm around Darqueheart’s shoulder. “That was uncalled for,” I told the girl as I gently led her towards the door. “You don’t need to make fun of Melissa just because she isn’t lucky enough to be as unique as you are.”
Once again, I was sure that God must be laughing his tail off at the fact that I was lecturing someone about not mocking others. If this kept up, it would completely ruin my reputation. Sometimes, being a responsible adult sucked.
“Sorry,” Darqueheart muttered, though she obviously didn’t mean it.
“Now, why don’t you go on to Doyle,” I told her with a gentle smile. “Get your tail taken care of and try out some of the mineral oil I gave you.”
“Okay,” Darqueheart responded with a smile. “Thanks again…”
“No problem,” I told her with a gentle pat on the back. “I’ll see you again later…”
Once Darqueheart was gone, I turned my attention back to Melissa, who looked a little confused. “Did I do something to make her mad at me? I usually know when I do that, but not this time.”
“No,” I told Melissa with a sigh, putting a hand on her shoulder. “It wasn’t anything you did. Darque just has some self-esteem issues she needs to work through.”
“Oh,” she responded with a thoughtful look.
“But Darqueheart isn’t what I wanted to talk about,” I said, pulling a couple cans of soda out from the cooler by my desk and handing her one. “Tonight, I have something else in mind…”
“What are we going to do tonight?” Melissa asked.
“The same thing we do every night, Pinky,” I responded with a grin, before dramatically announcing, “Try to take over the world.”
However, instead of the appropriate response, Melissa just gave me a blank look. “I thought you weren’t a supervillain anymore…”
I rolled my eyes in disgust. “Kids these days.”
“Okay,” Melissa said, still looking a little lost.
I stared at her for a moment, then shook my head. Time to get the conversation back on track.
“I’m going to do something I don’t do often,” I warned her, “so don’t freak out. I haven’t been taken over by a pod person or anything…” Then I paused to raise an eyebrow, and in a dramatic voice, I asked, “Or have I?”
Melissa giggled. “I thought you might have been when I found out you were a teacher now.”
“I’m going to be serious,” I told her with a grin, then quickly amended, “Or at least, I’m going to try to be.”
This time, Melissa snorted, muttering, “Good luck with that.”
For a moment, I just watched her with an amused smile. Then, I let out a sigh and said, “I owe you an apology. After what happened with Pair of Dimes, I was avoiding you…”
“It’s because of who my dad is, isn’t it?” She pouted a little at that, looking hurt. “I barely even got to see you at that art show…”
“I’m afraid so,” I admitted with a sigh, trying hard not to think about her dad. I felt a knot in my stomach as I thought of him…and in my heart. “”At least partly. It’s…complicated.”
“He won’t arrest you,” Melissa exclaimed. “Not after you saved me. Besides, he doesn’t even know you’re Candice… I bet, you could even come eat dinner with us and he wouldn’t even know.” She giggled at that, and I could see the wheels turning in her head.
“While that might be fun,” I told Melissa, “I don’t think it’s going to happen. Chickenhawk and I have spent way too much time as enemies to just shake hands and forget it.”
Then, because I wanted to change the topic, I said, “So, what was that you said about talking with Blue Diamond?”
Melissa’s eyes lit up. “Oh yeah. I met her on top of this building, right after she did some kind of robbery, and she was really nice… But then Dynamo and Ultramax showed up, and they were total jerks about it…”
I just burst out laughing as I imagined the scene. “Don’t tell me that you were cheating on me with another villain…”
“It wasn’t like that,” Melissa protested.
With an exaggerated sigh, I said, “It looks like I’m going to have to have a word with Diamond about trying to steal my apprentice…”
“Wait,” Melissa blurted out, staring at me. “You called me your apprentice…”
“I guess I did,” I admitted with a smile, staring at the girl and feeling more nervous than I’d expected. “I guess, I’ve been thinking of you as my apprentice for awhile now. In fact, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about…”
Melissa’s eyes went wide and she gasped. “Really?”
“Like I said,” I told her wryly. “I was going to try being serious, so I’m not pulling your leg or anything.” I paused for a moment, trying to decide how I was going to phrase this. “You once asked me if I’d teach you what I knew, and at the time, I made a deal with you. If I taught you a few things…”
“Then I wouldn’t do any more burglar stuff until I turned eighteen,” she finished for me.
“If you’d like,” I continued, “I can keep teaching you a few things. But if you’re interested…and willing to work hard…I’d like to make you my apprentice for real.”
