Original Canon

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Disclaimer :  Heh, I like music, I like books and films. I don’t own the rights to them, but they do provide some insight into the mind of the author, (me) possibly the character.. If it bothers you too much, well, I could spend a few extra hours typing in credits.   Each ‘Chapter’ has it’s own title and musical quote.  Listening to that song, and figuring out what the title means, may give you (the readers) a clue at some subtext. Enjoy. 

A Whateley Academy Tale

Eat, Drink and be Merry

by Renae

Half Time

Philadelphia, Friday, October 6, 2006

“I walk the maze of moments,
but everywhere I turn to, begins a new beginning,
but never finds a finish,
I walk to the horizon and there I find another,
it all seems so surprising and then I find that I know.
Anywhere is” – Enya  - Anywhere Is

 

“… better than here.” I cursed softly at the ceiling light that was off due to it being bedtime. A glance at the clock with it’s red LEDs that  seemed to flash in time with my heartbeat. Each flash a frozen second of a minute, each minute a frozen flash of an hour. It’s nine o’clock, Friday night. Other kids, other kids are out doing movies, dating, partying, and living. I  would hit the wall and scream “This is so not living.”  If it would not bring my father and mother down on me. 

Darkness fills the room between the red flashes of the digital clock. A flash illuminates the poster of Tron, then winks out. Another, and the various starships from Space 1999, UFO, Star Trek, and others gleam under a faint patina of dust. A bookshelf, science fiction, fantasy books that would be banned and burned if his parents had taken a care to even glimpse the ‘Evil’ inherent in those books.

No, they were happy if I were shut up in my room reading. I couldn’t cause trouble, or be a ‘bad boy’. Or to fall in with ‘the wrong crowd.’ The computer was a harmless toy, it seemed to keep me quiet. Quiet ever so quiet, drug free, safe, away from those ‘Evil Influences.’ I  was safe until Monday; When they had to let me go to school.  If I am really good I ‘might’ get to go see a PG movie.  Chess club was the exception to the rule, with several trophies made out to one Chad Wilson, father almost seemed happy about those.

A glance at the clock 9:05, ten more minutes and the parents would be going to bed. Ten more minutes until I could fire up the computer and the modem without any chance of them figuring out the computer was online. Much less awake and possibly sinning.  Thou shalt not, seemed to be the essence and fabric of his father’s take on life. Unless of course it involved drinking beer to excess, hunting or fishing. Or his Job.

Sitting up I watched the light under the closed door, shadows crisscrossing the bar of light underneath of it.  I could picture the nightly image of my parents stopping to listen, then moving on. Waiting for the light to flash off sucked big time. I slid off the bed, took two soft steps to the chair, ease in to it and back to the Internet.

Depravation, masturbation, exasperation, eradication, dedication, supplication, deviation; it’s a sick and twisted manta I must admit but it sometimes helps me to focus. I blame it on the Daily Newspaper Comic BC™ where the peg legged man was making words that rhymed just in time to step into fire… I had left the search at a stand still, tonight’s subject and recent sermon cum lecture was MUTANTS.  Not that I didn’t know what they were, it was because the minister was so down on them for some reason, and following his lead were my mom and dad. Joy.

Granddad was an Atomic Vet, though he didn’t get to do it on land, he was on a ship during one of the Atlantic tests. He said he could see the bones of his hands through his closed eyes, while sitting on the deck facing away from the flash.  One of the few times he ever really spoke about the war, that half ways seemed to stick in my mind. Though he never did say too much about his part in the war. Which drags me back to focus on the search.

Part of me had wondered what made them not use those weapons. So I was looking, digging, prying for more information. I am not concerned with the morality of hacking so much. More like the old Hacker Credo of the nineteen sixties; Look, play, learn, do no real harm, if anything its sometimes an obligation to provide  information to prevent utter disasters.  One thing we never want is a deliberate Meltdown of a Nuke Plant.

