A Whateley Academy Adventure
There's No Place Like Poe
Monday, August 20, 2007
Franks Family Farm, South Dakota
"But Mooommmmmm!" Danny complained loudly, and I really couldn't say that I blamed him. Mom would have had the same request for me last spring, except that I'd been very quickly rushed off to school to avoid death threats.
"It's ... humiliating!" he added in a solid whine that rated at least a 7.6 on the 'whine-o-meter'.
"Nothing I haven't done," I smirked to my brother. For all the times he'd been a total pain to me, it was payback time, and I was relishing this.
"Kayda!" Mom snapped, irate at the way I was teasing Danny. "Remember how you felt when you had to deal with this!"
I couldn't help but scowl. "I do remember, Mom," I retorted angrily. "And as I recall, Danny teased the shit out of me when it was my turn!"
"Language!" Mom snapped at me. "And just because your brother was a pain to you is no reason for you to tease him! He's your little brother! You're supposed to love and support him!"
"Yeah, that's a one-way street," I muttered to myself as I stalked from the room. "It's not fair!"
I bumped into Dad as I came around the corner of the kitchen. "What's not fair, Kayda?" he asked, with that 'Dad knows what's going on' look that he had so often.
"Danny got away with teasing me all the time, but Mom won't even let me kid him a little bit!" I grumbled. "What's the point of having a little brother if you can't tease him a bit?"
Dad chuckled. "There's a time and place for teasing. Mom wants Danny to go to the doctor as ... the kitty-woman ... for a full checkup. That's got to be pretty ...."
"Humiliating?" I asked. "Hello? I've done that! And when I came home on break, I got no end to his teasing about it! A little turnabout seems only fair."
"Well, I know ...."
"Plus it was a hell of a lot more traumatic for me than it's been for him!" I added.
"That may be true," Dad countered, "but right now, he's kind of traumatized, and I would really appreciate it if you'd be supportive instead of teasing him."
Damn! There it was - the parental guilt thing. "I suppose."
"That's my girl," he said, wrapping an arm around my shoulders and squeezing affectionately.
"While they do that, I'll go work on getting everything packed up to get my car to school."
"No," Dad said with a sad smile. "I know you'd rather go out to the shop and work on your car, but I'd like it if you went along. Danny might feel more comfortable at the doctor if you're there, since you went through the same thing he's experiencing."
"I guess," I answered begrudgingly, enough that he knew I wasn't happy but was cooperating.
"And," he glanced over his shoulder, "I shouldn't say this, but I think your mom is getting 'pregnancy mush-brain'."
"What?!?" I gawked at him.
Dad nodded. "I saw the same thing with you bo ... two." He decided at the last minute on a safe way of describing us, and I can't say that I blamed him. "Doc Schneider - he retired not long after Danny was born - he said that all the hormones in a woman's body when she's pregnant can interfere with memory and some thought. Like a brain fog." He glanced again. "I noticed it both times before, so I was kind of expecting it to develop this time. But I was hoping you kids would be at school so you wouldn't think your mom was getting all stupid."
"So, what you're saying is ...." I wasn't sure I wanted to guess.
"June might say some things that could seem a little insensitive to Danny, so I'd prefer that you were there - just in case she accidentally does." Dad gave me a reassuring smile.
Great. Mom had 'mush-brain' and I had to ride shotgun so she didn't accidentally hurt Danny's feelings. Which made it even more impossible for me to tease him as a down-payment on payback for all the times he'd teased me.
I behaved myself during the drive, mostly because I was driving and could ignore what Mom and Danica - Danny in his female form - were talking about, and taking some sadistic pleasure in how Mom was telling him about the checkup the doctor was going to give him. He was in his cat-girl form, and he was going to the doctor to get a full gynecological exam to see if his female form had any issues compared to his normal form - and probably some imaging to check what any internal female organs looked like.
Several of the people in the doctor's waiting room stared uneasily at Danica; the mountain lion ears, whiskers, and cat-eyes were definitely not normal, and I suspected, give some of the scowls and angry glares that more than one of those people were Humanity First members. I kept a hand on my magic token so I could instantly put a shield around the three of us - just in case.
When things got 'interesting' for Danica, he asked Mom and me to leave, as if that would somehow reduce his humiliation. Fortunately the doctors' practice had a woman who was doing the 'intrusive' and private exam, so that might have helped Danica some. I know that it helped me during my first exam.
"I think we need to get Danica some more clothes," Mom said absently as we sat in a small, 'inner' waiting room. "She doesn't have a lot, and, well, even though you two have to wear uniforms most days, you still need enough casual clothes."
I gaped at Mom for several seconds, enough that she wasn't sure how to interpret my lack of response; the correct interpretation was that I was shocked that she seemed convinced that Danny was going to change completely and permanently.
"Well," Mom continued, patting my hand in a rather patronizing fashion, "I know you two are different sizes, and while she might be able to wear some of your outfits, it's important for a girl to have her own things."
"Mom," I stammered in disbelief, "Danny isn't changing! He's ... still a boy most of the time!"
Mom chuckled, giving me a knowing smile. "I know he's not changing as fast as you, but you had the burnout, and from what I've read, most people change very slowly."
When the doctor finished, we were allowed back in, and as expected, Danica was about fourteen shades of red; she wouldn't even meet my gaze. Sighing because I knew it was something Dad expected, I sat down beside Danica and put my arm around her shoulders, pulling her close in a nice, supportive, sisterly way. Mom smiled at us, while inside, I vowed that there would be payback for my parents stealing such a prime opportunity to tease Danica.
"Well?" Mom asked simply.
The doctor smiled. "Danica is a normal, growing young woman. I did ultrasound imaging, and it looks like she has ovaries, fallopian tubes, and a uterus. I took some blood samples for standard blood tests; the results should be back in about four days."
"The girls are leaving for school in three days," Mom noted to the doctor.
"Yes, Danica told me. I'll call you with the results; if things are normal, we can set up some follow-up tests and imaging for the next time you're home. And I really need to get some blood work from Danica's ... unshifted forms, I guess they're called. For comparison." She got a far-off look. "I'd like to do a workup to see if Danica is fertile when in female form, and I suppose it'd be interesting to see if she might be locked into female form during ovulation. And possibly if impregnated?"
Danica went whiter than a bleached bedsheet. "Fertile?" she stammered.
The doctor caught herself. "Oh, sorry. I was just thinking out loud." She looked at the data she had on his chart. "Anyway, we'll need to repeat some blood work when Danica is in her other forms. And probably samples."
Danica cocked her head slightly, puzzled, so I leaned over and whispered, "I think she means sperm samples." I don't think the doctor or Mom heard, but Danica blanched even more, which I thought would have been impossible. Seeing this, the doctor nodded with a knowing smile. Danica looked at me again, almost totally shock. "I think they give you a cup and a Playboy magazine and let you take care of it yourself!" I snickered very softly.
"Oh, now this is pretty," Mom gushed, holding up a blouse. She tossed it on a small pile. "You've got to try that on, Danica," she said. "I bet you'll be adorable in it!"
"Mooommmmm!" Danica whined. Her incessant complaining - her - gak! I was thinking of my brother/part-time-sister as a girl now! - was getting old, and she did have a point. I decided that an intervention was needed. "Mom," I said insistently, cocking my head in a gesture to indicate she should come over by me.
"What, honey?" she asked, still carrying three more tops and a dress she hadn't yet decided to torture Danica with.
"Mom, you remember when we were about eleven?"
"And how we wanted to feel kind of 'grown up' by picking our own clothes? Especially since your and Dad's taste in clothing wasn't exactly in style for kids our age?"
Mom thought a second, and then the lightbulb went on. "Oh! I see!" She shook her head, turning to Danica. "I'm so sorry, honey," she gushed an apology. "I should have realized you'd want to pick your own clothing!" She put the outfits back on the shopping cart. "I'll just sit down over here while you and your sister look through the clothes."
It was a bit of a reprieve, but not much. Grimacing because I was giving up a ton of opportunities to razz Danica, I decided to put the whole trip out of its misery. "Mom, you know, when we get to Whateley, Danica is going to make new friends, and she'll ...," I saw Danny shoot me an evil glare, so I just very faintly shook my head 'no' at her, "... she'll probably want to have fun with her new group, and you know how girls like shopping? The bookstore is huge, and it has a lot of nice fashionable clothes, and, well, Danica would probably like a 'bonding experience' with new friends."
I could see her chewing on that comment for a bit. "Oh, I'm sorry! I wasn't thinking." She smiled at us both. "Still, a mother wants to have some bonding time with her daughters, so maybe we can pick out two or three outfits?"
Danica was about to protest, but I shot her another glare and head-shake. If she wanted to minimize her embarrassment, she'd accept what Mom counter-offered. Otherwise, Mom might forget my explanation and go even more overboard.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Kayda's Hometown, South Dakota
I looked up from my packing when I heard Danny whining in his room, protesting some kind of indignity. I figured I should go help out; with mom being a little bit scatterbrained, I'd been spending my time running interference for Danny rather than teasing him, which was what I really, really wanted to do.
From the doorway, I could see the object - or rather, objects - of Danny's protest. "I don't need these!" he said, holding up a couple of packages of new panties in one hand and a handful of new bras in the other.
"Nonsense, dear," Mom replied knowingly as she packed clothing into Danny's suitcases. Unlike me, he had to take three suitcases, because he had both boys' and girls' clothing. Mom was, at that moment, focused on the girls' clothing. "Every girl likes fancy lingerie. I hope this is enough so you only have to do laundry once a week."
"Mooommmmm! I know Wihinape is a female spirit, but she swears she's not gonna turn me into a girl!" Frustrated, Danny stared in horror as his mom added the sexy girls' underwear to his own suitcase.
"I know dear," Mom replied in that motherly, 'I know best' tone she was so good at. "But we all know what happened to Kayda when she got her female spirit." She hadn't even looked up from packing, and from the pile I saw on Danny's bed, there were a lot of girls' clothes to go into the suitcase. "Your father and I discussed it, and everyone thinks that it would be best that, while you're at Whateley, you stay in Poe. Mrs. Carson and Mrs. Horton agreed with us." She turned, smiling cherubically. "That way, you can be with your sister and other girls who know what you're going through, and they can help you as you change."
"But Mom! I'm not turning into a girl!" Danny almost cried in frustration, staring in shock at the small pile of my old blouses that Mom removed from a laundry basket on the floor and casually added to his suitcase.
"I hope that's true, dear." Maddeningly Mom continued calmly, as though they were speaking of a summer job he hoped to get. "Now in Poe you'll get to know all the secrets of the gay children and the other changelings. It's very, very important that you don't reveal Poe's secrets to the rest of the school. You heard how bad things have been for Kayda …"
"Mooommmmmm! I don't want to be in dorm with the gay boys! They'll hit on me!" Danny desperately tried to get his mother to listen to him.
