The Riddle of Sappho (Prologue and Canto I)
A Whateley Academy Adventure
The Riddle of Sappho
by EE Nalley & ElrodW
Prologue and Canto I
Iridescent-throned Aphrodite, deathless
Child of Zeus, wile-weaver, I now implore you,
on't--I beg you, Lady--with pains and torments
Crush down my spirit,
Hymn to Aphrodite, Sappho
May 5th, 2007, - Pre-Dawn
Rm 501 Melville Cottage, Whateley Academy
Sebastiano Lorenz Valensuera y Ramirez lay awake in fear. It was now four days since his disastrous attempt to blackmail Nimbus. It had been terrifying to watch the sniveling little nerd turn into someone...something...else. Whatever had control of the body of Nimbus, it wasn't a teenager and he wasn't even sure it was human.
Never had Sebastiano ever been so upset about being right about something.
Now he lay in a room by himself, not a single as he thought of as his due, but a double with no-one as a room-mate because he was considered a pariah. No-one could stand to be in the same room; the last boy that Mr. Forrest had tried to partner with him had told the House Parent flatly he'd rather be expelled than sleep in the same room as the Don. It was a humiliating social rejection. Of course, not having a room-mate wasn't the same as being alone.
It sat on the rail of the bed across the room from him, red eyes staring, lidless and un-sleeping and watching. He'd already tried to get help for three days; he'd gone to the magic department, trying in guarded tones to say there was a malignant spirit watching him. Ms. Grimes had performed a ritual after much begging and pleading, but found nothing while it snickered at her efforts and continued to stare at the Don. Then he thought perhaps it was a psychic compulsion and used the same, roundabout requests with Dr. Carstaires who had been even more skeptical than Ms. Grimes had been and he found nothing either.
Sebastiano wasn't about to let Fubar into his head.
And so the creature, whatever it was that no-one else could see, that Nimbus had told him in no uncertain tones would tell him everything he did, sat and watched, a constant chilling reminder of just how badly the Don had underestimated a Mythos Mage. He had no idea what this thing was, why no-one else who he considered formidable, if not experts, could not detect or combat it. Perhaps he was damning himself, but he couldn't believe that Nimbus, for all his power, was a match for the entire school!
Figuring out what this thing was would be the key to getting out from under it. That he understood. That was his first priority. Of course, he had to give lip service to what Nimbus wanted. Sebastiano wasn't sure what his end game was with the avatar-jacking scheme, but it was clear now that it was key to Nimbus. And as it was key, it was a weakness, a way for the Don to turn the tables on the sorcerer, save himself and perhaps even come out as the hero who saved the school. The thing hissed at his line of thought. The Don smiled. Carefully testing his limits over the last few days, he'd purposefully ordered his mind on rebellious thoughts, acts of revenge against Nimbus.
Always the creature had hissed at him, as though it knew the flavor of his thoughts, but not the details. And Nimbus, ever one to taunt him, had not commented on any of them. His keeper had limits that could be exploited and used against his new 'master.' The little thing hissed again, but didn't move. The Don allowed himself a moment of triumph. Nimbus wasn't as all powerful as he thought he was. Overconfidence was a good weakness; it had been the downfall of countless greats throughout history.
That was one weapon in his small but growing arsenal.
The other was that new Franks girl.
Kayda Franks was rare - an avatar and a paladin who channeled a much more powerful spirit. She was clearly a threat to Nimbus' plans, but when he'd carefully volunteered to be Nimbus' cats' paw, fawning as though to try and curry favor with the monster, Nimbus had only laughed and told him not to worry about her. He had his own plans.
And finding out what those plans were might be the lock that his key would open and see Nimbus undone. The Don got out of bed and smiled at the creature. Soon you'll be back in whatever hell he plucked you from and I will rule again! He thought.
The creature hissed.
But before if ever you've heard my pleadings
Then return, as once when you left your father's
Golden house; you yoked to your shining car your
Hymn To Aphrodite, Sappho
May 5th, 2007, Just after Midnight
West River South Dakota
The second son of Unhcegila crawled from the attack; the barking of the dogs and the house alarm would surely bring others, and though he could easily defeat them, a battle - no matter how enjoyable - would distract him from his quest. And unlike his brother, he thought scornfully, he would succeed. He would not fall to an untrained, weak priestess of that witch.
He moved slowly, more slowly than he had to, because his bulk was leaving marks - a trail which warriors would follow to hunt him, delaying his mission. So he had to use his tail to obliterate the marks he left - the broken shrubs, the bent grass, the scuffs in the dirt. Though he despised the People, he nonetheless respected their skill at hunting and tracking. To add to their power, they now had more of the fire-sticks, the invention of the white man that he'd encountered over a century and a half ago, when he and his father and siblings had gone into hibernation. Unlike the puny bows, lances, and spears, the fire-sticks could hurt him - and now it seemed that nearly every warrior had a fire-stick.
Worse, the fire sticks they bore shot much more rapidly, and the tiny spear-points they hurled more easily penetrated his armor than the round lead balls he'd first encountered. Those were dangerous; these new ones were deadly. It had to be the white man's doing; the People had fought him for centuries with their bows and axes and spears; the memories he'd consumed told the disturbing story of wave after wave of white people moving across the land, displacing the People and slaughtering the vast, uncountable herds of Bison, breaking promise after promise.
Something resembling a very self-centered conscience stirred - perhaps he should help the people expel the infestation of the invaders, to restore the balance to the prairie, and then he and his sibling and father could better resume their roles as hunters and demons of the People. There would once more be the vast herds to feast on again, and warriors to challenge him as a rite of manhood or mastery of their warrior arts. And the People would show the proper respect to the son of a demon.
On the other hand, the invaders, though numerous, seemed weak, at least according to the memories he'd already devoured. Worse, they didn't believe in demons - much - and didn't fear or respect them. It would be so easy to terrorize them, inflicting huge amounts of that delicious emotion called fear. The trick with dealing with them would be to avoid their fire-sticks, which would be easy if he could catch their gaze first, melting their minds before they could act. And then he'd have many, many more to feast upon.
Several miles from the site of his attack, the second son located his burrow from the previous evening - no sense in repeating a task that was already done - and crawled inside. The jackrabbit which had taken shelter in the burrow awakened to the face of a demon, and because the body of the snake-demon blocked the entire entranceway, the poor rabbit had nowhere to run. It wasn't even a challenge, the snake thought as he devoured the animal in one gulp.
The second son of Unhcegila nestled in, pushing some loose dirt up with his back, until the entrance was blocked, disguising his hidey-hole. He focused his energy and began to sift through memories. The shaman he'd eaten had been at the revelry for the witch girl. And - there was a plot to lure her back to the reservation? Most interesting, the snake-demon thought as he contemplated his father's reaction. She'd be closer, and thus easier to hunt down and defeat.
There was a flurry of names - acquaintances, friends, family, fellow members of the tribe. Johnny Shadow-Walker, in his many decades of life, had accumulated much knowledge that the snake-demon had to sort through. Throughout this mish-mash of memories, though, the snake focused upon the names of shamans. It frustrated the snake-demon that he found nothing of interest - mostly names and ceremonies they'd participated in with Shadow-Walker.
Far back in the memories of Johnny Shadow-Walker, back when he was in his twenties, there was a hint of something that intrigued the snake. A ceremony, the passing of a treasure from one generation to the next, to the next surviving shaman in a long line of shamans of one family. Something roundish, and brown, with an uneven skin coating it, held aloft during the ceremony like it was the most priceless object in the world. And the recipient was a relatively new shaman named Grey Skies.
After sorting through the memories of the deceased shaman, the snake-demon reflected. There was only one event that even remotely hinted of a precious round object. That and the sacred bundle were the only sacred items of myth and lore that the Lakota passed down carefully from generation to generation, or at least the only ones in the memories of the shamans he'd killed. That meant that the round, brown object was the sacred sphere Unhcegila coveted, and its keeper was a shaman named Grey Skies. Or, if Grey Skies had gone to be with the Great Spirit, a descendent of Grey Skies kept the treasure. Of this, the snake demon was now positive.
"Father," the snake demon called out psychically, excited by finally having some positive news. Yes, his father had urged patience, and he could be patient, but this hint was still extremely gratifying.
"Yes, my son?" Unhcegila called back, using some of his precious store of energy to penetrate the man-made psychic barriers.
"I have found it."
There was a long pause. "You have it now?"
"No, father," the son of Unhcegila answered somberly. "But I know who has it. It is a shaman named Grey Skies whose family have been the keepers of a venerated, uneven, brown ball."
"You are sure?"
"The memories of the shaman I just ate were clear as to the name and the image of the object."
"Find Grey Skies. Destroy him, and take the sphere!"
"I will, my father," the snake demon replied dutifully. "I will not fail you."
"Do you know where to find this Grey Skies?"
"In the direction of the rising sun, far across the big river," snakey responded. "None of the shamans I have consumed knew anything more."
"How many shamans have you killed?" Unhcegila sounded upset.
"Four, father. Why?"
"I have summoned Kigatilik to hunt the shamans," Unhcegila answered, his voice a little angry. "You must leave him shamans to hunt - it is the price I agreed to pay him."
"Should I leave Grey Skies to him?"
"No. Grey Skies has the sphere. That shaman is yours to destroy."
"It shall be done, my father."
May 5th, 2007 - After Breakfast
Arena 99, Kane Hall Tunnels, Whateley Academy
Pickett's Revenge ran on a beam reach nearly perpendicular to the wind on a hard starboard tack. She was heeled over to thirty degrees, her port deck awash and level with her waterline more than not as she surged on her rigging at nearly ten knots - which was nearly four knots faster than the boat was supposed to be capable of traveling.
It was a perfect early Georgia summer day in the middle of a New England spring, but the Arena saw to the weather conditions. Kayda squealed in cold delight as a wave broke over the deck rail and splashed her back. She, Kodiak, and Debra were 'meat railing' sitting in the center of the boat, on the starboard rail, counter balancing the heel of the hard run Lanie was pushing the boat through at the small ship's wheel in the cockpit. And even though the boat was 'only' moving nearly twelve miles per hour, the combination of wind power, heel and spray made the experience much more exhilarating than one would have thought. Along the tree-lined shore the occasional expensive house slid by on the side they were facing; on the other side was Red Top Mountain state park.
Between the computer-generated weather and having the lake to themselves, it made for a perfect morning.
"Are we in a hurry?" laughed Debra over the wind. "I'm gonna get sea sick!"
"Wouldn't that be lake sick?" retorted Cody.
"You wanted to know how fast she'd go," reminded Elaine from where she was balanced in the cockpit by the ship's little stainless steel wheel.
"Now we know!" Deb conceded with a laugh. "Can we slow down now?"
"Spoil sports," Lanie mock complained as she let the wheel over and the Close haul widened into a close reach and the boat slowed. She gave out trim on the head and main sails and she slowed further and slowly righted herself from an exhilarating thirty degrees to a sedate five. Deb was wearing one of Elaine's spare bikinis as she hadn't thought she would need to bring a bathing suit. The two girls were close enough in figure that it worked, even though Deb was a little smaller-breasted than the redhead. Elaine herself had added a pair of ratty cutoff jeans that were tight enough to have been painted on and wore her hair up in a ponytail. Wyatt was a walking gun-show in a pair of jam beach shorts that were a riot of colors and patterns loud enough to actually make noise, while Kayda wore a more modest one-piece with a deeply scalloped back.
This wasn't Wyatt's first excursion on Pickett's Revenge and he was on his feet faster than the two girls, effortlessly picking them up and setting them back on their feet. "You still going to make for Ranger Cove?" he asked as he steadied himself by the mast. Lanie shook her head.
"No, there's a nice little spot over by the Park Marina," she replied. "Go ahead and take in the main sail and I'll bring her in with the jib."
"Aye, aye, Cap'n" he said with a chuckle, undoing the halyard and cranking down the main sail.
"Wow!" exclaimed Deb with a smile as she plopped down on the cockpit bench and Kayda wasted no time snuggling up against her. "Who knew something as sedate as sailing could be so exciting?"
"Back home on the real Lake Allatoona, on Harbor Town, that marina we passed? There's a guy with a carbon-fiber racing catamaran. I've crewed for him a couple of times. It will do almost forty miles an hour."
"And just now we were...?" asked Kayda, eyes wide.