I was looking at a document filed every so loosely located on the old DARPA side of the Internet. It had been mentioned a few times among several of the sites I had raided trying to gather information.  Raided, yes I was a Hacker. So sorry mom and dad; You’re picture perfect, straight A’s honor role student is a cyber criminal. Fortunately, they never went to see the movie War Games, or I’d have to try and figure out a new hobby.

The paper, as it were, was a very dry read. Any staler and I could have used it to absorb moisture from my gym sox. The only significant section was a small table of data that related the percentages of mutant births or mutational development to the exposure of radioactive events. Japan had a higher instance than say anywhere else in the world, they didn’t admit an accident and all that, but, politics

Then again it listed a small but disquieting trend among children and descendants of the ‘Atomically Tested’ World War Two Veterans, and those who lived around Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl.

Which brings me to my dad, the poster child for alcoholic excess and radioactivity.  I sure the pictures of mutant flowers, four legged daddy longlegs, and the depopulation of certain insects and small animals had nothing what so ever to do with the near melt down of TMI #2.  Never mind that he was a farmer’s son, doing all those chores and what not with contaminated soil.  Drinking milk from cows that probably should have been checked with a Geiger counter.   

I frowned at the information for a time then I got up from my chair to go look out the window. Somewhere northwest in the far far distance of fifty plus miles; the  cooling towers were illuminated by white lights and suddenly too close and foreboding.  Statistically speaking, I was hitting very freaky odds, a long shot by any throw of the dice.  Still, I spent a long time staring out the window looking in the direction the two towers would lay, no I was not really seeing them but, in my minds eye they were outside my window. I shivered resting my forehead against the cold panes of glass.

I was already considered a freak at school, well only by the Jocks and Social Elite, but still. I could imagine just what the cruel and unintelligent would say much less do if they could see the connections that history was dumping in my lap. I pulled the curtains closed then pulled them tighter still. Suddenly uncomfortable I didn’t care for the mental view anymore. The dim glow of the monitor was far more comforting than the moonlight and that mental image of reflected white light. Sure they are deactivated and all the dangerous bits are sealed away, there’s nothing to fear according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

I dumped a copy of the file to my disk drive, more bytes of what? Evidence or self-condemnation, it didn’t matter unless I sprouted wings or turned green.  Yeah right, who was I kidding, puberty had not quite hit and some things were beginning to become obvious.  The odd scar I had down there was itching painfully again. Somehow I managed not to lose it when I started urinating blood last month. It wasn’t exactly painful, though the doctors finally blamed it on a kidney stone.

Mom looked at me oddly for a few days after they kicked me out of the hospital, but other than that things were back to normal.  Dad just, well, ignored it though he did give me a weight lifters belt and enough equipment for a small gym. I think he had meant it to be supportive or  possibly something about making me become manly I suppose.  Then my bedtime got shifted back an hour earlier and the curfew was cinched in tighter. 

I had taken the time to filter through some of my medical records that the doctors had so obligingly left beside my bed while the consulted with my mom and dad. Near as I could tell my plumbing was normal… If I was part girl. Sex Ed had sort of laid that out in handy charts and the films we all had to watch in class filled in some other details. I knew I was odd when my tonsils had grown back three separate times, and the bit with my appendectomy and every other scar virtually disappearing overnight.

Then there were the headaches, more like migraines, more like pure acid was poured into my eyes ears and sinus.  I blanked out a few times in class from them, and I was getting a reputation as a stoner, though my grades denied this.  More blood, urine tests, CAT Scans, MRIs and X-Rays. The CAT Scan was disturbing to me, though normal to the doctors.  I saw a white flash while my eyes where closed during that one. Supposedly it happens, from time to time, personally I was kind of dubious about that. The technician in charge just winked at me after he said that.

A few thousand more dollars and the physicians said growing pains, the other doctors nodded politely and handed out more prescriptions.  Dad, well he started drinking more frequently, which made it best to be invisible or out of site out of mind. Pills, I have a row of pills for this that and the other. I suppose they may have helped me somewhat.  One or two times I had experiences my stoner friends would say were decent highs. Frankly I could not stand the waves of vertigo and the disconnected feeling.