"Of course they won't," Mom said with a smile. "They like other boys, and since you're changing, they won't have any interest in you at all! On the other hand, some of the lesbians in Poe might find you attractive and try to hit on you." She turned, half-rose, and gave Danny a hug. "You'll be alright, dear. I know you'll be a very pretty girl dear, and some of the boys from the other cottages will want to date you. I'm sure you know how supportive your father and I will be if you get a boyfriend."
"Mom!" Danny gasped in disbelief. "I'm a boy! I'm staying a boy! I don't want to have a boyfriend!"
"Oh? Well, we love you no matter what, and if you stay interested in girls, like Kayda did, then we'll still support you, dear." Danny stared in dismay at Mom as she calmly continued packing his suitcase, blithely assuming he'd be a girl soon like me, and totally ignoring everything he was saying.
"Arrgh!" crying out in frustration, Danny stomped from his room, heading for the door. He couldn't help but wonder why he even bothered trying to talk with his Mom. She didn't seem to want to listen to anything he tried to tell them. It was his spirit and she talked to him! Why wouldn't she believe what he said?
Amused by the whole exchange, I followed Danny outside, sitting down beside him on the porch swing. "She means well," I began hesitantly, knowing how frustrated Danny was. "She's just ... a little overwhelmed - by your changes, by having you leave to go to school, by all the ... interesting events we've had this summer, and mostly by all the hormones in her system from the pregnancy."
"She's driving me crazy!" Danny looked like he wanted to scream.
"Let's take a break and go into town," I suggested. "I'll go grab my purse and keys." I cringed even as the words came out of my mouth; no doubt he was going to take my innocuous comment as a reminder that he had to spend part of his life as a girl now.
A few minutes later, we were in town, driving dad's pickup instead of mine, because in the bit of excitement a few weeks earlier, someone shot at my truck and the bullet not only penetrated the radiator, but had cracked the water pump. We had the parts, but I'd been so busy in the intervening weeks that I hadn't had time to replace them yet. I'd spent almost twelve straight days traveling to different reservations and meeting with tribal elders and getting feted by the tribespeople. Every time I thought about my pickup, I wanted to throttle whoever had fired that shot, even if it had been one of my people.
There were quite a few vehicles outside the malt shop; school hadn't started, and everyone was getting in as much recreation as they could in the waning weeks of summer. Most likely, by afternoon everyone would be at the pool or out at Twin Lakes, or maybe at a cookout at one of the kids' homes out in the country - that would likely turn into a keg party. In the morning, especially near noon, as it was, most of the kids would meet at the malt shop to plan the afternoon.
When we walked in, a few people looked at us and made a show of disgustedly turning away, most noticeably Scott Hollings, but most didn't. It seemed that Scott was losing some of his social standing now that his bigotry and crimes were known to the town, and since I'd defended the townspeople during the 'event'. The governor's office made sure everyone knew to call it an 'event', and not a Lakota or Indian raid; no-one wanted to stir up the BIA or FBI again.
No sooner had we walked in the door than Lisa, Sandy, and Trisha swarmed all over Danny, which, as usual, embarrassed him, which then caused him to go 'fuzzy'. As they led him to a booth, a couple of younger girls followed, begging to see how soft his fur really was. I knew that they wanted to pet him; word that he was fuzzy and that sometimes he purred had spread like wildfire, especially among the girls, and he had become something of an attraction. The boys, for the most part, left him alone, especially when word spread of how he'd kicked Nick, Tyler, and Chris' asses. One of his old friends, a somewhat nerdy guy named Norm, went to join Danny and the girls - mostly in the hope that one of the girls would notice him.
Rick looked up from the pool table and nodded to me; I knew we'd never patch things up and be friends again, not after the assault, but I could be polite to him since he'd been the only one man-enough to admit his wrong. JJ coolly held his cue stick, looking warily at me; he'd never admitted wrongdoing or even attempted to apologize, and I was not going to forgive him. But I'd gotten used to the dark cloud of tension and suspicion that hung over us any time I was near any of my assailants.
I turned toward the voice, and a grin broke out when I saw Leslie, Raquel, and Amy sitting in a booth. They were sitting with Tim Westin, eating lunch - burgers and fries with malts or soft drinks; he wasn't exactly sympathetic to me, but he wasn't a mutant-hater either. "Hi. I'll be right over as soon as I order." I turned back toward Paula behind the counter. "Cheeseburger, ketchup only, tots, and a root beer float." I gave her a ten, and after I got my change, I strode happily to the girls at their booth. Tim scooted out of the booth and pulled up a chair. "What's new?"
"I love your purse!" Raquel gushed, staring at the clutch purse I held; it matched my buckskin dress nicely, even to the beadwork. "Where'd you get it? I want one!"
"I made it," I said with a grin. "When I was at Standing Rock last week, a couple of the women insisted that I learn how to do beadwork, and since the beads went on something, they taught me how to sew buckskin the traditional way."
"You made it? Wow! Can you make me one?" Raquel asked hesitantly.
"You've been traveling a lot since ...." Leslie interrupted her train of thought. She didn't really want to mention the 'event'. "We didn't realize how important you were to the Ind ... Lakota."
"Yeah, tell me about it!" I grumbled. "I don't like it, but the tribes all want to see me and meet me. They think I've got some mystical wisdom that'll help them, and there are a lot of people who want ritual healings because they're special to the People." I put on a smile. "But enough about me. What are we going to do with the rest of the week, before Danny and I leave for school?"
Franks Family Farm
Lisa's car pulled into the Franks' driveway, with Sandy in the back seat while Danny rode shotgun. From the look on Sandy's face, she probably wanted Danny to sit in the back with her so she could kiss and cuddle while Lisa drove, which was no doubt why Lisa had insisted that Danny sit in the front.
After she shut off the ignition, Lisa's hand shot out to Danny, pulling him toward her, while she leaned across the center console, her lips upturned toward him as she pulled him into a kiss.
"Ahem," Sandy cleared her throat. "It's my turn!"
Lisa, still kissing Danny, shot her a look, and then backed away a bit, leaving Danny breathless. Seeing a chance, Sandy launched herself over the console into the front seat, landing in the surprised boy's lap, her arms already encircling him.
After several minutes of tag-team spit-swapping by the two girls and Danny, he managed to get out of the car. "We'll miss you!" the girls said plaintively. "I wish you didn't have to go!"
Danny smiled, but it was a sad smile. "I don't want to go either, but ...." They all knew that it was best for Danny to go to school somewhere else, like Kayda. There were enough mutant-haters and H1 sympathizers in town to make it dangerous for him. "But I'll be back on breaks!"
Lisa blew him a kiss, which led Sandy to do the same. "I'll be waiting," the girls both said.
As the car drove off, with Danny looking wistfully after them, Dad's hand clasped on his shoulder. "Those two seem to like your kitty form," he said, smiling at his son. "We told you that you'd be popular with the girls!"
Danny looked down at the ground, shuffling his feet in a tiny cloud of dust. "I don't want to be cute! They treat me like I'm a ... like I'm a pet!" he complained. "I ... I hate what's happened to me!"
Dad put his arm around his son's shoulder. "I'm sorry, but I can't help with that."
"Why couldn't I get a cool spirit, like a buffalo, or an elk, or an eagle, or a badger? Something ...."
"Something more macho?" Dad asked knowingly. "Well, you didn't have much of a choice, and your Mom and I don't like it any more than you do. That's not the way it works with avatars, from what Kayda told us." He turned Danny away from the house, toward one of the corrals outside the barn. For a while, the two of them stood, arms on the top board, gazing at nothing in particular. "Have you ... done anything more than kissing girls?" Dad finally asked.
"No," Danny stammered, embarrassed again so that he changed back into kitty-boy form. The conversation was going somewhere he didn't expect, somewhere awkward.
"Good," Dad nodded. "Besides the fact that it's illegal until you're sixteen, it's not a good idea to ... experiment." He could practically hear the boy's jaw hit the ground. "If you are going to have sex, be careful. When you're in school is not a good time to start a family - like happened with me and your Mom."
"What?!?" Danny gawked at his dad, his eyes wide.
Dad nodded, a knowing, 'wise dad' expression on his face. "When we were in high school, we had a scare that your Mom was pregnant, and when I proposed a bit later, your Mom was already pregnant with Brandon." He paused a couple of moments to allow Danny to digest what he was saying. "It worked for us, but it wasn't easy at times. We'd still be struggling if we hadn't inherited the farm from your Grandpa." He clasped his hand on Danny's shoulder again. "Get a three-pack of condoms, practice with one, and keep the other two with you at all times, okay?"
"You ... you aren't going to just tell me not to?" Danny stammered, shocked.
"Nope," Dad chuckled. "If I did, you wouldn't listen anyway, because you're a teenager with a body full of raging hormones and lots of pretty girls around you."
Friday, August 24, 2007
Sioux Falls, SD
Deb and I were having a picnic in Falls Park; we had to be a little careful, because no matter how much I wanted to hug and kiss her, or even hold her hand, we were in public and couldn't make a public display of affection. It was a perfect late summer day - a little hot and a little humid, but breezy with azure skies above, dotted with only a few tiny cumulus clouds scooting along happily. With the background noise of the waterfall and the greenery around the park, it was a nice way to relax, and there was some sense of urgency, since Danny and I would be leaving Monday to travel to Whateley.
"Next summer, maybe I can intern with you guys or something?" I asked, waggling my eyebrows suggestively.
"You just want to spend more time with me," Deb chuckled. "And ... I'd like that a lot."
"Maybe we can arrange a trip to France with Twinkletoes?"
Deb chuckled. "He's pretty smitten, isn't he?"
Memories of France came back in a rush. "I was thinking more about spending time with Addy, and about how in France they're not so hung up on ... things." I looked directly into her eyes, and as always, my heart went pitter-patter. I was never going to get enough of gazing at her. "It'd be nice to be able to hold hands in public, or to dance together at a club - you know, just normal stuff that lovers do."
"That would be nice," Deb purred. "Meanwhile, we've got friends who are supportive." She leaned back on the grass, staring at the sky. "Maybe I'll have to save my vacation so we can go to France! I like Adalie; it'd be nice to meet her family."
"If you come to Whateley this year, you can meet her little sister Amelie." I couldn't help but chuckle at the memories of my last visit to France. At the time, the night in the natural history museum was a little scary, but looking back on it, it was hilarious.
"No museums," Deb cautioned, and then she grinned, so I slapped her arm playfully.
"One or two museums. But no Jade." She was the miniature mistress of mayhem. "I bet France has barred her from ever coming back."
At that moment, Deb's watched beeped ominously. She glanced at it, and from the look on her face, I knew what it was. "I need to go."
"I know," I said, cringing at how her job was interrupting our day together. "I'll drive while you change?"
Deb shook her head, as I knew she would. "I've got my charm to teleport back to Val's location. Besides, it'd be too dangerous for you to be seen with me without your costume."
"I know." I couldn't hide the sadness in my voice - she was going to a crime of some sort, and I was left behind to fret and worry about her. "I'll drive your car back to the warehouse and then wait at headquarters."
