The Kodiak Conspiracy (Chapter 3)
A Whateley Academy Adventure
The Kodiak Conspiracy
by E. E. Nalley
Trying hard to reach out
But when I tried to speak out
Felt like no one could hear me
Wanted to belong here
But something felt so wrong here
So I pray
I could breakaway
Kelly Clarkston, Breakaway
Eons and eons ago
Grizzly stared out the Plasteel of the front canopy in shock and amazement. It had taken years to convince the Council of Wyrms to risk sending a spacecraft over the long years to Terra, the now silent seat of the Five Fold Court. The Stepping Disk to Terra had been unable to communicate with its fellow for twenty years. Too long for simple defeat, too long for even conquered Resistance fighters not to have tried to recruit aid from the far flung Empire of Gaia.
But months of haggling and calling in favors and the two years of this journey across space had not prepared the Nurse and Pharmacist for the vista of the world of her birth below her. “My God,” she whispered, in shock. Pangaea had been shattered as if someone had taken a giant chisel and driven it through the heart of the planet, shattering the land. A massive channel, a hundred miles wide, separated the two largest continents, but even they were breaking up into further and smaller masses.
“What has happened?” whispered Rican. The old soldier had tears in her eyes as she looked out over the devastation. “Atlantis?” she asked.
“I...I get no reading,” Tonure, her youngest great grandchild replied from his console. “There aren't any power readings at all. And...” he stopped as the craft shook and slowly, but perceptively, the curve of the planet became larger in the window.
“What's wrong?” demanded Grizzly as alarms began to sound.
“There is a massive power dampening field around the planet!” Tonure shouted from his station to be heard over the alarms. “We grazed it as our orbit reached perigee! It's stripped the essence reactor completely! Mains and auxiliary are off line and batteries are at fifty percent and falling!”
“Can you stabilize our orbit?” Rican demanded of the helmsman.
“Not on fifty percent battery power!”
“Deploy the wings and sail and alter this fall into a landing. We are going home whether we like it or not. Tonure, find me a good landing field with resources and that's nicely flat!”
“Here, Manik,” he told the helmsman. “Northern continents, the smaller of the two masses. There's a wide plane near this mountain range. They have iron, gemstones, and good minerals according to the sensors. Can you make it?”
“Free meat!” the pilot growled as she worked the controls.
“All hands,” ordered Rican calmly. “Brace for emergency landing.”
May 2nd, 2007
Room 4, Magic Enhanced Intensive Care Unit, Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
“Turn off the beeping,” muttered Elaine crossly as she awoke to the beat of a cardiac monitor. Her mumbled complaint led to a flurry of activity around her. Someone was ordered out of the room, pulling her hand in an attempt to stay. Her eyes were forced open and a bright light shone into them, and her arms were too weak to ward off the invasion. Over the hubbub of doctors and nurses and machines, Elaine was certain she heard someone crying.
“That's enough,” Mrs. Carson's voice ordered calmly. “Doctor Tenent?”
“She's awake,” she heard Ophelia declare. “And aware.”
“Excuse us, please.” Elaine finally was able to open her eyes and get them to focus to find the Headmistress staring at her with her left arm held out, thumb holding down her ring finger with the others splayed wide. “Sit verum dicetur," she commanded, "Sit verum audietur. Sit verum sciri!”
“What?” she demanded groggily.
“How many spirits inhabit this body?” she demanded.
“Two,” the confused redhead heard herself reply. “Mrs. Carson...”
“Who am I speaking with?”
Once more Loophole heard herself speak, unable to silence herself, or change what came out. “Ah am Elaine Ethel Nalley, daughter of...”
“Who is the other spirit within you?”
For the first time through herself, Lanie knew what it felt like to have another spirit within a person take their vocal cords and speak. For all the confusion when she had seen other avatars let their spirits speak, and the terrifying thoughts of what it would be like being controlled, the feeling was actually surprisingly mild. She was aware of Grizzly, both within her and yet also around her. She knew what the spirit wanted to say and it was almost as if she herself was answering for Grizzly. “I am Grizzly, Shaman, Medicine Woman, Pipe Holder of the Council of Spirits, and free Spirit of the Land of the People.”
“What are your intentions to my student, Grizzly?”
Elaine had seen Mrs. Carson many ways. She had seen her disappointed and annoyed, she'd seen her angry, happy, mischievous and authoritative. She had witnessed the soft, casual side of Liz Carson, child of the forties adrift in time, and the awe inspiring scion of Justice that is Lady Astarte, but she had never, ever seen the spirit of avenging motherhood personified that stood before her, righteous wrath focused completely at the spirit within her. Elaine also knew with every fiber of her being that if Grizzly entertained the slightest notion of harm to her, Grizzly's destruction at the hand of this avatar of motherhood that had taken over Elizabeth Carson would be violent, painful and short. Once more she felt as though she was answering for the spirit, but her voice different; lower, Earthy and without lazy drawl that normally colored her speech.
“Protection of her mind from those who would enslave her, strength of her body, long life, and strong, plentiful children as sworn and witnessed by The Grove under the Seal of Solomon.”
The avatar of motherhood was gone and a weary Liz Carson, with bags under her eyes and lines on her face from lack of sleep, sank into the chair by the bed. “Oh, thank God,” she sighed. She wiped her face with both hands and then wagged her finger at Elaine. “You...you will be the death of me, Elaine Nalley!” she accused. “Do you have any idea how dangerous what you've done is? How...?”
“Mah mortal soul was at risk,” Lanie replied quietly. “You taught me, Mrs. Carson, and Ah listened. Ah knew what an awful risk joining with a spirit is.”
“You knew!” Carson muttered as she shot to her feet and began to pace. “Your mother is out there, and has been crying her eyes out thinking I took her daughter away from her!”
“Why is mom here?” demanded Lanie, shocked and with more than a touch of guilt weighing on her heart. Inside her, she felt the soft fur of her spirit hug her in reassurance.
“Why?” growled Mrs. Carson. “Don't you know? I thought you were a diligent student who weighed all the risks! Didn't you know you'd be in a coma for three days? Maybe you should have told someone you were going to be so we could have just left you out in the Grove where we found you!”
“Coma?” she whispered.
“Oh, so you didn't know!” the Headmistress triumphed. She gripped the rail at the foot of the bed and her gaze was intense. “Yes, as you of all people should know, the law requires that I notify parents of any stretch of unconsciousness of their children in my care exceeding twenty-four hours! And I flew your mother up and there she has been sitting here without moving for two days!” she declared, waving at the seat that was surrounded with cups of coffee, snack wrappers, ignored hospital meal trays, and a purse Lanie recognized as being her mother's favorite. “When will you think before you do these things, Elaine?!” she demanded.
“Ah tried to talk to you!” the girl shot back. “Ah don't want to be afraid anymore! Ah been either terrified or a slave for two years and Ah can't live this way anymore!”
“You want a quick fix!” Liz retorted. “To pretend to be someone you aren't...”
“Ah want to be WICKED!” she shouted. “She wasn't afraid! She was in control! She...”
“You are Wicked!” the teacher thundered. Her student stared at her in shock as Mrs. Carson mastered herself from what had obviously been a very trying three days. “Do you think I'm a powerful enough sorceresses to manufacture a complete personality out of whole cloth? Or that, if I could, basically giving you what would amount to multiple personality disorder could be considered even remotely ethical? You want to know what I did to you, Elaine? I suppressed your self-doubt, your innate sense of caution, your 'better judgment,' what little of it there is. For lack of a better word, magically I got you drunk.”
“You've never wondered why people drink?” she asked with the first soft smile of the conversation.
“Ah...Ah've never been drunk,” Lanie replied. “And, mah dad always told us that when we were adults we had to be careful because we were Irish and practically alcoholics just from that.”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “Well, self-deprecating ethnic slurs aside, the only reason I even considered what I did was because I knew I would be watching you the entire time and never more than a few seconds away to intervene if the lack of your legendary caution got you into real trouble.” She sighed and shook her head. “I swear, you are a walking contradiction! How can anybody as innately cautious to the point of timid as you are be so...so...”
Lanie sighed. “Go on, say it, you'll feel better.”
“So God damned reckless!” shouted Mrs. Carson. She breathed heavily for a moment to catch her breath. “Thank you, I do feel better.”
“Don't sass me.”
Liz stepped forward to the young girl's bedside and took her hand in hers. “Elaine, I know you didn't ask for this; none of us do. It's pushed on us, and however much we may want, we aren't the people we were before. I know this isn't a world you wanted to be a part of, heroes and villains and running around on rooftops in dance tights. But you are in it, sweetheart, and nothing I or anybody else can do will change that.”
“I just want to be safe,” she whispered, a tear rolling down her cheek. “To not be afraid...”
Liz caught the tear and wiped it away. “Safety is an illusion, dear heart. It doesn't exist. It's a fantasy of people who live with their heads in the sand pretending the world isn't out here. That isn't an option for either of us anymore. Next year, I want your first semester to be nothing but introduction to magic, Powers Theory: Avatars, Demonology, Earth Related Extra-Dimensional Planes, Magic Study Hall and Applied Powered Combat II.”
“What?” the girl shrieked. “That's all my slots...!”
“You want to be safe?” Mrs. Carson demanded. “You want to not be afraid? When you took Grizzly into your body, when you tied your soul to another being, you opened a door filled with horrors and threats you cannot begin to imagine Elaine. You're friends with Miss Franks, right? Ask her what kinds of ... monsters ... have come into her life since she got her spirit! Together, we'll see if we can help you understand what the two of you are facing and the confidence to know your limits and how to act outside them.”
Mrs. Carson stood and paused by the door. “We,” she affirmed. “I will be teaching you some of these classes. You and Miss Franks, as you have infected her with your desire to act then think; probably best you both learn from these things together. Now, I think it's past time your mother got to chew on you a bit for putting her through this. Ready?”
“Will it matter if Ah say no?”