"About ten or eleven," she replied with a grin. "He has aspirations of the Louis Vuitton cup. I'd love to take a couple of months and do some real deep-sea racing, but my dad would have a coronary if I asked to go be one of two girls on a crew of eleven on a little sailing cat for two months."
"Not just your dad!" laughed Wyatt as he made his way back to the cockpit from hauling down the main sail.
"You're so cute when you're jealous," she told him sweetly.
"Here lately I've had a lot of practice!" he shot back with a smirk.
"Sorry," Kayda apologized quickly, wincing, but Wyatt was smiling and shook his head as he stood and made his way to the little hatch that led below deck.
"It's nothing," he assured her.
"We banter a lot," Lanie added with a smile as the big man shoe horned himself down the too steep for stairs, not steep enough for ladder.
"Who's thirsty?" he hollered up from the fridge in the galley.
"Coke's around," Elaine yelled back as she plucked a handle from a bin handed it to Debra. "Put this in that winch there, would you? Untie that line and crank it clockwise until the head sail is all rolled up." Kayda enjoyed the view of her girlfriend turning the winch, and the sympathetic jiggling it caused certain portions of her anatomy.
"Say, speaking of jealous," she started with a wink at Elaine. "Just how good of a friend did you say you were with Lanie, Debra?"
"She was my photographer," the other replied from her turning. "That good?" she asked and Elaine nodded. She set about tying off the line as the boat slowed even further, gliding into the protective little cove the redhead was aiming for. "And she was with Maria at the time, of course, but after they broke up we had a great time at the Poe End-of-Term Orgy."
"The what?" shrieked Kayda.
"The end-of-term orgy," she repeated as if discussing old news. "It's a tradition thing, all the co-ed dorms have an blow out orgy at the end of each year. I was going to go to the Melville orgy, but I heard that Lanie was coming to Poe so..."
"You didn't miss anything," Wyatt added as he carefully came back out on deck and passed out cans of soda. "Kinda boring really."
Kayda looked between the two and shook her head. "You're having me on," she declared finally. "Ha ha, very funny."
Debra turned to Lanie. "That mark on the inside of your thigh, you got it looked at?" she asked.
Elaine rolled her eyes. "Ah told you, it's just a birth mark," she told the other girl. "Ah've had it mah whole life."
Kayda blinked, remembering suddenly a small, oak leaf shaped discoloration high up on the inside of Lanie's right thigh. She had only noticed it because. Because... She swallowed and admitted to herself, Because you were staring and imagining what she tasted like. She shook herself to clear the memory, but it did give her a context and she shook her finger at her girlfriend. "Nice try, but I know Lanie attends the hot-tub socials and you probably saw..."
"Oh, of course I did," Debra replied, opening her can and taking a sip. "Don't believe me? I'm sure Rosalyn will have a lot of fun dragging you to the Orgy this year."
"You guys do anything special?" Wyatt asked. "This year's Melville theme is S&M and that's not really my scene."
"You'd look great in tight leather pants!" Lanie protested, causing the boy to flex his arms in a body builder's pose. Elaine continued, "Well, if Zenith wasn't having me on, Poe's theme this year is Tantric Enhancement. Mrs. Horton is supposed to have a guest lecturer sorceress coming that has techniques that can make an orgasm last for hours."
"Hey, I'm liking the sound of that!" Wyatt enthused.
"Drop the anchor, babe," she instructed. He opened a cover built into the side of the deck house and pressed a button inside. At the nose, the anchor popped free and with a rattle of chain began to unspool until it caught and the boat gently drifted around its new tether. "Yeah, I'm looking forward to it." She looked at Debra. "Is she a screamer? She better bring some throat lozenges."
Debra shrugged. "She's more of a moaner, but word the wise, Kayda, sweetie."
Kayda's face changed from disbelief, to amazement, to annoyance as she studied each face in turn. "Ok, you guys all got together to pull this, right?"
Wyatt raised an eyebrow. "You attend a school for mutants," he declared, his voice dripping disbelief at her skepticism. "All of us have super powers, three of us share our bodies with spirits from another realm and you don't believe there's an end-of-term orgy? That's what you don't believe?"
Kayda blinked and looked somewhat terrified at Debra. "But...but...really...?"
It was a mighty effort, but in the end fruitless as the smile wormed its way onto Debra's face right as Wyatt snickered, and with that ice broken, the three of them roared with laughter. Kayda felt her cheeks burn but smiled nonetheless and shook her head.
"You guys suck!"
"Only at the end-of-term orgy," managed Wyatt around his guffaws.
Debra punched him in the arm playfully. "I believe I'd pay money to see you walk down the other side of the street!"
Wyatt took a sip and feigned surprise. "What? Didn't you know? There's a whole subset of male homosexuality devoted to me!"
"To you?" the other demanded, highly dubious.
"Certainly," he replied with great disdain. "You've never heard of the gay fetish for Bears?"
Debra protested loudly at the pun and the youngsters had a grand time floating and forgetting their worries and cares. It was a wonderful morning, but despite that, the closer to noon it got, the closer to Debra's leaving it got, the more maudlin Kayda became. Finally Lanie shooed them below decks and closed the hatch to let them have a final good bye alone. She and Wyatt spent the time with her in his lap, leaning against him and being held.
And that was wonderful too.
May 5th, 2007 - After Breakfast
Behind Holbrook Arena, Whateley Academy
Amber wasn't sure why she was walking into the wood behind Holbrook, only that she felt it was very important. She stopped in a small clearing, looking around. There was no nervousness in her expression, just mild confusion over an almost blank, emotionless face that could have been a mask.
"Have those fools taken the bait? " Hekate's Master asked as he stepped out from behind a large tree, his body and features shrouded by a hooded cloak.
Amber nodded woodenly. "Yes. They're setting up an ambush for one and a distraction for the other."
He rubbed his hands together gleefully. "Good! Very good. And they know of your boyfriend's interest in the girl?"
Amber nodded again. "Yes."
"I don't trust those fools to have thought of everything," he said with a frown. From his robes, he pulled a small pendant on a chain. "Take this." As the girl reached for the pendant, he continued. "Make sure you arrange to bump into them this morning. Here's what you're going to say ..."
May 5th, 2007 - Mid-Morning
Room 302 Emerson Cottage, Whateley Academy
"So we got the stuff to humiliate one of the two of them. Are you going to let me know which of them gets which treatment?" Eddie grumbled. "And how we're going to get them set up...?"
"Patience," Darren said, not even looking up from his computer terminal. "It's all in the notes to lure the people to the right places. Now shut up so I can get the wording right." He concentrated, typing, backspacing, and retyping. "The tricky one is that freak Heyoka who does stuff backwards a lot of the time." Finally, he sat back, satisfied. "There. That should pique their curiosity. Isolate both of them, send their humiliating alibi, and then ...." He made a slicing motion across his throat.
Eddie read over his shoulder, and a wicked grin spread across his face. "Perfect. This'll be so easy."
"And they won't be able to resist taking the bait," Darren said gleefully. "And we'll cleanse this place of their stench!"
"You're going to print them in the library?" Eddie asked, confused after seeing the other boy send the files to the Beck Library Printer Folder.
Darren nodded knowingly. "With everything being printed there, no-one will notice. But since it's Saturday, no-one is printing anything downstairs, so it'd stand out and someone might accidentally find it." He smiled, knowing that Eddie wasn't as tech-smart as he was. "I'm taking every precaution I can so there aren't any clues."
Eddie had a rather horrifying thought. "What about the security cameras? They'll see me in the tunnels!"
Darren grinned. "Already thought of that, buddy. You know that thing Juice lost, the one that glitches security cameras so they freeze on an image?" From his desk drawer, he retrieved a small black plastic project box with a small switch and LED."
"Is that ...?"
"Turn this on and anytime you pass by a security camera, it'll freeze on an image." He frowned. "If I remember how he was bragging about it, it'll freeze about 15 frames at a time."
"That's not a lot of time," Eddie said with a frown.
"Plenty of time for a speedster to get past the camera range," Darren reassured him. Silently, he wasn't so certain. But it was all he had without getting more people involved - which he really didn't want to do.
May 5th, 2007 - Mid-Morning
Roof of Melville Cottage, Whateley Academy
It was a rare kind of day at the school.
While it was seventy-five degrees and sunny in the simulator's recreation of Georgia, in New Hampshire things weren't so bad either. The sky was a vibrant blue and clear; it had started chilly and below freezing this morning, but with the sun up the campus had quickly warmed, and while cool the day was well on its way to the predicted high of fifty-five degrees. But that wasn't the best part.
The best part was it was a Green Flag Day.
Everyone who could was out enjoying the weather. The sky was like a mini-New York as young people, costumed or otherwise flew from place to place and exalted in the freedom to be who they were. Stephen Nalley sat on the corner of Melville, looking out at the campus for the first time as he'd always imagined it but its grandeur didn't hold him as much as it might have otherwise.
While he had made his peace with Kodiak, closing that door had opened a whole new one. The revelation that his sister had had a lesbian relationship shocked him. Lanie had always been just Lanie; he'd never really even thought of her as a sexual being before now. Truth be told, except for her obsession over her hair, it was hard to tell she was a 'she' at all, until Christmas. His sister had left for school in September, tall, a little scrawny, though now that he thought about it, she was wearing her clothes a little baggier when she'd left. And she and Mom had gone on some kind of 'special' shopping trip that neither they, nor Dad, would talk about.
And while Lanie had left for school, the girl who came home for Christmas wasn't her.
It wasn't unusual for Lanie to bring girlfriends home for holidays. Dashboard had stayed with them for a week last summer, and Christmas was no exception with the clutch of girls she had come home with. But the girl with the red hair wasn't his sister.
Stephen winced as the thought crossed his mind again and he frowned, chewing on it.
The girl at Christmas, that Mom had fawned over and Dad...Steve still wasn't sure what Dad was feeling from the expression on his face. A weird mix of fear and determination was the best he could come up with, but not the why or the context. No, the girl that came home for Christmas was a girl.
His sister wasn't a girl.
Well, she was, obviously, a girl; she wore dresses and had make-up and she and Mom got their nails done and their hair wasn't cut at a barber but styled at a salon. But...she wasn't a girl girl. At least not until Christmas... Stephen sighed and looked out at the campus again. Steve was honest with himself in that he practically didn't recognize the woman who had come home from this place for Christmas. His sister was now a very beautiful young woman and it was unsettling how much she had changed.
Dealing with that was bad enough, but now he had to wrap his head around his sister was gay.
Well, that wasn't technically accurate either, as evidently she was very much with Kodiak. But he knew his sister. Knew everything about her, what her favorite food was, knew that she preferred dogs to cats, iced sweet tea to hot tea, baseball over football, Ford over Chevy, damn it he knew who his sister was!
But he didn't.
Evidently he didn't know this woman at all.
It was like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. She sounded like Lanie, and she knew everything Lanie knew, but...she wasn't Lanie. A blue and white streak flew around him, then slowed and settled next to him. "Hey there!" Marty greeted with a grin. "You look like somebody shot your puppy! What's wrong, baby?"
Stephen forced a smile. "I...I'm sorry, Megs, I'm having a strange day."
"Strange can be good," she replied. Despite being a New Yorker, Martine Penn was a dyed-in-the-wool optimist and she tried to find the best in everything. "Depends on the flavor, right?"
He slipped his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. "Your smile could cure a rainy day," he told her with a smile and a wink. "I'm just trying to work something out I found out. I thought I knew someone, but..."
"Oh no," she commiserated, slipping her own arm around his waist to return the hug. "Not too bad is it?"
Steve let fly a heartfelt sigh. "Can you keep a secret?"
Marty looked around them. They were on the roof of a building, where one would think such a conversation could be discreet. But then again, this was Whateley Academy and neither of them had taken the elevator or the stairs to get to the roof. For now, however, they were alone so she nodded. "Sure, Steve, always, but if you're not comfortable..."
"My sister is gay," he replied, tumbling it all out in a rush.
"Yes, yes, I know, bi, whatever. Why didn't she tell me, Marty?"
Mega-Girl smiled softly behind her mask and laid a comforting hand on her man's shoulder. "Because it's not your business, Steve," she told him softly. His head snapped around, aghast at what she'd said, so she quickly pressed on. "You don't tell her the details of our dates, do you?"
"No!" he protested. "But, she's my sister!"
"That doesn't make it your place to know who she shares her bed with," she repeated. "Look, Steve, you know my dark secret, and I'll be honest with you, I did know about Lanie..."
"You knew and you didn't...?"