"Thanks," she said, already more serious and looking around. When she saw that no-one was near or looking, she touched the charm on her necklace, and she disappeared, leaving me alone to pick up our picnic gear and then drive back to wait.
I couldn't help pacing back and forth in the main living area of the league's headquarters, anxious about Deb, and waiting for the team to get back. The fact that they'd taken the whole team indicated some kind of powered criminal or villain, and that only increased my worries.
"Yeah, Mom," I spoke into my cell phone as I nervously walked. "She's out on a mission, so I'm kind of alone."
"Well, you do need to study for that English placement test," Mom reminded me, "and Tractor has a lot of history books I'm sure he wouldn't mind if you read."
"Like I'm going to be able to concentrate while she's out?" I couldn't keep the sarcasm out of my voice.
"You need to do something so you don't go crazy," Mom advised me. "It doesn't help anything to worry."
"If it was Dad, would you worry?"
"Mmm," Mom hedged, "I suppose I would." There was a moment of silence, because I was too worried to converse, and Mom was trying to change the subject. "Your car was picked up by the transport company," she said after the awkward moment. "It's supposed to be delivered on Wednesday."
"Tom left this morning with the horse trailer; Summer should be at Whateley on Monday."
"If I was at home, I'd go out riding to help take my mind off things."
"We're packed; we can come down now instead of tomorrow if you want." Bless her; Mom was trying to do anything to help.
"By the time you get to Mitchell, they'll be done, have the paperwork filled out, and be back here," I said morosely.
"Kayda," Mom got stern, "study your for your placement test. You have to do that, so use the time to study."
"Mooommmmm." I knew that I sounded whiney, but I couldn't help it.
"Would you rather have to spend your time studying while Debra is there?"
"No," I grudgingly admitted because she had a good point. "Okay, I'll get out my books."
"Good girl. Now Danica and I will say our goodbyes and then we'll get on the road."
"Oh? I thought Danny was in his normal male form."
"That's right," Mom said with a nervous laugh. "I guess I keep forgetting."
"I'll call so we have Japanese food for dinner tonight, okay?"
"That'd be wonderful. Now hit the books."
"Okay, mom," I answered. "See you in a bit. Bye."
No sooner had I hung up than I heard the commotion of the team magically porting into the headquarters. I rushed in, and practically threw myself at Debra, wrapping my arms around her as my lips frantically sought hers.
"If this is the kind of reception I get," Debra chuckled when we broke the kiss, "I'll go out on more missions!"
My eyes widened, and holding her hands, I took a half-step back to look at her. Deb's hair was badly disheveled, and there were three nasty, bloody gashes on her uniform. My jaw dropped in horror at what had to have been a serious fight; the heroes' uniforms were made of Kevra with an extra tough, cut-resistant lining, so for one to be sliced-up like Debra's was took more than a minor fight. For that matter, Tractor and Farm Boy also looked rather the worse for wear.
Debra wiped at the tears trickling down one cheek. "Hey," she said, trying to sound positive, "I'm okay!"
I looked up at her, feeling nothing but anguish, which only intensified when I saw the look in her eyes. "You ... like ... fights like this, don't you?" I half-accused her. I couldn't help but drop my gaze when I saw her recoil from my words. "I ... I wish you'd stop," I sobbed.
My love wrapped her arms around me, pulling me close. "This is my job, honey," she said, trying but failing to sound reassuring. "It's what I do. Sometimes, it gets a little hazardous."
"Maybe ... after I graduate, we ... we can do something else?"
"Like what?" Deb asked bluntly. "You have your responsibilities to the tribes. And I'm not the type to sit around doing nothing."
"Maybe ... maybe we could move to New York and model? I'd have to travel back here once in a while, but ...."
"Maybe," she replied, stroking my head as she once more held me close. "Maybe." But she didn't sound very convincing.
Monday, August 27, Early Morning
Joe Foss Field, Sioux Falls, SD
Tears flowed down Mom's cheeks; we expected it, but given her hormones going nuts with her pregnancy, it seemed a little excessive to me. "You ... be careful," she admonished me as we hugged. "Please? No more adventures like last spring?"
From the corner of my eye, I could see Debra flinching at that; she had the exact same sentiment. "I'll try," I replied, finding myself a little teary, too. "I can't promise anything."
We had to fly through Chicago to Boston; the direct flight from Chicago to Berlin wasn't operating for some reason, and the two flights from Boston to Berlin were already booked. That meant taking the train from Boston to Dunwich, as well - and I was looking forward to a more relaxed, more leisurely trip, since so many students spoke well of the train service.
After giving Dad a hug, I turned to my sweetie. Saying goodbye was the worst feeling I could imagine. "I'll be back on break before you know it," I sniffed as we hugged. And ... you - be careful, too."
"I'm always careful," she replied, although her voice choked a bit because it was obvious she was dissembling a little bit. She loved a good fight, and we both knew it. She led me to a very out-of-the-way corner, where practically nobody came, and after a quick glance to ensure we had privacy, she gave me a very passionate kiss, which naturally I reciprocated.
Whether we were kissing for one minute or ten, I couldn't tell, so lost was I in the moment, and from the look on her face when we stopped, I think she was also rather oblivious to anything but our exchange.
"I wish I didn't have to go," I muttered softly, feeling my eyes getting misty.
"I know. I wish you could stay longer, or that I could find something to do at Whateley or in Berlin." She sighed, knowing that our time together was rapidly coming to an end. "You need to get to your gate so you don't miss your flight," she cautioned me.
I nodded sadly. "I know." I looked back into her cornflower-blue eyes. "I love you."
"And I love you," she replied before taking me by the hand and leading me back to where the others were waiting.
Because of our luggage and the number of people, we couldn't fit into Debra's rather small car, so Valerie - Card Trick - had driven as well. It didn't surprise me at all when Danny volunteered to ride with her, and then Dad, eyeing him skeptically, joined Danny in Val's car. She seemed rather amused by Danny crushing on her, and on Sunday, she'd spent time embarrassing him so he'd go fuzzy, just so she could stroke his fur and make him purr. Honestly, I don't think he would have been so embarrassed if the rest of us hadn't been in the room. All of us could tell that he was torn between humiliation at purring and lust for Valerie.
As we were saying our final, final goodbyes, I saw Valerie shoot a wink at Debra - and possibly Mom, since the two were standing close, then Val walked up to Danny, put her hands on his cheeks, and kissed him squarely on the lips. Naturally, he went fuzzy again, and beet red, but after a brief moment of shock, he began to eagerly kiss back. He'd have kissed her for hours if she hadn't gently pushed him back after about fifteen seconds. She smiled at him. "Good luck at Whateley. Enjoy it, take care of yourself, and help watch out for Kayda, okay?"
Danny smiled sheepishly, trying to figure out what had happened and why. "Um," he began muttering, "okay, I will."
As we walked toward the security checkpoint, I heard Debra behind me. "That was soooo bad!" she chided Val in a playful way.
"Yeah, I know," she replied to Debra, "but I figure I just made his day."
"His day? Hell, you made his whole week!" Dad chimed in, having overheard the girls.
I think Danny was pretending to not have heard; it's possible his head was still among the clouds from the kiss. In any event, he said nothing, nor did I, and we walked in silence to the MCO checkpoint.
"You go first - so I can watch, just in case," I advised him. I knew everything was in order, and the agents were cooperative, even if not friendly. But I had an MID; Danny was traveling on a 'special permission' letter from Whateley which gave students one free pass. If the MCO checkpoint let it pass.
I needn't have worried; though the MCO officers looked angry at having to even deal with mutants, they let Danny pass with no problems. When it was my turn, when the first officer saw my MID, he tensed visibly, his jaw clenching. No doubt somewhere in the MCO files or office gossip or memos, my code-name was associated with what had happened to their predecessors. The second man, observing his partner, moved his hand down near his weapon.
"Pejuta?" he growled at me. "You are not allowed to carry weapons on the plane."
To be honest, I carried by knife and tomahawks constantly, so I'd completely forgotten that I had them. "Religious exception," I said, smiling sweetly. "Would you like to see the form?" Given that the second man looked trigger-happy, I wasn't going to do anything that could be seen as a provocation.
When the agent nodded and gruffly said, "Yeah," I slowly reached for my purse, keeping my hands in plain view the entire time. I didn't want them to have any excuse for a 'mishap', and besides, I knew that since they had no without power armor, if I did want to start something, the two of them would be dead before they knew what hit them.
They didn't like my pleasant demeanor, nor that I was prepared to answer all their questions - except when they tried to get me to give my name. I just smiled and reminded them that such was not permissible, then put away my ID and paperwork. They didn't acknowledge me at all; just waved me through to the concourse, so at the exit from the screening module - a blast-proof, reinforced area to contain a dangerous mutant if necessary - I paused, shot them a phony smile, and said, "Have a nice day!" in as cheery a voice as I could muster.
The flight. What was there to say about the flight, except that the flight attendants really didn't like me having weapons. We landed at Chicago O'Hare without incident, deplaned, found our next flight on the status board, and proceeded our long trek.
"Kayda?" I heard someone cry out as we walked past a bookstore.
I turned, and gave a squeal of delight. I immediately bounded over to Evvie, my roommate and hopefully roommate again, and wrapped her in a huge hug. Not surprisingly, Naomi was with her. "Don't tell me you're going today, too?" I asked. "I thought upperclassmen didn't arrive until tomorrow or Wednesday!"
"And you're special because ...?" Evvie grinned as I disengaged from her embrace and hugged her girlfriend Naomi.
I jerked my head in the direction of Danny. "My little brother," I said. "He's a freshman, and with the complications he's had, Mrs. Horton said I could come early if I helped out with orientation stuff for the fresh-things."
Both girls were gawking at Danny. "Is he the kitty?" Naomi asked excitedly. "Show us! Please!"
From his face, which was the only part visible underneath his hoodie, I could tell that Danny had fuzzed. No doubt he was glad Mom had suggested that he wear it, even though it was quite hot outside. No sense in giving away his mutant status if he got embarrassed. Like now.
I interceded on his behalf; he was building a huge pile of debts to me for saving him from teasing, and I was going to collect - somehow. "Not here," I cautioned them. "Danny, this is my roommate from last year, Evvie Chambers. And Evvie's friend Naomi Anders."
"And maybe your roommate this year, if you'll have me," Evvie said. I glanced at Naomi, and saw her give a sad nod. "Because of ... things ... Mrs. H said we can't room together," Evvie explained. "So ... if you're okay with it, I'd rather room with you than have to break in a new roomie."
"I can't wait to see how they remodeled Poe!" Naomi gushed. "But ... I heard they took out the fourth floor when they put in the new wings. So I'm not sure where I'll be."
"I was with Ayla on the trip to France. With Jade," I began.
"Ooohh! I bet that was interesting!" Evvie giggled.
"Interesting is not exactly the word I would have used," I said with a bit of a wince. "Let's walk to the gate and I'll tell you all about it." With our carry-on bags in hand, we strode toward our departure gate. "Anyway, Ayla sketched the design for us, although I don't know where he found out."
"Probably one of his construction companies doing the remodel," Naomi chuckled.
