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Pomp and Conspiracy

A Whateley Academy Vignette

by

E. E. Nalley

You don't really need to find out
What's going on
You don't really want to know
Just how far it's gone
Just leave well enough alone
Eat your dirty laundry
Don Henley Dirty Laundry

June 8th, 2007
Cyberspace

The Committee met as usual by teleconference.

It was unusual for people as powerful as they to all be in the same time zone, let alone on the same continent. Once or twice, members had not even been on the Earth while they dealt with the various minutiae of their far flung empires to further their goals. But despite the challenges, each took time to deal with things as important to all of them as this was. So as each member looked over their sheets they were a bust in an open window on the laptops of the other members, making a virtual board room where they could meet to plan out the future of mankind.

 

“Quite a sparse crowd this year,” the Old Man observed from the list he was reading, his voice only slightly accented from the long lost nation of his birth. “With all due respect to the Professor, I begin to wonder if the considerable resources we put into this project would not be better utilized elsewhere.”

“For us, perhaps,” the Professor conceded. “There are some excellent acquisitions for the Syndicate at large of those not particularly constrained by lawful tendencies. I have three tagged for contact before the year is out.”

“Yes, yes,” The Old Man replied with a disinterested wave of his hand in dismissal. “Thugs and common bullies, not the sort that will suit our purposes.”

“Even we have use of enforcers,” The Captain retorted philosophically. “Conflict, after all, is the simplest catalyst for man to evolve.” He pressed a button that caused a new picture to appear on all of their screens. “However, I am most excited about the Professor's latest project.”

“Ah, this protege you were so exuberant over,” the Old Man said, stroking his knobby chin with a bone thin hand. “I'm not usually one to get excited about school girls - there are laws against it after all..” The others chuckled softly out of respect, if not appreciation of the Old Man's humor. “Captain, you have been working closest with the Professor. Is your opinion unbiased?”

“Don't mistake my appreciation of the Professor's mind and ability for bias,” the Captain warned softly.

The Old Man turned to the window that held the Professor's imagine. “Apologies, my dear. No offense intended.”

“None taken,” she replied. If she was touchy about being the only female of the group she didn't show it. “And if I overstate my expectations on a prospect, I'm certain the Captain will bring me back in line.”

“Gladly,” the Captain injected with a chuckle. “I am convinced, but I understand that my colleagues may desire a demonstration of the Professor's project and her skills. What does our Guest think?”

The Guest shifted in his seat and gave the appearance of a man deep in thought. “Recently,” he said ponderously, “I lost something quite precious to me. I have seen the footage of the match, but simulations are one thing and the real world is quite another. Professor, how would you feel about your protege returning that something for me?”

“Does the Committee mind if such a mission were constructed so that my protege is not at risk from legal repercussions?”

“Can such a demonstration be arranged, but not staged?” the Old Man demanded, clearly disbelieving.

“I'll see to it,” the Captain assured him.

“I'll look forward to seeing how your protege performs, Professor.”

“I'm sure you'll be pleasantly surprised, sir.”

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June 9th, 2007
Jenifer Stephens Playhouse, Whateley Academy

The play house was packed with parents and guardians, even for a school with a student body as small as Whateley the crowd was several thousand strong, despite the faculty and students not having arrived as yet. Finally, just as the spectators reached the equilibrium tipping point between quiet and restless, the stately refrain of Sir Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance began to drift from the cleverly concealed and acoustically perfect speakers and the entire student body of the school marched slowly into the room, led by their teachers in full academic regalia.

At the head of the column, resplendent in royal blue with scarlet and sash of light blue was Headmistress, Dr. Elizabeth Carson who mounted the stage, a bitter sweet smile on her face at the end of another year as she shook hands with the Trustees already seated on the stage. Behind her, with less confusion than you might expect filed in the student body, taking their seats in the empty areas corded off for them. Finally, everyone in their place, Dr. Carson advanced to the podium and its microphone.

“Please be seated.” With a rustle, the students sank into their chairs, an air of confusion and expectation among the freshmen who were uncertain about how things would proceed. They were all in their school uniforms, while the rest of the students were in various stages of 'cap and gown', though only the seniors were complete, their mortar board hats on their heads with the tassels on the wrong side. They were not given long to consider as Mrs. Carson began speaking again.

“As we say at my alma mater, Viam sapientiae monstrabo tibi; 'I will show you the way of wisdom.' To the class of 2007, these are the last hours I have to show you this way. We have opened your eyes to history and philosophy, introduced you to language and literature and we have instructed you in Mathematics and the Sciences and, I can only hope, we have given you a strong foundation upon which you will build your lives. As you depart these halls into the world some of you will continue your education to higher degree and that is a noble calling.”

Poise sighed and cautiously dried an eye lest her mascara run as she beamed a smile at her mother and father in the stands who looked so proud they could burst. She already had her acceptance letter from Dartmouth, though nothing, she was certain, in college could compare to the four years she had just spent here.

“However, my students,” Mrs. Carson continued, “never forget that even if you do not attempt further triumph in the pursuit of academics, life will always be teaching you. You will find her a harsh, uncaring schoolmarm and her lessons can be cruel. Here, we have endeavored to shield you from the realities of the world you are now entering, but we do not stay children, and we cannot live our lives in safety. Listen to what life teaches you and learn from your mistakes and that will always stand you in good stead. Do not focus on this to the exclusion of all else, I warn you, for if Life is uncaring, Time is unyielding. For many of you, these have been golden years and I hope many more golden years await you ahead, so have the vision to see those good times and the wisdom to savor them.”

Clarence 'Nitro' Terry looked down the row over to the freshman. This was aided by his being on the last row of the sophomores and so was next to the bewildered looking Freshmen. There he caught the eye of his girlfriend Alexis Waldner and smiled in what he hoped was an encouraging way. He didn't need the Headmistress to tell him when he had a good thing and her smile back warmed him in a way that had nothing to do with temperature.