"No, I didn't, and I wouldn't," she insisted. "Just like I don't spread around things about you that are private I have knowledge of." She sighed. "In the interest of full disclosure, for a while I wasn't sure what side of the sexual street I was going to walk on, so yes, I went to a couple of gatherings of the Sisters..."
"Sisters?" he asked, confused.
Marty winced. "It...it's what the bi and lesbian girls call themselves, the Sisterhood."
He chewed on that for a moment. "So, what do the gay boys call themselves?"
Penn shrugged and he was captivated with the things it did to her uniform. "I dunno, never hung with them. Point is, yes, I knew Lanie was...er, well I guess, now she's technically a switch hitter, isn't she? The on again off again thing with Wyatt seems to be on again. And no, I would never have told you, not because I don't care about you, and not because I get off on having secrets or anything. You got to realize, Steve, here at Whateley, secrets are how we live our lives. I have mine, and so do you. Need I remind you you're wearing a mask? The best thing you can do is keep your mouth shut and if she does choose to tell you, be surprised and remember she is and always will be your sister, the only one you'll ever have."
He sighed and looked out at the campus again. "I..I just...I mean, I've always bought into it being genetic, you know? Being Gay, I mean. Christ, who would choose to despised and feared and discriminated against, and...and...does that mean that maybe I am...?"
"It's not about you, Steve," she said. "And if I had to guess, I'd say no. I mean, you didn't come after me because you knew who I was under this," she said softly, looking away. His gloved hand caught her chin and brought her eyes up to his.
"That's not true," he told her softly. "I came after you exactly because of who you are under the skin. You're smart and fun and warm and caring. You make me laugh and you make me want to be a better man than I am. You have a beautiful wrapper, Marty, but nobody keeps the present for the wrapping, it's what's under the wrapping that makes all the difference."
Her cheeks went rosy as she smiled and her eyes twinkled at him. "So you just answered your own question, didn't you?"
May 5th, 2007 - Late Morning
Security Main Office, Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
A low, threatening growl got Officer Coltrain's attention in a way that the opening door hadn't. He hated being assigned desk duty on weekends because all the really troublesome crap seemed to happen on Saturday and Sunday, and if Delarose was out, Lieutenant Trout and Sergeant Buxton had no qualms about putting his ass on the line if mistakes were made.
He found himself staring up into the angry countenance of Hippolyta, one of the most intimidating female students on campus. Tall, muscular, and attractive, she radiated unhappiness that seemed laser-beam focused on him at the moment. He gulped because she was extraordinarily imposing. "Can ... can I help you?" he found himself stammering.
"Yeah," Hippy growled. "You gotta find my friend. She's missing."
Coltrain gulped again. The girl's request sounded more like a threat. "How do you know she's missing, and how long since you've seen her?"
"She's been missing since Tuesday night," Hippy growled, "and the house-parents keep telling me not to worry. But I know something happened to her."
"Who is the student?"
"Sara Waite," Hippy said firmly.
Coltrain's eyes opened wide at the name. He'd been the one who'd passed bad info about her to the Medawihla Tribe, and she'd made it clear that there would be payback. Her reputation made Coltrain realize that she wasn't joking, and the longer he went with nothing happening, the more terrified he got of her eventual surprise revenge. But then he considered the fact that she was being reported missing - and by a student rather than administration or faculty or the house-parents. If she really was missing, retribution was unlikely, especially if she stayed missing. On the other hand, if he played a key role in finding her, she'd owe him, and maybe the promised payback would be removed.
"Tell me what you know," he said, still battling internally about how to handle this. As he took Hippolyta's statement, delivered in a less-than-friendly, man-hating growl complete with glower, he struggled mentally.
"Okay," he finally said when he'd gotten all the information Hippy had to offer. "We'll take care of finding her."
"You better," Hippy snarled before she turned and stormed out of the security office.
Coltrain watched the girl stomping away angrily. In the end, it was her pissy, anti-male attitude that carried the day with his decision. He took the notes he'd gathered, put them in a folder, and slipped it into a drawer that was informally known among the less-diligent and less-than-scrupulous officers in security as the 'graveyard', a place where files went to be buried and never again see the light of day.
Five minutes after he'd dismissed Hippolyta's complaint, Lieutenant Trout returned from his 'rounds', which meant getting fresh donuts from the cafeteria. "Anything happen while I was out?" he asked.
"Who was that leaving," Trout asked skeptically.
Coltrain shrugged. "Usual stuff. Complaints about guys trying to hit on her, wanting us to stop him." He saw the look of disbelief on the lieutenant's face. "Yeah," he said with a wry chuckle. "More likely that she was filing a complaint first so she can beat the crap out of someone and have a plausible excuse." He smiled to himself when Trout snorted derisively and walked to the duty officer's desk, completely dismissing the supposed complaint.
May 5th, 2007 - Late Morning
The Quad, Whateley Academy
"Speakeasy!" The girl's voice called urgently, causing Darren and Eddie to stop mid-stride. Their expressions both lightened when they saw that the girl calling them was Amber.
Darren waited until she was next to them. "What's up?" he asked casually.
Amber glanced around first. "You asked me to let you know if Mike was doing anything?" Darren nodded. "He wants me to spy on her, to find out any weaknesses or emotional vulnerabilities."
"Yeah," Darren acknowledged. "And?"
"And he gave me this," she said, showing off a charm dangling from a silver chain.
"Okay, so your boyfriend gave you a necklace," Eddie retorted sarcastically. "Big deal."
"It's not just a necklace," Amber countered acidly. "It's some kind of Indian invisibility charm." She stared at their blank faces. "Like the spell Kayda is supposed to be able to use. With it, I can spy on the girl and find out what he wants to know."
"Okay, so it's an invisibility charm," Eddie countered.
"Damn!" Darren spat, disgusted with himself. "Of course!"
"What, Darren?" Eddie asked, baffled by Darren's adamant reaction.
Darren shook his head. "Don't you get it? It's the perfect way to walk right past the security cameras, the same way a Native American would! The same way either of those two would if they had the charm!" He read Eddie's blank stare. "Look, Juice's devise is good, but not perfect. But with this," he continued, looking at the charm in Amber's hand. "Amber," he purred, turning on his little psychic nudge, "would you mind if we borrowed that for a couple of hours?" he asked.
Amber shrugged. "Sure, I guess so. Just as long as you give it back."
"We'll make sure it gets back to you," Darren said confidently. "Count on it." He took the charm that Amber held out toward him, knowing that he'd just solved their last problem.
May 5th, 2007 - Late Morning
Kayda's Hometown, South Dakota
Fuming inwardly, Pete Franks sat in his office in the dealership, shaking his head as he stared at the picture of his daughter, looking stunning in her Lakota dress and face paint, hair braided and adorned with feathered and beaded hair ties, and wearing the headband with the four eagle feathers. Without warning, his features clouded and he grabbed his empty coffee cup, hurling it angrily across the office to shatter on the door casing. "Dammit!" he swore aloud.
One of the employees was just outside the office, about to come in to talk to the boss about a particular problem, but he decided to wait for a better time. Pete had been in this foul mood ever since he'd gotten a call from the courthouse the day before. Backing slowly away from the door cautiously, he had just turned to walk away.
"Ron, what's the problem?" he heard Pete behind him.
When the employee turned, he saw Pete standing in the doorway to his office, scowling and arms crossed. "Uh, we got a recall notice for the spool valves on the three-way hitch lift."
Pete lowered his head, shaking it slowly. "Well, that's two."
Ron wrinkled his brow. "Two? Two what?"
"They say bad news comes in threes. That's two." He took a few deep breaths. "Okay, get a look at sales and find out how many ...."
"Already did the cross-reference," Ron reported, holding out the paper he was carrying to the boss. "Twenty five tractors we've sold, plus three in stock, and spares. Total is thirty-three."
Pete scanned the page. "If it fails, it's pretty bad, huh?" He saw Ron's nod. "Okay, what's the factory say?" He wasn't going to take time to read the paper; he trusted his employees.
"Because it's so extensive a recall, we'll have a quota of how many parts come in the first shipment."
"First priority is getting the ones in the field fixed. Demand twenty-five."
"Okay. And I've tagged the parts in the bin as 'do not sell, defective'."
Pete nodded. "Good. Contact all the customers with tractors with that part and give them a heads-up."
"I'm on it." Ron started to turn, but reconsidered. "And I'm sorry to hear about the ... trial. Brandon was a good kid. He didn't deserve that, and then ...." He shook his head, noticing the awkward silence.
Pete clasped his hand on Ron's shoulder. "Thanks, Ron. You've been supportive and understanding, unlike some of those other assholes. I don't know how I'm going to tell ....." His eyes focused out the front window to where Judge Reinard walking in to his office. Rain or shine, cold or hot, Judge Reinard walked the ten blocks from his house to the courthouse every morning and evening, and lunchtime. "I gotta have a word with someone." Pete darted to the front door of the dealership, and in a couple of quick steps, caught up to the judge.
Judge Reinard looked at him and smiled. "Morning, Pete."
"Morning, Charlie, though I can't see anything good about it," Pete said in reply. "Going to work on a Saturday?"
The judge smiled. "No, it's not that bad. That's a bennie of being a judge in a sleepy town like this." He glanced at the packet under his arm. "No, I've got a package to get in the mail before the post office window closes at noon."
"Oh." Pete took a few silent steps beside the judge, trying to figure out what to say.
Charlie Reinard chuckled. "Go ahead and say it Pete. We haven't known each other this long without me being able to tell when there's something on your mind."
"You're letting them getting away with ... with raping and trying to kill my daughter Kayda!" Pete said bluntly.
"What do you want me to do? Throw out the plea deal, and then get defeated in the next election?" He saw Pete's stunned disbelief. "And besides, do you really think a jury is going to convict them in this town?"
"But the evidence ...."
"Which District Attorney Peterson and I talked about." His visage became hard, cold. "Rape kits - lost or never processed. Electronic medical records are missing. Chain of custody of evidence broken, so what evidence does exist is all compromised."
"But ... there are eyewitnesses, and a confession!" Pete protested.
"That hotshot lawyer Hollings' dad bought is more than eager to impeach all the witnesses - you and June included, and he'll go after the confession as being coerced from the fight. Plus, in that fight, your ... daughter ... and her friends kicked the boys' asses. How do you think that would play to a jury in this town, where half the adults belong to Humanity First!?"
"Change of venue?"
"Peterson and I talked about that. I would have granted it, but the defense would have appealed, dragging this out longer and longer - and depending on who on the circuit court heard the appeal, would probably be denied anyway."
"So they get away with trying to kill my daughter twice, and gang-raping her!" Pete spat the words bitterly.
"There wasn't anything else I could do. Peterson did a good job of covering his ass so if or when the state Attorney General investigates, he'll come off squeaky clean."
"He's a member of Humanity First!" Pete growled. "He was tainted! Surely that means something."
Judge Reinard shook his head. "Peterson covered his tracks well."
"He didn't even try to charge the others!"
"No rape kits, a 'coerced' confession - or so the defense will claim, biased witnesses?" Charlie Reinard shook his head. "Besides the biased jury pool?"
"And no victim, because she's away at school. So do you want me to delay, and then have her put on the witness stand and have to go through all that again, as well as being assailed and impugned by the defense attorney as having provoked or invited it, or something like that?" Reinard stopped and asked bluntly and forcefully. "Think, Pete. Do you really want her to be put through that?" Reinard shook his head. "I know how defense attorneys work in rape cases. They do their damndest to make it look like the victim's fault - and they aren't kind at all when the victim is on the stand."
"So they walk."
"Goddammit, Pete, weren't you listening?" the Judge exploded in a display of his own frustration. "There's no physical evidence, so it's all a he said/she said case! I know the guy the defense got - Adam Quinn. He's vicious to witnesses and victims in cases like this! He was almost disbarred once for being so aggressive against a victim! He'd have June in tears and make it look like your daughter was a tramp and a slut asking for anything that happened to her! Do you really want to put them through that when it's very unlikely that the jury would convict the boys?" Reinard nodded. "So yeah, they walk. At least until the FBI starts investigating denial of civil rights," he said. "And I personally called them."
Pete Franks' brow wrinkled. "How are they involved?"
"Your wife and daughter are enrolled members of the Rosebud tribe, right?"
"Yes, but ...."
"Affairs involving Native Americans usually automatically trigger hate crimes investigations and prosecutions. So I'd make book on them coming in to investigate."