"Maybe. Anyway, on the second floor, two wings are for the sophomores, and two for the freshies." I couldn't help but shoot a glance at Danny. "Although there will be some exceptions. Third floor is the same with juniors and seniors. And special students ...."
"Like Ayla?" Evvie giggled.
"Maybe. Special students - I'm guessing seniors - get attic rooms that are almost like suites. And get this - we've got our own exercise room and combat practice room, our own locker room, and hot tub and saunas in the basement! And some really good storage lockers, too! And someone said there'll be a dance hall!"
"Wow! If word gets out, the Melvillains will come to take over," Naomi said with an anticipatory grin. "But ... what about ... the hot tub?"
"Ayla said that'll stay, as a very secret place. After all, staff might show up in the basement, and that wouldn't be very good, would it?" We got to the gate and sat down, all of us excited about going back to school, except Danny, who was getting more and more nervous. I think the comment about the hot tubs and saunas made him worry even more about the gay boys hitting on him.
Logan Airport, Boston
"I really want to thank you," gushed the woman who'd sat across the aisle from Danny and me. She had a three- or four-year old girl with her. "Chrissy usually hates to fly, but, well, when you did your cat thing, she was so excited I think she forgot we were flying!"
Danny blushed again, and if he'd have been going back to normal, his embarrassment at being complimented threw that out the window. "I ... I'm glad I could help!"
"Were you really purring like she said? Or were you faking it?" she asked as she tried to pry the girl away from Danny's waist.
"I wanna take kitty home!" the girl whined, fawning at Danny. A few of the people around us were giving Danny dirty looks - no doubt mutant haters or H1 - but they were being civil.
"I'm sorry, but we can't," the woman said. "He's got to go to his ...." She looked at us questioning. "Where did you say you're going?"
"We're going to a boarding school," I interceded, certain that Danny didn't know quite how to answer.
"Besides," the woman continued to her daughter, "Grandma's allergic to cats, so we can't take him to grandma's."
"But I wanna keep him! Maybe kitty can be my big brother?" For a little girl, she sure knew how to beg her mom with big pleading eyes.
The girl's mom winced. "I'm sorry, honey, but he's got to go to his school." She looked up at Danny, and it was clear her daughter had embarrassed her.
As I shot Danny an I-told-you-so smirk, the woman moved her daughter back away from the aisle. "Please, go ahead," she urged us. She was holding the girl back so Danny and I could make our escape. A row behind us, Evvie and Naomi were smirking as well. Poor Danny shrunk in his hoodie, and with a few of the passengers having seen Danny or having overheard us, I could tell he was anxious to get off the plane.
North Street Station, Boston
"Well?" Naomi asked, looking at the stack of our luggage at baggage claim. I was traveling lightest; besides my carry-on bag, I had only one large suitcase. In fact, the only thing we all had in common luggage-wise was a carry-on bag, though I suspect the contents varied widely. On the other hand, Danny had three checked suitcases - two big and one medium. Naomi had two large suitcases, and Evvie had a large suitcase and a small trunk.
"I don't even want to try the subway," I said, gazing at the pile of stuff we had. "According to the subway map, we'd have to change lines somewhere downtown, and that'd be a royal pain."
Evvie shrugged. "Why not? We can pull two, and we could tie the extras on top."
"Each of us pulling two suitcases? Through subway stations? Did you forget that we have to change lines and then we have to get up out of the subway station." I probably sounded more skeptical than I should have. "Besides, strap them together with what?"
"I bet we can find some twine or cord or something," Evvie countered. "Where's your sense of adventure?"
She and Naomi left their luggage with Danny and me. With all the people eyeing us, and as a precaution, I put my shield up around the luggage and us. We only had to wait a few minutes before the girls returned with some nylon cord. We trussed up our luggage, trundled to the silver line of Boston's subway, changed to the green line at Boylston station, and got off at the North Station to get the train to Dunwich. The only issue was getting our pile of luggage between the subway lines and then up to street level. We didn't want to advertise that we were mutants, so we took up a couple of pieces at a time, with at least one of us guarding the luggage at each end while the other two shuttled back and forth. It was better than Evvie and I toting most of it, since that would have basically advertised that we were powered or mutants.
Once we got to the station, we all looked at our watches; we had about half an hour before our train departed, and we were all hungry, so we stepped out of the way while Evvie consulted her smart-phone.
That's when it happened. I should have expected something, because Danny was a small-town boy in a big city, and South Dakota had almost no rail service, so he was exercising his curiosity and looking around, not really watching where he was going.
The guy Danny collided with was about twenty or twenty-one, dressed very casually, with longer hair and dark sunglasses, and as he walked, he was listening to his music through his earphones. If his shirt had been tie-dyed, I'd have called him a hippy; he was either highly distracted or on something. In any event, he and Danny ended up on the floor in a tangle, and whatever the guy had been drinking - a strawberry or cherry slurpee, perhaps - from a very large cup, no less - ended up on Danny, a big, wet, red mess all over his light gray hoodie and face.
Startled, the guy got to his feet while I pulled Danny upright, my senses on full alert. For a second, I thought I was being paranoid, but when I saw Evvie and Naomi also alert and ready for action, I realized it was our martial arts training and sims. After a couple of months, Danny would develop similar alertness and reflexes, but at the moment, he didn't, and as a result, was a mess.
"Sorry," the guy muttered as he got up. He even sounded a bit spaced-out. Then he looked at Danny and his cup. "Damn! Sorry, little dude! Do you, like, need some help? Like getting some napkins or something?"
I interposed myself between the guy and Danny. "We'll be okay. Just ... never mind. We'll take care of it."
The guy's face showed relief, but wasn't clear whether it was because he was stoned or high and feared some authorities getting involved, or because he was worried about having to pay for the obviously-ruined hoodie. Still muttering apologies, he strode off, staggering slightly, leaving me shaking my head.
"Well, that hoodie is ruined," Naomi commented unnecessarily. "That red isn't going to come out."
"And it's cold and wet!" Danny griped. "Now what do I do?"
I looked at him, and shrugging, said, "We've got our luggage; just get another one out, and then go in the bathroom to change and wash up."
Danny winced. "I ... didn't pack another one," he admitted sheepishly. "I ... I figured I'd get one with the school stuff on it, you know, like from the bookstore?"
"And you're afraid of accidentally shifting - going fuzzy - while we're on the train? And you don't want to draw attention to yourself?" Naomi got right to the core of the matter. When he shook his head, she looked at her watch. "Okay, we've got about twenty-five minutes before the train leaves. One of us can stay with Danny, one of us get lunch, and one try to find a hoodie for Danny."
"Good idea," Evvie agreed. "Kayda, maybe you should stay with Danny? I'll go find lunch, and Naomi, can you go try to find a hoodie?"
I opened my purse and got some money for Naomi, and after consulting her phone, she dashed off on her errand, and after I gave Evvie money for lunch for Danny and me, she high-tailed it on her errand as well, leaving me and Danny sitting among our pile of luggage.
"Ito's going to have a field day with you in basic martial arts," I chuckled. "Unless you pay more attention to what's around you." Then a thought struck me. "Why weren't you using Wihinape's spirit to help? She has enhanced senses!"
"I don't want to change into her," Danny groused. "Not right now. Not if I don't have to!"
I couldn't help rolling my eyes and shaking my head. "That's not how it works. You don't have to be her! You just have to communicate with her spirit, and learn to listen to what she's trying to tell you."
Danny zoned out for a moment, then he nodded grudgingly. "That's what she just told me," he grumbled. "And ... she was pretty smug about it."
"I bet she's told you that before, hasn't she?" I chuckled.
My brother nodded morosely. "At the start of summer, when Cassie came by, Wihinape was trying to teach me to hunt." He had a wistful look when he mentioned Cassie; no doubt he'd become a little infatuated with her. "But ... I've kind of been ... ignoring her when she tries to teach me."
"And there you have lesson one about having a spirit," I said smugly. "Always listen to what your spirit is telling you, even if it's just a feeling they're giving off. Wihinape doesn't have to speak to communicate to you."
We didn't talk much more while we waited. After about fifteen minutes, Evvie came back with a bag from Subway in one hand and a carrier with four drinks in the other. "I wasn't sure, so I didn't get anything fancy." She smirked toward Danny. "Except for you. Since you've got a cat spirit, I got you a tuna salad! I figured she'd like that."
Danny glared at her for a second, then dropped his gaze.
"Because it was such a rush order," Evvie said, looking slightly pained, "I ... kind of had to tip them a lot."
I just shrugged it off. "No big deal. I hope Naomi gets back soon," I noted, getting a little worried as I looked at the clock. "We need to get moving to the platform."
My words must have been prophetic, because Naomi came running up, carrying a shopping bag. I don't think Danny noticed, since he wasn't looking at her, but she had an expression that was half-apologetic and half mischievous. "There wasn't much in your size," she said to Danny.
"You'll have to change on the train," I urged, taking the bag from Naomi and sliding it under the ties holding my luggage together. "We've got to get to the platform."
Together, we tugged and pulled our luggage, found the train platform, and got aboard with only a couple minutes to spare. We each kept our carry-on, while the rest was stowed in a baggage car, and we'd no sooner sat down than the conductor announced to the platform that the train was about to depart. Naomi and Evvie sat together in one row, while I sat beside Danny in the train older, and once sumptuous but now aging car.
Just as the train started to move, a young girl dashed up the aisle and plopped herself down in front of Danny, who was beside me. She was cute, but the thing that most got my attention was that she carried a feeling of excitement and wonder with her, like everything was an adventure and she wanted to make to the most of it. When she realized I was looking at her, she turned around, and then she smiled and waved 'hi'.
"We came past a restroom on the way in. Go change and clean up. Take your ticket in case the conductor comes by while you're washing up," I advised him, giving him one of the tickets from my purse and then gave him the bag.
Relieved to get out of the wet, red, sticky hoodie, Danny walked to the bathroom, quickly getting a sense of the gentle swaying of the train car as it rolled down the tracks. I leaned back, feeling the almost hypnotic motion of the train car, so much more relaxing than sitting in a metal tube with too-small seats spaced too closely together.
A minute later, my cell phone rang. To my shock, it was from Danny. "Hello?" I greeted questioningly. Something must have gone wrong for him to call me when he was just down the car.
"I can't wear this!" he shouted into his phone at me.
"What do you mean?" I asked. Behind me, Naomi snickered, so I turned and shot her a questioning look. "Is it the wrong size?"
"No!" he complained angrily. "It's ... it's .... I can't wear this!"
"What ....?" I started, then I sighed. "I'll be right there." Hanging up the phone, I stood and looked at Naomi, who had a 'cat who ate the canary' grin. "What did you do?" I demanded. Yeah, I wanted to tease Danny, but being a protective sibling was winning at the moment.
Naomi glanced at Evvie, then back at me. "They didn't have much in his size," she explained cautiously. "Almost nothing, in fact. So ... I did the best I could!"
"What did you do?" I repeated.