For a moment, Melissa just stood there, staring at me with a look of stunned amazement, followed by excitement. However, that was quickly replaced with guilt.
“I…I don’t think I wanna be a supervillain anymore,” Melissa said quietly. “I mean, it looks like a lot of fun, but after meeting Jerk Rabbit and Parakeet…I don’t know…”
“It’s okay,” I said with a gentle smile. “I wouldn’t make you become a supervillain or anything. The truth is, I’ve learned a lot of things over my career, and I just want to pass it on to someone. I want to pass it on to you.”
“Really?” she asked with tear-filled eyes.
“Really,” I assured her with a gentle smile. “What you do with it would be up to you.”
“Even if I wanted to become a superhero?” she teased me.
I gave an exaggerated shudder that made her giggle. “Even then.”
Suddenly, Melissa had her arms wrapped tightly around me as she exclaimed, “Yes, yes, yes, yes…”
I hugged her back, fighting back my own tears at this touching moment. I pulled away from her and said, “Well then, my new apprentice, it looks like I have some lesson plans to make up…”
Melissa beamed proudly, then reached into one of her coat pockets and pulled out the set of lock picks that I’d given her. “I’ve still got these…”
“And you keep them on you,” I nodded in approval. “Very good. You’re going to need them. But for now, I’ve got some work to do to get ready for your training. Plan on being busy for a couple hours on Sunday…”
“Yes, ma’am,” Melissa exclaimed, snapping a salute, or at least attempting to do so. The goofy grin on her face kind of spoiled the effect, but I couldn’t complain because I probably had a matching grin.
Once Melissa was gone, I sat down at my desk, feeling an odd sense of contentment. I couldn’t believe that Melissa was now my official apprentice, and I felt the urge to jump up and down in celebration. Training her was going to be a lot of work, but I was looking forward to it.
The Village, Friday evening, Sept 7th, 2007
The Brown Moose Café was a small and casual place, which was decorated in something of an outdoorsy theme that included a lot of wood. The food was good, though not as good as what I could get at the faculty cafeteria, but it made up for that by having fewer people.
I was currently sitting by myself, eating my trout almondine dinner. Maria was supposed to have joined me here for dinner, but unfortunately, she got caught up helping some students with a play for her Theater class, and was running late. I didn’t mind though, because I was used to eating alone.
At the moment, the only other person in the café, was Rick McKenzie, a Canadian who seemed to be waiter, cashier, and cook...and who along with his buddy Dave, ran the place. Rick had his attention firmly locked on the TV in the corner, and he was paying much more attention to the hockey game than to his sole customer, which was fine with me.
“Go get him you hoser,” Rick yelled out to the TV while I just smirked. After grunting in disgust, Rick turned his attention to me. “I’ll be back in a moment. I need to get fresh beer…”
“Take your time,” I told him with a wave.
Rick seemed to be a bit of a stereotype at times, but I couldn’t figure out if that was sincere, or if he was just trying to mess with people. If the latter, I could definitely approve.
When Rick returned from the kitchen a minute later with a bottle in hand, he asked, “Have you seen Dave today?”
“Dave’s not here, man,” I answered with a barely contained smirk.
“Eh?” Rick responded, giving me a curious look. “Of course he’s not here. If he was here, I wouldn’t have asked if you’d seen him…” Then he shook his head and muttered, “What a hosehead.” However, he was grinning as he said it.
While I was watching Rick, someone else came into the café and slowly came towards me. Franklin Delarose, head of Whateley security, was a man I generally avoided. We’d met a few times, especially when Carson first hired me, but security and I didn’t mix well.
“Imp,” Delarose greeted me, pausing beside my table. “Do you mind if I sit down?”
“Help yourself,” I responded, gesturing to the chair. I was still in a good mood after my talk with Melissa, and I wasn’t going to let Delarose ruin that. Then, in my best Maxwell Smart voice, I asked, “What can I do for you, chief?”
“I just want to talk,” Delarose told me, holding his hands up so I could see they were empty, in an obvious attempt to assure me he wasn’t going to try anything. “After what happened on Tuesday, I think it might better for everyone concerned, if we try to build some trust.”
“Do you use Legos or Lincoln Logs for that?” I asked innocently.
Delarose smiled faintly, though it was more a look of humoring me than of actually finding it funny. Well, you couldn’t please everyone, especially if you weren’t really trying. I was more interested in amusing myself than I was him.
“Imp,” Delarose started. “Or would you prefer to be called Candice?”
I scowled faintly at that. I’d known that he was aware of my original name because Carson had been, and as the head of security, she would have shared that information with him. Or perhaps it was the other way around. However, I didn’t like having my greatest secrets thrown into my face that way.
