Wash away my troubles, wash away my pain
With the rain in Shambala
Wash away my sorrow, wash away my shame
With the rain in Shambala
Three Dog Night, The Road to Shambala
August 15th, 2007
Office of Senior VP (currency exchange) Theodore Walcutt, Chase Building, New York New York
The view from the corner office of the Chase Manhattan building was spectacular. Out of two walls of floor-to-ceiling windows the financial district of New York was spread, along with the dark, serene waters of the East River flowing out into the bay and the iconic span of the Brooklyn Bridge. Inside, the office was understated luxury; dark wood paneling tastefully accented by Ansell Adams original photographs over a thick, rich carpet. The furniture were all similarly stained hardwoods, sofa, matching chairs facing the desk, each the work of a master craftsman handmade to order, done up in rich leathers taken from the finest specimens of their respective animals.
A bookcase carried reference works on financial law next to tomes of Chaucer, the Bard, and the greats of American literature. A doorway that led off to his private conference room on one wall, a second out to the office proper guarded by his secretary, and of course a private lavatory to see to nature's needs. But the crown jewel of the office, framed in bulletproof glass and sealed with purified nitrogen gas was an original copy of the Declaration of Independence. Theodore Walcutt had often contemplated his ancestors' signature on the document a symbol of both risk and ambition that he had lived his life by.
While the president's office was larger, ever so slightly, than this one, the view was unquestionably better here. Views meant a lot to Theodore Walcutt; seeing his way forward, having the vision to seize opportunity to improve on his family's considerable wealth and influence.
Currently, Mr. Walcutt was standing at the apex of his two window walls, his steel gray eyes contemplating the traffic over the Brooklyn Bridge, a glass of fifty-year-old scotch in one hand the other resting loosely in the small of his back against a suit that had been custom-made for its wearer and had cost more than most people's cars. Behind him, he listened to the audio of screams and gunshots from a video that played on his laptop. It had been taken by some amateur on a phone showing a massive traffic jam, a gunfight between a small coterie of uniformed guards, a blurry indistinct form and three teenage girls.
The video was playing for an associate of Mr. Walcutt's, a professional who specialized in making problems go away. He watched the video play, switching from the nauseatingly bad footage of the incident to a medium close-up of a figure wearing a hood who made interesting threats and demanded ridiculous amounts of money for silence. The professional took notes on a small tablet, having silently watched the blackmail demand completely through three times now; only taking notes on the last two passes. Theodore took a sip of his scotch and sighed. While he wished for the better labels he kept at home this was the "guest" scotch he kept at work. "Rita? Do up a memo suggestion and pass it around the other VPs and the board."
Rita Salinger was a ten by anyone's measure, so beautiful that there were those who whispered about her being an exemplar. Like most beautiful women who associated around rich and powerful men, she was both skilled and discreet, quietly certain she was the current favorite of Mr. Walcutt's collection of mistresses. She was also an exceptional secretary who typed at ninety words a minute, was a licensed court reporter, Notary Public and was also smart enough to realize that when she was inevitably replaced her silence would be bought by a severance package sufficient to buy a Third World country. She knew this because her first duty in Mr. Walcutt's employ had been to sign the check given to her predecessor and she had to count the zeros to be certain they were correct. She opened a separate notebook than what she had been recording the current conversation in. "What would you like the memo to say, Mr. Walcutt?"
Theodore made a vague gesture from the window. "A suggestion of some kind of charitable sponsorship of mutants, specifically mutant children, probably the ugly ones. Something along the lines of Chase leading the way into the new millennium, caring for our fellow man, etc. etc. I'll leave the details to you."
Finally the video on the laptop ended and the professional spoke for the first time. "How firm of a message would you like me to send, Mr. Walcutt?"
"I don't want to have to hear from this person again, Mr. Lewis. I'm certain you can see to that?"
The professional made a notation in his tablet. "Certainly, sir. I believe that the individual who took the video is in fact different from the person making the demand. Would you like anything done about him?"
Walcutt took another sip of his scotch. "I don't think that's necessary, Mr. Lewis. Likely they have their reward for selling this video. Although, should this particular footage come to trouble me again I may change my mind."
"I'll have one of my associates determine who the photographer is and keep tabs on them."
Theodore turned from the window, looking back into the office at his professional. "And Mr. Lewis, I'm very interested in learning how this individual linked the disguised individual in the video to my daughter."
Mr. Lewis rubbed his chin in thought. "It seemed quite obvious to me, sir, but then I've met Miss Walcutt…" A light went on behind his eyes. "I see, you want to know if they, also, were familiar with Miss Walcutt?"
Theodore smiled and held his glass up in toast. "Your intuition is only one of the reasons we continue to do business, Mr. Lewis." Mr. Lewis raised his glass from the desk to return the toast and drained it at a swallow.
"Always a pleasure, Mr. Walcutt."
"Rita will see to your remuneration," Walcutt replied. "I look forward to hearing news of your success." The professional gathered up his coat, while Rita laid one of the two stenographers tablets on her employer's desk, carrying the other with her. "And Rita? Once you've taken care of Mr. Lewis please return. I have some additional issues."
"Certainly sir." Rita led the way out into her office, opened the locked cabinet and withdrew a checkbook binder. She filled out a check, signed and separated it from the others and presented it to the professional. He smiled as he let himself out of the office, while Rita returned to find her boss, unmoved, by the window. Standing in front of his desk, she asked, "What else can I do for you, Mr. Walcutt?"
Without turning from the window his stentorian baritone asked in a remarkably quiet tone, "Rita, I was under the impression my daughter was attending the summer semester at that school of hers. Is my memory faulty?"
The secretary sat down at the laptop and called up a time management program. "No sir, your recollection is correct. I have confirmation that she did attend the summer session."
Theodore turned from the window his expression carefully neutral, but his eyes were hard and his jaw set. "Then perhaps you would be so good as to find out how she managed to find herself in Wyoming and what she was doing there?"
"I will get right on acquiring that information for you, sir."
Walcutt's expression finally softened as he set his glass down and unbuttoned his jacket. "No need to get right on it," he said with a smile. Rita stood from the desk and took off her glasses while returning his smile.
August 26th, 2007
The Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Tansy sat alone on the Alpha dais, chin propped in her hand watching the waterfall cascade by the Terrace on its way the pool below. It had been a hectic summer term, between special sessions for sensei Ito and the overload class schedule which only her exemplar status allowed her to complete, she barely had time to breathe. But it had been a successful summer, and she had now completed her entire core and faced her senior year with three straight semesters of electives. Electives, she intended to take advantage of, that only a school like Whateley can offer.
Learning had not been restricted to the classroom, or even the daytime. There were many nights where Tansy found herself on a lake several hundred miles to the south. It wasn't every night, as there were many nights that Mustang needed her in her own dream space to become used to each other, the spirit and the avatar. Most of the time when she was on that lake, Wyatt was also there, but not always. Tansy wasn't sure what made her less comfortable, the times she had spent alone with Elaine, or the times she had spent alone with Wyatt.
The Kodiak had been a great help in allowing Tansy come to grips, with the isolation she felt, since the loss of her mother to addiction. And while her mind was in a maelstrom of Milton, pressure points and logarithmic equations, Wyatt Cody and the Kodiak had actually helped her realize and decide who she was. Tansy took a sip of the coffee that was now only warm instead of hot, and wrote in the margin of the tablets she'd been using for her notes, for her paper on Paradise Lost, Tansy wrote,
I am bisexual.
The young blonde stared at the words for a long moment after she had written them, while she remembered the absolute and unfettered joy, in the discovery of lovemaking, at the hands of Elaine Nalley. She remembered the sensations that had put her new found experimentation with her fingers to shame, and smiling to herself she remembered the completely unselfconscious grin that had been on the redhead's face as Tansy had come down from the high of her first orgasm with another human being. Walcutt wasn't sure if she liked all women, but she'd made her peace with the intense feelings she now had for Elaine. There wasn't really a word for what she felt for the unassuming and wonderfully giving southern girl, but she certainly now understood the bond between Elaine and Kayda.