Other times I think the pills may have kept me from loosing my sanity. One of the worst times was a three-day marathon hacking session where I tried to track down my birth medical records.  I was seriously disturbed by the whole pissing blood thing, that and my medical report that I had barely glommed through.  So I spent almost seventy-two hours online, and things got blurry for a time.

Bilateral Hermaphroditism, also known as; Choose your child’s gender. Dad wanted a boy, guess what? I am a boy, and something else. A few days of better living through chemistry and I was back to my old self. Ok not my old self, I was more considerate of my sister.  Two years younger than me, no odd scars, no freaky trips to the hospital, but I could swear she was aware of everything that had happened and what had changed.  Though I don’t know if my sister is telepathic or just more clued in than I am. I feel fine yet I suppose it is the something else that I am worried about.

Melting down, melting down is my one big fear. Melting down would be terminal, fatal, end of life go straight to hell.  If you believed in the pastor’s latest sermon.  Lately I have been doing my utmost to not believe a single thing he’s for. But, there’s this doubt.  Religion is wonderful for creating doubt, guilt and fear. It fills the pews, puts millions of dollars in the offering plates and eases the soul. Money and going to church provides absolution for all crimes…All the Mafia films show that.

So, what to you do if you are going to be a teen aged mutant:  Take over the world? Flatten every Jock who looks at me cross-eyed? Win every pretty girl? The odds were telling me I was going to be a girl or something, though since I am going to be sinning no matter what I do, should I go for lesbianism, or would it be homosexualism?

I never was allowed to date, so kissing and the whole nine yards is still a gray area for me.  I put up with a lot of crap from my friends at school for being so clueless when it comes to relationships. Sometimes I really envy the various couples I see in the hallways, and then again I get to be the person they cry on / beat upon when or if it falls apart. Yep, I am the person that is friends with everyone and is no-one.

I sat back down in my chair, a faint headache starting to pulse behind my eyes. I sorted through some of the pill bottles and finally popped a pain pill with a name three syllables long into my mouth and swallowed. Ugh, some things are never coated when they should be. I dimmed the monitor back some more, as it was seeming much more brighter than a moment ago. Experience has made me more alert to the symptoms of a major headache about to happen and I still had, glancing at the clock, another six to eight hours of prime time hacking left.

Eyes closed, I started typing the string of commands that would tie me into the next hot bed of illicit activity, no not NORAD. Please, they hack that every other Thursday, and arrest the hackers by the following Friday, then they hire them. I’ll pass thank you very much. No I am after the Holy Grail, I am trying to track The Palm.

Every hacker has a non-deplume, ninety-eight percent of the time they get known by them. Ok, they go out of their way to be known by them. More than two percent of the time they get arrested by doing something illegal attached to that name. The other two percent probably end up dead under cement, water or just vanish in the desert. Hah, got you. I don’t know where they end up, or if they are even caught, much less exists. Heck for all I know the cops invent them just to feed to the newspaper.  Unless they do something really bad and get a book written about them, ala Kevin McKitrik.

The Palm, was or is a nut job that thinks AI should rule the world, evidently he did not spend time reading any Asmov books.  Much less catch any films.  Oh then you can add in the fact he was a mutant, of some sort, so he has one heck of an edge on us semi-normal Joes.  I mean really, how does anyone compete with someone who can make a blue box or something that that defeats the known phone tracking system with out trying to hard?

Then there is the odd thing…  He’s dead, it is most of what the hacker underground does agree on. There was even a death certificate and autopsy report. I had a copy, I didn’t completely buy his being dead.  Call me a bit paranoid, but no-one that good of a hacker is going to be  killed.  Not with out a really good reason.  Hell they keep McKitrik someplace handy, just in case. In case of what is a great deal of speculation and fodder for the conspiracy theory nuts.

So it is not unbelievable that he or some one very much like him is out there. Even if it is very, very improbable.  Ok blame Douglas Adams if you want to, or me, someone has to take the blame.  It’s not like the only time I have taken the blame, there was that girl in the second grade… Oh never mind. Seriously pay me no mind, no one else does.   Unless it’s time for punishment, extra chores or my hair is too long.  It’s my dad’s big gripe, ok one of them.  I am one of the many ants crawling in the Internet, I am anonymous.

