Monday, May 7, 2007 - Early Morning
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
Slowly, sound penetrated Kayda's sleep-addled mind, fighting to stir her from her exhaustion-induced slumber. The song playing on the alarm made no sense to her at all; it was familiar in a way, but certainly not as something to rouse her from her sleep. It didn't help to wake her that the song was slow, unlike what she usually awoke to.
Out of habit, Kayda reached toward her desk - situated conveniently behind the headboard of her bed, groping for her alarm clock so she could silence the disturbance and let herself fall back into the land of nod. Frustratingly, though, she couldn't find the alarm clock, and her groping became more desperate as she tried to find the offending device. But the song wasn't that bad as morning wakeup songs went. Still, being different, it was making it harder for her to sleep in.
Across the room, her roommate wasn't stirring, or if she was, she was playing possum, lying in bed trying to eke out the last few minutes of rest before it was truly time to get out of bed. Kayda shook her head as she tried to wrap her pillow around her ears to get a few more moments of blissful peace. Tendrils of light were snaking through small gaps among and around the drapes, which weren't nearly opaque anyway, so the room was bathed in a morning glow which made sleep -once Kayda was awakened - rather difficult. Still, she tried to ignore the light and the music and let herself rest, if only a few moments longer. After a bit, the soulful sound of Ray Charles singing Georgia on my Mind faded away, leaving the girl hoping grateful for one less distraction.
That gratitude faded almost immediately when another song came on, replacing the first. Kayda wanted to scream in frustration, but she knew that Evvie would get annoyed. It didn't quite sink in that she wasn't with Evvie in her room, but had a different roommate with far different taste in music. Somehow, despite still feeling exhausted after a long night's sleep, the music was in a way soothing, rich and soulful and making her want to go back to sleep, at least through the remainder of the song. It ended soon enough, but just as Kayda uncovered her ears, another song came on, loud and boisterous and definitely enough to wake anyone in earshot.
"Ah'm up," a voice called out wearily and unconvincingly from the opposite side of the room, as if out of habit of reassuring a roommate or parent that she was indeed awake - finally. The Lakota girl opened her eyes a crack and stared across the room, watching a tall, very curvy redhead lever herself to a sitting position and stretch, showing off in the process her generous breasts that jiggled and bounced as she lifted her arms above her head and took a deep breath.
The radio gave no solace; it was as if the lack of Georgia-related music would release Lanie from the land of the living to drift back to sleep. Either that, or Lanie had deliberately picked the selection of music just to demonstrate her love of her home state. As Lanie pulled her sleep shirt over her head, the MP3 player continued it's 'hit parade' of 'Georgia Redneck' theme music.
An amused little smile crept across Lanie's features as she dropped her sleep T onto her bed, lowering her arms. "Enjoyin' the show?" she asked, looking directly at the girl who was lying quietly on her side, trying not to be obvious staring at the redhead.
"Um ... I ... I was ..." Kayda stammered, knowing she'd been caught admiring Lanie but still desperately trying to find an excuse. "I wasn't staring ...."
"Sure," Lanie chuckled, standing and pulling off her panties and slipping off her robe. "Besides, it's nothin' you haven't seen before, right?"
Kayda blushed so brightly she figured she could be seen from orbit. "Do you like embarrassing me?" she asked in mock indignation.
"Whenever possible, yes," Lanie chuckled. "You look so cute and innocent when you're blushing." She grabbed her toiletries bag and stood by the door. "Now get up. You can't leave mah side, even when we're showering, and Ah'm goin' to shower, so you have t' go too."
Kayda pulled back her covers. "Eep!" she cried in surprise, startled to discover that she was naked except for her panties, which elicited a chuckle from the redhead. "Um," she asked, knowing her cheeks were still red, "how ... how did I get here? And ... like this ... in bed?" She arched an eyebrow. "You ... didn't ....?"
Lanie smiled, unoffended by the implication that she'd taken liberties with her temporary roommate. "You fell asleep on mah shoulder during the movie," she explained. "And no, Ah didn't do anythin' funny. Wyatt carried you back here, and then Ah got you tucked in bed." There was a wistful tone to her voice, like she was fondly recalling the previous evening. That bliss lasted a few seconds until she realized that Kayda was staring at her in shock. "Ah was just thinkin'," she added hastily, "of how nice it was to be holdin' you and carin' for you, and thinkin' about someday having mah own child to care for and tuck in bed and kiss goodnight."
"Oh." Kayda sounded uncertain - a little flattered at how caring Lanie - and even Wyatt - were, and at the same time, perhaps a little disappointed that Lanie had been so darned decent and honorable and hadn't taken advantage.
"Now - Ah gave you a peep show, so get up and return the favor while you put on your robe and get ready to shower." She tried to leer at the smaller girl but she couldn't hold the expression and ended up giggling. "Really, we have to get showered and get breakfast."
Kayda slid her arms through the sleeves of her robe and then slipped off her panties. "I'm ... not hungry," she mumbled.
"You need to eat so you have strength for your victory dance tonight," Lanie said confidently and cheerfully. She grabbed Kayda's hand. "Come on."
"I wish it was after lunch," the smaller girl practically whispered as Lanie led her out of their temporary room and down the hall to the bathroom, to where a cacophony of teenage girls getting ready assaulted their ears when the door opened.
"Hey, Lanie," Angel said enthusiastically when she saw the two enter, turning from the shower line and giving the redhead a hug. "I heard rumors that you were visiting for a while."
Lanie shrugged. "Official duty," she reported. "Ah have to escort Kayda until the hearing is over."
"Ooooohhhhh!" a couple of girls cooed suggestively.
"Sorry, girls, it's not like that," Lanie said, shaking her head. "Carson's orders. It's official business."
"And here I thought the rumors were true and that you were making a little love nest," Shove joked. "Based on the way you were checking her out at the hot tub, I thought you might have succeeded."
Kayda was blushing, but Lanie shook her head. "Girls, much as Ah wish Kayda and Ah were an item," she said seriously, "this ain't no laughin' matter. Someone's tryin' to frame Kayda for killin' Heyoka, and she's only out of a security cell because Ah'm a federal air marshal." She saw the girls winding up to ask questions. "And no, Kayda didn't kill Heyoka. Ah know that with one hundred percent certainty."
Diamanta's eyes widened as realization hit home. "So the rumors ...." Her mouth hung open in surprise, unable to finish.
Lanie drew a breath to speak, but Kayda's hand on her arm startled her momentarily, and when she looked at the smaller Lakota girl, she understood. "They're true," Kayda answered softly, for the first time not looking down, no matter how much her cheeks burned, because she so desperately wanted to be strong like her friend. "We were ... together. Almost the whole afternoon." She saw the inquisitive and suggestive stares, the subtle signs that some of the girls were going to ask more questions, and it took all her willpower to not look down blushing, but to look directly at the girls. "It was ... some kind of compulsion. I know you've all got a lot of questions, but if you don't mind," she preempted any further inquiry, "I'd rather not talk about it." She realized that she was shaken from just answering that question, and it rattled her confidence - what little she had - about how she would handle the questioning in the hearing later that day.
While the other girls backed off a wee bit, respecting Kayda's wish for privacy, Naomi boldly stepped forward and swept the Lakota girl into a huge hug, ignoring the fact that she was nude. "Are you okay?" she whispered softly. "We're all worried about you, and we know you didn't do it."
The embrace - a tender gesture of support and concern - made Kayda's eyes start to water. "I appreciate it," she replied, her voice trembling a bit. That gesture broke the ice, and all the girls lined up to hug Kayda - Angel, Wallflower, Shove, Diamanta, and all the others - one at a time and with heartfelt concern, reducing Kayda to a blubbering mess by the time it was her turn for a shower.
"Hey, Lanie!" Naomi sang out as the redhead hung up her robe. "When did you get the tats?"
"Yeah? What's up with them?" Angel asked, head slightly cocked, staring at the Celtic knot work tattoos encircling Lanie's biceps.
"Ya like 'em?" Lanie chuckled softly. "They're a gift," she said. "When mah spirit was bound to me, Ah got these as a bonus."
Eyes widened as nearly every girl goggled at the redhead. "Wait, you've got a spirit? You mean, you're an avatar?"
Elaine stepped to one side and wrapped her arm around Kayda's shoulders. "Thanks to mah Sister, Ah have the spirit of Grizzly to protect me."
Kayda realized the girls were staring at her again, wide-eyed at what Lanie had revealed. "Don't ask. I got in serious trouble over that, and I'm not going to do it again!"
Reluctantly, Kayda slid free of Lanie's arm - which was so comforting and felt so safe, and hung up her robe. Slowly, she became aware that a few of the girls were staring at her. "What?" she demanded, confused.
Shove winced a little, shrugging her shoulders. "Sorry, but, well, the girls on the second floor get to see you every day."
"And you don't, is that it?" Kayda sighed. "But ... quit gawking at me! Please."
"Girls," Lanie said sternly, "c'mon. Give her some peace. Kayda's got a hella day ahead of her, and she doesn't need to start it being ogled and gawked at."
"You just want her all for yourself," Destry chuckled. "But really, can you blame us? She is a very attractive girl!"
Kayda slipped from Lanie's arm and into an open shower stall, aware that eyes were still glued to her. It made her feel like she was on display in a meat market, like she had at the hot-tub party when all the girls had been so blatantly checking her out. And yet .....
The door opened again, and Lanie started to step into the shower stall. "If you wash mah back, Ah'll wash yours," she said with a deliciously wicked grin. "And maybe your front, too!"
Kayda's jaw dropped. "Lanie!" she protested.
"Ah was told Ah have to stay with you all the time," Lanie said with a grin. Several of the other girls guffawed at the look of horror on Kayda's face. The tall redhead let her panic for a moment before she stepped back out of the stall. "Just kiddin'." Instead, she stepped into the adjoining shower stall which was conveniently empty.
Despite being intimidated because of her past, and her exhaustion, and her upcoming ordeal in the hearing, a tiny part of Kayda sneaked a tiny smile onto her face. These girls were confirming what she'd been so long in denying, but which her friend Lanie accepted so easily - she was an attractive girl. What was more, she slowly was realizing that she enjoyed feeling attractive, or at least a part of her did.
Lanie noticed. As the two of them dressed for the day, back in their room - both in regular school uniforms and Kayda skipping her warrior markings, Lanie chuckled. "You enjoyed the girls staring at you in the bathroom, didn't you?"
"I ... I didn't," Kayda stammered, shocked at Lanie's speculative words. "It's ...."
"You enjoyed it," Lanie repeated, more certainly this time. "Don't lie to me, Sister. Ah could see it in your face and in your posture."
Kayda's gaze fell. "I ... I'm ... so confused," she admitted. "I shouldn't like it, but ... I kind of do. It's ... nice to feel like I'm attractive enough to get attention."
Lanie lifted the Lakota girl's chin until the two were staring eye-to-eye. "You are attractive, Kayda," she assured the shorter girl. "You're smart, you're fun - when you're not wallowing in depression or having PTSD attacks. You've got so much going for you - if you only let yourself realize it." Though a huge part of her wanted to kiss the shorter girl, Lanie drew her into a tight embrace, cheek-to-cheek. "You're very, very special, and it's about time that you started realizing it."
Kayda tried to nod affirmatively, but she couldn't quite manage. "Lanie," she said softly, "I'm scared." Her voice trembled, accentuating the nervous expression darkening her features. "What if I never get my magic or my spirits back? It hurts, Lanie! It hurts real bad! It's empty where my magic was, and it's empty when I can't talk to my spirits! I can't ... I can't ...." She was fighting a losing battle against tears. "I ... can't do it! If I can't get them back, I don't want ...." She shook her head slowly, seemingly with no energy. "All I want is for it to stop hurting."
"Hush!" Lanie held Kayda, alarmed by the shorter girl's very dark mood - almost like she was psychologically giving up. "Everything is going to be okay."
"What if they don't believe us? What if Mrs. Carson has to hand me over to the MCO?"
"Hush," Lanie said softly, clutching her friend tightly. "She won't, and you know it. We've got enough evidence to show that you weren't anywhere near Arena 77."
"But ... that means ... everyone will know!"
Lanie nodded. "And you shouldn't give two shits for what anyone else thinks."
"I don't know how," the shorter girl whimpered. "I'm not strong. Not like you."
"If you remember," the redhead chuckled, "until a couple of weeks ago, Ah was kind of a neurotic mess mahself." She clutched Kayda tightly. "If Ah can learn how to be confident in mahself, then Ah know you can do it, too."
Kayda nodded, sniffling from the few tears that leaked down her cheeks. "I ... I feel confident when you're holding me," she said wistfully, "but not when I'm alone."
"Then Ah'll give you a hug whenever you need one," Lanie promised. She released the girl, backing off a half-step. "Now finish getting dressed so we can go eat. You might not be hungry, but Ah am."
May 7th, 2007
Joe Foss Field, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Pacing back and forth in the open walkway was doing Pete no good except to physically vent some of his pent-up frustration and anxiety. Emotionally, though, he was still a wreck inside. Glancing around didn't help; the boarding area was quite crowded, making it highly unlikely that he and June would get on the flight. He stopped in front of June, who was doing her fretting trying to read a magazine - unsuccessfully. "I told them that if they have one opening, that they don't have to take us both, and that you'll get the seat."
June nodded. "Yes, dear," she said, trying her best to be patient. "You told me."
"You're her mother. You can help her more than I can," Pete continued.
To the side, the gate attendant opened the door to the jetway, signifying that the plane was going to start boarding. Slowly, a throng began to form around the door to the jetway. Pete and June didn't join them; they were still waiting hopefully that someone wouldn't show up and that they'd manage to get on board.
"June?" a voice called from down the hall. June Franks turned apprehensively toward the voice, and relief flooded her face when she recognized the caller.
"Deb!" she said, practically leaping to her feet and running to hug the younger woman. "What are you doing here?" she asked as the two embraced.
"I suspect the same thing you are," Deb replied, her voice trembling. "Our girl is in trouble, and our place is with her."
"Damn!" June swore. "I should have called you last night! I'm sorry."
"Don't be," Deb reassured Kayda's mom. "We've both been awfully worried since we got the news." There was something in her voice which concerned June, a subtle hint of dread that didn't quite make sense to June. It was understandable that Deb was as worried as June and Pete, but Deb seemed far more rattled than that.
"You on standby, too?" Pete asked, getting a confirming nod from Deb. "Okay." He turned and approached the ticket counter again. After a bit of animated discussion, he returned. "I switched your place with mine on the standby list. She needs you more than she needs her daddy," he said, trying to feign a smile. The look on Deb's face was unabashed gratitude at his thoughtfulness.
"Have you heard anything else?" June took Debra's arm, and the two started pacing, while Pete sat down in June's vacated chair to watch the carry-on luggage.
Debra nodded. "A ... friend," she almost choked on the word, "with a spirit dream-walked with me last night." Her lower lip trembled at the memories of what Lanie had told her. "I know she didn't do it," she said confidently. "Because she has an alibi." Her voice cracked on the last bit, leaving June to wonder what that alibi was if it frightened Deb so.
Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on point of view, at that moment June's cell phone rang. "Hello?" she said hesitantly after fishing it out of her purse.
"Mrs. Franks? Michiko Shugendo from Whateley here."
June winced; getting a personal call was unexpected. "What's going on?" she blurted out, unable to control her anxiety.
"I wanted to personally give you status of the investigation," Mrs. Shugendo answered calmly. She didn't want to alarm Mrs. Franks unnecessarily. "We've got a top-notch former detective from the NYPD working the case, and we've uncovered a number of clues that show that your daughter has an alibi, and that someone attempted to frame her."
June almost collapsed with relief. "Oh, thank God!"
"Mrs. Carson has to start the evidentiary hearing this afternoon - due to some regulations and agreements, but we're sure that there's not enough evidence to proceed any further. It's not a done deal, because some of the ... evidence ... is ... sensitive," Mrs. Shugendo added carefully. "But we're very confident that we have enough to keep her out of external custody."
"Sensitive?" June's alarm level climbed again.
She could practically hear Mrs. Shugendo wince through the phone. "It's not something I'd like to discuss over the phone."
"Okay. We're on standby for two more flights today," June explained, "and we're absolutely confirmed for tomorrow. At the latest, we'll get in about two in the afternoon tomorrow."
"I wish you were already here; this has been very stressful for Kayda. We had to seal away her magic, and that broke her contact with her spirits, as well. She's ... under constant observation."
Mrs. Shugendo's last comment sounded bad to June; she didn't know just how bad, and that increased her motherly need to be with her daughter.
"I'll make sure the guest cottage has a suite ready for you," Mrs. Shugendo added.
"And one for Debra Matson," June added quickly. "She's coming out, too."
"Oookayyyyy," Mrs. Shugendo's voice couldn't hide her uneasiness at that bit of news. "I've got to get back to coordinating the investigation and Kayda's defense. I promise I'll call with any new information."
"Thanks," June said, relieved that Mrs. Shugendo was going to keep her informed. "Bye." She hung up the phone. She turned to her husband and Debra. "They're starting a hearing this afternoon to look at the evidence," she said nervously, "but Mrs. Shugendo said that everything is pointing to someone trying to frame Kayda. She said she'd keep me up to date."
Relief flooded Pete's and Debra's faces. "That's good news," Pete said.
June beckoned Debra to her, and the two walked to a secluded corner of an unoccupied gate's waiting area. "How was Kayda when you left her?"
Debra couldn't help but smile at the memory of Kayda's sweet face as they kissed goodbye, of the pleasant way they'd spent their last morning together, both in the boat and in the guest cottage. "She was ... very happy. I'd say that in the mood she was in, she couldn't possibly have killed anyone except in self-defense."
"You know what her alibi is, don't you?" June prompted
Deb drew a deep breath and held it for a second, wondering if she should tell June what she knew before realizing that she had to. "Yeah," she said, wincing. "Someone ... set a trap for Kayda. And a mutual friend," she added quickly. "They were drugged with some kind of demon serum - a lust demon." She saw June's eyes widen as the implication hit home. "Yeah. They ... spent a few hours - unable to control themselves."
"Was it a ... guy?" June asked, horrified at the thought of what sex with a guy would do to Kayda's fragile emotional and mental state.
"No," Deb answered, her voice sad. "It's a girl I knew from last year. She's ... a gadgeteer, like Kayda, and ... she's really ... pretty," she added, lowering her eyes. "The two of them have a lot in common, and they really hit it off at the hot tub party." Her voice choked a bit; she couldn't help but worry that Lanie was stealing her girlfriend away from her.
June's eyes widened. "And you're afraid ...."
"That Lanie is going to steal her away from me," Deb finished sadly.
June pulled Deb into a warm, motherly embrace. "Then we'll just have to make sure you get out to Whateley often enough that Kayda doesn't forget you, right? Because I hope you're not going to let Kayda go without a fight."
"Do you want me to start calling you 'Mom', too?" Deb joked even though she was a bit weepy, both from concern but more from gratitude at what June was offering her. It was like June already considered Deb part of the family.
June's smile could be felt through her hug. "If you want, dear," she said. "If you want." She tightened her embrace. "I don't know if this country will ever be free of anti-gay bigotry enough that you could be a couple, let alone be married," she whispered, "but I'd be honored to call you my daughter-in-law - even if it's only informal."
May 7th, 2007
Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
Sam reviewed the video from the tunnels surrounding Arena 77 for perhaps the thirtieth time, scanning each one individually. And just like every previous review, there was nothing out of the ordinary. That bothered Sam greatly, but she couldn't figure out why.
Frustrated that she was running out of time, she rewound the video and started to replay it. There was a cacophony of background noise - students talking, walking, doors in the side labs slamming - all with the normal forms of students walking around. It was normal - and that bugged Sam. There wasn't even a hint of someone bumping into anyone or anything invisible.
Even those clips that had no students had the noise of far-off doors opening and closing and the constant background loud hum of fans circulating air through the tunnels. It was as if a ghost had .....
Sam froze, suddenly remembering something an old friend, Captain John Robertson, US Navy (retired) had once told him. Captain Robertson was a skipper of a fast-attack boat, a nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarine, and his job was to find the enemy submarines that were trying to disappear into the background in the ocean. Sometimes over beers, they'd swap war stories, and Sam always left with an appreciation of the sophistication of the sound processing systems and the skill of the men that operated them - able to find the sound of a slightly-off-balance shaft, or a propeller with a tiny surface imperfection - all against the constant background noise of the ocean.
Sam knew instantly what to do. There had to be the sounds of footsteps hidden in all that noise. And the Navy sound processing systems should be able to tickle out those sounds. They were the best in the world - bar none. She let the hive slip into cyberspace. <Blue?>
It took only a moment for the student to reply. <What's up skipper?> Blue was the only student that Sam let get away with calling her 'skipper'. Blue's family had been Navy going way back.
<Can you get into ComSubPac computers and get me the software algorithms for their sound processing?>
Blue whistled. <Wow! Tall order, skipper. Security around them is pretty tough.>
<Get your friend online. I'll give you a clearance code if you need it.>
May 7th, 2007 - First Period
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
"Miss Nalley, nice to see you joining our class today," Dr. Hewley said warmly as the two girls walked into the classroom just as the bell rang. "Is this a permanent schedule change so you can learn about your new spirit, I hope?"
Lanie ignored all the students' mouths dropping open in confusion or shock. "Mrs. Carson already assigned me to this class in the fall. Right now, Ah'm just here as a security escort for Kayda."
"Ah, yes," Dr. Hewley said. "I understand. Well, you should find the lecture today interesting nevertheless." As the girls walked toward unoccupied desks, with Lanie seeming so confident but Kayda looking down to avoid the gazes she knew she was getting - about the spell she'd done, about her being a suspect in the murder of Heyoka, and about the rampant rumors about her and Lanie's tryst.
"And girls, could you please stop by to talk with me after class?"
"More research?" Lanie asked, her voice full of dread.
Dr. Hewley nodded. "Okay, this is actually a good opportunity to talk about hallows and the strengths of spirits. Until very recently," he continued, looking directly at Lanie and Kayda, "the prevailing theory was that a person's hallow was fixed in size if they were an avatar. Yet here we have a student who was not an avatar who now has a spirit bound to her."
"Excuse me," Lanie interrupted. When she got a nod from Dr. Hewley, she continued. "Mah spirit says that everyone is an avatar, but usually their hallow is only big enough to hold their own spirit."
"Then how ...?"
The entire class was focused on the instructor and the pair of girls. "Kayda can explain it better," Lanie said with a glance at her friend. "She performed the ritual."
"Ritual?" Dr. Hewley asked, getting more and more interested. "Please explain."
Kayda shot an unhappy glance Lanie's way - she was now the center of unwanted attention. "Long before there were mutants," she began, her voice quavering slightly at being forced to be in the spotlight, "shamans in my tribe - in fact, in most tribes - could bind an animal guide spirit to a person. There's a shaman ritual to expand the person's hallow. That's what I did for Lanie."
"So if someone wanted to be an avatar, or get a bigger hallow - <snort> - so they could hold a more powerful spirit ... <snort>?" Peccary, one of the students in the class, started to ask. He looked like his spirit was starting to change his body to have a few traits of the boar, his spirit; so far, his GSD was relatively minor.
"In theory," Kayda responded uneasily. "I got in very serious trouble with Mrs. Carson for using that ritual." She gulped nervously at the memories. "It can be quite ... dangerous."
"But you did expand Miss Nalley's hallow so she could bind with a spirit, correct?" Dr. Hewley scratched his chin. "Interesting. Sometimes, it seems our science gets so focused on the technical that we overlook older traditional methods." He smiled at the class. "You see, our science is far from precise. Even someone who's worked in this field for years can be surprised as we learn more."
With that, Dr. Hewley turned his attention back to the lesson for the day. Though her official duty was escorting Kayda, as the lecture and discussion continued, Lanie became more and more interested in the theories and science behind avatars. She couldn't help but wonder how much she'd learn from class compared to what Grizzly - and Wakan Tanka - could teach her directly.
