Thursday, March 15, 2007
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
"But ... my ...." I was no longer able to control my tears, which trickled, and then streamed down my cheeks. The only security to which I had been clinging was the fact that others in Poe would understand what I'd been through because they'd been through the same thing. But no-one in any other cottage would understand, and according to what I'd been told by Debra, I couldn't tell anyone, either. "My ... change! I was told that I'd be in Poe," I sniffled, trying to wipe my tears, "with others who ... who understand."
Hartford glared at me. "Yes, but that was before we knew that you couldn't fully control your power, and as such, you are a potential danger to your cottage-mates. We are responsible to all students, Ms. Franks, not just you."
I was devastated. "But ... " I realized that I _was_ being railroaded by Hartford for some reason, because she was using evidence of my manifestation that she should have had _no_ access to. That fact added intense, burning rage to my already unstable emotional cauldron. "I haven't even been completely checked in! I want to talk to my Mom," I snapped.
"If you're going to attend a boarding school," Hartford sneered scornfully, "then you have to realize that you can't run to Mommy anytime something upsets you. You will be following our rules, and our decisions. We have properly signed authorization forms to make sure that you are cared for, including making decisions on your behalf when necessary to ensure we protect you _and_ the other students." She sounded like she was lecturing a six-year-old.
I started to bolt from my chair, ready to run from this nasty place, not wanting to stay in a place that would so deliberately ignore the facts and assume my guilt without knowing or even caring what had really happened. I'd go find Mom, wherever she was, and we'd leave this awful place with the awful administrators that were prejudging me guilty without knowing or caring about the facts. Mindless bureaucrats who didn't care what I thought, or what I needed, but only cared about their stupid rules. For some reason, Hartford was going to punish me for something I hadn't done by shoving me into what Tractor and Vanity Girl had called the 'freak' dorm for those whose powers were a danger, which almost automatically made the residents social outcasts.
I knew my powers weren't dangerous and that made things sting worse. I decided I wasn't going to put up with this. Maybe Mom could give guardianship of me to the Sioux Falls League, and I could home-school there. Maybe we could sneak back home and Mom could home-school me until I finished high-school. Anything would be better than the way Hartford was giving me the royal shaft. The worst part was that she seemed to be getting some kind of sadistic pleasure out of what she was doing. I was getting screwed, she knew it, and the look in her eyes said that she was gloating about it. "I don't need this shit messing up my life any worse!" I snapped angrily at Hartford. "If this is what this stupid fucking academy is like, I don't need it! I'm leaving! Where's my Mom?" My voice was shrill and loud, carrying through the entire office area and probably audible in the halls, but I didn't care.
Admiral Everheart's hand on my arm stopped me, as if she knew what I was about to do and was silently telling me to stop; she was surprisingly strong, and after a few seconds' contest of wills, with me unable to pull my arm away from her, I slumped back into my chair, fuming and muttering under my breath, a scowl accompanying the angry slits that were my eyes.
"Ms. Hartford," Samantha began, "if you will note, the report is preliminary, and so marked. Per regulations, unless there is impending danger to the school or other students, a preliminary security report may not be used for administrative or disciplinary action. Further, there is an unresolved issue as to whether there was a psychic component to the incident. If there was, indeed, such an assault, then according to the Whateley handbook, Ms. Franks is entitled to self-defense. Even if there was no psychic or magical attack, the security tapes show that she was actively trying to avoid confrontation, and that Truck was the first to lay hands on her. Her arm was bruised from being grasped, and the handprint was consistent with one of the other students."
"I see no bruising."
"If you check the records, you will also note that Ms. Franks is a high-level regenerator. Within twenty minutes of the incident, the bruise had healed. Security has photos in the report that clearly show significant bruising, indicative of excessive force by Truck." Samantha seemed to be just getting started. "Further, there are two police reports from last year suggesting that Cagliostro may have attempted to use his psychic abilities against other girls shortly after he manifested. There is not yet conclusive evidence that Ms. Franks acted in anything other than self-defense. She was not the aggressor. An evidentiary and disciplinary hearing would clearly establish that fact from the hard evidence at hand."
"Nevertheless, Ms. Franks is a potential hazard, and therefore will be reassigned to Hawthorne."
"That move is highly inadvisable," a fourth voice said, a refined, masculine voice that was suddenly in the office behind me. I glanced around, surprised, and saw a well-dressed gentleman standing behind Admiral Everheart. He hadn't been there a moment before.
"Mister Geintz," Hartford noted his presence, but sounded unhappy about it. "This is not ..."
"On the contrary, Ms. Hartford," the new man countered quickly, "it is completely within my line of duties. This was potentially a psychic assault, and as such, no actions may be taken by faculty or administration until the issue of psychic or magic involvement is resolved. It's in the handbook." He looked at me and smiled confidently. "I apologize for being late, but I was evaluating the other student involved in the incident to determine if they had any psychic involvement, either actively or passively."
"And was there?"
Louis shrugged. "I have a preliminary assessment, but as you well know, policy requires that I, or someone else from the Psychic Arts department, assess all of the students before even a preliminary report can be made."
Hartford scowled deeply. "Regardless of the causation of this incident, she has admitted that her manifestation was not under her control."
"Allegedly," Sam Everheart said very professionally. "Again, that's an unresolved issue. The medical report indicates that the injuries sustained by Truck were quite minor, considering the size of the manifestation and the ease with which it penetrated his PK field. Any trained military or law enforcement officer would conclude that it was a very controlled, limited application of force, which would be inconsistent with an 'out of control' manifestation, but would be entirely consistent with a claim of self-defense."
"In your opinion," Hartford said scornfully. She wasn't going to let go of her attempt to railroad me. "Our duty is to err on the side of caution ...."
Ms. Carson's door opened, interrupting Hartford and surprising us all, and she stepped out, with Mom beside her. Mom's eyes widened when she saw me sitting with an armed security officer across a desk from Ms. Hartford. "What's going on here?" Mom demanded. Bless her; she was in protective-mom mode.
Mrs. Carson frowned. "Ms. Hartford, could you please explain what's going on?"
"Ms. Franks was involved in an incident in which another student was injured by her manifestation. Based on reports, she is not in control of her manifestations, and as such, she is being reassigned to Hawthorne for the safety of the general student body."
Mrs. Carson glanced at me, frowning. "Ms. Hartford is correct. If your manifestation is a danger to other students, you should be in Hawthorne for your and others' safety. But your admission forms didn't include any information about a manifestation that was uncontrolled. Surely the Sioux Falls League would have noted such a situation."
"There is potentially a psychic component to the incident in which Ms. Franks was the victim," Everheart added a fact which Hartford had conveniently omitted.
"I didn't do anything but defend myself," I interjected quickly, "and Tatanka didn't really hurt the boy that was holding me. Not very much."
"Louis?" Mrs. Carson asked.
I glanced up at Mr. Geintz. "If you would allow me to perform the required psychic exam," he said, "I think we can gather enough data to resolve this issue."
"Uh, will it hurt?" I asked, a little frightened by the prospect of him rummaging around in my mind.
"No. However, if you have any mental defenses, I need you to lower them."
"There's just Tatanka," I replied softly, wiping once more at my unending stream of tears. "He doesn't like anyone poking around in my head. He kind of pushed Cagliostro out of my mind." I winced at the memories of how Cagliostro had reacted to Tatanka's force and how that had felt in my own head. "I hope Tatanka didn't hurt him."
"No, Cagliostro is okay. He was just stunned momentarily by the strength of your psychic block. Now, will you please assure Tatanka that I intend no harm?" I nodded to him.
Mrs. Carson gestured us toward her a small conference room. "Sam, I think we've got it from here."
Samantha Everheart nodded. "As soon as I have the information from Louis, I'll complete the final report and file it appropriately." She stood and marched out of the office with military precision, while Mom, Mrs. Carson, Mr. Geintz, and I went into a conference room and sat down, leaving Ms. Hartford visibly stewing at her computer.
I talked to Tatanka in my mind, calming him as to what Louis would be doing. Then I nodded, and I felt Louis probing in my mind. It wasn't uncomfortable, but because of my link to Tatanka and Wakan Tanka, I could feel his presence in my mind. It seemed a little crowded as he guided my memories of the incident, even talking to Tatanka directly to get his view of what had happened. It took quite a while for Louis to do a thorough psychic checkout, ensuring that I didn't have false memories, and that my report matched what my mind said happened. There was something else that Louis touched, and when he did so, I felt icy tendrils of terror shoot through every nerve in my body. He must have noticed my fear because he didn't dwell long on whatever it was, at least not long enough for me to realize what that strange something was. Then the psychic exam was completed, and I felt him leave my mind.
"It was a psychic suggestion, exactly as Kayda reported," Louis said with a frown. "The suggestion was that Ms. Franks would feel grateful for the offer of assistance, and would find Cagliostro attractive. Due to ... previous experiences, the attention of the four young men, followed by the telepathic suggestion, genuinely terrified her, with what appears to be good cause. Her reaction was in self-defense. From what I learned from her buffalo spirit, the actions when manifested were controlled to be deterring and not harmful."
Mom's jaw dropped. "That sounds like ... he intended something ... toward Kayda!"
Mrs. Carson's scowl deepened. "This is Cagliostro's first confirmed offense of using psychic power against a student. What do you recommend, Louis?"
Louis sighed. "I believe an appropriate detention would be sufficient for this offense. If the suggestions had been any more ... coercive and inappropriate, I would have recommended a psychic block or even expulsion."
"I think that sounds suitable. And detention for Truck, TK, and Nitro." Mrs. Carson sighed. "Now what about the issue of assigning Ms. Franks to Hawthorne?"
"I don't want to go to Hawthorne!" I interrupted, fighting my damned oversensitive emotions again. "I'll go back home instead if you're going to kick me out of Poe! Debra told me that I'd find understanding people in Poe, but not in the other cottages, because of ... how I manifested!"
"That would be Cornflower?" Mrs. Carson permitted herself a slight smile. "She wrote a pretty glowing letter of recommendation for you." She turned back to Louis. "What do you think?"
"It would be a serious mistake to reassign Ms. Franks from Poe to Hawthorne. She very much _needs_ the support she'll get in Poe, and I don't believe her manifested spirit is a danger. It could have seriously injured Truck, but held back its power to merely deter further aggression."
"Okay, that matches my impression of the situation."
"And I want Ms. Franks to visit with Dr. Bellows for professional counseling at least three times a week. There are much deeper issues that she needs to resolve."
I gulped, and from the corner of my eye, I saw Mom exchange a glance with Mrs. Carson. I wasn't aware of any issue, but Mr. Geintz had obviously found something that concerned him. "Okay," I said hesitantly, curious about the look on Mom's face, but this was neither the place nor time to discuss the issue with her.