The Palm or who ever has taken on his non-de-plume; On the other hand is a freakin’ hazard to anyone other than himself, herself, whom ever it is.  Stock market computer crashes, airplane course deviations, the universal clock. How the blazes he pulled off screwing the time reading on the computer monitoring it has lots of ‘Official’ people losing it.  If you thought the Millennium computer clock scare was a big non-event, this person is sure fired reason to keep your coffee pot purely analog. It sure keeps me entertained.    

 My headache was easing back from being subatomic and the world was taking on slow drumbeat. I sighed and just stared at the monitor, watching the colors shift in time with my throbbing head. After a few minutes I started to type again, so what if the text was multicolored and three- dimensional? I was on a mission. To boldly go, sorry force of habit. Did I mention something about ADD? I probably should have, but it’s too late now, and we’re on the express roller coaster ride to hell.

I hit one of my function buttons and the display changed to a map showing the various routers and nodes I was currently using. It was floating off the screen as well, I suppressed a giggle and then pushed one of the nodes with my finger as it floated in the air. Vooosh, the text started spinning then it flooded down the walls and around my room.  I had a bad minute of vertigo and some how I kept my dinner in its rightful place. I must have had a goofy grin on my face, or drool, either way I was having one the best time I think I have had in ages.

It’s the drugs, it must be the drugs, a quiet voice in my head was screaming; Sure. Keep thinking that and everything will be right when it wears off.  I ignored the voices in my head, and went with the flow of data.  RPT-1765, Philadelphia Schools Server Node five, been there done that. Not that I need to change my grades… Oh weird, there are my grades. I was just thinking.

Thinking, thinking?  Well if I am in the grips of a good delirium I may as well ride it for all it’s worth. Palm, oh Palm, come out, come out where ever you are! Aha, there is a lot of activity that looks like hands.   Where Am I? Ah, China, good thing the world moves in ones and zeros or I’d need a Babble-Fish.  Oh how cute, it’s green, I’ll just put it in my ear.  Cool I can read Kanji! Urg, he’s trying to break into a weapons research lab.

Now all I need is a good ruler and I can slap his hands. Oh this will do, funny it’s metric and glows all sorts of funky colors.  Slap. Slap. Slap. Heh, this beats Whack-A-Mole any day. Awww, all the little hands went away. Should I follow, sure why not? Just call me Pac-Man. Munch-munch! I follow the blue maze, eat the dots, erase the path, follow, follow.  Disconnected!  What! Poke-poke. Darn little fishy got away. Game Over floats serenely over my computer.  I raise my hands and look at them, all blue and glowing, I touched my chest, yeah you’re a girl, what else is new.  

Part of me wants to argue, the world is spinning though and my sister is saying something in a whisper.

“Chad, you are making too much noise, go to bed.” She says.

“But I don’t wanna, I am having fun.”

“I know, but what is dad going to say when he see’s the light in the room and you glowing blue?”

“Um.”

“Come on Chad, go to bed, you can play more tomorrow.”

She’s smart, my sister. I can play more tomorrow. “Okie dokie, you win, tuck me in?”

I felt her push my shoulder and I stumbled out of my chair. I waved my hand at my computer. “Off, go nighty night.”  All the blue symbols and letters faded into darkness and I was;

F

  A

   L

    L

     L

      I

      N

       G. Down. Ker-splat!


Some place in the Internet Matrix, the location was never ‘fixed’ in any one location for very long. Though it only woke up a few months ago.

There was a terminal sitting on a desk:

All processes stopped at 03:45.077.009.

AI Fault Error Code ##### Unknown Error #####.
Trace initiated by Anonymous.
Trace Interrupted at Node EU692.
Warning: Possible Failure of Aid Box 17.