Liz Carson's smile was evil. “No,” she said with twinkle in her eye as she opened the door and a maternal tidal wave washed over Elaine.
May 2nd, 2007
Head Mistress' Office, Shuster Hall, Whateley Academy
The intercom buzzing on her desk startled Liz Carson awake. She belated realized she had read the same line on the quarterly expenditures report so many times she'd actually drifted off to sleep. Evidently, the previous few days had taken a greater toll on her than she'd thought. “Yes?” she replied, slapping the system on.
“Miss Ricardo is here, Headmistress.”
“Thank you, Amelia, please send her in.” Liz stood and got herself as presentable as she could before the door opened and, as hesitantly as when she'd been a student, Maria Ricardo walked in. Liz came from around the desk, her arms open, and swept the younger woman into a hug. “Maria, it's so good to see you! Welcome, come in.”
The dusky skinned woman's complexion darkened. “Old habits die hard,” she admitted with a sheepish grin. “How...how have you been, Mrs. Carson?”
Liz took her by the elbow and led her to one of the overstuffed leather chairs that faced her desk, sinking into the other herself. “Oh, the days change, but the challenge rarely does,” she said with a smile. “Amelia tells me she was able to track down what was taken from you?”
The smile faded from the younger woman's face. “She got my trust fund back,” she admitted, then forced a smile. “And I'm grateful,” she added quickly. “Last year...last year was humbling. But Mrs. Hartford can't get me my family back. I won't ever see my mother, or my brothers or sisters again.”
Mrs. Carson reached out and laid a hand on the other woman's arm. “Don't be so sure,” she said in condolence. “Time changes things. I'm sorry you had to go through the hardships of this past year, but you certainly seem a better person for it.”
She looked up at the blonde, her dark eyes full of genuine regret. “Mrs. Carson, I'm so, so sorry for all the shit I did, that I put you through! I...I didn't let myself realize that Freya...”
“Maria,” the older woman scolded her softly. “We've had this conversation. I've already accepted your apology and I know it was sincere. As you will discover, the greatest joy in a teacher's life is to make a difference in the lives of her students, to reach someone everyone else wrote off and help them see they can be better. In that way, teaching and being a super hero are actually quite similar, though teaching has the benefit of less combat.” She smiled a warm smile as she stood and went over to her coffee pot to pour them each a cup. “Not none mind you, but less. Are you getting settled in alright? Any problems with the apartment?”
“Compared to what I had it's a palace!”
“Good, glad to hear it,” she said bringing over the service and placing it on her desk. “There are some excellent furniture stores in Lancaster. One, Fredericks, has an understanding with a group of Amish craftsmen in Pennsylvania. Remarkable work, dear, truly top-notch. But, no hurry, feel free to use the furnishings from central supply as long as you need.”
Maria took a long sip of her coffee and screwed her courage to the sticking place. “You...you didn't invite me here to talk about furniture, did you, ma'am?”
Elizabeth finished her sip and her posture became ever so slightly more formal. “No, no I didn't.” She looked out her window for a moment and then back into the face of her newest employee. “She's awake, and she's fine. There's an extra person in her head now, so I imagine that will take some getting used to.”
“Alabado sea Dios,” the Spanish woman whispered.
“I know that in your time here, you and Miss Nalley were more than friends, Maria.” Songbird nodded, unable to look her employer in the face, so Liz softly reached over and guided her chin up so that gold eyes met cornflower blue ones. “I also know that your feelings are very strong and genuine to you.”
“I...Mrs. Carson...I'm not a bad person...”
“Dear,” she interrupted smoothly, "being gay has nothing to do with what kind of person you are. You are a Poe alumnus, and while we protect those who aren't ready to be out, you also know that you could be and were.”
She nodded, sniffing slightly. “Yes, I always felt that you and the administration had our backs, that we were treated the same as everyone else. Better, really, I guess, since you didn't have us rooming co-ed to keep...”
“What comes naturally,” Mrs. Carson smiled. “Oh, we've always know there was a significant amount of 'youthful indiscretion' shall we say? And so long as our noses aren't rubbed in it, we're content to ignore things. We make sure everyone knows where the birds and the bees come from and we have 'study aides' in the book store. But to think we could stop it going on is foolish. Children do childish things, but therein lies our issue, Maria.”
She stood and slowly, almost reluctantly returned to her side of the desk and sat down. Maria was conscious of the change in tone the conversation had taken. This was no longer between friends, or even former teacher and former student. It was much more official. “Mrs. Carson, you don't have to say...”
“No Miss Ricardo, I do,” the Headmistress replied evenly. “Some things need to be said, and however much it pains me to say, this is one of them. Miss Ricardo, you are an adult, you are my employee and a teacher at this school. This places you in a position of authority and trust, and whatever history or feelings or youthful indiscretions that were winked at once upon a time, Elaine Nalley is a minor student, in my care, and now, in your care and you will govern yourself accordingly. When she graduates this institution, it will cease to be my business what happens between you. But while she is a student, you will comport yourself in a professional manner, you will maintain a student teacher relationship, and that is all.”
Her eyes went hard and cold. “Because, Miss Ricardo, if you do not, I will personally deliver you to the police, I will testify against you for rape, and I will do everything in my power to see that your life is ruined. Because I will not allow harm to come to my students, or this school. Is this in any way unclear to you?”
Maria swallowed. “No ma'am.”
“Do not think this is because of your sexual preference. Or that I am singling you out,” Mrs. Carson told her. “I am unpleasantly forced to have this conversation with every teacher in your age range. And, sadly a number of older teachers who should know better, but are not mutants and not used to being around exemplars. I am fond of you, Miss Ricardo, and I am glad you are here and certain you will be an asset to this school. Otherwise, I assure you, you would not be here. But my personal feelings will have no bearing on what I must do in the course of my duties here. Make certain yours do not. This is the only warning you will receive.”
Maria swallowed her pride and raised her head. “You may count on me and my professionalism, Mrs. Carson.”
“I'm certain of it, Miss Ricardo.” She smiled and sipped her coffee. “Now, if you feel compelled, Doyle is on the way to the Staff Housing Complex and I'm certain your student would be happy to see you again.”
May 2nd, 2007
Room 4, Magic Enhanced Intensive Care Unit, Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
Grizzly was in the mirror of the bathroom when Elaine finally convinced Nurse Garrett and her mother, who was now snoring on the room's sofa, that she was strong enough to take a shower. She hobbled slowly in, feeling absolutely feeble, her left arm wrapped in plastic to protect the bandage on her hand and the IV lead. “Did you know we'd be out for three days?” she mumbled as she sat on the toilet to both catch her breath from the walk and take the combination sock and shoe off.
No, the bear replied, her own eyes baggy and her fur lacking its normal luster. Sorry about that.
Elaine shrugged as she struggled to get her other foot up to reach the sock. “Shit happens,” she muttered, finally successful, then leaning back to sigh. She flexed her hand and winced. “Wish Ah'd known she was going run that thorn through our hands. It's a miracle she missed all the bones and tendons. Still hurts. How's yours?”
She held up her paw too, incongruously bandaged like hers was. We're tied together. I don't really have a 'body' to hurt, except for yours. But I will share every pain we experience. You're not alone, sweetheart.
Elaine chuckled darkly. “Ah guess Ah ought to figure out some way to introduce you to mah mom.” She slowly stood and reached behind her to start undoing the ties of the hospital gown.
Easy, Grizzly cautioned. And she seems like a wonderful person.
The gown whispered from her skin as Lanie shrugged, her response dying on her lips. “What the hell?” she asked, peering into the mirror. Around each of her biceps and crowning her navel were the knot-work tattoos first given to her by Aunghadhail in that dream world that seemed an eternity ago. Grizzly reached over and ran her finger over them in the mirror, causing a sympathetic tickle on Lanie's skin. “What are they?” she demanded, grateful her body was not covered in tattoos the way it had been in the dreams.
Lanie looked down to find them in her skin, not just in her reflection. Tattoos, Grizzly said with a chuckle. Nice work too, and the ink...
“Ah don't care about...what about the ink?”
It's active, magically. Very low level though. I'm not sure what this spell is; I would have guessed some kind of protection spell and strength for the arms. The big bear girl looked up at her host. You don't like them?
“They...they're fine, Ah guess,” she admitted. “But what are they going to look like when Ah'm eighty? There's nothing sadder...”
Her reflection shimmered and changed. She was still nude, but her hair was not as vibrantly red as it was normally - though still scarlet, there was plenty of silver in it. Her face, longer, weathered might be the best word, not the soft oval, flush with youth, but still a very beautiful woman. She was mature -she didn't look eighty, come to think of it, to Elaine's eye she didn't look fifty, and her green eyes danced and there was wisdom in her face. Her breasts weren't as high, or as firm, but they were still supple and her skin wasn't too big for her body. Her stomach was flat, and though there was a stretch mark or two that testified she was a mother, she could still wear a daring swimsuit on the beach and get away with it. The tattoos were just as vibrant, not dulled with the years, nor stretched or sagging out of place.
Lanie blinked and she was seventeen again. Feel better? Grizzly asked, amusement in her voice.
“Oh, fine,” Lanie gave in. “Ah just never saw a picture or a design and thought to mahself 'oh, that's gorgeous Ah have to be able to see that every day for the rest of mah life, put it in mah skin!” She got the shower going and hobbled into it, and the instant the hot water hit her, she started feeling better.
I wonder if this has something to do with the ceremony, Grizzly opined. Oak said 'come forth, Pict Daughter' and then you changed.
Using the entire 'trial size' bottle of shampoo, Lanie snorted as she worked her hair carefully, trying to favor her injured hand. “Ah feel like Ah ought to have a frequent-flyer club membership for all the dream-walking Ah'm doing lately. Where are mah clothes?”
Which set? Grizzly asked. I believe your jeans are in the closet.