"Subject to mandatory counseling, I see no reason to change your cottage assignment. That counseling is not optional; if you do not cooperate with Dr. Bellows, we will have to reassess the situation. Do you understand?" Mrs. Carson was all business, professional without being overly stern or intimidating.
I gulped. "Yes, ma'am."
Mrs. Carson stood, signaling that the conference was complete. "Louis, please make a report to security so they can finalize their incident report."
"When you finish," Louis Geintz said politely, "I need a moment of your time."
Mrs. Carson nodded, and led Mom and I from her office. At Ms. Hartford's desk, she stopped. "Ms. Franks will be housed in Poe, as per the original cottage assignment." She looked at me. "I believe you're late at checking in with Mrs. Horton. Given what's already happened, I would suggest you and your mother hurry to Poe and get your things moved into your room."
"Uh, is there somewhere I can get something to eat? They didn't give me anything to eat at security, and I'm kind of hungry."
Mrs. Carson sighed as she glanced at the clock. "Sometimes, security gets a little too involved in in their work, and they tend to forget about things like meals when they're busy with an investigation." She turned to the receptionist. "Elaine, can you find something for Kayda to eat?"
Elaine got me a turkey sandwich from somewhere, which I quickly ate because I wanted Mom to help me move in before she had to get back to Berlin to fly home. After what had happened the first time I'd tried to move into my cottage, I needed her around, but I knew that, earlier in the morning, when it looked like I'd be moved in my lunchtime, she had booked a flight to get home to Dad and Danny, and I couldn't be greedy with her time. That, of course, was before security had made a total hash of our plans and my day.
Mrs. Carson watched Mrs. Franks and Kayda walk with Elaine Claire, and she turned back to Louis, closing her door behind her. "What's on your mind?"
"She's a very troubled young lady," Louis said with a grimace.
Liz Carson nodded her agreement. "Yes, she is. But so are many of our other students."
"She's got a few serious issues, including one that she's mentally buried pretty deeply."
Liz sighed. "Is it dangerous?"
"I don't know."
"Maybe I should have assigned her to Hawthorne," Liz said heavily, second-guessing herself.
"No. She needs the support for her sudden gender change that she can only get in Poe."
"And that's something you'd discuss with Mrs. Horton." She shook her head. "Now tell me what's really on your mind."
Louis frowned a moment. "There are multiple instances of psychic persuasion, or attempted persuasion, in this case."
Mrs. Carson's expression hardened. "Can you be more specific? We _know_ that Cagliostro attempted to use psychic persuasion on Ms. Franks. What else is there?"
"There is evidence of someone, or something, planting a psychic suggestion in Cagliostro, and then him doing the same with TNT."
"Are you sure?"
Louis nodded, his expression grim. "And there's more. One or more people, or things, don't want Kayda here. The suggestions were to harass and bully Kayda to get her to leave. In the few moments I had in Kayda's mind, also I noticed that she experienced two separate attacks upon her person. The first was in the astral plane, or her dream-world as Native Americans call it, and the second was a physical attack by a Native American spirit. I don't think it's coincidental."
"We'll have to watch her carefully, then." Louis nodded his agreement. "Okay, Louis, Try to trace that suggestion in Cagliostro's mind. Regardless of whether you can find out who, or what, did it, I want that suggestion out of his mind. And wipe out his suggestions for TNT." She shook her head, sighing. "Since it's an outside influence, I no longer think that detention is appropriate, do you?" She shook her head heavily. Sometimes, being headmistress of a school of mutants was challenging. "Use detention as a bargaining chip so they agree to let you do the psychic probe. Let's keep it on the up-and-up. We have to set a good example, now, don't we?"
Between Schuster and Poe
We walked back toward Poe, passing many students who seemed to pause and stare at me. Perhaps I was feeling self-conscious after the multi-hour ordeal with security and the administration, but my confidence was shot. Mom could tell; she had her arm around my waist as we walked, and she was talking about the campus and reminiscing about her high-school days to distract me.
As we approached Poe cottage, I was getting strange looks from many of the girls and boys who were coming and going around the cottage. I wasn't certain, but some of the girls were looking at me with more than a hint of appreciation, while the guys seemed to notice me as if I was a troublemaker, but with not the slightest hint of attraction. That fit with what Debra had told me; the girls were either lesbians, or were changelings, and most of the guys were very gay, and thus not interested.
Self-consciously, I walked toward the entrance, where three girls were exiting Poe Cottage. The first looked like the elvish girl from the admin building, but her eyes were violet, her hair was long and flame red, and she was drop-dead gorgeous. She was accompanied by a lithe girl with chocolate skin who seemed to flow gracefully rather than walk, and a very attractive blonde who was paying an unnatural amount of attention to the elf girl. Wakan Tanka was amused by the fact that the elf girl and the attractive blonde girl shared a strong mutual attraction, even though they were trying not to show it. She guided me through a mental exercise to see their natures, and I was surprised to see a sexual tie between the two.
The elf girl stopped and turned suddenly toward me, staring at me with narrowed eyes. I was taken aback, startled by her stern expression, and wondering if she had detected the magic that Wakan Tanka was using to 'read' their natures? My focus was shattered, and I lost my 'reading' on the two. Still, the red-head stared at me, as if measuring me, perhaps magically. Without actively trying to sense anything about her, I could tell that she was probing me with some kind of magic.
"This one is powerful," Wakan Tanka told me in my head. "You should block her."
"I ... don't know how," I answered.
"Then I will teach and lead you in casting this spell. You must learn to do it yourself for the next time." She recited the incantation, and I repeated it, invoking the magic as I chanted according to her instructions. It took a few seconds to complete the spell. "It is a form of ghost-walking, but we are shielding our inner self from her magic. It is what Tatanka does for you, and what you must learn to do for yourself."
I felt the magic tendrils being pushed away from me, and the elf-girl frowned. A look of significant concentration furrowed her brow, and I could feel the probe pushing back at Wakan Tanka's shield.
"This one could be a danger to us, or a powerful ally. We must be careful until we know which," Wakan Tanka advised me.
I decided to be bold and not wait, stepping to the trio of girls, and more specifically, to the elf-girl. "Hi," I said, faking confidence as I stuck out my hand in greeting. "I'm Kayda. I'm just moving in. Do you live in Poe, too?" I hoped she didn't notice how much my hands were shaking.
The girl seemed taken aback by my bold approach. Her eyes narrowed ever so slightly as she grasped my hand. "I'm Nikki, and my code name is Fey," she replied. "And this is Bunny," she continued, introducing me to the shapely blonde, "and my roommate Toni," she finished, nodding to the African-American girl.
I shook hands with both girls. "Pleased to meet you. Are you freshmen, too?"
Fey smiled. "Yes. You'll probably be on the second floor if Mrs. Horton assigns you to the second floor with the rest of us freshmen." She could have made her reply sound snarky or insulting, but she hadn't.
"Well, technically, I'm a sophomore, but they have me taking freshman courses, so I'm kind of classified as a freshman. My friend Debra said I'd probably be on the second floor."
Fey laughed, and the sound was pleasant. "They did the same thing to me. I hope you don't think we're rude, but we've got to get to classes. I'm sure we'll see more of each other." The trio turned and walked away, re-engaging in the conversation that I'd interrupted.
"They seem like nice girls," Mom said as we walked to the cottage entrance. "I'm sure you'll make a lot of new friends quickly if the girls are all that nice."
I wasn't so sure. Their reactions to me had been a little on the cool side. As we strode into the cottage, I felt a bit of strange tingling as we passed the door. I suspected that there was something magical to protect the 'secret of Poe Cottage', as Debra had called it.
"You are perceptive, Kayda," Wakan Tanka told me. "There are magic shields and guards around this building."
An imposing middle-aged woman strode confidently from what appeared to be an apartment and into the large entrance foyer of the building. She looked me over, and then Mom. "Are you Kayda Franks?" she asked. I felt a bit intimated by her mere voice; she had the kind of presence that left no doubt that she could control a dorm-full of mutants with wildly-varying powers. .
"Yes, ma'am," I answered, my voice choosing that moment to get meek and squeaky. She _was_ pretty intimidating.
She stuck out her hand. "Welcome to Poe. I'm Mrs. Horton, house mother." She glanced at her watch, and then at my luggage which was tucked away in a corner of the foyer. "You're late," she said impassively.
I gulped. "I, uh, there were, uh, some boys ...."
Mrs. Horton nodded. "I already have the reports. You took less time than last fall's miscreants to get to know security. They at least waited a bit to start getting in trouble. You aren't going to try to break _all_ their records for trouble-making, I hope."
Tears tried to well up in the corners of my eyes at the reminder of the whole unpleasant incident. "I didn't mean to be late," I said, trembling as I fought to not sob. "And I wasn't trying to cause any trouble. I couldn't help it that they ...." The entirety of the past three weeks had been an emotionally-trying ordeal for me, and it had taken its toll, turning me into an emotional wreck and making me over-react to the simplest things, even joking and light banter.
Mrs. Horton patted my arm gently. "Relax, hon," she said in a soothing voice. "I was joking." She glanced at Mom. "How about if the two of you step into my apartment for a moment, so I can give you a quick briefing of life in Poe?"
"Oh, Debra already told me about the ... secret."
Mrs. Horton frowned. "Debra?"
"Cornflower. She's with the Sioux Falls League, and she helped me with my application and a letter of recommendation."
Mrs. Horton's eyes lit up and a smile emerged on her features. "Ah, Debra Matson. How is she doing? She was sometimes a bit ... difficult, but she was a good student, and not a trouble-maker - mostly. Although she did more than her share of pranking."
"I'll have to ask her about her pranks the next time I talk to her," I said, trying to smile as I felt a bit more at ease for the first time since we'd arrived on campus. A tiny bit. Mrs. Horton had that effect, which was very encouraging to me. "Or maybe if I you'd tell me some stories about her, I'd have something to tease her about." I was hoping that sometime, I could surprise her by asking about some of her more embarrassing exploits.
"Sometime, we'll talk. Now, since you know about Poe, I'll give you our abbreviated briefing. Everyone in Poe is an 'alternative lifestyle' student, meaning they're gay or lesbian or transgendered. Sometimes, a student may be so bisexual that it would cause issues if they were in a standard cottage. We don't talk about that, because some less tolerant students on campus really have a problem with people who are so-called sexual deviants. There is a bias against homosexuals and transgendered people that is pretty ingrained in society, and it spills over to Whateley. It's not your fault that you are who you are, but some people are bigoted and intolerant. While some out themselves, it can be dangerous to do so. So we put you in Poe, where you have a refuge."
"Unfortunately, because of the nature of the students here, we have to ask you to not be honest with anyone outside Poe about your transgendered status, or about anyone else who lives here, because a slip of the tongue could bring danger to your fellow Poe residents. Given the powers the students have here, any 'incident' could rapidly get out of hand or turn tragic. We'd prefer that it never becomes an issue. If you want to 'come out', at least respect your fellow Poesies and don't spill the beans about our secret here."