Restart? Y/N _

Inside the man known as The Palm was sweating. “Close, so close.” He got up and paced the area that resembled a shabby motel room, various boxes and color-coded wires branching from shiny colored boxes strewn around the floor.  “It wasn’t her or her boy toy.  Amelia Hartford, is working from Rhode Island, when she isn’t at Whateley. We know this. So we have a new player in the game.  We don’t like interference. We must take steps, we must prevent further interruptions.” He stopped pacing, “We must find out who it was.” 

He sat back down at his terminal and started typing. “Perhaps something fatal should be arranged.”


BLEEP. BLEEP. BLEEP! Alarm clocks must have been created by an agent of the devil. My head feels like someone took a jackhammer to it and my eyes feel like washed out coals of fire. I roll over in the semi darkness of the room and slap at the damned thing until it shuts off. I am still have on my blue jeans and black t-shirt from yesterday, there was some thing, oh yeah, headache, pills, bright colors.  Talk about your whacked out dreams.

The faint odor of breakfast churned at my stomach, cramp, churn, cramp. “Ok I get the idea.” I stumbled to my door, it was partially open.  I don’t remember opening it last night, then again last night was pretty hazy. I made it to the bathroom and thank gods it was empty.

I never realize how clean the bathroom is compared to the rest of the house until I have been puking my guts out for several minutes. My mother isn’t Mrs. Neatness, but I think she does have one obsessive thing about the bathroom. Thank god for small favors.  You never notice how cold porcelain is until you have to hug it to keep the world in one place. My innards keep doing the Boa Constrictor thing, but the world seems to have slowed its spin.

A faint knock at the door, “Chad, you ok or should I tell mom?” asked my sister Joni. “Are you decent?”

Another twist and I croaked out “No and yes I am decent.”

With that she let herself in. Joni could be my twin, other than she’s blond to my brown and already turning heads. We’re both about 5 foot something, Caucasian, and more lithe and athletic rather than large and clumsy.  She is the favorite to win at anything from tennis to volleyball, not to mention being able to clean my clock in ping-pong. We could share clothes, and we do trade t-shirts from time to time, to our mom’s vexation.  

“Chad, how much do you remember from last night?”  My sister never was one to dance around a subject.

“Not much, something about being blue, and Pac Man.”

“I got on your computer this morning.” She paused, it was a touchy subject, my toys, her toys. “I know you don’t like it but listen. You left everything going last night after you collapsed.”  

I groaned and rested my head on my arms. “Are the feds at the door?”

“No silly, but they could have been. You really got to get some help Chad.  Those pills don’t make you think right. You get careless, worse than Dad when he is drunk. You’re not smoking pot and trying to burn down the house, but if Dad catches you all glowy, you’re still gonna get kicked out.”

Did I mention she was more clued in than I expected? “Did you read the stuff in the mutants folder?”

“Yep and your diary and your phone book. All your bases belong to us.” She giggled, “Did you really flunk that Jock that was bothering you?” 

I had considered it, but we needed the thug in the game. My pride, my poor wounded pride. “No.”

She wrinkled her nose, “You need a shower and a trip to the mall for a hair cut, again.”

I pulled myself up to look in the mirror, Shoulder length brown hair greeted me. “Shit, Dad is going to kill me.”

“Yes. If he was home, work called him in early to sort out some mess, so you skated by on that one.” She pushed my hair to one side, then looked at me harder. “Ut oh.”

I had that sinking feeling, about like the Titanic. “Ut oh?” I echoed.

“You’re eyes Chad they’re not supposed to be all blue. Or glowing.”

That crunching sound was the iceberg.

The python that was doing a number on my guts was back with a vengeance, a few shaky breaths and I shoo’ed her out of the bathroom “Find my sunglasses for me, and tell Mom I’m having a seriously bad day. I need a shower.”

“A hot bath would feel better, trust me. Oh yeah, you have email.” I just looked at her for a moment before closing the door. She was probably right about the bath, but I needed out of the house and fast. After the email.

Mother burst in on my shower as I was trying to drown my misery in hot water. Mother’s don’t seem to care about self-dignity, fortunately the shower curtain doesn’t reveal much.

“Chad, I put your meds and a twenty on the toilet, do you need anything?”