Which led to the awkward realization that Tansy was very quickly forming a deep affection for her best friend's fiancé. While the three of them had never actually indulged in their desires in the real world, there had been plenty of acting in dream space. She had to admit that Wyatt Cody deserved his reputation and once she had learned to relax and enjoy things she found them very enjoyable indeed. As Lanie herself had laughingly pointed out, "Not better, just different."
Her Gizmatic Communicator IV buzzed on the table and the screen lit up with a text message. Tansy had decided to use the the phone Hindmost had given her as her only phone not long after she received it. For one thing, it made taking the calls from her sponsor easier and raised no eyebrows because it was the phone she always used, that as well as the fact that the phone was light years ahead of the Motorola Razor she had been using. She looked at the screen and saw:
I'm here, where are you?
Tansy smiled and regretted that her schedule had not allowed her to fly down to Atlanta and repeat the road trip in reverse with her new found best friend. "Phone," she ordered. "Tell Lanie I'm in the Crystal Hall, on the Alpha dais."
"I'll send your message," the phone dutifully replied in a blasé male voice.
Walcutt refreshed her coffee from the thermal carafe, she’d brought with her to the table, while looking out at the parking lot in front of Doyle Medical Center which was the closest to the Crystal Hall. Before she finished adding sugar to the coffee she caught sight of the vintage Mustang pulling into a spot and Elaine getting out. Tansy looked down at the tablet as she experienced the chorus of feelings seeing Elaine brought up in her. It was like a slide show in rapid succession, desire, affection, friendship, lust, love the feelings danced through her heart almost too fast to follow. She added a question mark to the end of the statement and tried to get a handle on her feelings. Below it, she wrote Kayda's name and realized there was a portion of her that wondered how different she would be from Elaine.
Tansy erased the question mark.
Told you, Mustang whispered in her ear.
Hush, she rebuked the spirit, but with a smile on her face. A smile that widened as she caught sight of her friend and lover walking, around the Terrace, from the elevators. Tansy stood as Elaine arrived and hugged her warmly in greeting. "Lanie! It's so good to see you again!"
Elaine rolled her eyes and smiled a sheepish grin. "Well, in the real world anyway." The two girls sat down and Elaine poured herself a cup of coffee from the carafe. "How was summer term?"
Walcutt made a dismissive gesture. "I'm so glad it's over!" She replied. "I don't think I've ever had so much crammed into my head at one time, but it was worth it and now I have my entire senior year caught up and open for just electives. I'm sorry I couldn't make it down to ride back up with you, it wasn't too bad was it?"
As she stirred sugar and cream into the coffee, Elaine shrugged. "A little monotonous. It wasn't so bad once Ah got to New York and picked up Marty and Steve."
"How was their summer?" Tansy asked. "I saw some clips on the news…"
"Ah'll let them tell you," the other replied around her first sip of the coffee. "Which, Ah'm sure, they will with no prodding on your part and in pornographic detail!" The two girls shared a giggle. Elaine's body language changed to imply she had a juicy bit of gossip she was about to impart. "Ah do declare that if they aren't dancing the mattress mambo, they've rented the hall and the band!"
Tansy shook her head reliving a bad memory. "Those two deserve each other! God help the world if they breed, I don't think we’re ready for a child of those two! Can you imagine?"
"Nightmare fuel," Elaine agreed. "They were chattering like chipmunks all the way from New York. When they weren't sticking their tongues down each others throats." She stretched until several of her joints popped. "God! Ah hear the hot tub calling me!"
A perfectly sculpted eyebrow ascended Tansy's face. "You're moving to Melville?"
"Poe," Lanie replied. "Mrs. Horton asked me to be a resident advisor with the new wings. On the plus side Ah get a single all to mahself."
"I've been watching them build it over the summer," Tansy replied. "Amazing how quickly they did it. Poe has a hot tub now?"
"Two as Ah understand it, but Ah was thinking of…" The redhead trailed off with a strange look on her face. "That's right! You don't know about The Grotto!"
Tansy was dubious. "The Grotto?"
Elaine stood and urged her friend to do so as well. "Do Ah have a treat for you!"
August 26th, 2007
Dead Oak Grove, between Poe and Hawthorne Cottages, Whateley Academy
Even dead, the skeleton of the old oak tree was impressive. It still dominated the little clearing in the trees between Poe and Hawthorne cottages, drawing a whistle of appreciation from Tansy as the two girls entered the little clearing. "You'd never know this was here if you didn't already know about that path," Tansy observed as Elaine walked up to the dead tree. After a moment or two of fiddling Elaine found the catch and the hidden door swung open into the stump. Tansy regarded her friend after a long moment of staring at the black maw. "Are you throwing me into the Pit of Despair?"
Elaine added an oily tone to her voice. "Ah swear it shall be done," she replied with a smile. "And the tradition continues."
"Tradition?" Asked Tansy as she carefully stepped into the door and onto the ladder she found there.
"For some reason," Nalley replied, "every time someone comes here for the first time they quote The Princess Bride."
"I wonder why!" Tansy retorted as she descended the ladder. It helped her confidence that the ladder was well made and very solid. At the bottom she found the little alcove with cubbies full of towels and a used towel hopper. Through an opening she stepped into a larger cavern that appeared to open, carved from the native bedrock. There was a seating area with hooks for robes and towels, while great care had been taken to make it appear that the space that was mostly natural had been coaxed into it's current shape, but to anyone with any kind of engineering knowledge it was patently obvious that everything here was artificial. It was meant to appear as a limestone grotto, carved by the water in the three pools that filled the space, except of course there was neither entry nor exit point of that water. And, of course, the water that was thoughtfully chlorinated to keep bacteria out of it; doubtlessly the gift of Eros himself. Tansy slowly turned in place taking in the entire space in the soft blue lighting. "This is amazing!" She breathed. Suddenly her mind recalled a stolen memory and she turned to face her friend. "This is it, isn't it? Where they have that social thing you talked about…?"
"The Biannual Lesbian Hot Tub Social," Elaine replied with a smile as she pulled her shirt over her head. "It is indeed, and Tansy? They are we, hun."
A shudder ran up and down Tansy's spine. As she began to unbutton her blouse her eyes sought Elaine's and she asked, "is that how you see yourself? A lesbian? So, you're just kind of using Wyatt as a sperm donor?"
Elaine reached behind herself and unhooked her bra placing it on her shirt before turning to give Tansy her full attention. "No, Tansy. Ah'm not using Wyatt, Ah love him. There isn't a neat little name people for like us, who love everyone."
Walcutt removed her blouse and hung it on the hook. "Mustang seems to feel that there isn't any such thing as a lesbian, that all women are bisexual…"
As she unbuckled her jeans and sat down to remove them, Elaine mulled over the thought. "He may have a point," she conceded finally. "Ah've known several girls in the sisterhood who swore up and down they'd never be with a guy but did at one point or another. Hell, even Cornflower almost gave up her gold star to see if the rumors about Wyatt were true."
Tansy frowned in confusion. "Gold star? Is that a reference to…"
Solemnly, Elaine nodded. "In our lingo it means a girl that's never been with a guy, but yes it comes from… Them…"
Tansy was in the process of removing her bra when she recalled a bad memory and froze. "There aren't cameras or anything down here, are there? And what if we get walked in on?"
Placing her panties with the rest of her clothes, Elaine stood gloriously nude and walked to the central pool, testing the water with her toe. "Ah've already locked the hatch so we won't be walked in on, and one of the joys of having a photographic memory is that I was as paranoid as you mah first time and Ah crawled over every inch of this room to make sure there were no cameras, so Ah would know instantly if something changed, which it hasn't." She sank into the water and sighed in contentment. The pool was large and deep enough to float in, which she was.