I nodded. "That's what Debra told me."
"You're one of several changelings we have this year. You were brave enough to admit it on your application."
I frowned. "You mean Mom was honest enough to admit it."
Mrs. Horton and Mom chuckled. "Parents sometimes do things of which their children dont necessarily approve. Returning to the topic at hand, we have many more changelings than normal this year. There will be many girls who understand what you've gone through, and can and will help you."
Mom smiled. "I had a thorough briefing from Debra as well, so I knew what to expect. I'm glad you're thinking of things like this to help protect Kayda's safety."
"Did Debra tell you about the cottage layout and facilities?" Mrs. Horton asked me.
I nodded. "Yes, ma'am. There's a common room and a library on this floor, plus a kitchen if we want to cook. Freshmen on second, sophomores on third, juniors on fourth, and seniors get attic rooms. There's a community exercise and weight room in the basement, and a laundry room so we can do our own laundry."
Mrs. Horton smiled. "That saves me a little talking, then. Each floor has a sun-room or television room for studying and socializing. Please be considerate of others who are studying. Now I suggest that you move your things into your room. You'll be in two-oh-five with Evelyn Chambers. I had Megs lined up to give you a campus tour this morning, but since you got ... delayed, I'll find someone to give you the tour after dinner."
I felt ashamed when she'd mentioned the delay; I'd put out another student for the tour that didn't happen, because I managed to attract trouble. That wasn't going to stand me in good stead with Megs, whoever she was, or her friends, once she spread the word. Talk about starting in a hole and digging deeper!
When Mrs. Horton was done, I walked with Mom back to the lobby, and we carried my gear up to the second floor, with me deliberately avoiding the scrutinizing gazes of students who were moving about the dorm. I was late, I was an outsider, and I felt quite humiliated by the whole security incident. Things at Whateley, and in Poe, were not off to a good start.
Room two-oh-five was easy to find; I knocked out of courtesy, but there was no answer. Instead, a couple of heads poked out of other rooms, looking at me and making me feel self-conscious again. One side of the room was occupied, and there were a few items on what were my bed and desk. I sighed, while Mom moved the 'spillover' items back to the other side of the room. Since we didn't have a lot of luggage, it was quick to put my things away in the wardrobe and on my desk. Mom and I got my bed made pretty quickly. I was set to make my home in this room for the next several months.
"I should get you back to the car, so you can get to Berlin to catch your flight home," I said reluctantly. I knew Mom needed to go home, but while part of me wanted to be on my own, another part was very nervous about severing my last link to home and my previous life.
Mom nodded; I could see that she had a tear in the corner of her eye. "I suppose so." Together, we walked out of Poe and down the brick pathway toward Schuster, and the parking lot where the rental car waited. Neither of us talked much; we just walked among the swarms of students, paying them very little attention, but also aware that I was getting stared at.
Most of the other students were in their Whateley uniforms, but a few wore more casual clothing, lending credence to Debra's comment that except for some formal affairs, uniforms weren't strictly required, but were nevertheless highly encouraged. The differences in the uniforms seemed to be their ties, which even the girls wore, and which the League had told me indicated their residence cottage. Some students also had pins, which proclaimed their group or club. One of the more prominent clubs on campus was called the 'Capes', the Future Superheroes of America, and according to Deb and VG, they usually wore their superhero outfits. I couldn't help noticing how many students had club pins of all forms to proclaim their allegiance. They belonged to some clubs which had probably already done their spring rush for new members, I thought bitterly, leaving me even further out in the cold socially.
At the car, Mom paused, and then wrapped her arms around me. "I'm going to miss you, honey," she said through tears. "Do well, and don't forget to call us."
"I will, Mom. And I'm going to miss you, too." My own eyes were moist, but I didn't want to admit to Mom how scared I was of being alone, especially after my unpleasant introduction to security. After a few more hug and more tears, Mom buckled herself in and drove back toward the main gate, watching occasionally over her shoulder as the car pulled away from Schuster Hall.
Sighing heavily, I trudged back to Poe, ignoring all the other students around me. I was truly alone, with no-one I could rely on. I had never felt so lonely in my life. By the time I got to my room in Poe, I was weeping openly, not bothering to wipe the tears from my cheeks. Damned hormones!
I flopped face-first on my bed, ignoring the noise from the hallway as students returned to their rooms after their classes and free time to prepare for dinner. I'd already had a really lousy first day at Whateley, and I really didn't feel hungry. Besides, I'd had a sandwich only a couple of hours earlier. I had yet to meet my roommate, and I _knew_ I wasn't going to fit in with any groups, assuming I ever got a chance to join any of the campus clubs. Mom's departure had really left me in a deep funk.
What the hell was I doing here? I should have tried to stay with Tractor and Farm Boy and Cornflower and Vanity Girl, and the others. I was certain we could have worked something out if we had tried. I felt welcomed there, which was a lot more than I could say about Whateley so far. I'd gotten in trouble with security, annoyed several students, really annoyed the assistant headmistress, upset my housemother, and that was in just my first few hours. And the few introductions I'd tried hadn't worked out well, especially with the elvish girl Fey, who seemed overly suspicious of me. Who knew how badly the remaining few hours of the day would go? And then the days after that?
After a while, the noise quieted down before it slowly ceased. A glance at my alarm clock told me that it was dinnertime. I sighed even at that; I didn't have a watch, because my bulky masculine watch would look stupid on my delicate wrist, but I hadn't had a chance to get a new one more suitable to my changed body. I just rolled over to face the wall, my back to my new roommate's bed. I couldn't help but wonder what else could go wrong.
I noticed that Mom had put up my poster of Debra and me. As I stared at it, I started to cry again because I missed her so much. She was so warm and friendly, unlike anyone I'd met so far here, except maybe Mrs. Carson, but Debra was now sixteen-hundred miles and a time-zone away. I missed her smile and friendliness. The worst thing was not knowing when I'd see her again. At least I could dream-walk with her, so it wasn't totally gloomy. Still.... Mom was, by now, at the airport in Berlin, or on an airplane flying home to Dad and Danny. I was truly alone, and I wondered when, or even if, I'd ever see any of them again.
I don't know how long I'd been lying on my bed bawling my eyes out, but eventually, I heard a knock at my door. At first, I pretended to ignore it; I was in no mood for company. The knock sounded again, more insistently. "Kayda?" I heard a voice call. It was Mrs. Horton.
"Come in," I called out unenthusiastically, still facing the wall.
The door opened, and I heard Mrs. Horton enter. "Fubar - Louis - told me you didn't go to dinner. For some reason, he's very worried about you."
"I'm not hungry," I answered softly. "I had a late lunch."
"You should go over to get some dinner before the serving line closes," she admonished me.
I just shook my head. "I'm not hungry." I didn't know how much of my reaction was due to stubborn self-pity, and how much was due to really not being hungry. I suspected it was more of the former, my old fear of being socially rejected actually paralyzing me against doing something about fitting in and finding new friends.
"Louis said you'd probably say that. You can always go a bit later if you get hungry. Since you aren't going to dinner, I've got someone here to take you over to meet with Dr. Bellows. He said that it's your first mandatory counseling sessions."
I slowly rolled over and reluctantly sat up, knowing that I couldn't fight Mrs. Horton on this one, or I'd get kicked out of Poe for missing my counseling sessions. And now I was pissing off teachers and staff members by making them stay late for me. Just fucking great!
Mrs. Horton was looking at the picture on my wall. "That's a nice picture of you and Debra," she said with a smile. "The camera is very kind to you."
I sighed. "We - Debra and Wish List and I - posed for some pictures while I was staying with them. It was fun." I could feel my voice choking. "I miss them already."
"Where did you find a white buffalo?"
I didn't even look up. "That's Tatanka, one of my spirits. I can manifest him if I want. He's like an overgrown puppy dog, even if he claims he's not." I had Tatanka manifest for a few moments in St. Bernard size, startling Mrs. Horton, but she quickly decided that he was cute, even though she treated him warily.
"I'll have to give her a call and see if she'll e-mail me copies of some of the other pictures," Mrs. Horton said, in a manner that wasn't clear if she was teasing or not. "She's a good person to have as a friend."
I nodded. "She's ... she's special. I miss her."
"How did you two meet?" Mrs. Horton asked conversationally, her curiosity piqued by my comments as we walked to the stairs and down to the main entryway of the cottage.
"Mom and I were trying to find someplace safe from the MCO, and we were directed to the Sioux Falls League. They were nice and everything, but we weren't friends yet. I ... I have some trust issues, I guess. Anyway, we got caught in the middle of a robbery, and there was a fight and Debra was hurt really bad, and Wakan Tanka ...."
"My other spirit. She's a great Lakota magic user and stuff. Anyway, she guided me through a healing spell to save Debra. Mr. Lodgeman said that even he probably couldn't have saved her."
"Charlie Lodgeman, a shaman, couldn't have saved her, and you did?" Mrs. Horton whistled in appreciation of my healing power. Mr. Lodgeman was apparently well known as a powerful healer, matching what I'd been told. If he couldn't have healed Debra, but I did .... I saw a glimmer of respect in her eyes.
"Yeah. Anyway, to help her heal, I ... had to dream-walk with Debra several times to keep her calm and focused, and, well ...."
"I take it from your blushing that dream-walking can be kind of ... personal?"
"Yeah," I said, looking down so she wouldn't guess just _how_ intimate I felt about Debra. "So you could say we're kind of close friends."
"Like I said, she's a sweet girl. But back to business - let's get you over to Dr. Bellows before he and Louis get even more worried."
"How did he know that I wasn't at dinner?"
Mrs. Horton chuckled. "Louis Geintz is the most powerful psychic in the western hemisphere, possibly the entire world. He knows just about everything that goes on around campus." She reached out a hand and tugged me, reluctant though I was, to my feet.
In the hallway stood a taller, Japanese girl; there was something about her which didn't feel right. Her skin seemed lifeless, and she didn't seem to be focusing on me even though she was looking directly at me.
"She is wanagi, a ghost spirit," Wakan Tanka told me, sounding quite concerned. "You must be very careful with wanagi!"
"This is Jinn Sinclair, also known as Shroud. She'll take you over to meet with Dr. Bellows over in Hawthorne," Mrs. Horton introduced and explained.
"Nice to meet you, Jinn," I said, trying to be enthusiastic even though I didn't feel that way. "I'm Kayda."
"Nice to meet you, too," Jinn answered. Her voice seemed a little strange, matching her mannerisms, and she was more than a bit reserved in her greeting.
Since it was a nice fall afternoon, we strolled leisurely to the core of the campus. I was only too familiar with this area from my earlier misadventures, and thus somewhat nervous.
"Word is that you got Hardass' panties in a bunch this afternoon," Jinn said, trying to be conversant.