A sob half choked me before I sputtered through the flow of the shower, “No, I’ll be ok Mom, it’s just that time again, I think.” 

“Do you need to go to the doctors?”

“No Mom, what are they going to do for me?”

“Ok Chad, just be careful at the mall.”   I could hear some concern in her voice, but the sound of the shower was all I could focus on as another cramp hit me.

Drying my hair, normally just takes a quick brush of the comb and, since it was this long, I tried the hair dryer. It worked fine, then suddenly I was holding a chunk of plastic handle with cord and the remains of the hair dryer were in the sink.  Blankly I looked at the fragments of the motor and brushed a small bit of plastic from my face.  The world flashed blue for a moment and all the light bulbs arrayed around the mirror burned out at once.

“This is so not happening, pills must take pills.” I scooped them up, then one after another sent them down the hatch. A handful of water to wash them down and with luck this delusion would pass too. I looked at the remains of the hairdryer, “Wake up Chad.” In the semi darkness of the bathroom, my all blue eyes were glowing in the mirror. I looked closer, no pupils nor any whites. The voice in my head jabbered; Welcome to Dune.   

Opening the bathroom door I then skirted the short distance to my room ensconced in a towel. Fortunately, my sister had tossed some clothes on my bed and the shades, nothing to bright. I guess she’s been here before.  The shades made a huge difference in how bad my eyes burned, and the odd lines I was seeing, migraine day? God I hope not.

The pills took the edge off of the cramps. Jeeze how many guys need a pharmacy that included Pamprin™ and some funky steroids, just to live normal.  Normal, oh yeah, antidepressants too. Soon I was dressed and sitting at the computer going through my email.

One caught my eye, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.... Okay. Hit the virus scan checker from hell.  Commercial stuff is fine, for most people, I am not most people. It was clean. I hit the open email button.


Greetings Chad,

You evidently are a hacker of some merit. I am The Palm, you were looking for me. You also cost me some time and effort. Which I suppose is my own fault.  There are forces at work that do not want people like us to succeed in our quest for knowledge and power.

Ok, I can agree to the knowledge bit, power. Well maybe. 

I know where you live, who you are, and what you are. You on the other hand don’t know anything about me, but you are a threat.  I deal with threats in one of two ways; One, I arrange for something unpleasant to happen to you. Two I give you a large sum of money and you never ever bother me again.  Admittedly if you are reading this, money is likely not a problem for you, if you think hard about it. 

Like Duh, employment in the future was pretty much going to bring triple digits, if I wanted to do it legally. Quasi-Legal and I could have a billion in under a month.

I can help you make this decision, being a mutant does run in families. If you are not concerned for yourself I can put pressure on your family, perhaps your sister? You have twelve hours to leave a message here stating you will comply.

As an additional incentive, the Sum of two million dollars has been deposited to this account, in your name. (A series of numbers followed and some branch information.) It is all quite legitimate, and untraceable back to me.

I am quite impressed by your encryption scheme. I think the sum I deposited in your name should make up for the inconvenience of recovering all your data.  Consider it payback for disrupting my work last night.

“What the heck did I do last night?” I muttered to the empty room.

The server and email address will only be active for twelve hours from the opening of this email.  I suggest you comply, other wise I will take action.  Though in any case, the Two Million is yours to do with as you see fit.  

“Gee, thanks.” Note the sarcasm?

I am sure a bright boy like your self will choose wisely. This message will self terminate when closed.

Respectfully,

The Palm


I copied down the account information and the branch information. Part of my head was spinning again. You found him, you don’t know how you found him, but you found him… Then I checked my hard drive, nearly eighty gigs were free. “F-u-“ I bit down on my tongue. Must not let the parents hear that word, ever.  I still remember the rose thorn covered switch, the scabs and the odd looks from my gym teacher.  I shut my system down in disgust. Bastard.

I looked at the clock, with luck I could make the bus. I passed through the deserted kitchen, a glass of V-8 juice sat waiting on the table. Normally I won’t touch the stuff unless I am having a really bad day. My mom knows I won’t be able eat for several hours. It was a compromise. 