After class dismissed, Lanie and Kayda hung back to talk with the teacher. "You wanted to talk to us, Dr. Hewley?" Kayda asked hesitantly, still worried that Drs. Hewley and Aranis were upset for the damage that had been caused to Lanie's system sense.
"Ah, yes," Dr. Hewley looked up from gathering his lecture notes, and a broad grin grew on his face. "Yes, indeed. I'd like to schedule some time with you to do some experiments with this shaman ritual of yours. If we can alter the hallows ...."
Kayda shook her head vehemently, a horrified look on her face. "It's ... it's very dangerous," she said. "Mrs. Carson said I am not to ever do that again except with her explicit permission and supervision." She was rattled by his request, as if experimenting with people and hallows and spirits was like making breakfast.
"It did put me in a coma for three days," Lanie added for emphasis. "It's not exactly ... something trivial."
"And it's interfering with her primary power," the dusky-skinned girl added quickly, looking ashamedly at Lanie, still smarting from what her ritual had done to her friend.
Without even seeing Kayda's glance, the redhead understood exactly how guilty Kayda still felt about what the ritual and binding had done to her power. Instinctively, she grasped Kayda's hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze.
"Let me talk with Mrs. Carson, and we'll set up some controlled experiments to observe this ritual and its effects," Dr. Hewley replied easily. "We've had some students in the past whose spirits are a little too large for their hallows. The results aren't ... good."
Kayda winced visibly. "My availability ... depends on this afternoon," she squeaked, unexpectedly reminded of the hearing scheduled for later in the day.
May 7th, 2007 - Morning
Cyberspace, Outside Whateley Academy
<Blue? What are you doing here?> Cyberkitty asked as she saw his cyber-avatar strolling across the alien landscape of blues and silvers.
<I could ask the same,> Blue replied with a grin. <I thought it was dangerous for you out here in the wild.>
<I've been wandering around since last night,> the girl admitted. <I couldn't sleep> She chuckled. <Probably go to my kitty form and nap this afternoon if I can find a warm sunny spot.>
Blue arched his eyebrows, showing his interest. <I'd pay to see you in your kitty form. I bet you're really cute as a kitty-girl.>
<Hmphhh! That's all you boys have on your minds.> she snorted, crossing her arms and turning away in a mock fit of pique.
<So what bring you out here anyway?> Blue returned to a safer conversation.
The girl uncrossed her arms and turned back toward the boy. He was kind of cute, after all - or at least his cyber-avatar was. <Something was bothering me about the murder case.>
<What?> Her curiosity struck at Blue's curiosity, too.
<Why isn't there video?> the girl asked bluntly.
Blue frowned. <Because some of the less honest security officers might sell the video?>
<That makes sense for official security video,> Cyberkitty nodded. <But our combat finals - and many of the simulations - end up on pay-per-view anyway and there is heavy betting in Las Vegas. So there's almost always a video feed apart from the official security cameras.>
<So why isn't there any security footage?>
<The security feeds are on only when there's something scheduled in the arena.>
Blue frowned. <Let me guess - there was nothing scheduled, so there's no official security video feed, right?>
<Last fall, Ms. Hartford had me tracking down illicit video feeds from the arenas,> the girl explained. <Somehow, someone keeps getting cameras into the arenas, and the video can be found out on the internet.>
<So let me guess - you're looking for an illicit video feed from Arena 77?>
<Yeah. But whoever put this in really knows what they're doing,> the girl grumbled. <The nearby cell and wireless towers, and any routers, aren't showing any traffic patterns that are consistent with streaming video.>
<That makes life complicated,> Blue agreed.
<Tell you what - while you're here, can you look for any pattern on the local touch-points that look like frequency-hopping? You know - deliberately routing packets in a seeming random pattern across all the touch-points?>
<Got a higher-priority job first,> Blue replied. <The Admiral wants me to break into ComSubPac's computers and steal their sound-processing algorithms.>
<Wow! Tall order.>
Blue nodded grimly. <She even offered to give me security codes if I needed them. That's why I'm glad I found you. I need your help.>
<Okay. We'll do your job first. Then we do my job. I'll piggy-back like I did yesterday?>
<Deal. We get what the admiral wants, then we look for video. What exactly are you planning?>
<Break into the three gambling houses in Vegas that seem to handle most of the betting on Whateley combat finals and matches, and see if I can't find a direct archive of the video.>
May 7th, 2007 Third Period
Kirby Hall, Whateley Academy
Martial Arts had been a complete waste of time; Kayda was not allowed to participate, and sitting and watching was worse than boring, especially since students kept looking at her. She knew it was either because they thought she was guilty or because of all the rumors. Having Lanie as a security escort didn't help quash any of the rumors.
Lanie tried to cheer her up as they walked to Intro to Magical Arts. "This is like a preview of what you'll be tutoring me in next fall," she said with a smile.
"Assuming this afternoon goes okay," the Lakota girl said morosely. They took seats near Ayla and Palantir, and to Ayla's amazement, Tansy smiled and gave a small wave to Kayda and Loophole.
"You have got to tell me what that's about," Ayla said, struggling to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.
Even before Ms. Grimes came into the classroom, the students began their essence exercises, Lanie watched Kayda; she didn't look steady, but seemed wobbly, and the look on her face indicated some degree of distress. The girl swallowed hard several times, trying to keep steady.
"Ayla," Lanie hissed to the young mogul. When she had Ayla's attention, she nodded toward Kayda. "Does she look alright to you?"
Ayla studied the Lakota girl for a moment, watching her still swallowing as if fighting nausea, and wobbling a bit in her chair. "No, she doesn't. Not at all."
"Funny. She seemed just fine a bit ago." Lanie stood and scooted quickly to the teacher coming into the room. "Ms. Grimes?" she said to the teacher, "Kayda is looking quite ill."
"What?" Ms. Grimes snapped her attention around to look. By that point, Kayda was shaking visibly, and her complexion was exceedingly pale. She looked like she was going to throw up any moment. The teacher puzzled for a moment, wondering, and then realized that Kayda was wearing the charm that locked away her magic. "Get her out of here!" she directed Lanie sharply. "Now!"
"But ..." Lanie didn't understand.
"Get her out of here now. All the loose essence in the room is messing up the charm, and it's trying to drain Kayda of essence she doesn't have! Take her down to see Mrs. Chulkris; she should be able to help Kayda out. Hurry, before she passes out or gets sick."
Lanie needed no further urging. She dashed back to Kayda's side, scooping the wobbly, pale girl out of her seat. "Ayla, bring our books!" she directed as she half-guided, half-carried the girl from the classroom.
Once they were in the hallway, out of the classroom, Kayda seemed to stabilize a little, but she still looked shaky, weak, and pale. "Mrs. Chulkris' office?" Lanie asked Ayla.
Ayla nodded and, still carrying the girls' backpacks, led the trio down the stairs, with Lanie practically carrying Kayda, who was looking a little steadier now that she was out of the essence-filled classroom. Eventually, they came to a blank section of wall, but Ayla slipped right into it - presumably through some kind of magic barrier, so Lanie guided Kayda to the wall section as well. She stepped into the wall, figuring it was like the portal from the vehicle lab to the Salt Flats, but while she easily passed into the magic portal, her companion was violently pulled from her grip and thrown back as if she'd been hit with a thousand volts and then bounced off a strong PFG.
Lanie spun, calling out as she did so. "Ayla! Something happened to Kayda!" She was at her soul sister's side almost instantly, bent down beside the girl who was crumpled on the floor.
"Owww!" Kayda groaned, struggling to sit up. "That hurt!"
"What happened?" Lanie asked, relieved that Kayda was at least conscious and talking, and helping the girl sit up.
"It felt like I hit an electric fence - on high." She winced at the general discomfort she felt in all her limbs. "I guess this stupid fucking amulet won't let me go through a magic portal," she swore. "But a little warning tingle would have been enough!"
'"I'll go get Mrs. Chulkris. Or Circe," Ayla explained before quickly ducking back through the magically-hidden portal.
"Are you sure you're okay?" Lanie asked, concerned by the way Kayda had bounced off the magic shield.
"How would you say it?" Kayda asked, sighing as she winced with discomfort. "Ah'm fine. Ah've hurt worse."
Lanie slapped her arm playfully. "Just for that, Ah won't kiss it and make it all better! You need to work on your accent, you know." She switched accents with some difficulty. "It's quite dreadful, you know," she concluded in a passable upper-crust British accent.
Kayda chuckled, letting Lanie know that she wasn't badly hurt. "I'm not feeling as nauseated as I was in the classroom," she reported. "And I think I'm okay from the portal - just ... winded." She tried to sit up, wincing. "Mostly."
"You're goin' to worry me to death," Lanie chided her gently. "Or are you deliberately tryin' to educate me on how a mother feels when her child gets injured?"
"Maybe I'm trying to get you feeling so sorry for me that you shower me with hugs and kisses," Kayda joked.
Ayla chose that moment to burst through the unseen portal in the wall with Mrs. Chulkris on his heels. "What happened?" Mrs. Chulkris demanded. She glanced at Ayla. "You may return to class, Miss Goodkind." Ayla nodded and turned down the hall to return to Ms. Grimes class.
"We went to Intro to Magic class," Lanie explained, "but when the students started working with their magic, Kayda started gettin' pale and unsteady. Ms. Grimes said it was because of the amulet and told us to come find you or Circe."
"And when I tried to go through the hidden portal," Kayda added, "I got shocked and kicked back pretty hard." She winced. "With my luck, I probably cracked a rib when I hit the wall."
"If you're up to it," Mrs. Chulkris said, "we can go to a non-magic classroom, and we can discuss some magic theory that you probably missed from the first few classes." She smiled and patted Kayda's shoulder. "I suspect you'd rather do something like that than sit around bored and just waiting."
Kayda glanced at Lanie, and then nodded. "Yeah. Waiting ... sucks."
Lanie helped Kayda to her feet, and then the trio, led by Mrs. Chulkris, walked down the hall to a small study room. "Yes," she said, looking around the small room with a table surrounded by six chairs and a large whiteboard on one end of the room. "This will do nicely. Have a seat, girls."
Lanie noticed that Kayda's color was returning, and her hands weren't trembling as much, so she relaxed slightly, though she was still concerned.
"Kayda, can you tell me the primary component of magic?" Mrs. Chulkris asked an obvious question.
"Essence," she replied, a bit confused at such an elementary question.
"Good. Now Elaine, since you're going to be taking magic next fall, let's see how much you know already. Do you know what a Wiz power rating means?"
Lanie glanced at Kayda, who had a small smile. "Ah don't suppose you're going to help me, are you?" she asked her friend. Seeing the slight shake of Kayda's head and a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, Lanie sighed. "Ah guess it's how powerful of a spell you can cast."
"That's a good guess," Mrs. Chulkris said, but she continued before Lanie could get a smug smile. "Kayda?"
"That's what I thought too, but it's completely wrong. Any mage - even baselines - can cast the most powerful of spells - if they can gather enough Essence." Kayda explained to Lanie. "That's the most important thing about magic - gathering enough Essence to cast a spell."
"How do you gather Essence?" Lanie asked the obvious question, "and how do you hold it?"
"Everyone who can use magic has what we call a Well," Kayda explained when Mrs. Chulkris prompted her. "It's where a mage has their spark of Essence, and where Essence is stored until it's used in a spell."
"Very good, Kayda. Once a Mage accumulates enough Essence, it lights a 'spark' in that well. That 'spark' is a core reserve of Essence that is critical to being able to attract and more easily hold more essence."
"Ah'm goin' to guess that everyone's Well is different, then?" Lanie proposed.
"Yes, but there are other factors that determine how much Essence a Mage can effectively hold. Only very rarely does a mage hit a hard limit on how much Essence they can hold; the limit is almost always the process of gathering the Essence in the first place. When you have enough Essence, you can shape and form it through Formulae and the Laws of Magic into spells."
"Correct, Kayda." Mrs. Chulkris changed the subject. "What do you suppose is the most difficult thing for a mage?"
"Casting a spell?" Lanie guessed.
"No," Kayda corrected her without prompting, realizing that Mrs. Chulkris was using this opportunity to test her on her knowledge of the basic principles of magic. "It's gathering and holding the Essence."
"Right again. Essence is wild and chaotic. It's hard to catch and harder to hold. Stray thoughts and wishes dissipate it easily. The 'spark' in one's well can grow, as Essence is attracted, into a flame, and then a bonfire and a wildfire raging out of control, dissipating Essence wildly with embers carried aloft on every breeze of thought and wish."
"Fey showed me how hard it is to gather and hold," Kayda explained. "It's very easy to lose Essence."
"Ah'm not sure Ah follow," Lanie said cautiously.
"Gathering essence is like charging a capacitor," Kayda said, putting it into terms Lanie could understand. "The bigger the charge, the more energy you have to use. Capacitors have leakage current. That's like unintentionally bleeding off Essence. But there's also a variable leakage current - your stray thoughts and incomplete wishes and such - they leak off Essence, too."
"But if Ah charge a capacitor, it's leakage rate is constant. It doesn't depend on mah mood or wishes or stray thoughts," Lanie protested. "Leaking Essence doesn't make sense."
Mrs. Chulkris nodded, smiling. "That's because you're thinking of magic in terms of conventional logic, but the laws of magic don't exactly follow the laws of conventional physics. Not losing Essence is a matter of mental discipline, your WILL to hold your Essence. Even poorly worded wishes or desires can cause it to leak or to be dissipated ineffectively."
"Without good mental discipline, which I'm still learning, you can't accumulate a lot of Essence before it dissipates." Kayda looked at Mrs. Chulkris. "I think that's why the three little witches want to hang out around me - to try to catch the Essence I'm leaking."
Mrs. Chulkris nodded, a slightly distasteful look on her face. "And if your leaked Essence helps them light their sparks, God help the rest of us!" She shook her head, shuddering at the thought, but then recomposed herself. "What is involved with collecting and holding essence, Kayda?"
"Anyone can collect essence," Kayda answered confidently. "Even people without Wiz ratings, although mutants with a Wiz rating have a huge advantage." She saw Mrs. Chulkris' nod of approval at her explanations, so she continued. "The most important thing to learn at first is to learn to master your Will so you don't waste any Essence, and to learn the boundary between creative thought and actually invoking Essence."
"Ah'm not sure Ah follow."
Mrs. Chulkris took over the explanation. "If you are writing a story or having a dream, you are using your imagination with no intention of making it real. If you're daydreaming about a fantasy," she noticed the quick glance exchanged between the girls, "you might have some desire to make that fantasy real, and without strong Will, your Essence will attempt to form to fulfill your desire according to the rules and laws of magic - and you lose Essence without intending to. A student mage has to learn to keep control of those daydreams and fantasies, to strengthen his or her Will, so as to not dissipate Essence."
"Baseline mages accumulate only a very small amount of Essence each day through simply living in the world with free Essence around them," Kayda continued the explanation to her friend, but she was starting to sound less and less enthusiastic. "The advantage to mutants with a Wiz rating is that the higher their rating, the faster they can accumulate Essence, and often from different sources."
"During our early instruction," Mrs. Chulkris continued the explanation, "every student is given a small amount of essence and taught a simple, very efficient light spell that can be used for illuminating a room at night or in searches. Using this, we can measure how much students accumulate essence, leak or lose essence, and use it effectively in spells. Other spellcraft is not learned early because the primary focus must be on gaining and keeping essence."
"Except when you have a spirit that's teaching you spells and giving ...," Kayda interrupted - but cutting off abruptly as her thought reminded her that she couldn't feel her spirit or get Essence as she'd been used to.
"Kayda very nearly made a mistake that early mages make - using all the Essence in her well fighting the snake demon," Mrs. Chulkris reminded Kayda, which made her squirm unpleasantly at the blatant reprimand. "If a mage uses all their Essence, it can extinguish the spark in their Well, making it impossible to naturally attract Essence and requiring that mage to find a source of Essence to re-ignite the spark. And this is very difficult because drawing Essence into a Well and igniting the spark requires Essence and Will."
Kayda gulped nervously. "Mismanaging Essence and risking permanently losing your ability to attract more Essence that is the biggest challenge to Mages. Most spells take a good amount of Essence, even the simple ceremony of Drawing Down the Moon."
"Drawing Down the Moon?" Lanie asked quizzically.
"It's a spell that draws magic Essence from the Moon Goddess - you get a lot more than it takes to cast the ceremony - but it still takes a lot of Essence to do the ceremony," Kayda explained. She got a wistful look. "It's like ... my shaman magic. The healing tea ... magnifies the essence I put into it by drawing natural essence into the tea." Her words again had a forlorn cast to them, yet another reminder of how far she was from her spirit and her magic.
"Even a modest apprentice can keep that much Essence in his or her Well, but it's far from enough for serious spells like battle magic. That's why Apprentices spend so much time learning and practicing ceremonies and spells that result in gathering more Essence than they consume." She looked at Kayda. "Can you explain the ways of gathering Essence?"
Kayda winced; she wasn't sure she knew them all. "There are primal planes with elemental magic, converting things into raw Essence - like I do with some of my Shaman spells - or used to," she added bitterly. "Ritual sacrifice, making agreements with extra-planar beings - which can be risky."
"That's what Mrs. Carson was telling us about, right?" Lanie asked, recalling the Headmistress' words and adamant insistence that the two girls take a special class.
"Yup," Kayda confirmed. "There used to be a lot of Natural magic in the world that could be easily used before the Sundering broke the Five-Fold Courts. Fey can easily use what magic is left."
"What if you aren't good at holding Essence in your Well?" Lanie asked.
"Mages practice creating power gems and other devices to store Essence - in a way that doesn't take mental focus and Will to keep from wasting." Mrs. Chulkris looked at Kayda, as if her next words were intended primarily for the Lakota girl. "The first area of focus for magic students is holding Essence. Just because there's a natural source replenishing the Essence, it's no excuse to not practice diligently in mental focus and Will to keep all their essence. Unlike baseline mages, mutant mages are attuned to naturally gather Essence from one of the several natural sources - so much so, in fact, that new mutant Wiz students are sometimes sloppy about learning discipline and control of their Will, and as a result, they almost never have enough Will to hold large amounts of Essence in their Well. Mutant mages can almost always hold much more Essence in their Wells than a baseline apprentice - if they are properly trained. If not, the extra Essence spills out all around the student, mostly harmlessly."
"Is that like Nikki's hobgoblins?" Kayda asked.
"That, and subtle effects of probabilities around you, or several other effects. It can create an overwhelming desire to cast spells - like a safety valve trying to let off the extra Essence burning in your Well. Kayda," Mrs. Chulkris asked, "can you explain how a Wiz rating affects your available Essence?"
"It's exponential with rating increases. If a baseline can do a light spell for a few minutes with a day's accumulated Essence, a Wiz-1 naturally gathers enough Essence to do that same spell for an hour. A Wiz-2 can sustain it indefinitely because Essence accumulates as fast as the spell dissipates it. A Wiz-3 could sustain dozens and dozens of copies of the spell. That's just from the natural accumulation of Essence because of the mutation." Kayda looked uncertainly at Mrs. Chulkris, not quite sure she remembered the details right, but the nod of agreement from the teacher let her know she'd explained the concept correctly.
"So any mage with a big enough Well, enough focus and Will, and time to accumulate enough Essence, can cast any spell?" Lanie asked. "The advantage to a mutant is that the Well recharges faster?"
"Exactly," Mrs. Chulkris beamed. "A baseline Journeyman mage with four to six years study and gathering Essence is likely to have as much Essence available to him as a mutant Wizard between 2 and 3 rating. Only a dedicated Master will match a new Wiz-3. Few baseline mages will ever match a Wiz-4 or higher. Because a Wiz mutant draws Essence at high rates, he or she will have much stronger Will and control over their Well than baselines with years and years of practice. And a mutant Wiz can begin spell-casting from practically the beginning of their studies. Who has the advantage in battle, Miss Nalley - a traditional mage with decades of experience, or a mutant Wizard?"
"Ah ... Ah can't tell," Lanie answered hesitantly. "Whoever is better prepared?"
"Correct. But what if the combat becomes extended? Then who has the advantage?"
"The mutant Wizard?"
"Correct again. A traditional wizard will use up his spells and charms and holdouts, and possibly even drain his storage devices. A mutant, on the other hand, has a Well full of Essence that refills quickly, so he or she can simply call down a new spell."
"So being a mutant Wizard doesn't make you a better spell-caster, or able to cast more or better spells?"
Mrs. Chulkris shook her head. "No. It only affects your rate of accumulating Essence. And because it can accumulate faster than a novice mutant Wizard can use it, the first thing we start learning in class is to store extra Essence, and to then draw it from storage into your Well." She looked at Kayda. "Because you started the term late, you need extra practice on training your Will, and also at the skill of storing your essence - so you aren't spewing it all over the place."
Kayda frowned, feeling frustrated and irritated by the lecture that - at present - was completely meaningless to her since her magic was sealed, painfully so. "That's just what Nikki said."
Mrs. Chulkris smiled. "And she was right. You need to practice."
"How? This doesn't do any fucking good while my magic is locked," Kayda complained bitterly, having had too many unpleasant reminders of her loss of her magic and her spirits. "This is a waste of time for me." She angrily turned away from Mrs. Chulkris - and the lesson which had been intended to help her and Lanie, but was instead a brutal reminder of her confinement. "Hell, I can't even sit in a magic class without getting sick, or go to an office in the magic department without getting battered by a force field." She rose angrily to leave. "I shouldn't have even bothered trying to come here today," she spat venomously. "Come on, Lanie. Let's get out of here."
"Kayda," Mrs. Chulkris said sternly, halting the angry, frustrated, tired girl, "this is important."
"Bullshit!" Kayda practically screamed, her frustration so great that she was starting to cry. "How can it be important when I can't practice any of it? When I can't even get close to too much essence without getting so sick I'll hurl? When the MCO wants to lock me up in a warded cell - at best - so I can never touch Essence or magic again?"
Lanie practically leaped up and put her arm around Kayda's shoulder to calm the Lakota girl. "Kayda, Ah know you're upset, but ..."
"Do you?" Kayda yelled at Lanie and Mrs. Chulkris. "Do you know what it's like to have your magic locked away? Completely out of your grasp? To have a talent that made you special, only to have it taken away?"
Lanie's face clouded - slightly - and she turned Kayda to face her. "Yes, Ah do," she said sternly. "And Ah know it's not the end of the world."
Kayda stared at her in shock for a moment before she realized exactly what she'd said. Then her tears really started gushing. "I'm sorry, Lanie," she cried. "But ... but you got Grizzly. I ... I don't have anything! I don't have my magic, I don't have my spirits! I'm just ... a nobody!" She turned away, burying her hands in her face and bawling.
Or rather, she tried to turn away. Lanie grasped her shoulders and pulled her into a firm embrace. "Sister, you aren't a nobody! You're someone very special."
Kayda collapsed onto Lanie's shoulder. "It hurts!" she sobbed. "It's like ... parts of me were torn away, and there's nothing but pain where they used to be!" Her whole body was wracked with convulsions as she cried. "I want it to stop. I want the pain to go away." She looked up at Lanie, her eyes pleading even as rivulets of tears streamed down her cheeks. "Make it stop hurting, Lanie! Please! I can't take it anymore! It hurts too much! Make it stop!"
Lanie glanced at Mrs. Chulkris, who had an alarmed expression. "Go call for a security auxiliary," Lanie whispered to the instructor. "And call Dr. Bellows. Tell him we're on our way over to his office."
May 7th, 2007 - Morning
Cyberspace, Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
The Hive crawled into the world of the network, the unreal world of bytes and bits and ethereal storage and computers and routers - a place alien to most humans. But the Hive was at home in the network, and so were the two students it sought. <Blue?> it called. <Cyberkitty?>
The girl answered almost immediately. <Yeah?>
<Did you get the algorithms I need?> the Hive asked bluntly. Sam saw no need - or time - for social niceties.