In the pleasurable haze of the hot water beating on her, it took the spirit's comment a second to work its way into Elaine's brain. Slowly she turned back to the window and wiped the condensation off the glass door so she could see the mirror. “What do you mean, which set?”
I don't know what they did with the leather and armor, she replied. The doctors wanted to cut it off you, but I wouldn't let them. I thought you would want it. I think they took it off to be studied or something.
“Ah came here covered in blue mud and wearing a Pict Banshee's clothing?”
Bow and arrows too.
She thought for a long moment, feeling the hot water loosen her muscles and feeling stronger every moment. “What does that mean?”
I don't know.
May 2nd, 2007
Call Me Coffee, Melville Cottage, Whateley Academy
Wyatt had been on his way up to his room when he saw the very last person he expected to see in the little cafe on the first floor of his cottage. He altered course and gave Sandy behind the counter the high sign for a cup of his usual and slid up to the other with his trademark smile. “Maria! What brings you up to the old stomping grounds?”
Songbird couldn't help but smile into her Cafe Cubano. For all his faults, which were many, Wyatt Cody in a good mood was a fun guy to hang around. “That's Miss Ricardo to you, Mr. Cody, I work here.”
“Sandy is leaving?” he asked with a grin as he took the cup of coffee from her and took a belt of the steaming black liquid untainted by sugar or cream.
“No, you big goof,” Maria said, shaking her head. “I'm a teacher now. Siren Theory as well as theater production, drama, and play craft.” She took another drink. “What has you in such a good mood?”
“Congratulations! And I'm in a good mood because Lanie is awake,” he replied. “And she's going to be ok.”
A slightly pained look crossed Maria's face. “I heard Mrs. Carson had to pry you away from her when she was waking up.”
“She's stronger than she looks,” Wyatt admitted. “I'm just glad she's ok. I wish she'd just come to me, instead of...”
“What did she do?” Maria demanded. “Mrs. Carson said something about there being two people in her head now?”
Cody nodded thoughtful. “Yes. She and the Franks girl, she's some kind of Indian big-wig or something, anyway they found some spell or ritual to make a person an avatar who wasn't one already. Then they did a contract with a spirit and now it's co-habitating.”
“Do we know what spirit?”
“The Kodiak's wife evidently. Grizzly.”
“How convenient,” groused Maria, completely unable to keep the bitterness out of her tone. She turned back, her Spanish complexion darkening as her anger came up. “Did you...?”
Unconsciously, Cody put both hands up in defense. “Whoa, not me! Nothing to do with it at all!” He led the way over to a little table with bar stools in the corner where they could talk discreetly. “Heard Hartford came through for you in a big way, again, congratulations.”
She shrugged and gazed at the framed print on the wall. It was an impressionist piece, blurry and out of focus with too much paint and too little detail of a bustling coffee shop in Europe somewhere, with huge-mustachioed men in immaculate suits and women in completely impractical dresses with tiny sunshade umbrellas. “It's only money,” she said after a long moment. “Of course, when you have none money is the only thing.”
Wyatt took another gulp of coffee and nodded. “I...I guess you and...”
“Miss Nalley is my student,” she replied softly. “And will be nothing more. My compliments to the victor,” she declared, raising her cup in toast.
“Were we competing?” he asked.
Her eyes got misty. “Evidently not.”
His big hand came across the table and covered hers. Normally, Maria would have snatched her hand away, but, for some reason she found the touch consoling as it had been intended. “I didn't mean it like that,” he told her earnestly.
“Lanie told me we shared that dream,” she said softly. “What do you remember?”
“Nothing I'll ever say out loud where I could be over heard,” he promised her. “I'm sorry, if I'd known The Kodiak was going to...”
“Don't apologize,” she said. “I...I mean, Lanie had been telling me for years there were good men, that they all weren't...” She sighed and smiled. “I know that now you're ashamed of it, but Wyatt, that you would do what you did to me, thinking what you thought, I guess that was the beginning of my realizing I had been wrong about a lot of things.”
“I was wrong to do that...!” he protested.
“Yes, and I'm not diminishing that,” she said, taking another sip and looking at the painting. “In those times, if someone were to yell rape, every man there would have rushed to her aid, with everything from pocket knives to pistols to bare knuckles. Some monster caught in the act, he wouldn't make it to trial.” She sighed and shook her head. “A year ago I couldn't have made that statement. But it does do my heart good that there are still men who will leap to the defense of a woman. Now you just have to work on getting your facts straight.”
He grinned and polished off his cup. “I will endeavor to work on that, Miss Ricardo.” He wandered to the pot and poured a refresh. Coming back he groused, “Man, I wish I'd known you were coming a week sooner! Wouldn't have to have...” he bit off his comment so sharply his teeth snapped.
Maria frowned, looking up at him. “Wouldn't have to have want?”
Cody waved airily. “Club stuff, Miss Ricardo. In those rarefied heights you rub elbows with in the Teacher's Lounge, you wouldn't worry about that kind of stuff.” She rolled her eyes and he saw that she'd dismissed his comment. “You been over to see Lanie?”
“Yes, but she was in the shower. So I just left. I'm sure I'll see her around.”
Wyatt saw the girl's pain and swallowed. “Look, Maria, I mean, we finally got to be friends; I don't want someone we both love to come between us...”
She sighed again and shook her head. “She can't, Wyatt. I can't. I'm a teacher now, and never mind the laws or losing my job, or any of that crap, it's wrong. Not my being gay, but Lanie needs to finish growing up and figure out who she is.” She paused and locked her eyes with his. “But if you hurt her...”
He made a dismissive gesture. “Girl, please. Evidently there's a line there, and you're at the back of it. Besides, what I'm trying to say is, if that's what Lanie wants...” He swallowed again. “I won't get in the way.”
“That right there, Wyatt,” she told him. “That's love what you just did.”
May 2nd, 2007
Arena 77, tunnels between Schuster Hall and Doyle Medical , Whateley Academy
Steve and Marty stared at their tormentor as a copy of her MID floated next to her; both were Dashboard's Touchgrams. Steve, pleading his sister's coma and mother's visit, had gotten the duo out of their assigned torture sessions with Mrs. Turner until Friday. As far as they knew, she was spending the time off with her daughter. Marty and Steve planned to be more devious.
Not that Steve wasn't worried about his sister; he was, deeply, in a way he would never, ever admit to in mixed company. But Mom was with her and when she wasn't crying, she was lamenting how much she hadn't done for her daughter. Steve had tried to be a good son, convince her otherwise, but Mrs. Carson had only shaken her head and discreetly pulled him out into the hallway. Not that his mother had noticed. Mrs. Carson had thanked him for his efforts assured him she would look after both his mother and his sister and encouraged him to go about his day and try not to think of it.
So he and Marty were in Arena 77, looking at a hologram of Tabby Cat and a treasure-trove of information. “I'll be doing Zoe's laundry for the rest of the year to get this information,” Marty groused as she reached out and tapped the MID.
“It will be worth it,” Steve promised as the MID opened up and spat out a number of documents, school records, news clippings and links to various Hero Watch Web articles. “I'll help,” he added when the blonde gave him a hard stare and made him blush.
“You better,” she teased him with a smile. “Ok, here we go, Tabitha Turner nee Allen, born Thomas Alan - hey, she was a changeling too!”
“Does that happen a lot?” asked Steve, genuinely curious.
“Uh...I can't say,” Marty stuttered. “Not being an expert or anything.” That satisfied him and he nodded. “Ok, Whateley class of '88, wait, oh, I see she skipped 8th grade. Affiliated with the Masterminds, Poe Cottage, duh, and, let's see. Exemplar 3 Warper 2 (Luck) and Energizer 2. Energizer?”
Steve pulled up a document that was labeled Mutation Research Project. “Says here she has an ability to focus what seems to be a telekinetic field inward, 'charging' herself. Uh, speeds up her reflexes, strength and makes her ligaments and tendons more flexible - that's why we can't ever keep a hold on her - she's practically double jointed in every joint of her body while being effectively an Exemplar four or five.”
Marty leaned over his shoulder and read. This had the added bonus, for him anyway, of feeling her breasts press into his shoulders. “The field is really ramping up her neurological responses, so her senses are all hyper-aware - it's practically a danger sense. She can hear into the ultrasonic range - that's why we can't sneak up on her, and with those reflexes laying a solid hit on her is practically impossible.”
“She's had years to deal with people trying to use that as a weakness, so I'm guessing she has some way of dampening sonics or maybe turning her senses down...Hmm, maybe that's the way. Hit her with a sonic, she turns her own senses off, then we surprise her?”
“Has she been attacked that way before?” Marty asked. “What's her rogues gallery like?”
The Touchgrams were shuffled. “Mostly generic villains shared by the rest of Star League. She hooked up with Falcon when they both graduated college and they've been together ever since,” Steve told her.
Marty flipped through the screens. “Looks like they've tangled a bunch of times with King Neptune.”
“The 'Fish Are People Too' wacko Enviro-nut that's trying end commercial fishing?”
She pulled down a picture. “In all his bare-chested glory,” she affirmed, indicating the image of a man wearing a green wetsuit bottom, flowing white hair and beard, with sizable gold bracelets and wielding a trident. “Nice six pack though.”
“If you're interested,” he shot back, “I hear the way to a vegetarian’s heart is through his vagina.” Marty gave him a playful shove.
“Steak and lobster gal, thank you very much!”
“That trident of his has a sonar 'Dolphin cry',” Steve read, getting back on topic. “He's used it on Tabby a number of times.” They pulled up the Hero Watch website and dove through the video articles. “This is the first time they fought, caught by a News Chopper.”
On the screen, a talking head reporter was hanging half out of a helicopter as, over his shoulder, Star League battled King Neptune. Even as far away as the chopper was, the high pitched squeal of the Dolphin's Cry was uncomfortably loud and nerve grating. Tabby Cat clutched her ears and fell over before Falcon dove on the villain. They grappled over control of his trident, then Falcon landed a crushing right cross that knocked him off the deck of the marina they were fighting on and into the water.