Relieved, Tansy finished disrobing and joined her friend in the water. "Who built this?" She asked as the warmth in the water forced her muscles to relax.
"Who knows?" Elaine replied. "It's probably a legacy of some previous class, far enough back that who exactly did it has been forgotten. Maybe the class of 85? They built the Crystal Hall a lot of other stuff."
"Does the faculty know about this place?"
Elaine dipped her head into the water and once she was completely wet, sat up, sweeping her hair back from her face and settled on the seat. "That, as they say, is an interesting question. Of course Ah found out about this place from Maria…"
"… Yes," she replied. "She made it out like this was a big secret, but here's the thing. Being an engineer, if the faculty doesn't know about this place, Ah wonder who is balancing the chlorine levels in this water? Or keeping the heater working? Or washing and refolding those towels? All Ah can tell you is I've never been in here and seen anyone from the faculty or the staff working on it. There’s always towels, the water is always hot and clean and Ah don't really look into it much beyond that to be honest."
A companionable silence settled between the two girls as they sat in the warm water and relaxed. Tansy thought long and hard of a decision that she had made and second-guessed most of the summer, and finally made a decision. "Lanie, I need to tell you something."
"What's that, Tansy?" The redhead asked. She saw the trepidation in her friend's body language and scooted over a bit to sit next to her in the pool. Tansy couldn't meet her gaze, and despite the warmth of the water she was shivering. Elaine reached out to gather the other girl into a hug that at first she resisted. "What's wrong?" She asked.
"I've done… So much wrong since I manifested, it would be really easy for me to just bite my tongue and say nothing. But you have been such a tremendous friend to me, after all the evil I did to you…" Tansy finally looked up into Elaine's gaze, her eyes full of tears. "I didn't think about it at the time, I guess because I'm still pretty selfish, and when it did occur to me later on I had this huge war with myself because you are the only friend, the only real friend, that I ever had in my life and I would do anything not to lose you as a friend. But, because you are my friend I can't keep this from you in good conscience."
Elaine licked her lips slowly, trying to comprehend what she was hearing. Finally, she said, "Tansy, Ah don't hold innocent mistakes against folk. If you tell me you did something wrong on accident, then of course Ah'll forgive you…"
"I don't deserve a friend like you," the blonde whispered. "I'm such a complete whore…"
The redhead's hand went out and took the blonde by the chin and forced her to look her in the eye. "Ah don't think you really know what that word means, because if you did you would never use it to describe yourself. Ah might be called loose, 'cause Ah sure didn't wait for marriage. Ah might be called a slut and, being honest with myself, Ah've been a bit casual and fast, maybe more than a lady should be. But a whore? Tansy, a whore only cares about money, or status, or things; she trades her body for what she wants because she can't trade her love. A whore can't love, she's forgotten how; don't ever, ever call yourself that."
Through the skin of her friends hand against her chin Tansy felt and realized the depths of Elaine's conviction about what she was saying. Walcutt blinked and tears escaped her eyes to roll down her cheeks. "Lanie… There, there were times… When I went to your dream space, and for whatever reason, you weren't there… But… But Wyatt, was…"
Elaine blinked and a slow smile spread across her face. "God above, Tansy! Are you having me on?" The blonde began to cry and stammer out an apology around her sobs causing Elaine to reach out and gather her into her arms. "Baby!" She soothed, kissing the other girls forehead. "There were times Wyatt wasn't there and you and Ah were! We don't need to apologize to him for that, and you don't need to apologize to me. The important thing is that we are together and we still feel that way we did when we talked about it and decided to try this. The fact that you're this worked up tells me you don't have anything to apologize for and that you weren't going behind mah back..."
Elaine couldn't continue because Tansy had leaned forward and was crushing her mouth with the intensity of a kiss only the elation of love and forgiveness can fuel. For an eternity their tongues danced as their bodies were pressed together in the warm water. Finally they withdrew, both panting in breathless arousal to allow Tansy to remark, "you know, it occurs to me that for all the romping you and I have enjoyed in our dreams, in the real world I've only kissed you."
The redhead's hands were roaming in a wonderful tour below the water. "Would… Would you like to remedy that?"
"I thought you'd never ask," panted Tansy and she leaned forward to rejoin the kiss.
August 26th, 2007
The Astral Plane, Dead Oak Grove, Whateley Academy
In the space next to the space occupied by the grotto, with its three hot tubs, a spirit sat watching the two sleeping girls, spent from their pleasurable exertions. The spirit noted how the two girls held each other in their slumber, remembered watching them enjoy each other's company until drifting off into a pleasant sleep. The spirit had thought he would need to coerce the girls, but fortune smiled on him and they had cooperated beautifully. "Wonderful," Coyote said to himself. "Thank you ladies, this is most helpful…"
August 26th, 2007
28 Carter Ave., Fort Bridger, Wyoming
A dapper looking individual stepped out of an expensive BMW, Dusty from the roads taken on a long drive from the closest airport. He was an odd sort, blocky squared off and obviously dangerous, he was the kind of man you would step out of the way of if you passed him on the street. This was one of his chief assets. The other was that there was a certain drabness to him, the average features the average hair, the average voice there was very little about him to stand out in anyone's memory.
He looked around as he stood next to the BMW for a moment, then shut the door and walked, without removing his sunglasses, to an unremarkable sedan that was parked a short distance away. He opened the passenger door, as if he knew it would be open for him, and slid into the seat next to a younger version of himself; intimidating and forgettable. "Sorry to call you out, Mr. Lewis," the younger man began in a low discreet voice.
"Think nothing of it, Mr. Anders," the troubleshooter replied. "I know you wouldn't have contacted me if things were not difficult. What is the issue?"
"I traced the photographer of the footage as you asked me to," Anders replied. "Unfortunately, when I arrived I discovered my person of interest had been retired."
The eyebrows ascended Mr. Lewis's face. "Retired? This was professional in your opinion?"
Mr. Anders produced a telephone from his jacket pocket and handed it to his employer. "Yes sir," he replied. "Two to the back of the head, small caliber, no powder burns so I presume a suppressed weapon."
Mr. Lewis considered this for a moment as he pocketed the phone. "An interesting complication Mr. Anders, but I fail to see the need for my presence."
"What bothers me, sir, is that as you saw the device in question was left behind." From habit Anders eyes scanned the area around them for threats. "I verified the footage in question is still on the device. I'm at a loss to explain why professional would be involved, but not take the only thing of interest, and I knew you would want to be made aware of this immediately."
"You have done very well Mr. Anders," Lewis replied. "Finish up whatever investigation you can here and then move on to the next portion of your assignment. If there are further complications make me aware of them as soon as possible."
August 26th, 2007
Room 210, Poe cottage, Whateley Academy
The door swung open on the silent pins of new hinges and the smell of fresh paint. Elaine followed Mrs. Horton into her room, her jaw falling open at the apparent luxury. The furniture was all new; sturdy plain, but solid wood college type, while still being well made and name brand. Immediately to the left was a closet with a pair of accordion doors that, while not walk-in in the strictst of senses, was quite deep and full of a wire metal organizational system that had room for hanging items, a shoe rack along the floor and pull-out drawers. Next to it was the desk identical to the desk she had in Whitman cottage, but new and unmarked along with a nice rolling office chair that was full-backed with armrests as opposed to the smaller task chairs that have been her experience up until now.
Her ThinkPad, still bearing the stickers she placed on it last year, was already on the desk but sat nestled in a docking station that was connected to a separate keyboard and mouse and with a sizable monitor attached to the wall. To the right was the bathroom that was the privilege of the resident advisor, it's door open as she passed. It possessed a sizable shower stall instead of a tub, but there were multiple nozzles on the wall that promised a unique experience.