<On your hard drive,> Cyberkitty reported easily. <They're pretty hefty - going to take a lot of horsepower to run these. What are you planning on looking for with programs that can identify a whale by its fart half an ocean away?>
<Trying to solidify the case that Pejuta didn't kill Heyoka,> the Hive retorted. <Most of the tunnel cameras also have audio. I'm going to do an analysis of the tunnel audio the same time that her RFID chip said she was there.>
<Got a hunch?>
<Yes,> the Hive answered. <We have a person of interest in possibly stealing and returning her ID card. If I'm correct, he didn't walk through the tunnels, but ran. He's a speedster.>
<Ah, and if you can filter out background noises - like submarine sound equipment does ...>
<Then if what's left is the sound of a speedster running, it really makes the other person of interest our real prime suspect,> the Hive concluded.
<I suggest you take the primary blade servers off the simulation farm and get them working.>
<I'll need to get the code recompiled...>
<I'm working on it already,> Cyberkitty reported. <Let me know when you've got the servers and which files need to be looked at first.>
<Oh, and there's one more piece of good news,> the girl said almost as an afterthought.
<Blue is retrieving a video file from an illicit camera that's in Arena 77 - covering Saturday afternoon.>
<What?> Sam - and the Hive - were astonished - and elated. <Where did you find that?>
<In Las Vegas. I'll tell you more later.>
May 7th, 2007 - Morning
Arena 99, Whateley Academy
"Diva," Zip called out frantically, "incoming at four o'clock. Looks like multiple fliers."
"Damn," Diva swore. Just her luck that Gunny was pulling a really shitty scenario when it was her turn to be team lead. "Redlight, can you get up above them and circle behind them? We need to know how many and what we're up against. Zip - what's your estimate of their speed?"
"Probably about seventy."
"Can you get their attention and lead them on a chase? See if we can give Redlight time to get above and behind them."
"Lead them in a circle - give me time to get up to the top of the building at E-4. If you can bring them by, I'll see if a little sonic ...."
The sound suddenly went dead, and the simulation video instantly vanished, replaced with solid black. "What the hell?" Diva swore to herself.
"The simulation cluster has been preempted by Whateley Security. All students disengage from simulation chairs and report to the debriefing room immediately. Repeat, the simulation cluster has been preempted by Whateley Security. All students disengage from simulation chairs and report to the debriefing room immediately."
Diva lifted her visor and began to unplug her sim suit from the numerous and complicated interfaces. "What kind of cluster-fuck is this?" she swore to herself. "And this damned well better not count against my grade!"
May 7th, 2007 - Late Morning
Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
Sam reran the filter on the audio data, carefully correlating noises to the images. Lip-sync and motion -sync were not trivial, but fortunately, the Hive was a massive swarm of processors and could do the work faster than the Simulator blade clusters, Blue, and Cyberkitty put together. Still, all of them and the blade servers were at work, because it was much slower going than the earlier task Sam had undertaken - correlating video with the RFID trackers.
Each person walking produced audio sounds, which had to be located in the jumble of noise, and then filtered out, including forward and back projecting the footsteps because the microphones picked up sound from a much wider range than did the camera. All speech needed to be identified, correlated to someone visible speaking, and then filtered out. Background noises - fans, water and steam in pipes - had to be identified and filtered out. And what was left, once all visible and constant, expected background noise sources were identified and removed, might - might - be a clue.
What Sam found was stunning. She smiled as she compiled the results into a report and annotated audio clips.
Then she turned her attention to the bootleg video that had been found on the internet. It was always suspected that someone tapped into the simulations for gambling purposes; the video Blue and Cyberkitty had found confirmed it.
The tape showed the attack on Heyoka in gruesome detail, from the initial gut-rending blow across Jamie's abdomen to the final blow, even before Heyoka had completely collapsed - a tomahawk embedded in the skull.
And the tape showed no attackers. No manifested white buffalo. No Kayda. No anyone or anything. Just two fatal blows, with Jamie's screams of agony between the two blows.
Since there were no visible attackers, Sam did the same sound analysis on the videotape. That's when the sound of footsteps were isolated and amplified from the background until they could be easily heard, footsteps dashing across the arena, halting, running back, and then a chortle of laughter before the footsteps ran once again, pausing for the arena door to open.
May 7th, 2007 - Afternoon
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Chief Delarose stood ominously in the hallway in Schuster, flanked by two security guards waiting as Kayda and Lanie, trailed by Thunderfox, entered through the front doors of the administration building. He looked pained, even embarrassed, as he stepped in front of Kayda. "I'm sorry," he said, wincing, "but according to procedures ...." He held up a pair of open handcuffs, sighing heavily. "I'm sorry."
"Haven't you humiliated her enough already?" Lanie barked at him as he clicked the handcuffs on the compliant Lakota girl.
"DPA requirements, as pointed out by our ... friends ... from the State's Attorney's office and the MCO," he said apologetically. "I know with your magic sealed ...."
Her head down in shame, utterly and completely humiliated, Kayda let the two security guards escort her - one holding each elbow - into the site of the hearing - the largest classroom in Schuster Hall except for the auditorium lecture hall. It had been appropriated for the hearing, and instead of a podium at the front, long tables had been set up facing the audience. Between the long table and the students' seats, two smaller tables sat, one on either side of the main aisle from the doors to the front. Kayda was led to one table, where she sat between Dr. Bellows on one side and Janice Talbert on the other.
At the other table, Chief Delarose took a seat next to MCO Agent Dugan and State's Attorney Hervik. At the long front table, Mrs. Shugendo sat to the left of the center with Mr. Lodgeman and Reverend Englund. Two others that Kayda didn't recognize sat on the right end, with Mrs. Donner of the Medawihla Tribe sitting adjacent to the center seat, which at present was vacant, but there was no doubt who would occupy that chair.
Along either wall, three fully-armed security guards stood at parade rest, and two more flanked the doors at the rear.
Lanie glanced at the clock; it was still several minutes before the hearing officially started. After glancing around, she rose and walked out into the hall, looking for someone in specific. "Hey, Risk!" she called down the hall, walking quickly to the campus bookie.
"Hey, Loophole," Risk said with a wry grin. "Imagine seeing you here."
"Can it," Lanie said sternly, glancing around at the other campus bookies gathered in the hall, busily taking bets, like they did with almost every aspect of campus life.
"I presume you want to know the odds?" Risk asked knowingly. When Lanie nodded, he continued. "Seven to two against Kayda," he said bluntly. "And two to one she gets the needle for Murder One."
"I'll take some of that action," Lanie started to say.
Risk shook his head. "Sorry. You're in the pool, too, so it'd be insider info." He smiled at Lanie's quizzical stare. "It's five-to-two that the both of you get expelled for ... certain activities ... that are rumored to be her alibi."
Lanie's expression hardened. "I hope you lose your shirt when she's found innocent," she said, her voice ice cold. She turned and angrily stomped into the hearing room, finding Wyatt almost immediately and slipping into the seat that he'd saved for her.
While Kayda studiously looked forward and down, unable to turn and face any of the many attendees, Lanie looked around, knowing full well that Kayda wasn't going to. Not shackled the way she was, humiliated by her treatment as a hardened criminal. Some of the people she wasn't surprised at seeing; Sam Everheart sat in the front row with Ms. Hartford. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Two Knives sat in front. Surprisingly, so did Rosalyn Dekkard, Mindbird, and Stormwolf, as well as two relatively unfamiliar students she recognized only as Cueball and Tweak. She frowned, realizing that the front-row seats were probably reserved for people who had information about the case - which included Cagliostro, Truck, Mule, Adalie, Megs, Lancer, and Ayla. And Lifeline, who turned away from Lanie rather than meeting her gaze.
Also seated in the front row was a woman of some sophistication, wearing a designer suit that screamed 'I'm important'. The rings on her fingers were ostentatiously prominent, and if the stones in the necklace and earrings she wore were real diamonds, they were worth tens of thousands of dollars. She wore her hair short and elegantly styled, and her makeup was just perfect, like every other thing about her. She was the type of woman who could have been thirty-five or fifty-five; it was really impossible to tell her age accurately because she wore it that well.
"Gabriella Guzman," Wyatt whispered to Lanie. "Apparently, she was Heyoka's guardian."
Lanie winced. "If I remember, she's a major donor to the school."
Wyatt picked up her train of thought. "She's fair, or so I've heard. And I trust Mrs. Carson to rule impartially. If Ms. Guzman were to pull her support, Mrs. Carson would find money elsewhere."
"This place is a zoo!" she said, half wincing as she recognized faces. The classroom could hold fifty or so people, and it was standing-room-only, with over a dozen students electing to stand so they could see the event. Some of those present were obvious; Mrs. Horton, Zenith, Wallflower, and several others from Poe, including the Kimbas. Evvie, Naomi, Alicia, Vasiliy, Laurie, and Chat Bleu rounded out Kayda's normal dining companions and friends. Also in the group, though, were some who she wasn't sure about. Anna was a friend. Fantastico, Minefield, and Tee-Kay were reputedly quite anti-gay, and Tee-Kay's friend Truck had had a run-in with Kayda on her first day at Whateley.
Pendragon and Gloriana represented the Capes, Anno Domini and Valkyrie, the Dream Team. Dashboard and Mr. Donner represented the Gearheads. The Spy Kids were all present for some reason. Deadeye and Bomber from the Grunts, Judicator and Pythia from the fixers, Chou and Molly. And Poise from the Alphas - or Venus Inc.; it wasn't clear which group she represented. Windrunner's opinion was obvious by the glare she was shooting at the back of Kayda's head.
Paige Donner and Ringo sat immediately behind Sam and Ms. Hartford, curiously. Paige didn't get out of Hawthorne much because she was still a were-panther kitty, subject to blood rage if she became angry, and thus quite dangerous. Her presence signaled something important, but Lanie couldn't put her finger on exactly what that could be.
At precisely one o'clock, Mrs. Carson walked into the hearing room, causing an instant shuffling as students, used to courtroom dramas, rose to their feet.
"Sit down," Mrs. Carson ordered sternly. "This is not a courtroom, and I'm not a judge." She circled the table and gracefully sat down at the center chair. "This is not a trial, nor is it an expulsion hearing," she began, glancing around the room. "It is an evidentiary hearing in accordance with DPA regulations twenty-four B seven and the US criminal code. Under these rules, anyone asked a question is required, under penalty of law, to answer truthfully. Is that clear?"
Jerome Hervik rose. "Madam Chairman," he stated in a self-confident tone that rattled Kayda, holding a paper that he was reading through reading glasses, "I would like to proceed according to DPA guidelines, section fourteen, paragraph 2, point C, wherein the evidence is presented in accordance with normal trial procedures in that evidence against the ... accused... is presented in its entirety first before exculpatory evidence." He took off the glasses in a dramatic fashion, as if to emphasize that he was reading the rules verbatim.
"He's up to something," Janice whispered to Kayda. "Don't worry. It's merely procedural."
Liz frowned, but nodded. "Request granted. Proceed Mr. Hervik."
"First, I present the condition of the body," he said, "and more specifically, the fatal wounds."
Liz interrupted. "I would remind all in attendance that this evidence is confidential, and some will be disturbing ... very disturbing. If you wish to leave, do so now." She paused, but not a single person moved. "Proceed."
"Dr. Rascomb, could you please describe the nature of the injuries to the deceased?"
The doctor stood in place, as there was no witness box for this informal hearing. "The first blow was a tapered, dull object tearing open the abdominal cavity, causing severe trauma to the victim's intestines. The second blow was a hand-held edged weapon ..."
"Yes," Rascomb admitted. "In the frontal skull, smashing and splitting the skull and embedding itself in the cranium."
"Is this the picture of the victim at the time of discovery?" Hervik pressed a remote and the room's projector cast a picture on the front wall - a horrific image of Heyoka lying, body torn asunder and skull split with the tomahawk still embedded. The gasps of shock in the room were accompanied by hasty footsteps as some students fled before they upchucked at the gruesome scene. Not everyone made it out of the room in time.
"And is the abdominal wound consistent with that caused to a security officer who was horned by a manifested bison?" The image changed to Officer Matthews lying in the tunnel.
"Yes. But ..."
"Ah object!" Lanie practically leaped to her feet, annoyed at the smart-ass attorney. "The image of Officer Matthews has nothing to do with the issue at hand, and is only there to prejudice ..."
"Miss Nalley!" Liz roared from her chair. "You are not Miss Franks' defense or counsel. Now sit down!" She glared at the redhead until she took her seat again. "Despite the ... unorthodox ... means of objection, I am forced to agree that this image is not relevant to the proceedings." She shot her own disapproving glare at Hervik. "We will take a short break while custodial services cleans up some ... unpleasantness." She made it clear that she wasn't leaving, so very few others did. In fact, the only ones who departed were the audience members who'd been too close when others had gotten sick. Seemingly out of nowhere, two janitors with mop buckets sped around the room, cleaning up the splashes of vomit and leaving in their place the unpleasant but preferable smell of cleaning chemicals.
It was closer to fifteen minutes before the janitorial staff finished and left the room. "Are we ready to resume?" Liz asked, interrupting the dull roar of private conversations, which ceased as instantly as if a light switch had been turned off.
Hervik stood again. "Chief Delarose," Hervik called out, "who manifested the bison that killed the security officer?"
"Miss Franks. Her power includes the ability to manifest a bison."
"Prior to the murder, has this bison attacked anyone besides the security guard?"
Delarose fumed that he'd had to share that information with Hervik as part of the investigation. "Yes. During testing, the bison gored a PK brick of the Sioux Falls League. Also in Sioux Falls, in defense of Miss Franks and friends, the bison gored a criminal named the Gemologist ...,"
"A wound which would have been fatal had the named criminal not been a high-level regenerator?"
Lanie shot to her feet again. "Ah object! Counsel is leading the witness!" She saw the disapproving stare from Mrs. Carson and lowered herself back to her chair.
Hervik shot his own glare at Lanie, but then continued. "Let me rephrase the question. How would you describe the injuries suffered by the Gemologist?"
"According to the superheroes and first-responders, the wound would have been fatal if the villain hadn't been a high-level regenerator," Franklin admitted, scowling at how he was being played. "And shortly after arriving on campus, the bison gored a student who was ...."
"Was that student code-named Truck?" Hervik interrupted.
"Is this student present?"
"Yes, sir," Truck announced, standing up and casting a sideways glare at Kayda.
"Can you please describe the attack?"
"My friends and I, we were just doing a little hazing, you know - innocent stuff - and she manifested her buffalo and had it attack me."
Kayda was already standing when both Dr. Bellows and Janice Talbert clamped their hands on her wrists. "Be patient," Dr. Bellows urged her softly. "We'll get our turn. Mrs. Carson isn't going to let him get away with a one-sided presentation."
"So, Miss Franks has a history of using her manifested bison to attack, is that correct, Chief?"
"That's a leading question again!" Lanie snapped loudly.
"Madame Chairman!" Hervik turned to Mrs. Carson in protest. "This is highly unusual for a ... spectator ... to be interrupting the proceedings."
Mrs. Carson shot Lanie another look of disapproval. "I will remind the audience to remain quiet and seated unless called upon. Is that clear?" She was staring unhappily directly at Lanie, who reluctantly nodded. "Very good. As to the point raised, I concur that it is a leading question. Chief Delarose, you may not answer the question posed by Mr. Hervik."
Hervik glowered; his attempts to characterize Kayda as being out of control were being thwarted. He would have expected this in a regular court of law, but in an informal hearing? He turned to his next line of questioning. "As to the other attack, Mr. Two Knives?" Billy stood. "You are Miss Franks' private tutor in traditional Native American weapons?"
"How would you rate her proficiency in the use of the tomahawk?"
"Well above average," Billy reported in a neutral voice. "Not nearly as good as an expert warrior, but very capable."
"Capable of inflicting a blow like the cranial blow the victim suffered?"
"Yes." His face was carefully neutral, but his eyes betrayed his distaste at having to answer the questions the way Hervik was presenting them.
"Has Miss Franks ever seemed ... out of control ... during training?"
Kayda paled; she knew precisely where this was going to go.
"Yes. She has had a couple of episodes of PTSD-induced rager behavior."
"Thank you." Hervik looked at the front row. "Are students Lancer and Phase present?" Both of the Kimbas stood. "In your sparring with Miss Franks in your martial arts classes, have you encountered any episodes of PTSD-induced rager behavior?"
"Yes," the two answered unhappily.
"If you were baselines, or significantly more vulnerable, can you describe what you think the outcome of the attacks would have been?"
Lancer looked like he was sucking a lemon. "The attacks would have likely been fatal." Ayla simply nodded in agreement.
Lanie simply couldn't contain herself. "Objection!" she roared, leaping to her feet once more. "The witnesses are not medical experts and do not have the knowledge to ascertain what injuries might have occurred!"
Mrs. Carson glared at her, "Unless some heathen has created an association of Rules Lawyers, Miss Nalley, you aren't admitted to that Bar. Second, this isn't court. And despite a well-deserved reputation as a rules lawyer, you're not A lawyer nor are you Defense Council! One more objection or outburst from you and you'll be objecting to the tune of a fifty thousand word essay on the history of jurisprudence in the American system as derived from English Common law!"
Lanie fumed at the headmistress. "Well," she grumbled, "someone has to keep this from being a Kangaroo Court, convicting mah friend on supposition and speculation."
"And the administration will do so," Mrs. Carson said sternly. "And if you continue to look at me with that glower of disapproval, I'll assign it just for the pleasure of reading your effort! Is that clear?"
"Yes, ma'am," Lanie said glumly, avoiding Mrs. Carson's penetrating 'glare of supreme authority'.
"May I continue now?" Hervik asked sarcastically, staring deliberately at Lanie." Seeing that she was properly chastised and unlikely to interrupt again, he continued. "Is the student called Charge present?"
Adalie stood. "Oui," she answered, her voice trembling. She knew precisely what Hervik was going to ask, and what she had to answer.
"During a recent trip with Miss Franks to her hometown, was Miss Franks involved in a fight?"
"Oui, monsieur," Addy answered. "The boys started ...."
"During this fight, would you say she was in a PTSD-induced rager state of mind?"
"Oui." Addy said unhappily.
"Can you describe the two attacks of consequence?"
"We were outnumbered and ambushed. During the fight, Kayda 'ad to strike one of the boys in self-defense ...."
"Severely injuring his shoulder so that he was in danger of bleeding to death, correct?"
It was Doctor Bellows turn to rise angrily. "Objection. As a licensed psychiatrist knowledgeable in human anatomy and physiology, I know it is improper for an untrained student to be asked to speculate on the outcome of an injury."
Hervik scowled, but continued. "And only the pleadings of her friends prevented her from deliberately murdering a defenseless second boy with a tomahawk blow to the head, correct? A blow which would have been similar to that suffered by the student Heyoka?"
"Oui," Addy said bitterly, knowing that her words were tightening the noose around her friend's neck.
"We now know that Miss Franks is both skilled with the murder weapon and has a history of violent attacks."
Janice could not let that one go. "I object to characterizing Miss Franks as violent. Her episodes have all been in tightly controlled training situations or in self-defense."
Hervik smiled wickedly. "Perhaps, but she is capable." He looked down at his notes, doing his best to appear studiously prepared. "Now, as to opportunity..."
Kayda gulped nervously; she knew what he was going to show next, and it was going to require her to out herself and Lanie - with very incriminating and humiliating video - to prove an alibi.
"Chief, can you please display the RFID trace map from the afternoon of the murder?" Hervik asked Delarose - actually, it was more of an order, as he was assuming control of presenting the evidence against Kayda. On the wall was projected an overview of the campus, with major facilities shows as outlines. Also shown were red dots appearing along a curving path from Schuster Hall toward Laird, and then moving back toward Schuster and onward until they paused inside the rectangle labeled "Arena 77." A short while later, the dots began to move back to Schuster, whereupon they ceased. "Please explain the sequence."
Delarose clenched his jaw a couple of times before speaking. "The trail shows Miss Franks entering the tunnel system at Schuster Hall, proceeding to Laird Hall. Internal sensors in the building show her entering the training room where her weapons are kept. She then moves from Laird through the tunnels to Arena 77. Shortly after that, she moves back to Schuster and exits the tunnel system."
"Mr. Langley Paulson?" Hervik asked. When Mr. Paulson stood, Hervik looked straight at him. "As chairman of the advanced technologies program, what would you say are the chances of someone spoofing the RFID tracking system?"
"Very low," Mr. Paulson replied. "We had a couple of students who might have been able to fool the system, but they were expelled months ago."
"Ms. Hartford? I understand you are familiar with computer technology?"
"That's Doctor Hartford." Ms. Hartford's expression was steel, her words ice. "I am a computer technology expert."
"Doctor Hartford," the lawyer oozed with an oily smile. "Would it be possible for someone to post facto manipulate the sensor data to make it appear that someone else was present?"
Hartford glared at the weaselly little man. "There are three persons on this campus who could do such a feat to the data in the central computer. Myself, and two of my students." She saw the man start to open his mouth with another question. "But even that would result in a discrepancy between the raw data which is retained for thirty-six hours on the sensors and the computer records. So I would rate it as virtually impossible."
"Are there any glitches, jumps, or other anomalies in the data files that would indicate tampering?"
Hervik manipulated a remote control. "Please notice that the video from the tunnel sensors does not show Miss Franks' presence at the time that the sensor indicates her presence." He looked directly at Circe. "Ms. Circe? You're the head of the Mystical Arts Department?" She nodded. "Is Miss Franks capable of an invisibility spell?"
Circe nodded. "She has a 'ghost walking' spell that gives her invisibility for a limited time."
"Would that explain why she doesn't appear on the cameras?"
"Objection!" Janice snapped with a scowl. "Leading question - again!"
Hervik raged inwardly. He was the trial expert in this room, and yet several people - including one impertinent student - were identifying and objecting to points where he was trying to lead a witness. That shouldn't be happening - not in this setting! "Allow me to rephrase the question. Could her invisibility spell explain her not appearing on a security camera?"
"Would that spell hide the student ID sensors?"
"No. The sensors have some ... enhancements ... to prevent that," Circe answered, trying to be circumspect but confirming what most students had already thought true.
"Thank you." Hervik fought to keep the shark-like grin off his face. Despite the setbacks, this was going well, and was fitting his strategy perfectly. "Chief Delarose." The chief didn't bother to stand. "Does Miss Franks have ...." He caught himself, knowing that someone else would object if he didn't phrase his question correctly. "Has Miss Franks ever used her invisibility spell to hide from security?"
"Yes," Delarose said, frowning.
"On multiple occasions?"
Hervik grinned inwardly. By getting those details from the security records onto the hearing records, he was demonstrating a pattern of behavior by Miss Franks that was very damning.
He turned to the audience again. "Student Blackrose?"
Uncertainly, Ros stood. For the first time, Kayda turned to look at the audience, specifically at Ros. She couldn't help but see the turmoil reflected in Ros' eyes.
"You were witness to an interaction between Miss Franks and Student Heyoka?"
"Yes." Ros' voice was heavy, forced.
"Would you please describe this interaction?"
Ros winced. "I was escorting her to class ...."
"Escorting? Please explain."
"Kayda ... had gotten in some trouble and had some ... attacks on her. Security thought it best that she be escorted at all times. For her safety!" she added quickly and urgently. "Because she'd been attacked so often. I was escorting her to class and we crossed paths with Heyoka."
"And what happened?"
The pain of having to tell the story was evident on Ros' face. "She manifested a spirit which argued with Heyoka."
"And what was your impression of that argument?"
"Kayda's spirit was quite unhappy with Heyoka."
As Ros sat down, Kayda saw her wipe her eye, mouthing the words, "I'm sorry."
"Further, Student Heyoka was found with a note from Miss Franks indicating, in a contrary fashion which I'm led to understand is Heyoka's standard method of communicating, that he should come to Arena 77 to meet her."
"Are you finished with your evidence, Mr. Hervik?" Liz asked coldly.
"As far as the evidence is available, yes, Ma'am," he replied formally, sitting down.