King Neptune didn't come up for more.
“Looks like that put her out to me,” Marty said, pulling up the properties of the video. “That was eight years ago. They fought again, two months later, yep, Tabby was knocked out again. They caught King Neptune that time, and he was sentenced to five years, but he escaped on the way to Roxbury Ultra-Max.”
She skimmed the page. “Group of mercenaries ambushed the transport. Probably the Syndicate with their Villain Insurance thing. They fought again when he broke into the New England DPA Office to steal his trident back. Oh, look, see, this time he used the cry and Tabby only flinched, see that? And then again a year later when he got that stupid crown and got mind control over aquatic animals and blockaded Newport Naval Station, he used it again and she doesn't even slow down. Ok, so we get a hold of a sonic weapon, but how do we surprise her?”
Stronghold's grin would have been at home on the face of a super villain. “Leave that to me.”
May 2nd, 2007
Powers Testing Lab Offices, Doyle Medical Complex, Whateley Academy
Nurse Garrett had not wanted to discharge Elaine after her shower, despite how much better the girl felt. It had taken a display of calisthenics, re-wrapping the bandage on her hand, which showed only a small, puckered wound, half the size of the blood stain and obviously well on its way to being healed, and a visit from a very amused Dr. Tenant to finally regain her freedom. She had been even less inclined to tell Elaine where the outlandish, to her mind, clothing she had been brought in wearing was.
However, she had no real grounds to withhold the information, and finally Lanie had learned her clothing was with Doctors Hewley and Aranis. So she and her mother had come down to the lab on their way to the Crystal Hall for lunch. Lanie paused by the door and looked down on her mother - she couldn't help that; she was significantly taller than her mother was. “Don't use mah name in here,” she warned.
“Why not?” the older woman demanded.
“Dr. Hewley is a sweetheart, but he doesn't work for the school, he works for the government, he's a senior fellow of the research project into mutation. Its part of the compromise that let the school get founded in the first place, but they only know me by mah code name, so if you have to call me, use that.”
She started to open the door, but her mother stopped her. “Elaine, you've never told me what that is,” she protested.Lanie had the grace to blush and keep her eyes from rolling.
Lanie had the grace to blush and keep her eyes from rolling. “Loophole,” she admitted with a sigh of long suffering. Her mother only smiled, but her eyes sparkled as she saw the humor of the choice and how it applied to her daughter. Elaine opened the door and led the way into what for her mother might as well have been a movie set.
There was an office by the door with a pair of face to face desks that two shared, along with a couch and chairs. Most of the large, open lab space was filled with large, strange-looking equipment and then a remarkably ordinary-looking sampling of exercise machines. It looked like a bizarrely-futuristic fitness club. On a table the two men were clustered around, with several assistants running to and fro, was the piecemeal armor, fur top, leather pants and boots even Elaine had become very curious about.
“I'm not arguing that,” Dr Hewley was saying. “I can only tell you what the test says!”
A flurry of French retorted him from Dr. Aranis, who caught sight of them. “We have visitors, Richard,” he told him, straightening his rumbled clothing on his tall, gaunt frame. “Ah, welcome Loophole. And this...?”
“Dr. Hewley, Dr. Aranis, this is my Mother.”
“Hello, Mom!” greeted Dr. Hewley immediately, putting out a hand to be shook. “Richard Hewley and my partner in international conspiracy Jean-Michael Aranis.”
“Bonjour,” the other greeted.
The portly scientist turned to the tall red head and went straight to business. “Loophole, where did you get these things?” he demanded. “Did you find a grave or...?”
Elaine raised her hands to ward off the flurry of questions the two academics obviously had. “Ah don't know 'where' they came from,” she said and quickly continued before the others could start up. “Ah took part in a magic ritual and they appeared on me.”
“You see?” demanded Hewley to Aranis. “They are sixth century artifacts brought forward in time.”
“Explain to me where a Pict archer got a spaceship capable of approaching the speed of light and I'll grant your time-travel tomfoolery!” Aranis shot back.
“The radio carbon dating shows...”
“Use your eyes Richard, they are pristine!”
“Um, Gentlemen?”asked Elaine softly. “Can Ah have mah stuff back?” The scientists looked like she'd just announced that she'd canceled Christmas, and after only a little hemming and hawing agreed that she could, in fact, have them. They'd also immediately requested visitation rights, and Elaine had promised to bring them back by at some point. So, carefully packed into a bag, the quiver and bow over her shoulders, she'd led the way to the Crystal Hall.
Mrs. Nalley had been in the Crystal Hall before, when they had brought Steve shortly after Christmas Break, but the changes Wyatt and the seniors had performed were substantial. Mother and Daughter had selected lunches - a summer greens salad with tuna for Mrs. Nalley and steak and scrambled eggs for Lanie - and settled at a private table near a vaguely Asian foot bridge over a pond the waterfall cascaded into. “So,” Mrs. Nalley started. “Tell me about Wyatt Cody.”
Lanie promptly got her first bite of the sirloin into her mouth and began a slow, methodical chewing. “You'll eventually run out of steak,” her mother told her with a knowing grin as she separated out some tuna on her fork. “I can wait.”
Despite all that careful chewing, Elaine found the bite difficult to swallow. “Why is this a big deal?”
“Because a boy I'd never even heard of sat by your bedside for two days and had to be forcibly removed by your Mrs. Carson - how strong IS she? - when you woke up,” her mother replied. “Now, I ask you again, would you care to tell me about Wyatt Cody?”
Elaine's shoulders slumped. “Ah...Ah'd rather tell you about Grizzly.”
“The spirit you attached to yourself?” she asked, raising an eyebrow. “Yes, Mrs. Carson mentioned her. I understand she was the wife of the spirit that inhabits the Cody boy, yes?”
“Wow, ok, Ah just got tossed right under that Elizabeth Carson bus, didn't Ah?” Lanie shook her head before she sat up a bit straighter and in a completely different voice declared, “The Kodiak is my ex-husband, Mrs. Nalley and it's a pleasure to meet you.”
Joann Nalley blinked. She'd been a high school teacher since her graduation from college and so was very used to dealing with recalcitrant teens, but the voice she heard coming out of her daughter startled her as it was most definitely not that of a teen. “Grizzly I presume?” she asked, surprisingly much calmer than she felt.
“I suppose I should welcome you to the family, as I have exactly zero choice in the matter,” Mrs. Nalley declared icily. “I won't bother with threats as I'm assured by Mrs. Carson you could not lie to her when she questioned you about your motives concerning my daughter. That is very good for you.”
“If it will help, I'll gladly make declarations of my good intentions and promises of long life for Lanie and abundant children...?”
Mrs. Nalley looked up, her emerald eyes sharp as needles under her black hair. “I'm not so old I'm pining for grandchildren, Grizzly, but well played, I admit. Now, if you'll excuse us, my daughter and I have to have a conversation about a boy.”
Lanie wasn't sure where Grizzly went - she'd only been an active avatar for a couple of hours - but she wished desperately she could have gone with the spirit. “What...what would you like to know?” she hedged with a smile.
Mrs. Nalley looked up again. After a long appraising glance she muttered, “At least you're on the Pill.”
“Elaine Ethel Nalley,” her mother remarked calmly. “you are, in many ways, your father's daughter. You get your love of fixing things from him, that bright red hair and that perfect peaches and cream complexion that is completely wasted on a man. But, my darling daughter, that magnificent brain under that mop of red hair you get from me. I've known you were on the Pill since you came home for Christmas. You left your pill case in the bag with your dirty clothes, and it was the generic one that comes with the first prescription, so I'd guess you started sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
Loophole felt her cheeks burn white hot with embarrassment. “You never said...”
“What was there to say, baby?” She sighed. “I was sixteen once too, you know. So?” she invited. “What are your intentions?”
Mrs. Nalley smiled. “Sweetheart, you've landed him,” she told her daughter softly. “Any boy that will stay by a bed side of his girl for two days is hooked. And it doesn't take superpowers to know you've gone all the way with him. Elaine, that boy loves you very much. Are you trifling with him?”
“Good. So,” she sighed again. “Tell me about my future son-in-law so I can get your father ready to meet him without killing him.”
May 2nd, 2007
Path between Melville Cottage and Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
Maria was feeling pretty good, all things considered, as she walked back towards the Staff Housing Complex beyond Poe. It was odd to be back on the grounds again, practically nostalgic to see the old sights and smell the old smells. It was more of a home coming to her than any of the times she had actually gone home since her first year of coming to the school. There were a couple of students she knew that she saw and waved to, who all started when they saw her, surprised. Only one or two waved back and that was hesitant at best.
Yet again, Maria was reminded of how blinded she had allowed herself to become.
She thought for a moment about stopping into Poe and seeing Mrs. Horton, but before she could make up her mind, she noted someone was standing in the path to Poe, blocking it. A svelte blonde with a determined look on her face. And when Maria recognized her, she felt her skin crawl in reflex, but never as badly as before. “Hello Zoe...”
The other crossed her arms over her chest. “Don't 'Hello Zoe' me, Maria,” she declared flatly. “What are you doing here? I'm going to call security...”
Rodriguez felt her Spanish come up and fought to keep her temper. “Go ahead,” she replied evenly. “I work here.”
“Teaching...” she started and immediately realized it was a mistake.
“You?” Zoe demanded. “What do they have you teaching? Bitch 501? Oh wait, I know Advanced Topics in Back Stabbing! Or How to be a self-important cunt...?”
“That's enough, Miss Nesmith,” Maria told her sharply. “I am a member of the faculty of this school and you will address me as such!”
Zenith's eyes narrowed. “You may have worked your Alpha Privilege on Hartford to get a job, but don't get comfy, Maria. You won't be here long, count on it.” The other spun on her heel and stalked back to Poe, so angry there was practically a cartoon storm-cloud over her head.
“Oh, boy,” Maria told herself.