The bed was a full-size, not one of the twin types that could be converted into a bunk bed as had been her previous experience. At the foot of the bed, between it and the window was a small dorm refrigerator and a comfortable looking chair that dominated her reading nook with a bookcase and lamp. Mrs. Horton smiled and spread her arms expansively to encompass the entire room as Elaine laid her suitcases on the bed. "Here we are, my dear" Mrs. Horton said with a smile. "What do you think?"
"It's… It's amazing, Mrs. Horton!"
"Well, it's payment for the services you’ll be rendering," the older woman said, while tapping the chair that was nestled between her desk and the nightstand by the bed. "I don't expect you to be a psychologist, or a psychoanalyst, but I do expect you to have an open door, a shoulder to cry on and time to listen to people needing to talk."
Elaine nodded. "Sure, y'all know Ah always like to help."
"Use your best judgment," the house parent cautioned. "But if you feel someone needs real help, I expect to hear about it, promises for secrecy regardless." Elaine nodded again. Mrs. Horton's smile became knowing. "We need, and expect you to be more mature than the girls on this floor. Which means your levels of discretion had best be better than they were your freshman year and I don't expect to hear about any overnight guests."
Lanie blushed to her hairline. "No ma'am, you can count that Ah won't…"
The house mother smiled and patted her assistant on the cheek. "I was young once, too, dear heart. I know what will happen. Just make certain my nose isn't rubbed in it and we will get along famously."
Lanie's blush deepened but she managed to smile. "Yes, ma'am."
"Now, I've gotten word that Roslyn was delayed, so I'll need you to receive the freshman girls tomorrow and give them the tour. Make sure they understand the nature of the cottage, and that I will be placing the spell on them. For the tour, make sure that you show them the Homer gallery, Crystal Hall, and all of the class buildings."
"What about the tunnel system?" She asked. Mrs. Horton shook her head.
"I may have you escort any of the engineering track students on a brief tour below, but Mrs. Carson has asked chief Delarose to have security conduct a tour of the tunnel system, for the entire student body, after the welcoming speech."
"I'm so jealous!" Tansy exclaimed as she pushed a little cart into the room that had the totes, holding the remainder of Elaine’s things, she had volunteered to bring up from the car. "Is it too late for me to volunteer?"
Mrs. Horton frowned slightly as she took in the blonde girl through lidded eyes. "Don't you have a single over in Dickinson this year, Miss Walcutt?"
"Not one with its own bathroom!" Tansy replied sticking her head into the aforementioned water closet to admire its shower.
"I'm afraid I'm full up on advisors just now, Miss Walcutt." Tansy smiled, and shrugged, as she lifted the totes off the cart and put them on the bed for Elaine. Mrs. Horton considered for a long moment the genuine smile on the young woman's face, and the conversation that she had had with Elaine last year. Between that and the glowing reports that she knew Elisa Grimes had given the young woman on her progress, Mrs. Horton finally added, "though, if something changes I'll keep you in mind."
Tansy smiled again and nodded. "Thank you, Mrs. Horton." The house mother considered the two young women for a moment, judged their subtle interaction with each other and a smile of realization brightened her face.
Taking hold of the cart, the house parent said, "I'll let you get settled in Elaine. Miss Walcutt, I appreciate your volunteering." Again the blonde smiled and nodded as the two girls began to unpack posters from the totes to decide where to place them. Mrs. Horton wheeled the cart out of the room and closed the door behind her. In the large atrium at the center of the cottage, as she waited on the elevator to arrive, Bella Horton smiled to herself and shook her head. "Elaine Nalley and Tansy Walcutt," she muttered to herself. "Who would have guessed?"
August 26th, 2007
Room 210, Poe cottage, Whateley Academy
In her dreams, Elaine Nalley was a Pict banshee.
She never seemed to know this warrior's name, but the increasing regularity with which she dreamed parts of her life only fueled the fascination in the daytime. Tonight the warrior rode her horse through a dense forest heading into twilight. It was an odd feeling to Elaine to have the beasts broad back between her knees, the young redhead had never ridden a horse in her life, but the banshee was an accomplished rider. Twilight was looming in the forest and there was no sign of an inn, which meant spending another night camping; which was fraught with its own perils.
She rounded a bend in the road and the forest widened to an open glade and a field of carnage with red-stained grass, Viscera and entrails were spilt about the lawn amidand six stinking corpses of dead men. They had all died fighting, weapons either in hand or fallen close by, the lot appeared to be highwayman, in patch works of clothing and makeshift armor, all obviously fallen on hard times. Now their time was done and they stank in the evening air.
As the banshee overlooked the carnage, deciding whether it was worth stopping to investigate, for items of value, or riding quickly on lest their murderers return and decide to amuse themselves with her, her eyes fell on the seventh figure. He was different from the fallen highwayman of the glade, he sat with his back against a tree, sword still in hand, once fine clothes rent and ruined by the melee.
He was also, the banshee realized, still alive.
He was a solid looking warrior, with dark hair and full beard, in the fullness of his prime, barrel chested and arms thick with sinew. He bled from a dozen wounds, and his breath was a painful wheeze, but his grip on the sword looked strong. "Who are you?" She yelled in Pictish, but the man shook his head, coughed and spat blood. He spoke in an odd dialect of Celtic that the banshee was unfamiliar with, but it was close enough that she could make out the gist of what he was saying.
"Domnall mac Óengusa, something, something, innocent mercy," he cried out. The banshee switched to an older form of Celtic her aunt, a druidess, had taught her.
"Are you a part of these dead men?" She demanded. The warrior frowned and spoke more slowly even though he was obviously in pain.
"I was set upon by stealth and defended myself," he said slowly in the same language. "Be you Christian, daughter of ash and oak or defiant of all gods I beg you mercy if you have any skill of healing at all."
"I am bean sìth, Domnall mac Óengusa…"
"Have you come to announce my death?" The warrior asked coughing up blood once more.
Elaine shook her head. "I am no healer, though my aunt is a priestess of ash and oak and my mother, chieftains wife, is a witch of no small power. If you'll put away your sword I will do what I can for you." The warrior thought for a moment than painfully sheathed his sword and nodded. Elaine raised her leg and slid off the horse, rummaging in the saddlebag for an oilskin that contained what medicines she had with her. She cautiously approached the warrior who turned up his empty hands and then let them fall by his side to show he would offer no violence.
With her knife she cut the remnants of the shirt away from him, revealing his barrel chest and muscled torso. Most of the cuts on his arms were superficial and would scar, but would otherwise do no harm; these she bound with the strips of fabric, cut of the shirt, to stop them bleeding. But on the right side of his abdomen was a deep sword puncture and while it had not ripped outwards and disemboweled him, the puncture was deep and likely mortal. She crushed a hunk of moldy bread and forced it into the wound causing him to gasp with pain through clenched teeth. She opened her small jar of honey and slathered the wound then bound it with the remnants of his shirt. "This wound is deep, Domnall mac Óengusa and will likely be the end of you without magic of considerable power. My village is a half days ride still, but moving you may deliver you to Death's hands."
"He'll surely find me here if I do nothing," Domnall replied as he clinched his teeth. "Help me stand, and I'll ride to the gates of hell itself if need be." The banshee placed his arm around her shoulders and with effort returned him to his feet and then onto her horse behind her. One way or the other, it would be a long night.
August 27th, 2007
The Dream Space of Elaine Ethel Nalley
Elaine awoke coughing and retching, desperately trying to keep the bile from rising in her throat. The dream of being the Pict warrior was so vivid that the horrific smells of the battlefield hung in her nose like a phantom. The grass had been stained red with blood and offal, entrails and excrement had been everywhere. As she sat on the bed, fighting desperately to keep control of her stomach, she felt a pair of paws on her shoulders that gently pulled her backwards.