“Actually,” I responded with a pleasant smile, “I prefer Imp. But if you want to use another name, you can call me Christine.”
“Christine,” he nodded in acknowledgement.
Delarose was rather obvious in his tactic, but that might have been intentional. By using my ‘real’ name, he was trying to build a personal connection. Since he’d already said that he wanted to build trust between us, this just might be his way of being transparent about it. Or it might just be a veiled blackmail threat. The truth was, I didn’t know Delarose well enough to know what he was thinking.
“I’ve read your files,” he told me, “and I was involved in the investigation we performed before Liz decided to hire you. I signed off on you coming here to teach, because I don’t think that you’re a threat to this school. Liz believes that you can be a great asset for the students and faculty, while I believe you can be either an asset or a challenge for security.”
“I have a lot of experience challenging security,” I pointed out with a smirk. “Not so much with being an asset…”
“So I’ve seen,” Delarose told me with a wry smile. “And I would like to change that. I’d like to offer you a tour of our security offices, but I suspect that you’ve already done your research on us, just like we have on you…”
“You could say that,” I admitted.
The truth was, I’d called in a few favors trying to find out what I could about the school security, and I’d done my own investigation. I wanted to have an idea of who and what I’d be dealing with, and of course, how I could move around campus without having to worry about security. If I needed to leave in a hurry, I had several escape routes worked out.
“I could use your expertise and advice,” Delarose continued. “With your unique perspective, you might be able help us identify flaws in our system, ones that someone with harmful intent could exploit. I would like your help in finding and correcting these flaws so I can better protect this school.”
I stared at Delarose for a moment, nodding my understanding. I’d already found a few flaws in security, ones that I had my own plans to exploit if I needed to leave. However, I had to admit, I didn’t want anyone else to use them to hurt these kids.
“Of course,” Delarose told me with a steady look. “If you helped me to look after the school this way, that would be worth certain considerations…”
That caught my attention. “Considerations are nice.”
Delarose nodded. “I thought they might be. I know about your deal with Liz, and I’ll go along with it. However, I think we need to come to our own understanding, one that turns you from a potential problem into an asset.”
We talked this over for a little longer before settling on a tentative agreement. I’d act as a security consultant, and in exchange, I’d have better eyes on their system, and Delarose would be open for a small favor or two in the future.
By the time Delarose and I were done, I was also finished with my dinner. However, after he left, I stuck around long enough to have dessert. After all, I wasn’t one to turn down a slice of rich chocolate cake.
I was just finishing the last couple bites of my dessert, when Rick exclaimed, “About time you got here. Where have you been?” This drew my attention to Dave, who’d just stepped through the door.
“I went to get more beer, you knob,” Dave responded, holding up the case. “It’s for the fish and chip batter, so don’t go drinking it this time…”
I chuckled at the exchange, then left my money on the table and gave Rick a friendly wave, calling back, “So long and thanks for all the fish,” as I left.
After this, I hurried back to my apartment, though only for a couple minutes. I had an appointment to get to, but there were a couple things that I needed to pick up first. Of course, the other person didn’t know I had an appointment, so this was going to be amusing.
“Zippity doo dah, zippity ay,” I cheerfully sang as I walked across the Village to the next apartment building. “My oh my what a wonderful day…” I was still in a good mood after my talk with Melissa, and coming to an agreement with Delarose had only reinforced it. I continued singing, or at least humming to myself, until I reached the right apartment door and pushed the doorbell.
When the door opened, Amelia Hartford stood there, looking me over in silence for several seconds. “Imp,” she greeted me in a carefully controlled tone.
“I found this new scotch that I wanted to try,” I announced cheerfully, holding up the bottle, “and I thought you might be interested in trying it with me…”
Hartford hesitated a moment before nodding. “Come on in…”
Once inside, Hartford pulled out a pair of glasses and I poured us each half a glass. I sat down, got comfortable, and took my first sip. The stuff was strong but smooth. It wasn’t quite as nice as the bottle that Carson and I had finished while discussing my employment, but it was still pretty good.
While I drank, my eyes scanned Hartford’s living room. It was tastefully decorated, and the furnishings were rather expensive. I would have expected someone with her skills to have had a large computer system that took up half the room, but if she did, it was all in another room…and out of sight of visitors. Then, my eyes settled on the cube which was sitting on the coffee table. She’d turned it on upon my arrival, so the devise was active and protecting us from snoops.