"Mrs. Talbert? Are you ready to present your evidence?"
"One moment, if you please," Dr. Bellows interjected, standing. "As this recounting of events - especially the traumatic scenes of injury - has been upsetting to Kayda, as her appointed adult representative, I would request a short break before we resume."
"Very well, Doctor," Liz replied. "We will take a twenty-minute break." With that, she rose and walked with Mrs. Shugendo out of the classroom.
May 7th, 2007 - Afternoon
Joe Foss Field, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Pete sighed as he watched the gate attendant close the door to the jetway, signaling that the fight was going to depart. He, June, and Debra stood morosely; they'd missed getting June on the plane by one person. If they'd have been just a couple of people higher on the standby list ....
"Well, that's it for flights today," June said softly.
"Unless we want to catch the late flight to Minneapolis, then catch a red-eye to Boston," Pete said. "Then catch the morning train to Dunwich." He glanced at his smart-phone. "Or rent a car. That'd put us in Dunwich around ... one pm by train, or about ten thirty if we rent a car."
Debra glanced hopefully at June. "What do you think?"
June's mind was already made up. "If we wait for the flight tomorrow, when will we get in?"
"We'll get to Berlin about one, which would put us at Whateley about one-thirty," Debra beat Pete to the explanation.
June looked at Pete, and a determined expression crossed her face. "We'll go through Minneapolis. Anything is better than sitting here waiting."
May 7th, 2007 - Afternoon
Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
Emily Strong watched Coltrain leave the main desk for the afternoon and she sighed to herself. The man was a menace to neatness and order, far more than any other three security officers put together. And with the filing systems being her responsibility, she felt an obligation to make sure all the data was properly entered - and then filing a report with her supervisor about how poorly some desk officers handled files.
The first thing Emily did was to look over the incident reports that had been logged into the system from the point Coltrain came on shift. It appeared that, for once, he was diligent about entering data, because Emily only had to correct a few items.
Once she finished, she opened the third drawer of the four-drawer filing cabinet to file the raw reports according to date of the original report. It helped to cross-check original reports against the computer files. The drawer was pushed shut, but it didn't latch, popping back open a centimeter or so. Puzzled, Emily pulled the file drawer open again, checking to see that everything was neatly organized so it wouldn't stop the drawer from closing. Satisfied, she tried again, with the same result.
Mystified, Emily pulled the drawer all the way open, hoping to see if there was some obstruction behind it. What she saw confused her even more. She could see through the gap that there was something in the bottom drawer that was sticking up, blocking the third drawer from closing all the way.
Now more curious than upset, Emily pulled the mostly-empty bottom drawer open. It stopped, though, before it was completely open, so she bent down and looked into the drawer.
Crunched up in the back were a number of papers and folders, haphazardly stuffed into the drawer and sticking up far enough to block the third drawer. In the gap between drawers, she reached in and began to tug at the obstruction, and was rewarded with sheets of paper and several crumpled folders. "What the hell...?" she asked as she began to leaf through the papers. They were incident reports, or at least most of them were, and as the key data management person in the office, she should have been familiar with the incidents. The problem was that she didn't recognize a single one of them. She turned to the desk and began to type into the computer - and found no matches to the first five reports.
Emily picked up the phone and dialed into the campus security radio system. "Chief Delarose?"
"The Chief is busy. This is Sam Everheart. How can I help you, Emily?"
"I found some unfiled reports stuffed in a filing cabinet," Emily answered. "I wanted to know how I should handle them."
Sam got the 'raised hackles on the neck' feeling. "Look for a report of a missing student - Sara Waite. A student claimed to have filed a report, but it's not in the computer files. It is very, very important that we find this report if it is in your pile of unfiled paperwork."
"It's on the top of the stack. Hippolyta gave a report about Sara Waite going missing from her room in Hawthorne."
"We're taking a break. I'll be right over."
May 7th, 2007 - Afternoon
Conference Room, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
"We're okay, Kayda," Janice Talbert said, sitting on one side of the girl in a borrowed conference room. On the other side was Dr. Bellows.
"But ... they know about everything! All the times Tatanka attacked. All the ... incidents when I lost control! They're making me look like a monster."
Janice shook her head. "And we've done our homework. You've got an alibi. We have the notes - at least the data where they came from. We have some sound analyses from the tunnels and arena. We have the video ...."
"Do we have to show that?" Kayda cried. "That'd ... be humiliating."
"Kayda," Janice said bluntly, "Elaine's been released from the sorcerer's contract. Besides, if I wanted to be technical, since your magic was bound at the time she made the promise, there really is no sorcerer's contract."
"You know you have to admit it," Dr. Bellows said. "Otherwise, we can't use the recording with the time stamps. Mrs. Carson - and the trustees - will have to see at least excerpts from the video."
"Yeah, I know," Kayda admitted, looking at the table. "I'm just ... scared."
"I just wish we could prove the compulsion part," Janice said, frustrated.
A knock on the door interrupted them. "Come in," Dr. Bellows said warily.
A very calm, friendly-appearing Jerome Hervik entered the room. "I was wondering if I could have a moment with Miss Franks," he said politely.
Janice looked at Kayda, who looked at Dr. Bellows. "I will be present for any and all discussions," Dr. Bellows said, iron in his words.
"And I wouldn't have it any other way," Hervik smiled, deceptively pleasantly.
"I'll be outside," Janice said, rising and leaving the room. Hervik took a seat opposite the girl. "Let me be perfectly frank, Miss Franks," he said, oblivious to how stupid his statement sounded. "We have motive, we have opportunity, we have an MO, and we have weapons. The RFID trace is pretty damning evidence."
"You haven't heard any defense yet," Dr. Bellows protested sharply.
"With the RFID trace, it will be extremely difficult to avoid a trial. And if it goes to trial," Hervik said, sounding concerned, "a jury would probably go for a capital murder conviction. But, since it's known that you're a troubled girl with PTSD - for some reason you haven't revealed, we could work a plea bargain - perhaps second-degree manslaughter, brought about by your PTSD." He saw the panic in Kayda's eyes, and continued his honey-smooth pitch. "Given your condition, if you admit guilt, we can get you proper psychological treatment, and once your condition is cured, you'd probably have a short period of parole before you're free."
Dr. Bellows stood, leaning over the table on his fists. "Sell it to someone who's buying," he snarled with an anger that Kayda had never seen. "Do you think we're stupid?" He stormed to the door and opened it. "Janice, this ... person ... was trying to convince - or scare - Kayda into copping a plea of second-degree manslaughter under the condition of PTSD."
"Mister Hervik," Janice roared at him, her face red, "I served years with the NYPD Paranormal Affairs Department. I know how DAs and assistant DAs work - especially with mutants. You'll promise the damned moon, and once you get in a courtroom, you go for the jugular. That. Is. Not. Going. To. Happen!" she snapped. "Not on my watch!" She pointed angrily at the door. "Get out! Before I complain to Mrs. Carson that you're attempting to intimidate Miss Franks!"
Hervik, stunned by her vehemence, stood and backed to the door. "It's possibly her only fair chance," he tried one final time. "There's more than enough evidence to get a grand jury to indict, and probably get a conviction. My offer of a plea deal will save her from that." Seeing the growing rage on Janice Talbert's face, he beat a hasty retreat.
May 7th, 2007 - Afternoon
Call Me Coffee, Melville Cottage, Whateley Academy
Not for the first time, Maria Ricardo glanced at her watch, wondering if her 'invitation' would be accepted, and with that thought, she also wondered if she was stepping over some line of privacy, of interference in matters that didn't concern her. She took another sip of her Amaretto Supreme coffee and glanced around the little shop on the first floor of Melville - empty at the moment because it seemed that everyone who wasn't currently in class was either in or trying to get into the hearing room in Schuster, or gossiping madly on the Fixer's patio behind the administration building.
As she sat, alone, she considered why she'd called the girl - it felt like she was meddling in things that were none of her business, and yet she couldn't help but feel somewhat responsible. Freya was in charge when Hekate had performed her vicious, inhumane act, and Maria was Freya's willing deputy, a henchman who helped in all the evil her former mentor had done. She felt the guilt as if she'd been the one who'd cast the spell.
Was her phone call out of guilt? Or out of a sense of need to help, just as she'd helped - or tried to help - so many victims while she was in New York? Was she trying to assuage her own sense of feeling responsible for the fates of the two?
Maria sensed rather than saw someone enter the coffee shop. She was turned with her back toward the door, believing in her heart that if the girl saw her, she'd either turn and flee or attack her - not that she'd blame the girl for either action.
Elaine Schroepfer walked stiffly, awkwardly to the only occupied table. When Maria mustered the courage to look up at the girl whose life she'd played a part in ruining - even if only a small one, she saw the very attractive girl standing, glaring down at her with a haunted look behind the anger in her eyes. "You!" she declared, her voice echoing both anger and surprise.
"Hello, Elaine," Maria said simply. "I ... I need to talk to you. Would you join me?"
"Why should I?" Skybolt demanded.
"You and I - we have a lot to talk about. The role I played in what happened to you and Cav. The ways we were used by those around us, the ... unique pain that I know you feel - because I've felt it most of my life, too."
Skybolt's eyes narrowed. "If you think a simple apology is going to make everything somehow better ..."
Maria shook her head sadly. "No. I know there's no way I can ever atone for my part, however large or small, in what was done to you. I'm not going to beg for forgiveness."
"Then ... why?"
"Please give me five minutes, and judge for yourself." The girl eyed her warily, knowing that Songbird had a powerful siren ability and that based on her past, she might be up to no good once more. And yet ....
She sat. "I'll take a French Vanilla coffee," she said simply.
Maria nodded and went to the barista, ordering the coffee for Skybolt. When she sat back down, Skybolt took a sip of the hot beverage. "I missed this," she said. "For over a year, simple pleasures like this were denied to me."
Just looking at Skybolt made Maria cringe at the evil she'd been affiliated with. The girl had multiple piercings - her eyebrows, her nose, a nose ring, multiple piercings in her ears, her tongue - and that was only the visible ones. She knew, from having hung out with Freya and the Don, that Sky had many more piercings all over her body, all bitter reminders of her year of mental slavery. And the doctors were removing them slowly, fearing that removing too many at once might cause serious system shock to the girl. And even then, they were going to leave scars, damaged tissue that would always remind Elaine of what she'd gone through.
"I didn't know it at the time," Maria began her explanation carefully, "but when I met Freya, I was a broken person. She used that to make me think she believed in me and that, in her eyes, I was wonderful." She looked into her coffee cup, shaking her head slowly. "It took something extreme to make me realize that she'd just been using me, like she used everyone else."
"You had nothing to do with Hekate's spell ...." Skybolt retorted quickly.
"Yes, I did," Maria said sadly. "I was part of the 'inner circle' that planned the whole thing. I ... sirened you and Cav to trust Hekate, to believe that she could help you."
Skybolt's eyes flared with rage, her jaw clenched tightly. "You ... bitch!" she roared, and for a few seconds, it seemed inevitable that she'd use her lightning energizer power to incinerate Maria.
"I swear to God," Maria said quickly, defensively, "I had no idea of what they were going to do! It sounded to me like they were going to persuade you to back off of them! Freya was getting tired of the constant in-fighting and..."
"I spent a year as a mind slave, unable to do or say anything to free myself!" Skybolt roared angrily. "I ... was forced to do the most humiliating things - and all the while, I knew. I KNEW!" Her eyes started misting at the horrible memories. "And I could do nothing to stop myself!" The mist condensed into tears which started flowing down Skybolt's cheeks.
"I wouldn't blame you if you struck me down where I sit," Maria said softly. "God knows I deserve it for all the evil I helped Freya do."
Elaine stared at Maria for many silent seconds, fury burning in her eyes, but slowly the burning rage subsided, the anger abating. A soft half-chuckle escaped her lips. "My therapist says that while revenge would feel sweet for a moment, it wouldn't help me regain who I really am."
"Elaine," Maria said softly, "I cannot begin to imagine what it was like for you. But I can tell you this - when I was young, my step-dad brutally and repeatedly raped me, and my mother turned a blind eye. A ... dear friend ... scared me - terrified me actually - that she was watching me and that if I used my power for anything like I'd done before, she'd destroy my soul." She looked up boldly at Skybolt. "I ... I spent the last year volunteering at a rape crisis center in New York while I was going to school." She looked down into her coffee again. "I ... I think I helped myself more than I helped all the women I counseled. I ... I realized that it wasn't my fault, that it wasn't anything I'd done, but that my step-dad was just evil."
There was no response from Skybolt, and fearful that she'd failed in her intent, she looked up at the abused girl. "I'm not telling you this to get sympathy for me. I ... I'm ..." She shook her head sadly. "I've gotten over a lot of my pain. But ... while I was volunteering, I realized that ... my understanding, my experiences, made it easier for me to sympathize with victims of abuse, and to be their advocate and someone to whom they could talk openly without fear of being judged or criticized, but who would understand and try to help them." She sighed again. "That's ... that's why I asked you to come here - to listen to my ... apology ... and to offer to help in any way I can."
Elaine Schroepfer nodded silently. In her eyes was everything Maria needed to see - the pain, the despair, the sense of being at fault, the feeling of shame and guilt. She looked down again, afraid of letting Maria see through the windows to her soul, to let someone see her inner anguish and pain.
"I'll listen," Maria offered. "Any time, any place. I know what it's like, how little things can remind you of your ordeal and trigger flashbacks and pain and tears. After my part in what happened, the least I can do is to be there so you have someone who will listen and understand and not judge. Someone who will let you cry when you need to. Someone who won't tell you how you're supposed to feel, but will help you understand why you feel the way you do, and maybe, just maybe, offer some advice that can help you get a little closer to feeling whole again."
Elaine looked up from her hands wrapped around her coffee cup. Her eyes were watering, drops rolling slowly from the corners of her eyes down her cheeks. "I ... I think I'd like that," she said. "I don't know why, but I ... feel like I need someone like you to help me, to listen to me." She shook her head sadly. "Dr. Bellows is a good counselor, but he has no idea of what Cav and I have gone through, of the humiliation, of no-one believing us or helping us." She took a couple of slow breaths, trying to steady her nerves. "You've been there. And you've helped others. I'd ..." she looked down again, the wet trails of moisture on her cheeks glistening in the light, "I'd like ...." It was too much for the girl - this sudden and unexpected offer of help from someone who understood only too well what she felt like. The trickle of tears turned into a steady stream.
Maria reached across the table to gently place her hands on the other girls'. There was nothing sexual about the move; only a gesture of support and understanding. She knew the tears on Elaine Schroepfer's face, where they came from, why Elaine felt like they'd never, ever stop, why she felt cheap and dirty and damaged.
"It's okay to cry, Elaine," Maria said softly. She didn't want to say anything too loudly. She needed to build trust with Skybolt, and that definitely meant not using her powers, even though they might help Skybolt, if only temporarily. It would be another mental abuse on the poor girl who'd suffered more than enough already.
Skybolt tried to nod, but couldn't. "It's ... it's so hard," she managed to say finally. "When I go anywhere, when I see people looking at me ...."
Maria nodded. "You think they know, don't you?"
"A lot of them do know!" Sky whimpered. "I ... they made me ... I couldn't stop ...."
"Elaine," Maria said in a surprisingly sympathetic voice, though without using the power she could have used as a siren, "it was not you!"
"But ... I ..."
"Elaine," Maria repeated, "it's no different than if they'd done those things to you by physical force, because that's what they did. They forced your mind - against your will. Rape is rape, whether it's coerced by physical or magical force. It is never right, but it's also never the victim's fault."
"But ..." Sky wiped at more tears with one hand, letting Maria's comforting touch stay. "But because of the spell, ... I had to .... to ... to ask for guys to do things to me! To be the aggressive one and go after things. To ... to beg them ... to use me ..." She let her head tilt forward, ashamed to be talking about her horrific ordeal; not surprisingly, tears started to stream down her cheeks once more.
"In my time as a rape counselor," Maria said, "I heard terrible stories, and I worked hard to help women learn that they weren't damaged, that they weren't at fault, that they were still valuable, precious human beings." She shook her head, a soft half-chuckle sounding. "And somewhere in all of that, I was trying to convince myself that I wasn't damaged goods, that I was still a valuable human being." She tenderly wiped tears off Skybolt's cheek. "I know what it feels like to be damaged, to feel self-loathing, to feel like it was all my fault."
Skybolt nodded slowly. "I ... I guess you're still working at that job, aren't you?"
Maria started. Was that what she was doing - still doing rape counseling? She thought back to her own teenage days, to when she'd been so horribly and so long abused by her step-father, with her mother turning a blind eye. How many others on campus had similar experiences, suffering in silence? How many others could use the help she never got? Maybe ... if she could help one, she'd do far more than anyone had done for her. A seed of an idea germinated and sprouted. She'd have to talk to Mrs. Carson and possibly to Dr. Bellows, but maybe ....
"Maria?" Skybolt asked again.
"Sorry," Maria apologized. "I just had a thought." She patted Sky's hands. "You're going to be okay. You have Cav, and the two of you love each other. The two of you can help each other. When you need a shoulder to cry on, let him support you. And sometimes, he'll need a shoulder to cry on, too." She smiled faintly. "And sometimes, if you both need it, come to me. I'll let you cry on my shoulder, or talk, or whatever you need, any time you need."
Skybolt's tears flowed again, and Maria noticed. Seeing Maria's shocked expression, Skybolt tried to chuckle. "No, it's not that. It's ... it helps so much to not feel like you're going to judge me, that you're going to listen and reassure me that I'm not cheap and dirty and worthless." She smiled, a contrast with the glints of moisture on her cheeks. "Thank you for listening."
Maria smiled. It felt good to know that Skybolt felt safe confiding in her - just like back at the crisis center. She knew she could help others - if she could convince Mrs. C and Dr. Bellows.
May 7th, 2007 - Afternoon
Conference Room, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
To anyone who really knew her, Liz Carson looked like her years were wearing on her, even though she appeared only thirty-five or so. There was just a little stiffness in her movement, a little less life in her gaze, a little less force in her expressions. "Let us resume," Mrs. Carson ordered sternly. "As a reminder, this is merely an evidentiary hearing into the facts surrounding the murder of Student Heyoka. Also, anyone asked a question is required, under penalty of law, to answer truthfully. Is that clear?"
Janice wasn't used to acting the part of a lawyer, but she did know the law and rules of evidence and court procedures - even though this wasn't a courtroom. "Let us begin by discussing the fatal injuries to Heyoka," she said. "Dr. Rascomb, would a horn be the only item which could cause the abdominal injury?"
"No. Any tapered object with a semi-sharp point could inflict that type of injury."
"So if a person were to hold a piece of horn or antler, they could in theory do the same damage?"
Rascomb nodded. "Or numerous other objects. But it would take a tremendous amount of force."
"On a campus full of high-level exemplars, psychokinetics, and various other mutations, would it be hard to find someone who could apply the requisite force?"
Rascomb shook his head. "No. If you gave me a couple of minutes, I could probably name three or four dozen students who could inflict that damage."
"Thank you." She turned toward the table where Delarose sat. "Chief, in all of the times where it has been reported that Miss Franks' manifested buffalo attacked, how many were unprovoked or aggressive?"
"All were in self-defense - with the exception of the incident in Sioux Falls where, as part of powers testing, a brick received a minor injury."
"So the school doesn't rate the manifestation as a serious danger to other students?"
"No. On one public occasion, it argued with Miss Franks when she was upset and angry and wanted it to attack, but it refused."
"So you think the manifested spirit is sentient?"
Delarose shrugged, smiling thinly. "I'm not an expert in avatars and spirits, but in all my interactions and reports of its behavior that I've read, it has most definitely acted sentient."
"If necessary, we will get more data on the sentience of spirits, but for now, that's all I can think of. Thank you, Chief." Janice turned toward the crowded room. "Mister Two Knives."
Billy Two Knives stood, his weather-lined face still impassive. "Yes, ma'am?"
"Is Kayda the only student who is learning to fight with the tomahawk?"
"No, ma'am," the Lakota warrior said simply. "Several of the Native American students have begun to learn to use traditional weapons as part of rediscovering their heritage and culture."
"Of these students, who is the most skilled with the tomahawk?"
"Is it a complicated weapon to wield in battle that would require considerable skill?"
"In a melee, yes," Billy replied. "There is much that can be done in a melee with a tomahawk, but it requires much practice."
Janice nodded, glancing at Hervik who was smiling at what he'd just heard. "How about for a sneak attack in a non-melee situation? Could an amateur, someone who has never used a tomahawk before, use it to make a fatal blow on someone unsuspecting?" she asked, shocking the entire room with the simple elegance of her question.
"Certainly. It'd be no different from using a hammer or a hatchet," Billy explained. "As you requested, I can demonstrate that easily."
Janice looked at Mrs. Carson, who nodded. "Proceed."
"Rosalyn Dekkard and Hank Declan, could you come to the front of the room please? Doctor Rascomb, could you please come forward for a technical analysis of the results?" Billy asked. The two were ready, having been briefed and prepared, so they were seated at the front of the room, and the doctor joined them. "Miss Dekkard, have you ever used a tomahawk before?"
Ros shook her head, causing her wavy black tresses to dance around her shoulders. "No."
"And your rating is Exemplar-1 - so you have no special strength or speed?"
Again she shook her head. "No sir."
"Very good. Mister Declan, you have a PK shell which is nearly impenetrable by normal weapons, correct?" He saw Hank's affirmative nod. "And you've sparred with Miss Franks when she used a tomahawk, and emerged with no injuries?" Again Hank nodded.
Billy took a tomahawk from his waist. "Mister Declan, I would like you to participate in a demonstration of the use of a tomahawk, but I cannot force you to do so. You understand the risks?"
"Yes, sir. I'm willing to do my part."
"Very well." He handed the tomahawk to Rosalyn. "I want you to strike Mister Declan with this tomahawk - right between his eyes, with all your force." He read the nervous expression in her eyes.
So did Hank. "Ros, I sparred with Kayda. It's okay. You can't hurt me with that."
Nervously, Ros gulped, then she glanced over her shoulder at Kayda. Realizing that she had to go through with this to help her Lakota friend, she lifted the tomahawk over her shoulder, stepped toward Hank, and swung with all her might. There was no sickening, bone-shattering crunch. The tomahawk merely bounced off Hank's PK field and he stood there with a silly grin on his face.
"Again please," Billy requested. "Harder this time. And try to hit between the eyes instead of over one eyebrow."
Less nervously, Ros complied, and the more-forceful blow hit where Billy Two Knives had requested.
"By your estimation," Janice asked Dr. Rascomb as Billy took the tomahawk from Ros, "what would have been the effect of those blows?"
"Either would have smashed the skull in a fatal blow. Both would have penetrated into the brain," Dr. Rascomb reported.
"So in your opinion, is there any special skill required to use a tomahawk as a murder weapon in this particular case?"
Billy shook his head. "Nope."
"And I suggest that the only reason a tomahawk was used was to point suspicion to Miss Franks, who is widely known on-campus to be learning to use such a weapon," Janice concluded with a smug smile as she saw the frown on Hervik's and Dougan's faces. The participants in the demonstration took their seats as well.
Janice paced back and forth, more deliberatively than nervously. "Let's address Miss Franks' PTSD. Dr. Bellows, can you elaborate on Miss Franks' condition?"
Dr. Bellows shook his head. "I'm sorry, but as a physician, I cannot disclose patient information without the consent of the patient, or, as Miss Franks is a minor, without consent from her parents."
Janice nodded, retrieved a couple of papers from her table, and presented them to Mrs. Carson. "While the school has forms for in loco parentis, I took the time to notify her parents of these proceedings and get specific permission for Dr. Bellows and any other medical staff at Whateley to discuss her medical conditions to the extent necessary to clarify facts of the case."
Dr. Bellows nodded; he'd known of the permission forms, but was following Janice's lead to keep the attorney and the MCO agent a little off balance. "Miss Franks suffered severe physical trauma twice after manifesting. Her former classmates attempted to beat her to death, inflicting significant psychological trauma as well as massive injury."