Elaine let herself be pulled back on her bed and as soon as her head hit the pillow she was pulled into the dream space Grizzly had created for her. It was nighttime on the little island on Lake Allatoona. Picket's Revenge sat at anchor, her navigation lights lit merrily as she bobbed in the slow, still water. It was a new moon, and despite the lights of her sailboat a tapestry of a billion stars shone overhead in a way the light pollution from Atlanta would never allow. Elaine found herself laying back against the massive bear spirit, more for warmth against the slight chill of the air near the lake.
Dream, the spirit soothed her. It was just a dream!
Elaine shook as her stomach finally calmed and she could remember the experience without retching. "It… It was so real!" She told the spirit. "It was like Ah was there!"
The Bear turned her head so Elaine could see her dark eye glistening at her. Well, technically you were there. Just a long, long time ago.
"Ah don't understand," the redhead replied. "Was it real or a dream?"
Grizzly somehow managed to make her mouth full of fangs smile a kindly, gentle smile. Why do you think it can't be both? She asked with a laugh in her mental tone of voice. What you experienced was a past life incursion.
"A what now?" She demanded. "Ah mean Ah understand that I'm descended from this Pict warrior, but…"
The great bear shook her head. You've taken physics, what is the first law of thermodynamics?
"Energy can be neither created nor destroyed in a closed system," Elaine quoted. "What does that have to do with anything?"
Grizzly sighed and looked up at the star field overhead. What do you see up there?
Elaine followed her gaze and then looked back into the animal's face. "Stars," she answered with a curious tone. "Gigantic nuclear plasma furnaces if you want to be technical about it."
The Bear chuckled a kindly laugh at the foibles of her host. Do you remember when you first came here to this place? Not the real Galt's Island in the real Lake Allatoona, but this dream space I helped you create? Elaine nodded a confused look on her face. Remember that I told you this was just a context? A way for you and I to relate to each other in a way that would make sense to your mind?
Again, Elaine nodded, paused to look up at the sky above her again, perhaps with new clarity of thought. This is your spirit, my dear. The reality of this is that you and I in this place have more in common with those stars than the flesh and blood we appear to be. It's just a matter of context.
Elaine thought long on that, before returning her gaze to the face of her spirit. "So, this that feels like mah body is really mah soul?" The bear nodded.
Exactly! This energy that makes up your soul is very old.
The redheads eyes misted. "Mah grandma always said Ah had an old soul, like Ah had been on earth more than once."
Grizzly smiled a kindly smile again and rubbed her cheek against Elaine's body. She wasn't wrong. You aren't just descended from that Pict warrior so many years ago, you were her.
Elaine wrapped her arm around the bears massive neck. "But, you said God existed! That He was just on a higher plane than you could get to!"
I did, and He does, Grizzly replied reasonably. That doesn't preclude you spending more than one life on earth. Were you aware that reincarnation was actually a part of Christian doctrine until the Middle Ages?
The redhead was surprised. "Really?" The bear nodded.
It was removed because too many serfs got the bright idea of telling the clergy they would pay their tithes extra in their next life. I can shield you from these past life incursions if you wish, but I encourage you to experience them. Not only will it give you insight about this life you lived so long ago, it may have relevance to the life you're living now.
Elaine was a little dubious, but finally nodded her head. "Okay, Ah'll try, but you got to promise to keep me from throwing up! These are new sheets!"
I promise, the bear told her. Then she draped a heavy paw over her host as the two fell asleep to finish the night.
* * *
August 27th, 2007
Parking Lot of Poe cottage, Whateley Academy
The shuttle bus came to a stop in front of cottage with a hiss of its air brakes being set. Standing in front of the cottage were three women and a young man. The door to the bus folded open and the three youngsters waited as the older woman boarded the bus smiling at the collected young people. "Good morning everyone," the middle-aged woman greeted the crowd. "My name is Bella Horton and I am one the house parents who will be responsible for you during the school year and your stay at Poe cottage. Please gather your possessions and step quickly off the bus." The passengers all formed a clump around Mrs. Horton, looking apprehensive, as the bus driver stepped out and began to unload the luggage. "Any of you who have a blue form for your residency cottage letter will go and form a line with the fine young man, there, Sayyid." There was some minor shuffling as most of the boys went to stand around Saladin.
"Wonderful!" Mrs. Horton continued. "Now, those of you who have a white residency cottage letter will kindly form a line around Martine. Finally, those of you with a pink residency cottage letter will cluster around Elaine." The storage compartment was emptied in short order, the driver removing all the bags, from underneath, before closing the access doors and driving off. "I want to welcome you all to Poe cottage, listen to these resident advisors who are going to give you some very important information and a tour of the campus. We will all get back together for lunch and I look forward to seeing you all then and getting to know you in the coming school year."
Mrs. Horton went back inside as her advisors separated from each other, a bit, with their charges, to be able to speak without talking over each other. "Welcome to Whateley Academy, y'all. Mah name is Elaine Nalley, and mah codename is Loophole. The reason y'all have been assigned to Poe cottage is because of how you answered question forty-one on your application which read, "Ah consider mahself to be heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual. And yes, that means all of the boys who were over there casting those loving looks at Saladin are gay or bi, which it then follows all of you girls checked the same way. First don't panic, Ah'm bi mahself. This cottage was designed to give all of you a safe space on the campus as well as a support group of other people who know what y'all are going through. Now, first and foremost no one is saying you have to stay in the closet during your time here. Ah personally am Out and Ah don't give two shits who knows it.
"You can be Out as Ah am, but you don't have to be. If you want to be discreet, no one here will out you. Part of what that means is later on this afternoon Mrs. Horton is going to cast a spell on all of you that will prohibit you from accidentally telling someone else the nature of our cottage. So those of you want to be out, all we ask is that you respect the privacy of your housemates. Any questions?"
An ivory skinned brunette, who was well on her way to being a stunning beauty, raised her hand. "Um, pardon me, Ms. Loophole, but what was that third group? That went with Martine?" Elaine smiled and made a point to include everyone in the group with her smile.
"First off y'all, mah name is Lanie, and Ah'm not Ms. anything. Secondly, the group that went with Marty probably have the toughest time of it. Some of them may end up joining our sisterhood, some of them may not but no matter what gender they are now, that's not how they started life."
"Wait!" One of the other girls said. "You mean those girls used to be…?"
"Boys," Lanie said. "We make it a matter of pride to help them out because all the upbringing that we had, they didn't. None of them asked for what's happened to them, so let's all remember to show them sympathy and help. All right, everyone get your things. The floors on the elevator are ground then one, we're all going to take the elevator to the first floor. Your rooms have your names on the doors, we’ll get your keys set up, put your things in your room and then start the tour. So get your things and follow me."
"Now, this is Lord Paramount, yes the Lord Paramount, class of 1974. You may actually even meet him, and he's quite active at the school and has endowed several chairs, and visits quite regularly."
"Yes, this is in fact one standard ton of .99 fine 24 karat gold. As of the open of trading this morning, what you're looking at was worth $21,369,600. It was donated to the school by Ms. Gabriella Guzman, whose Ward Jamie Carson, no relation to the headmistress, attended the school last year. Jamie was inter-sexed and a resident of Poe cottage. He was murdered, and Ah can tell you for a fact Ms. Guzman would trade every nickel of this pile to have her Ward back."
"…was the most successful graduate of the original school by being elected to the Vermont state legislature. Once. Ah think you can see why the school went bankrupt…"
"Finally, before we have lunch, Ah want to draw your attention to this portrait. Yes, this is a portrait of a member of the Board of Trustees named Tywyswyr. Now he is also known as Mr. Ty West. Mr. West funded several of the buildings on campus, if you're curious as to which ones they will have a copy of this portrait by the front door. Yes, he is a Dragon. Yes, Ah have in fact met him, and no, Ah am not kidding."