This time Naomi winced. "Go see for yourself. It's ... it's .... Aw, just go see."
"It can't be worse than what he had on!" I objected, but in the back of my mind, I was suddenly plagued by doubts. "Can it?"
Evvie looked up at me, then at Naomi, and finally she started snickering which turned into full-out laughter.
Now uneasy, I went to the bathroom and knocked. "Danny?" I asked aloud.
"Go away!" he retorted unhappily, his voice cracking. It honestly sounded like he was about to start crying.
"Danny, if something's wrong, I can't fix it if you won't let me in," I tried to soothe him. After almost a minute, I heard the door lock click. When he didn't open it, I turned the knob and went in.
My first reaction was total shock. That lasted only a couple of seconds before I nearly fell over laughing. Seeing his angry and embarrassed pout, emphasized by the fact that he was in kitty-boy form, I realized slowly I had to try to be supportive - which anyone would have difficulty with not laughing aloud if they were looking at their brother in kitty form wearing a pink hoodie with a small 'Hello, Kitty' logo emblazoned on the front in multicolored rhinestones.
"I'm just gonna stay in here," Danny grumbled. "Until my hoodie is dry. So I don't have to be seen wearing this!"
"First, you'll have to wash your old hoodie," I was really, really trying hard to not snicker at his appearance, "to get out all the sticky, sugary stuff. Then it'll have to dry, and unless you have a clothes dryer handy, that could take overnight. Third, you can't hog the bathroom; there are other passengers who might need it. If they complain, the conductor might even kick us off the train!"
"But ... I can't go out there looking like this!" he wailed. "It's ... it's humiliating."
"First, I'm going to have some stern words with Naomi," I was doing my best to not snicker or chuckle or laugh aloud, and the effort was starting to hurt. "But she said there just wasn't anything in your size - that it was this, or something in a small, extra small, or two- or three-XL."
"She and your roommate are just making fun of me," he sulked.
"Look, you can't stay here. Pull up your hood, slouch over, and hold your wet hoodie in front of you to hide the 'Hello, Kitty' logo," I directed. "No-one will notice."
Danny scowled at me for several seconds before he nodded, lowering his gaze. "But they better not make fun of me!" he snapped. Doing as I suggested, he pulled up the hood and walked back to his seat, the logo blocked by his arms and the wet, stained hoodie. Nobody even gave him a second glance, so he was a little less tense when we got to our seats. He did look up a moment, though, to give Naomi the 'evil eye'.
"I'm going to have a little discussion with Naomi," I said as he scooted in, up against the window where he would be less visible from the aisle. I slid in beside my friends.
Evvie was still trying to suppress her laughter, and Naomi had a mischievous smirk. "You didn't do that on purpose, did you?" I whispered to Naomi.
She grinned. "Maybe," she admitted sheepishly.
"You gotta admit," Evvie stuck up for her girlfriend, "Danny looks adorable in that hoodie, doesn't he?"
"Mom's gonna get mad at me," I said, shaking my head. "I'm supposed to be watching out for him."
"And not take an opportunity to get back at him for all the times he pranked you and embarrassed you before you came to Whateley?" Evvie asked knowingly. I winced; I had told her about some of Danny's efforts to humiliate me over the years.
"Besides, it was mostly harmless," Naomi added. "He did need a hoodie!"
"Did they really not have anything else?"
Naomi glanced at Evvie, a pained, guilty expression on her face, before she looked at me sheepishly.
"I didn't think so." I took a deep breath, and then snorted a laugh. "It is kind of funny!"
Evvie looked worried suddenly. "Some girl just sat down beside Danny!"
I turned back toward Danny, standing so I could take my seat again, but I saw it was occupied. It was the cute blonde girl who had come onto the train at the last minute. Moreover, she had Danny's hood down and was gushing over him as he sat, looking mortified at her attention.
"Excuse me," I interrupted. "You're in my seat."
The girl looked up at me. "I'm sorry," she apologized, "but ... but ... he's so adorable! I just got too curious and had to meet him!" She seemed to belatedly recognize that no introductions had been made. "I'm Melissa," she said, sticking out her hand toward me. "Melissa Chambers."
"You've met my brother Danny," I said evenly, watching the new girl cautiously. "And I'm Kayda."
To my surprise, she took my hand and shook it enthusiastically. "Nice to meet you, Kayda," she gushed. "Danny? I guess I forgot to ask Kitty his name!"
"I'm not Kitty!" Danny snapped at her. If he intended to deter her, he didn't have that effect. In fact, she did the opposite, running her fingers through his tawny hair and rubbing his ears, then rubbing up and down the back of his head.
"You're just so kyooot!" she gushed. "Kitty!" She squealed with delight when Danny, responding automatically to her rubbing, started purring. "Oooohhhh! You're purring!" She giggled. "You're just so adorable I want to hold you! Your fur is so ... soft!" She leaned back, hands on his cheeks, staring wide-eyed at him. "Are you, you know, a ... mutant?" she asked in a hushed, conspiratorial tone.
Danny's wince spoke volumes, and it got a soft squeal of delight. "Me too!" She cuddled him close, rubbing her cheek against his soft, fuzzy-form fur.
If I thought Danny was embarrassed by her attention before, once he started purring, she redoubled the attention she was giving him, heightening his embarrassment. It'd probably be hours before he was calmed down enough to change back. "Melissa!" I started to say, trying to sound stern, but this was too much fun to watch. Instead, I got my purse and took out my cell phone. "Danny!" I said sharply, which caused him to reflexively look up at me. I snapped the picture while he was staring at me, with Melissa rubbing his neck and head. The 'Hello, Kitty' logo on his pink hoodie was obvious.
"What are you doing?" he hissed angrily at me.
"Mom told me to get pictures of you, so I'm just obliging," I answered with sweet smile. I looked back at Melissa. "I'm sorry, but I think it would be best if you let me sit with my brother. This is his first trip away from home without our parents, and ... and I'm responsible for his safety."
Melissa didn't back down a second; she seemed to be a hyperactive little ball of energy. "Me too!" she said with a grin. "Well, except for that time that Jerk Rabbit kidnapped me, and Dad and my friend Imp had to come rescue me from him and Parakeet. Sometimes, though, I think Dad is sending me to school so he can have a little peace and quiet."
"You're going to school?" I asked, somewhat surprised.
"Yeah. It's a boarding school. Dad figures I'll be safe there in case Parakeet ever decides to come looking for me again." She sighed heavily, unexpectedly. "I ... didn't want to go, but then my friend ... well, she kind of vanished, and ...."
To say that Melissa sounded as would have been an understatement. I decided to distract her a bit. "We're going to school, too." I considered her words - the names Jerk Rabbit and Imp and Parakeet sounded like code-names, which meant mutants - and after she admitted being a mutant to Danny, I was pretty certain where she was going.
"Why are you going? And where are you from? Are you a real Indian? Like an Indian princess?"
I sighed. I'd worn my wrist furs and my paint so much that I'd forgotten I even had them on, and with my complexion and long, black hair, my simple, modest buckskin tunic and my dream-catcher earrings, it would be easy to guess that I was Native American. "Not a princess," I said with a gentle smile. "Yes, I'm Native American, and I'm ... we're from South Dakota. And you?"
"New York City," she answered proudly, still petting Danny. He seemed resigned to that fate, leaning into the corner between the window and his seat, trying to be distant from Melissa. She, though, was leaned over toward him so she could continue petting him. "I'm going to a school in New Hampshire. You've probably never heard of it, though."
I was fully alert. "Oh? Where is it?"
"Outside a little town I don't think many people know about - Dunwich. The school is ...."
"Whateley Academy," I said with certainty. I watched a puzzled look dawn on her. She looked at me questioningly, so I just nodded, confirming what she was starting to realize, and then she squealed with joy.
"Really? Kitty's going to be there, too?" She was almost shrieking with delight. "I didn't think I'd know anyone, but now I know two people there!" She beamed with pride. "I've already got an MID, and my codename is Mischief. I picked that because my Dad said I'm always getting into mischief, and my friend Imp says so, too."
Something in what she said rang a bell, but I couldn't quite place it, so I decided to move on. "Four, actually," I said, glancing over my shoulder at Evvie and Naomi. "The two behind us are my friends. We started school there last year." Melissa was almost jumping for joy, while beside her, Danny had a look that he was doomed to Melissa always hanging around, petting him, and calling him 'Kitty'. In the seats behind us, having overheard the whole conversation, Evvie and Naomi were smirking and chuckling at Danny's plight.
Monday, August 27, Late Afternoon
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
"Kayda!" The voice practically screaming down the hall was quite excited and surprised.
I turned just in time to get swept into a huge, spinning hug by Lanie, and that brought a smile to my face, which lasted only a moment before we exchanged a short but meaningful kiss. It was nothing at all like she'd given me at the hot tub party the previous spring, but it was much more than a fake Hollywood 'air kiss'.
"Ah thought you weren't comin' 'til tomorrow or Wednesday," she said as she let me down.
I jerked me head toward Danny, who was standing, somewhat dumbfounded. "I got special permission to help my brother - and sometimes-sister - move in. Evvie and Naomi are here early, too! And you? RA stuff?"
"Ah just finished introducin' mahself to mah wing, but Mrs. Horton says that later, when everyone is here, Ah need to have a wing meeting as a meet-and-greet, especially for all the new ones that show up. Angel and Ah talked, and we're gonna do a joint meeting, so the freshmen and sophomores can get to know each other."
"Angel is an RA?" I was astounded. I had a lot to learn about how our new cottage was organized, especially the RAs.
"Rosalyn applied for an RA position, too, and Mrs. H gave her the junior wing of the sisterhood." She smiled. "Ah was about to gather my little flock and tour the new building. You in?"
"Sure," I answered. "By the way, who's Danny rooming with?"
"Hank. Mrs. H and Mrs. C figured that since he didn't have any problem with Heyoka last year, he'd understand the times that Danny has to be a cat-girl. He's in 218, right next to Ayla." He and Hank will have a bit of a walk to the showers, though," she said semi-apologetically, "since Boyztown is on one of the other wings."
"The cold morning walk will help him wake up," I said, shooting him a wicked grin.
"It won't be that cold anymore," Lanie chuckled. "When they redesigned the building, they called in an alumnus called H-vac to do the heating and air conditioning. He's a gadgeteer, and with the well-insulated walls, Poe will be even cozier in the winter than Melville!"
I took Lanie's arm. "Let's go get Danny moved in, and then we can catch up."
She led us from the elevator to 'our' new wing, with me towing my suitcase with my free hand. "Here ya go," she said to Danny, gesturing him into the open door of room 218. "Let me type in the access code, so you can code in your thumbprints."
"New security?" I couldn't help but ask. "It'll be a lot easier than having to fumble for keys."
Lanie grinned as she fiddled a bit behind the door, then gestured toward a scanner located just above the door handle. "Ah'd like to claim it was mah invention, but even though it isn't, as a gadgeteer, Ah am obligated to be impressed!"