"And how does she react in stressful situations?"
"Generally, she gets into a severely withdrawn state, almost catatonic. On one occasion, she was hospitalized from a mental collapse which did result in a nearly comatose state."
"Excuse me," Hervik asked, rising from his chair. "As this medical information is not in her security files, I request that the chair indulge me in asking a few questions."
Liz nodded. "That's permissible - within limits. If, in the opinion of her physician your questions are not relevant or psychologically traumatic to Miss Franks, the question will be disallowed." Janice and Dr. Bellows frowned. They knew Hervik was up to something, and they weren't sure what. Nor how much information he had accessed about her.
"Thank you," Hervik said. There was something in his expression that made Liz and Janice nervous. "And in situations where she doesn't become withdrawn?"
"When attacked, on occasion, she has reacted with uncontrolled aggression," Dr. Bellows continued. "Almost a low-grade rager type of attack."
Hervik glanced at Mrs. Carson. "Might I be permitted a couple of follow-up questions to this?" When Liz nodded, he smiled. "Chief Delarose, has your security team responded to any incidents where Miss Franks had a PTSD reaction?"
"Yes," Delarose looked like he was sucking something particularly bitter.
"Is either Sensei Ito or Sensei Tolman present?" Hervik asked.
From the back of the room, Sensei Tolman stood. "I am Sensei Tolman," she replied simply in a tone that couldn't possibly be mistaken for pleasure at being questioned.
"In her martial arts training, has Miss Franks had either a withdrawal or aggression PTSD reaction?"
"Yes," Sensei Tolman responded. "Some of both."
"I'd like to ask either of you, Chief and Ms. Tolman - is there a discernible pattern in the cause of these PTSD episodes?"
When both hesitated for several seconds, Liz was forced to intervene. "The question is relevant. Answer please."
Sensei Tolman spoke first. "Kayda's reactions have all been caused by contact - deliberate or inadvertent - with ... male students or instructors."
"I see. So, Doctor, would you speculate that Miss Franks has an aggressive phobia of male students? One that can manifest itself as either withdrawal or aggressive attack? And if so, what would cause such a thing?"
Mrs. Carson's face was fiery-red, even redder than Dr. Bellows'. "Mister Hervik ...," she began thunderously.
Kayda had been emotionally beaten around by Hervik's line of questioning for too long, until she was an emotional mess inside. She'd had to sit quietly through the rantings and ravings of Hervik, all accusing her of murdering Heyoka. All the while she'd had no comfort from her spirits, no contact with her love Debra, exhausted, and frightened. She was past her emotional breaking point.
"Yes," she yelled, bolting to her feet, "it's all guys! You know why?" She ignored Dr. Bellows hand on her arm, trying to calm her, to get her to sit down and shut up. "Because they fucking raped me!" she screamed in her emotional venting. "When they tried to kill me, they fucking gang-raped me!"
In the deathly silence of the shocked room, she slowly sank back to her chair, her entire body convulsing as she began to bawl. "Is that what you wanted?" she yelled through her sobs. "To completely humiliate me?" Her outburst, caused by a sudden release of all her bottled up frustration and anger at the entire farce of a hearing, spent all her emotional energy. Crying hysterically at the forced memory recall, she let her face fall into her hands on the desk.
"I demand a recess," Dr. Bellows snarled, glaring at Hervik as if his angry stare alone could slay the man. "And I promise that I'll do everything in my power to get you disbarred for unprofessional conduct with a minor," he promised ominously.
May 7th, 2007 - afternoon
First Floor Common Room, Dickinson Cottage, Whateley Academy
"Did you hear what happened in the hearing?" Heartbreaker asked Fade as the two passed in the first-floor common room of Dickinson, during the chaos that was the rush of girls returning from sixth period classes and those scurrying off to make a special after-hours class period.
"No," Fade said, curious. The hearing was all the gossip for the afternoon, and the number of girls who detoured toward Heartbreaker was not small.
"Kayda was almost beaten to death after she manifested!" Heartbreaker reported. "But that's not the big news. She was gang-raped by the guys trying to kill her!"
"What?" "You're kidding!" "No way!"
Heartbreaker nodded, looking around the coterie that now included Pristine, Dragonrider, Kandy, Chat Bleu, and Aquerna. "She admitted it herself," she continued. "The attorney from outside was questioning Sensei Tolman about why Kayda reacted in some fights and not in others. Tolman told the hearing that she only has reactions to fighting with boys." More girls were drifting into the crowd, attracted by the size of the group and the obvious gossip, with squeals of disbelief.
"Hey, Aquerna," Kandy noticed Anna listening in. "Isn't she in the fourth period martial arts class with you?"
"Sometimes," Anna said. She didn't want to say anything bad about Kayda, because Kayda was so nice to her, even helping her dream-walk and meet real squirrel spirits. And she didn't know anything for sure, so it'd be awful to spread gossip about her friend if it wasn't true.
"Well? Is it true? Does she freak out when she fights boys?" Fade pressed.
Aquerna winced. "Uh, kind of," she admitted softly. "She's ... she's getting better."
"But she does freak out fighting boys?" Dragonrider asked.
Aquerna nodded slowly. "I suppose I would too if that happened to me!"
"O. M. G!" Rachel squealed. "Like, I can't even imagine what it'd be like to have that happen!"
"No wonder she's in Poe with the other headcases," Lightweight commented, shaking her head sadly. "Are you sure, though?" As she spoke, Mindbird joined the little circle.
Heartbreaker nodded. "She said it herself! At least that's what Sharpie said, and he was in the room."
"Said what?" Dale asked, curious about the latest gossip.
"Kayda was raped after she manifested!" Rachel blurted out.
Dale's eyes narrowed. How had this news gotten out? She knew Kayda's secret, but hadn't divulged it to anyone. Nor had any of the security auxiliaries that she knew, at least she suspected not. They had too much integrity for that. "How ... where did you hear that?" she asked plainly.
"She admitted it in the hearing," Heartbreaker replied. She looked evenly at Dale, her gaze penetrating. After a moment, she gave the tiniest of nods toward Dale, acknowledging that if Dale did know, it wasn't Heartbreaker's place to spread such news.
"Mon Dieu!" Charmer exclaimed softly. "That poor girl!"
Doli Peshkali - Wind Runner - stumbled back from the group, collapsing into a chair, her face a mixture of shock and guilt. Was it true? Had she been gang-raped? Her hatred for Kayda instantly waned, leaving her feeling shocked at how something so awful could have happened, and guilty for having been such an ass toward the poor girl.
"What's going on out here?" Mrs. Nelson asked sternly as she waded into the middle of the circle of gossiping girls. The response was a chorus of voices, all excitedly trying to report the gossip they'd heard. Mrs. Nelson put up her hands. "One at a time!" she commanded sternly without yelling. It wasn't lady-like to yell, and she wasn't about to set a bad example for her girls.
"Mrs. Nelson," Heartbreaker jumped in, "according to Sharpie, who was in the hearing, Kayda was gang-raped and almost beaten to death when she manifested!"
Mrs. Nelson nodded grimly, holding up her hand to quell any other commentary. "Girls," she admonished the gathered cluster, "proper ladies do not speculate in or spread gossip, and I fully expect that you won't spread rumors." She looked around, seeing more girls in the lobby, and she called out. "Please gather around." In moments, all the girls in the lobby were in a semi-circle around Mrs. Nelson.
"Right now, it's only a rumor - second-hand at that. If, and I repeat, this is only if at this point, if it's true that she was raped, then I expect you to offer her support in any way you can."
"But Mrs. Nelson ..." one girl started. She was silenced with a glare from the house-mother.
"Put yourself in her shoes. Imagine that you were the victim of such an awful crime. Would you want people gossiping, especially other girls who should understand and be sympathetic try to help?" She looked around, seeing her words sink in. "The best thing you can do for her is not to treat her as broken or damaged or fragile. Don't try to suddenly be sympathetic. Treat her like she's one of the girls. Like she's a normal, teenaged girl. That's what she needs most of all - to feel normal." She looked around. "Okay?"
Slowly, the girls in the lobby nodded their understanding. Mrs. Nelson saved a special stare for Wind Runner, who was still in a state of shock in the chair. "Doli?"
"Yes, ma'am," Doli said softly, wondering how the hell she was supposed to treat Kayda normally when they'd been rivals, but now she felt sorry for the girl.
Near the wall, apart from most of the girls, stood Tansy Walcutt, listening to the last bit of the gossip and the warning words from Mrs. Nelson. She couldn't help but recall the feelings and emotions and thoughts she'd experienced a week prior when she'd helped Kayda hide from Mindbird. She'd felt, in Kayda's mind, the lingering horror of something awful; now she knew for certain what that something was. And she understood. It was no wonder that Kayda found Lanie's kiss so wonderful and safe and loving; it was because after something like a brutal rape, she could probably never trust a man to not hurt her, but she could find love and solace and comfort in a woman who could never hurt her in that way.
And Tansy realized something else. She, too, had been used and abused and emotionally hurt by men, leaving her just as distrustful, and worse, bitter and angry, trying to use men in return, in an ongoing attempt at revenge. That had been part of what had made her into a monster. Maybe, she found herself thinking to her completely surprise, just maybe, all of those forbidden thoughts of loving another woman in a way that she'd never experienced before weren't wrong or evil. Maybe it was okay for her to admit the feelings she'd hidden and tried to squash for so long. And surprisingly, that thought wasn't nearly as terrifying as she thought it should have been.
May 7th, 2007 - Afternoon
Conference Room, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
"Has your manifested buffalo ever appeared invisibly?" Janice asked in a much-subdued hearing room, once the recess was over.
"He can't," Kayda explained. "Not that I've ever seen."
"A point, if I may," Dr. Hewley rose in his chair. Seeing the nod from Liz, he continued. "In order to interact with our physical world, a spirit must be in our physical world. For the manifested buffalo to cause damage, he would have had to have been visible."
"Thank you, Dr. Hewley," Janice said. "And as we saw on the video of the murder, there was no manifested buffalo. There was nothing!" She looked thoughtful for a moment as she sorted facts in her head. "Dr. Hewley, earlier we saw the video clip of Officer Matthews' attack on Miss Franks, and her buffalo's attack on him. Would you say that scenario would have been an ideal time for the buffalo to manifest invisibly if it could?"
"Of course. As the footage showed, the buffalo was shot and took damage from Officer Matthews' rifle. If it had been invisible, there wouldn't have been a target, and the buffalo would have been able to inflict more damage, better protecting Miss Franks."
"I'm still very concerned about the source of the video clip of Arena 77," Hervik scowled. "Security said there are no recordings of the arenas unless there are scheduled events."
"Admiral Everheart?" Janice invited Sam to answer.
"One of our computer experts located footage from the arena on a server farm associated with a Las Vegas gambling concern. We've always known that cameras get snuck in, and that betting on our combats and simulations is big business in the gambling industry, so it was no surprise to find footage once we looked."
"On that and the next points, Sam, could you explain the analysis done on the video footage?"
Sam Everheart stood and walked between the tables. "We applied sound processing algorithms to the audio-visual footage to remove artifacts and known sources of noise."
Dougan perked up. "What is the source and pedigree of those algorithms? How would a jury know that they're accurate and unbiased?"
Sam smiled. "Very good question. As to the source, the algorithms were borrowed from the US Navy. As to the specific use in the navy and the algorithms themselves, I would hazard a guess that there is no-one in this room cleared sufficiently highly for that information."
"Except you?" Janice asked.
"Correct." For show, Sam picked up the remote control, even though it would have been trivial for the Hive to control the computer display. "Let me walk you through the process with this demonstration video clip." Sam played a video clip from the tunnels, in which several students passed by. The sound was a jumble of voices, footsteps, blowers and fans, and other assorted noises. "First, we had to use lip-syncing to correlate voices to people, and then suppress those sounds." She played the video clip again; this time, there was less noise. "Footsteps of visible people are identified and removed in a similar way." The clip played again, and there was far less sound, "and then the background mechanicals were isolated and removed." This time, there were only faint, regular pulses of sounds. "When amplified," Sam pushed another control, "we find that the noise corresponds to footsteps that have no visible source."
"So you have determined that someone who could walk invisibly, like Miss Franks, walked through the tunnels? And we already knew that from the RFID trackers." Hervik sneered.
"That's when things got interesting," Sam said, unflapped by the attorney's condescending tone. "Extrapolating the average stride length to the footsteps, we estimate that in this video clip, the source of the sound was moving at forty-eight point three miles per hour. When we then checked the timing between RFID sensors, we discovered that the ID moved at approximately forty-eight point one miles per hour. The discrepancy is well within the range of error expected from our interpolation methods." She smiled. "Kayda's maximum speed from testing is just under thirty-one miles per hour."
Hervik looked quite displeased. "Surely there are spells or other means to speed a person up."
Sam actually smiled. "But not to the degree required in the arena. We performed the same sound analysis, and it is estimated that the speed at first impact with the horn was seventy-one point eight miles per hour. Then there's a scrambling sound, like the assailant is trying to recover balance, followed by a burst of speed at just under ninety miles per hour at the point of the tomahawk blow. There's a muffled laugh, and then the footsteps exit at approximately sixty miles per hour." Sam shook her head. "It is physiologically impossible for Kayda to have performed the attack."
"But ... she has no alibi!" Hervik protested.
Janice rose. "That is a mistaken assumption, Mr. Hervik," she said calmly. "We found, at the scene, a note that seemed to be from Miss Franks. However, forensic analysis of her computer and all router logs and server logs shows that she submitted no print job with that note. Miss Franks? Did you also receive a note?"
Kayda nodded, to which Janice held up a browned paper in an evidence bag. "This note?" she clicked the remote and the browned paper showed - barely - blackened letters upon it.
"Yes." Kayda replied.
"And Miss Nalley received a note as well?" Janice asked. "This note?" Again, she clicked the remote and the note to Lanie appeared.
"Yes, ma'am," Lanie answered. "It said that Kayda wanted mah help at the sweat lodge."
"And all three notes were submitted through the Emerson network router for the printer in Beck Library - in a three-minute window. It is reasonable to assume that the note to Heyoka was not from Miss Franks."
"That's still not an alibi," Hervik grumbled. "The RFID tag shows that she was at the murder scene."
"Perhaps," Janice said with a wicked grin. "Mrs. Carson, can I see your faculty ID for a moment?"
Half-suspecting what Janice was up to, Liz removed her ID and handed it to Janice. Smiling, Janice walked out into the hallway, returning a few seconds later. "You just went to the Ladies room down the hallway."
"No, I didn't," Liz said, trying not to smile at the obvious demonstration.
"The RFID sensors say you did." She handed Liz's badge back to the headmistress. "It's not necessary to spoof the complicated, nearly foolproof RFID tracking system. It's only necessary to 'borrow' someone's ID. And if you return it without them knowing, they have no idea of where they supposedly went." She smiled and winked at Lanie for the brilliant idea.
"Circe, do you recall what Miss Franks said when you detained her?"
The elder mage stood. "She said that her ID card was not in the usual spot she kept it. She was surprised that it was located in a different part of her purse."
"Thank you." She turned back to Kayda. "Miss Franks, where were you at the time of the murder?"
"I was at the sweat lodge, following the note."
"And was anyone with you?"
Kayda gulped, and glanced at Lanie; the redhead nodded firmly. "Lanie - Elaine Nalley," she said nervously.
"Is there any evidence that you were at the sweat lodge?"
Kayda nodded again. "There is video which recorded our presence."
"And where did this video come from?" Janice asked, pre-empting Hervik.
"Someone had recorded our ... activities ... and arranged to have a copy delivered to Wyatt Cody," Kayda said, looking down at the table, knowing her cheeks were practical aglow from blushing.
"We will need to see that video that purports to show Miss Franks at this sweat lodge," Hervik said.
Janice grimaced. "I'm afraid it's not that simple. You see, according to New Hampshire and Federal laws, I can't give this video to anyone, nor can anyone legally watch it unless they are in a legal, Federally-recognized investigative or prosecutorial role in the related matter."
"And why would that be?" Dougan asked, annoyed.
Kayda glanced at Lanie, reassured by her nod and confident look. "Because it shows Lanie and me ... being ... intimate," she said firmly. The stunned silence and gasps of surprise in the room lasted only a few seconds, followed by a rapidly swelling background noise of murmured rumors and innuendo.
"And as both participants are under the age of majority, this video technically classifies as child pornography, so you will understand the restrictions upon it."
"Miss Nalley?" Mrs. Carson called out sternly. "Is this account true?"
"Yes, ma'am. We were lured to the sweat lodge, where ... we had sex," the redhead replied calmly with only the slightest hesitation. "For a rather ... extended ... period of time," she added with nary a hint of embarrassment.
"There is a second source of the same video, inadvertently collected in hidden data in the security system, which includes time stamps and verifies - frame by frame - this video."
Liz grimaced. Situations like this made being headmistress complicated. "We will take a short recess. Mr. Hervik, I assume that as a prosecuting attorney in New Hampshire, you have limited immunity for handling evidence?"
"Miss Nalley, Miss Franks, accompany us please. Mr. Cody, you too, as you were the one who came into possession of the video. Sam?"
The former admiral nodded. "I'm cleared."
"Good." She stood, both grateful that there was some type of hard evidence that exonerated Kayda, and dreading how she was going to handle the inevitable fallout. "We will resume in thirty minutes." She glanced around the room. "Dr. Hartford, Trustees - we'll send for you in a bit when we determine what you may and may not legally see as evidence."
"Mrs. Carson," Wyatt Cody interrupted as people started to rise. "Tweak and Cueball need to be present. For reasons that are best explained in private."
Mrs. Carson stared at the two for a few uncomfortable seconds. "Very well. Come with us." She led the procession out of the classroom, followed by Mr. Hervik, Sam, and the five students. Kayda felt her cheeks burning at the stares directed her way as they walked out of the classroom and down the hall toward the administrative suite. Despite that, she tried hard to hold her head up high, to look ahead without blushing or feeling embarrassed or ashamed - just like Lanie was doing. If Lanie could walk out of a room, head held high, after admitting a lesbian affair, then by damn, Kayda was determined to do the same.
May 7th, 2007 - Afternoon
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Jadis smiled faintly as she listened to the gossips coming to and fro by the 'fixer's terrace' the little patio adjacent to the Crystal Hall in the back of Schuster Hall. Shock at Elaine Nalley having sex with another girl could only be expressed by those who, ironically, weren't watching. It seemed quite obvious to her how less than discreet Elaine and Songbird had been last year. When the third girl launched into yet another reiteration of the torrid lesbian affair, Jadis couldn't help a self-contemplative frown that she hid behind a sip of her coffee.
Being honest with herself, she realized that getting back at Freya for the Alpha pledge party had been a big focus of her time last year, and notions of using Loophole to get at Freya through Songbird had seen Jadis shadowing the redhead and her Spanish lover quite extensively. Perhaps, she realized on further reflection, few others had cared as much as she had. That being the case, she'd had a prime piece of information she'd over looked the usefulness of because she'd considered it common knowledge.
Jadis took the pen from behind her ear and scratched out a note to herself on the pad, thankful that she had had the foresight to learn shorthand. The art was becoming lost, giving her a moderately secure way to take notes not only quickly, but ones that defied casual scrutiny. To the untrained, they merely looked like squiggly gibberish.
"Well, I heard that Kayda and Elaine are both having sex with Kodiak!"
"And Heyoka found out about it and was going to blackmail them so they killed him!"
Jadis rolled her eyes for all the vaunted exemplar intelligence and so-called Mental Package the amount of ignorance, stupidity and outright inability to think on this campus was staggering. She flipped her notes back to what had happened between Tee Kay, Nitro and Tissy. It was no secret to anybody watching that Speakeasy had a deep-set pathological hatred for Kayda and Heyoka, something to do with their tribal affiliations evidently.
Speakeasy rents a room from her, applies something to glasses and papers, two militant, homophobic, GSD-phobic males and one very angry, very GSD female engage in a reckless amount of sexual activity, performing acts obviously none had attempted before - and would never have considered doing. Now the campus is alive with rumors about lesbian love fests with Loophole and Kayda, but Jadis seemed to be the only girl on this campus that had noticed after her Saturday night date with Kodiak that Elaine was wearing a new ring.
An engagement ring.
It didn't take Perry Mason to figure out what was really going on here. Jadis chewed on the end of her pen for a moment then whispered, "For you, mom." She picked up her cellphone and dialed. "Hi, it's Jadis. I'm cashing in your favor. Yes, now. I'm on the patio, enjoying the sun. See you in five."
To his credit, Jadis' watch said he'd arrived the three minutes and forty two seconds. "So, what do you need?"
Jadis fished an SD card from her purse and handed it to him. "Take this to Mrs. Carson and tell her to watch what's on it; to watch all of it and alone. That's important. You don't watch it, no one else watches it. And you have no idea where you got it from."
"She's not going to buy that," he protested.
Jadis smiled. "You'd be surprised."
"Ok, then what?"
A white eyebrow rose up her forehead. "Then nothing. We're done, you're paid in full. Not so bad, was it?"
He grinned, and, truth be told, he had a great smile, just enough teeth, nice and white, not quite perfectly straight, just enough movie star, just enough rogue. "Not at all. Listening to your voice is a distinct pleasure."
"Move, you...you smiling devil you!" she admonished and he sauntered off. I have a nice voice? she wondered to herself.
May 7th, 2007 - Afternoon
Schuster Hall, Mrs. Carson's Conference Room
Her fingers steepled before her face, Mrs. Carson stared into the screen of the laptop in front of her, contemplating. "Okay," she finally said, "Thanks to Tweak, we have proof that the two of you," she glanced up at Lanie and Kayda, "were in the sweat lodge." She looked at Cueball and Tweak who were seated at the other end of the table, sweating bullets.
"I can't give you detention for your, um, creative signal processing," Mrs. Carson said, her gaze boring into Tweak with a guardedly-neutral expression. She watched the two squirm, knowing that the hammer was going to drop, but not knowing from where or how hard. "But for your, erm, indiscretion in displaying the video in a public setting, which has become public knowledge with images and clips posted on the Whateley servers, you each get a week of detention. I will leave the choice of assignment to Mrs. Shugendo - and I will ask her to be suitably creative." She scowled at the two. "Perhaps you two didn't realize the devastation you could cause to two students' reputations by that little indiscretion, so this might be a learning experience. You two should not be surprised if friends of the two students decide that a little ... impromptu ... retaliation is in order. But if you did know and spread the imagery anyway, it would be a felony child porn offense, with all of the attendant consequences."
The two students goggled at her, sweating profusely as the Headmistress made only too clear the fine line they were walking. Any false move or word on their part, and she could have them expelled and turned over to the authorities. Wisely, the two said and did nothing.
"Well?" she demanded, glaring at the two. "Which was it?"
"Erm," Tweak squeaked, "it wasn't intentional."
"You two may leave," she dismissed them, and the two students stood, happy to have dodged a bullet. "But," Mrs. Carson halted them with an afterthought, "you might want to spend some time in serious thought about how you might make an effective apology and atonement to the two girls whose reputations you have so affected."
"Yes, ma'am," Tweak stammered before she turned and practically fled the room, with Cueball close on her heels.
As soon as the door shut, Mrs. Carson put her hands behind her head and leaned back in her chair. "Sam? Janice? Recommendations on what parts of this we need to see?"
Janice shrugged. "I would suggest starting at the earliest time, demonstrating that Kayda is in the sweat lodge, then the point of entry of Miss Nalley, then a still frame every ten minutes - close enough to demonstrate that neither of them left the sweat lodge until well after Heyoka's murder."
Kayda stared at her in disbelief for a moment, realizing that a lot of imagery was going to be shown to a lot of adults, then dropped her gaze, her cheeks burning. Beside her, Lanie grasped her hand in support.
"Mrs. Carson," Sam interrupted, looking at Kayda's embarrassed expression, "I can suppress ... details of the video in real-time so the video is less ... revealing."