Elaine led the way through the door and into the Crystal Hall, leading her charges over to the right where the serving tables and pay islands were standing. "Your food is included in your matriculation fees, there is no charge for anything that you eat here. Some of you are energizers, and yes we are aware of how much you need to eat, don't feel bad about anything. All we ask is take all you want, eat all you take. Once you've made your selections you go through these islands and you swipe your ID card. This is because how much you eat is being tracked as part of the ongoing study of mutation. We know none of you have ID cards yet those are coming, so just give your name to the nice lady and let her weigh your plate. If you look over your shoulder you'll see where Mrs. Horton and the rest of our cottage is eating, so grab your plates and join us over there."
August 27th, 2007
Foyer, Poe cottage, Whateley Academy
Tansy wandered through the atrium of Poe cottage, smiling to herself at the mayhem and confusion of returning students jockeying for position at the board to see the room assignments, the freshman wandering around, their eyes bulging as they tried to take everything in all at once, and the facilities people trying to finish the cottage while it was taking in its residents. She'd threaded her way through the crowd ignoring the frowns of the disapproving returning classmen at her being in their cottage, even though there were a few friendly smiles. As she signed into the guest register next to the door of Mrs. Horton's apartment she heard a familiar voice behind her. "So, Tansy, what was up with that strange call?"
This was a moment that Tansy had actually been dreading, now that it was here she realized the only thing she could do was face it head on. Turning and, at first, smiling to the curvy brunette she then hung a contrite expression on her face. "Marla, I am so sorry about that. Elaine and I were having this long conversation about… Well I'm sure you know what it was about…?"
The brunettes grin became salacious. "Oh, I can imagine and I have been all summer! Have my hopes and dreams been answered?"
Tansy cringed. It wasn't that Marla wasn't attractive, far from it. Poise had tried several times to recruit her to Venus, Inc. Marla had always felt her study should come first, and supposedly had told the personification of decorum, that had previously led the schools fashions club, that she considered the group more than a little frivolous. That did not change the fact that Marla was beautiful and curvy in the way only an exemplar can be. Tansy licked her lips and chose her words carefully. "Let's just say that I'm not the person I was, and my mind is open in more ways than one."
The brunette took a step forward and casually place her hands on Tansy's arms. It just so happened that Tansy's blouse was short-sleeved, and Marla had chosen to touch her under the fabric on her exposed skin. Instantly Tansy's mind filled with the images of thoughts at the forefront of the brunettes mind. Distraught, Tansy realized that Marla didn't have a crush on her, it was full on infatuation and a powerful one at that, based on the images and fantasies in her mind.
"Oh, don't tease me girl!" Marla replied. "Tell me I've at least got a chance!"
Tansy carefully licked her lips and decided to reach out and embrace the other girl. She allowed her empathy to flow out and send soothing thoughts to both cool the wizards infatuation but also happiness that this was not flat rejection. "Marla," Tansy said. "I'm still really in the process of figuring myself out. I'm really sorry if Elaine's call got your hopes up, she was trying to do both of us a good turn."
The mage pulled back from a hug a knowing look on her face. "Uh huh," she replied. "I get it, she was there, I was who knows how far away on the phone, right?"
"It wasn't like that at all," Tansy assured her. "In fact, nothing happened at all between us that night." Marla grinned again in a manner that made Tansy blush.
"Oh? And what night did things start happening between you two?" She demanded her tone dripping innuendo. Tansy fought with her circulatory system to get her blush under control.
"Marla, you know that Elaine is dating Wyatt…"
The Burnett set her fists on her shapely hips. "Who just happens to be your ex?" She demanded, reaching past Tansy to pick up the clipboard that held the visitor sheet. "Oh! Lookee here! Tansy Walcutt is here to see Elaine Nalley! So are you two fighting over Wyatt or sharing him?"
Tansy smirked and added a generous dollop of sarcasm to her tone. "Marla, has anyone ever told you you have a dirty mind?" She asked. Marla responded by grabbing Tansy shoulders and pulling the surprised blonde into a passionate embrace and kiss; her tongue dancing in the startled blonde's mouth before she pulled only millimeters away, her green eyes staring deeply into Tansy's blue ones.
"If you get tired of the redhead," she breathed throatily, "come see me and I'll show you exactly how dirty it is!" The brunette winked at her and sashayed away down the hall, blowing a kiss over her shoulder she left leaving a very confused Tansy Walcutt.
"This sex thing was so much simpler when I didn't enjoy it!" She muttered to herself as she waved to a very bemused Mrs. Horton and made her way upstairs. At the top of the stairs to the 2nd floor, Tansy heard Elaine's voice drifted over from what must be her open door above the general hubbub on the floor.
"It's been a tough challenge to assign rooms," Lanie's voice reported. "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 is ready, so parts of one wing on the second and two on the third are 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 is to prevent single rooms as much as practicable, so Mrs. Horton considers it 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!"
Whoever she was talking to blew her raspberry as someone tugged on Tansy’s sleeve before she could turn the corner to the room. She turned to find a quite lovely young girl blossoming into what would be a stunning young woman staring up at her, doe-like eyes shining out of ivory skin and rich cascades of brunette hair. "Pardon me, are you Tansy Walcutt?"
"Yes," Tansy replied. "Who are you sweetheart? And what can I do for you?"
"My name is Bethany," the girl replied. "They say you run Venus Inc. I would like to join, please. I figure it would go with my codename, which is Cover Girl."
"How was the rest of your summer?" A voice in Lanie's room asked that sounded like Kayda.
"Wyatt came down to do the 'meet the folks' thing."
"Oh? I bet that was amusing."
"Not for Wyatt," Lanie chuckled.
"It certainly fits you!" Tansy told the young girl. All the clubs will be putting out tables during rush week which is next week, and I certainly expect to see you!" The girl beamed and blushed prettily she practically skipped away, gurgling promises she would be there.
"Anyway, Tansy and Ah had a pretty borin' trip compared to the first bit," Lanie 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."
"But we did come up with an interesting idea!" Tansy announced as she finally turned the corner and into the room, giving hugs to Kayda and Elaine. "Lanie and I thought to race her sailboat, Picket's Revenge, in the annual Newport to Bermuda yacht race."
Kayda immediately looked crestfallen. "Oh, I… I'm sure you'll both have a great time…"
"What is this, 'you both', Indian girl?" Lanie demanded with a laugh at reversing the joke. "We mean for you to come along! We need three hands to man the watches, and if we win not only will we be the smallest boat ever to win the race, but the first all-female crew as well!"
Kayda's eyes bounced between the two girls. Crossing her arms somewhat petulantly she declared, "well, if we're sticking with ethnic jokes, this is the part where I declare, 'me not knowum how sail'."
"Then it's high time you learned!" Tansy declared which caused Elaine's face to light up.
"The simulator is free?" She demanded excitedly, but Tansy only laughed.
"Who is using it this soon?" Walcutt replied. Turning to Kayda she asked, "you bring a bathing suit?" Kayda nodded. "Go get it! I already have the simulator pulling the facsimile of Picket's Revenge and setting up a scenario."
As Kayda was heading out Mrs. Horton appeared in the doorway. "Are we heading off somewhere?" She asked with a suspiciously cheery voice. Spearing Elaine with a glance she declared, "business before pleasure Miss Nalley. You do have to earn the single of yours. I need you to go grab Anomaly from that room on the unused wing and bring her here," the house declared brandishing a slip of paper. "Then you, Miss Walcutt and Miss Franks can do whatever."
August 27th, 2007
Room 337, Incomplete Wing, 3rd floor, Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
Anomaly was flopped out on her bed, having not unpacked her bags quite yet when there was a knock at the door. “Go away!” She put words to action by walking over and opening the door. A well-built redhead stood at the door, looking at her like she was ready to chew on someone.