Without saying a word, I handed Hartford a small envelope. It wasn’t until she’d opened it and looked at the contents that I explained, “The name of the individual who currently possesses the painting we’d discussed, along with the address where it’s located.”
Hartford raised an eyebrow and gave me a faint look of surprise. “I wasn’t expecting results quite so quickly.” She took a sip of her scotch, then asked, “And the thief?”
I shook my head. “Not on the table. Professional courtesy and all.” I took a sip of my drink before adding, “And I promised to keep their name out of it in exchange for the middleman’s name.”
“Understandable,” Hartford agreed. “And perfectly acceptable.”
“If I left first thing in the morning,” I told Hartford, “I could have the painting in your hands before first period on Monday.” I paused at that, giving her flat look before adding, “However, there is one small problem with that.”
Hartford raised an eyebrow. “A problem?”
“I’m on the supervillain twelve-step program,” I explained wryly, “and I don’t want to fall off the wagon and go on a bender.” Then, in case I wasn’t clear enough, I continued, “I’m on probation, and I promised Carson that I’d behave.”
Hartford actually smiled at that, but it was very faint, almost imperceptible. “I see.”
I took a sip from my glass and shrugged. “I do know a good subcontractor who works the area, and I can contact him…”
“That won’t be necessary,” Hartford told me, this time smiling a little more noticeably, though it wasn’t a nice smile. “I know the individual in question.” She held up the envelope that I’d given her. “And I think that in this case, another tactic will be better suited for recovery. I’ll take care of the arrangements from here.”
I nodded at that, not bothering to ask what kind of tactics or arrangements she had in mind. I didn’t need to know that information, and as a professional, she knew better than to share it. Instead, we sat there in silence as we each finished our glasses. However, when we were done, she picked up the bottle and refilled our glasses.
“Since our business there is concluded,” Hartford told me, “there is another piece of business that I’d like to discuss with you.”
“Oh?” I asked curiously.
“I would like to commission a portrait from Candice Kade,” Hartford told me with a faint smile, one that was much more pleasant than the last one. “As a gift for someone special. Do you think that this would be possible?”
“Absolutely,” I answered with a grin and a swish of my tail. I took another sip from my drink and asked, “Now, what did you have in mind…?”
Schuster Hall, staff conference room, Saturday, Sept 8th, 2007
My stomach grumbled, reminding me that it was time for lunch. Unfortunately, my stomach would have to wait, because Carson had called a staff meeting. A lot of teachers were missing from the large conference room, either being too busy with their Saturday classes, or having simply decided to skip the meeting in favor of eating lunch. I was already wishing that I’d done that myself, but as the rookie teacher, I wasn’t sure I could get away with that just yet.
Maria sat on my left, being in the same position I was, as a rookie teacher. I was pretty sure that she was wishing she was somewhere else too. Louis sat to my right, or at least, he appeared to be sitting to my right. Since he was just a psychic projection, and he wasn’t really here, it probably didn’t matter to him in the least that it was lunch time.
As I leaned back in my chair and slowly looked around the room, I took note of who was present and who wasn’t. Yablonski was there, and he didn’t look happy, nor did Dennon. Amanda Chulkris, who looked like she was dressed entirely in vines and flowers, actually seemed to be in a cheerful mood, and was in the middle of talking to some boring looking guy whose name escaped me.
I glanced over to Ian Parker who taught several film and cinema classes, and who also happened to be head of the Art Department, of which Maria and I both belonged. Parker was my direct supervisor, at least in theory. I thought he was a bit nervous around me, and most of the time, I dealt with Carson instead of him. Still, as the most flamboyantly gay teacher on campus, at least he wasn’t boring.
And then, there was Williams, who had his arms crossed, with a deep scowl on his face. I didn’t miss the fact that he spared me a firm glare, which was nothing new. I just wondered what he had against me, because I hadn’t spiked his coffee or anything yet. Maybe I should get some liquid laxative, just to give him a reason.
Of course, there were several notable absences from the meeting as well, such as Circe, the head of the Magical Arts Department. I wasn’t sure why ‘arts’ was in the official title, because I’d never seen any of them using magic to paint or sculpt, but I guessed everyone liked to think of themselves as artists, even the finger wigglers.
Supposedly, Circe was actually ‘the’ Circe, the one from Greek mythology. In my long career, I’d seen a lot of odd things, including people who didn’t seem to age or die, so I wasn’t going to discount her being the real deal.
If she was the real Circe, it might be interesting to ask her about Odysseus and what he was really like. He’d always been one of my favorite characters from any mythology, because I loved how he used his wits more than his sword. Then again, if she really was THAT Circe, then bringing up that topic might not be such a good idea.