"Very well, Sam, do that." She glanced around the room. "Let's get this over with."
At a rate of two and a half seconds per frame, long enough to recognize Lanie's and Kayda's faces and read the time code, the long video sequence was projected on the conference room's large screen built into one wall. True to her word, Sam pixelated - severely - much of the scene, so that little beside the two faces and the background of the sweat lodge could be recognized. Despite that, it was abundantly clear that the girls were having sex.
Wyatt stood suddenly. "Back up a frame, please," he asked Sam. Without even glancing at the Headmistress, Sam did so. "The Kodiak studied this part to show me something. Can you please step through this frame by frame?"
And then there was, beside the large senior, a huge manifestation of the Kodiak, the healer, the spirit from Wyatt's hallow. A moment later, Grizzly was there, too, standing beside the huge bear.
Across the table, Jerome Hervik looked like he was going to soil himself with fright over the sudden manifestations in the room. "What ... what ... are those?" he squeaked, sounding more like a terrified child than an adult attorney.
"These are the two spirits which inhabit Loophole and Kody. They have some ... unique insight into this situation," Mrs. Carson explained, taking some sadistic pleasure in watching the attorney squirm uncomfortably.
As Sam advanced the video, the Kodiak suddenly reared. "There!" he growled. "Can you get a close-up of their faces?" Dutifully, Sam zoomed in the image. "What do you see?"
"They don't look ... happy," Liz hazarded a guess.
"No," Grizzly confirmed. "Advance a few more frames, slowly." The video moved as she wished. "In fact, at this point, their expressions are far more afraid and desperate." She crossed her massive arms. "There was some foreign agent in my host's blood. Some long-chain, magically active protein chain that disrupted much of her rational thinking and hormonal levels - at least temporarily."
"It has all the symptoms of a demon essence," Kodiak said before Mrs. Carson could ask. "Specifically, a lust demon." The great bear turned to Sam. "Can you rewind to the point that Miss Nalley entered, and then show the video in slow-motion?"
Sam nodded; the Hive was going to be busy doing real-time video masking, but she knew it had more than sufficient capability.
"Okay," Grizzly noted as the tape showed Kayda on the skin rug, and Lanie pulled back the tent flap and stepped in. "Note the surprise on my host's face. Also please note the ... intense desire ... on Miss Franks' face. Please note as the frames advance that my host is scratching at and rubbing her left hand." She let the video advance a few seconds. "At this point, my host was trying desperately to resist whatever agent had entered her body - most likely through her left hand. As the video progresses, you will see her resistance crumble ..." she waited for the film to catch up to her narration, "and now her expression is as lustful and desirous as that of Miss Franks."
"From that point to when the girls pass out from exhaustion is nearly two hours - the end of which is marked by severe desperation and anxiety in their expressions," Kodiak continued. He turned to Sam. "Please advance to where the girls awaken." When the appropriate image was shown, Kodiak continued his analysis. "Note that at this point, whatever was in the girls seems to have worn off. There is no burning lust, no unstoppable desire."
"At the point they awakened, my host was in full control again," Grizzly said. "Whatever essence remained in her blood was rapidly decaying."
"Ma'am," Lanie volunteered, seemingly unflustered at having been the star in a very x-rated video clip, "we went straight to Doyle to have our blood tested. It showed nothing. And when we came back with mah tricorder, Ah couldn't detect any foreign chemicals on the tent flap, which we figured was the method by which we were dosed with the serum."
"By that point, the tent flap had been changed," Janice said, nodding with certainty at the revelation. "That's why Lifeline noted the differences! And three cameras were fastened in the sweat lodge at the points we found abrasions on the structure."
Mrs. Carson leaned back, her fingers intertwined and her hands resting atop her head, staring toward the ceiling in thought. "Now for the tricky part," she said after a long sigh. "There's not much on that video which we can show to the Trustees."
"I've been extracting key frames aligned with the search parameters - within reason, anyway - that show one or both faces and the time codes. The inappropriate parts have been pixelated and it is being converted to a PowerPoint slide show. I should be done processing in about twenty seconds," Sam reported. "All within legal parameters."
"Good, Sam," Mrs. Carson said gratefully. "You children may leave now. Mr. Hervik and Janice, too. Janice, would you be so kind as to ask the trustees to come to the conference room?"
May 7th, 2007 - Afternoon
Classroom, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Upon hearing that the administration and trustees were filing back into the classroom, students descended upon Schuster like locusts on a field, all wanting to hear the verdict and pronouncement of the biggest event of the spring term. There wasn't even standing room left - only the single central aisle that would allow the parties to the hearing to move to the front.
Kayda, Dr. Bellows, and Janice Talbert sat at their table, having been informed that the Trustees had finished their deliberations and they should return to the hearing room. Kayda sat upright, trying her hardest to look dignified in the face of what had been revealed. Lanie and Wyatt, having been with Kayda for moral support, had had to chase kids out of their seats, which was an exceedingly trivial matter.
At the other table sat Assistant State's Attorney for New Hampshire Hervik with Chief Delarose and Agent Dougan. Lanie leaned closer to Wyatt. "Hervik and Dougan look very unhappy," she said with a smile. "That can only be good news for Kayda."
Wyatt grinned down at her, his mighty arm wrapped around her shoulder. "I think that attorney was about to shit himself when Kodiak and Grizzly manifested."
"Ah'll be surprised if ..." She stopped talking when she realized that all other noise in the room had ceased and that a procession was coming down the aisle. In a dignified manner, the four trustees, Mrs. Donner, and Mrs. Carson strode around the table and took their seats, Mrs. Carson carrying a folder which she hadn't had before.
"Ahem," she cleared her throat, "This hearing is now back in session, and the rules of behavior apply. Is that clear?" The room was silent.
Mrs. Carson opened the folder and extracted a sheet of paper. "In the matter of the murder of Student Heyoka, the initial evidence suggested that Kayda Franks was at the scene of the crime and committed the murder. Further investigation, however, reveals two independent sources of data which show that Miss Franks was not at the scene of the crime, but was instead at the Sweat Lodge as she claimed. Evidence suggests strongly that the trace of her student ID through the tunnels occurred at a pace that was far too fast for her to sustain, and that the murder was accomplished by a speedster able to move at a far higher rate of speed than Miss Franks. Video evidence refutes the presence of Miss Franks' white bison as a causative agent, in that no person or manifestation was observed on the video during the attack on Student Jaime Carson." She looked at the table with Chief Carson and Hervik, and then at Kayda, Dr. Bellows, and Janice Talbert. "As a neutral representative, it is not my place to make a decision. Supervisors? How do you vote?" She looked to her right. "Reverend Englund?"
Englund glared at Kayda for a moment. "With regard to the issue of her murdering Student Heyoka, no, there is insufficient evidence to charge her."
"The alibi is solid. No."
"As the student is an advisee of mine, I must abstain," he said with dignity.
"Very well. Mrs. Donner, as the head of the Medawihla Tribe, how do you vote?"
"No." She bore a look of particular distaste for the interlopers on Whateley's campus.
Mrs. Carson turned to her security chief. "As the lead investigator, Chief Delarose, what is your opinion?"
Chief Delarose stood to emphasize his point. "All evidence pointing to Ms. Franks as the perpetrator is not credible in light of contradicting and exonerating evidence. There is no basis, in my opinion, to charge Ms. Franks with this crime. I believe it to be an attempt - clever, but flawed - to frame her for the murder for purposes unknown."
"Very well, Chief. It is the conclusion of this panel that ...."
"Excuse me, Mrs. Carson," Hervik was on his feet, a book in hand and opened to a page he was staring at. "In accordance with Section forty-two, Rule 8.C, paragraph 2, as the designated representative for the Department of Paranormal Affairs at this proceeding, I am entitled to ask for a review of the evidence by senior lawyers at the department itself."
For a moment, Mrs. Carson looked like she might turn into Lady Astarte and shove the rulebook down Mr. Hervik's throat and straight out his ass. She was definitely not happy, but she clenched her jaw tightly as she scowled at the impudent little man.
"There is also the matter of consent for sexual contact with underage ...." he continued.
"Mister Hervik," Mrs. Carson glared at him, "both of these girls are over the age of consent in the State of New Hampshire, so what they do of choice is of no concern to you. What's more, we are not within the jurisdiction of Coos County or the State of New Hampshire, but by the Medawihla Tribe, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Department of Paranormal Affairs. Further, given the nature of the ... evidence of such contact, if you disclose this evidence outside a very privileged and limited set of authorized individuals, you will be in violation of the rules of the bar of the State of New Hampshire, and I will use every contact and power I have to see to it you are prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned for such an offense."
"There is sufficient evidence to convene a Grand Jury," Hervik said defensively. "She had motive, she had opportunity, she had expertise with the murder weapons. All this talk about a sexual liaison is a distraction. The speculation of some demonic compulsion, some lust demon serum, is a distraction - and would not be admissible in a New Hampshire court of law! You apparently didn't consider the possibility that the entire ... .affair ... could have been recorded at an earlier time and broadcast during the time of the murder to provide an alibi." He was not going to back down. "I request that the girl be taken into proper custody by the Coos County sheriff's office so that we may begin formal proceedings."
"Not until you have a ruling from the DPA," Mrs. Carson's words were of iron; she was not going to yield to Hervik one iota.
"Very well. We shall await a ruling from the DPA. Until then, according to the rules, the girl is to remain in custody."
"In my jurisdiction," Mrs. Carson shot back at him. She rose angrily. "This proceeding is adjourned for the day. I will announce later tonight, after I talk with the head of the DPA, when we will resume tomorrow morning." She gave her trademarked 'daggers of death' gaze to the attorney and the MCO man. "You are not welcome on my campus until we resume proceedings tomorrow morning."
May 7th, 2007 - Afternoon
Headmistress' Office, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
The Headmistress looked up at the young man standing in her doorway, hand still raised from the courtesy knock he'd rapped on the open door. Adrift in her own thoughts, she hadn't seen or heard his approach. She straightened in her chair and pushed aside her worries about Mister Hervik and where he was getting his information from. "What can I do for you, Mr. Nalley?" she asked with a beckoning gesture to one of the chairs that faced her desk.
The young man entered, hat in hand, despite the lack of actually having a hat, but remained standing. "Nothing for me, ma'am," he told her, offering his hand. "I was asked to give this to you."
Arching a perfect blonde eyebrow, the Headmistress extended her hand and found he was giving her a small SD Card. "What is this?" she asked archly. "And who gave it to you and who asked you to bring it to me?"
"Uh, I don't know, and I was asked not to say," Stronghold replied. "Only that you, and only you should watch what's on it and all of what's on it. That was specific about being important."
The other eyebrow joined its comrade on top of the Headmistress' forehead. "Mr. Nalley, have I ever given you the impression that I am partial to dissembling, veiled comments or otherwise described an affection for speech in a manner that is imprecise, obfuscatory in meaning or unclear?"
"Not in the least ma'am," the young man replied stoically. "Which is why, believe me, I am so uncomfortable at my position in this, but I'm honor bound to deliver this and to respectfully refuse to answer any questions you have as to its source."
Carson pursed her lips. "I see," she said finally, one hand tapping a key on her laptop to bring the device out of its standby mode. "Very well, wait outside and shut the door if you please. Depending on what I see here will determine if I must compel you to break your word."
The young man nodded and withdrew, quietly closing the door behind him as he went. She gave her computer the password she wanted before she put the card into it, just in case there was some kind of keystroke logger on the card, then called up a defense program Ms. Hartford had written for her. It chewed on the SD Card once inserted and finally pronounced it safe. There upon she found two video files and a text document named README. Launching it she read:
VIDEORAW.MPG is the raw footage recorded with date and time stamps that authenticate the recording. VIDEOSUMMARY.MPG is an edited version of VIDEORAW that does not rise to the legal definition of child pornography. It compresses six hours of time into five minutes.
"What the hell? "Carson muttered to herself, allowing a rare lapse into profanity. She inserted a headset into the audio port in case there was a sound track that also needed this level of discretion and played the summary file.
Five minutes later she rose smiling like the Cheshire Cat. She paused to open her door and dismiss Stronghold with thanks for a job well done the young man found bewildering. Still, he knew when the going was good and got to it. To Ms. Hartford she said, "Have Mrs. Talbert come to my office please, won't you Amelia?"
Hartford was confused, but nodded and reached for her phone. Liz didn't wait, but strode back to her desk and keyed the direct line intercom there. "Security, Chief Delarose."
"Franklin, Liz," she greeted, still grinning. "I need you to locate and arrest students Darren Haskins and Edward Rutherford."
The security chief's tone was confused. "On what charges, ma'am?"
"Murder and conspiracy for a start, Chief. On your way."
"Yes ma'am." For the first time since the discovery of Heyoka's body, the Chief sounded eager to do what his duties required.
May 7th, 2007 - Dinnertime
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
"Well, we all knew Wyatt was a big man on campus, but two girls at once?"
"That asshole, that just isn't right! How does he deserve...?"
"You think they get jealous?"
"Man, just thinking about two girls at the same time on my..."
With each snatch of a conversation Kayda seemed to hunch a bit lower into herself. Already just getting her food she'd put the tray down in preparation of bolting only to have Elaine appear as if by magic at her side, run her arm through Kayda's and start talking about what ever food was in front of them. Her grip didn't pinch or bind, by she was so strong, Kayda knew she couldn't break the grip. She felt a warm, but frustrated flush for what her friend was trying to do and listened to the inane, meaningless trivia about the food and its ingredients.
For her part, Lanie refused to even acknowledge the rumors; she was unselfconsciously physical and affectionate but there was nothing sexual about it. Just the normal, somewhat touchy ways girls who were friendly with each other were. It was strange in its straightforward normalcy. They made their way through the checkout island only to be accosted by one of the most creative of the 'school uniform worn wrong' club.
The boy's hair was too long, a shaggy dirty blonde that hung into his eyes so badly it was a wonder he could see; certainly no one knew what color his eyes were. He wore the uniform shirt and tie, but the shirt was open to his navel and the tie pulled so far askew that it hung loose like a black and gold striped necklace. His blazer was tied around his waist by the sleeves and there was a massive leather banded watch on one wrist and an interesting collection of bandanas and cheap metal bracelets on the other. "Greetings babes of hotness!"
"Not now, Slash," Lanie replied, rolling her eyes as she led the way to the elevator. Slash was not so easily dissuaded.
"Totally don't be that way, O Goddess of the Gadgets," Slash replied as he squeezed into the car with the girls and pressed three for them. "I'm here to apologize on behalf of all maledom!"
"Maledom isn't a word," Lanie told him, noting that Kayda had squeezed herself into the corner of the car, Lanie interposed herself between the somewhat oblivious rocker and the Lakota girl. "And this is a really bad time, Slash..."
The car opened on the third tier and Slash walked backwards out, staying in front of the two girls on their way to the Alpha table. "Well, of course it's a bad time, dudette! I mean, like, there's never a good time for rape, am I right?"
Kayda flinched and a number of the girls at tables they were passing gasped in outrage. "Slash...!" snapped Elaine, but the young man blindly continued.
"You idiot!" one snapped.
"How could you possibly think...!"
"You thoughtless asshole!"
"That's my point! See, not every guy is like those creeps! Kayda, I just totally want you to know you don't have to be a lesbian! There's guys who would be kind and gentle and show you the good loving, babe! Like me! I would totally..."
Slash stopped because a massive hand had fallen heavily on his shoulder. "Let's go have a chat, Lester."
"Awe, dude, bro!" Slash was still protesting as the massive hand collected a handful of his shirt and drug him off in the direction of the bathrooms, hidden behind the artificial rock of the waterfall. Here was less in the public eye and the 'cool' protestations became more mild and took on a more definite tone of begging. "Kody, don't hurt me, man! I was just..."
"Making as ass of yourself, Lester!" Wyatt told him with a dark chuckle as he released the boy's shirt.
"Dude, that's totally not my name...!"
An eyebrow ascended Wyatt's forehead. "Oh? Would you prefer 'Les' or Mr. Bobienski?"
"Slash! Dude, my name is Slash!"
A thick finger planted itself on the smaller boy's chest. "Your name will be mud with every female on this campus if you keep showing your ass like that! Every girl in here now thinks you're a first class asshole! What were you thinking, Les? Were you even thinking? Hitting on a rape victim? And mentioning the rape?"
"But Brah! I was totally trying to show her..."
A bit of the Kodiak crept into Wyatt's tone. "Are you that fucking stupid, Les? Do I need to take you out behind The Shed and beat some sense into you?" The other boy paled visibly and the thick rocker California dude accent was replaced by a distinctly nasal Wisconsin twang.
"No! No, Cody, it's cool, don't ya...I mean..." he shook his head and looked over at Kayda who was obviously crying and Lanie who was working hard to comfort her. "I...I'm sorry, I didn't..."
"You want to make it right?" The blond head nodded. "The thing a real man would do is to put on your humble suit and go to Kayda. Don't say anything except "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend or hurt you." Don't expect anything from her, like "that's okay". Just apologize like a man - and if she yells at you, stand there and take it like a man, then apologize again and walk away. And if she slaps you, which any girl very well might do, you take it like a man and keep your mouth shut. Otherwise, every girl at Whateley is going to think you're the ultimate cad."
Lester's eyes got so wide they could be seen through the hair hanging over them. "Dude...!"
"Man up, 'Les'," Wyatt growled menacingly. "Or don't show your face on my tier again. What's it gonna be?"
The boy's Adam's apple bobbed up and down as he swallowed his fear and nodded. "Oh...Ok."
"Let's go." Wyatt didn't frog march the other boy to the Alpha table. That was on him. He just returned, pausing to whisper something in Kayda's ear and sat down next to Lanie. After a long moment of working up his courage, Slash walked over, feeling the hate-filled eyes of every girl on the tier willing him to burst into flames as he did so. He stopped, close enough for conversation but far enough that he hoped she didn't feel threatened.
Kayda's eyes were on her food, but Elaine was glaring daggers enough for both of them. "Uh, Kayda?" he said softly. "I...I'm really sorry. I...I wanted to help, but I...I was being a jerk. I didn't mean to offend you or anything."
"Offend me?" the Lakota girl whispered in the suddenly utterly silent hall. Even the splash of the waterfall seemed muted. "You...you think you offended me?" she demanded. She stood, her chair squealing across the tile like a gun shot and she stood up, shaking with anger. "You...you bastard!" she shouted. "You knew I was raped and you have the god-damned gall to hit on me?!"
He winced, but stood there. "I'm sorry," he said quietly.
"Get away from me," she hissed, snatching up her purse. "Don't ever speak to me again!"
Slash moved out of her way as she half-ran, half-walked by. "I'm sorry." he said again.
Kayda stopped and glared at him for a moment, like she was contemplating slapping him for his gall, but then turned to Elaine. "I want to go to my room!"
"Ok," the redhead drawled, picking up the bread stick from her plate and getting her own purse. She paused in front of Slash until she 'felt' more than saw his eyes on her through the hair. "Before? That was fucking stupid, Slash."
"I know," he said quietly. "I'm sorry."
"Ah can't speak for Kayda, but for me, apology accepted." She turned and escorted the other girl out, munching on her bread stick as she went. Slash watched them go, seeing the other boys laughing at him, but more than a few girls nodded approvingly, sensing that a lesson had been learned.
Darren couldn't be happier. As he munched on his favorite sandwich all around him he could hear the gossip, girls and boys whispering in racy tones. Kayda and Lanie, Kayda, Lanie and Wyatt, wild orgies, what exactly was going on in that sweat lodge? Every little speculation or statement of racy detail was music to his ears. That Lakota tramp was getting the humiliation she so richly deserved. And there was still a lot of speculation that she'd somehow killed Heyoka between rounds of sex in the Sweat Lodge - and the MCO wasn't convinced of her innocence.
It was perfect! Nothing could...
The stern, commanding voice of the security chief cut through the babble of voices, even up on the second tier where Darren was eating. He turned and looked over the rail to get perfect view of the chief, four guards in full armor and the entire Wild Pack encircling that idiot Quickdraw. "Oh, hey, Chief..." he started then turned to run at full speed. But Delarose had been expecting that. Four separate TASER barbs flew from the guards' weapons. None directly at the speedster, but in arcs of his lines of escape, anticipating where he would be if he ran. One found its mark and Quickdraw collapsed as every muscle in his body locked up. The other guards were on him in a split second, wrestling him into brick cuffs and leg shackles.
Oh shit! thought Darren as he quickly looked away. There was only one reason why security would arrest Quickdraw. They were onto them! Somehow, someone had figured it out! Snarling, he stood carefully, meaning to bolt for it then, remembering, took out his student ID and left it on the tray with his food. That done, he quickly made his way to the door from the second tier of the Crystal Hall into the second floor of Schuster Hall. There were things that had to be taken care of before his room was searched.
May 7th, 2007 - Evening
Headmistress' Office, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Even late in the evening, a pile of unattended paperwork at her right hand and eating Whateley's version of fast-food - takeout dinner from the cafeteria, Mrs. Carson managed to look elegant and sophisticated. Wiping the corners of her mouth with a proper cloth napkin, she set the napkin aside and took a sip of coffee, wincing that it was cooler than she preferred. Still, this late at night, without staff around, she knew she was lucky to have coffee.
"Franklin?" she asked, pressing a button on her intercom, hoping he was already outside her office but knowing that was unlikely. He would have just knocked and come in. She pressed another button to buzz the Dean of Students. "Michiko? Is Franklin there?"
This time, there was an answer. "No, but he called a minute ago. He's on his way from security," Michiko Shugendo replied. The speed of her response spoke volumes of how serious she was taking the whole matter.
"When he gets there ...."
"Ah, he just walked through the door."
"Good. Could the two of you come down to my office please?" Liz asked politely, even though everyone knew it wasn't really a request so much as an order. It only took moments for the two to walk the short distance from the Dean of Students' Office to the Headmistress' Office.
"Have a seat," Liz invited. "Coffee?" She grimaced as she made the offer. "It is a bit cooler than I like."
"No thanks, Liz," Franklin Delarose answered. "My doc has me on herbal tea to keep my nerves and stomach calm."
"I just finished a cup," Michiko Shugendo replied. "I actually think I might get a decent nights' sleep tonight if I don't OD on caffeine."
"I'm about to call Roland and Ty about this whole thing, and I want you both here for that call. Michi? Your team did some great work digging up info on agent Dougan, and I want you to make sure I don't omit any details." She glanced at her security chief. "I'm going to give them a run-down of the evidence; after the discussion, I want you to assemble a packet and get a warper to take it there immediately, okay?" She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "I want this whole thing wrapped up tomorrow morning, no loose ends."
"Does that involve our friend, the Assistant State's Attorney?" Michiko asked, an eyebrow arched. "He'll be trickier to deal with."
"We'll see how Roland and Ty want to handle that part."
"Hervik is going to scream bloody murder if the Attorney General's office isn't represented at the hearing tomorrow," Franklin warned.
"Yeah. I've already put in a priority call to the New Hampshire AG's office - basically telling him we have a crisis and need immediate response."
Mrs. Shugendo gave a wry smile. "With our luck lately, we'll be in the middle of a call with the DPA when the AG calls."
Liz didn't return the smile. "If that happens, I need you two to handle the DPA while I deal with the Attorney General." It was a sign of how important both calls were, but also of how much she trusted her staff. Seeing an approving nod, Liz dialed a number from memory.
After four rings, the phone picked up. "Roland Atley's office."
Liz switched to speakerphone. "Trish? This is Liz Carson at Whateley. I need to speak to Roland and Ty West. I hope they're still in the office, but if not, I need to get a hold of them as quickly as, no immediately. Priority One."
"Not even time for a pleasant 'hello', Liz? Must be serious," Trish Watkins, the personal assistant to the head of the Department of Public Affairs Roland Atley said.
"Unfortunately it's very serious," Liz replied. "We're dealing with a situation that involves the New Hampshire State's Attorney's office and the MCO."