“Hello, Anomaly, Ms. Horton sent me to collect you and take you to your assigned room this year.”
“She said, and ah quote, ‘Anomaly is not to hide from the rest of the cottage and only come out when the Outcasts come to get her.’ Ah’m afraid you’ve been sentenced to be social with the rest.”
“Does this mean I lose my single?”
“Fraid so. Come on, I’ll help you with the bags.”
Monica was not happy. She liked the relative privacy of her basement room, and the fact that she didn’t have to share a bathroom, or shower with people who might gawk at her six arms, or the dual-gendered anatomy between her legs. She didn’t argue, instead acquiescing and following.
The new room was bigger than the downstairs, or even the original rooms. There was more space to sprawl out, and Monica realized it was bigger than any of the rooms she had shared with Sandra before they had mutated.
“Now, we gotta get you settled, you’re over here in the boys’ wing, sorry but we ran out of space in the lesbian and changeling wing.” She gave the six-armed girl an odd look. “Which are you?”
“Bi Changeling, I guess.” Monica hadn’t really given it much thought. Most of the previous semester had been spent hanging out with friends who were desperately trying to avoid extracurricular stress, listening to music, arguing with Joe that it wasn’t right that he’d hidden that her twin was alive, and comforting him and Sandra when they had an absolute freak-out from flashing back to the abattoir that a movie night in Darwin had become.
“You guess?” The redhead smirked at her. “Have you not figured it out?”
Monica looked at her. “I’m biologically bisexual, I really haven’t had a whole lot of time to figure everything out up here.” She pointed at her head. “Wanna find out if I’m into girls?”
“Oh God.” The redhead laughed. “Ah’m taken, and Ah’m Bi too.”
“Taken where?” Monica grinned. “Take me out to the ballgame?”
“Funny, Anomaly. We’re having a cottage “get-to-know-you” session after lunch. We’d like you to come, since no one here really knows you, except to say you hang out with Jericho’s rowdies.”
“Oh if only you knew…” Having to keep a secret about Poe was fine. She’d not cooperated with Horton trying to guide her through a promise that could be sealed with a Sorcerer’s Contract. Every instinct she had shrieked at her to never, ever make any promise, ever. Hanging out with Diamond and Caitlin told her the score.
“And Horton says you have to put up with the spell.”
“No, I don’t.” Monica shook her head. “I haven’t even told my twin sister about Poe’s secret.”
“I’m just the messenger, not the one messaging.” She looked thoughtful. “I’m Lanie, by the way.”
“Monica. Gimmie a second to get my stuff packed up.” She looked over. “Who’s my roommate supposed to be?”
“She’s here.” Monica heard Horton’s voice and turned to see the woman standing with her hand on the shoulder of the most distinctive mangler on campus.
Murphy looked like she’d seen better days, eyes full of tears and looking more like a waifish exile than anything. The summer had apparently not been kind to her, with a brutal, jagged scar of white skin running down her face, through her left eye which had turned black, glassy and without discernable features to offset her normal, blue, right eye. The left eye seemed bigger, making her face look slightly lopsided. All of this was framed by her ash-blonde hair and purple-dyed forelocks.
Lanie and Murphy didn’t look at each other, each looking like she’d been punched in the gut upon seeing the other. She really didn’t look happy to be there, and Lanie didn’t look very happy to have her there.
“Murphy got attacked last year, and used in a BIT-slicing experiment. Unfortunately she’s showing enough similarity to Vamp that we’re worried that she will turn out like you and Alex, Monica.” Ms. Horton’s voice was calm, she was trying very hard to accommodate and be understanding to the very agitated and upset mangler.
Murphy gulped and went a little paler.
Anomaly would have paid money to know what the hell was going through Murphy’s head at that particular moment. She did note that Lanie’s eyes flashed wide just a bit as she realized what that could mean to her former friend. Monica didn’t need Sandra’s empathic talents to realize that there was something going on between the two, and both felt guilty, betrayed and angry at the other.
“I got her Ms. Horton.” Monica wandered forward, took Murphy’s hand and guided her in, then picked up the backpack and two seabags and hauled them in without effort.
“Thank you, Monica. Murphy, you’re not being punished, we just have to take precautions for your safety. If we get through the year and you’re not showing any signs, we can move you back to Whitman with Grabby.” Ms. Horton left it at that, which was probably good as Monica watched the volatile warper set her jaw, tightly, angrily, like she was ready to detonate like a little nightmare firecracker.
Monica guided Lanie out, gently and as Horton and her new RA left, she mercifully closed the door, then turned to her new roommate. “You going to be okay?”
“No.” Murphy tossed her bags onto the bed, then fished a sidearm out of the bags, cleared it, made sure the ammunition was separate with none in the chamber or the magazine, then snarled at the weapon. “I’m going to go drill some holes in paper, and turn this in at the Range Two armory. I’ll be back later when I calm down.”
“Okay. Don’t get into any trouble.”
“If only.” She put the shoulder holster on under her ever-present flannel, grabbed the ammo boxes and headed out.
“What happened with you two?” Monica asked when she caught up to Lanie.
“When ah got kicked out of the Lit Chix, she backed them up, and slapped the shit out of my nose for mah trouble.” Lanie looked more than a bit hurt. “Every time I’ve tried to talk to her she just walks away, or teleports.”
“Sorry to hear it.” Monica looked at her. “Give her time. She looked like she was ashamed of something she did when she looked at you. But if you were friends with Murphy, you probably know her better than I do.”
Lanie nodded. She was not optimistic, with good reason, where the volatile warper was concerned.
Monica stepped out. “Eldritch roped the Outcasts into some kinda project for Carson, so they’re all here a day early. I don’t know when we’ll be done.”
“Ah’ll tell Horton, so she knows you’ll probably miss it then.”
August 27th, 2007
Arena 99, Whateley Academy
Some part of Kayda knew that the only real water in the arena was within the articulation frame that was slightly larger than twice the size of Picket's Revenge. She knew that it was a basin on wheels that plugged into a power cord that allowed hydraulic rams to move the boat the way it should be reacting to if it were actually in a larger sea. She knew that after about four feet, in any given direction, the water was merely a hologram, the marina that was rapidly disappearing behind them was also not real, nor the sound of the engine of the boat that was propelling them forward.
Despite knowing all of this, so long as she didn't look up and see the stands that surrounded the arena above them, her senses were completely fooled that she was on a little 27-foot fiberglass sailboat that was sailing out into deep ocean water from Newport Rhode Island. She was sitting on one of the benches in the cockpit, forward of where Elaine stood at the ships wheel, while Tansy had come up from below with a pair of large canvas bags that held the ship sails she was in the process of mounting. The mainsail she had finished prepping and she was beginning to haul it up the mast as Elaine cut the motor and the boat coasted on its existing momentum. Kayda turned to ask a question of Elaine, but was unable to catch her eyes through the sunglasses she was wearing. More strangely, to the point, was that she quickly gestured for Kayda to remain silent.
Kayda didn't have time to be miffed, as the reason Elaine had encouraged her silence became clear when over the cries of the birds, and the creak of the ropes as the sails were being hauled up the mast, Tansy lifted her perfect soprano and began to sing.