“Imp,” Kurt Anderson greeted me as he took a seat just a couple chairs away from my own. “Thank you for covering my class yesterday.”
“Anytime,” I told him with a grin. “It was a lot of fun.”
“I watched a recording of your lessons,” he admitted with a frown. “Your methods were…not as serious as I prefer…but the students seemed to learn from them.”
“Let me guess,” Maria told me with a faint smirk. “Your teaching methods involved a whoopee cushion…”
“Oh no,” I gasped with a look of mock horror. “I save that for the advanced class.”
“Imp does have a unique way of dealing with students,” Louis pointed out with an amused look of his own. “I suspect it’s because she has the same maturity level as most of the students…”
“The junior high ones,” Maria added with a grin.
“Hey,” I protested in mock offense. “I resemble that remark.” That earned a couple chuckles, not to mention, another dirty look from Williams.
After this, Carson began the meeting. “I am sorry for taking up your Saturday morning,” she started apologetically. “I had intended to hold this meeting yesterday afternoon, after classes were over. Unfortunately, something came up and I spent most of my evening on a conference call with the Board instead.”
“You have my sympathies,” Louis said, while several people nodded agreement.
“This has been our first week of the new school year,” Carson continued, “so I thought we needed to discuss some issues which have arisen…”
Carson talked for about half an hour, though she was utterly boring so I didn’t pay much attention. Instead, I made up my own dialog in my head, which was much more entertaining. However, I made sure to nod along occasionally, along with the rest of the room, and that seemed to do the trick.
Finally, Carson asked, “Are there any questions?”
I couldn’t resist, and immediately blurted out, “What’s the average airspeed of an unladen swallow?”
However, I didn’t expect Filbert Quintain to immediately answer, “Approximately 11 meters per second.” At my look of surprise, he chuckled and admitted, “I wrote a paper on the relative velocities of African and European swallows back in college.”
“So, he has a sense of humor after all,” I told Louis with a grin. “Who knew?”
“This is exactly why the Imp doesn’t belong here,” Williams blurted out, jumping to his feet and glaring at me. “She doesn’t take anything seriously…”
“Roland,” Carson said, fixing him with a firm gaze. “I’m not going to discuss this with you again…”
“She isn’t qualified to teach,” Williams continued, in spite of Carson’s warning. “She’s a CRIMINAL!”
“Roland,” Lillian Dennon said, standing up and giving him a deceptively calm look. “Are you suggesting that anyone with illegal activities in their past is unqualified to teach?”
For a moment, Williams stood there, looking like he was about to challenge her. However, he seemed to realize that this would be a bad idea, because instead, he spared me one more glare and actually snarled as he turned and started for the door.
“Wow, he REALLY doesn’t like you,” Maria told me.
“I’m used to it,” I told her wryly.
I stared at Williams’ broad shouldered back, glad to see him going, though something about that sight struck me as familiar. Suddenly, I had a vision in my mind’s eye of him being draped in red spandex. A cold chill ran through me, even as an evil smile formed on my lips.
“I love you. You love me,” I began singing. Williams froze with his hand on the door, and I could see every inch of him tense up, which only confirmed my suspicion. “You know Barney, I almost didn’t recognize you…”
“You BITCH,” Williams…Barney snarled as he snapped around and glared at me with a look of pure hatred.
I met Barney’s gaze without flinching. Instead, I just smiled, though it probably wasn’t an especially friendly smile. After all, Barney and I had a history, and it was one I’d spent a lot of time trying to forget.
Years ago, before I’d ever met Chickenhawk, I had another playmate…an obnoxious hero who called himself T Rex. We only danced around for a couple years, but during that time, T Rex, or Barney as I’d called him back then, had taken our confrontations personally and had become increasingly aggressive. Eventually, about fifteen years ago, he went too far and crossed the line. Then it was my turn to take things personally. After I’d shown him the error of his ways, the hero had disappeared without a trace…until now.
“So,” I asked in a cheerful tone. “I’ve always wondered… How long did it take for that dye to fade?”
“Three weeks,” Barney spat out furiously, looking as though he was about to charge me. I remained where I was, trying to look calm and casual, though I was ready to move the instant he made his move. “No matter how hard I scrubbed, it wouldn’t come off. I had purple skin for THREE WEEKS!”
One of the other teachers snickered faintly at that, though I didn’t dare look around to find out who it was. I wasn’t about to take my eyes off my old opponent, especially not when he was practically foaming at the mouth. However, now that I knew Williams was really Barney, it certainly explained why he’d been such an ass to me.