"But ... trying to shoot her? In front of dozens of witnesses? And he didn't even try to press that one!"
"Same thing. She's a mutant in a mutant-unfriendly town. Steve pushed the minimum charges he could to keep DoJ off his ass, while still not riling his H1 buddies."
"Attempted murder - plea bargained down to aggravated assault - as a juvenile?"
"Pete, if I'd have been the DA in these circumstances, I would have probably offered that same deal. You have to understand the fear - paranoia - that exists in small towns after the Huron-Pierre rager incident."
"I don't like it. Shooting at her eight times - with witnesses?"
Reinard nodded. "I understand. There's one more factor to consider. Your daughter and her friends kicked their asses - badly. But worse, some witnesses stated that your daughter was fighting out of control and was ready to kill Scott Hollings, and that only her friends intervention stopped her from killing him. That kind of testimony can get the MCO involved, and they'll use it as an excuse to classify her as a rager. You know what that means, don't you?" He didn't wait for Pete to answer. "It means they'd put a DFA tag - Deadly Force Pre-Authorized - on her MID card at the very least, and then ANY law enforcement officer anywhere could justifiably kill her for any reason, even something as simple as a speeding violation!"
Pete goggled at that revelation. He hadn't considered that angle.
"If that evidence got in court records, your daughter would be in serious trouble." He shook his head sadly. "Peterson was trying to cover his ass and do the very minimum he thought he could get away with not triggering an investigation by the Attorney General's office, and by plea bargaining, he ended up doing her a huge favor. If he realized that, he'd be pissed. Juvie records are sealed. If they'd prosecuted Hollings as an adult, the records would be open to the MCO."
Pete stood in the middle of the sidewalk, trying to take it all in. As a father, he wanted to see the boys prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But after listening to Judge Reinard, he understood a little more how the system - and the town - were stacked against justice for Kayda's assailants.
"And Pete?" Reinard added, "we never had this conversation. Understand?"
Pete nodded. "Yeah. I understand," he said bitterly.
May 5th, 2007 - Just Before Lunch
Arena 99, Kane Hall Tunnels, Whateley Academy
The four teenagers were in a fine mood as they clambered out of the boat and the simulation of Georgia faded away. Now they could see the boat was a replica of the real Pickett's Revenge suitable only for the sim suite and not a real lake, in a little tank of water on wheels, and the 'dock' was likewise a rolling scaffold, but that didn't bother anyone. They were having a grand time, laughing and conversing as they made their way to the doors of the arena, a time that came to a screeching halt as the doors opened.
And standing in them were Gunny Bardue and Lady Astarte.
"Mrs...uh..." stammered the group of youths. The super heroine smiled and started to give Debra a hug, until she realized she was wearing a bikini and was likely not very dry. She settled for holding Debra's shoulders and giving her a fake kiss on the cheek.
"Miss Matson!" she greeted. "Always nice to see you dear! You and Miss Franks enjoy your lunch and let me wish you a safe journey back to Sioux Falls."
"Uh...Lady Astarte, this swimsuit belongs to..."
"Miss Franks, I trust you can see it to its rightful owner?"
"Very good." She turned and though her expression didn't change, her smile seemed to take on a sadistic streak. "Miss Nalley, Mr. Cody, just who I needed to see." She let them exit the simulator and let its door close. Almost hesitantly, Kayda and Debra moved off in the direction of the locker room to change. "Mr. Cody, I believe your costume is in the lockers here, is it not?"
"Uh, yes ma'am..."
"Excellent. Go put it on." She turned back to Elaine. "Miss Nalley, where are your uniforms? Specifically the Wicked uniform as you seem to favor it recently?" Elaine repressed a shudder and pointed to the locker room that Debra and Kayda had disappeared into. "Wonderful! Go and put it on, then report back to me here. Your training in these new abilities you wanted starts now."
"But, Ah'm hungry!" Lanie protested.
"Then you'll be motivated to do well," Mrs. Carson replied with an almost evil grin. "As Ben Franklin famously noted, 'Hunger is the best pickle.'"
Elaine was coming to be an excellent judge of the Headmistress' moods and correctly realized there was no point in arguing with her, but trudged to the locker room and began to change. She returned the regretful waves of Debra and Kayda as they left for a final lunch together before Debra started her trip home, pulled the battery pack off the charger and connected it before placing it into its pouch, then bow in hand walked back to the waiting teacher.
She waited patiently under the teacher's gaze until finally Mrs. Carson asked, "Why a bow?"
"Ah'm sorry?" she asked, a little taken aback.
"When you came to me and told me everything that had happened with Songbird and Freya and Kodiak, we knew we would be creating a 'villain' from scratch. When you met me coming back from ARC you had fervently settled on an identity of an archer, why?"
"Ah...Ah guess Ah knew it would be simple to kit up trick arrows pretty quickly and we could fabricate almost everything off the shelf, so..." Elaine couldn't continue because Mrs. Carson had almost casually reached up and slapped her sharply across the mouth.
"Don't lie to me," she commanded, her blue eyes flashing. Elaine blinked back stunned tears as she held her face that throbbed where the heroine has struck her.
"Ah'm not..." she started, only to be slapped again.
"You are!" the Headmistress hissed. The bitter, angry tears flowed down her face as the Headmistress stood over her, her own face angry and flushed. "You're a liar and a slut, Elaine Nalley and I'm wracking my mind trying to remember why I should give a damn about you!"
"Don't talk to me that way!" the girl shouted back, pride stung and shame burning inside her.
"I'll talk to you any damn way I please you little whore!" Carson spat, her disgust palpable.
"Don't call me that!" Lanie snarled through clinched teeth, her blood boiling.
Carson poked a finger into her chest and got nose to nose with her. "What's the matter, Cinderella? Upset because the shoe fits? You are a liar and a slut and whore..."
Elaine's vision went red and she felt her lips pull back from her teeth in primal snarl of rage. Before she realized what she was doing her hands curled into fists. "Ah said don't call me that!" she roared and swung. The teacher had expected her to lead with her right hand, but Elaine swung left handed and connected solidly with Lady Astarte's jaw.
The heroine was launched ten feet, rag-dolling head-over-heels from the force of the swing. She turned the tumble into a controlled roll and was on her feet before Elaine could charge after her. Lady Astarte wasn't so easily fooled with the next assault; the girl's swings were wild and predicable. She easily caught both of Elaine's wrists and stared her down, eye to eye. "Is this who you are?" she demanded, grunting with the strain of keeping her painful grip on Lanie's wrists. "Are you an animal?" she shouted. "Unable to control yourself?"
"Ah'm not a whore!" Lanie roared at her teacher, trying desperately to break the hold and wrap her massive paws around the blonde's throat.
"You're behaving like an animal!" Mrs. Carson shouted back. "Are you an animal?"
It suddenly occurred to Elaine that she was much taller than Mrs. Carson. That she had paws instead of hands and the realization was enough of a shock to cool the murderous rage. She stepped back from the Headmistress and her eyes stung from tears that then flowed freely down her muzzle. "Why did you do that?" she wailed. She sat painfully on her rump and looked at the Headmistress whose eyes were just as mournful as hers. "Ah could have killed you!"
"And now you know you could kill someone," Mrs. Carson replied as hugged the bear girl and dried her eyes. "I was afraid this would be true for you as well."
"I was an ultra-violent my first year," Wyatt said softly as he came over and sat down next to her and took a paw in hand.
Lanie sniffed mightily trying to clear her sinuses. "Why didn't...didn't...you tell...tell me?" she shuddered around her sobs. Mrs. Carson smiled as she produced a handkerchief from somewhere and dried her eyes and fur.
"Tell you I was going to insult you to try and trigger a rager event?" she said, rolling her eyes. "That defeats the purpose, doesn't it?"
Elaine finally nodded, then looked down and noted that the uniform was perfectly fine and fit her as if made for this form. "Why...why didn't mah change destroy mah uniform?"
"Because it's soul-bound to you," Mrs. Carson replied. "You needed a hint of magic to pull off the sorceress archer ploy and binding the clothing to you was easiest." She helped Elaine to her feet and smiled. "Now, let's put you through the paces for a bit and then I'll let you run to lunch. You don't meet the criteria for a rager, yet, but you don't miss it by much! You need to be mindful, alright? If someone provokes you, you leave and get security."
She sniffed mightily and nodded. "Yes ma'am."
"Alright, while Gunny gets situated, tell me the real reason you wanted to be an archer." Mrs. Carson cocked an eyebrow at her student and added, "And don't think I won't use a truth spell to get to the bottom of this."
"Do you remember what Ah was wearing when you took me to Doyle Medical Center the night Grizzly and Ah merged?"
"How could I forget?" she replied. "Dr. Hewley has been begging me to make you give them access to that ridiculous outfit since he laid eyes on it. Where did you get it?"
"Aunghadhail," she replied softly. "When we entered Cavalier's and Skybolt's minds, Ah was dressed that way. Aunghadhail said Ah was descended from the Picts. In fact, she kept calling me Pict Daughter. Near as Ah can track, Ah was what the Pict call a Banshee, or mah ancestress was. Ah wanted to see if Ah was as good with a bow really as Ah was in that mind space. When Kayda performed the ritual, one of the trees told me to 'Come Forth Pict Daughter' and suddenly Ah was wearing it. That's why."
Mrs. Carson smiled. "Interesting," the Headmistress murmured to herself. She looked up at her student and shook a finger in mock sternness. "And Elaine, don't lie to me again, sweet heart, you're a terrible liar."
May 5th, 2007 - Lunch
The Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
I ... wish you didn't have to go," Kayda said softly.
Debra patted Kayda's hand tenderly in response. "I know. But you've only got a few more weeks of school, and then you'll be back home."
Kayda stared at Debra longingly, and then smiled sadly. "Only for a little bit. Addy, Alicia, and I already have travel plans. We're going to spend a couple of weeks at home, then a couple of weeks at Alicia's home in Louisiana, and then two weeks in Bordeaux."
"I bet your mom is happy that Twinkletoes has volunteered to chaperone you guys," Debra chuckled. "But we all know he's going just so he can see Mage Astre again." A grin adorned her features. "He's still got it bad for her."
Kayda's voice dropped to a whisper. "If it's anything close to how I feel about you, I understand." She saw movement behind Debra and she groaned softly.
"What?" Debra asked, puzzled.
"My regular customers," Kayda said with a sigh. Seeing Debra's bewilderment, she explained, "the three girls I made a deal with. I supply them with tea, and they teach me magic spells."
Debra laughed. "You and that tea!"
"Hi, Kayda," Clover gushed as she, Palantir, and Abra bounced to Kayda's side. "We need supplies for our tea."
"I know," Kayda replied. Debra looked amused at her dealings with the middle-school girls.
"And can you give us enough supplies for the week?" Palantir begged. "That way we won't have to bother you every day!"
Kayda chuckled. "Are you guys caught up on spells?"
Palantir glanced nervously at Abra and Clover. "I think we are," she said uncertainly.
Kayda let them squirm for a few seconds, and then gestured to the seats. "I'll get you supplies, and since you're actually ahead on spells, I'll make you each some tea today." She watched the girls goggling at the unexpected news. "I didn't tell you - while I was on spring break, I used one of Clover's spells to help in a fight. I think I owe you guys one." While Abra scurried to get cups of water, Kayda took out supplies from her medicine pouch.
May 5th, 2007 - Lunch
The Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
"It's perfect," chuckled Darren around a mouthful of hamburger. "The bitch sat right between us and the soda fountain! Just nab her ID on a refill trip and..."
Eddie Rutherford - Quickdraw - looked over his shoulder at the two girls in the small table between them and the soda fountain. Kayda was in the buckskin dress she much preferred but the other girl with her he didn't recognize. She was a stacked blonde easily an 18 on the Peeper scale of Exemplar babe-hood which of course had Fey at the top as the only twenty one. "Why?" he asked softly. "What good is her ID going to do...?"
"Do you have any kind of brain?" snarled Darren - Speakeasy. "One of the paranoid techies told me the ID cards have RFIDs in them! You never wondered how the teachers and security always seem to know where you are? I'd be willing to bet there are receivers in damn near every doorway or any other major piece of furniture on this campus!"
"That's kinda creepy," complained Eddie. "It's like this guy Orwell talks about in this book we're reading in English Lit III where..."
"Would you shut up?" growled Darren. His eyes snapped back to the table where three of the junior high kids had walked up and had her distracted. "Now's your chance! Go! Go!"