"Does this have to do with the student's murder this last weekend?" Trish asked. Leave it to her to be well-informed of everything going on around the office.
"Yeah. The States' Attorney want a formal DPA review of the evidence before he'll let it go, and I'll be damned if I let him continue to torture one of my students by leaving a possible murder rap hanging over her head." Liz' voice was hard, her tone unmistakable.
"I'll put you through to Roland, and I'll chase down Ty and get him into the call, too."
"And I'll be sending a warper with a special-delivery package as soon as we can put together a summary of evidence," Liz added.
"Transferring you now." The phone beeped, and then another line was picked up. "Liz? Roland. Trish told me you've got some kind of trouble brewing up there. Is this about the Heyoka case?" He sighed audibly. "Gabriella Guzman called earlier today, and she was extremely pissed."
"Well, it was her charge."
"More than just that," Roland said. "She was pissed that the State's Attorney was being a horse's ass, and that he managed to, and I quote, smuggle an MCO dick onto campus to help him harass students, unquote."
"That's part of our problem. Is Ty on yet?"
"Just picked up, Liz," Ty West's voice sang out. "What have you got for us that keeps us in the office so late?"
"We finished an evidentiary hearing this afternoon," Liz began.
"The Heyoka incident," Roland explained.
"There was some good evidence, but we're convinced that it was a frame job. Let me run through what I've got; I let Trish know you'd get copies of ... most ... of our evidence tonight by warper."
"Most?" Ty and Roland asked at the same time.
"Let me run down everything we've gotten for evidence, and you'll understand why we can't share everything." Aided by Franklin and Michiko, Liz ran through everything they'd discovered, both the incriminating and the exonerating evidence, but this time, they went through what appeared to incriminate Kayda, followed by the facts which demonstrated her innocence. From the ID card to the camera photo showing her card being returned, from the weapons to the demonstration by Billy Two Knives, all of the evidence on both sides was presented in its entirety.
"The problem," Roland said with a sigh, "is that she doesn't have an alibi, so even with that fancy sound-processing software your security deputy borrowed from the Navy, there's enough probable cause to turn her over. Unless she has an alibi."
Franklin and Michiko Shugendo saw Liz wince. "There's the problem. She does have an alibi, but it's the type of evidence that we can't exactly share."
"Someone was trying to blackmail her or make sure her alibi was too humiliating, and they recorded her in certain ... activities - and because of their ages, it's not exactly legal to show the evidence."
"And you can confirm the veracity of this ... evidence that cannot be viewed?" Ty asked skeptically.
"Yes," Liz nodded. "My deputy security chief is processing the video to get excerpted still images that are legally viewable, but ...."
"Okay," Roland Atley said after thinking a moment. "If the evidence you send up matches what you described, we'll back you and dismiss his Rule 8C appeal."
"Franklin, how long until you have an evidence package ready?"
"Sam's working on it now," Delarose answered. "Within five minutes of getting back to the office."
"Go help her get finished and get it to the warper." As Franklin rose to leave, she continued. "And that brings us to our big two problems."
"The MCO agent? Who else?"
"One of our more ... gifted ... students did a little investigation in the MCO databases, and we found something very peculiar. It seems our Mr. Dougan is very closely associated with one of the agents who was arrested in Sioux Falls. Their careers are parallel back to the military academy, through the FBI academy, and into the MCO. Dougan was godfather of the Sioux Falls agent's oldest child."
"So you think he might be taking this case a little personally?" Ty asked?
"The accused student was one whose file helped bring down the Sioux Falls office."
"That's enough for an investigation."
Liz shook her head, even though the others in Washington DC couldn't see her. "There's more. If you look, his record looks pretty spotless because he's not primary in any of the dirty investigations or actions in the LA office. But he's deputy on every single one of them."
"Someone is covering for him?" Roland asked quizzically.
"Yup. And I bet if you dig - and my ... special resource ... can help - you'll find a lot more agents who are covered like this."
"You want us to clear him out of Berlin?" Ty asked bluntly.
Liz chuckled. "Actually, no. We know who and what we're dealing with. We've got the goods on him. We can keep him pretty neutralized, especially since ... our student ... has penetrated the Berlin office's computer systems, including all their encryption. We'll know what they're doing before they do." She smiled wickedly. "By the way, would you have any use for the encryption keys for the LA office and some of the keys for their main office?"
"Good God, Liz!" Roland said, astonished. "How badly did your ... assets ... penetrate their systems?"
"Enough. And that brings us to our second problem - the Assistant State's Attorney from Berlin, Jerome Hervik."
"What's up with him?"
"He's ... dirty ... with Humanity First, too," Michiko answered. "Our asset tracked down the honoraria his wife gets annually for speaking engagements. Even though they sound innocuous, every single one is from a shell corporation or organization fronting for a Humanity First chapter, and he's accompanied her on every trip - and spoken at some as well. He was very active in Humanity First while he was in college as well. He stopped only when he ran for office - probably to appear neutral and impartial."
"How in the hell did you find out that?" Roland demanded.
"If, hypothetically, one were to trace the tax returns of a couple and find travel reimbursement and honoraria, one would find the names of the organizations that funded the appearances. A little more digging would find who were the major players in those organizations, and their affiliations and dues can be tickled out of the database."
"Holy shit!" Roland exclaimed, awed by what they'd dug up.
"Part of me would like to smack him with it in the continuance tomorrow morning, but I'm thinking it'd be better to let the New Hampshire Attorney General handle him. I've got a call in to his office."
"I'd like you guys - and one of your hot-shot lawyers - in a holoconference tomorrow morning to finish the hearings."
"You got it."
A flashing light on the phone indicated to Liz that another call was incoming. "I've been waiting for a return call from the AG, so I've got to duck off. If you have any more questions, Michiko Shugendo, our Dean of Students, will fill you in. She's been in the middle of the entire investigation."
"Okay. We'll talk to you tomorrow morning Liz."
"I'll go to the conference room, Michi," Liz told the Dean. "After you get done, let's tag up and see where we're at." With that, she rose and quickly strode out of her office.
May 7th, 2007 - Evening
Grounds Keeping Shed, near Dickinson Cottage, Whateley Academy
Amber walked towards the hollowed oak tree next to the Grounds Keeper's shed. It was better than a hundred years old, and more than half dead, and the grounds keepers seemed to take keeping it alive as a personal challenge. Amber had no real reason to be there, nor any real intention of going there; it was slightly on the way from Dickinson to the Crystal Hall, though were she asked, she would not truthfully know why she was there.
Nor did she know why she stopped by the gaping hole in the tree, remove a small charm on a pendant around her neck, and place it in the hole. Had anyone been watching, they would have seen her start, as if waking from a day dream, shrug her shoulders and walk off, humming a syrupy romantic song on the way to see her boyfriend, already forgetting about the charm she'd worn until seconds ago and the second charm she'd given to Darren. But no one saw her, and if anyone asked, she would be certain, more certain with every day that went by that she had not gone by the tree.
And that was according to plan.
May 7th, 2007 - Evening
Arena 77, between Schuster Hall and Doyle Medical Complex, Whateley Academy
"Hold!" shouted Tabby Cat.
Stronghold stumbled as he altered the trajectory of the swing he'd just committed to, but did not strike the teacher and his flight saved him from a fall, if not his ego for looking remarkably silly. Tabby Cat reached up and snapped her fingers in front of Marty's face, causing her to jump. "Oh, sorry..." she started, causing the teacher's feline eyes to narrow.
"End program," she growled, "Out!" The fortress of the Master Human vanished and once both students were outside of Arena 77 and the door firmly closed she rounded on Marty. "Where the hell were you?" Mrs. Turner demanded.
Marty looked down at her boot tops. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Turner, I'm...I'm just afraid..."
Tabitha examined the young blonde for a moment then turned to the girl's boyfriend. "That's all for today, Stephen. Hit the showers and good work."
"Hit the showers," she growled again, this time even sounding a bit feral.
"Hey, you know, I think I could use a shower," the young man replied, still he reached around the teacher and laid a gentle hand on his girlfriend's shoulder. "Hey, you ok?" Marty nodded and Tabitha's expression softened. With a silent tilt of her head, she excused the young man and waited until he had disappeared into the boy's locker room.
Mrs. Turner led Marty into a side office and closed the door, gesturing for her to sit as she half sat, half leaned on the desk. "What is going on?" she asked flatly. "Boy trouble?"
Marty shook her head. "No, well, wishing I was finished with this damned transition so Steve and I could, eep...!" Marty closed her mouth on her line of thinking with an embarrassed glance at the older woman. For her part, Tabitha just smiled, her somewhat prominent canines making it a bit more intimidating a gesture than she might have wanted.
"Oh, to be young and horny," she said with a wink. "How far along are you?" Mega-Girl became Martin for a moment, then back again, whereupon she had to take several moments to readjust her uniform. "PK Shell?"
"It's a kind of MATD they tell me," she replied sullenly. "It's taking forever."
The teacher looked over her shoulder at the wall in the direction of the boy's showers. "He seems very taken with you. And, despite our...differences...I can respect a young man who stands up for what he believes is right." She looked back at the younger girl who squirmed in her seat under the intensity of the gaze. "Does he know?"
Marty nodded, a forlorn look on her face. "Yes. It doesn't bother him, but it's tearing me up in side!"
"I..." She sighed. "Look what someone did to Heyoka! And now they're blaming it on Kayda! Sure, Steve accepts me, but it was six months after..." her eyes misted over and she sniffed, fighting back tears. "It was six months after I manifested before my dad would talk to me! Call me by name! He treated me like I was a stranger who had killed his son!"
Tabitha reached out and dried the tear from her cheek. "This transition isn't easy on anyone, Marty," she told her. "How does your father treat you now?"
Marty shrugged and mumbled something, looking away. As her hand was already on her cheek, Tabitha used it to gently force Marty's face back up. A raised eyebrow over a yellow cat's eyes did all the questioning she needed. "He...he tries," she admitted finally. "Christmas he told me he..." Her eyes filled with tears and began to leak from the corners of her eyes. "When will be over?" she demanded. "I don't want to be a freak! I just want to be normal! I made my peace with it - if I'm going to be a girl, why can't I be a girl now?"
Tabitha pursed her lips in sympathy. "When you were young, there was a movie that I got so sick of hearing about, but one of the lines I certainly sympathize with in that the choices of women are never easy or simple."
Marty snorted, a sob changing into a chortle in the middle of the process. "Oh, swell!" she swore. "My life is being compared to Titanic! That bodes well!"
Mrs. Turner shook her head. "You're certainly ahead of things from when I was your age," she observed quietly. Seeing the girl's expression she just sighed and stood, beckoning for her to follow. She led the way into the girls' locker room and into the bathroom where she picked a stall. She pointed to a piece of graffiti on the stall wall.
"Need a fuck? Call Tabby the whore?" Marty read. She blinked in astonishment. "That's about you?!" she demanded, astonished. "And the graffiti's still here?"
"Girl, there were legends about my whoring around this school," Mrs. Turner admitted with a rueful shake of her head. "Girls first," she admitted quietly as she came back out to the locker area and sat on a bench. "But, guys not too much later..." She sighed. "Someone used some powerful magic on that writing. No matter how they paint over it, it shows through."
Marty sank down on the bench next to her. "But, why?"
"I didn't make my peace with it," she replied. "I hated, hated God, myself, my parents, anybody and everybody. And I took it out on everybody. You're ahead of me, Marty, not because of Steve, but I can tell you girl, a good man, a good lover, a good partner, makes all the difference." She smiled and turned away. "There are times I think the only boy on this campus I didn't have sex with was my future husband."
"They...they knew?" she asked softly.
"Some did, that made a kink, some didn't. Some not till after, and that had its own problems..."
Marty sniffed. "That's what I'm afraid of!" she said earnestly. "When...when do I stop being afraid?"
"When you decide to," the older woman replied with a friendly hand on her shoulder. "I hid from who I was in sex, learn from my mistake, Marty, don't you hide in fear."
"No, listen to me," she interrupted. "If you live your life afraid, you'll miss everything that makes it worth living. The joy, the mystery, the adventure - these aren't just words, they are the truth of how things truly are. I can look back now and realize I wasted years trying to rub a good man's nose in something that wasn't his fault. A man who accepted me for who I was, and wanted me to be a part of his life because of who I really was inside, someone even I hadn't met, but he could see." She sighed and looked the younger girl in the eye. "I'm not telling you Stephen is your One True Love, he may not be. But he accepts you. Do you have to be cautious? Yes, every woman has to be cautious. Every man should be cautious, but many aren't. There will always be gossips, Marty, but if you get to know you, what they say won't matter, you'll hold your head high regardless. And if you don't, you could give birth to a dozen kids, and you'll still be Martin the scared little boy here," she said, pointing at her heart.
"Your biology doesn't make you who you are," she told her. "You will always be a T-Girl, Marty. That's a fact. But that doesn't make you who you are either. You do. Make yourself someone you want to be." Tabby smiled and it was a warm, genuine smile. "And then the fear and the gossips won't matter."
May 7th, 2007 - Afternoon
Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport
"God dammit!" Pete swore angrily as he turned away from the ticket counter.
June dashed to her husband, with Debra a step behind. "What now?" she asked, her voice full of dread.
"They cancelled the red-eye because of mechanical problems with the plane," Pete said angrily.
Pete sighed heavily. "The flight is what they call a positioning flight, to get a plane to Boston for tomorrow morning's early flights. With our plane grounded, they're moving a plane from another airport up to Boston instead and rebooking the few of us on our original flight."
"But ... we've got to get to Kayda!" June protested.
"We're rebooked for tomorrow - late afternoon because of how full their flights are."
"I need to get to my baby!" June cried, getting distraught.
Deb shared her concern. "She needs us," she agreed. "Why is this stuff all happening on this flight? Even a probability warper couldn't make this many bad coincidences!"
"I don't know. But because it's mechanical, they're paying for a room," Pete said with a heavy sigh. "We might as well go get some dinner and then get some rest." He wrapped his arms around his wife. "It'll be okay. Mrs. Shugendo told you, remember?"
"But ... my baby needs me! This must be awful for her, and we're not there for her!" She saw Debra's expression, and drew her into the hug. "She needs all of us."
"There's not much we can do," Pete said resignedly, picking up his and June's carry-on bags.
They'd no sooner started trudging down the hall than June's cell phone rang. "Hello?" she answered hesitantly when she saw the area code and prefix from Whateley.
"Mrs. Franks?" the voice said hesitantly. "Mrs. Shugendo."
"June, please," she said, trying to be less formal as if that alone would remove any bad news.
"Then I insist you call me Michiko, June. We completed the evidentiary hearing," Mrs. Shugendo reported, sounding rather pleased. "The supervisors agreed that the evidence does not support accusing Kayda of committing the murder."
June's legs almost gave out as relief overwhelmed her. "Can ... can you say that again?" she stammered.
"The supervisors agree that the evidence clears Kayda of suspicion," Michiko Shugendo repeated.
June covered the microphone, seeing the other two staring at her with worried, even frightened, expressions. "The evidence clears her," she reported with relief flooding her voice.
"We do have a procedural hurdle we have to get through, though," the Dean of Students reported. "The State's Attorney asked for a formal Department of Paranormal Affairs review of the evidence, so we have to keep her under supervision until the DPA clears her."
"You mean ... in jail?" June asked, horrified that Kayda might be kept in a jail cell for another day.
"No," Michiko reassured her quickly. "She's on supervised release - one of our students is a volunteer Federal Air Marshall, and she's basically got 'custody' of Kayda until we clear the last hurdle."
"A student Air Marshall? Who ... who's watching my baby?"
"Elaine Nalley. She's a very responsible girl, and a friend of Kayda's."
"Elaine ... Nalley did you say?" June permitted herself a small smile, not seeing the look of shock and trembling lip on Debra's face. "I'll have to personally thank her for taking care of Kayda."
Debra turned away sharply, her eyes already misting. It wasn't bad enough that Kayda and Lanie had spent Saturday afternoon fooling around; now Lanie was essentially Kayda's guardian - and Debra knew what that meant from having taken paranormal law. The two were virtually Siamese twins, inseparable until all the legal proceeding ended. Her fear of losing Kayda to Lanie resurfaced with a vengeance.
"I thought I'd let you know," Michiko said, "and I've been trying to call, but your line hasn't picked up."
"That's because we're traveling, trying to get to Whateley," June replied. "But we're hitting a streak of incredibly bad luck."
"There are a couple of problems, though," Mrs. Shugendo cautioned June. "In an open hearing, Kayda ... had to admit ... what she was doing for her alibi."
"Oh?" June's curiosity - and concern - peaked again.
"She was, um, having ... sex ... with another student," Mrs. Shugendo said hesitantly.
"Yes, I know," June said. "And I know it was another girl." She heard a gasp of surprise from the Dean of Students. "Debra is here with me; their mutual acquaintance ... dream-walked with Debra and told her everything. Debra told me this morning."
"Oh. Well, at least it's not a surprise to you then." She sounded quite relieved. "But ... she also had to admit - in the hearing - that she'd been gang-raped."
"The ... State's Attorney pushed hard, and Kayda got a little ... overwhelemed ... at the innuendo. She admitted to the event." Mrs. Shugendo sighed. "We know it's going to make life ... difficult ... for Kayda in some ways, and in others, it may be easier. The girls ... I think will be much more understanding of Kayda's being gay after what she went through, and she may pick up some unexpected allies and defenders. Some of the bigots - well, they may think twice about harassing her for a while."
June nodded slowly. "Yeah, I could see that. Well, I'm sure you have a lot to do, and we need to get to a hotel for the night. With the current cancellations and such, we'll be at Whateley late tomorrow evening."
"We'll have cottage rooms waiting for you and your husband, and for Debra."
"Thank you. Thank you all for watching out for Kayda," June gushed, feeling a little giddy at the news. "Tell her we'll be there for her as soon as we can."
May 7th, 2007 - Evening
Interview Room One, Security Offices, Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
"Asshole!" shouted Eddie as he was shoved through a door and it slammed behind him. "Hey! What about these cuffs?" he shouted at the closed door.
"I have to wonder," purred a voice behind him. He spun, seeing a blonde haired woman in her late thirties sitting at the table looking at a manila folder. Eddie vaguely remembered seeing her around campus, probably a teacher, but she didn't teach any class he'd had. And being something of a 'frequent flyer' as the security guys called their problem kids, he knew she didn't work security either.
Still, she was a good looking woman, late thirties or not and as far as Eddie was concerned, pussy was pussy. So he walked over with what he thought was a very suave leer on his face. "Wonder what, baby?" he asked jocularly.
She looked up, deep blue eyes cold and hard. "What he'll be like," she replied with a cruel little smirk. To his confused expression, she continued, "The hardened lifer inmate that's going to make you his bitch. You're probably the closest thing he's come to being around a woman in years, decades even. After the first week, I imagine you'll think you've been fucked by a train."
Eddies face went bright red, "I'm not anybody's bitch!" he screamed, the effect spoiled somewhat as his voice broke. She took an eight and a half by eleven glossy from the folder and slapped it on the table. It was a perfect shot of him in the room they'd rented from Jadis holding a glass for Darren to coat with that demon shit on it. Then another of him setting out coke cans to get the same treatment. Then a third of him 'bumping' into Kayda to return her ID to her purse.
"Oh, you're a bitch all right, Eddie," the blonde told him. "You've been Darren's bitch for a while now, haven't you? You think we wouldn't figure out it was you who killed Heyoka? Sit!" she ordered.
Eddie sat, his face pale and all the bravado gone. "I...I want a deal..."
The shock dripped off her face. "We have you dead, Eddie. We've got your little test run with Tee-Kay, Nitro, and Tisiphone. Did you take notes? You'll be getting corn-holed before too much longer," she paused meaningfully. "Before they put the needle in your arm..."
Now a terrified little boy squealed, "I want a deal!"
"What do you have to deal?" she demanded.
"Darren!" he squeaked. "It...it was all his idea!"
"What was all his idea?" she pressed. "We know you killed Heyoka! You have nothing to trade..."
"Sara!" he shouted, eyes wide with fear. "I've got Sara! I want a lawyer and a deal and I'll tell you where she is and how Darren planned the whole thing! He...He's the one that summoned Sara! He's the one that hates Kayda! This was always about getting to her! Getting her off campus!" She produced a tablet and a pen.
"Start writing!" she commanded.
Behind the two-way mirror, Franklin Delarose shook his head. "Damn, she's good."
Carson smirked. "I spared no expense hiring her. She's a damned good teacher, and this is proof that she's worth it." She turned to Franklin, her worry lines gone, at least for the moment. "Have someone you trust go search their room. Tear it apart."
"I'll see to it myself."
May 7th, 2007 - Evening
Grounds Keeping Shed, near Dickinson Cottage, Whateley Academy
A figure paused by the oak tree and reached into the hole. The figure had no fear for his hand, there was nothing that could be in the tree worse than he was. As his fingers found the charm he knew would be there, a voice behind him demanded, "You! What are you doing?"
"Oh, hey, Mr. M!" the seemingly young man said with a smile. Holding up the charm in his hand he continued, "We're on a Scavenger hunt! Say, do you know where...?"
Mr. Miyamoto frowned. "Ok, this time. Tell your friends to leave this tree alone! It's sick and we're trying to cure it."
The sorceror and devisor nodded as he quickly got out of the grounds-keeper's way. "Sure. Sure, Mr. M." He turned from the little gardener and walked away with a smile. One out of two wasn't so bad; especially for coming up with the plan off the cuff and the gold plated idiots he'd had to use as pawns. Of course the Lakota girl and her spirits would be troublesome, but perhaps not as much trouble as Heyoka might have been. A shame to lose those spirits, but safer that way. The Thunderbird had a long history of unraveling plans and revealing hidden truth. It was a long game he was playing and time was on his side. With a chuckle, Hekate's Master made sure of his public face and walked off towards the nearest entrance of the tunnels. It had been a very good day.
May 7th, 2007 - Late Evening
Tunnels, Whateley Academy
Darren felt panic like he'd never felt it before. Based on the gossip from the cafeteria, Nalley and Kayda were as much as admitting that they'd been lovers; they certainly weren't vociferously denying it. And that meant that Kody, the rager who'd nearly killed a high-level regenerator, had probably been told that they couldn't stop themselves - which was precisely what Darren had seen on the video.
Now that they'd arrested that idiot Quickdraw, it wouldn't take long, he realized, for someone to put together the resident lust demon's doing and the girls' uncontrollable urges. Assuming he didn't just sing like a canary the moment they laid out the screws, never mind put him to them! And then they'd start a search - looking for anything that might be related to Sara Waite or the demon essence. And besides, that essence was dangerous.
He practically ran back to his room and retrieved the small safe in which he'd hidden the lust essence. Starting toward the storage lockers, Darren suddenly realized that if Eddie was singing a song for a deal, he became suspect number one, they'd search his room and his storage locker. Worrying, he realized that he needed to find somewhere else to hide the safe, somewhere that people would not associate with him, and that would be difficult to find. He wandered seemingly aimlessly, checking doors, peering in the labs - which were surprisingly populated with devisors and gadgeteers - searching for ... something. Some place to hide the small safe.
Off a tunnel to private labs, he discovered a storage room full of maintenance supplies and some janitorial equipment. And then, to his joy, he found that the little closet had a rear door, which judging from the dust on the doorknob, hadn't been opened in years, maybe a decade or more. It was so perfect a setup that the key, equally dusty, was still in the lock.
Behind the door was a storage room, lined with shelves, all covered with a thick layer of dust. Breathing a little easier, Darren found a shelf in the back corner of the room and placed his small safe on it, careful not to disturb too much of the dirt. And even more fortuitously, there were some tarps and dropcloths in the room; he took one and covered the safe, and then carefully sprinkled dirt over the safe and its cover.
A couple of large crates slid - with some effort - in front of the shelf, and more piled atop it. Then he got a broom from the janitorial supplies and evened out the dust, including his footprints, so that when he closed the door, the room looked barely disturbed.