Mrs. Carson paused dramatically for a moment, casting her gaze across her entire student body to make each student feel as if he or she had been singled out in the look. “And when you look back at some future time to the days between now and then, I hope you see everything clearly, have lived fully, loved, laughed and cherished and nowhere in your memory shall live regret of what might have been but was not attempted. Be everything, my students, but timid. I have shown you the way of wisdom, my staff has prepared you for great things. Now it is your time to go and accomplish them.”

Tansy looked over at Wyatt where he sat with the seniors, a brooding frown on his face as he stoically awaited what was coming. As she looked, once more she remembered the shared memory Loophole had given her, the sheer unfettered joy of their coupling that was like nothing she had ever experienced, despite her promiscuous ways. Nor was it from a lack of trying on Wyatt's part, she thought, being brutally honest with herself. She remembered the first few times she had slept with the big senior, and now that she could look past her frustrated attempts at mental domination of him she could admit that Wyatt had been just as tender and loving with her as he had been with Elaine. And it made some nameless part of her ache for what might have been if only she had had her eyes open then.

“From here,” rang Mrs. Carson's voice through the speakers, “the class of 2007 shall make your mark upon history and the world. Go forth, my students, to greatness. As Headmistress of Whateley Academy under the authority of the New England Association of Schools & Colleges and by the power vested in me by the State of New Hampshire, and the Trustees of this institution seated before you, I, Dr. Elisabeth Carson Summa Cum Laude of DePaul University Class of 1958 certify those receiving diplomas today of having completed the requirements of such documents and to all whom those presents shall greet may be assured of their veracity and worthiness.”

With that, Mrs. Carson surrendered the podium to a smiling Elaine Claire while the Headmistress busied herself with final preparations at the table laden with diplomas. “Good morning!” Ms. Claire greeted brightly into the microphone. “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Graduation ceremonies for Whateley Academy 2007! My name is Elaine Claire and I will be guiding you through the ceremonies and providing narration. Traditions are important to any institution of higher learning and Whateley is no exception. In New England, we inherit a number of our traditions from the great boarding schools of England such as Eton, Rugby or Westminster. One of the most storied of these traditions is the seating of classes at commencement. This morning, you will not only see the class of 2007 graduate, but the classes behind them advance from the places they held this year to the seats they will assume next year. As such we ask that you hold your applause until each entire class has moved.

“And now, Ladies and gentlemen, the Commencement of the Class of 2007. Graduate Victoria Allen, honor roll.” From her place, Wraith sighed and stood making her way up the stage to where she shook hands with Ms. Hartford and then Mrs. Carson who presented her diploma with a flash from a camera manned by Mr. Parker just in front of the stage so everyone could have a perfect photograph of their son or daughter without jostling for position. Mrs. Carson gently moved her tassel to the correct side of the board and she walked off the stage, beaming at her mother and raising her diploma in triumph as she moved to a section of cordoned off empty seats labeled New Alumnus.

“Senior emeritus Wyatt Cody, honor roll.” The big man stood, stone faced as he walked up the stage and shook hands, but instead of being presented a diploma, he only received a sad little smile from Dr. Carson and then with great dignity, turned and returned to his previous seat in the senior section, his tassel still un-graduated.

“Freshman Kelly Donohugh, of Purdue University, Honor Roll, Dean's List, National honor society full member.” And so they marched, one after the other, and while Wyatt wasn't the only senior who didn't graduate, he was the only one who hadn't failed and thus was the only 'senior emeritus'. When the last newly graduated alumnus took their place, Ms. Claire smiled and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, the Class of 2007!”

The applause and cheering was genuine and heartfelt, even as a new box was placed on the table by Stan and Morrie looking very out of place in their best suits neither of which fit the pair very well. “And now, ladies and gentlemen, you will see the rising Class of 2008, our new seniors take their place for the coming year,” Ms. Claire continued once the applause had died away. “The mortarboard or oxford cap has a long shared history with scholarship. Once the signifier of the holder of a Master's Degree, it is now used generally in Academic Regalia for undergraduates. The class of 2008 will now receive their Oxford Cap from Doctor Carson and Doctor Hartford in preparation and reminder of diligence in their final year of study. Senior David Archer, Honor Roll, Westinghouse silver Medal winner.”

With a cocksure grin, Eruption shot to his feet and practically swaggered his way across the stage, only pausing to allow Mrs. Carson to seat the cap on his head before taking a new place in the now mostly empty senior seats. Tansy couldn't keep her thoughts from wandering as she waited her turn to march across the stage.

This was the third time she had taken part in this ceremony and it was unnerving how her opinion of it had changed over the years. As a starry eyed freshman, newly thin and lithe and living a Cinderella dream that had become a night mare from the constant torment from Tatiana 'Nightshade' Markov, the ceremony had been a brief respite of pomp and fairytale even if it had ended with an introduction to her father's latest gold digger. What had been her name? Not that it matters, she's been replaced ten times over.

As a sophomore she had begun the bitter lesson of taking what she wanted and paying back anyone she could for those who had hurt her. At the time, she had not let herself see that she was becoming the bully that had so tormented her, had not seen she was becoming that which she had hated so much.

There had only been a text message on her phone informing her that her real mother couldn't be bothered to climb out of her vodka stupor to attend her daughter's ceremony.

“Senior Tansy Walcutt, President Pro Tempore, Venus, Inc., Member of the Alpha Leadership Council.”

“Well Done,” whispered Ms. Hartford as Tansy shook her hand.