May 2nd, 2007
Women's Paranormal Correctional Facility, Riker's Island, NY
The one thing Freya would never get used to was the noise in a prison. At all hours of the day and night, there was a constant dull roar of conversations, fights, shouting, barking guards, and emotional break downs. At first, she'd considered using her power for a little peace and quiet, but her better judgment had abused her of that notion. The constant din of the jail made being overheard practically impossible, and just then Freya did not want to be over heard.
For her first couple of days as an inmate of Riker's Island, she'd lived under a mage hood to keep her from using her powers. That allowed her sufficient time to consider where her plans had failed. There were two points of failure: first, her lack of proper research had allowed that ugly little troll Jadis to fool her. However, being honest with herself, she realized Jadis had crafted a prize that Freya would find impossible to ignore. No matter, the prize she'd sought was not why she was sitting in a cell in Riker's Island.
That was due solely to being betrayed by the one human being she had allowed close enough to betray her.
Within three days of arriving at Whateley, Freya knew, as deeply and completely as she knew her own skin, that she was destined to rule; first Whateley, then the entire world. And in those three days she knew she would need hands to do her bidding and a lieutenant she could trust at her back. She was certain she'd found that lieutenant in the person of a pitiful, rape-demented collection of damaged goods named Maria Rodriguez.
It was Friedeslinge Larssen who took a victim, cowing inside her own mind like a beaten dog, and rebuilt her. Freya showed her only a woman wouldn't abuse her, only a woman could show her love, and only with a woman could she be safe and open. And in Maria's mind, slowly carefully, the face on that mental woman who was Maria's ultimate partner was the face of Friedeslinge Larssen. She'd taught Maria how to dress, how to stand, how to speak, and from that first member built a cult of personality the likes of which Whateley Academy had never seen before.
And through it all, no matter what she thought, no matter her own personal misgivings, Maria Rodriguez had been Freya's good right hand. So much so, so willingly so, Freya had let her guard down by the senior year. She was certain Maria would be her willing slave for the rest of her life. It had been a shock when Maria had begun to avoid her, right at the end of senior year. Her explanation had been the wildest of stories, death threats from Kodiak and Loophole. It seemed odd, but there were bigger worries so close to graduation, plans to be laid for later, loose ends to tie up, and of course going through the motions of what a graduating senior should be doing, applying for colleges.
Freya had merely assumed that Maria would follow her home to Norway as she began the research she'd need to track down Brisengamen. There had been a letter, her mother abandoning her, begging for help, money - the usual. Including Maria took a back seat to the research; she knew Maria wasn't going anywhere. When she needed her again, she would just go and collect her.
That had indexed an even more fatal flaw - by being alone, she hadn't counted on her little pet growing a conscience. Failing to foresee that had aggravated the failure; she'd just assumed Maria could be nothing without her. She'd let down her guard and begun to feel for her lieutenant. It was a mistake she wouldn't make again.
Three days after she'd been incarcerated, a New York judge had ruled that mage hoods were an unreasonable restraint on those considered innocent until proven guilty. It violated due process and was unconstitutional, and so he'd ordered the practice suspended in New York. The District Attorney was appealing, of course, but it would be five months before the Supreme Court of State of New York would hear his arguments and likely another three months after that before they issued a ruling. The DA's requests of emergency stays of the order were denied and so the mage hood had come off.
It was a contingency at the far end of Freya's plans, one she'd been certain she wouldn't need. She had arrived in New York four full months before she'd contacted Maria. In that time she'd found the absolute best brothel and call service in the city and taken it over. The previous Madam was having sex with donkeys in Tijuana, warm at heart knowing that's what would make Freya happy.
Before she'd left, she'd happily signed over her business, her 5th Avenue Penthouse, her identity and, most importantly, her client list. Her girls had been thrilled with the change of leadership, between the raises Freya had paid and the Brisengamen Effect, that was a given. As she'd expected, the brothel serviced some of the most powerful and well-connected in New York.
Including the Honorable Milton Harris of the 1st District Court of New York.
Freya liked sex - after all, what was not to like? Everyone wanted to please her - all she had to do was lie there, be serviced and loved for it. It had been a simple matter to convince his Honor of the evils of mage hoods.
Free to use her power, Freya had quickly risen to be the alpha bitch of the prison, recruited a few key lackeys, and most important of all, a new Lieutenant, her cellmate Shield-maiden. Shield-maiden was also a lesbian, a tall brute of an amazon, nearly seven feet of busty, blonde haired, blue eyed Exemplar Six feminine muscle. The Scandinavian theme of the vigilante waiting trial for a quadruple murder was a lovely bonus.
In the day, her new lieutenant, the previous 'head woman' of the prison yard had recruited for her cause, in the night Freya had enjoyed letting her cellmate prove her love and devotion while a portion of her mind not focused on her body plotted her revenge. Loophole and Maria - they had brought Carson into her previous plans, Carson who'd had no reason to be there and who had ruined everything. Mistakes she wouldn't make again. Carson would pay for her interference.
Maria and Elaine would die.
The armored van came to a stop, jarring Freya from her thoughts. After a moment, the door opened revealing the smiling face of Dorothy. Dorothy was a junior guard at the prison - a failed psych evaluation had benched her from being a police officer, but the union had seen to it she couldn't be fired. Riker's was considered a soft-enough assignment. “We're here!” she announced.
Freya and Shield-maiden were the first out of the truck, looking about the parking garage as she removed their handcuffs belly chains and leg irons. “I have it all taken care of!” Dorothy told her excitedly. The truck was in a private bay that held two vehicles - the prison truck and the van Freya had told her to acquire. They were shielded from view by the closed roll-up doors.
Larssen smiled and tenderly rubbed the girl's cheek. “You've done splendidly my darling!” she praised, blasting out her power. Dorothy's eyes crossed as she basked in the feeling. “Now dear, give me the keys, there’s a good girl. If you would, just go sit in the cab of the prison truck, put your pistol in your mouth and pull the trigger.”
She trotted off as Freya inspected the crew she had selected on Shield-maiden's suggestions. The very best, or worst, of the prison; a much more lethal collection of paranormals than the feeble team she'd assembled that had fought Carson. Each was a repeat offender, a hardened criminal, and just to make certain, every one was a killer. A gunshot announced the end of Dorothy and neither Freya nor Shield-maiden flinched. “Does anyone care to dispute my place as leader of this group?” The assembled felons shook their heads. Freya handed the keys to Shield-maiden. “Cut them loose, my dear. Let's get changed and be about our business. We have people to kill.”
Freya opened the van to find the clothes the late Dorothy had brought and began to change out the orange jumper, swearing to herself she'd never wear one again.
May 2nd, 2007
Apartment of Patricia Savage, Whitman Cottage, Whateley Academy
Her mother safely on her way to Twain Cottage to visit her brother, Lanie tiredly brought her bag of loot through the doors into Whitman. She was exhausted, picked to mental pieces by her mother's desire for every little detail about her relationship with the shaggy Alaskan; she was even going to have words with him about Elaine's morning-after black eye. There was a part of Elaine that wished her mother was a sorceress, Mrs. Carson's Truth Spell had been much easier to endure and not a whit more effective. “Hey Mrs. Savage,” she said in what she thought would be in passing, but the House-Mother stopped the dressing down she was giving Murphy.
With a stern, “I'll deal with you later, Miss Gunnarson,” Mrs. Savage turned and beckoned Elaine over. “Come in, Elaine,” she greeted, leading the girl into her apartment and pressing her into a chair at her table. “Can I get you a cup of coffee or something?”
Lanie grinned. There was something about the Keurig machine Mrs. Savage loved so much that delighted her. In a way, her inner Star Trek Fan likened the device to a 1st generation food replicator. She left her bag of iron-age weapons and armor by her chair, rising and coming over to the little stainless-steel carousel that held the cups the machine used. Mrs. Savage kept an esoteric collection of coffees, teas, and chocolates to have something for any taste. Lanie made her selection and dropped the little cup into the socket for it and pressed the button to start it. “Tea, Earl Gray, hot!” she ordered the machine.
“Oh I had such a crush on Mr. Scott back in the day,” announced Mrs. Horton as she walked into the apartment. “Hello Lanie, Trish.”
“Bella,” greeted Mrs. Savage. “Scotty? I'd have figured you for a Mr. Spock fan...!”
Mrs Horton made a rude noise. “That cold stiff? Please! Now, a great burly Scotsman who works with his hands? That's my warp speed!” she replied, her tone dripping innuendo.
Lanie's eyes flipped between the two house-mothers. “Ah just got ambushed, didn't Ah?”
The look on Mrs. Savage's face was priceless as she ruffled Lanie's hair. “Charlie's in the light,” she said with a grin. “Go sit down, Elaine; it's not as bad and you're imagining.”
“Ah dunno,” the redhead replied. “Ah can imagine quite a bit.”
“Yes, well, marching into the detention area isn't what we have in mind,” shot back Mrs. Savage, who was nearly as big a movie geek as Lanie was. The young woman took her cup of tea and contented herself with doctoring it while waiting for the grownups to get their own beverages sorted out. Finally they were all seated in a more or less Y shaped neutral arrangement at Mrs. Savage's table. “First,” Mrs. Savage started, “you are not in any kind of trouble.”
A weight came off Lanie's shoulders she didn't realize had settled there. “That's nice,” she admitted. “It's a new feeling for me.”
“You aren't half the rapscallion you could be,” Mrs. Horton declared.
Mrs Savage quickly added, “For which we're grateful!”
“We...that is to say, dear, I would like your help,” Mrs. Horton said.
“What can Ah do for you, ma'am?”
Bella looked over her shoulder at the door to the house-mother's apartment. Mrs. Savage liked to be reachable so she'd had a split 'Dutch door' added instead of a traditional solid door. Most days, she left the top open, creating a kind of service window so her girls could reach her. Taking the hint, Mrs. Savage rose, hung her 'See Mrs. Hollingberry – Do Not Disturb' sign, and shut the top of the door. “Libere loqui,” Bella intoned, causing Elaine to feel a brief warmth in a ring around her navel.