Quickdraw obviously didn't think it was an opportune time but he dutifully stood with his glass and walked towards the soda fountain. As he got closer he saw that she had clipped her ID to the outside of her purse. Quickdraw stumbled over his feet and steadied himself on the table, hands by her purse. "'Scuse me," he muttered, lifting the ID and walking off to the fountain. Neither girl really turned from their conversation with the three little kids. He refilled his cup and came back to Darren who had glee in his eyes.
"Perfect!" the other boy exalted. "Now, go get the jar and..."
"I'm not going anywhere near that jar," Eddie told him mulishly. "After what it did to TNT and Nitro? Forget it!"
"Fine," snarled Darren, flinging the notes he'd had printed on the library computer at the other boy. "You go plant the notes!" He glanced around. "You're lucky. Both of them are here, so you should be able to slip them the notes easily. That'll just leave the one for the third target." He let a smile creep across his face. "I'll deal with the trap!"
"I'm not finished with my lunch...!"
May 5th, 2007 - Just After Lunch
The Quad, Whateley Academy
"Hey, Jamie!" Jamie Carson, Heyoka, halted abruptly and turned at the sound of his name. He thought he recognized the voice, and seeing the tanned girl with ash-blonde hair confirmed his suspicion.
"Bye, Maggie," he said in his contrarian talk. It caused no small amount of trouble on campus to very frequently - and unpredictably - say the opposite of what he meant, but that was part of being Heyoka, the contrary one, the sacred clown of the Lakota.
"Hey," Maggie, Lifeline, said as she trotted to his side, "we haven't seen you at a meeting for a while. Is everything okay?"
"No, things are bad," he replied.
It took a moment for Lifeline to process his contrary speech. "Oh. I thought that maybe the rumors were true."
"There are rumors all over that you and Kayda ... that your spirits hate each other and you two are fighting," Maggie blurted out.
Jamie snorted. "Our spirits sometimes agree, and usually over huge issues," he replied simply.
Okay, Maggie thought - the two didn't always agree, but it was small stuff. "I see."
"What about the facts I haven't heard about you?" Jamie asked, picking a bench in one of the sheltered niches. "Let's stand while we talk so our feet get tired."
Lifeline chuckled and sat, with Jamie joining her. "What have you heard about me?" she asked, her curiosity piqued.
"I haven't heard any facts that you and Loophole aren't fighting, and that you are getting along wonderfully. I also didn't hear that you moved in with her."
Maggie frowned. "It's ... it's complicated," she stammered, her eyes suddenly moist. "She's ... she's changed! She's getting obsessed with ... some spirit." She wiped at the corners of her eyes. "She's ... getting scary, and I ... I can't take it!"
"Ah," Jamie replied, looking thoughtfully. "That wouldn't be the spirit that Kayda unbound from her." He shrugged. "People never change. You know what our traditions aren't. A shaman never binds a spirit to a person to hinder them in the challenges they never face."
"It's not that easy," Lifeline said. "She was my best friend, and then she got ... scary." Lifeline shuddered as she remembered the first day Elaine had woken from her coma. The cavalier way she dismissed her friends concerns; indeed the only real worry she seemed to have was how her mother would react. Then there came that fateful second morning, where Maggie had woken up to find herself sharing a room with a monster. "You don't understand, Jamie, she's not the person she was anymore!"
"You'll forget how much you were friends, and you'll never realize that she's not the same person."
Maggie flinched, stung by how much her rational was turned back on her. "You didn't see her when they tested her in that form," she told Jamie. "Didn't see her destroy those barriers with her bare hands, or rip that ANT apart like it was nothing!" Didn't see her in some kind of berserker lust enjoying it, Maggie thought to herself.
"Why would anyone enjoy being strong?" Jamie replied as if he had read her mind. "Loophole was never afraid before and had nothing to fear, no reason to like being strong now." Jamie frowned and cocked her head to the side. "You are absolutely right to shun her."
Maggie frowned for a moment, then seemed to change her mind and gave an ironic chuckle. "This advice from the one who's feuding with Kayda?" She saw Jamie' noncommittal shrug. "So there is some truth to the rumors after all."
"We don't have any ... differences," Jamie replied.
Maggie's eyebrows arched. "Oh?" If Jamie was so casually saying there were no differences, there were some issues, and they were of concern.
Heyoka looked at his watch and stood. "Well, I have all day to hang around, so I don't have to leave. I'll never see you again, Maggie."
"Bye," she whispered, her mind in circles.
May 5th, 2007 - After Lunch
The Nations Sweat Lodge, Whateley Academy
A boy's face peeked out from the woods near the Native American group's sweat lodge, looking around intently, and the boy had his ears cocked for any unusual sounds. After over two minutes of watching and listening, he crept out toward the structure, a large igloo-shaped, skin-covered half-dome that the Nations used for their sweat lodge ceremonies. Being Crow, Darren knew only too well what a sweat lodge was and knew the religious significance of the sweat lodge ceremonies. If he was perfectly honest with himself, he envied the members for being able to participate in their ceremonies - but when he thought of her - the false prophetess - pompously leading the ceremonies like she was all-important, a red mask of rage clouded his reasoning.
Still glancing around, he stepped to the flap of animal skin covering the door which was oriented toward a fire pit in the center of the clearing in which it sat. Pushing aside the flap of hide, he peered into the sweat lodge. "Good," he muttered to himself. It was empty, as he'd expected.
First, he pulled out a flashlight and a trio of small devices from inside his backpack. Stepping inside, he shone the light around, looking at the structure. "This is better than I could have hoped for," he chuckled to himself. The frame of the structure consisted of poles bent into arches, arranged in a circle. A lattice of horizontal elements curved around between the uprights, like lines of latitude on a globe, creating a mesh to support the faux-hide covering of the structure. He looked around, selecting three spots that were equally-spaced around the perimeter, and then twist-tied the devices to the wooden lattice-work, pausing to turn them on. The batteries would only last ten to twelve hours, but that was more than enough time.
The laptop he pulled out latched on to the signal from the wireless relay he'd set up just inside the tree-line, and moments later, he had an image from the camera on the screen. Frowning, he set the laptop down where he could see it and adjusted one of the wireless cameras. Satisfied, he changed the view on the laptop and adjusted the other two for optimal viewing angles. With a grin of satisfaction, he closed up the laptop and slipped it into his backpack and ducked back outside the sweat lodge.
He knelt, letting the flap dangle back over the opening while from his backpack he extracted a jar that was carefully sealed in multiple layers of plastic bags and a bag of other supplies. Suddenly covered in sweat, he pulled on elbow-high latex gloves, then a second set, and then a heavy pair of rubber gloves.
"I hope I don't get any of this shit on me," he swore softly to himself as he began to peel the protective covering off the small jar. When he had it exposed and the lid open, sweating even heavier, he pulled a small brush from his supplies and dipped it into the small amount of liquid in the jar. Working carefully to avoid any splatters, he painted the liquid onto the hide flap, on both the right and left edges, liberally dosing the flap so that anyone who opened it from either the left or the right would have to touch the treated areas.
Once he completed his task, his hand shaking nervously, he capped the small jar and placed it and the brush into one of the zippered plastic bags, which went into a second bag. Then he carefully pulled off the heavy rubber gloves, being careful not to touch his skin, exactly the way his mother, a scrub nurse, had taught him. The rubber gloves ended up inside-out, and he put them into yet another zippered bag. With the two-layers of latex gloves still protecting him, he put the baggie containing the jar into a third layer of bag, sealing it, and then put the bag containing the contaminated gloves into a second bag. After sealing those, he took off the latex gloves the same way he'd peeled off the rubber gloves, sealing them in yet another baggie.
Only then did he pause to wipe the considerable sweat off his brow. He hadn't expected dosing the hide flap to be so nerve-wracking, but he couldn't get the images of Tee-Kay, Nitro, and Tissy out of his mind. He really didn't want any of that crap on him.
Darren sat back, and only then did his nerves overtake him. He trembled almost uncontrollably as he thought of what he'd been working with, of the power he'd seen demonstrated in the trial run. It took several minutes to steady his nerves, but he eventually put the baggies into the backpack, slipped it on his shoulders, and retreated the direction from whence he'd come, satisfied that the trap - one of them - was fully baited.
May 5th, 2007 - Early Afternoon
Room 315, Dickinson Cottage, Whateley Academy
Fortunately Sahar was out somewhere, probably with Zenith, so it meant Tansy would have the room to herself for some time. That was good. For what she had in mind, she needed privacy. From an extremely well-hidden compartment in an antique brooch that was itself hidden, she took a small little square of plastic and metal. It had a USB connector on it, and very little more; it could have been of the little 'jump drives' that were so common, or it could have been radio antenna for older model laptops that did not have WIFI.
It was in fact a bit of both.
Plugged into her laptop, it overrode the networking of the device and mounted a cellular modem. This connected through a series of extremely secure 'tunnels' through the internet to connect to a server, a very special server.
Tansy didn't know who had recommended her, didn't know who had planted the device where she would find it. She had gotten emails from someone who called them-self the 'Hindmost', her sponsor to the greatest and last advantage the embattled Junior had. The screen lit up with a simple prompt for a user name and a password that she provided, then the page wiped and a little window opened welcoming her to The Syndicate.
Walcutt quickly scanned the announcements and saw that nothing applied to her before she called up a search and typed in Wicked. A moment later a bio appeared with a photograph of an ebony haired woman in a red body suit that left her legs and arms bare. Her hair was much longer, and the wrong color, and even though she wore a full face mask that stopped at her hair line, there was no mistaking the unnaturally green eyes that coolly stared out of the photograph. "Freelance cat burglar, huh?" Tansy asked herself. She read the entry, an interesting collection of lies and half-truths and pondered exactly what the status of On Hiatus meant. The website of course defined it as someone taking a break from the life that was not the more temporary statuses of 'vacation' or 'medical recovery' or the more permanent of 'Retired' or 'In Jail'.
A Hiatus could be weeks or years; but there was the unspoken asterisk that implied the owner meant to return. Tansy sat back and stared, trying to puzzle out this latest turn. She clicked the links to Hero Watch and was rewarded with security camera footage of Wicked fighting Lioness of the Empire City Guard. Tansy had no idea Loophole could be so graceful. The fight was like a dance, sharp and deadly, but beautiful to watch.
But she certainly knew Sensei Ito's teachings when she saw it. Again her left elbow ached in sympathetic pain. It had been the little devils' favorite place to strike her for 'correction'. Hero Watch had a lot of speculation about the thief Lioness had fought, rumors of past jobs, reputation of success and dangerous competence and touting they had the only known video of her.
Tansy watched the video again, something about it bothering her. There!
Tansy froze the play back and took a screen shot she quickly moved into Photoshop. Walcutt was a model, but Ian Parker was a thorough teacher. She knew the complicated program inside and out and more about photography than many so-called 'professionals'. She isolated and enlarged the window pane and it's ghostly reflection. Quickly the pane was removed, leaving a dark shape in the form of a woman. She converted the image to a gray-scale for better contrast and sharpened the borders as much as she dared. It wasn't much more than a human shape, blurred and misshapen. Tansy got a reference photo from Hero Watch that was close to the pose she thought she saw. She adjusted again and the blob became a distinct mantled cape, a misshapen limb became an arm holding a rod, a very specific rod.
Some looked at the geography of Mars at low angles with light and shadow and saw Pyramids and a face.
Tansy Walcutt looked at her work and saw Lady Astarte.
She checked the date on the video and sure enough, that was the week Mrs. Carson had been off campus. 'Business' had been the official excuse. Business indeed, snorted Tansy. Why are you in New York, Loophole, and why aren't you stopping your student from committing a string of felonies, Lady Astarte?
Solange sighed and made her up mind. She didn't need Hero Watch to know that Lioness wasn't a third-string nobody, but a dangerous, and feared Martial Artist. And 'Wicked' had not only fought her to a standstill, she'd gotten away with whatever she stolen from the Emerald Tower. It was enough. Mrs. Carson was deep in Loophole's back pocket if she would allow her student to commit a crime in front of her and get away with it. Maybe Carson wouldn't listen to Solange, but she would listen to Wicked.
Now I just have to get Wicked to listen to me.