Mrs. Carson's smile was warm and genuine as she seated the cap on her head and straightened the tassel on the 'undergraduate' side. “I'm proud of you, Miss Walcutt,” she said as she shook hands with the girl. “Keep up the good work.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

“Senior Madelyn Wicker, Honor Roll, Deans' List, National Honor Society member.”

Tansy allowed herself to smile as she sat in the Senior section. Mrs. Carson's approval somehow made her feel better than any amount of 'being there' from her parents. Neither were here today and for once, Tansy held her head up high and didn't care.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the Class of 2008!” Mrs. Carson and Ms. Hartford exchanged a pair of bows before the Headmistress returned to her seat on the stage and Ms. Harford took center stage. Mrs. Shugendo stood and took the place Ms. Hartford had vacated behind the table as Stan and Morrie once more shuffled up a collection of boxes to the table. “Academic Regalia,” Miss Claire continued from the podium, “has a long tradition stretching back to the Renaissance and the late middle ages to distinguish men of learning from their peers around them. All of the colors, marks and style of the robes you see our faculty and students wearing have meaning, harkening back to the chivalric crests to distinguish knights on the field of battle, Academic Regalia distinguishes scholars on the field of knowledge, from colors representing the alma mater where the degree was earned, to the type and level of expertise.”

“The stole is the primary delimiter of course of study. This silk ribbon, worn across the shoulders, announces the students focus of study with color, representing the degree paths or tracks the student has declared. Our sophomores, rising now to be juniors, the class of 2009 are awarded their stole in addition to their robes, white for college preparatory and general education, orange for engineering and dark green for our magical and psychic arts departments. Junior Salima Al-Kazzan, vice president, Tigers, Member of the Alpha Leadership Council.”

But warm feelings were never to last long and Tansy's thoughts couldn't help but turn back to Hindmost's latest request. She had no idea how she'd manage it, and calling it 'short notice' was laughable. On and on the ceremony went while Tansy's mind scrambled to find a solution to her dilemma. There had to be a way, but she still hadn't come up with it, and Hindmost was pretty insistent. Her combat final 'success' still stung from the manipulation she had orchestrated to pull it off. Worse, the rift she had opened between Elaine and Maggie was one of those wounds that would neither quickly, nor easily heal - if indeed it ever did. It had put Elaine at sword points with her closest friend, and had her other friends picking sides; the rumor was that she had been asked to leave the Literary Club because of the feud and the request had not been particularly politely tendered.

Old Tansy would be thrilled, she scolded herself. Isolate your prey and pounce! Isn't it what you do best, bitch?

“Junior Elaine Nalley, Honor Roll, Dean's List, National Honor Society Initial Member, ASE Junior Achievement Award, President, Pro Tempore Gearheads, Member of the Alpha Leadership Council.”

Tansy watched the younger red head walk across the stage with a shaky smile and cheeks glistening with recent tears the lights of the play house wouldn't ever conceal. She shook hands with the Dean and the Assistant Headmistress and allowed Mrs. Hartford to lay the orange ribbon across her shoulders. “I'll make it up, Lanie,” Tansy whispered to herself. “Somehow, I'll make it up. I promise.”

"Ladies and gentlemen, the class of 2009." Miss Claire shuffled her papers while once more Stan and Morrie wrestled a couple of boxes to the table. Dr. Hartford and Mrs. Shugendo exchanged a bow allowing the Assistant headmistress take her seat while the Dean of students came to the center stage. "The origins of academic dress date back to the 12th and 13th centuries, when universities were taking form. The ordinary dress of the scholar, whether student or teacher, was the dress of a cleric. With few exceptions, the medieval scholar had taken at least minor orders, made certain vows, and perhaps been tonsured. Long gowns were worn and may have been necessary for warmth in unheated buildings. Hoods seem to have served to cover the tonsured head until superseded for that purpose by the skull cap.

“A statute of the University of Coimbra in 1321 required that all "Doctors, Licentiates, and Bachelors" wear gowns. In England, in the second half of the 14th century, the statutes of certain colleges forbade "excess in apparel" and prescribed the wearing of a long gown. In the days of Henry VIII of England, Oxford and Cambridge first began prescribing a definite academic dress and made it a matter of university control even to the extent of its minor details. These ordinances are the basis of what we would consider modern academic dress. From these traditions grew the formality of what we now refer to as cap and gown. Our rising freshmen the class of 2010 will now receive their gowns as they become sophomores of Whateley Academy. Sophomore Betty Archard - Sensei's achievement award."

Britomart looked absolutely lovely in her pageboy blonde wig and radiant smile lighting up her freckled face as she stood and made her way to the Dean of students. There Mrs. Shugendo removed a brand-new gown in the box and helped the young girl into it. From there they shook hands and Betty made her way to the mostly empty sophomore seats. Tansy watched this with a detached curiosity as her mind worked furiously on how she would accomplish Hindmost's latest request without doing further damage. Doubtless her opportunity would come at the post ceremony gathering the question was what would her plan be? On and on the ceremony went while Tansy's mind scrambled to find a solution to her dilemma. There had to be a way, but she still hadn't come up with it, and Hindmost was pretty insistent.

"Sophomore Kayda Franks, Honor Roll, Dean's List, Chief of the Nations, Member of the Alpha Leadership Council, SDSM&T March Award for Graduate-level Mathematics."

Blushing, the Lakota girl rose and nervously strode across the stage, accepting the award, and then letting Mrs. Shugendo place the robe over the girls' full Whateley uniform, which was quite unexpected; Tansy had expected Kayda to wear her Lakota dress. Still, with her ceremonial paint and wrist-bands, she was very distinctively Native American. It occurred to Tansy that Kayda should have been a junior, just like Lanie, but then she remembered Lanie saying something about Kayda being short an English II credit due to the foul-up in her class schedules, so she was technically still a sophomore.