On the scanner, there was a small indicator light showing red. "Press your right thumb on the scanner, and wait for the LED to turn yellow. Then it'll blink red, so repeat that twice more. The indicator should turn green."
Danny did as directed, and the LED turned green, while the lock mechanism chimed three times. Lanie fiddled again. "Now do it again with your left thumb." Once more, Danny followed her instructions and the LED turned green. "Okay, now let's test it." She shut the door and had Danny use his thumb to unlock the door, first with his left, and then again with his right.
"You're all set," Lanie said with a smile, "but just in case ...." She pulled a key off a large ring of keys. "And your backup."
Danny nodded and towed his luggage into the room. "Which side is mine?"
"Whichever one you want."
I winced a bit at Lanie's words. "Um, it's probably better if you take the left side." Seeing their questioning looks, I continued the explanation. "Last year, Heyoka was on the left side. It might be ... too much if he feels like he's in Heyoka's bed. Ayla explained the whole thing in France; Apparently, Hank had a bad PTSD episode and severe depression this summer."
We left Danny to organize his stuff, while Lanie and I went back to get my stuff. "I can't wait to show you the plans I got for a nano-mill!" I gushed. "Nanites follow a programmed path to cut away any scrap metal, including interior parts."
"How is that different from an EDM machine?" Lanie asked, puzzled a bit.
I couldn't help grinning. "First, it's hard to get an EDM to do interior work, especially through small openings. Second, unlike EDM, the nano-mill doesn't actually eat up all the waste, but it slices and dices the material to be removed so what's left fits through the opening. Third, unlike an EDM, the nanites leave powdered metal behind them, so there's no messy conductive fluid to carry away the residue."
"So ... you could use it to do interior milling of something like a transmission housing? Or even an engine block optimized for weight and cooling, without having to be overly thick to compensate for casting irregularities?" Lanie asked, eyes widening as she appreciated the implications.
"And it should work off a CAM program," I beamed. "Just set up three reference points at openings, and the machine will do the rest." I chuckled. "At least that's the theory. The program is a bit of a bitch, though."
"Maybe Ah can get an expert programmer to take a look at it?" Lanie smiled as we neared a door in the changeling wing - which happened to be right next to the RA's room - her room. "Ah can tell what you're thinkin'," she drawled, "and Ah didn't have anythin' to do with room assignments." When I raised a skeptical eyebrow, she chuckled. "Well, not much! Most of the girls' choices from last spring were okayed. And after the issues with some room 'friend' assignments last year, Mrs. Shugendo decided to assign the freshmen, at least in Poe. Ah'm pretty sure that applies to the other cottages as well."
"Am I with Evvie again?" I asked hopefully.
"No," Lanie said sadly. "Ah know you two are friends and team-mates, but Mrs. Horton wanted to put CC with the kids her own age, so that left things a little mixed up."
I sighed with disappointment, then coded the lock. "Who am I with? Or do I get a single?"
"As if!" Lanie snorted. "You're with Chou. You two trained together a bunch last year, so everyone figured you two would be okay."
I shrugged. "I like Chou. Her Tao thing is kind of weird at times, but we get along."
"It's been a tough challenge to assign rooms," Lanie reported. She outlined what they'd done with the new layout; because there weren't a lot of gay boys, they put all the freshmen and sophomore boys on one wing. Freshmen girls went on a second wing, and sophomore girls on a third wing. The final wing was an overflow wing if necessary - probably late-arriving lesbians and changelings, and Angel would be in charge of any overflow in addition to the freshmen girls. Even with the miraculous construction tricks that Whateley used, not everything was ready, so parts of one wing on the second and of two on the third were incomplete. Mostly, a few rooms hadn't been finished, and one of the bathrooms on the second floor and one on the third were still under construction. Even without that, school policy was to prevent single rooms as much as practicable, so it was reasonable to close off wings if possible.
"In theory," she finished up, "Steve Rossiter is in charge of all the boys, but in reality, Hank and Danny are my charges, so Ah've got at least two sane people in the group!"
"Pbthhhh!" I replied, then decided to change the subject. "How was the rest of your summer?"
"Wyatt came down to do the 'meet the folks' thing."
"Oh? I bet that was amusing."
"Not for Wyatt," Lanie chuckled. "Anyway, Tansy and Ah had a pretty borin' trip compared to the first bit," she chuckled. "Ma and Pa insisted that she stay for a couple of days of 'calm' vacation before she came back to school. Ah think Ma likes her a lot. Ma can be pretty intimidating at times."
"Yeah, I know." I couldn't help but cringe; my meeting with Mrs. Nalley the previous spring had been anything but cordial, since I had been the one responsible for Lanie being in a coma after I bound Grizzly to her. I don't think Lanie noticed my reaction, though. At least I hoped she hadn't.
As Lanie continued about the trip, and her helping Tansy learn some gadgeteering remotely, I started to feel really odd inside. I suddenly realized it was like the feeling I had when I was in third grade, when I was the 'new kid' and was excluded from all the established groups and friendships. And I noticed that Lanie hadn't asked even once how my summer had gone.
"Kayda!" Yet another familiar voice of greeting sounded from across the large 'common room' of the second floor. We'd just finished a tour of the renovated cottage, and I was still a little bit overawed. I was curious how they'd managed to accomplish such a radical rebuilt in a little over two months, but I wasn't going to argue with the results. This seemed more like a 4-star or 5-star luxury hotel than a dormitory, or the old cold, drafty Poe cottage we'd live in last spring. And supposedly, all the showers were equipped with Hydro-flux's latest gadgets. A few of the freshmen girls - the changelings in the tour - went a little green, which caused Lanie and I to chuckle. Even the most reluctant changeling would probably be won-over very quickly. I know I had.
As Danny and I wandered back upstairs from the basement, someone called out to me from across the common floor. I spun and saw a raven-haired beauty scampering toward me, a huge smile on her face.
"Hey, Ros," I returned her greeting with a quick hug. I turned to the side. "This is my little brother Danny. He's a freshman." I saw her eyebrows lift. "He's a changeling."
"Oh. Which way ... did you used to be Kayda's little sister? Or are you changing the right way?"
I couldn't help but chuckle at Ros' bluntness, and also at Danny's confusion at the latter part of her question. "He's always been my brother," I explained. "But ... he's a shifter and avatar, and his spirit ... well, she's female and ...," I shrugged. "Show her, Danny."
"But ...?" Danny was shocked at my request; he'd been told that we had to hide our powers.
"It's okay. We're all mutants," Ros purred at him reassuringly. "So show me? Please?" Her voice was like honey, and with her big, soft eyes looking pleadingly at Danny, any attempt at resistance was futile.
"It's okay, Danny." I looked to Ros. "When he changes, we call him Danica."
Still appearing very reluctant, he nodded almost imperceptibly, then took a breath and closed his eyes to concentrate. Ros goggled as Danny's form changed, his face becoming softer, more feminine, and a little bit feline, while his hair spilled down over his shoulders. His chest swelled outward, while his hands and arms softened. In seconds, he was Danica, a kitty-girl.
"Hey, look!" a voice called out from the stairwell - one of the upperclassmen coming down to the main floor. "We've got a kitty girl here!"
Danica winced, glancing at them, but when she turned back toward me and Ros, she gulped nervously at how Ros was staring wide-eyed and hungrily at her. Before either of us knew it, she launched herself at Danica, wrapping her in a huge hug as her lips pressed eagerly on Danica's. Danica's eyes were big as saucers, but within a few seconds, her entire body relaxed and her eyes drifted shut as Ros' superb kissing skill shattered Danica's surprise and reluctance, and she found herself very willingly reciprocating.
On an impulse, I grabbed my cell phone from my purse and snapped a picture. "Mom's going to be very happy that you're making friends so quickly," I chuckled. I don't think he heard a word I said.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007 - Noon
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
At Danny's request, Lanie and I sat with some of the newbies from the second floor. It was ironic - only a few months ago, I was intimidated by everything at Whateley, and now I was being looked upon as the 'expert' by the new kids.
A few of the other freshmen had started to trickle onto campus; by this afternoon, most of the freshmen would be here and the relative peace and quiet we'd enjoyed last evening and this morning were going to be shattered.
Besides Danny, a few of the changelings and a couple of the lesbian girls were at the large table; even the lesbian girls were drawn by Danny's kitty-boy appearance like flies to honey. It took them only a few minutes to start embarrassing him so they could cuddle with 'their kitty'.
"I think Danny's going to have a very long year," I smirked softly to Lanie.
Lanie nodded, grinning. "And Ah think your Ma would want a picture of how well Danny's making friends, don't you?"
"Good point." I took out my cell phone and snapped a couple of pictures, which only increased Danny's fussing and complaining.
One of the girls, Knockoff - Martina - had a change of gender due to regenerative cloning; apparently, he and his mom were backpacking in the mountains when he fell down a steep mountain and was serious injured. His mom's blood was the only thing compatible, and since she was a regen-5, he was accidentally made a clone of his mother.
Ribbon, Alyss, was an enigma. She wouldn't talk about how she'd changed, saying it was very personal. That left us with a girl in goth-lolita clothing who was apparently ten but acted like she was much, much older. Lina went by the code-name Peacock, because she had a peacock spirit, which gave her a 'look at me' aura she'd demonstrated for us, and it left her with an oddity downstairs, and she was most displeased about it. Some of the girls seemed a little freaked by the thought of sharing a bathroom with a girl who had guys' equipment, but Lanie politely but firmly reminded them that Poesies were expected to just 'go with the flow' because all of us were a little different in our own ways.
Amanda - Jinx was a probability warper, which was only too-well demonstrated when one girl tripped and spilled her tray. I was glad Lanie and I were not on her wing.
Several of the lesbians were back in the cottage with Mrs. Horton; a girl called Downpour apparently suffered greatly from depression, and the other two were helping Downpour out. Shawn was an African-American boy who looked very feminine, but that was only because he was still changing to being fully male. I knew he and Hank would have a lot to talk about.
One girl was coming to sit with us, but when she saw Martina, her features clouded with anger and she turned toward another group of Poesie freshmen. She pulled up short, there, too, and eventually found a small table to herself.
"My roommate, Christina," Martina said morosely. "It took her all of twenty minutes to start hating me. Her dad is some big-shot Italian hero, and she intends to follow in his footsteps, so when she found out about Mom ...."
"What about your mother?" Lanie asked, her curiosity tweaked.
Martina sighed. "Mom is a mutant - and she's known in the business as Setup.' She's ... kind of a villain," she added.
"Ah see," Lanie drawled. "Ah'll have a talk with Mrs. Horton. Someone should have known better than to put the daughter of a villain in with the daughter of a hero."
"Yeah, and it's worse than that," Martina added. "I look so much like Mom that ... I kind of helped her on a job."
"Getting an early start on a life of crime and villainy?" Ribbon asked with a knowing smile. Seeing the shocked and somewhat angry look on Martina's face, Ribbon continued, "I know a devisor called Lady Havoc. I know her pretty well, in fact. She's a villain, so I understand quite well what it's like to be associated with villains."