“What just happened?” she demanded. “You cast a spell, didn't you? Why?”
“Technically I released a spell,” Mrs Horton replied evenly. “You remember the spell I placed on you last year? When you joined the sisterhood?”
Elaine jerked as a jumbled, surpressed memory was returned to the filing system in her mind. It was October and she was desperately in love with an older girl. Maria had taken her to see Mrs. Horton. The three of them had had a long conversation before Lanie had been judged sincere, been told of the nature of Poe Cottage residents, and sworn to secrecy; an oath that included a spell to help her from accidently revealing it among those who might not already know. And now that she remembered the oath and it's protective spell, she remembered Mrs. Horton telling her not even all the staff knew about Poe, and the Latin phrase she would utter to release the spell to let her know she could speak freely.
And because Mrs. Savage knew and Mrs. Horton was there, that could only mean that Mrs Savage, a woman Elaine was quite in awe of and desperately wanted her respect and approval, must know that Elaine had been involved in a sexual relationship with another girl. Worse, her mother was on campus just then. In a panic, fighting back tears, Elaine reached out to Mrs. Savage and begged, “Please don't tell mah mom!” She began to stutter, terrified, for reasons or promises, any currency she might have left to barter for the woman's silence, but her house-mother hadn't waited for any of it. Trish Savage was across the space between them faster than a rumor and had wrapped the young girl up in the mother of all bear-hugs.
“You'll tell her when you're ready,” Trish promised.
Bella reached out and covered Elaine's hand, torn between worry for the young woman and anger with herself. She couldn't help but notice that Trish hadn't hesitated, the way somone who was uncomfortable around gay and bisexual people might, but 'enlightened,' who would 'gallantly' force themselves to make the gesture. Trish's instant reaction had been to comfort the young girl, unself-consiously, physically, and better than any protestation of political correctness proved that there was not a homophobic bone in Trish Savage's remarkably beautiful body. Bella fought to keep her mind on the girl she was here to help and keep a hold on her own feelings for Trish to keep them from stepping over from physical attraction to something stronger that she might have to act on.
“Would...would she hurt you...?” Bella forced herself to ask.
Tears were streaming down Elaine's face. “No! Ah would hurt her! Ah...she...she's had to deal with so much, and Ah...the other teachers at her school...!”
“Shhhh,” whispered Trish. “It's alright sweetheart. You're safe! Your secret is safe! No one will tell on you.” She reached to the dispenser on the table and fetched a paper napkin to dry the girl's tears. “Your mother won't ever not love you, Elaine, no matter who or what you are! I think of myself as a pretty good judge of character, and the woman I've met loves you for who you are. You don't have to hide.”
“Bu...but...” she trembled. “Daddy is a mechanic and...and...and...if it got out Ah'm queer and a mutant...!”
“There is nothing wrong with you, Lanie,” Mrs. Horton told her fiercely. “Every mammal species on this planet demonstrates some level of bisexuality.” Bella swallowed her own uneasiness and declared, “Why do you think I'm house-mother of Poe?”
That penetrated the emotional tidal wave Lanie was riding and struck her dumb. “But...but...”
Bella stole a glance at Trish, who was also looking at her, but there was nothing on her face except the ginuine curosity that likewise had been kindled in the student between them. “I...I don't wear my past on my sleeve, but I'm not ashamed of it! Yes I was married to a wonderful man for a...a goodly bunch of years, but I'm a child of the seventies, dear heart. The Sixties might have been free love, but we put the kink in kinky.” She squirmed a bit in her seat. “I've been known to bat for the other team more than once.”
Bella stole a glance at Trish to find her face pulled into a sardonic smile. “So, I guess not everyone in Poe is ready to be Out,” she teased her older friend. Bella blushed and drank her coffee.
For her part, Lanie looked between the two and hung her head. “Please don't hate me, Mrs Savage.”
“Why would I hate you, Elaine?” she asked softly. “Would you expect me to hate a bird for flying? Who you are is who you are, and I accept you for that person, who we're both coming to know. Which is why, although I'm allowing Bella to make you this offer, I want you to know I would rather you stay here in Whitman, but whatever you decide, you will always be one of my girls. Alright?”
Elaine blew her nose on the napkin and nodded, emotionally drained but feeling more secure with Grizzly hugging her from the inside with just a touch of gloat. See? Nothing to be ashamed of.
Mrs. Savage rose and went into the kitchen. “I think someone needs some hot chocolate,” she said as she went about the preparations. “Bella?”
Lanie wiped her eyes clean of her running mascara and smiled shakily at Mrs. Horton. “Ah, Ah'm sorry ma'am, Ah don't mean to fall apart. How can Ah help you?”
Mrs. Horton couldn't keep a smile of pride off her face at this brave young woman and she shared a glance at Trish in the kitchen who was obviously just as proud. Bella pulled her massive purse up into a chair and rummaged through it, removing the pages of the blueprints she'd brought. “Over the summer, dear, Poe is going to under go a substantial upgrade. The cottage will be gutted to the four walls and two additional wings will be added on.”
“Goodness! Who's paying for this?”
“Our old friend, 'anonymous doner',” Mrs Horton replied with a wry smile. “We're getting a number of upgrades, elevators, some other things. But what I'm over here for is I would like you to consider moving to Poe next year.”
Lanie swallowed. “Maggie is mah best friend, and she's straight. She doesn't even know about...”
“This isn't about Maggie, Elaine,” Mrs Savage told her as she brought over the steaming mug. The young redhead took a sip and immediately smiled as the chocolate worked its magic on her nervous system and her emotional state.
“To be honest, Elaine, the goal here is twofold,” Mrs. Horton told her softly. “First because of the trauma you went through with the Kodiak, with Wyatt, and with binding this new spirit Grizzly...”
“It underscores Poe is the 'nut house',” Lanie griped. “Ah'm not crazy, Mrs. Horton...!”
“Neither is anyone else at Poe, dear,” the older woman said with a smile. “But the cover is a useful distraction for freshmen whose mouths are moving much faster than their brains. I know this will cause some tittering behind your back,” she went on, changing the plan of the building to one of a single room. “So, this is your payment.”
Lanie blinked in shock. “A single? But Ah'm not a senior!”
“Mrs. Carson tells me this will be the new 'historic' foot print,” Mrs. Savage told her.
“Each floor will have four wing advisors, one for each of the wings,” Mrs Horton continued. “Juniors and seniors like you will make yourselves available to assist your residents, and help me keeping an eye on things, keeping things under control. For that you get a single and a private bath. The floor you'll be on will be sophomores. If things ever even out, each wing will be of 'like' so as to create mutial support societies. Lesbian girls, gay boys and changelings. We don't have that many lesbian girls in the returning sophomores so...”
The redhead smirked. “You want mah help keeping an eye on Team Kimba.” She sighed and shook her head. “So, if Ah go for this, do Ah get hazard pay?”
“I would like your help with all the girls, dear. Yes, Team Kimba, but also your friend Kayda - you know she and that buffalo of hers have a tendency to attract their own share of trouble, and Bunny and the others,” Mrs. Horton told her. “As for compensation, the room is your hazard pay, dear.”
May 2nd, 2007
Clubhouse of the FSA, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Pendragon was worried.
He sat at the head of the oval shaped table, his laptop off to one side, a legal tablet on the other and his eyes staring at the table itself. It was where the President of the Future Superheroes of America society sat, the First Among Equals as it was also known, and in the wood below the protective clear top coat the names of the previous presidents were carved. Names like Falcon, the Golden Scarab, and, of course, the founder of the society, the true First Among Equals, from the Class of '66, the First Twenty, Magno-Man himself.
As the end of the year, the end of his tenure at Whateley, drew ever closer, the weight of his responsibility grew ever heavier on Arthur 'Pendragon' Smith. It would be time to pass the torch soon; the only problem was, Arthur wasn't sure who that person should be. For years he had thought the obvious choice would be Iron Star. There was a lot going for Bobby as that choice. He was an experienced combat leader, he stayed cool when things got rough, and could be counted on. The problem was he could also be counted on to grandstand. Arthur kept hoping it was a phase he would grow out of, but it just seemed to keep getting worse.
Then there was 'the incident'.
Arthur had suspected for years that Saladin was gay. It wasn't anything overt - most would have dismissed it, but Arthur's uncle Charles was also gay and through him Arthur had come to pick up a far more sensitive 'sense' for lack of a better word for other gay men, honed with meeting his uncle's friends. Arthur had been proud of Sayyid - when he had been blackmailed, he'd made the hard call and come out of the closet. That was the mark of true hero, someone who wouldn't allow their ethics to be compromised, no matter the personal cost.
And then Bobby had opened his mouth.
Pendragon knew that Bobby had an 'off beat' sense of humor. He was always telling 'colorful' jokes and being an equal opportunity offender, homosexual jokes were in the rotation. They had never quite crossed the line and Arthur was a firm believer that laughter was one of the best ways to deal with hate. But when Saladin had come out, Pendragon had seen a new side of Bobby he'd never had before. The 'jokes' got vicious; not 'laugh with someone about the absurdity', but the kind of pointed attacks meant to belittle and humiliate.
Arthur sighed and slowly drew a line through Iron Star's name on his pad.
If he had another year, maybe he could straighten Bobby out, get him over his bigotry, but Arthur didn't have another year. And the position was too important. Of course, Sayyid had proven he had exactly the right stuff for the job, but when Arthur had broached the subject with him, the young Iraqi had been adamant. He wanted nothing to do with the leadership role.
Arthur wasn't sure if it was because of the gay bashing on Bobby's part, or the ongoing paranoia of Muslims and Middle-Easterners because of the so-called War on Terror. It didn't matter; it was Sayyid's call and he'd made it. Arthur would respect that, and he drew a line through Sayyid's name.