May 5th, 2007 - After Lunch
Berlin Shuttle bus, Whateley Boulevard, Whateley Academy
Don Sebastiano kept as much of his dignity as he could as he took a seat on the shuttle bus. The injustice of everything he'd lost never failed to rankle. Once upon a time, as Alpha Male mooching off the financial resources of Tansy and Hekate, a limousine would have been summoned when he required something from off campus. And it would have included a private jet ride to Boston at least, if not New York or some other civilized destination that could boast real stores and shops, not some Podunk hillbilly breeding farm of a 'town' that barely deserved the title.
Now. He seethed inside. Now he rode a bus, like a commoner.
For some reason of late, Tansy had been far less forthcoming with funds. He frowned; she'd been remarkably distant too. Was the air-headed blonde actually plotting something?
The...thing...for lack of a better word made a sound that the Don took to be it laughing at his debasement and enjoying his discomfort. Not for the first time, Sebastiano regretted siding with Freya over Nick DuPraeve. The Don turned, taunted into giving defiance to the creature when he saw something that stunned him. The shuttle was just passing through the main gate, preparing to turn onto Stark Highway and the long slog down to Berlin, when the creature looked over its shoulder and scrambled away from the front of the bus and dove through the back.
"What are you looking at?" demanded the boy behind the Don as he whirled in his seat to watch the strange behavior.
Sebastiano ignored him as he turned back to his window looked back towards the gate. There, the creature was, spitting with rage and fading away in the distance. "You can't cross the warding," whispered the Don with dawning realization.
May 5th, 2007 - Early Afternoon
Guest Cottage, Whateley Academy
The two girls - one younger and dark-haired and the other taller, older, and stunningly blond - stood hugging in the parking lot by the guest cottage. The shorter girl was fighting back tears. "I don't want you to go," she sniffled.
"I know, hon," Debra replied, kissing Kayda on the forehead. "I don't want to leave, either." She pulled Kayda more tightly against her. "But I have to, and you know it."
Kayda nodded. "I know."
"We can dream walk," Debra offered to her girlfriend. "And I think you'll find our dream-walks even more ... realistic," she added with a mischievous grin. "Now that you know how certain things really work!"
"Yeah," Kayda chuckled through her sad tears.
"I know you don't want me to leave," Debra said. "But if I wait much longer, I might miss my flight."
"What's wrong with that?" Kayda asked with a smile.
"I'll see you in a few weeks," Debra said, being strong in the face of incredible temptation to sweep Kayda off her feet and carry her into a bedroom. "Until then, we can talk and dream-walk." With one more prolonged, passionate kiss, Debra opened the door to her rental car and climbed behind the wheel. "I'll see you soon." She giggled. "And the next time I talk to your mom, I'll be sure to thank her."
Kayda's mouth dropped in surprise, and her cheeks burned. "You ... you wouldn't!"
Debra chuckled. "No, I won't. But I bet your Mom asks you." She saw Kayda flush even redder. "She already did!" she said, realizing the hidden meaning behind the blush. "Your mom already talked to you?" Debra laughed. "At least you don't have to worry if the subject is ever going to come up."
As Debra's car rolled down the drive toward the gate, Kayda stood, feeling incredibly sad to see her girlfriend driving off. She waved, knowing that Debra was probably not looking in the mirror but instead concentrating on the winding road, but she couldn't help herself. Finally, after the car was long out of sight, Kayda turned to walk back to her cottage, pausing to take a tissue from her purse to wipe her tears. As she did, a folded paper fell to the ground.
Immediately, Kayda figured that Debra had slipped her a love note, and her heart went pitter-pat. Quickly, she unfolded the paper, anxious to read something tender and intimate from her lover. But as she read, she scowled. "What the heck?" she mouthed to herself.
Kayda, the team wants to get together about 1:30 to talk about tomorrow's simulation. We need to do some planning and also think about things that might go wrong and how to deal with them. We'll meet at the sweat lodge; Lupine thinks a purification ritual couldn't hurt our chances against Gunny and Admiral Everheart.
Kayda chuckled to herself, already dismissing the oddity of a note instead of a call or text message. They were probably guarding against Sam's nanite hive 'listening in' to their communications since the team was scheduled for a simulation soon. That sounded like Lupine and Mule - anything for an edge, and assuming that Gunny would overhear any electronic communications. She changed direction so instead of walking toward Poe, she strode lightly toward Holbrook Arena; the temporary sweat lodge the group had erected lay a couple hundred yards past the arena.
The Lakota girl glanced at her watch as she approached the igloo-shaped temporary sweat lodge. She was about fifteen minutes early, and nobody else was around. Smiling to herself, Kayda knew what she'd do - if the group wanted to discuss team tactics while in a sweat lodge ceremony, she could get a head start on heating up the 'stones' in the lodge. Unlike an authentic sweat lodge, the group used self-heating simulated stones for heat instead of fire-heated rocks, so she could get those warming up in preparation for the sauna-like feel of the sweat lodge.
Kayda pulled back the flap covering the lodge opening and ducked into the structure, pausing to turn on some small candle-like lights to illuminate the interior. As she knelt on a buffalo-skin rug next to the center fire-pit, she felt a strange tingling in her hand, and she started to feel flush, warmer than she should have.
May 5th, 2007 - Early Afternoon
Tunnel 'Broadway', Kane Hall Tunnels, Whateley Academy
The Tunnel System under the school was an esoteric collection of warrens in the New Hampshire bedrock and their nomenclature system was just as chaotic and haphazard as the tunnels themselves were. Some were numbered - Tunnel 24, for example, ran between Kane and Dunn Hall, having entrances in the basements of each building. Most (but not all) the numbered tunnels had been man made.
Some of the tunnels had proper names and while they had been leveled and paved, for the most part the named tunnels were part of an underground tributary that had once fed into the Miskatonic River. Broadway was the main 'trunk' of this now dry aquifer, snaking a lazy S through the campus near Hawthorne, then doglegging around Poe, under Melville, then back under Schuster Hall, where it bent again under Kane Hall where it then turned to go under Emerson then ran in a nearly straight line under Whitman off the campus to the river.
It was generally what people thought of when someone one mentioned the 'tunnels': a vaulted cavern of granite forty feet wide and nearly thirty feet tall in places. Branching off Broadway were uncounted side tunnels, some more bits of this dry river system with names, some numbers of artificially cut stone, some impossible to determine their origin. In places, the tunnels were so tall that a catwalk had been installed with stairs and ramps up to an upper-level of little labs, offices and rooms that had been carved into the bedrock.
It was in a bit of an alcove that Quickdraw lurked, nervous and sweating. Having seen what the 'serum' did to Tee-Kay and Nitro, there was no way he wanted to be anywhere near it so Darren was out baiting the trap. That left Quickdraw the task of planting the lures. In truth, Quickdraw was getting worried about Darren; sure some guys just couldn't deal with some people. For some it was race, or being a mutant, and even mutants weren't immune to it as the exemplar, baseline, GSD divide underscored. It wasn't that Quickdraw had a soft-spot; he was an equal-opportunity bully and thug. That was the difference. He never fixated or obsessed over a target.
But Darren really couldn't handle Kayda. Or Heyoka.
He couldn't be around them, he couldn't stand that they were even at the same school as he was. It was getting creepy to be honest. And now he'd come up with this harebrained scheme. Messing with Tee-Kay and Nitro, that was one thing. They were losers and they didn't have friends. But messing with Loophole? Loophole was an Alpha. Loophole was Kodiak's girlfriend. Messing with Loophole was like picking a fight with Champion.
Oh wait, Kodiak had done that.
Quickdraw wasn't just nervous, he was scared. Cloak-and-dagger wasn't his style. He went for plain thuggery. If he got caught... He swallowed and peeked around the corner. Down the way was that little food stand 'Got To Eat', but it looked deserted. There didn't seem to be anybody else in the tunnels, but for a Saturday that was probably normal. Quickdraw had followed Loophole here from the Crystal Hall and she'd been in there for a while. He screwed his courage, what there was of it, shot out from the Alcove at top speed, dashed up the stairs three at a time, and ducked into the little side tunnel where Loophole's lab was.
First door on the right, he skidded to a stop, just long enough to flip the piece of paper he carried under the door, and turned and took off again, not stopping until he was back in the Alcove where he'd started from. Panting from exhaustion as never before, Quickdraw struggled to catch his breath and finally peeked around the corner again. Nobody was following him, nobody was even...wait...
Quickdraw blinked. The very last person he expected to see down here was carefully walking up the metal stairs to the catwalk. She was following a map, drawn on a piece of paper in her hand. She turned down the side tunnel that Loophole's lab was on.
What is she doing there?
May 5th, 2007 - Early Afternoon
Loophole's Private Lab, Kane Hall Tunnels, Whateley Academy
Elaine sat up, forcing her back to stretch out until it popped. She'd been hunched over the work-bench since lunch, voltmeter in one hand, her tablet open to the IEEE capacitor and resistor reference page, with an oscilloscope off to one side. And on the bench was Mrs. Savage's husband's device. Its case was open, revealing the guts of the device, and she had just painstakingly checked every circuit, transistor, capacitor, and resistor on the thing. She'd already found and replaced two blown transistors, but the device still stubbornly refused to turn on.
"What's wrong with you?!" she shouted at the little gadget, frustrated as she never had been before. Every testing device she had said it should work, but no matter what she tried it still sat mute and blank. She picked up the electronic guts of the little gadget and turned it over in her hand. She felt the hard plastic of the bread-board and the slick, latex-like finish of the various resistors and chips, the weight of the screen and the hardness of the batteries. She knew what it did only because Mrs. Savage had told her and what her own knowledge of electronics, learned these last two years at Whateley, gave her of the chips and their uses.
Otherwise the thing was dead in her hands. Her mind told her it should work, but her hand, her power - that she now belatedly realized she had depended on far too much - was silent.
She frowned and concentrated. She became aware of the flow of blood in her arm and of it nourishing the cells of her body while a sharp pain like an ice-cream headache settled behind her eyes. Biting her tongue she pushed harder and felt the interconnections of the tendons and muscles of her arms, how her nerves communicated with them, how it chose which muscle in which sequence to fire, and her eyes began to water.
When she was fourteen she had found a bottle of Jack Daniels her father had put back for special occasions and company, and thinking it no worse than the beer she was already used to, had poured a large glass and forced herself to drink it, knowing that alcohol was an acquired taste. What she had acquired was a case of alcohol poisoning that caused an emergency trip to Kennestone Hospital, and even with her stomach being pumped she'd skipped drunk and gone straight to hangover. It was more pain than she'd ever felt, a blinding white hot agony made worse by any ray of light or the slightest sound.
But this was worse.
It was as if a branding iron was being slowing forced into her forehead, a searing, sweaty misery like a fractured tooth that would not ebb or wane but only throb from bad to worse to unbearable. A cry escaped her lips as she kept forcing, trying to make herself see what was wrong when she heard a roar of Grizzly inside her and felt as though the spirit tackled her. Mrs. Savage's device was dropped onto the table as the force of what she believed she felt carried her off the stool and down to the floor. For a frantic moment she felt the soft fur of her spirit and the hot breath of her on Elaine's face as she licked her forehead to soothe the agony to a dull roar. Don't hurt yourself, Grizzly scolded her as the feeling faded.
Elaine sat up on the floor of her lab and rubbed her eyes. As she did so she noted a piece of folded paper had been slipped under the door. She reached for it just as the door chime sounded. "Miss Walcutt to see you, Miss," Carmen informed her.
"Tansy?" Elaine asked as she got to her feet, bringing the note with her. She opened the door to find the announced Venus, Inc. member standing on her door step, looking very much out of place. There were bags under her eyes that were badly hidden by too much make-up and a haunted look that was out of place on her perfect face.
She blinked and hesitantly said, "Your nose is bleeding."
Elaine wiped at her face, and finding her fingers sticky, she turned and went to the small sink in the corner for paper towel. "What do you want, Tansy?" she demanded from cleaning her face. The blonde took that for license and entered the workshop and shut the door.
"Your help," she managed after a long moment. That shocked Elaine out of her cleaning by the sink to turn and look at her. "And...and to apologize. I...you and I...look, I'm sorry."
Lanie squirted some hand sanitizer into her hand from the dispenser and returned to conversational distance, rubbing it into her hands. "What is this?" she demanded flatly. "If you're trying to play me, you'll regret it, Ah'm in no mood..."
Strangely, the blonde didn't get angry. In fact, she seemed contrite and looked away from the redhead's fierce stare. "I'm not trying to play you," she protested. "I...I guess you could say I joined Bitches Anonymous and I'm on Step Nine."