Lanie really liked Kayda, calling her a soul-sister, and she really liked the fact that Kayda would be on her wing in Poe come fall term. The two were close as sisters, and Hindmost had been very emphatic that she was not to break their up friendship.... Tansy's eyes focused on Kayda as the girl walked across the stage and a smile slowly formed on her lips as a plan began to take shape.

Yes, she thought to herself. That will do nicely.

Planning the entire freshman class had been issued their robes and sat in the place reserved for the new sophomores they had become. Mrs. Carson left her seat and retook the podium pausing to shake hands with Miss Claire as she did so. “And now, Class of 2007, you are no longer officially my students; instead, you are alumnae of Whateley Academy. But like every other person to pass through these halls, you will always be, in my heart and the hearts of all your instructors, our students. With our ceremony, like your time here finally at end, Class of 2007, your life has now commenced! I declare the graduation ceremonies of Whateley Academy for the school year 2006 to 2007 closed.”

With a thunderous cheer the new alumni the former class of 2007 leapt their feet snatched the cap from their heads and hurled them in the air and jubilant celebration.

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June 9th, 2007
Holbrook Arena, Whateley Academy

Nitro looked around the crowd for his girlfriend, while simultaneously searching for his parents. He knew they were somewhere, but in the milling throng of students and families, he hadn't found them yet.

"Hi, sweetie," a very familiar voice sounded in his ear as an arm slipped around his waist.

Nitro gave her a quick kiss, much briefer than he would have preferred, but it was a public area and he didn't want to make too much of a display. "I'm looking for my family." He wrapped his arm around her waist, still looking over the throngs of people. Suddenly, he waved. "Mom! Dad!" he called out and was rewarded when a couple, with a young girl in tow, turned toward him and then smiled.

As the woman neared the two teens, Nitro stepped from Tissy's side and into her outstretched arms, enjoying a welcoming hug even though he was a teen guy. "Hi, mom!" With his mom still wrapped around him, he reached out and let his dad clasp his hand. "I'm glad you could come. I thought you weren't going to make it!"

"It was close," Nitro's dad said, "but we managed."

Nitro backed out of his mom's hug and tussled the hair of the girl, much to her annoyance. "How are you doing, runt?" he asked in a jovial and playful tone.

The girl ignored her brother; instead she looked at Tissy, who was watching the family reunion, her eyes misting. "Who's she?" She turned directly to Alexis. "Are those real?" she asked, pointing to Tissy's wings. "Can you fly like a bat?"

Tissy winced at the girl's blunt words; she looked to be about seven, so obviously she hadn't mastered diplomacy and tact yet.

"Julia," her mom barked sharply at the girl, "mind your manners." The woman hastily pulled the girl back away from Tissy, almost as if she was afraid that Tisiphone was a danger to her child. Tissy flinched from the way the woman had reacted - with obvious fear.

"Mom, dad," Nitro said, smiling as he pulled Alexis to his side, his arm around her waist, "This is Alexis Waldner. She's my girlfriend."

"What?" Dad's jaw almost hit the floor. "Girlfriend?" His eyes were threatening to bulge from their sockets. Beside him, Nitro's mom paled.

"I told you I was dating Alexis," Nitro protested, frowning. "We've been dating almost two months."

"But ..." Mom stammered, "she's ..."

Nitro's happy expression soured instantly, his happy gaze turning into a glare of disapproval. "She's my girlfriend!" Nitro snapped at his parents. "Like I told you."

"Son, I know you're in high school, and you want to date," his dad stammered awkwardly, "but ... she's ...."

"Tissy is the sweetest, nicest, most fun girl I've ever known! Maybe she looks a little different, but she's got a heart of gold."

"But ...." Mom's eyes were bugging out at the way Nitro clung to the ... mutant.

"If you're going to be that way toward my girlfriend," Nitro snorted angrily, "then maybe you shouldn't have come." His eyes narrowed in anger. "Take your bigotry and go home! I don't want you around here if you're going to be like that to Tissy!" His voice was rising, drawing more than a little attention to their little group.

"Son," Dad spoke, his features clouded with anger, "don't you dare talk to your mother like that or so help me, I'll ..."

"You'll what?" Nitro was in his face, ignoring the shocked look on Mom's and Tissy's faces. "Cut me off? Disown me?" He snorted in disgust. "Go ahead. I'll find a way to pay for my schooling." Suddenly, his eyes widened as he realized some of the things he'd experienced growing up and after he manifested. "You ... you hated my mutation! You used to belong to Humanity First!, didn't you? That's why you had those pins! And ... and you were ashamed when I manifested, but at least I could pass as a baseline so you could pretend I was normal! That's it, isn't it? You hate me because I dared to manifest and upset your tidy little world!"

"You apologize to your mother right this instant, young man!" Nitro's father snarled at him.

Nitro drew himself up to full height, puffing out his chest. "No," he said defiantly. "Because I didn't do anything wrong. You owe Tissy an apology for the way you’ve acted!"

Mrs. Carson had heard the ruckus and had edged closer to what seemed to be an annual event - at least one family had a loud event at Graduation.

Nitro's dad decided he'd had enough "Come on, Milly. I told you we shouldn't have come! Not to this ... freak-show!" Tugging his wife by the hand, his daughter practically being dragged with the other hand, he stormed toward the exit doors.

Nitro saw Mrs. Carson looking warily at him, and he gulped. He was probably going to be in trouble for making a scene at the post-ceremony party. Instead, though, and much to his surprise, she smiled and nodded at him, letting him know that she approved of how he'd stuck up for a fellow student.

A hand clasped on Nitro's shoulder, a solid slap of a beefy paw backed by muscle. He turned and found himself staring into the throat of a tall, solid man who was a head taller than he. "Thank you, my boy," the man said in a deep, resonant, and surprisingly pleasant voice.