"I guess so," I replied dead-pan. From then nickname she'd used to refer to Ms. Hartford, I gathered that Jinn wasn't fond of her either.
"The rumor is that you were assaulted by Cagliostro, and Hardass tried to ramrod you into Hawthorne, but Sam and Mrs. Carson blocked her."
"Yeah, that's about it." No sense in denying what had happened, especially if the rumors were already all over campus.
"Sam is very fair. And Mrs. Carson is too, even though she can be kind of harsh at times. I suppose she has to be to be headmistress around here," Jinn laughed. "Are you the girl that Mr. Lodgeman flew out to meet a couple of weeks ago? Because if you were, it would explain why Hardass is on your case."
I frowned, slowly digesting the information from Jinn. "Yeah, I guess that's me. Why would that matter to Ms. Hartford?"
Jinn laughed. "She's got some kind of hate going for him, and she takes it out on any students he sponsors or advises. She tried to get my roommate Billie transferred to Hawthorne last fall. She tried to push around Ayla, too, and she's been a pain in the rear to most of Team Kimba."
"Why?" Something occurred to me; I'd heard that name before. "And what's Team Kimba?"
"Some people are just born bitchy, I guess," Jinn answered with a curious smile. "If it makes you feel any better, being on Hardass' bad side puts you in good company. In our case, it didn't help that we made monkeys out of her precious Alphas a few times last year." She smiled. "Team Kimba is our training team. Nikki, Billie, me, Jade, Hank, Toni, and Ayla. We met as freshmen last fall when we first got here, and the team just sort of gelled." She chuckled. "Some people in administration and security don't like us a lot, because, well, things happen when we're around."
Jinn laughed aloud. "It seems like every time we went to Boston last year, we tangled with some major supervillains. We've had our share of problems on campus, too. Everyone wants to knock off the toughest group, and a lot of folks think we're it, so we kind of have a target on our backs." Jinn glanced around, and then leaned closer. "And we're all Poesies, so you know what that means. That tends to draw some negative attention sometimes, too, but mostly because everyone believes the cover story, which is that we're are all a bit nuts like all the Poesies. It'd be worse if people actually knew what being a Poesie was all about."
We arrived at Dr. Bellows' office, and judging by the lack of staff in the area, he was staying late, probably for my sake, which made me feel bad about interrupting his private life. I was ushered into his office immediately. He was older with graying hair, and he had an unlit pipe clenched between his teeth. "Kayda, will you be okay walking back on your own, or would you like Jinn to wait?"
I glanced at Jinn nervously. "I'll be okay," I said with some hesitation. I didn't want to put out _another_ Poe girl and get an even worse reputation as someone impossible to deal with.
Jinn must have somehow sensed my emotions, because she sat down in a chair outside the office, ignoring my suggestion. Dr. Bellows gestured for me to take a seat, and he took another. The chairs not at his desk were arranged for conversation, not for formal meetings, which seemed natural for a counselor. "Before we begin, I have to tell you that I'm an empath, and can sense feelings if I touch someone. I'm not a telepath. My job is to counsel you to help you overcome problems and issues. Everything we do is confidential. Do you understand?"
I nodded. "Yes. So what do you want to know about me? Besides what you already know, that is. I mean, you've probably seen all my files and stuff, especially after ...." I looked down, embarrassed by the incident.
Dr. Bellows smiled. "Don't worry about that. Just about every student has an incident or two with security."
"On their first day, within three hours of coming on campus?"
Dr. Bellows laughed. "Usually it's not that quick. But Whateley is unusual in that regard, because we school mutants with various powers, and the students tend to experiment with their capabilities. Almost every student gets a chance for a personal meeting with security. It's not at all a social stigma to have spent time talking to security. You just happened to catch the attention of a few students who lack ... common sense." He sighed. "Cagliostro ... has some issues, and it tends to get him in trouble. But we're not here to talk about him. We're here to talk about your issues."
"Like what?" I know I sounded a little defensive.
"We could start with how you feel about your gender change, or why I get the strong feeling that you have a negative self-image. Louis also mentioned that you have a very strong fear of being isolated socially," Dr. Bellows said casually, as if he was discussing the weather instead of my issues. He smiled. "Louis reported all of that from today's earlier psychic evaluation. So how about if we start with the thing that's most on your mind right now?"
I sighed, relieved that I didn't have to repeat the psychic probe, but a little alarmed that the information would have been shared with anyone else. Then again, Dr. Bellows was a counselor, so if anyone got Mr. Geintz's findings, it would be him. "I suppose I have to tell you since this is mandatory, right?"
"You don't have to tell me anything you don't want. But it will help to talk about it and find a way for you to get over your fears and anxieties."
After a few awkward seconds, I began, "I think the worst thing," I said hesitantly, "is that I'm all alone, again. I'm late to start school, and I can already see that friendships and social groups have formed, and I've heard that all the campus groups have rushed new members already, so I'm an outsider, and I'll never fit in, especially after I got in trouble on my first day." My eyes started misting as I suddenly babbled forth my feelings.
"Why does that scare you so much?"
"Because ... because," I stiffened, weeping, "the last time I was the new kid, I was bullied and shut out of all the group and teams and stuff - for over a year." I buried my face in my hands, shaking as I cried. "I ... I was so lonely, and everyone made fun of me and bullied me, and it hurt so much. It wouldn't stop hurting. Mom and Dad never knew, because the bullies threatened me, so I had to try to deal with it myself, but I didn't know how. I ... I sometimes wanted to curl up somewhere and die."
"Feeling like you're alone hurts more than most people know," Dr. Bellows said sympathetically. "You can't let yourself be paralyzed because of it. If you do, you'll never be able to take actions to keep it from being a self-fulfilling prophecy."
"But ... now I'm stuck being the new kid again. The weird one, the latecomer who doesn't fit in. I'm the outsider, and now I'm a trouble-maker, too."
"You're anticipating the worst-case scenario, and getting yourself worried and anxious about it. It's called anticipatory anxiety, and it can become debilitating by paralyzing you and creating self-fulfilling situations. One thing you can do, as you think about these outcomes, is to ask yourself a few key questions. First, what is the likelihood of the situation occurring. If you spend all your energy worrying about an outcome that is highly unlikely, you'll miss opportunities in other areas because you're too focused on a potential problem. Second, is there anything you can do to alter the outcome? If there are steps you can take to avoid a result, then you can focus the preventative steps and not on the bad ending. Third, how much will an outcome affect you in the big picture, in the grand scheme of things?"
"As I told you, Wihakayda," Tatanka reminded me none-too-gently, "you must learn from Ceda, the hawk. How does he view the world?"
I hung my head at Tatanka's words. "He looks at the big picture."
"As you must. The shaman you speak with is wise. Heed his advice."
Dr. Bellows noticed that I seemed to have lost focus. "Do you understand, Kayda?" he asked gently but firmly.
A heavy sigh escaped me. "I just had one of my ... spirits ... remind me of the lessons of Ceda, the hawk spirit, and how what I'm supposed to learn from him is exactly what you just said."
"It's nice that _someone_ agrees with me," he said with a chuckle. "You'll only be an outsider if you _want_ to be the outsider. _You_ have control over whether you get to know other students and your dorm-mates, right? This is a big school, not like your hometown school, and there are lots of groups. New kids come all the time. Friendships and groups form, expand, and change all the time."
I stared at him for a few moments. "You make it sound so easy, but it's not," I finally answered softly.
"I didn't say it would be easy," Dr. Bellows corrected my misconception of what he'd said, "only that you have control over getting to know people. Would you want to befriend someone who's always sulking and pouting and feeling sorry for herself?"
"I guess not."
"Exactly. And it doesn't help that you're also not used to your change yet, right?"
"That's why you're in Poe. There are a lot of students in Poe who understand exactly what you're going through. You _need_ that support. You'll be seeing me thrice a week for several weeks for counseling, but your peers in Poe understand a lot better than any counselor what you've gone through and what you're going to be going through. You _need_ to get to know the ones in Poe who can help you."
"But ... I've noticed that ... groups have already formed. And Debra told me that most campus groups rush new members in the first couple of week, so I missed that, too."
"First things first - you need to get to know your cottage mates, especially the freshmen. If I know Mrs. Horton, she'll arrange something so you can meet the other girls."
"I'll try," I answered reluctantly. "But I'm already getting a reputation as a trouble-maker," I added. "I remember in my last school; no-one wanted to hang around the trouble-makers."
Dr. Bellows and I continued to talk for almost forty-five minutes, and by the time I left, I felt like there might be a little hope. Maybe. I still wasn't very confident that I could put into action what he recommended so I wouldn't feel sorry for myself, but to take an active role in socializing. Jinn walked me back to Poe, where I could hear the noise of the residents coming back from the dining hall. Despite Dr. Bellow's counseling, it was extremely difficult, and awkward, to say even a simple 'hi' to some of the other kids I met. It was difficult to not feel left out, especially when two or three girls were walking on the path talking until I got near and their conversation ceased, we exchanged awkward greetings, and then their conversation resumed once I passed. And despite my protestations to Mrs. Horton to the contrary, I _was_ starting to feel a bit hungry.
I lay down on my bed, facing the wall, wondering if I'd like my roommate, if she'd like me, or frankly, if I even cared. I really missed Debra and my family. I felt like an intruder in friendly hallway talk. It was intimidating to know that I'd already started a reputation as a trouble-maker. But I had to fight those depressing thoughts. Tatanka, Ceda, and Dr. Bellows all agreed that I needed to focus on the big picture. At that moment, the big picture didn't include lying around moping and feeling sorry for myself. Still, it was hard to not worry when my introduction to the school had been so rocky.
A knock sounded at my door again, interrupting my morose thoughts. "Kayda?" It was some girl I whose voice I didn't recognize.
"Come in," I replied without moving as the door opened.
"Mrs. Horton said I should tell you that you're late for your tour," the girl said.
"Oh, crap!" I rolled over, chiding myself for earning yet another black mark. I found myself staring at a stunningly-beautiful, tall, lithe, blonde-haired beauty with sapphire-blue eyes. "Uh, I didn't realize what time it was."
"You're the new girl, aren't you?" she asked knowingly. "I'm Zenith. Let's get going; Jade is waiting for you, and the way she pulls pranks, I wouldn't want to be on her bad side." She grinned as she said this, but I shuddered. Yet another person I'd pissed off.
As we walked, I introduced myself. "Im Kayda Franks."
"Yeah, I know," Zenith said confidently. "You're technically a sophomore, too, but they have you in a lot of Freshman-level classes dealing with mutations."
Her recitation of data intimidated me. "Uh, how much do you know?" I asked nervously.
"Enough," Zenith said with an enigmatic grin. "By the way, I'm the cottage's 'Fixer'. If you need anything or are having problems, I can probably help out."