"Carmen?" Lanie asked the air. Tansy started when a disembodied voice began to speak.
"I will make direct amends to the people on the list I made of who I have harmed wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others," the computer stated flatly.
"That was fast," Elaine replied after a measuring glance.
Tansy shrugged. "I'm an exemplar." She looked up at Lanie and then back at the floor. "If...if you have any doubt about what you did to protect your mind don't. I can't sense you at all. It's like you're not there, and it's kind of creepy to be honest."
Walcutt saw the rage flush across the other girls face and backed off, throwing up her hands. "I'm not using my powers! I swear to God! I'm...I'm also an empath so I 'hear' people around me! It's purely passive, I swear!"
"If you try to mess with mah mind, so help me Ah will..."
"God! I swear! I'm just trying to apologize and beg for help! Beg! Damn it!" Elaine saw the tears fill her eyes and despite her temper, it was not in her nature to be sadistic. Her expression softened and she pulled out the stool on that side of the table and gestured to it.
"Do you want something to drink?" she asked.
"Do you have any vodka?" she asked as she sank onto the stool and sagged under what seemed like the weight of the world. Elaine paused on her way to the little dorm fridge by the sink.
"I thought you were on a twelve step program?"
She had her head in her hands as if she didn't have the strength to sit up on her own. Despite herself, Elaine wondered when it was she'd slept last. "I haven't given up alcohol yet, just bitchiness."
"How about a rum and coke without the rum?"
"I'll take it." Elaine removed a pair of cans from the fridge and opened it before sliding it across the table to her odd guest. "You shouldn't open a can like that," Tansy said immediately as she dug for a straw in her purse and opened it for the can. "You'll break a nail."
Loophole smirked. "Not these Ah won't," she replied. "Now, what is this you want to apologize to me about?"
The blonde took a sip through the straw, conscious of not smearing her lipstick, and sighed. "I guess I should have known you wouldn't want the abridged version. Ok, I'm sorry about attacking Greasy..."
"Tell him," Lanie ordered gruffly. Oddly, Solange didn't argue, but rather nodded, resigned to it.
"I will. I'm sorry for everything I called you last year. You are actually a really good photographer and I guess I was jealous of Debra when I saw your work. And...and I'm really very sorry for walking into your dark room. I lied to Mr. Parker when I said I didn't see the warning light lit; I did it on purpose."
Lanie's face suffused with anger. "Five hours Ah worked for those shots, Walcutt! Do you know what Ah had to lie in to get those angles...!"
"You...you were going to beat Naomi...!"
"Ah deserved to beat Freeze Frame!" Lanie shouted back. "Anders can kiss mah lily-white ass, god damn you, Tansy, Ah...!"
A tear rolled down Tansy's face. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "Do you want to hit me? Will that make it better?"
"Don't tempt us!" she snarled in a different, earthy voice that didn't have her normal accent.
Tansy flinched as she remembered Kayda saying she had bound a spirit into Loophole, and realized that she had just heard that spirit speaking. She wasn't dealing with one person anymore and kicked herself mentally not to forget it. "Please..." she whispered. "Please, I need your help..."
"With what?" Lanie demanded in her old tone of voice. She stood suddenly and turned her back, obviously trying to master her temper. "God! Why do Ah care? What good has ever come from listening to you! Or your little lickspittles, Flicker and Fade!"
"Because I know who he is!" she declared desperately. "Hekate's Master," she added, seeing the confusion on the other girl's face. "The...the thing that gave her that spell, his...his name is Nimbus! He's down here somewhere, one of the..."
"There's no-one named 'Nimbus' on the Engineer track," she replied, disgusted. She snatched the folded paper off the desk and opened it to read.
"It's probably a codename," Tansy persisted. "I was down here look for the three pests and the Don's been crowing about how he had figured out who Hekate's Master was and they met, down here..."
"And you saw him?" Elaine snapped.
"Uh...no..." Tansy admitted. She shuddered. "But I heard him," she admitted in a whisper. "And I don't ever want to again, but we have to. That's why I need your help!" She sighed. "I know, you don't have any reason to trust me and I've given you plenty not to, but I'm being honest with you Loophole, I'm...I'm trying to not be the monster I've become anymore!"
The redhead sighed. "Lanie," she muttered.
"Mah name is Elaine, but people call me Lanie. Ah...Ah don't care for mah codename."
"Tell me about it," the blonde muttered. "If I ever get my hands on that French son-of-a-bitch..."
Elaine raised an eyebrow. "That sounds like an interesting story," she remarked, holding up the folded paper. "But Ah don't have time to hear it just now. A friend needs mah help, so Ah have to go." She sighed. "If you're serious about this, meet me and Cody at the edge of the woods south of Melville, tonight after dinner. Say six o'clock."
Tansy was confused. "Why out in the woods?"
"We won't be overheard," Lanie replied. "And Tansy, this is your second chance. Don't blow it."
"I won't, I swear."
May 5th, 2007 - afternoon
Kayda's Hometown, South Dakota
A solitary figure walked lightly through the small copse of trees sheltering the small house from the north and west and pulled out a cell phone. In a moment, a number was dialed.
"Yes?" the male voice on the other end answered simply.
"I know, Grey Skies."
"They reached a quick verdict. The prosecutor didn't press for true justice."
Grey Skies frowned. "Only one of the boys was given a lightsentence for assault, with deferred adjudication."
"Which means what?"
"They didn't even try to press for the insult against her. And if that boy keeps his nose clean, it will be as if the conviction never happened."
"So what do we do, Grey Skies?" The man sounded angry and frustrated.
Grey Skies' frown deepened. "Now? For now, return to your homes. We have preparations to make. They have insulted our Ptesanwi. They refuse to confess or to atone - except the one boy who shows honor. The rest of them - and the town - have asked for war, so we shall give it to them. "
May 5th, 2007 - About 2:00 pm
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
It was the strange dance of people dodging each other in the hallways - Jamie going one way and Hank the other. First both attempted to dodge to the south, and seeing themselves still blocked, they instinctively dodged north. Once more to the south, and then Hank plastered himself, back-first, against the south wall. "After you," he said, gesturing that his roommate could pass him on the other side of the corridor.
Jamie nodded. "No thank you," he said in his sometimes-contrary phrasing.
"You look like you're in a hurry." Hank interjected quickly. "Meeting someone?"
"There is no hurry," Jamie replied. "And I'm not meeting anyone, especially not Pejuta."
"Ah, I see." Hank was, by now, quite used to Jamie's backwards speech, and easily negated the sentence. "I haven't seen her this morning," he added. "Where are you supposed to meet her?"
"She didn't send me a note telling me not to meet her, but not in Arena 77."
Hank frowned. "Wait, she told you NOT to come?" He wrinkled his face in puzzlement. "That doesn't make sense."
"I must not go," Jamie replied. "I will be early if I rush."
"K. Don't let me hold you up. See you later?"
"No," Jamie said nonchalantly. "I have a ton of things to do this afternoon, and I can't just hang out watching your old war movies."
Hank chuckled to himself as Jamie scurried down the hall. As roommates went, he could have had a lot stranger one. Jamie was mostly quiet, and apart from the backward talking, he was okay in Hank's book. Besides, Hank thought with a grin, Jamie was really getting into his collection of old war videos.
May 5th, 2007 - About 2:00 pm
The Nations Sweat Lodge Whateley Academy
Elaine couldn't help but wonder about this odd behavior from Tansy as she walked out to the sweat lodge The Nations had built. Tansy was the chief reason she hadn't been taking as many photography classes this year after the constant snide comments last year. And Mr. Parker was fond of cross-teaching so his photographers shot _all_ the models. There was no escape from it. As far as Elaine was concerned, helping Cody snatch the Alphas away from her had been a public service, something she'd been proud of.
Or it had been until it cost Elaine her best friend.
Lanie winced as her stray thought opened the raw wound of her lost friend. She had only seen Maggie once since the night she had found the note, and Maggie had changed direction so as not to come into conversational distance. She wasn't sure how she would react if Maggie were at the lodge... Elaine frowned, suddenly wondering if Kayda's request for her help was the Lakota girl trying to patch up the rift between the two. That would be awkward to say the least. "And just like her, something she'd do, try'n to be helpful," she admitted to herself, fishing out her iPhone and dialing Kayda's number. The call went to voice mail so Elaine hung up. More and more, this was feeling like Kayda trying to be helpful.
But the feelings were so raw right now, and her temper... Elaine was starting to be afraid of her temper. Afraid of how quickly her blood would boil. She sighed again and put a smile on her face. Kayda was trying to help - she saw friends in distress and she was doing her best to make things right. That's what mattered. That's how she would handle it, she decided as she arrived at the timber and leather building and swept aside the flap, "Kayda Ah appreciate..." she started, which was as far as she got before she was stunned into immobility.
The lodge was warm, which was nice after the brisk fifty degree New Hampshire spring outside, and even though it was warm enough, Elaine was startled to find the young Lakota girl naked. And somewhere in the back of Elaine's suddenly-foggy mind, she seemed like she remembered there were some indigenous rituals that were done 'sky clad', and having been nude with Kayda before, it wasn't so surprising to find her that way here.
It was very, very much surprising to find her laying back on a fur that was spread out over the ground and masturbating furiously.
"Ah...Ah..."stammered Elaine as the dusky skinned girl looked up at her like a starving man might eye a banquet table, laden with food before eating himself to death. Lanie spun around, her hand, the hand she'd opened the flap with itching oddly, the room was so warm her jacket was becoming uncomfortable. "Ah'm sorry, Ah didn't realize..." she stammered.
"Lanie," whimpered Kayda. "I can't...I need you!"
"Ah should go..." she forced herself to say, her mind seeing the glistening sweat covering the dusky skin of the younger girl like a coat of diamonds. Her voice wasn't very loud, she wasn't even sure she'd said it out loud.
Her hands were on Lanie's shoulders, pulling on the jacket, trying to disrobe her. "I can't," Kayda whispered. "I can't stop...!"
Within her, Grizzly roared and Lanie felt her holding her from the front, even as Kayda's hands slid the jacket off her, then slowly came up her front to cup a breast in each hand. Lanie! Sweetheart! Stay with me! Grizzly roared. You have to focus...!
Elaine's nipples were so hard they ached as the girl behind her pressed her body against Elaine's and kneaded them. She moaned in pleasure as Kayda's hands slipped under her shirt and bra so she could feel the other girl's skin against her own. Wyatt's hands were huge and strong and sometimes his need could make things rough, and sometimes, she admitted to herself, she liked rough, but a woman's hands were so soft and so gentle, and having breasts of their own, women knew just exactly how to handle things. "Kay...Kayda," she panted. It was becoming hard to think. It was becoming hard to do anything that wasn't getting her clothes off and accepting this gift she was being given.
Her lips and tongue laid a smoldering kiss on Lanie's neck from behind. "Don't...fight..." she panted. "You...you...want me...don't you?"
"Oh, God yes," the redhead whispered.
LANIE! Roared Grizzly in her ear. Her eyes lidded in slits through the pleasant haze she saw her spirit's brown eyes locked with hers, worried and fearful, and...and Kayda arched her wrists causing Elaine's bra to pop up her chest, freeing her breasts from confinement as her fingers found and pinched her nipples. Lanie you have to run! Get outside! In the fresh air!
"Ah want her," she admitted to her spirit as Kayda's fingers sent electric jolts up and down her nervous system from where the Lakota girl had ahold of her.
Fight! Fight, baby you can do it!
"De...Debra," she managed as she was relieved of her shirt and bra.
Kayda turned her slowly so the girls were face to face as her head lowered. "She'll understand," Kayda breathed, her air warm on the nipple her mouth covered and began to suckle. Elaine arched her back, her neck thrown backwards in a desperate attempt to give the other woman total access to her breast. Her hands were running through the silky, ebony hair cradling the girl against her.
The warmth spread from Elaine's hand and kept her comfortable as she was relieved of her jeans and panties. She looked down and locked eyes with her lover as Kayda raised off one breast on her way to the other. "Wy...Wyatt..." she whimpered. Kayda's tongue snaked out to bathe her areola, cruelly ignoring her aching nipple. She reached up with the hand she had been using on herself and drug it across Lanie's lips.
"I don't care if he joins us," Kayda panted in an earthy, lust-filled haze. "Later." Lanie's lips parted and for the first time Lanie tasted the other girl from her fingers, just as Kayda's tongue attacked her nipple.