Mahalo nui 'ia Ke Ali`i wahine
`O ka Wo hi ku
Ka pipi'o mai o ke ānuenue
Nā waiho 'olu 'u a hālike 'ole
E nānā nā maka i ke ao malama
Mai Hawai`i ākea i Kaua`i
As if in response to the blonde's song, the wind suddenly picked up and the mainsail filled as the head of the sail reached the masthead. Elaine quickly undogged a line, that was connected to the end of the boom, and allowed the winds to push the boom out the portside of the boat until it was almost at ninety degrees and completely full. Tansy dropped the empty canvas sail bag through the forward port hatch then took the headsail to the forestay and began to attach it, without breaking a note of her song.
ke Kuini o Hawai`i
ku i ka moku i ke Kālaunu
Nā hana a ke aloha
Mā`alo ana i ka ua lana mālie
I ka lani malama
Hō`ike mai ana lā i ka nani
The headsail reached the top of the mast filling as it did so, and Picket's Revenge responded by picking up even more speed and began to lean over to her portside which caused her to pick up even more speed, which caused her to heel over harder to the portside. This continued until the edge of the boom was very nearly dragging in the water. While Kayda became uneasy as water began to wash over the decks of the boat, Elaine seemed unconcerned as she stood catty corner to the boat to remain upright and Tansy continued up front to sing as she dropped the canvas sail bag, to join its brother below, through the port hatch.
`O Kalākaua he inoa
`O Ka pua mae `ole i ka lā
Ka pua maila i ka mauna
I ke kuahiwi 'o Mauna Kea
Ke'ā maila i Kīlauea
Malamalama i Wahinekapu
A ka luna o Uwēkahuna
I ka pali kapu o Ka`auea
Ea mai ke ali`i kia manu
Ua wehi i ka hula o ka mamo
Ka pua nani a`o Hawai`i
`O Kalākaua he inoa
`O Kalākaua he inoa
`O Ka pua mae `ole i ka lā
Ka pua maila i ka mauna I
ke kuahiwi 'o Mauna Kea
Ke`ā mai la i Kīlauea
Malamalama i Wahinekapu
A ka luna o Uwēkahuna
I ka pali kapu o Ka`auea
Mahalo nui 'ia Ke Ali`i wahine
(ke Kuini o Hawai`i)
`O Lili`ulani Wo ka `O hi ku
(ku i ka moku i ke Kalaunu)
Ea mai ke ali`i kia manu
Ua wehi i ka hulu o ka mamo
Ka pua nani a`o Hawai`i
`O Kalākaua he inoa
"What was that?" Kayda asked, mystified, as Tansy rejoined the girls in the cockpit and sat in a brace position on one of the benches next to Kayda. The blonde smiled sheepishly at the question as she reached behind the Indian girl to take a hold of the control rope of the headsail and begin to adjust it.
"It's a traditional Hawaiian song, acknowledging the ruling chieftess of the islands, and the division of rulership between land and sea."
Kayda raised an eyebrow. "You speak Hawaiian?" She demanded.
"apau uoki?" Tansy asked with a smile. "My parents…" She paused as a painful look crossed her face. "My father has a summer home on Maui. I've spent every summer, of my life, in Hawaii... until this last one. It's where I learned to sail." She saw the look on Kayda's face and shrugged. "What can I say? Yachting and polo are my sports."
Kayda looked over the little boat again and how small it looked, compared to the ocean they were quickly entering, and the land that was quickly falling behind. "Didn't you say this boat was older than both of us put together?" She asked hesitantly.
"Her keel was laid down in 1971," Lanie replied from the wheel.
"And you think a boat this old really has a chance to win this race?"
Tansy chuckled, while Lanie grinned an evil grin, and cut the wheel little harder so that the boat was even closer to the edge of the water. "It's all about rules," she replied.
"Yachting isn't so much about the boat itself," Tansy added, "as it is about the skill of the crew."
Kayda put a hand up in protest and regretted as she slid a bit in the seat and grabbed again at the rail. "Now," she protested. "I may be a landlocked rube when it comes to these boats, but I do know that the serious racers spend millions of dollars trying to make these perfect boats…"
"Very true," Tansy agreed. "See there are two ways to win at this. Have a better crew, or chase the theoretical perfect boat." Kayda's arched eyebrow did her questioning for her. Tansy smiled and continued. "This theoretical perfect boat is an abstraction in yacht racing. It is the base point by which all the handicaps are issued. For example under certain sea conditions, and certain wind conditions, the theoretical perfect boat should travel a one-mile course in a set amount of time. They handicap the hulls starting from this base point. Lanie what is the handicap for your Catalina 27?"
"Two hundred and four," Lanie replied.
Tansy continued, “so going back to my original one mile race course. If Picket's Revenge races the theoretical perfect boat over a one-mile course it should cross the finish line two hundred and four seconds sooner than Picket's Revenge. However, if we work together better and we cross the finish line in two hundred and three seconds after the theoretical perfect boat we win."
Kayda considered this for a long moment. "So, what NASCAR does with making all the drivers drive what amounts to the same car, yachting does with handicaps?"
Elaine smiled. "That is essentially it. And that handicap is cumulative. So the more times we complete that mile in under two oh four, the more lead we get over that theoretical perfect boat."
August 28th, 2007
The March of Dreams
It was well past midnight when Stomper, the horse of Elaine's Pictish ancestress arrived at the gate of the walls of Morlock. The circle Fort had long since closed its gates at sundown, but the entire watch knew the chieftains daughter and the gates were opened in short order. Domnall, who was still alive, was helped off the horse and into the shack of the watch while the runner was dispatched to summon the chieftains wife. Elaine sat by the fire and gratefully drink some of the broth the chief of the watch gave her. Domnall was burning up with fever now and was delirious not knowing who or where he was. The watch was forced to tie him to the bed, lest he become violent, but he seemed to find the presence of Elaine soothing and was calm and only moaned in pain if she was near.
After perhaps half of an hourglass the door was thrown open, revealing her mother and her aunt, both women dressed simply with none of the adornments or jewelry that would announce their stations. "Who is this?" Elaine's mother demanded. "And why have you brought him here?"
"His name is Domnall mac Óengusa," Elaine started, but her aunt drew in her breath and clutched the Birch wood and Silver headed staff she was carrying.
"You brought an Irish Celt here?" She demanded fearfully. Elaine frowned.
"I found him on the road," Elaine replied angrily. "Where he had been set upon by Highwaymen, attacked by stealth and killed six men by himself!"
"And is paying for it now," her mother observed, looking at the bandaging Elaine had been able to accomplish on her own. "How deep is this?" She asked indicating the abdominal wound.
"Deeper than two fingers," Elaine replied. "And wider than my hand. I packed the wound with moldy bread and sealed it with honey…" She started, but her mother shook her head.
"No doubt you did well," she told her daughter but her eyes were hard. "Despite your efforts he is a dead man, Death has just not caught up with him yet. Though from his burning I imagine he has not long to wait."
"You've healed men from far worse!" Elaine protested.
"Men who swore oath's to your father!" The chieftains wife declared. "Men who were staunch allies to this village! Men who were not Irish Celt's and our enemies!"
"You were an Irish Celt!" The daughter shouted back at her mother. The chieftains wife's eyes narrowed and her face flushed with anger.
"And my treacherous father betrayed the oath of friendship my marriage to your father was meant to seal! It was only by my taking a sorceress oath of loyalty and aiding in fighting back my own villagers and childhood friends that I lived to give birth to you and your brother! No matter what blood may flow in my veins I am Pict now! Would you have me risk all I have suffered for to aid a stranger you found on the road?" She hissed in righteous anger.
"He killed six men single-handedly!" Elaine replied tightly. "Tell me this village could not use a warrior of his skill and I'll cut his throat myself!" Her mother's face flushed looking back at the warrior moaning on the bed and then returning her gaze to her belligerent daughter.
"The blood of this village he takes on your head," she warned. Elaine drew in a deep breath, slowly let it out and then finally nodded.
The sorceress reached out, her hand already glowing as she laid it on the bloody rag that covered the deep abdominal wound of the warrior. "Anál nathrach, orth’ bháis’s bethad, do chél dénmha," she whispered. Immediately the warrior sleep became less troubled and his skin began to cool. The sorceress, obviously tired and drained locked eyes with her belligerent daughter. "On your head…!" She warned.