Barney moved closer to me and continued his rant. “I was arrested for indecent exposure. I lost my civilian job and my fiancé. You turned me into a laughingstock…”
“To be honest,” I responded a shrug and a cheerful smile, “You did most of the work.”
Rage flashed through Barney’s eyes and he suddenly began to grow larger, using the size warper abilities I remembered. Suddenly, Carson yelled, “ENOUGH!”
Both of us immediately looked at the headmistress, who looked pretty pissed as well. I let out a sigh, knowing that she was going to side with the other hero and throw me out on my tail. I felt disappointed at that because this teaching thing was the best gig I’d ever had.
“I don’t care about whatever history you two share,” Carson announced, her eyes fixing on me with a steely resolve that brooked no argument, right before locking on Barney as well. “You are both teachers now and I expect you to behave like it.”
I let out a sigh, embarrassed at being chastised like that. This was an odd feeling because I usually don’t give a damn if people are happy with me or not. However, Lady Astarte was one of the very few heroes I’d ever actually respected, not that I’d ever admit that to Carson, and she’d gone out of her way to give me this opportunity. I found myself reluctant to disappoint her again.
“I’m sorry,” I told her quietly, which seemed to surprise several in our audience. I shifted my attention back to Barney, and keeping my tone serious, I said, “We had a professional disagreement that turned personal. I’m willing to call an armistice and leave that all in the past. What I am not willing to do is sit here and passively take abuse from you, just to make you feel better. It’s your choice.”
Barney glared at me, then without saying a word, he turned around and walked out the door. Once he was gone, Maria demanded, “What in the world did you do to him?”
“I think the real question is,” Louis pointed out, fixing me with a curious gaze. “What did he do to her?”
I didn’t answer their questions, not even to make one of my usual smart-ass comments. Instead, I got up and left the room, not to follow Barney, since that was the last thing I wanted to do. Instead, I went to my classroom, because no matter how upset I was at the moment, I still had kids to teach.
The Village, Saturday evening, Sept 8th, 2007
I was sitting on the roof of the apartment building where I lived, staring out across Whateley Academy. The scenery was pretty nice from up here, which was why I was currently drawing a landscape picture of it in my sketch pad. Drawing like this was a good way to clear my mind of the thoughts and emotions that were swirling inside. As long as I had a pencil in my hand and paper in front of me, I could pretend that nothing else mattered, at least for a little while.
With my pencil, I carefully shaded in one of the buildings, then I started filling in details around it. “And here is a happy little tree,” I mused to myself as I added a couple trees. “Not bad.”
A few seconds later, I looked up and across the campus again, trying to decide what details I should add next. However, my eyes locked onto a girl who was flying across campus. For a brief moment, my tail twitched with the temptation to go and get some eggs, just so I could throw them. Unfortunately, my target was out of my range, and even more importantly…she was just a kid. I wasn’t going to prank the students. That would have been way too easy. Now, if it had been a superhero flying across campus, I probably wouldn’t have been able to resist the temptation.
“Especially not if it was a certain former hero,” I muttered bitterly.
With some difficulty, I pushed the thoughts of Williams and Barney out of my head, and instead, flipped the page on my sketch book and began to draw something else. I didn’t pay much conscious attention to what I was drawing, and instead, I just let my muse drive me. Sometimes, that was the best thing to do.
“Fancy running into you up here,” a voice abruptly said from beside me.
“Hello, Louis,” I greeted him with a sigh. I’d come up onto the roof to get away from people, because I wanted to be alone. However, he was one person I couldn’t get away from so easily.
“Did Carson send you to find me?” I asked as I continued to draw.
“No,” Louis told me. “I came on my own. After what happened during the faculty meeting today, I thought you might need a friendly ear.” Then, he held up an ear of corn and made me chuckle.
“Good one,” I told him in appreciation for the pun. Then, a little more soberly, I asked, “Did you know that Williams was Barney?”
Louis hesitated a moment, then admitted, “I knew that Roland used to be a superhero named T Rex, before he’d come to teach at Whateley, but I didn’t know that you two had a history.”
I nodded at that. “Then, I assume Carson knew too.”
“Yes,” Louis agreed. “I believe that she knew the two of you had a…professional history, but that she didn’t know it had become personal.”
I shook my head and let out a sigh. “Barney was about the last person I expected to run into here…”
“If you don’t mind,” Louis asked me with a curious look. “What exactly happened between the two of you? I picked up some of it during the meeting, and I know that you played a particularly nasty prank on Roland, but I have a feeling that there is a lot more to it than that.”