Martina was startled, then she slowly nodded. "Mom is more of a 'gray hat'," she explained. "She's done contract work for the CIA, Mossad, MI-6. And she has a strict code of what she will do and what she won't do."
"If anyone gives you a hard time, you might want to consider joining the Bad Seeds." Seeing the confused looks, she smiled. "Even though Whateley is supposed to be neutral, some kids are pretty down on those who have at least one parent who's a villain. The Seeds band together to protect each other from do-gooders." She grinned. "A lot of them are pretty decent kids, and don't want to go into the family's business. Some do. We're not supposed to care."
"I'll have to ask Mom about them," Martina sounded a little more cheerful. She looked at her watch. "I just know she's going to call me every night, so ..." She grinned. "Yeah, she's a little overprotective. And I love her for it."
Wednesday, August 29, 2007 - Early Afternoon
The Quad, Whateley Academy
The setting and weather - sunny and warm and a lush, green campus - were a little too inviting; a lot of the students were lazing around the quad, playing Frisbee, or otherwise avoiding checking in, meeting with advisors, getting books, and all the other details that we were all supposed to be doing. I should have been doing some last-minute studying so I could test out of English, but it was just too nice a day. Naomi, Evvie, and I were sprawled out on a blanket, talking about our vacations.
Some angry shouting interrupted our peaceful mood, and naturally, we all turned to see what was going on. Some of the known bullies, and a few fresh faces, had surrounded someone, and were verbally harassing whoever the victim was.
"Sissy-boy!" "Little faggot!" "You can't be a real boy!" "Fairy!" Those were some of the nicer comments.
"Leave me alone!" their victim cried out loud, and suddenly, I was alert. It sounded like Danny. I dashed to the group, already invoking the shield spell from my charm.
"Leave him alone!" I demanded angrily.
That only got more attention. "Oh, look - the little sissy has to have girls come to protect him because he's too much of a fairy to defend himself!" Amid their mocking laughter, one of the boys shoved Danny to the ground. Nearby stood two of the Poe girls, looking on helplessly, and one looked like she might be bruised a bit from trying to protect Danny. I easily recognized Selkie as one of the girls who'd been with Danny; I think the one who was bruised was Martina.
"Leave. Him. Alone!" I hissed through clenched teeth, eyes narrowed to slits from anger, and my knife and tomahawk in hand. Tatanka manifested beside me, snorting angrily. Martina, seeing me arrive, jumped on the back of Anvil to try to stop him, but he threw her off him like a rag doll. She thumped noisily, with a pained cry, about five or six yards from the group, but scrambled quickly to her feet, looking like she was ready to charge again.
When the older boys turned to mock me, their eyes widened, especially at the sight of Tatanka. Immediately, they backed down. "Just kidding around a little bit," Cagliostro said nervously, eyeing my tomahawk. Buster thought a bit, and then he, too, backed down - mostly because Tatanka was pawing the ground as if preparing to charge. The others I recognized - Gauntlet, Legbreaker, and Anvil.
"You guys are getting an early start to detentions, aren't you?" I snarked.
"We ... we're just ... introducing ourselves," Cagliostro said apologetically, eyeing my weapons and Tatanka.
The three bullies who were obviously freshmen, new to powers and thinking they were all high-and-mighty, weren't yet experienced enough to realize that if the upperclassmen backed down, they should too. Two in particular, who I later learned were code-named Centurion and Switchblade, seemed very defiant, sneering at me. "What's it to ya?" Centurion demanded, drawing himself up to his full stature to try to intimidate me.
"You don't mess with weaker kids around here," I said evenly. "And you really don't mess with my brother!" I could sense, through the wind and earth spirits, that Addy and Evvie had joined me.
"Your brother, eh?" Switchblade sneered, turning toward me. "And what are you going to do if we don't stop harassing the little faggot?" He manifested some kind of energy weapon and took a threatening step toward me.
"First, he's not a faggot; if you notice, he has two girls quite interested in him, which is probably a lot more than I can say for the likes of you." I looked at his knife and couldn't help but laugh. "Second, my intention is simple - to keep you distracted for another few seconds until security gets here," I chuckled with a broad grin.
Their eyes widened with momentary surprise, but then Centurion sneered at me again. "Nice try, bitch!" he snapped, thinking he was calling a bluff.
"That should be simply 'nice, try, miss' without the insult," a booming voice said authoritatively from behind the boys. Lt. Forsythe looked at the new crop of bullies rather smugly, backed up as he was by four heavily-armed security guards with their weapons at the ready. A step behind them stood Cindy and Diamanta, who'd obviously gone to get them. "Good afternoon, Kayda," he greeted me. "What's up? Are you getting an early start this year, too?"
I actually chuckled. "These guys were engaged in a little bit of harassment that was starting to get physical. I figured I'd distract them until you guys got here."
Forsythe laughed. "That's a lot better than last spring." He turned to the bullies. "I think, gentlemen, that we should go have a little chat, don't you?"
"We didn't do anything!" Switchblade protested unhappily. "We were just ... joking a bit."
"Well, we'll see when we review the security footage, won't we. It looked to me like it was becoming a physical altercation, and Kayda said that as well," Lieutenant Forsythe replied with a grin. "Now, you guys can come peacefully for a little chat, or we can forcibly take you in. Your choice." The would-be bullies all gulped nervously. "And Anvil, while we're walking to Kane, maybe you should tell our new ... students ... what Kayda's buffalo can do to a PK field. And perhaps you should tell them how Kayda killed two Class X demons."
Most of the newbies goggled at what Forsythe said, eyeing me nervously. But Centurion sneered at me, his look all but screaming that this wasn't over in his book. I expected trouble from him - at least until he learned. If he learned. He, like Buster, struck me as the type that would be a little thick-headed and slow.
"You're going to need to come fill out a complaint, ... er ...?" Forsythe asked, hesitantly.
"Lieutenant, this is my brother Danny," I introduced him. "Danny, Lieutenant Forsyth is with campus security."
"What ... what if I don't want to fill out a complaint?" Danny asked nervously, watching the bullies warily. From his fuzzed form, I guessed that the two girls - Poesies - who were observing the altercation from a distance had embarrassed him, causing him to go fuzzy, and once the bullying started, he couldn't change either to normal or to cougar form. I hoped that the powers folks would help him get past that little handicap in his shifting.
"Even if you don't file a complaint, you were a witness, so you'll have to come in to at least fill out a report," Forsythe explained. He turned back to the bullies. "If you had hurt her brother, I might have just stood by and let her and her buffalo teach you guys a lesson. Then we would have a talk - after you got out of Doyle Medical Center." He looked at the bullies. "Take them to Kane," he directed his team. "I'll be along shortly. I'll go ahead and take a statement from Mr. Franks here." As the team marched the bullies toward Kane, Forsythe looked at me, a curious twinkle in his eye. "Kayda," he began, "I'm very pleased to see your ... control ... has significantly improved. Would you consider becoming a security auxiliary?"
"No, I don't think so," I laughed, very amused by how security was treating me now as compared to when I started in March. What a difference a few months made! "Maybe later."
After Forsythe got a statement from Danny and the four girls, he left us. The girls immediately swooped to his sides again, cuddling up to him like he was the most precious thing in the world, and actually arguing and pushing a bit to see who got to be closest to him.
I pulled Danny to one side, away from his admiring fans. "I think I'll make you the same charm that I have. The one that does a shield, to help protect you."
"Can you do the Ghost-walking one, too?" Danny practically pleaded, his eyes misting. "I ... I knew other guys were going to bully me!"
"At least the girls stick up for you," I tried to console him.
"They treat me like I'm their pet," Danny was fighting a losing battle against tears. "Not like I'm a boy they'd be interested in!"
I stood, mouth agape as he walked back to his 'escorts'. He may have been reluctant, but at least they were some 'protection' for him. And it was not going to help his image in the least bit.
Friday, August 31, 2007 - Late Morning
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
I sat nervously in the admin office - for my first 'official' visit of the year. The look I was getting from Ms. Hartford was curious, like she was trying to be superior and disdainful, but wasn't totally succeeding for some strange reason. I suspected it had something to do with the placement test for English I took in the morning; I hadn't even gotten back to my room before Zenith intercepted me and told me I was wanted in Mrs. Shugendo's office. Right away.
So after quickly walking to Schuster, I sat, as I had for the past fifteen minutes. What had dad called his experience in the Army? "Hurry up and wait?" I couldn't help but think of that as I sat, trying to keep myself occupied.
Mrs. Shugendo's office door opened, and she stuck her head out. "Miss Franks? Please come in."
Dutifully, very curious, I followed her in. To my surprise, Mrs. Horton was already there, as was Lanie. I couldn't help but give Lanie a quick smile. "You wanted to see me?" I asked as I sat in the chair they indicated.
"Yes, Kayda," Mrs. Shugendo said as she eased herself into a chair. Like Mrs. Carson's office, she had a 'formal space' with her desk, and an 'informal space' with wing chairs around a coffee table. We were in the 'formal space', which didn't ease my nerves at all.
"Kayda," Mrs. Shugendo began cautiously, "we have a ... situation."
"Yes, ma'am?" I asked uneasily. I wasn't quite sure what she was talking about, but I suspected it had something to do with Lanie and me. Otherwise, Mrs. Carson would be involved.
"You may have noticed that our incoming changeling group is rather large," Mrs. Horton continued a round-about explanation. I was starting to get a bad feeling about where this conversation was going.
"Despite our summer remodel and addition to Poe," Mrs. Shugendo picked up the narrative, "some wings are a little overcrowded."
I glanced at Lanie; I was getting a really bad feeling about what was going to happen. She didn't look too happy with the direction of things, either.
"Normally," Mrs. Horton interjected, "we have two or three changelings a year. Between this year and last, that number is way above normal."
"And since you passed your placement exam," Mrs. Shugendo continued, "you're technically a junior now. To help even out the responsibilities for all the RAs, we want to move you to the third floor, on the junior wing."
Despite my feeling that she was going to say the very thing she said, I couldn't help but feel panic. "But ... Mrs. Carson said ...!" I stammered as best as I could. "We're supposed to be close ...."
"And that's another reason to separate you two," Mrs. Shugendo said evenly. "It would be most unfortunate to have a repeat of certain ... events of last spring."
It took a second for her meaning to sink inn, and then even my toes were blushing, and I dared not steal a glance at Lanie, lest she get a giggle out of my embarrassment. I really, really doubted that she was even slightly embarrassed by Mrs. Shugendo's comment; I didn't want her to see me red-faced from the comment.
"Mrs. Horton," Lanie began, "Ah know that Mrs. Carson insisted that we be together next year because of the tutoring in mechanics and mechanism Ah have been assigned to do for Kayda, and the tutoring in magic she has been assigned to do for me."
"You can still interact a lot in Poe, but be on different floors," Ms. Shugendo interrupted a little impatiently.
Lanie looked at me, then at Mrs. Horton, with a somewhat exasperated expression. "Ah didn't want to have to bring this up," she began hesitantly, "but the student handbook clearly states that after noon Friday on registration week, cottage room assignments are final."