"Er," Nitro stammered, now feeling uneasy. "For what?"

"For sticking up for my Alex," the man said, moving his hand off Nitro's shoulder and clasping the teenager's hand.

"Daddy!" Alexis practically shrieked, "you said you couldn't come!" She bolted to his side and wrapped him up in a huge hug, which Tissy's dad reciprocated.

Nitro goggled at the man, with Tissy hanging off him like a loving daughter, and then he considered her family name - Waldner. Of the Charleston Waldners? Nitro gulped; Alexis' family, if they were of that family, had to be worth well over a billion dollars!

Mr.Waldner turned back toward Nitro, clasping his hand again. "I'm Stephen Waldner the Fourth," he said, smiling pleasantly at Nitro. Before Nitro could react, Mr. Waldner turned to his daughter. "Alex, aren't you going to introduce me?"

"Er, sorry Daddy," Tissy said, wincing. "Daddy, this is Clarence Terry, but most of us call him Nitro." She looked down, blushing a bit. "Nitro is my boyfriend," she added softly.

"You are dating my little princess?" Mr. Waldner goggled at Nitro. A smile slowly spread over his face. "No wonder you were defending her! And you took her side over those people?" He shook his head. "She must be pretty special to you."

Nitro felt brave enough to pull Tissy to his side and wrap an arm around her waist again. "She is special, Mr. Waldner. Very special."

Mr. Waldner smiled warmly at the boy before turning to Tissy. "Let's go find your mother. I'm sure she'll want to meet your young man!"

Nitro gulped as he walked between Tissy and her dad; Mr. Waldner's hand on his shoulder while Tissy had her arm wrapped around his waist. "Who were those ... boorish people?"

Nitro winced. "Actually, sir," he said hesitantly, "they're my ... parents." He sighed. "Knowing Dad, he'll cut me out of his will and cut my school funding and allowance." A sad headshake punctuated his words. "He and Mom used to be really big in H1," he explained, "and they only tolerated me because I look like a baseline. Now?" Nitro laughed ironically. "Now I found out what they're really like."

"Son," Mr. Waldner said down to Nitro, his voice warm and soothing, "I saw a boy standing up to his parents to defend my little Alex against hated. I saw a girl being humiliated because of her appearance, and you stuck up for her. That says a lot to me about your character - and my Alex's taste in young men!"

"Daddy, you're going to embarrass Clarence!" Tissy protested, but she was smiling that her dad approved of her boyfriend.

"Maybe," Waldner chuckled. "But when that boy is sticking up for my little Pumpkin, I can't help but be impressed."

"I won't be able to do that when I have to withdraw, though," Nitro groused. "If you didn't hear, my Dad is probably going to disown me or cut me off."

Stephen Waldner clapped his hand painfully on Nitro's shoulder. "You won't have to withdraw. I like to reward heroes."

"But ... and I'm not saying I want it to happen, because these past weeks with Tissy have been the best weeks of my life, but what if something happens and we break up?"

"Yeah, Daddy," Tissy nodded in agreement. "I want a boyfriend who likes me, not one who hangs around because he's milking a scholarship out of the deal."

Mr. Waldner smiled pleasantly. "I can set up something so it's not contingent on you two continuing to date. But seeing the way you two are clinging to each other, I don't think we have to worry about you breaking up any time soon."

"Ellen," Mr. Waldner called out warmly to his wife as they neared, "this nice young man is Alex's boyfriend." He released his hand from Nitro's shoulder, leaving the boy with Tissy's and his arms around each other's waists. Nervously, he dropped his hand, fearing that Tissy's mom would be a little put off by a public display of affection, but Tissy pulled him tighter to compensate.

"I'm very pleased to meet you." Mrs. Waldner grasped Nitro's outstretched hand. "I've heard a lot about you," she said warmly.

The teenage boy glanced nervously at Tisiphone, gulping nervously. "I ... kind of told Mom about you a little bit," she admitted with a shy smile. Seeing his questioning look, she grinned. "Okay, maybe a lot!"

"Clarence stood up to his own parents who were being very rude to our little girl," Mr. Waldner said, clapping his hand on Nitro's shoulder again. As firmly as his handclasp hit the boy's shoulders, Nitro couldn't help but think that maybe Mr. Waldner was a mutant, too.

Mrs. Waldner smiled pleasantly at Nitro. "You must really care for Alex. Are you kids going to get to spend any time together this summer?"

"I'm afraid not," Nitro admitted sadly. "After I yelled at them, my ... parents will more than likely cut off my funding, so I'll have to find a job so I can stay in school next fall."

"And he probably won't have a place to stay, either," Tissy pouted, worried about her boyfriend.

"Oh, pish," Mrs. Waldner said. "Steven, don't you think you can find a job for Alex's boyfriend for the summer? And we have a guest cottage where your mother used to live, so he can stay with us!" She clasped Nitro's hand warmly. "You will stay with us, won't you?" she asked him in that motherly tone that said she really wasn't going to take no for an answer.

Nitro leaned closer to his girlfriend, gulping. "Tissy, this kind of feels like a 'welcome to the family, son' kind of thing," he whispered

Tissy giggled. "You're so cute when you blush!" She kissed him on the cheek. "Mommy and Daddy are obviously trying to tell me that you're a keeper!" As Nitro's jaw dropped, Tissy pulled him closer, holding tightly to her boyfriend as if she was afraid of losing him. Mr. and Mrs. Waldner beamed approvingly at their daughter's display.

"Um, 'scuse me, Tissy?" a hesitant voice interrupted from behind Tissy and Nitro.

Tissy turned, upset at the interruption. "Yes?" she prompted a little impatiently.