The key he started to pocket, but then realized that it, like all Whateley keys, was coded with a serial number and would lead someone to the room - and eventually to the safe. Instead, he placed the key atop a shelf, as far from the front edge as he could reach, so that someone would have to be eight feet tall or a flier to spot the key.
That only left one thing. If someone found the carefully-folded plastic-backed paper, it would soon be evident that it was a summoning circle, and Sara Waite would be freed. He shuddered inwardly at the thought of what she'd do to him for summoning and trapping her. But if the paper was never found ....
A few minutes later, Darren was back in the tunnels, but this time, he went the opposite direction, until he came to a general-purpose lab that was about half-occupied. He saw something he liked - to deal with the walking disasters that were Whateley students, the workbenches were very heavy duty and they'd been securely bolted to the floor.
Quietly, Darren slipped into the lab, ignored by all the gadgeteers and devisors who were so focused on their projects that a grenade would probably not get their attention. He walked to one empty workbench in a corner, and looking around, saw just what he wanted. Pulling out the folded paper, he also extracted a can of spray-adhesive from inside his jacket and then liberally sprayed the glue on the paper, counting on the noise from various inventions and gadgets to cover what he was doing. Glancing around nervously, he saw that the lab-coat crew were still heads-down, still focused on their own projects. Smiling to himself, Darren pulled a drawer open and out from its runners, and then he reached into the opening, flattening the paper - glue side up - against the inside of the lab workbench. A little tape secured the corners and edges so they wouldn't sag, and then the drawer was replaced.
When he got back in the tunnels, Darren felt much less tension. There was nothing to tie him to Kayda and Elaine. The SD card had been dropped anonymously in Amber's mailbox. He no longer had the incriminating summoning circle trapping Sara. The dangerous serum was hidden, probably for twenty or thirty years given the state of the room he'd secreted the small safe in. Now there was only one more thing to do.
Popping through an emergency door outside the main buildings, Darren ducked into a the evening darkness, further obfuscating himself in a shadow and pulled out his cell phone, dialing a number from memory. He waited impatiently as the other end rang, looking around very nervously. Finally the phone picked up. "Glen?"
"Darren. Say, I need to call in those favors you owe me," Darren said, hoping he didn't sound too desperate.
Glen sighed heavily. "Okay, okay. What do I need to do?"
"How far can you teleport with another person?" Darren asked carefully. He didn't want to give away too much, but he had to bring someone in on this last little bit.
"About thirty to forty miles," Glen said. "Depends on how rested I am and how heavy the person is."
"Meet me in the trees west of Laird - as quickly as you can get there."
"What did you do now?" Glen asked knowingly.
"Don't ask questions and don't talk to anybody, and I'll give you the PIN number for my secret cash account. There's close to two thousand in that account."
Glen considered quickly - a few thousand in cash, plus no longer owing favors to Darren, who was an absolute asshole about collecting favors with plenty of interest? "See you in five." Glen hung up the phone, and Darren realized in the sudden silence that he was going to miss this crazy place, but he'd have to leave either way - in shackles in an MCO truck if Quickdraw squealed, or his way, free, to get back home away from those who were going to hunt him.
May 7th, 2007 - Late Evening
Room 303, Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
"You're stalling," Lanie groused as Kayda sorted through her night-clothes for the fifth time to decide what to wear.
"No, I'm not," Kayda countered sharply - too sharply. "I ... just can't decide."
"No one's going to see you but me, and Ah've already seen you buck naked, so a nightie isn't going to make a difference," Lanie retorted. "Unless you want to sleep nekkid again tonight."
Kayda stuck out her tongue at her temporary roomie. "You'd like that, wouldn't you?"
"Ah wouldn't turn down a view like that," Lanie grinned. "But Ah promised Ah'd behave. Now get your nightie on, get your teeth brushed, and then we've got to get to bed."
"I already brushed my teeth," she murmured from in front of the open armoire . Finally she spun around and demanded, "Why ... why didn't they let me go tonight?" Kayda asked, her lip trembling. "Didn't Mrs. Talbert prove that I didn't...? That because we...? I didn't kill Heyoka!"
Elaine sighed as she pulled on her tank and come over to give the girl a hug.
"Now, Ah'm not a mind reader, but there's always folks who take the whole 'life is a game' thing to heart. This jerk, Hervik? He's exactly the kind of man who keeps score in the game of life. We're beating him and men like that don't like to lose. They'd rather look the fool and be seen as vengeful, sore losers than to bow out gracefully. They call it never giving up, but they're just nasty little men who can't admit when they're wrong."
"I can't imagine that," she whispered.
"Oh, sure you can," Lanie countered as she reached into the clothes press past the girl and pulled out a red silk teddy and handed it to her.
"Fetish?" demanded Kayda with an arched eyebrow.
Lanie just grinned and patted her cheek.
"Looking is free," she replied. She walked back over to her duffel bag and fished for her brush. "Mah dad told a joke the last time some asshole sued him, tryin' to say the car that he didn't care of failed because of mah daddy's repair. Daddy said 'a lawyer rented a call girl and they got back to her room, he drops his trousers and revels his dick is just four inches hard.'" Kayda shuddered, but it was mostly subconscious judging by the look on her face. Lanie continued, "Well, the working girl asked him, 'Who do you think you're going to please with that?' and the lawyer just grins like he's proud of his little pecker and says, 'Me.' That's the kind of man Hervik is."
Kayda chuckled around a yawn and then struck a pose. "Like it?"
Lanie winked at her as she sat down to start brushing her hair. "It's you, girl. Good night, Kayda, sweet dreams." Kayda had already lain down and muttered something to the effect of not being tired but was snoring before she finished her sentence. Lanie just smiled and turned off all the lights but the desk lamp and settled in to brush.
Lanie was still brushing her hair several minutes later when the soft knock interrupted her drifting mind. "Come in," she called softly. She was quiet because Kayda was already snoring softly and as taxing as the day had been, the girl needed her sleep. The door swung open to reveal the kindly face of Mrs. Horton.
"Elaine dear, you have a guest," she told her, noting that both bunks were on opposite walls of the dorm room. The redhead frowned as she put the brush down on the desk.
"Wyatt? It's almost..."
"No dear," Mrs. Horton told her. "It's not Wyatt. It's Miss Walcutt."
"Tansy?" Elaine asked, genuinely surprised. Elaine looked over her shoulder at the sleeping Kayda.
"Go on," Mrs. Horton told her. "I think she can be alone for a few minutes." Lanie slipped her feet into a set of slippers that looked like giant blue monster paws and padded after the House-mother down the stairs. Tansy was standing at the bottom of the stairs, looking fashionable as always in her jeans and a loose, flowing top whose elbow-length sleeves gave an impression of a cape.
She turned to take in Elaine coming down the stairs in a pair of sweats and a tank top, obviously on her way to bed. "I'm sorry," she started, "Mrs. Horton, I..."
"She wasn't asleep," Mrs. Horton told her. "You girls can talk in the kitchen. Miss Walcutt, don't be long, but I can give you an excuse to Mrs. Nelson if you need it," she said as she retreated into her apartment. It was not lost on either girl that the kitchen was across the hall from her apartment.
Tansy nodded as she followed Elaine into the small room. It was more kitchenette than kitchen; there was a cook top, an industrial refrigerator-freezer combination unit, and four microwaves, but no oven or dishwasher. It seemed obviously intended for snacks and very light 'meals'. Elaine noted that the power light was still lit on the Bunn coffee maker, indicating its hot water reservoir was still hot. She took out an envelope of hot chocolate from the box next to it and held it up in offer to the blonde. Tansy nodded nervously and paced a bit while Elaine busied herself with the cocoa. "What's on your mind?" she asked as poured out the powder.
"I heard about Kayda," Tansy replied softly. "I was...was afraid it was something that bad. I ran into her last week, when you were in Doyle. She was a mess, and mentally shouting about what a bad person she was, how worthless and damaged. I was afraid it was..." She sighed and shook her head. "Jesus, rape is bad enough, but gang-rape? Men are such...animals..."
"Not all of them," Lanie countered as she brought the cups over to one of the small tables and sat, placing Tansy's mug in front of her.
"Yes, I know," Tansy groused, "Wyatt is so wonderful..."
"Actually, Ah was thinking of mah daddy," the redhead replied. "He once faced down three men who were beating a boy to death just because he was gay. Or mah Uncle Frederick, he's a police officer up in Cartersville..."
"Lucky you," muttered Tansy into her mug as she looked away. "My father is a monster. Oh nothing like what Kayda went through, but I've had nine step-mothers, nine! One for less than a year. I haven't heard from my real mother since I was ten."
"Poor little rich girl," Elaine told her sharply. "You know, if we don't cultivate the good men, all we'll be left with will be the bad ones."
Tansy turned back and looked her in the eye for the first time. "The Christmas before last, my father took me to a party so I could read the minds of his competitors for him. When I told him that my power needs physical contact to pull guarded thoughts that deep, he told me to fuck them. My own father is trying to whore me out to one up his business rivals."
"Yep, he sounds like a real asshole," Elaine agreed. "But Ah gather you didn't schlep over here from the far side of the campus to bitch about men?"
"No," she said softly. She looked up at the ceiling as if trying to pierce the tiles in the ceiling with X-Ray vision. "You know, she practically worships you," Tansy said. "Kayda. You're her hero, everything she feels that she isn't."
"Pish," Lanie replied with a sip. "Ah..."
"No, really," Tansy pressed. "She's adrift in a sea of shame and self-doubt. Every mentalist and empath on this campus knows it. She sees you, blowing off the creeps and the comments, walking tall and refusing to even blush."
Tansy put her cup down and once again looked the other girl in the eye. "How do you do it, Elaine? I...I see you go to church nearly every Sunday, being gay is..."
"Don't start," Lanie growled. "Ah have no interest in debating theology with you, Tansy, or anybody else. If God doesn't like who Ah fall in love with, that's between me and God and nobody fucking else."
"That's what I'm talking about!" she replied quickly. "I just...if it had been me and you in that hut...I...would have gone to jail instead of..." She felt Elaine's disbelieving look and nodded, again unable to look her in the eye. "I would have," she repeated.
"Tansy, what are you trying to tell me?" Lanie asked her softly. "That you...?"
"I don't know what love is!" the other girl interrupted quickly. "I've used men! I've used sex to control men - and subconsciously hated myself for what I was doing! You...you offered to show me a...a memory...I...I want to know what love is."
"Alright," Elaine told her. She held up her hand on the table. "Take mah hand." Tansy looked up, as much fear in her eyes as a deer caught in the headlights and staring down her own doom. "Go on," Lanie encouraged her. "It's just Wyatt, nothing you haven't seen before."
The other girl's hand came into hers and Lanie closed her eyes. With Grizzly's help she remembered, she experienced the wonder and amazement of technical knowledge of anatomy being replaced with the sights and feel and taste of the flesh of a man. She felt the intense focus of being in the arms of Wyatt Cody, the feel of his weight on top of her, the pungent, manliness of his smell, the gentle but demanding sensation of being claimed by him. She felt his hands on her breasts, rough, calloused skin and the velvet iron of the muscles beneath the skin and the expert knowledge that guided them. She wrapped her memory around his hips and forced him on his back to look down on the expression of wonder and simple affection on his face. She heard him tell her that he loved her and felt the proof of it deep within her and he pulled her against him and she was completely a woman, warm and safe and loved.
Tansy's hand slipped from hers and once more they were in the kitchenette of Poe Cottage, and there were tears rolling down the blonde's face. "I...I hate you," she whispered. "I could have...and you took..."
Lanie shook her head. "No, Tansy. Ah didn't take him from you. You never had him in the first place, did you?"
"No," she whispered. "I never even knew what it could have been...!" She sniffed mightily and fished out a handkerchief from somewhere and fought a losing battle to try and save her mascara. "It...it's not fair. You! Why are you so lucky! How do you deserve...? Why?!" she shouted. "Why doesn't my father love me?!"
Lanie had no answer to that, but could only offer the hug that Tansy finally accepted and let the girl cry.
"Aileen? Bella. No, nothing's wrong. Well, I just wanted to let you know that Tansy Walcutt will be spending the night here in Poe. Oh, it's just late and the girl talk got a bit emotional is all. Wouldn't want her wandering around in the dark in an emotional state. Who knows what that might attract on this campus? Yes, I'll put her up in my spare bedroom. Good night." Mrs. Horton turned off her cordless phone and smiled a small smile of pride. Yes, she thought from the doorway where she could see the backs of the two girls, one sobbing, the other consoling. Elaine Nalley, you're coming along nicely.
Her heart leaped into her throat, choking off words, as Kayda halted, too nervous to proceed. The figure sitting on the bench, facing away from her, was unmistakably Debra, and she seemed preoccupied , lost in thought and not looking around the campus on such a glorious spring day. Or rather, it should have been a glorious spring day. The sun was doing its part, chasing away all but the occasional cotton-puff of a cloud, its warm rays having already chased away the morning chill.
But Kayda couldn't get the chill out of her heart, the icy grip of terror that encircled her. Slowly, she forced herself to walk forward again, trying to call out but still unable to make her voice work.
Just as Kayda was reaching out her hand to her love's shoulder, Debra heard her and turned. The look of curiosity at who would be approaching her changed the instant she recognized Kayda into a mixture of anger, hurt, disgust, and a dozen other negative emotions that made Kayda take a half-step backwards with uncertainty.
"Debra," she managed to squeak, having found her voice somewhere in the midst of her terror at having to face the girl she'd so horribly betrayed, "I ...."
"Shut up!" Debra screamed at her, red-faced with anger and her eyes suddenly wet as the hurt made her eyes water. "Don't talk to me, you ... you ... you slut!"
Kayda stepped back, in utter shock at the vehemence of Debra's words. "But ... I didn't ...." she tried to protest.
"You lied to me, didn't you?" Debra screamed, standing and getting in Kayda's face. "You couldn't wait, could you? I wasn't even on my plane and you were fucking her, weren't you?"
"Debra, it wasn't ...."
"You wanted her! You told me that, and you just couldn't wait!" Debra wiped at her tears while still yelling. "You promised me you wouldn't do anything! And that was a lie, wasn't it?"
"It wasn't our fault!"
"Who was it then? Somebody else? Bullshit! It was you and Lanie fucking each other's brains out! And you promised me!"
"It was demon stuff!" Kayda tried to protest. "We couldn't help it!" Her tears gushed from her eyes.
"You ... you Judas!" Debra screamed. "I trusted you, and you betrayed me!" She was advancing on Kayda, her face a mixture of rage and anguish. "What else did you lie to me about? Was it a lie that you loved me? Were you just trying to sack me, too?"
"I do love you!" Kayda protested, backing away. The altercation was gathering a crowd around the two.
The sting on her face was sudden, Exemplar-3 strength knocking off her feet into a nearby bench. The crowd didn't part, but moved, a human fighting ring around Debra and Kayda.
"Who else have you whored yourself out to?" Debra screamed at her. "How many other girls have you tasted and fucked, all the while pretending that you loved me?"
"It's not like that!" Kayda cried in protest. She tried to summon Tatanka to defend her, but there was only emptiness where her spirits should be, and another slap from Debra knocked her down again.
"What is it like? What kind of lie are you going to tell me this time?" Debra turned away, wiping at her eyes. "Go away!" she cried, fighting tears. "Just go away! I don't ever want to see you or talk to you again!"
"Debra ...." Kayda tried to protest, moving closer to put her hand on Debra's arm.
Debra spun, yanking her arm away from Kayda. "Go away, you fucking slut!" The tears she'd been fighting ran down her cheeks. She turned her back on Kayda. "Go away!" She stomped off, the crowd parting to allow her to pass.
Bawling, Kayda tried to walk after her, but when Debra sensed her and spun, the look of pure, unvarnished hatred on her face startled the Lakota girl into freezing in place, suddenly terrified of the anger that burned within the girl she thought was her soul-mate. Debra turned and walked away again, fists clenched, not looking back once, while the crowd circled around as Kayda sank to her knees, burying her face in her hands a she cried her heart out, ignoring the catcalls and rude comments from the spectators.
Tuesday, May 8, 2007 - about 2 AM
Room 303, Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
The scream of a girl in the midst of an obvious nightmare yanked Lanie back from her dream realm, or more to the point, Grizzly shoved Lanie back into reality, waking her instantly. The loud crying from the bed on the other side of the room immediately grabbed her attention, and she was out from under her blankets and across the floor in a single bound, sitting on the edge of the bed, bending forward to wrap the crying girl in an embrace. "You're okay, Kayda," she repeated over and over.
The hysterical crying slowed, and eventually the nightmare released its hold on the Lakota girl. "It's just a nightmare, Sister," Lanie reassured her. "You're okay."
Kayda's eyes opened, and in the dim light, Lanie could clearly see them looking up plaintively at her, the wetness on her cheeks glistening like thin ribbons of crystal.
"You're okay, Kayda," Lanie repeated, hugging the frightened girl. "It was just a nightmare."
"She's going to hate me," Kayda sniffled, fresh drops of water joining the wetness already on her cheek. "I promised her, and ... and ..." She broke into tears again. "I ... I betrayed her! I broke my promise!"
"It wasn't you, Sister," Lanie assured her, holding her head close to her chest and stroking her hair. "Hush, now. It was just a nightmare."
"I ... I can't even dream-walk with her!" Kayda sniffled. "But that won't matter. When I tell her, she'll never want to dream walk with me again!"
"Kayda," Lanie said solemnly, "she knows."
The smaller girl's head snapped up, staring at Lanie, her eyes wide with wonder. It took several seconds for the redhead's words to sink in. "You ... you ... told her?"
"Griz and I met her in a dream," Lanie said, hesitantly because her ability to meet Kayda's girlfriend and love in a dream was much more than she could do. "I ... I had to tell her."
Kayda stared at Lanie, her eyes wide, puzzled, wondering, afraid, hopeful - a hundred emotions flitting through her mind and across her features in less than a second.
"She ... she doesn't hate you," Lanie reported. "If she's mad at anyone, it's me. She was terrified that I was going to take you away from her." Kayda's stare at Lanie spoke of disbelief. Surely, she knew, Debra was going to be furious at Kayda for breaking her promise so quickly.
"Let's call her."
"What?!?" Kayda asked in astonishment. "I ... I can't! They confiscated my cell phone, and ... and I'm not supposed to call anyone!"
Lanie grinned. "There's no rule that says I can't call her, and if you happen to be in the room and have a conversation ....." Kayda stared in shock as Lanie grabbed her cell phone. "You'll have to tell me her number."
Stunned, not quite sure if this was a dream or real, Kayda slowly recited the phone number she knew only too well. Sitting beside Kayda, Lanie tapped her foot impatiently as the phone rang. "Pick up, Deb," she said softly. "Pick up."
"Hello?" a sleepy voice replied finally.
"Deb?" Lanie spoke quickly. "It's Lanie."
"Lanie?" Deb gasped. "Is ... is something wrong?" Her voice sounded nervous, even terrified.
"No," Lanie hastily reassured her. "Kayda's okay. Well," she added with a grimace, "mostly okay."
"Deb, Kayda needs to ... to talk to you," Lanie explained. "She's ... she's scared." Without another word, Lanie handed her cell phone to the visibly trembling girl who was vehemently shaking her head no.
"He ... hello?" Kayda asked hesitantly after she put the phone to her ear, eyes wide with fright and her voice quavering nervously.
"Honey? Are you okay?" Deb asked, her voice echoing her concern, and a bit of nervousness on her own part. After all, Kayda was with Lanie.
"Someone ... I got ... they tricked ...." Her voice, merely shaky at that point, broke and she started bawling. "I'm sorry," she said over and over. " I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry! I ... I didn't mean for anything to happen! I'm so sorry!"
"I know, hon," Debra said, trying to sound confident. "It's okay," she said, over and over, trying to break through Kayda's ceaseless barrage of apologizing and expressing her remorse. "Lanie ... Lanie explained it all to me."
That didn't stop Kayda's tears. "I'm sorry. Please don't ... hate me. I ... I didn't .... I wasn't trying ...." She started bawling anew. "I ... I love you, and I'm so sorry that I hurt you and I'll understand if you're mad and don't want to ever see me again, and you've got a reason to hate me for lying because I betrayed your trust and your love, but ...." She was babbling through her tears.
"Kayda, honey?" Deb said, trying to interrupt Kayda's nearly-incoherent rambling.
"... and I hope you'll give me another chance, because I really, really love you, and I don't want to lose you, but I hurt you, and ...."
"Kayda, honey! Stop!" Deb said firmly to cut through Kayda's verbal thought stream. She was met with silence. "I have one question for you."
"O ... Okay," Kayda replied hesitantly.
"Do you want to be with Lanie?" Deb's voice betrayed her nervousness. "Would you rather be with her than with me?"
"No!" Kayda replied sharply. "I love you! I ... I want to be with you forever! You're my soul mate!" She wiped her cheeks. "Lanie ... is like a sister, but you're my love!"
"And I love you, honey," Deb replied. The fact that she was crying wasn't hidden by the sound of her voice. "I ... I don't want to lose you!"
"I'm sorry," Kayda said again, blubbering. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry!"
"Kayda, Lanie explained that it wasn't your fault," Deb replied.
"I ... I let you down," Kayda continued. "I betrayed your love and your trust! I'm so sorry!"
"Honey, listen to me," Debra said firmly. "It was not your fault. Someone did something to you. I believe you when you say that you didn't mean for anything to happen."
"But ... I .... " Kayda shook her head, sobbing. "How can I ask you to trust me ever again?"
"Kayda, my love," Deb replied calmly despite her own emotional turmoil, "we'll get through this - if you want to!"
"Mmm, hmm," Kayda said softly. "I ... I don't want to lose you!" she said softly. "You're everything to me! You ... you stole a piece of my heart, and I don't want to ever, ever lose you!"
"Kayda, honey, I know you can't dream-walk. Were you having nightmares?" Deb asked presciently.
"It's not going to be like waving a magic wand and 'poof',' this never happened. It's something we'll have to work through together, okay? You can go back to sleep without worrying. Even if she wanted to take you from me, I'm not letting Lanie - or anyone - steal your heart! I'm going to fight for you if I have to, and I'm going to make sure you never forget how much I love you. When this is all over and we can dream walk, we'll ... we'll work things out, okay?"
"Okay," the dusky-skinned girl agreed.
"Now, it's very late for you, and you need to get your sleep. I know it's hard not being able to dream walk, but soon enough, honey. Soon enough. Now, can you give the phone back to Lanie for a moment?"
"Okay. I love you," Kayda sounded a little hopeful for the first time since she'd awakened from her nightmare. "I love you with all my heart and soul."
"And I love you, too, honey. Sleep well, sweetie." She made a kissy sound into the phone, which Kayda echoed before handing the phone back to Lanie.
"Please take care of my girl. And don't take her away from me! Please!" Deb said, breaking into her own bout of sniffles at the end. "I ... I need her in my life! I don't know what I'd do without her!"
"Ah promise. Ah'm engaged to Wyatt, and while Kayda is ... hot, she's not the one Ah love. She's your girl."
"Thanks. Now you two get some sleep. If I'm reading my alarm clock right, it's almost two in the morning there!"
"Thanks for talking to her. She needed to know she wasn't going to lose you," Lanie explained. "And ... she couldn't call you because she's detained."
When Lanie hung up the phone, she smiled at Kayda. "See? Ah told you not to worry. She loves you, and Ah know you love her." She gave the girl a kiss on the forehead. "Now, lie down and go back to sleep."
"Can ... Can you sit with me?" Kayda asked softly, still feeling overwhelmed by her entire predicament, even though one of her greatest fears had been allayed. "I ... I'm still ... scared."
"Sure, Sister," Lanie said, sitting on the edge of the bed. She tucked the Lakota girl in, and within minutes, the exhausted, emotionally-overwrought girl was asleep again. Lanie padded back to her own bed. "If this is what being an RA is goin' to be like, Ah should have mah head examined for agreein' to the job."