“There is,” I admitted with a deep scowl. I was silent for half a minute, trying to decide how much I should tell Louis. Finally, I said, “I first met Barney about seventeen years ago. He was full of bluster and ego, the kind of hero who gets into the business because he liked beating up on people and get cheered at for doing so.” I gave Louis a wry smile. “A good attitude for a professional wrestler, but not so much for a hero.”
“I’ve seen many future heroes of that type pass through Whateley,” Louis admitted with a nod of understanding.
“I hate heroes like that,” I spat out bitterly.
I’d been in the business for a long time, and I’d run into a lot of so-called heroes like Barney. The Ram, both the first and second, the Crimson Kid, Jack Rabbit, Fuzzy Wuzzy, and far too many others to bother counting. It always pissed me off that they could get away with calling themselves heroes, when they were anything but heroic. At least, most villains were honest about their intentions.
“Anyway,” I continued, “we ran into each other about a dozen times during the next two years. He was so full of himself, I couldn’t resist messing with him a bit. Unfortunately, Barney might not have had much of a sense of humor, but he certainly had a temper. Every time we danced, he just seemed to take it more and personally.”
Louis gave me a curious look. “And you didn’t?”
“Nope,” I responded with a shrug and a wry smile. “As far as I was concerned, we had a professional disagreement, and I never take those personally. I try to steal things, some hero tries to stop me and lock me up. I mock them and escape, with or without my goody. It’s all part of the game. All part of the business.”
“But something changed,” Louis pointed out.
I nodded at that, then hesitated again. I’d never told anyone what had happened, not completely. There were some things, which were far too personal to share with anyone. But at the moment, Louis was a sympathetic ear, and I found myself spilling more than I ever have before.
“I was getting ready for a big job, and was casing a museum,” I told Louis. The truth was, I’d simply been there to look at a few of the new exhibits, just like every other person, but I didn’t think anyone would believe that. “I was in disguise, but somehow, Barney saw me and realized who I was. He caught me by surprise.”
My hands clenched into fists, while my nails dug into my palms enough to draw blood. However, I didn’t care about that. I’d spent years trying not to think about Barney, trying not to think about what he’d cost me. Now, I no longer had a choice.
“It isn’t that Barney yanked my tail,” I spat out bitterly. “Which is excruciating by the way. There’s a reason I actively discourage people from trying that. It isn’t that he kept kicking me when I was down and crippled in pain…breaking damn near half the bones in my body. And it isn’t even the fact that he then threw me in the river to drown…”
Louis’ eyes went wide in horror. “Roland Williams did all that?”
I met Louis’ eyes, ignoring the tears that were starting to run from my own. Then with a snarl of anger, I spat out, “It’s the fact that I was pregnant at the time.”
“WHAT?” Louis exclaimed, looking shocked and even more horrified.
“Barney cost me my child,” I told Louis in a cold tone. “Because of him, I lost my chance to be a mother…”
My throat froze for a moment, and I couldn’t bring myself to speak again. As much as I hated to admit it, I knew that Barney wasn’t really to blame…not for all of it. Being who I was…what I was…and doing what I did for a living, no child of mine ever had a chance. It had only been a matter of time.
Louis gave me a look of pity and whispered, “That’s why you did what you did to him…”
“I ambushed him,” I agreed with an evil grin, “dipped him in some purple dye, and then dropped him off…buck naked…in a very public place.”
“Ouch,” Louis responded with a visible shudder. “But after what you told me, that almost seems…tame…”
“I’m a thief,” I stated proudly, “and a damn good one. But I’m not an assassin or a cold-blooded murderer.” I narrowed my eyes as I admitted, “I thought about doing more, but for someone like Barney, humiliation hurts a hell of a lot more than physical pain.”
It would have been easy to track Barney down, to keep humiliating him and destroying his life. However, I’d never been a particularly vengeful Imp. I’d always promised myself that I wouldn’t be one of those villains who went after a specific hero over and over again, just for some personal vendetta. That kind of thing is sloppy, dangerous, and downright unprofessional. And besides, I hadn’t wanted to even think about Barney and what he’d cost me. It had been too painful.
“I’ve known Roland Williams for over a decade,” Louis told me sadly. “I’d never imagined he would be capable of doing something like that…”
“I doubt he even knows,” I said quietly. “I’d only just started to show.” I paused for a moment to shake my head before grudgingly admitting, “Barney is an ass, but I don’t think he’d knowingly attack a pregnant woman. If I’d thought he’d done it intentionally, I wouldn’t have been nearly so nice.”