The girl, a Dickinson freshman whose name Tissy couldn't remember, nervously extended an envelope toward the demon-girl. "I was asked to give you this."

Tissy and Nitro both frowned. "By whom?"

Mrs. Waldner smiled at her husband. "She is finally learning proper English!" she teased.

"Um, they wanted to keep it secret." The girl glanced to her side nervously, and Tissy followed her gaze. There were several people who were glancing occasionally her way, but the one who was calmly gazing at her was Ayla Goodkind, a cup of punch held just so in his hand, his expression unreadable. Tissy's gaze narrowed to an angry frown, and she felt her adrenaline rising.

"Tissy?" Nitro asked, his free hand on her forearm gently to try to calm her. "Is everything okay?"

It was enough. Tissy blinked a couple of times, and then turned back toward the girl and the envelope. "Um, yeah," the demon-girl said hesitantly. "Yeah." Knowing her parents were watching her, she took the envelope. It contained something irregularly-shaped and bumpy; she frowned, wondering what it could be.

With a quick rip, the end of the envelope was torn open and Tissy upended the envelope, dumping a key and key-fob out into her waiting palm. "Huh?" she asked, confused. Something about that key seemed a little familiar, but she couldn't place it.

Nitro looked at the key, and then slipped the envelope from Tissy's hand and peered inside. "There's a note," he reported as his fingers dug into the open end to extract a piece of paper.

Tissy snatched it from his fingers and flipped the paper open.

Tissy, Nitro,

Congratulations on a successful school term. This can't begin to make up for things, but I want you to have your own little getaway on campus, as a way of saying I'm sorry, even though I know it's inadequate given what you've been through. It's the room you all had your date in, and it's yours until you graduate. It's also been arranged that twice a month, at your convenience, the chefs will prepare a gourmet meal for you and your friends.

A.

"What the hell?" Nitro asked, reading over his girlfriend's arm. The two, as one, spun to look across the floor. Ayla was still looking their way, a sad expression on his face, knowing that he could never make up for what he'd done to Alex, but his little gesture let them know how truly sorry he genuinely was. Ayla lifted his punch cup in a toasting gesture. Staring, mouths agape, they slowly raised their own glasses to acknowledge Ayla's touching gesture.

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Tansy felt a little like a St. Pauli girl as she maneuvered the three cups of punch she was carrying from the serving buffet over to where it Elaine and Kayda were standing off to one side. Both had small smiles on their faces and nodded as parents they didn't know or faculty they did walked by. "Your folks couldn't make it either?" asked Tansy as she presented the cups to her friends.

"No," replied Lanie in a glum voice. "Between them bringing Steve up and mah episode with Grizzly, the funds were all tapped out."

"Same here," Kayda added. "Their rushing out here for my trial dipped pretty deep in the ready funds. They wanted to come but there just wasn't money." She dropped her gaze sheepishly. "And Debra used up all her vacation time and travel funds, too."

Tansy raised her glass and offered a toast. "To graduation!" After a sip of the oddly flavored fruity concoction Tansy sighed and asked, "So what's next for you two?" The two younger girls shared a glance and shrugged.

"Ah'm headed home for the summer. Ah thought about taking Baby Girl, but Ah don't know if Ah want to deal with the trip there and back."

"Baby Girl?" Tansy asked as if she didn't already know.

"Her Mustang," Kayda supplied between sips of her punch. "You ought to see it now that she has the paint done - she's showroom shiny." The young Lakota girl paused and looked up at the taller blonde a thoughtful expression on her face. "What are you going to do this summer, Tansy?"

Tansy hung a wistful expression on her face and shrugged. "Oh I'm taking the summer semester," she said with just a little bit of longing in her voice. "I've got a lot of stuff I have to catch up on and I wasted a lot of time before this term."

"You've got to have some vacation!" Lanie protested, outraged on her friend's behalf. "If nothing else you need the mental break. When does the semester start?"

The blonde look thoughtful and kept her smile off her face. "Oh, not for a couple of weeks. I'll probably do some shopping in Berlin. I mean really, it's not as if I had any place to go." The look in her eyes was both sad and bitter. "I really don't want to go home ...."

Elaine's face brightened up like a Christmas tree now that she made a mental connection that Tansy wanted. "Say, why don't we have a road trip?"

"Road trip?" demanded Kayda. "Where?"

Elaine's hands got hyper as she became excited with her idea and her eagerness to infect her friends with that enthusiasm took hold. "Home!" she declared with enthusiasm. "The shop has that standing wave teleport out to the salt flats in Utah! We could take Baby Girl through that as a starting point. We could swing through North Dakota and drop you off, Kayda...”

“South!” protested the Lakota girl loudly. “I'm from SOUTH Dakota! Not that ... other ... place!” She threw in a feigned shudder of disgust to emphasize her fidelity to her home state.

“...And then Tansy and Ah could finish the rest of the trip down to Georgia,” Lanie finished with a wink at Tansy to let her in on the joke she'd played Kayda. “It will be child's play for you to get a flight back from Hartsfield; you get a break and we all have a little bit of an adventure!"

Walcutt rubbed her chin as if she were thinking about it. "I guess I'm game," she allowed after a moment of thought. "I've never done a road trip! It sounds fun!"

"It settled!" Kayda declared with authority. "When do we leave?"

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As she was leaving with Elaine and Kayda Tansy saw Ms. Hartford conversing with one of the trustees. He was a ruggedly handsome man with closely-cropped hair wearing what Tansy's fashion sense told her was an extremely expensive suit that he filled out magnificently. There was something about his face that made her think she should recognize him, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. Ms. Hartford caught her looking and raised an eyebrow in question, seeing the company Tansy was keeping. Tansy winked in response to which the Assistant Headmistress raised her glass of champagne in salute.