"I'll keep that in mind," I said as we descended the stairs to the ground floor.
Zenith strode directly to a shorter Japanese girl, who looked to be about eleven. "Jade, this is Kayda. She's in your hands. Don't scare her ... too much," she added with a grin before turning to go back upstairs.
I looked over the girl. She was a few inches short of being five-feet tall, with long, straight, black hair that she wore down over part of her face, as if hiding her looks. I held out my hand formally, but rigidly. "Pleased to meet you." My words were clipped, and I couldn't quite look at her eye-to-eye.
"Everyone says that you're trying to break our record for trouble-making," Jade said with a grin. I flinched at her reminder of what had, so far, been a lousy day. "You should fit in well around here, then." She smiled enigmatically. "Jinn is my sister. She told me about you." She started to walk, but then turned suddenly. "Jinn's dead, by the way. Sort of. It's ... weird."
"Yeah," I said uncertainly. Her comment had made me even more nervous.
"This girl is connected to the wanagi," Wakan Tanka warned me. "And she has some of the spirit of sungmanitu, the trickster coyote. Do not ever underestimate her."
Since it was still winter, it was already dark outside, which meant that there were few students outside. Jade was an enthusiastic tour guide, showing me much of the campus. Her energy and enthusiasm were kind of infectious; I was getting in a better mood as we talked.
We went to the admin building, where I'd already been earlier in the day, to a place called the Homer Gallery. There was a picture of Lord Paramount, and apparently it was required that every incoming student see the picture on the first day. There was also a pile of gold, meant as some kind of weird statement by a very wealthy alumnus. We stopped briefly in Crystal Hall, the main dining hall for students, and Jade insisted that I get a sandwich or something, since she somehow knew that I hadn't gone to dinner. I was surprised yet again to see that the dining hall was serving food long after normal dining hours; Jade noticed my shock and laughed, telling me that at Whateley, someone was almost always eating, so the caf was almost always serving something.
After that, we went underground to tour tunnels, labs, ranges, and combat arenas. I was quite intimidated by the combat arenas and the physical ed facilities. I was NOT looking forward to the martial arts classes Debra had warned me about. After almost two hours of touring about the campus, mostly in the dens and warrens of the labyrinthine subterranean maze, we returned to Poe, where Jade finished the tour by showing me the common rooms and explaining their use. She also took me to the bathroom, where she enigmatically pointed out that the girls seemed to love the showers that were a gift from Ayla. A couple of girls in the bathroom giggled at her comment as they looked at me, but I decided not to pursue the issue at that time, not sure if the giggling was an inside joke at my expense or not.
After thanking Jade, I went back to my room, almost dreading meeting my roommate. I was worried that she'd had a single room but now had to share, and would thus see me as an imposition. Fortunately, or not, she wasn't in the room, so the introductions would wait.
Since it wasn't too late, I called Debra and spent over an hour talking with her. She was curious how my first day had gone, and I was practically in tears by the time I finished recounting the trouble I was having, including the security incident. She thought it was quite amusing, and told me not to worry about it, because most kids got to personally meet security. I was still worried; it was my first day, word had already gotten around, and I'd gotten a few interesting looks while Jade was showing me around.
After we hung up, and my roommate still hadn't made an appearance, I decided that I might as well get ready for bed. Grabbing my bag of toiletries, I went to the bathroom. Three other girls were already at the sinks, chatting in a carefree, happy manner. Their conversation paused when they spotted me, making me feel very conspicuous and out of place, like I was intruding on their space.
"Hi," I managed to stammer, remembering what Dr. Bellows and I had talked about. It was difficult to force myself to overcome my reluctance and self-consciousness, especially knowing that these girls were already acquainted, if not friends. "I'm Kayda." I tried to smile, without a lot of success.
One of the girls, a very attractive girl with dark-haired that bore a red stripe in it, merely nodded, while a shorter, Asian girl with straight black hair replied. "You must be the new girl that everyone's talking about. I'm Chou."
"People are talking about me?" I asked, my eyes widening in surprise.
"The third girl laughed. "Yeah. How did you manage to put Truck in the hospital? He's a freakin' brick!" She looked like a blonde bimbo with more than her fair share of curves, but there was definite intelligence in her blue eyes. She held out her hand to me. "I'm Bunny."
"You'd better watch it, though," the first girl said with a grin, "or you'll end up with a UV armband if you make a habit out of beating up bricks."
"UV? What's that?" I asked, being reminded how little I knew about Whateley, even compared to this year's freshman class.
"Ultraviolent," Bunny said with a smile. Was this girl ever not smiling or happy? "It's in your handbook."
"Just remember that we're on your side if you decide you need to hit someone," Chou chuckled. In any normal school, Chou would have been rated an eleven. Here, though, after that girls I'd seen in Poe and while on the tour, she was only a nine or nine-and-a-half.. Still, she had a sweet innocence about her, and she had that mysterious Asian thing going for her.
"Yeah. By the way, I'm Elena, but I prefer to be called Riptide, or Rip for short. My full name is kinda long; it's Elena Neva Natividad Amicella Lucita Obregonand. My mom had a thing for making sure we stuck all my aunt's names in mine so in case they get rich and there's something to inherit, they remember that I'm named after them and are generous. I'm from California. Redondo Beach, actually, and my parents run a beachfront shop for surfing and stuff, so it's kind of like fate that I'm a water energizer," Rip said in a sentence that could have easily been split into five separate theme papers of two pages each. She was quite shapely, and she had the bronzed skin tone and facial features that screamed of her Hispanic ancestry, except for her ice-blue eyes. Had I still been a guy, I could have stared at her all day and not gotten bored. But like Bunny, she had an appreciative twinkle in her gaze, so even if I had been a guy, I doubted that I'd have _ever_ been able to capture her attention, since I guessed that she was another of the cottage's lesbians.
"Next time you need to kick some jerk's ass, let us know so we can come," Bunny said with a grin. "I'd love to watch." The others chuckled their agreement, not noticing my lower lip trembling from how the statement stung me.
This introduction had not gone as well as I'd hoped. As I feared, people already thought of me as a trouble-maker around campus, or at last around the cottage, and these girls whom I hadn't even met acted like it was a big joke. I grabbed my stuff and walked past them to my room, collapsing onto my bed. This day had been almost a total complete disaster, and even my attempts at polite introductions with other Poesies hadn't gone well.
I don't know how much later it was, but I was still lying in bed, reflecting on my catastrophic day and fighting tears, when I heard the door opening. Light poured into the darkened room from the hallway as two girls entered.
"I thought you had a single room," a girl said in surprise.
"I did," a second replied, sounding a little less than pleased. "But I was supposed to get a new roommate today, and it looks like she's here already, and asleep." Her voice was hushed as she came in and closed the door. She turned on a small lamp on her desk. "Here are my notes. You can give them back to me in class tomorrow."
"Sure." The first girl sighed. "Your roomie hasn't even unpacked, and her junk is all over the place."
"Well," the second girl, my new roommate, sighed, "I hope she'll get everything straightened out tomorrow. I've always been a little OCD about a messy room."
"Is she the one that beat up Cagliostro and Truck?" the first girl asked. "I heard she thumped them pretty good before security hauled her away."
"That's what I heard, too." My roommate sighed. "I hope she's not a UV. That's all I'd need!" she said sarcastically, before changing the subject. "Are you going to the movie tomorrow night?"
"Yeah. Maybe the Outcasts will behave themselves this time. And afterwards, if your roommate is out ..."
My roommate chuckled softly. "That would be great." I could tell that she was suggesting that the two of them could spend some 'private time' together if I wasn't in the room after the movie. As the first girl left, I heard the distinct sound of lips exchanging a kiss, and then the door closed.
I lay on my bed, unmoving, sullen, and silent, fighting tears, as the first girl left, and then my roommate picked up her toiletries and went to the bathroom. Even my family's previous move hadn't been as emotionally traumatic as this first day had been. Nothing was going right, and now I had a roommate whose first impression of me wasn't good. Not good at all.
A while later, as I lay quietly on a pillow, I heard my roommate come back in. She was moving quietly, until she suddenly stopped. I stilled my breathing.
"I'm a receptive empath," the girl said out of the blue, flipping the light switch on, "It's no use trying to fool me, because I can tell you're awake." She turned on the light.
I decided to just lie unmoving on my bed anyway. I hadn't liked what she and her friend had said about me while they thought I was sleeping before. It had hurt me emotionally when the insinuated that I was a trouble-maker, messy, and possibly ultra-violent. This nightmare of a day just wouldn't end, but insisted on tormenting me more.
I heard my roommate sit heavily on her bed. "I'm sorry if some of the things we said hurt you. I didn't mean to." She sounded apologetic. If she really _was_ an empath, then she'd probably picked up my hurt feelings from the comments they'd made.
I turned partially over and glared at her. "Yeah? Well, you did." I wasn't acting rationally, but instead lashing out in hurt and frustration of my really shitty day. I made a point of flopping over again, turning my back to her.
"Damn," I heard her mumble to herself, probably not intending that I heard. "I really screwed that up, didn't I?" She sighed heavily; she probably knew through her empathy how hurt I felt inside from my whole day, and from her and her friend's comments. She'd been upset, and had tried to apologize, but I'd snubbed her on that in my own self-pity and misery.
I thought about what had just happened, and about what Tatanka and Dr. Bellows had told me. It was up to me to control whether I felt alone or not. I could let the bad first impression continue, on both of our parts, in which case we'd probably have a very tough time for the rest of the year, or I could accept her apology and reset things so we could try to be at least cordial. After an agonizing internal debate for several long seconds, I forced myself to roll back over and sit up, surprising her. "I'm Kayda Franks," I said, nervous about whether she'd reject me again.
Relief visibly flooded her feature. "I'm Evelyn, also known as Evvie or Punch," she said, trying to smile. She had a warm smile that she wore well.
Evvie's face could have been carved on any master's sculptural masterpiece, or captured on a canvas of Da Vinci, which meant that she was probably an exemplar. A delicate touch of olive in her tint gave her a warm, soft complexion that was the ideal of slightly-exotic, passionate Italian health. Her eyes glowed with a zest for life, a radiating warmth that would melt a glacier and the heart of any but the coldest of men with but a glance. Evvie's hair was thick and mousy-brown, cut relatively short in a sexy but low-maintenance style. From how she sat, I couldn't see all of her body, but if her ample bosom was any indication, her body would be fought for by many a desirous would-be lover. She was a little more solid than most of the girls I'd met in Poe, but by no means was she fat. Instead, she looked muscular, like she worked out constantly and had her body toned and developed. In many ways, it was unfair to her to have to attend a school where the standard of beauty was stratospherically high. Evvie was very cute, and attractive in her own right, but not the way many shallow people would consider her beauty.