We were both silent for about a minute and just stared out at the scenery. Finally, Louis asked, “So, what do you intend to do now?”
I considered several smart-ass responses before settling on, “That’s the big question.”
Williams was a pain in my tail, but he’d been one I could live with. However, the revelation that he was also Barney had changed everything. I didn’t want to see Barney or even think about him. All he could do was stir my anger and bring back memories that were better left in the past. My instincts said that I should avoid him completely, and get as far away from him as possible. Unfortunately, things weren’t that simple.
Whateley was a place where I could walk around in public without a disguise, and without fear of being lynched or attacked, simply because of my devilish good looks. It was a place where I could be myself, where even my previous career was taken in stride. And it was also the kind of place that I’d been dreaming of for the last thirty years, the kind that could easily become a home.
There were students here, who were counting on me to teach them how to paint, to show them the difference between a Monet and a Rembrandt, and to inspire them to discovering their own muses. They needed at least one teacher with a fabulous sense of humor, just to prove that you didn’t need to be boring in order to teach.
And of course, there was Melissa. Melissa was my apprentice, and there were a lot of things I still had to teach her. But she was more than just my apprentice. She occupied a special place in my heart, one close to where my own child would have been. I wasn’t going to abandon her again.
Barney’s presence could cause me a great deal of trouble, and he brought back memories of things that I’d rather not consider. However, I couldn’t let him chase me away from Whateley. There were far too many reasons for me to stay, and I refused to let him take this away from me as well.
“I don’t think Carson would be happy if I chased Barney away,” I said with a sigh and a shake of my head.
“No,” Louis agreed calmly. “Liz wouldn’t be happy if you did that, no matter how good you believe your reasons to be.”
I scowled at that and stared off into the distance for several long seconds. “I offered Barney a ceasefire…an armistice,” I finally said, looking Louis in the eyes again. “And I mean it. If he leaves me alone, I’ll leave him alone. I’ll avoid him and pretend he doesn’t even exist.”
“I doubt that will be easy for you,” Louis said sympathetically. “And what if he doesn’t agree to your terms?”
“I’ll try to play nice,” I said carefully. “I’ll try to make this work. But if Barney wants to continue our feud… If he comes after me…” I paused and gave Louis an evil smile. “Well, there’s a wise old saying that comes to mind…”
Louis gave me a curious look. “And what saying might that be?”
“You don’t tug on Superman’s cape,” I began to sing, “You don’t spit into the wind. You don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger, and you don’t mess around with Imp.”
Louis chuckled at that and gave me a look of amusement. However, that quickly faded and his expression turned serious. “I’ll have a talk with Roland,” he told me with a thoughtful look. “And I’ll make sure he knows to leave you alone.”
“I’d appreciate that,” I responded with a sigh. Just having Barney on the same campus was going to be challenging enough, but he was worth dealing with just to keep my future. “And keep the whole pregnancy thing to yourself.”
“Of course,” Louis told me with a sympathetic nod. “Thank you for trusting me with that.”
A moment later, Louis faded away and vanished, leaving me on the roof by myself. I let out a sigh, wondering if I’d made a mistake in telling him as much as I had. I certainly hoped I hadn’t, especially since it had felt nice to finally get some of that off my chest.
After a minute, I turned my attention back to what I’d been drawing before Louis had appeared. I hadn’t given it much conscious thought at the time I’d been drawing it, but now, I looked over the rough sketch of a girl’s face.
“Melissa,” I whispered with a faint smile.
Then, I looked at the rest of the picture, and the even rougher lines that were the beginning of a second image behind her. The lines were the start of a man’s face, though not detailed enough to give away his identity. However, I knew exactly who he was and I felt a knot form in my guts.
“Ryan.” The name slipped from my lips, almost without my consciously willing it. I wasn’t sure why I’d even used that name rather than Ben or Chickenhawk, but it was the name that had come. My old arch-enemy and Melissa’s dad.
I wasn’t sure how long I sat there, staring at the incomplete sketch with a faint smile on my lips. My heart stirred with a mixture of joy, longing, and heartache. And to my surprise…hope.
Even though I’d only just begun teaching, Whateley had already given me so much. Students, an apprentice, a couple new friends, and even a type of freedom I’d never experienced. Did I dare hope for even more?
“Of course I can,” I exclaimed, jumping to my feet in a dramatic pose while triumphantly grinning. “The fabulous Imp dares anything.”