"Well," Mrs. Shugendo began, "there are always exceptions ...."
"Ah also happen to know that the deadline was set because the IT staff need a period of stability to enter all the cottage and class and special needs assignments in the databases." She smiled pleasantly and knowingly at the Dean of Students. "May Ah ask you a question?"
"Go ahead." Mrs. Shugendo felt a headache coming on, and she rubbed her temples the same way she'd seen Mrs. Carson do so many times.
"Last time someone did a last minute housing change, how long did it take your office and the IT department to get that student back into all the databases and on class rosters?"
Mrs. Shugendo sighed heavily. The headache was definitely coming on. "Three and a half weeks." She shook her head, then looked at our housemother. "Mrs. Horton?"
Mrs. Horton had a pleasant smile. "It actually would make it easier for me. I only have to go to one wing to find the cause of most of our ... excitement." She glanced at Lanie and me. "And I'm quite certain that the girls have no intention of repeating their little spring fling."
I don't know about Lanie; I still didn't want to look and have her see my rosy-red cheeks. Instead, I just emphatically shook my head no.
Mrs. Shugendo glared at us, then shook her head slowly. "I know I'm going to regret this," she began.
"Besides," Mrs. Horton added, more to calm Mrs. Shugendo than to bolster the case Lanie had made, "Tansy had her growing-up moment, and since she's hanging out with these two troublemakers, I expect her newfound good influence to help keep them out of trouble."
My jaw almost hit my lap. Tansy - hanging with us? Since when? True, we had the one summer adventure on the road-trip, but that was just one trip. Unless .... I turned to Lanie, expecting, or at least hoping, to see her shock or hear her express her disagreement with Mrs. Horton's statement, but she just sat in her chair, hands crossed neatly in her lap, wearing a slightly smug smile of triumph.
I'm not quite sure what the rest of the discussion was, because I was trying to figure out what Mrs. Horton was talking about, and Lanie's reaction to her statement. And where that left me. Somehow, I stumbled out of the room when the meeting was over, and I walked, or more accurately, stumbled, toward Poe.
"Well, that was easy," Lanie said cheerfully. When I didn't answer, she grasped my arm and stopped me, spinning me gently toward her. "Is something wrong, Kayda?" she asked, sounding quite concerned, but I wasn't really listening.
"Nah," I muttered, perhaps unconvincingly, and perhaps my trembling lip and moistening eyes were seen by Lanie, because she didn't believe me.
"What's going on?" she asked, a little more pointedly.
"It's ...," I mumbled, looking down so I wasn't looking into her eyes, "it's nothing," I said, and though it was a lie, I didn't know how to ask Lanie about Tansy. She'd probably think that I was being paranoid, or would laugh at the idea.
"Are you sure?" She definitely didn't believe my feeble denial.
"It's ... I'm just tired," I gave a weak excuse. "I ... I just need to get back to my room and rest a bit." I forced myself to smile and looked up at her. "Weren't you going over to Melville to have coffee or something with Wyatt?"
"Kayda?" Lanie asked again.
"I'm okay. Go have fun. Tell Wyatt I said hi." I resumed walking toward Poe, and Lanie fell in beside me, although there was little conversation. When we got to Melville, I bade her adieu and as she went toward the A-lister's cottage, I continued on the path toward Poe. My head dropped a bit, and I stared at the sidewalk as I continued along my way, totally baffled by Lanie's attitude and what Mrs. Horton had said. Was Lanie replacing me as her best friend? That thought was almost too much to bear.
"Lanie!" I spun when I heard the call behind me, and my jaw dropped once more at the sight of Tansy quick-stepping, gracefully of course, toward Melville, and when she caught up with Lanie, they hugged like long-lost sisters. Fighting tears, I turned and ran to Poe, to the safety of my room, starting to think that it would have been better to move me to the third floor.
Friday, August 31, 2007 - Late Afternoon
Room 403, Melville Cottage, Whateley Academy
I was still getting strange looks from some of the male Melville snobs, but it was a lot easier after a good summer. No doubt they thought that I was beneath their station in life, that I was intruding in their precious space, and that I had the wrong preference in bed-partners. From the way some of the freshmen looked at me, I suspect the word had very quickly spread throughout the campus. Joy - as if I needed more gay-bashing.
Alicia answered the door immediately, and the moment she recognized me, I found myself in a smothering bear hug as she squealed with delight. "Kayda!"
I returned the hug. "I had a blast in Louisiana and France!" I gushed. "We've got to do that again!"
"Ah wish Ah'd been at the museum! Maybe we can talk Jade into a trip somewhere so I can have some fun, too?" she giggled as we separated and sat down - her on her bed, and me on Addy's.
"I don't suppose I need to ask where Addy is."
"Nope! As soon as Ayla was free, she dashed over to Poe! Ah'm surprised you didn't see her on your way over."
"I came from Kane," I said with a shrug. Seeing her eyes widen, I figured I'd pre-empt the questions. "No, I didn't do anything. Security wasn't interested in me. I was helping Danny with another report about bullying."
I nodded with a sigh. "He had one Wednesday, two incidents yesterday, and one this afternoon. I guess he was right when he worried about bullying."
Alicia winced sympathetically. "Yeah, Ah can see how the other guys would razz him. But bullying? Was he hurt?"
"Nah," I shook my head. "Wednesday, Tatanka and I kept a few bullies at bay until security showed up, and yesterday, a couple of Poe girls helped him out."
"Wait, you and your buffalo? How much trouble are you already in?"
"None," I laughed. "All we did was startle them and make them hesitate long enough for security to show up. They were the ones who got in trouble! Speaking of trouble, there are a few Freshies that I think are going to be a problem for Danny. One's called Centurion ..."
"That's a pompous, self-important code-name!"
"That describes him to a tee. Seems a bit slower on the uptake than Buster! He's got a buddy, Switchblade, and then there's one called Dump Truck," I added, snorting with disgust. "They didn't get the message the first two times, so it might be a long semester for Danny. Especially since he's almost always got girls around him who have him fuzzed."
"He's so cute like that!" Alicia gushed. "He's just so huggable!"
"Yeah. Well, this afternoon I had to get him out of a little trouble. Dump Truck hit him from behind and things got a little physical."
Alicia goggled. "Is he okay? Did he have to go to Doyle? Did you have to heal him?"
"Nah, Danny's okay, except for a few scrapes. Dump Truck, though, didn't get so lucky. Wihinape got a little pissed."
"She manifested?" Alicia gawked at me. "And then what? Did she tear him up?"
"Yup," I nodded, grinning. "And with the previous incidents plus the security cameras, they had Dump Truck dead to rights - even with him and a buddy lying that Danny started it. So enough about me and Danny. How was the rest of your vacay?"
"Mostly boring," she replied.
I wasn't convinced, however. If her idea of boring was hunting a thirteen-foot gator who'd gotten the neighbor's dog and some livestock, I'd hate to hear what she thought was exciting. Then, of course, she asked me about my summer, so I had to tell her all about the Lakota raid on my hometown, and when Addy and Ayla came in, I had to repeat the story, although I was pretty certain Ayla already knew the details and was merely seeking confirmation of what his sources had said.
Of course, Ayla wondered if it was true that Danny was going to join Wondercute, since they had rescued him from bullies the day before.
"What? Where did you hear that?" I demanded when I got my jaw off the floor.
"That's what Jade claimed, but since we know she's a little enthusiastic ...." Ayla chuckled.
"I don't think it's in his plans," I said cautiously, hoping that he was still sane enough to not join those crazy girls. "They kind of scare him."
Alicia burst out in laughter. "They kind of scare everyone!"
"I pity the poor freshmen who underestimate Wondercute," Addy added with a giggle. "You don't suppose that some of the upperclassmen will forget to tell all the Freshies about them? It would provide us some extra entertainment if they didn't, non?"
When we got done laughing, Alicia asked about the trip. I couldn't help but guffaw as I recalled Danny's adventures - and showed her all the pictures I'd taken for Mom. I couldn't help but laugh myself at the memory. I think Alicia was hurting from laughing so hard.
It was a nice day back with my friends.
Friday, August 31, 2007 - Mid-Afternoon
HPARC, Black Hills, South Dakota
"Boss?" the head popping into Ernst's office looked and sounded worried.
"We got a priority call. There's something in the Ontario that sounds like you'd be interested in," Chris Patton, one of the key researchers, told his boss.
"Oh?" Ernst's eyebrows rose. "What is it?"
Chris stepped in and dropped a folder on Dr. Schmidt's desk. "It's all here."
"Not on the computer?" A cold shiver ran through Ernst. The rules were simple - if something was considered at the highest security level, it was never available on a network, even behind the firewalls and computer defenses of HPARC. "That serious?"
"Possible Class X," Chris reported with a wince. They'd had way too much Class X activity in the preceding seven months. "It's in the folder." He ducked out again, pausing to close the door, as if to reiterate how sensitive the material was.
Half an hour later, Ernst sat back in his desk, a grim expression on his face. After thinking for several minutes, he pressed a button on his phone. "Chris? Can you and Carl come in? And find out where Hazel is."
Minutes later, the two researchers came into the director's office, closing the door behind themselves and helping themselves to chairs. "What's up?" Carl asked.
"Another three shamans. This time in Ontario. First at Weenusk, second at Kashechewan, and the third at Moose Cree."
Carl's eyes lit up. "Three more?"
Ernst nodded, grimly. "Yes." He pulled out a paper from the folder Chris had given him and slid it across the desk to Carl. "All in more-or-less a straight line. These last three spanned an estimated two-and-a-half week period."
Carl looked at the paper and did some mental calculations. "That's about 40 miles a day?"
Ernst nodded grimly. "And look at the line on the map. Great Circle route from near Barrow, with jogs around lakes."
"And ... it looks like it's headed for ... Boston?" Carl guessed.
"That's the way I figure it, too," Ernst agreed. "I'll call ARC and alert them that there may be something nasty coming their way. Chris - put together a file of everything we've got, including anything Hazel can dig up from NACAC, so I can send that to ARC, too. By the way, did you get ahold of Hazel?"
Chris shook his head. "She's at some inter-tribal council in Minnesota. Won't be back until Sunday."
"See if you can't get her to come home early." He turned to the other. "Carl, get Frank to fire up the Sky Arrow. Have them get two warded suits. I want to leave for Canada within half an hour."
"You want to bring Tom?" Carl asked.
Ernst shook his head. "No. I don't want to risk another mage. We'll go it alone to get a first look, but in case, get the transport crew ready to fly out a truck."
"Will do," Carl nodded.
"And you know the drill, Carl. Check out a Barrett - just in case." He grimaced, as did Carl; the only reason to take the high-powered sniper rifle was in case a person examining the site was contaminated, possessed, or driven insane. The sniper would make certain the person didn't spread the contamination any further.
"And Chris? Alert every tribe in the northeast - Canada and the US. This ... thing ... has already killed too many shamans. If the tribes have to evacuate their shamans to get them out of harm's way, so be it."