"I'm from Little Italy in Chicago, on the Near West Side. I'm on a scholarship from the Windy City Guardians." Her dulcet voice had an innocent, yet seductive quality, a magical harmony that by even without her invitingly kissable lips would stir anguish in the hearts of men who'd heard her speaking but once and longed desperately to listen to her melodious voice once more.
My eyebrows rose. "That's a coincidence. Mom and I got some help from them on our trip here!" I suddenly felt a little less nervous talking with my new roommate. "My friends in the Sioux Falls League arranged for them to help us if something happened, and, as the fates would have it, our car broke down in Chicago. One of the Guardians came by to help us out."
Evvie's eyes widened at my comment. "No shit? Do you know who helped you?" She sounded intrigued by my statement, not wary. Something had piqued her interest.
"Yeah," I answered. "He called himself Wing Nut."
"You're kidding, right? Tell me you're kidding!" Evvie squealed with delight. "Wing Nut is my oldest brother! When I talked to him the other day, he told me he helped a girl on her way here. That was you?" She saw my smile. "He said he'd helped you out with some car problems and some MCO problems, too?"
I winced. "Yeah. The Sioux Falls MCO office had it in for me. Your brother helped me with the Chicago MCO office to get things straightened out. He was really nice."
"Well, _you_ made a huge impression on him," she giggled. "He was going on and on about how an absolutely gorgeous mutant girl needed his help on her way here, and he was so happy to be able to save the day for you, and that if I bumped into you here, I should make sure that I told you 'hi' from him!" she chuckled aloud. "Wait until I tell him that you're my roommate!"
I laughed at the mental image of that phone conversation. I continued, my voice a little softer. "Did you change ... like me?"
Evvie shook her head. "Nah. I'm just a girl who never got into the girl-guy thing." Her brow wrinkled, echoing her sudden concern. "That won't be a problem for you, will it? I mean, rooming with a girl you know might be ... admiring your body?"
"From what Debra told me, I knew that it might be a possibility, so yeah, I guess I'm okay with it. Just as long as you try to be discrete and keep your hands off." I grinned. "I have a _very_ jealous girlfriend."
Evvie decided to change the subject. "How long ago did you change? I'd imagine that, for a boy, the worst thing would be having a period. I think _I_ would love changing if it were me, even with periods, because the thought of having those nasty ... things ... around is disgusting!"
"Not quite a month," I said, wincing at her comment. "And I hadn't had a period yet, but both Mom and Debra warned me that I'd get one soon." I cringed. "I am _so_ not looking forward to that!" Based on when I'd changed, that was probably going to happen _very_ soon.
Evvie noticed. "I take it you're completely changed?"
I nodded. "Yeah. It was really quick, too. I was going to school one morning when I manifested. Usual story - manifest, pass out, have your former friends try to kill you." I saw her eyes go wide. "Twice. I'm a regenerator, and my spirit is a great Lakota shaman, so I healed from all the broken bones pretty quickly, but using all that power caused me to have a burnout, which made my transformation faster since I'm a regenerator. In about six days, I finished changing."
"Wow! Your friends tried to kill you?" She shook her head. "That's gotta really suck." She decided to change the subject to something a little more pleasant. "So, what do you do?" Evvie asked. "I'm a basic TK brick and an empath."
"Compared to that, I'm nothing special. I'm an avatar, I regenerate, and I've got a little bit of healing magic." I thought of trying something. "Oh, and I can call one of my spirits to manifest." I had Tatanka manifest in his St. Bernard size, startling Evvie. I scratched under his chin. "He's harmless and cuddly." He snorted when I called him cuddly. "Mostly."
"Unless one is a brick trying to get your attention through unfair means?" Evvie asked. "Is he how you knocked Truck around?"
"How ... how many people know about that?" I stammered. I knew that news would travel, but I didn't expect anything this fast.
Evvie laughed. "Most of the campus. It's not every day that someone single-handedly takes down a brick and a projective telepath. That's no small feat." She was tentatively scratching behind Tatanka's ears, to his obvious delight. "Some of us," she grinned, "pay attention to things like that out of selfish interest. Besides, it was a slow-news day."
I sighed heavily. "Great. Just what I need - a reputation as a trouble-maker."
Evvie must have sensed my discomfort with the subject, because she abruptly changed topics. "Who's that with you in the poster?" she asked, looking admiringly at the personalized picture that Debra had given me.
I couldn't help smiling. "That's Cornflower, er, Debra."
"Yes, she is," I practically purred, thinking not of the poster but of hugging Debra, or kissing her. I suppose I seemed a little lost in my own world.
"I can tell she's pretty special to you," Evvie said with a wink and a grin.
I blushed; with her empathy, she'd probably easily picked up my feelings toward Debra as I thought about her. "You could say that." The reminder was just what I needed; I would have to dream-walk with Debra that night if possible.
Evvie laughed. "Well, my brother is certainly going to be disappointed by _that_ piece of news."
I scowled at Wakan Tanka as she sat so peacefully on the bluff, her long hair gently teased by the breeze as the setting sun caressed her cheeks. I started to speak, but she held up a hand to still me. For some time, we sat in silenced, save for the gentle rustling of the grasses, reveling in the gloriously-painted canvas that was the evening sky.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, she turned to me. "What troubles your spirit, Wihakayda?" she asked.
The meditation had calmed me, as I suspect Wakan Tanka had known it would. "I am ... alone. I have no friends, and it ... hurts."
Wakan Tanka shook her head. "Have you learned nothing from Tatanka? Was he not teaching you of the animal spirits?" I heard and felt Tatanka coming over the crest of the bluff toward us.
"Which spirits teach you of these situations?" Tatanka asked as he lay down beside me. His white fur was tinted with crimson and orange from the setting sun.
I thought a moment. "Pispiza?" I asked hesitantly.
"Because pispiza is part of a community, and is connected to those around him for safety and comfort."
"So it is with you. You must be like pispiza and become part of a community. By himself, pispiza is vulnerable. With his community, he is strong." He shut up.
I sat, thinking.
"What of the girl Evvie you share a dwelling with? Is she not being friendly to you? Did she not apologize for hurting your feelings? Was she interested in you and your background?"
I sighed, feeling my cheeks flush with shame. "Yeah, I guess," I answered, knowing that my spirit-mentor was not going to let me get away with feeling sorry for myself. At least not this time. I was frustrated by how often my pessimistic view of the world was being shattered by accurate alternate views from those around me, like Wakan Tanka and Tatanka. And Dr. Bellows. And Mrs. Carson. And Chief Delarose. And Mrs. Horton.
Homestake Paranormal Activity Research Center
Dr. Ernst Schmidt paced nervously on the raised platform, waiting for the pneumatic shuttle from the Native American college to arrive. He glanced at his watch, again, knowing that only a few seconds had passed since the last glace, but he couldn't help his nervous affectation. He turned to repeat the thirty-seven steps to the opposite end of the small platform.
A hum, accompanied by a sudden stiff breeze, announced that a pneumatic pod was arriving. Ernst stopped pacing, glanced once more at his watch, and watched down the smooth tunnel as a small pod popped into view and then began to slow, losing speed until it turned into one of the 'parking spots' and smoothly halted. Ernst stepped quickly to the pod as the door opened, offering his hand to help the passenger disembark. A large, thick envelope was clutched tightly in her hands.
"What brings you here, Hazel?" Ernst asked as his Native American counterpart.
Hazel Two Bears glanced around, making it very clear that her discussion was not for a public forum. "It's been a while since I've been over here. Why don't you give me a tour of whatever you've changed, which I'm sure is a lot." There was a sparkle in her eye and jocularity in her voice at her joke, but beneath the fagade was a clear, unspoken message: "this discussion is very, very classified."
Several minutes later, in a deep level of the HPARC, Hazel and Ernst walked into a small, well-appointed conference room, and after Ernst closed the door, they sat. On the table was a strange looking device; Ernst pushed a couple of buttons and an LED on the device turned green. Ernst looked at Hazel, and he visibly winced. "What have you got for me?"
Hazel put the envelope she'd been carrying on the table, one hand still touching it. "If you would, please?" she asked.
Ernst knew the procedure. He placed his hand on the envelope, which caused a tingling sensation to go through his fingers and some strange markings on the paper glowed. Only then did Hazel take her hand off the envelope.
With narrowed eyes, Ernst pulled the envelope's flap open, and then pulled out a folder. On first glance, the folder contents seemed a milange of reports, speculation, test results, and other assorted paperwork. He looked at it again, and then lifted his gaze to Hazel. "I presume you found something."
Hazel nodded. "And you're _really_ not going to like it."
"From what you told me, and from what your sensors are detecting, it appears that one of your 'captive' spirits has found a way past all your sigils and wards and psychic guards, and has been dream-walking."
"Dream-walking?" Ernst stammered, his mouth hanging open. From his grad-school classes in anthropology and paranormal events and beings in Native American cultures, he knew what dream-walking was. "Our wards and guards should stop that."
"Nevertheless," Hazel insisted, "something downstairs is dream walking. And from your list of captive bad stuff, you better hope and pray that it's not Unhcegila."
Kayda's Hometown, Eastern South Dakota
The old, dilapidated pickup glided to a halt outside the hamburger shop. Inside the truck, two men sat silently, watching the front of the popular teen hangout, and the parking lot beside it. Despite the chilly evening air, they were dressed in only down vests over their flannel shirts. One wore his long dark hair in a braid, while the other wore his in a simple ponytail. For a long time, they watched, until two boys and three girls strode out of the shop. With a few happy words of parting, they split into two groups - one boy with his girl wrapped in his arm walked toward a souped-up car, while the other guy escorted his two female companions in the other direction.
One of the two men glanced at the other, his expression asking the question in complete silence. The other man gave a single, firm nod in response. The first man, behind the steering wheel, turned the key and restarted the engine.
The car with the couple eased onto the main highway through town, and casually rolled through the town. There were no stoplights in this small municipality; only stop-signs gave unquestioned right-of-way to the highway. The pickup followed the car, two to three blocks behind.
With no idea that they were being followed, the couple pulled off the main street onto a side street, and after another turn, eased into a driveway. The pickup didn't take the turn, but drove past, the eyes of its occupants following the car's location with eagle-sharp eyes. When they knew that the car had stopped, the pickup circled, turned off the lights, and then idled back to where the occupants could watch the car they were tailing. For nearly twenty minutes, during which the teen couple engaged in a little spit-swapping in the car, the two men sat impassively and silently.
After what would have been an intolerable and cold wait for most, but which the men stoically endured, the sound of a car door thunking shut broke the evening silence, followed shortly thereafter by the throaty rumble of the heavily modified engine. The men in the pickup watched as the car backed into the street and then drove away. The pickup eased onto the street, and with the headlights still out, followed the car through the side streets.