Boudacia and Hippolyta were both cut from the same cloth. They were both ardent Feminists, which would be fine in and of itself. Half the planet was female after all; the problem was Boudacia was so in-your-face about it. She'd started angry and in hanging with Hippolyta, she'd only gotten worse. Now she was tossing around words like Patriarchy, male privilege (color optional) and legalized slavery. She'd never gotten along with Sayyid, as if Saladin even agreed with how women were treated in Islamic countries, as far as Boudacia was becoming concerned, he had written the laws himself.
Ironically, Hippolyta had come into the group as a bonafide man hater; well past where Boudacia was now down the road she was on. Arthur had nearly vetoed her admission because she was so militant about it, but Glorianna, with her usual soft touch, had pointed out that example was the best way to lead. As usual, she had been right. Hippolyta had softened considerably in the intervening years, and again, Pendragon was sure if he had one more year, she would probably be in a good place to step into the leadership. He sighed and shook his head while he crossed both names off the list.
Of the class of 08, that just left Powerhouse, whose name Arthur scratched out as quickly as possible, making a mental note to leave a letter for whoever his successor would be, recommending they boot the asshole at the first opportunity.
Arthur sighed again. The rising sophomore class had G-Force, and he was a good kid with good potential. There it is again, he thought to himself. What is my subconscious trying to tell me? Arthur turned to his laptop and called up the schools' directory that had a picture of G-Force in his hero ID. Pendragon was a firm believer about looking at someone's face, letting the face tell the story of who they were, and it seldom let him down. He settled his gaze on the pictures eye's, and something there spoke of the enormous pressure G-Force was under. To succeed, to excel, to live up to his parents expectations as to what a 'hero' should be, how he would be the new crusader for social justice and showing the world mutation and heroism wasn't just a white thing.
Pendragon felt a wave of sympathy; the kid was struggling with the load as it was. Arthur wasn't about to pile onto it and have him crack. He drew a line through G-Force's name. Lady Liberty and Magni-girl came up next, and were almost as quickly dismissed. Steffi and Amy were great girls, solid team members, but they were having fun. They weren't ready now, if they ever would be.
The keys on the laptop tapped again, bringing up the picture of Marty Penn. Arthur liked Marty, she reminded him a bit of himself when he'd been a freshman and a sophomore, lean, eager and hungry. She wanted to be in the business so bad she could taste it, and she wasn't a bad tactician either. Marty was building on a solid foundation and, once she reigned in the enthusiasm, she'd be solid and dependable. Arthur knew he'd be proud, later in life, to claim that he'd known her when.
But she wasn't ready.
That brought up Stronghold. Steve was exactly what Marty needed. He wanted in the business just as bad as she did, but he wasn't as quick to jump in. Steve could frontal assault with the best of them, but he had the makings of a strategic genius, thinking sideways, finding the best spot to scour the lay of the land. Maybe it was a 'southern thing', maybe because he'd grown up hunting with this father. Arthur wasn't sure, but he was calming Marty down, and that was a good thing. Arthur rubbed his chin and drew a question mark by Stronghold's name.
The only other rising sophomore was Wallflower.
Falcon's name rose up from the table as Arthur watched. Yes, Wallflower was certainly resourceful, and behind the mask she was everything one could want in a heroine-in-training. If only she wasn't so shy outside of the mask. Arthur doodled another question mark next to her name.
The elevator groaned into life, making a welcome distraction. This wasn't a decision that was going to come easy. “Skybolt!” he greeted, rising and offering her a hug of welcome. “It's so good to see you again!”
Elaine blushed and indicated the tall black girl next to her. “I've come to undo some the evil I did, Art,” she declared soberly.
“You didn't...” he started, but she shook her head.
“How or why doesn't matter,” she told him firmly. “All that matters is I have to make it right. Last year lies were told about Stunner. Lies told in my voice, and I want that wiped away. Daphne is a good person, and just in the few days we've been rooming together, she has helped me in ways months of being at ARC couldn't. I wish to withdraw my recommendation of rejection from last year with my most sincere apologies.”
Art nodded, looking into the face of Daphne. She wasn't satisfied that she'd forced her rival to recant. She was embarrassed for Elaine, a bit mortified of the situation, and obviously uncomfortable with the entire thing. Once more, Arthur's intuition spoke and he decided, sticking out a hand. “That's good enough for me, Stunner, welcome to the FSA.”
May 2nd, 2007
Hallow Realm of The Kodiak, the March of Dreams
Wyatt looked out from the mouth of the cave that was his spirit's hallow down onto Horse Marine Lake. The view made him nostalgic for home as the wind carried the scent of pine needles and the musky stench of moose and elk cows in rut. The young man breathed deeply in the scents of home before he walked out of the cave and looked at the bear sunning himself above the entrance. “Isn't it kind of creepy hanging out in what is basically your grave?” he asked the spirit. “I mean you died here.”
“Right about where you're standing,” The Kodiak replied, extending a claw to scratch lazily under an armpit. “And I don't really have a choice. This is my master hallow, the place where I became trapped between living and dying, flesh and spirit. You are not the first human I've ridden, my lad, though perhaps the Creator will be merciful and let you be the last.”
“Wait,” Wyatt said, thinking back through his exemplar memory to the very first class he'd taken as an Avatar at Whateley. “Your master hallow? That means...”
The bear rolled over onto his stomach and stared down at his host. “If you knew the right ritual you could destroy me. If things go well enough, I'll probably teach it to you.”
Kodiak swore colorfully in a language that was musical and sung more than spoken. “Oh, that thrice-damned cartoon!” he finally added in English. “I should have known your obsession with it would come back to haunt me.”
Wyatt crossed his arms and leaned against a Douglas Fur. “Aren't you the one haunting me?”
A chuckle rumbled up and out of the spirit. “Touche, Little Britches, touche. But you are not a child anymore, my friend, and you must put away your childish things.”
“I get it,” the big man grumbled, looking back out at the lake. “And I'm sorry I didn't get it sooner.”
The bear got heavily to his paws and ambled down the side of the top of the cave to stand next to his host. “Water under the bridge,” he declared softly. “For now you're doing well. We have the beginning of our army, and next year you must be diligent in your studies. We must get your essence lit as quickly as possible." He idly scratched his chin. "Perhaps the Native girl can help you light your essence and teach you - if she can get past her pain."
Wyatt snorted. "Not very likely. She doesn't trust you, and she really doesn't trust me."
"We'll have to see," the bear mused. "Normally it would take years, decades even, to properly train a war wizard, I have a bit over a year. I need you to open your eyes, close your mouth, and learn.”
Cody sighed again. “I will. How will we find him?”
“There are spells,” the spirit assured him. There was no need for Wyatt to be more specific, they both knew which 'him' he meant. “I'll teach you.” He looked over, sensing the emotional distress of his host and cocked his head. “What is it?”
Wyatt jerked up right and became gruff and brusque. “Nothing, just a passing thought. Don't worry about it.”
“You keep threatening to turn me into a rug and you lie like one!” the spirit announced. “Out with it, boy! Our relationship is too important now, when we're so close! What's eating you?”
The big Alaskan crossed his arms angrily again as he leaned back against the tree and looked away. “It's nothing, damn it!” he started then shook his head. “Oh fuck it, what's the use! It's Lanie!” he told the spirit directly. “I can't shake the fear I'm going to lose her! You and Grizzly pulled this stunt with her and now Songbird's back! She swears up and down she's Bi, not gay, but Maria was her first and...”
The bear shook his ponderous head, reached up with a paw and pinned the boy against the tree with it. “By now my mate is finished binding with her new host, and the Pict Daughter knows that while I amplified her feelings, the feelings were hers to begin with. She knows that never again can or would I compel her to any action. If anything, boy, you should be worried about how concerned she is over how much she wants you. Grizzly tells me the word addiction and whore are frequent descriptors of herself.”
“Tell it to her, boy!” the bear told him with an only mildly annoyed growl. “And you! How did you get the reputation on this campus you have? It's undeserved if even I can see the easy solution to this and you can't!”
Wyatt used both hands to shove the bear's massive paw off his chest and crossly came nose to nose with him. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?” he demanded. “And I'm trying to give up my reputation. I thought I made that clear!”
“Isn't it obvious?” the spirit demanded. “The Pict Daughter loves the Spaniard and you. The Spaniard loves the Pict Daughter and is friendly now with you. Use your charm, boy! Bed them both!”
Wyatt watched the spirit laugh at his own humor while wheels turned round in his mind. Adolescent fantasy? Surely, but wouldn't it be the best of both worlds? It was no secret that Maria was a fine, full slice of womanhood; even Lanie had the hots for her. He loved Lanie enough to let her go; sharing her should be child’s play, and speaking of play, if everyone was sharing everyone... Cody shivered as he remembered the dreams they had shared. If Maria could overcome...
He shook his head. “I...that's not right!” he declared. “Maria was abused!”
The bear's eyes were consoling. “Who better than someone who has the courage to make such a statement to keep her from being abused again?” he wanted to know. “I think you're in for a rough-and-tumble life if you succeed, but to each their own. Aunghadhail had eight sister-wives she shared Oberon with, but take my advice and don't use that as a mark to surpass!”
Clearly, Wyatt realized, this was going to take some thought.
May 2nd, 2007
Hallow Realm of Grizzly, the March of Dreams
As it happened, Wyatt was not the only student dreaming with their spirit that evening. A moment ago it seemed to Elaine that she had laid down in her bed and had been staring at the ceiling. Mrs. Horton's offer hadn't stopped running through her mind since she'd promised to think about it and respond before the week was out.
There was so much to be afraid of at Whateley that she'd forgotten what little, everyday fears could be like. When one was afraid of losing your soul, it was hard to find time for being afraid of what people thought about one because of being gay. Bisexual, she corrected herself. And am I really?