Elaine's mind exploded in orgasm as her willpower was shattered and her only thought was feeling her lover and letting Kayda feel her in return. She was so enmeshed in her lust that it didn't register on her that Kayda hadn't freaked out at the thought of Wyatt, but had actually acted like she'd be glad if he joined them. The girls sank down into the fur intent only on their rut, lost in mindless lust, desperate to be sated. They turned and held each other as each consumed the other, perfect and timeless.
May 5th, 2007 - About 2:15 pm
Arena 77, Tunnels between Schuster Hall and Doyle Medical , Whateley Academy
Jamie Carson glanced again at the note in his hand as he walked through the tunnels. What on earth was that girl doing that she'd so expressly forbidden him to see? To most kids, a note like that tickled their curiosity. To Jamie, Heyoka, the contrary one, it did far more. Heyoka did almost everything in a contrary fashion to teach the People to question every aspect of their lives. And because of many awkward experiences, most of the students and staff understood and made allowances for his odd habit. And so Heyoka, by his very nature, did exactly the opposite of what he was told.
He paused, looking up sharply, his eyes darting around; it felt like there was someone nearby, watching him, but seeing no-one, he continued his journey through the tunnels. Like the other arena, Arena 77 was off the main avenues in the tunnel system, unlike many of the other lab and warrens that were difficult, if not impossible, to find.
Jamie nodded in greeting to the people he passed; on a Saturday in the spring, very few people were in the tunnels because they'd much rather be outside enjoying the weather. And there were few devisors and gadgeteers either; those types were apt to be in their labs from morning through curfew - and some beyond the bedtime hour. Some of them, he thought, needed to learn about relaxing and balancing their lives. Unfortunately, as he'd already discovered when he'd attempted to teach a couple of the gadgeteers through contrary behavior, the lessons either went over the head of one and was interpreted as mocking by the other, which led to a chase with a narrow escape from a possible thrashing.
It was so much easier with the People, who knew how to interpret the actions of the Sacred Clown.
Which led Jamie right back to the note. What was she up to? It wasn't right for one spirit sacred to the People to exclude another. Then he realized that she would have commanded him to NOT do what she wanted him to do. So she would be expecting him! If she was thinking contrary like Heyoka. But if she wasn't, then she didn't want him at whatever meeting or event she'd been planning.
After pondering the confusing dilemma for a while, Jamie arrived at the main entrance to Arena 77. For a moment, he debated whether to go to the stands or to the arena floor, but then he reasoned that if the meeting or event or whatever was held in the arena, it had to be because the arena had something that wasn't in a normal classroom or meeting room, and that something had to be the large arena floor.
Jamie stepped briskly to the door leading to the arena floor and pressed a button. "Close the door," he said to the computer.
"The arena door is closed," the computer replied mechanically.
Times like this made Jamie want to scream. Having that contrary spirit in him was so frustrating at times. Though he'd had months of practice, he still tended to say things in a contrary way to his true meaning. Only Ptesanwi understood his contrariwise speech. And computers? They were absolutely hopeless with his backward speaking habit. He thought about closing the door. "Open the door," he said automatically.
In response, the computer opened the portal leading to the floor of the massive arena.
Someone had already started the default program for the arena, which didn't bother Jamie at all. The arena floor was a huge blank room, which meant that ambushes and surprises were unlikely.
"Is this empty?" Heyoka asked, wondering if anyone else - especially she - was present. There was no reply.
Glancing at his watch and figuring that he was early, Jamie marched to the center of the arena floor and sat down to wait.
He didn't have to wait long. The door opened, but as Jamie jumped to his feet to greet her, the door closed again without anyone having entered. It seemed most peculiar; Jamie paused, trying to find an aura, which would show if she'd used one of her spells. The sound of running footsteps - far too fast for a person - broke his concentration.
May 5th, 2007 - Mid-Afternoon
Supreme Pizza, 244 Main St, Berlin, New Hampshire
Being released from his keeper had opened a world of possibilities for the Don. First he'd gone to the G-Mart across the street and purchased a disposable pre-paid phone with cash. Then he'd come to this little hole-in-the-wall 'establishment' that he refused to dignify with the word restaurant. It was, however, quiet, discreet, and there was no-one else from the school here. He took from his pocket a small device that one of the little workshop sluts had built for him trying to prove her affection and put it on the table. Anyone pointing a microphone at him would get an earful of static now. He ordered a beverage and slice of pizza he had no intention of eating and set about getting the phone set up.
Once that was finished he called a number he'd memorized some time ago, grinning as the line connected to a growl of "What do you want?"
"Why, Kally," he purred. "Is that anyway to talk to your liberator?"
The pure, unadulterated hatred in her voice was music to his ears. "Don't call me that," Hekate hissed in a rage. "And I don't need your help, Sebastianio, I'll be free from this prison of Darrow's soon enough, and when I am...!"
"Kallysta, my dear, you wound me!" protested The Don. "And besides, don't you really want to know who you should take your vengeance on...?"
"Come between me and Nikki Reilly and die Sebastianio!"
"I wouldn't dream of it, my dear!" he assured her. "But who was it that really betrayed you, eh? Fey was merely a cat's-paw at best. An unlucky underestimation of too powerful an enemy, unless..."
"Fey is not more powerful...!" she snarled.
"My dear, you are imprisoned in the basement of a psychopath; the question of power is moot at this point," he said reasonably. "But, who led you to believe you could best her? Who withheld key knowledge that set about your downfall? Who was the one who put you in that position in the first place?" The pause over the line was long and while she was too far away for his powers to actually sense, The Don knew Hekate well, and all of her strings and buttons.
"What are you saying?" she asked in small voice.
The Don smiled. "I know who your mentor is," he told her smugly. "That is who withheld the information, that was who tossed you aside when you weren't useful anymore. And while he knows that I know..."
"You fool!" she snapped. "You tried to blackmail him, didn't you?"
"There were miscalculations, I grant you..."
"I will be free of my prison soon enough," she growled. "Tell me who this maggot is that thinks he can trifle with me!"
"Not so fast, my dear," The Don continued. "You and I are the most perfect of teams. If I tell you, you'll be tempted to have your revenge before you're ready. But, together..."
The line was silent for a long while again. "I see you got a disposable phone," she admitted.
"I am not without some guile," The Don smiled. "My chief issue at this point is he has set something watching me. It can't leave the warding of the school, so I can only contact you when I'm off campus..."
"I'll be back at school next year," Hekate purred. "Not that anyone will know until my blade is in their backs to the hilt! Now, this thing you mention, I presume no-one else can see it?"
"Yes..." he admitted warily.
"It's called a...well it doesn't matter what it's real name is, you couldn't pronounce it anyway! Think of it as a Watcher. I will divert it, never fear. And Sebastianio, don't think you can dangle that traitor from me as a way of controlling me..."
"My dear," he protested. "I would never think of such a thing! More importantly, we are better off together, the better to rule this campus and then...!" He sighed, letting himself dream large, expensive dreams. "How will you accomplish your escape and how may I help you?"
May 5th, 2007 - Mid-Afternoon
Room 302, Emerson Cottage, Whateley Academy
Darren was beside himself.
As he had watched the two girls from the camera he had skillfully placed he finally understood why some men obsessed with lesbians. The quality was certainly not of any comparison to the porn he had seen on the internet, and of the three cameras he'd planted only one had a good shot and the lighting was not particularly good. But while it might not compete in technical details, it had something few of those movies could lay claim to; passion, raw unadulterated passion.
These were not actors, preforming for a camera, these were two girls in the throes of the very essence of lust incarnate. Darren tried to focus on his hatred of Kayda, tried to remember his goals, but it was all for naught. His own member ached from its erection and it was all the boy could do to not rush to the sweat lodge and join in.
But what kept from it was the edge of desperation in the two girls as they writhed on the bear-skin rug, rolling from seduction to arousal to climax to seduction over and over and over again. Darren had lost count of the number of times he was sure they had climaxed, and yet it never seemed to satisfy them and they seemed to realize it and were becoming afraid themselves. Finally, throats horse and raw they called out a final time and first Kayda, then Elaine actually passed out from the exertion.
Darren shuddered and was grateful he'd maintained control over himself. Finally he understood the demon half of lust-demon. He looked over at the small safe he'd purchased from G-Mart that held the remaining essence from Sara and wondered he needed to invest in something stronger.
Something on the order of Fort Knox maybe.
He copied the video to a pair of flash drives - one he put in the safe with the jar, careful not to touch it, the other he sealed in an envelope that was labeled Watch Me. Time to get his patsy for her final performance.
May 5th, 2007 - About 2:45 pm
Arena 77, Tunnels between Schuster Hall and Doyle Medical , Whateley Academy
Marty and Steve were in fine spirits when they arrived at the control panel for Arena 77. They'd been intending a basic kind of light workout, just something for fun before their date in Berlin that evening. Things were going better than either of them imagined, better than either had any real right to expect they should. They had won the rarest of genetic lotteries, and likely would never had met if not for the fact of their mutation.
Marty took both his hands and twirled, leaning against the wall with their hands high over her head as though he had pinned her there. She looked up, her blue eyes deep and endless as she panted softly in a crazy mix of excitement, apprehension and fear. The fear every T-Girl knew that no matter how well things were going, they could all fall apart. She looked up into his green eyes, deep behind the mask he wore and wondered again what she could possibly have seen in the bigot Bobby 'Iron Star' Hastings.
He leaned down until their noses were only apart by millimeters. "You're trembling," he told her softly.
"I'm afraid," she admitted. "Afraid I'm dreaming and that I'll wake up and find that Lanie is an only child and that I'm still chasing a bigot who would hate me if he knew who and what I was..."
"You're smarter than that," he scolded and then their lips met and he still had her hands over her head so she could only stand against the wall and be kissed. Their lips parted with a soft smack and he smiled at her. "And you're not dreaming."
Her pants turned into gasps and she couldn't take her eyes off him. "Oh yes I am," she whispered. "Dreaming of you and me and...oh such wonderful dreams."
His smile would melt a glacier. "Well, I hope I live up to them!"
She hooked her leg behind his buttocks and used it to pull them together and grind against each other. And even through the cup he was wearing she could feel him react to her. A dry tongue licked dry lips. "I'm sure you'll measure up..." she commented, dripping innuendo. "There...there are other ways to work out you know..."
"Miss Penn," he chided with that little half smile that melted her heart. "A southern man does nothing in half measures! And despite our bellicose reputations, we do in fact know how to wait, and we have a keen eye to know the best things worth waiting for." With his elbow he pressed the button. "Launch Stronghold workout program two."
"Unable to comply," the panel replied in a flat, monotone voice that was obviously computer generated. "Program is already running."
"What program is running?" he asked, releasing her hands and letting her stand away from the wall. "Who is running it?"
"Default workspace one is running," the panel declared. "Running occupant unknown."
"Open door," he commanded, sharing a glance with the girl at his side. The heavy door opened with a hydraulic whine revealing a blank, featureless white room in the center of which lay a body in a pool of blood. Marty squealed and rushed forward, despite Steve's attempt to grab her and keep her from seeing it. He rushed forward to see a young student. A girl, he could see now, with black hair that was matted with dried blood around an ax or hatchet of some kind that was buried in her skull. Lifeless eyes stared vacantly and forever at the ceiling. And that would have been horrific enough, but the poor girl had been brutally disemboweled as well and her intestines spilled out in the pool of blood.
It was easily the most horrific thing either had ever seen.
Marty spun away from the gristly sight and buried her face into Steve's chest. She sobbed and the young man swallowed to keep his lunch in his stomach and was unable to tear his eyes away. "Emergency!" he shouted at the ceiling. "Summon paramedics and security!"
Steve swallowed hard, grimacing at the awful sight before him; he was no doctor, but he was certain no doctor would be able to help this poor girl. "Security, this Sergeant Harris, state your name and the nature of your emergency."
"This is Stronghold. I'm with Mega Girl in Arena 77 we...we've just discovered the body of a student."
"Body?" the sergeant asked quietly. "Is there anything you..."
"No," Steve declared flatly. "She...she's been..."
"She's been practically cut in half!" Marty shouted.
"Stay where you are, squads are coming. Are you in any danger?"
"No, there's no-one else here," Steve replied.
After a long pause, Sergeant Harris asked, "Do you know who the student is?"
"Jamie," Marty said quietly. "Jamie Carson. It's Heyoka."