With the truck still without headlights, it followed the car on the highway out of town, and then onto a gravel road. Still apparently clueless that he was being followed, the driver of the car pulled off the gravel road into a farmyard. The pickup drove past the farmyard and then eased off the gravel road onto a drive into a field.
The two men slipped out of the truck, then walked with an unbelievable fluidity to the fence line, and then crept along the fence back toward the farmhouse. In moments, they were crouched by a tree on the inside small belt of trees surrounding the farmyard. They watched and waited, seeing a light come on in an upstairs window, and after a while, going out. Still, they watched the house.
Nearly thirty minutes after the last light went out, the pair resumed stalking toward the house. One of the men boosted the other up onto the snow-covered roof of a porch, where he crept toward a specific window, while his partner slipped to the car they'd been following and, using a tool he retrieved from inside his vest, he jimmied the lock open. A small jar emerged from in his vest, which he placed on the dashboard. A note was taped to the steering wheel, and then the man slipped back out of the car, locking it as he silently closed the door.
The first man cautiously removed the outer storm window, and then slid a thin tool up between the sashes to unlock the inner window. That done, he eased the lower sash open, and eased himself into the house.
The boy slept, completely unaware that there was an intruder in his room. With a wicked grin, the man extracted a small bowl from inside his vest, and then poured the contents of a small vial, two lumpy, damp objects, into the bowl, which he set on the nightstand beside the boy's bed. A piece of leather with symbols burned into it, was set beside the bowl, and then the man stole from the room, reversing his actions until he was on the roof. The downspout from the upper story and a grounding cable from a lightning rod provided handholds for the man to get to the ground.
Exchanging looks of triumph, the two slipped back through the sheltering trees, along the fence, and into their pickup. In the brief interior lighting while the door was open, the men were more clearly seen. The outstanding feature, which would have startled anyone who saw the sight, was the war paint that decorated the men's faces. As the truck drove back onto the highway, the men whooped with the distinctive triumphant cries of their tribe.
Friday, March 16, 2007
I woke quite early, feeling a little better. Meeting Evvie had gone better than I'd expected, especially with the unusual connection through her brother. Dream-walking with Debra was wonderful; we swam in a lake in the Black Hills and had a picnic together. And my spirit-mentors really made me think. Despite a rocky start the day before, I was actually looking forward to getting started here because my spirits had helped me reset my attitude. Last night, Evvie and I had planned a shopping trip to the bookstore after I met with my class counselor, so I could get books, uniforms, school supplies, snacks, and other things I might need on my half of the room.
I was smiling when I went into the bathroom for my morning shower. There were only half a dozen girls in the bathroom, not all of whom were showering, so I was first in line. I'd noticed two signs outside the showers, so while I was waiting, I took time to read them.
NO USING HYDROFLUX HARDWARE BETWEEN 6 AM AND 9 AM.
WE HAVE TO GET TO CLASSES!
ALWAYS TURN ON SOUND CANCELLATION SYSTEM BEFORE USING HYDROFLUX HARDWARE -
YOU KNOW WHY!
THE FIRST RULE OF HYDROFLUX HARDWARE
IS YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT HYDROFLUX HARDWARE.
NO SWITCHING THE SHOWER CONTROLS ON ANYBODY!
I didn't understand the inherent message behind these signs, and when I'd stared at the them questioningly, a girl named Heather giggled and said that she'd be happy to teach me about the special shower feature whenever I wanted, which caused a couple of the girls who were lined up behind me to giggle as well. My eyes widened, probably considerably, as it dawned on me what the 'special feature' probably was, as well as the meaning of the none-too-subtle invitation. I blushed so hard my toenails were red, which caused even more giggling at my embarrassment.
A shower opened up, so I stepped in and began to wash quickly because the line was getting longer, and I didn't want to be one causing delays and getting even _more_ girls mad at me. When I finished, I stepped out and dodged around the first girl in line as I wrapped a towel around my body. The girl was about my height, and pretty well-endowed, with punk-length dark hair framing her cute face. I didn't know her; heck, I didn't know most of the girls in Poe, but I tried a friendly smile. As she unwrapped herself from her towel, she was watching me warily. I stepped out of the way, and happened to glance down. I think I screamed as everything went black.
Evvie, like all the other girls in the bathroom, was startled by the terrified shriek from Kayda as she bolted from the bathroom, wrapped in a towel that fell off as she ran, still screaming, her toiletries abandoned behind her as she panicked about something.
Another of the girls, Vanessa, noticed the look of horror and dismay on Ayla's face, and she frowned as the answer became instantly obvious to her. Vanessa stepped out of line and held the shaken Ayla tightly, comforting her from the rude way that the new girl had reacted. In moments, Jade joined Vanessa by Alya, worrying about their startled friend.
Fey, having nearly been run over by Kayda as Fey came into the bathroom, saw Vanessa with Ayla. As an empath, she'd felt Kayda's terror like Evvie had, and like Evvie, she also felt Ayla's enormous sense of guilt. "Ayla," Fey demanded, "what did you do to her?"
Ayla looked over Vanessa's shoulder at Fey with an expression of stunned surprise. "I didn't do _anything_!"
Evvie gawked at them in disbelief at how they were so concerned about Ayla, but didn't seem to care a whit about Kayda. "What about Kayda? Don't you give a shit about her?" she shouted at Vanessa, Jade, Ayla, and Fey. Still in her robe, she ran, angry, from the bathroom to her room, and she eased open the door to her and Kayda's room, and peeked inside. Even before the door was open a crack, she could hear the angry snorting from Kayda's buffalo, and she backed nervously away from the door.
"What happened?" Verdant asked, coming down the hall clad in her robe, reacting to the scream and noise.
Evvie shook her head. "I'm not sure. Something really spooked Kayda, and now she's got her buffalo in the middle of our room."
Verdant's eyes widened. "Her _what_?"
"Long story. Go get Mrs. Horton." As Heather hurried to the stairs, Evvie steeled herself by taking a deep breath, and peeked around the door into their room, expecting to still see the buffalo.
She'd guessed correctly; Tatanka stood squarely between the two beds, glaring at the door, pawing the floor angrily at her, and snorting. Evvie gulped, and then stepped into the room. "It's me, Tatanka," she said softly, speaking as one would to calm down a frightened or angry dog. "I'm not going to hurt you or Kayda," she continued. Seeing no reaction from the bull bison, she took a hesitant step forward, stretching out her hand toward the animal. She froze, fear-stricken, when Tatanka took a step forward. He was massive and very intimidating, a dangerous-looking bison that appeared like he could easily hurt any person in the cottage. He sniffed at her hand, and then nodded to her as if he was intelligent.
Evvie crawled slowly across her bed around Tatanka toward the window, to where Kayda sat huddled partially under her desk, curled up on her side in a fetal position, soaking wet, and shaking uncontrollably, rivulets of tears pouring from her eyes and down her face. "Kayda?" she asked hesitantly. She got no reaction, which, given Kayda's demeanor, didn't surprise her. All she could feel emotionally from Kayda was a paralyzing terror, the magnitude of which Evvie had never experienced. She flinched at the strength of emotions that Kayda was throwing out until she could get her own psychic shield up to protect herself from being overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of fright Kayda was feeling.
"Kayda?" Evvie repeated. "Are you okay?" Even though she could sense that Kayda was highly distraught, Evvie was trying to sound soothing and calming.
"No!" Kayda whimpered through her tears, over and over again, her eyes glassy and unfocused. "No! Please don't! Please, no!'
A few of the girls, notably missing Ayla, Vanessa, and Jade were standing in the doorway in their robes and towels, gawking at the sight of the angry buffalo blocking entry to the room, and Evvie squatted down beside her near-catatonic roommate.
"Step aside, girls," Mrs. Horton's voice parted the small group like the Red Sea. "What's going on?" She stepped into the room and came face-to-face with Tatanka, who was glaring at her angrily and snorting. "Kayda, can you please make your ... pet ... go away?" she insisted.
Under the desk, mostly out of sight, Kayda lay curled up in a fetal position, and whimpering 'No!' over and over. "Kayda," Mrs. Horton insisted, a little firmer this time, "please make the buffalo go away!"
After a few seconds, Mrs. Horton turned to the other girls when she saw that Kayda wasn't going to demanifest the buffalo. "What happened?"
"I don't know," Heather answered. "She came out of the shower, and then suddenly she screamed and freaked out." The other girls nodded and murmured their assent to the situation.
"Yeah, she just flipped."
Mrs. Horton tried to edge into the room, but the angry white buffalo wasn't letting her. "Evvie, can you please get something on her? She needs to get to medical."
"I'll try," Evvie responded.
"Who else was in the shower? Did someone do something to Kayda?"
There were vigorous denials that anyone had done anything.
"Uh, I think Jade and Vanessa were there, too."
"And Sharisha, and Alex," another girl offered.
Mrs. Horton's blood ran cold when she heard Ayla's name. "Dear God, no!' she muttered. "Did anyone tell Kayda about Ayla?" She saw all the heads shaking in denial. If no-one had, and if what Mrs. Carson had briefed her about was true .... "Hurry up, Evvie, we need to get her to Doyle now!"
After struggling for a bit, Evvie had a shirt and shorts on Kayda, enough to protect her modesty, but not much more. "Come on, Kayda," she said soothingly to her roommate. "Let's get up now." Using her telekinetic power, Evvie lifted Kayda off the floor, shaping the force she was applying so that the stricken girl was cradled in invisible arms.
Several girls gasped in shock at Kayda's expression. Her eyes were open, but sunken, focused on nothing, locked into the proverbial 'thousand-yard stare' symptomatic of extreme traumatic stress. She was pallid, like whatever caused the panic attack had drained most of the blood from her body, and she held her body rigidly, curled up in a protective little ball against some unseen danger.
Tatanka plodded ahead of Evvie, glaring menacingly and snorting at the girls until a path had been cleared. Doors popped open and curious faces stared out, both in the Gurlzone and in Boys-town, as the white buffalo escorted the girls.
"Take the tunnel," Mrs. Horton directed, so Evvie and Tatanka descended the steps quickly. In moments, Zenith caught up to them; Mrs. Horton had sent the older girl, just in case.
Doyle Medical Center
Sally McCoy, a multi-year veteran of the emergency room of Doyle Medical Center seldom saw anything that surprised her anymore. She was too professional and too experienced with the unusual and weird that was commonplace around Whateley. However, she was startled when large white buffalo tromped into the emergency room, followed closely by two girls walking and a third cradled in mid-air between them, curled up and helpless.
"Who's the patient?" she asked, having regained her professional demeanor. She was focused on the immobile, floating ball of a girl, certain that she was being brought for some kind of medical attention. "And would someone please get that ... thing ... out of the ER!"
Zenith, having been pressed into duty as a 'responsible' elder of the cottage, sighed. "The buffalo is under Kayda's control," she explained, "and since Kayda's not responsive, she can't, or won't, do anything about it."