Tally Ho thought Tansy to herself.

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The sting of watching most other students mingle with their parents was slowly becoming unbearable since his own parents couldn't or hadn't bothered to come. Schooling his face so that no emotion was showing, Hank politely excused himself from the Grunt's conversation group with their parents and discreetly made his way over to the buffet table. Even that was odd, but that little ... incident ... really made being with his other group awkward. To make him more out of place, it was an odd feeling wearing the gown portion of traditional cap and gown; he hadn't expected to put on academic dress for years yet. The other new sophomores had settled on wearing the gown open as their style and so had he, wearing the long black robe over his school uniform suit.

At the buffet table he found Wyatt Cody pouring himself a cup of punch the big man's face stony and unreadable. Hank waited his turn quietly selecting a cup and thankfully holding it up when Wyatt offered to ladle the punch into it. "So," drawled Hank when the big man made no inclination to move off or return somewhere else. "Where are your parents?"

Wyatt snorted in amusement as he took a sip of the punch. "Alaska," he said flatly. "Fly all the way down here just to see me not graduate? Kind of expensive don't you think?"

"Sorry," Hank replied. "Didn't mean to pick at a wound."

The big senior forced a grin and made a dismissive gesture. "Don't worry about it. You didn't know and I am kind of fond of this place." He sighed and took another sip of the punch. "Maybe next year will be everything this year was supposed to be."

He turned to leave but Hank stopped in by laying a casual hand on his arm at the elbow. "Say, about that - since you're going to be here next year, are you taking apprentices?"

Cody's face wanted to frown and smile at same time making for an interesting expression. "I thought you were shacked up with that black haired girl on Star League Junior? You're not getting enough quality time with the females between her and your teammates that you want lessons from me on how to be a Casanova?"

Hank felt his cheeks burn with embarrassment and blush at the seniors pointed questions and shook his head. Steeling his expression he looked the big man in the eye. "I'm doing just fine with the ladies, thanks. I... Look I heard a lot of talk that you took a dive when we fought..."

Wyatt shook his head in disgust and turned to walk away again. "I don't have time for this."

Declan put the glass of punch down and quickly moved to intercept the departing senior. "Look I ...” was as far as he got before the big man put down his own cup of punch and crossed his arms over his massive chest.

"I'm not in the mood for this, son," the senior growled his tone dripping menace.

"I am not trying to start anything!" Hank hissed quietly with what he hoped was a soothing gesture. "Look, everybody I've talked to said you're the most dangerous fighter on campus. With respect to Sensei Ito, you don't get to be the best unless you learn from the best. If you're the best, then I want to learn from you." He sighed and locked eyes with Wyatt again. "So, what you think of my abilities?"

The big man face seemed thoughtful and he rubbed his chin. "You want the truth?"

"Always."

"You asked for it," he said putting one hand on his waist and pointed the other at Hank's chest. "Your biggest problem, kid, is that you're too damned nice. In a fight, a serious fight, you've got to be in a controlled fury. You got the controlled part, but you don't have the fury part. And I can't teach you that."

Wyatt's hand moved faster than Hank could follow flowing from pointing at his chest to seizing his left wrist. Before the new sophomore could blink Wyatt was behind him his left arm bent up behind his back in a powerful arm lock. Surprised, Hank started to struggle but Wyatt gave a little tug to his arm sending a sickening sensation down it that forced Hank to realize with just a tiny bit more pressure Wyatt could break his arm. In his ear Cody whispered, "And you don't have the skill to fight finesse. You're a one trick pony - all strength, Declan. What are you going to do when you throw a punch and someone just laughs at you?”

Just as quickly as he had been seized Hank was released and Wyatt stepped back to a conversational distance, a small smirk at the corner of his mouth. Rubbing his arm to get feeling back into it Hank declared sullenly, "I'm not a one -trick pony! I've got these paper swords that my TK Field...”

“Oh?” Cody asked, his tone dripping sarcasm. “So, you're diligently studying under Ms. Beaumont so you can be a Jedi kendo bad-ass, right?”

“Well...no...” he admitted grudgingly. Wyatt's expression said 'I told you so' as he turned to leave so Hank stopped him again. “Look, Kodiak, I have to know. Back in the fight last fall - were you trying?"

Wyatt blew air out noisily through his lips. “What if I wasn't?” he asked crossly. “Does that make you less of a man for standing up to me?”

“I...”

“What if I was?” he demanded, not waiting for the answer. “Are you a bigger man because you beat up somebody weaker than you? Or are you a chump and a bully? Don't compare yourself to others boy; there's no challenge there!” A meaty finger poked Hank in the sternum. “Master yourself! The real battle is in there! Conquer yourself and no one can beat you.”

Hank's mouth fell open as he saw a side of the senior he didn't think anyone else ever had. “Will...will you teach me?”

Cody patted him on the shoulder. "Have a good summer, and we'll see what the fall brings, kid."

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“Elaine!”

Lanie stopped at the cry of her name and turned to find Ayla Goodkind stepping away from Mrs. Carson and a pair of women talking with her. She noted the young mogul’s appearance and, somewhat astonished, asked, “Are you wearing lip gloss?”

Immediately, Ayla's expression became one of long suffering. “Don't get me started,” he warned. He looked over Elaine's shoulder at Tansy and Kayda who were waiting and watching - and it looked like Kayda was smirking at Ayla's appearance.

“Ah'll catch up,” she assured them, and when they were in a more discreet position turned back to Ayla and asked, “What's up?”

Goodkind reached into his jacket and removed a sheaf of folded papers to present. “I've gotten some information back for your side project,” he said as she took the papers and began to flip through the. “And some questions the legal team needs answered...”

“Holy shit!” she swore, looking at the estimate page.