Her mind found that large portions of last year were still a jumble. Disjointed images, unconnected thoughts and memories - they teased her, all the more frustrating because she could remember things around the holes with perfect clarity and recall. But they weren't all gone. On Maria's sleeper sofa, her hand on Elaine's breast, staring deeply into her perfect golden eyes, Maria had whispered, “Remember.”
Elaine's brain was hit with a shotgun blast of locked away memories, free of edits, out of context cuts, or any other manipulations. They were an orgy of raw emotions and scenes, all clamoring at her mind's eye to be remembered anew. Foremost among them, most desperate, was a rainy late September afternoon in the Crystal Hall. Elaine was on cloud nine, she was popular, she was hanging with the A-crowd; it was everything she could have hoped or dreamed about high school.
She'd been trying to repair her friendships with the other Lit Chix, especially Becky Corbin - who Elaine couldn't decide if she was jealous of Elaine's luck, or sincere in her warnings from her sister Susan. And then she'd walked up, as exotic and beautiful as a tourist poster - cafe au lait complexion, large golden eyes, and a beach queen body that would have even the gay boys panting after her. She was everything wonderful and powerful and mysterious of womanhood. “Can I talk with Lanie, Becky?” she'd said. Her voice was reverberating oddly, just at the edge of the hearing.
“Don't call me Becky,” Foxfire had snapped before stalking off in a huff.
Elaine had turned to the other girl, wanting to say something about being rude, but she had smiled and with the same strange tone of voice asked, “Do you like girls, Lanie?”
And as Songbird's lips were crushed against hers in New York and her hands discovered the new body her old lover wore, Lanie had remembered the emotional shock to hear herself admit how beautiful she thought Maria was, how all these beautiful girls around her made her feel strange, and she admitted that she'd touched herself two nights ago thinking about Maria herself. She could see now, feel from Maria's side and hear the command she had been given clearly. “Do you like girls, Lanie? Be honest with yourself and tell me what excites you.”
There had been no collusion, no compulsion save the compulsion to be honest with herself. For five minutes Elaine had ridden a stream-of-consciousness tidal wave of admission of boys whose children she wanted to have and girls that made her think things she had been raised to believe were wrong. “Meet me tonight outside Poe's side door after curfew,” Maria had said. “I'll show you who you are.”
Lanie turned her head and looked at Maggie across the way, snoring softly into her pillow. She had been friends with Maggie before any of this. Roommates from the first day and they'd hit things off in the way that intense friendships sometimes formed in high school. Lanie loved Maggie like she was her sister, but there was nothing sexual about it. She remembered that night in New York, how emotional and draining it had been. Tearful and joyous, sorrow for what was and happiness for what would be, Elaine had made love to another woman and she didn't feel a lick of shame about it.
She and Wyatt had split, Maria was an adult, and she was seventeen. It wasn't anybody's business but hers and Maria's. But did that make her bisexual?
In her mind's eye danced a shy Lakota girl with piercing green eyes just like hers.
That situation was the opposite of what she had with Maria. Lanie was taller than Kayda, Lanie was older, and being honest with herself, she realized had she not been in a relationship with Cornflower, Lanie would have made a pass at her. Rosalyn's claims of ownership or her own protestations of not wanting a rebound be damned, she could have happily curled up with Lakota girl. What made it so confusing was there was friendship there too. Maggie was just a friend, Maria was more of a lover than a friend, but Kayda. Somehow, even though they'd only shared a single kiss, Kayda was both.
What am I? She thought to herself as she closed her eyes.
When she opened them, she wasn't in her dorm room. She was laying against something warm and soft and breathing, covered in rich, ruddy fur. “Hello little one,” a familiar voice greeted.
Elaine looked up into Grizzly's deep, endless eyes and smiled at the she-bear. “Hello Grizzly.” She sat up from laying against the bear's side and looked about. She was wearing her favorite one-piece swim suit, but she was bare foot, her favorite pair of not-quite-worn-out sneakers out in the sun, drying. They were on a grassy knoll in the shade, overlooking a beach. A bit of a short swim away at anchor lay Pickett's Revenge, and beyond her, she could see her home through the trees. “Why are we on Galt's Island?”
The bear chuckled. “I thought you'd like something less esoteric for our Dream-Space.”
“You are,” Grizzly agreed. “If you don't like it, I can make it whatever you...”
Lanie laid back down against the great ruddy bear. “No! No, don't change a thing,” she said. “It's perfect.” She sighed, feeling safe and unafraid for the first time in what felt like forever. In a soft voice, she asked, “Grizzly, what is God like?”
“I don't know, sweetheart,” the spirit replied.
A chill December ran down Lanie's spine. “Is He not real...?
“Oh, He's very real,” Grizzly replied. “The Creator is who laid out the rules of the Universe, wrote the laws of magic, and enforces the Contract of Solomon. I have just never been in His presence. He resides on a plane above ours, above where spirits can reach, or humans through astral projection. He sends messengers, sometimes, but for the most part He seems to want us to figure out this life for ourselves.”
Almost inaudibly, she asked, “Do you think He hates gay people?”
“I don't think He hates,” Grizzly replied.
“Ah know we practically just met, Grizzly, but is it too early for me to say Ah love you?” The young girl rolled into the bear's hug and basked in the pure joy of acceptance.
“No, my beautiful love, it's not.”
The fur felt so wonderfully warm and soft; it was like being wrapped up in love itself, and for a great length of time, Elaine soaked up that feeling and let herself be happy. It was like being a child again, without worry of the future or concern about the past, just the blissful existence of the present. She realized that the feeling made up a great percentage of the wonderfully relaxed feeling called after-glow. She'd felt it being held in the arms of Wyatt Cody, every nerve in her body on fire from their exertions. She had also felt it in the arms of Maria Rodriguez, her body loose and relaxed and just as sated.
They were very different feelings, arrived at in very different ways, but somehow...somehow they were exactly the same. “Grizzly,” she asked softly. “What am I?”
Grizzly's wet nose and muzzle pressed against her forehead as her body changed. The bear flowed like a werewolf into the half woman half bear amazon and then it kept flowing until the muzzle became lips, the fur became ruddy, silky smooth skin, and the creature became a woman. She still had Grizzly's endless dark eyes, set in a sharp featured face that somehow managed to be soft as well. Her skin was something between the cafe au lait of Maria and the ruddy tones of Kayda's Lakota, with reddish brown hair in a wild halo around her head and down her back. She was still an Amazon in figure, easily Cody's six four, perhaps taller, though with her lying down it was hard to tell.
Her strength was on display as muscles bulged under her skin, but she was still feminine and her bust could feed nations. She smiled a dazzling smile as she held the younger girl and cradled her head in her lap and brushed stray hairs from her eyes. “You are Elaine Nalley,” Grizzly told her. “My host, my baby sister, my best friend, and the love of the life we will share.”
Lanie noticed Grizzly was dressed identically to her, though she was doubtful anyone would take them for sisters. “But...”
The Amazon shook her head. “Stop, dear heart. Resist the human notion to put a label on everything. These bodies you wear are so transitory! You could easily be just as happy as a strapping young man; your soul doesn't have a gender, Elaine. That's biology. Love who you love, that is of your spirit.”
“You're female,” she protested, but in a moment the bust shrank, a shaggy beard grew and the one piece woman’s suit became a pair of baggy mens' trunks. Under Elaine's head she felt a snake worm its way to comfort under her neck through the canvas of the trunks that would never fit in a speedo. It was a really thick snake, too.
“See?” the macho biker asked in a rich baritone that set her heart to fluttering. “I enjoy being female,” he said. “It's a different perspective, more rounded, less focused, and it has some wonderful perks and benefits. But am I not just as much the Grizzly you took into yourself?”
“Yes,” she admitted, feeling very conflicted. “You were Kodiak's wife?”
“Yes,” Grizzly said. “And she was my wife a few times over the millennia. But his outlook is so focused and driven by his oath being male suits him more.” The biker flowed back into the Amazon. “And I care and nurture more - it appeals to me - and so it's easier to present myself as female. But these are your perspectives love. Nothing more.”
“Mah perspective won't stop mah momma from being upset that her daughter likes to have sex with other women,” Lanie replied with a sigh, looking over at the house. “Ah can't even imagine telling Grandma.” She looked back up at Grizzly. “Why do we get upset about someone who's gay or bi or whatever, Grizzly?”
“Reproduction is a biological imperative,” she said. “Do you notice you're calm here, that things don't seem so important?”
“Ah thought that was just part of dreaming...?”
Grizzly shook her head. “In this pure form, you are out of your body. Your body is just a hallow for our spirits, but it is a biological machine, for lack of a better word. And really, it only has two functions; house your soul, and reproduce itself. Free of those hormones pushing at you, you can concentrate on the love, and less on the physicality and the mechanics. But most people live their entire lives in those bodies, never free until they die. And those hormones are very strong. The urge to reproduce is paramount for the machine.”
“Ah want to be a mother,” Lanie admitted.
Grizzly ruffled her hair. “And you'll be a wonderful one,” she assured her. “When you're older.”
Lanie found that funny and laughed. “That's what mah mom says. 'Ah'm not in any hurry to be a grandmother!' she tells me.” Lanie sighed and looked back up into her spirits eyes. “If Ah didn't want to be a mom so much, Grizzly, Ah wouldn't have broken up with Maria.”
“Be honest with yourself,” the Amazon admonished her. “You were more afraid of what your mother and father would think of you. Even though your own memories show what wonderful people they are!”
“Do Ah not really love Cody?” she asked, worried. “Is it...?”
“No,” the spirit told her firmly. “We've been over this, Lanie. Kodiak amplified your feelings, yes. But you were very attracted to Wyatt, you just dismissed him as being 'out of your league'. And while I'm still angry at him for doing it, Kodiak just took away that dismissal. Yes, you do love Wyatt, and yes, you do love Maria. And yes, you are attracted to Kayda.”
“What am Ah going to do?”
The amazon smiled. “I don't know, dear heart. It's a mystery. But we'll find out together.”