"Okay," Nurse McCoy answered hesitantly. This was weird, but she could handle it. "Name?"
"Kayda," Evvie said firmly. "Kayda Franks. She just moved in yesterday."
"Have you got her ID card?"
Zenith looked at Evvie, who shrugged. "I don't think she got one yet," Evvie reported. "She got tied up with security all day yesterday, and she didn't get a lot of her paperwork done."
"Wait a minute," Nurse McCoy frowned as some puzzle pieces fit together. "Is this the same girl on yesterday's security report, the one whose buffalo attacked Truck?" She frowned and pressed a button on her desk. "Security, send a detail to Doyle ER." She was sitting, glaring at the buffalo, who was also staring at her, an angry look in his eyes.
Normally, Dr. Rascomb didn't interact a lot with patients, except in his research department, but like all doctors on physicians on staff at Whateley, he took his turn in the emergency room. Without looking up from a computer tablet in his hand, scanning data that the nurse had entered, he came through a pair of double doors which separated the inner workings of the medical center from the checking / waiting area. Dr. Rascomb pulled up short when he almost bumped into an angry, grunting, white buffalo occupying the middle of the waiting room. "Uh," he stammered, momentarily incoherent, "what is that _thing_ doing in the waiting room?"
Seconds later, two security officers burst through the patient entrance doors, one with his hand resting on the pistol holstered on his hip, while the other was holding his combination rifle and grenade launcher at the ready, looking as if he expected a riot instead of a medical emergency.
Officer Breen groaned when he saw the white buffalo. "Not _ the Buffalo Gal_ again!" he complained.
Dr. Rascomb sighed. Why did this kind of stuff happen whenever he got the ER shift? Why couldn't he have a calm, normal shift for once? As normal as would pass for Whateley. On the other hand, he thought about a few of the more 'interesting' cases from years gone by. On second thought, a white buffalo in the waiting room _was_ relatively tame. "What happened?"
Evvie stepped forward, to Tatanka's side. "We're not sure. She'd just come out of the shower, when suddenly she screamed and ran, and I found her like this in our room."
"Can you get rid of the buffalo?" Rascomb asked. From the reactions of Officers Breen and Matthews, that was exactly what they had in mind, too.
Evvie shook her head. "Kayda is the one who controls him."
"And technically," Zenith added for some unknown reason with a smug look, "he's a _bison_, not a _buffalo_. Very common misconception." She ignored the glares from the trio of men and the nurse. "Since Kayda's ancestry is Lakota, it's a reasonable assumption that the manifestation is a plains bison, too, as opposed to a woods bison," she added for good measure.
"I think you should give her a mild sedative," Fubar said, suddenly appearing in the ER. "She's a regenerator and an exemplar, so you'll have to give her one of the devisor drugs. Then get her in a room. I'm afraid this one isn't a physical issue."
"What, then?" Dr. Rascomb asked.
Fubar shook his head. "Based on yesterday's psychic exam for the security incident, I believe that she has repressed memories of some large psychological trauma, and caused those memories to surface. It's most likely PTSD, which would be consistent with her current mental state." He paused for a few moments, and as he did, Tatanka began to glare at him, and then suddenly vanished. Finally, Fubar gave up. "Her mental blocks are up. I can't get anything, either projecting or receiving."
"I just called an expert on Native American dream-walking. He's had experience with her before she got here, so hopefully the spirit that's responsible for her psi blocking should recognize him and let him into her dream-world. Hopefully. Then we can try to figure out what's wrong."
Poe Cottage, 2nd Floor Girls Bathroom
As soon as Kayda and Evvie went down the stairs, the girls drifted back to the bathroom. Murmurs circulated around the girls as they began to speculate on what had happened.
"What happened?" Fey asked of Ayla as Fey strode back into the restroom. Ayla hadn't followed the curious girls to see what was happening with Kayda and Evvie.
Vanessa was clinging tightly to Ayla. "What do you mean, what did Ayla do?" Vanessa snapped back. "It's not his fault that the new girl is a drama queen!"
"Drama queen?" Fey countered. "You didn't feel now terrified she was!"
"All I was doing was taking a shower," Ayla answered unhappily.
"Yeah-Fey-Ayla-didn't-do-anything-to-the-girl-she-just-freaked-out-and-scared-the-heck-out-of-the-rest-of-us-she's-gotsome-kind-of-problems-besides-overreacting-I-mean-we've-all-seen-Ayla-in-the-showers-and-it's-no-big-deal-so-why-did-she-freak-out-she's-just-a-drama-queen-like-Vanessa-said-Gotta-get-breakfast-bye." JJ scooted off as rapid as she'd come, her rapid-fire staccato and confused explanation of the event sounding twice, with even less clarity, as she told other girls in the hallway.
"Like hell," Sharisha snarled at Ayla, standing with her fists on her hips. "You did something to her!"
"I most certainly did not," Ayla countered defensively.
"What was it? Did you tell her you were a Goodkind and scare her that way?" Alex asked in a snarky voice from one of the sinks.
"Did you make some kind of perverted pass at her?" Sharisha taunted.
"No," Vox stuck up for her boyfriend. "Ayla doesn't do things like that."
"Yeah," Jade added from beside Vox. "Why are you so mean to Ayla?"
"Was she afraid because you're a Goodkind and she's a mutant?" Alex asked. "Or is it because she's a Native American, and your family has a reputation for being as nasty to them as it is to mutants?"
"Yeah," Rip chimed in. "Wasn't there a Colonel Goodkind that was responsible for a whole bunch of massacres during the Indian Wars?"
"Yeah, right!" Vamp yelled derisively at Ayla. "The new kid was just fine until Ayla came in. What happened, Good grief? Maybe one of your sainted ancestors sold her tribe some blankets, good as new, right from the smallpox hospital? Or decided to have a little sport hunting and nearly exterminate the buffalo the Indians depended on?"
Vox and Jade glowered at the girls making the accusations. "That's not fair!" Vox yelled at Sharisha, Rip, and Alex.
"And it's factually incorrect," Ayla snarled back at his roommate, losing the struggle to tightly control his feelings, like Goodkinds always did. "The use of smallpox-infected blankets against Indian tribes was initiated by Captain Simeon Ecuyer under General Jefferey Amherst of the British army against Chief Pontiac during the French & Indian Wars. Colonel Edgar Gabriel Goodkind was with the Inspector General's office on the frontier during the Indian Wars, and not in a combat unit. There is no documentation that would support his participation in any actions against Indians."
"Okay," Vamp allowed, putting an Irish lilt into her voice, "that DOES sound like something that the bloody Brits would do..."
"And secondly, how would she know who I am, let alone who my ancestors are? What you think I DO, go around showing around my pedigree in the Girls' shower?"
"Is THAT what you call it? Your 'Pedigree'?" Alex guffawed, enjoying watching Ayla squirm uncomfortably.
"Yeah, but he still could have done the slaughter thing, which would really piss off the plains tribes," Rip countered, glaring at Ayla.
"Unless ...." Ayla said hesitantly, "maybe ..."
"Maybe what?" Fey asked, feeling Ayla's level of guilt rise significantly. The other girls glared at Ayla, waiting for him to explain.
"Colonel Goodkind's personal journals hint at masterminding or participating in several actions against Indian encampments," Ayla said softly. "And there are entries which suggest that he _might_ have been involved with the strategy of exterminating the plains bison."
"So you _did_ do something!" Sharisha said triumphantly. "At least one of your ancestors did, and now they hate you for it!"
"Oh-my-god-Ayla's-ancestors-killed-so-many-Indians-that-Kayda-thought-Ayla-was-going-to-hurt-her-or she-was-afraid-of-the-Goodkind-name-because-shes-Indian-and-a-mutant-and-she-thinks-Goodkinds-hate-both!" JJ zipped through the bathroom, brushed her teeth quickly, and sped out to add to the rumor-mill.
Vanessa and Jade took Ayla by his elbows and pulled him through girls who were either completely curious, or, like Sharisha, were getting angrier by the minute. "You didn't do anything, Ayla," Jade said comfortingly as they took Ayla to his room. "It's not your fault."
"Yeah, right!" Vamp yelled derisively at Ayla as he, Vanessa, and Jade walked out of the bathroom. "She was perfectly fine until _you_ came in. What else could have been responsible for her reaction?"
Fey glared at Alex and followed Vanessa to Ayla's room. She was sure that she sensed guilt in Ayla; as usual, he was probably blaming himself for everything that went wrong. "Were you, maybe, you know?"
Ayla shook his head as he sank into a chair. "I didn't do anything," he repeated to Vanessa. "And ... it ... wasn't like that!" he added, knowing precisely what Fey was implying.
"I know," Vanessa said, rubbing his shoulders. "How is Ayla to blame for the fact that she over-reacted? We all know about your little ... difference."
"Yeah, you all know. But did she?" Ayla asked astutely. "She might have been too surprised. Or she was startled by my family name. Some tribes still invoke the name Goodkind as a curse, just as the Irish do with the name Cromwell. Or because she's a mutant, and a Goodkind in the cottage startled her."
Fey looked quite concerned, a concern for both parties in whatever had happened. "I can tell that you feel guilty, Ayles," she said, "but nobody knows what set her off. You can't blame yourself."
Ayla shook his head. "She was okay until she saw me. How could it _not_ be something I did or am?"
Fey sighed. "Whatever set her off terrified her to the point of a major panic attack. She's almost catatonic from fear."
"Damn! I somehow managed to do it again!" Ayla muttered unhappily, figuring that yet another student was so intimidated by him that the new girl would never want to be near him again.
Kayda's Home Town, South Dakota
The sound of the alarm clock drilled into Scott Hollings brain, shattering the peaceful sleep he'd been enjoying. He slapped at the alarm, managing to shut it off, and then he squirmed from under the covers. Swinging his feet to the floor, he stretched and yawned. As he stood, he noticed a piece of paper on his nightstand. Curious, he picked up the paper, and as he did so, he noticed a small bowl the paper had been covering. There was something in the bowl, but he first read the paper.
We know what you and your friends did. Confess to the authorities, or else.
Frowning, Scott let the paper drop, and looked at the bowl. He screeched in horror when he realized that the bowl contained a pair of severed testicles.
Things didn't get better. There was a similar note in his pickup, and what appeared to be the severed penis of some animal strapped to the stick-shift of his car. The sheriff wasn't much help, either. While footprints were visible in the snow on the roof and around the car and house, they vanished near the tree-line. Everything was taken for evidence, but there was precious little of that. The Hollings family got the sense that the sheriff didn't think the case would be solvable.
At school, the visibly-rattled boy asked some of his friends if anything unusual had happened to them. When they answered no, now curious about the question, Scott clammed up. He did have an image to maintain, even if finding the genitals of something in his room and car, with a note that indicated someone knew what he and his friends had done, had shaken him to his core.