“Indeed,” Ayla said with a smirk. I'll be happy to help manage that sum if you'd like, however there are some concerns.”

Lanie's face clouded over. “Let me guess, mah Uncle Sam doesn't take kindly...”

“Uncle just wants his taxes, fees, and fines then he'll be happy,” Ayla interrupted smoothly. “With figures this large, that's almost inconsequential. I have a title firm and document providence house validating the notes and papers you gave me, and their preliminary reports suggest they will be born out as accurate...”

Elaine crossed her arms over her bosom. “You doubted me?”

Ayla smiled a thin smile. “Trust, but verify,” he replied. “The providence these firms will provide will bear fruit later on in marketing as the brand is built. Speaking of the brand, have you made a decision?”

“Allatoona Gold Label?” she asked sheepishly. Ayla thought for a moment as if considering.

“That would imply there were other label colors. I could contract with a marketing firm...?” Lanie sighed and nodded. “Now, this is the big question, do you have the legal right to sell this?” The red head blinked in confusion causing Ayla to continue. “You're a minor and you don't own the property this was found on...”

“Actually Ah do," she replied with a smug grin.

"Oh?" Asked Ayla, disbelief dripping from her tone.

Elaine nodded. "When Ah was 14 Ah tried to give myself a taste for whiskey by forcing myself to drink 8 ounces of Jack Daniels all at once. Ah didn't know any better and Ah thought it was just like beer." The expression on Ayla's face was a perfectly schooled mixture of concern, sympathy, and dismay. "Got a real bad case of alcohol poisoning. Had to have mah stomach pumped. But while everybody else was telling me how stupid Ah was, when great grandpappy found out he just said 'at least one of mah descendants is still Irish.' And he had his will changed. When he passed later that year there was a line entered that read, 'to mah great-granddaughter Elaine Ah leave the product of mah sins and the hallow in which they lie, if she can find it.'”

Ayla frowned, and rubbed her chin and thought. "That's pretty vague," she protested. "I'm not sure that would stand up to a court challenge."

"Who would challenge me?" She asked.

"Your parents?" Goodkind asked. "This is a lot of money were talking about."

Nalley shook her head. "Ah have many complaints about mah family but we don't fight over money. When Steve manifested Ms. Hartford told mah parents that she could divert some of the proceeds from mah patents to pay for his tuition. Ah hate to admit to it now but Ah took exception to it, to which mah father replied, and Ah quote, 'Ah know mah daughter isn’t about to abandon her family over something like money.' So no, I'm not worried about that."

The young mogul shrugged his shoulders in concession of the point. "I hope you're right."

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June 9th, 2007
Kashmir Suite, the Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco California

The phone vibrated against the night stand it had been placed on. It was not a loud sound, but it's owner's hearing was exceptional. He set up in the palatial bed he was sleeping in to the muted complaint one of his bed mates; the blonde he thought not that it mattered. There weren't many who had the number that could make that phone ring and all of them are more important than any of the three women he had been sleeping with.

A flick of his ear activated the Bluetooth headset that was in it as he stretched and pulled on a robe. "Bonjour, ceci est Pierre," he greeted in a pleasant but deep bass voice as he crossed the room to the doors to his private patio for the suite.

"Hello, Warhorse," a smooth, but just-as-dangerous voice began in his ear. "Enjoying your vacation, I trust?" A thick, three-fingered hand collected a cigar from a humidor on top of the table as he passed along with a lighter and cutter. On the suite's private balcony, the huge equine Animan inhaled deeply from the rich, salty sea breeze off the bay as he went through the rituals of getting the cigar ready to be enjoyed.

Laid out below him, glittering in the bay, were Alcatraz and Angel islands, as if being offered up to a king in the thought process smile to his face as he got the cigar lit. "AH, mon Capitan! Just when I think I might get bored of whoring and debauchery, you give me a call. What can I, humble soul that I am, do for you?"

The chuckle drifted into the ear of the Animan spoke volumes. "Well I wouldn't want you to get bored, but I wouldn't want to interrupt either."

Warhorse shrugged his massive shoulders in a dismissive gesture. "Business before pleasure, mon Capitan, always. Is my experience the purveyors of the world's oldest profession are patient lot, they'll keep. But I imagine whatever you're calling me for won't."

"As perceptive as always. A friend of mine has lost something..."

"And you need the Warhorse to find it for you?"

The dangerous voice chuckled, "Actually I need you to lose it. But I'm willing to make it worth your while."

Warhorse blew a smoke ring that drifted out over the bay. "I'm listening."

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Comments   

+1 # DanZilla 2016-05-03 06:59
Great Story... I always enjoy the way you flesh-out things and bring them more to life.
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+1 # AbiDrew 2016-05-03 07:04
So it WAS Tansy's fault!

I was kinda hoping we'd actually see that road trip adventure in this story, will that be in another one?
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+1 # Malady 2016-05-03 21:12
Quoting AbiDrew:
So it WAS Tansy's fault!

I was kinda hoping we'd actually see that road trip adventure in this story, will that be in another one?


Thanks! I was wondering what Hartford's task was!

Quoting Kayda8:

"There was a research lab in Colorado, and a mercenary called War Horse stole some gadget," I began a narrative. From the pair's reaction, they were in a state of shocked disbelief, which seemed to grow as I told the story. "So we got it back, but he got away," I finished the tale. "And then we met a guy from the government who took it, barely said 'thank you', and sent us on our way."
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+1 # AbiDrew 2016-05-04 01:14
LOL. This isn't the first time you've failed to make a connection between story threads... Glad I could help remind you this time!
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0 # alisa28 2016-05-08 14:41
Enjoy seeing a rounding out of the 2007 class..And a setting
up of some evolutions for the next school year.
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