I won’t bore you with the details of the bus ride, other than to note that the fluorescent bulbs seem to scream rather than hum happily.  That and we stopped a lot. Some sort of electrical problems, I just sank back in my uncomfortable seat and wished the ride was over.

Philadelphia malls are like any other cities malls I suppose, though we probably have better steak sandwiches. Being a Saturday, the mall was filled with your typical teen-aged horde, screaming children, and the odors of food, nails and permanents being done. Add one already queasy stomach and you can rule out the food court.  I left my shades on, it made the streams of light and lines seem to mute somewhat. 

I did notice the lines in my vision were stronger near the walls and lights, the banks of phones and ATM machines.  So I found myself trying to walk in the exact center of the mall corridors trying not to brush up against or through the lines.  Somehow I managed to make my way to the only place I would let touch my hair. 

Blonde Ambition, was owned and operated by members of the gay community. They had been in operation for as long as I can remember, and had a surprisingly good and consistent customer flow. No they were not flagrant about their lifestyle, they were just good people, that and they had a small semi-inconspicuous sign that had a Pink Triangle and the word Friendly under it.  Originally I went there because it would Piss my Dad off royally if he knew, I went back because they were cool.

I dropped into an empty chair to sit out my wait, a casual wave to Tony and Rob to say hi.  It seemed a touch cool so I pulled my legs up to my chest and hugged them for warmth.  I let my head rest back against the wall and closed my eyes.  There was a rush of something then nausea.

I sat upright very slowly then I made a halting stumbling trip to the bathroom of the shop. Then for the second time of the morning I wrapped myself around a toilet.  Once the dry heaves passed, I found my way back to a chair and made very sure I was not touching the wall behind me.  After a bit Rob was done with his customer and he pointed to the chair, announcing. “You’re up sport.”

I sat down and let him wrap me up in the drape, “You’re looking a bit off of it today Sport.” He cocked his head and then said. “The shades have to go you know.”  It took me a minute to take them off, my hands were that shaky. Then I looked him in the eyes.

Rob, tended to favor the typical average guy next door look, apart from sporting a collection of earrings. One was gold and had a rainbow of other rings on it.  Light blond hair with a dancers body.  I had once ran into him before the mall had opened one day. He was dressed in a spandex cycling outfit, with a ten speed in hand at the time.  He’s also the sort of person where every move is graceful though distinctly male. Normally I don’t wish to look like anyone, but if I could chose. 

“Oh what pretty eyes you have, nice contacts.” He said with a wink.  Then proceeded to rattle on about the weather, the kids in the mall, the latest in sports and generally let me sink into the chair and my own private world. When the razor clicked on, I about leapt out of the chair in a shock. “Easy Chad, no one is going to hurt you here.”  Rob pressed my shoulder gently to know he was there. “Relax and tell Uncle Robert all about it.”

“Can we loose the razor though? I am having a hard time around appliances lately. My hair dryer blew up on me today, along with the light bulbs in the mirror.”

“Sure, it may cost a bit more.” He teased my hair with a comb, “Short enough to satisfy dad right?”  I nodded then regaled him with the events of the past few months.

Confession they say is good for the soul, perhaps it why barbers, hairstylists and priests are so popular.  I studied the mirror and my image in it as I talked with him.  My eyes didn’t glow in the mirror, possibly it was the distance, or ambient lighting was affecting the image. Either way it seemed to help.

“You know, there was this one customer.” He looked at me for a long moment. “Yep you must have been the one she was talking about.”  

I must have looked alarmed, “Relax, it’s an old friend of ours. A benefactor, who helped us get into the mall a few years back. She didn’t have any stipulations on her help, other than we were to hold something for someone who would really need special help. Just sit here and I’ll fetch it from the office.”

Ok so my day was getting weirder. He returned with a slightly yellowed and bent letter, “Sorry about the bends I nearly forgot where it was too.”  He excused himself and went back to the office.

A bit hesitant I open the letter carefully.

Hello Chad,

I suppose this must be a day for shocks of all types. I can not tell you which way to go, only that you do have several options. Ultimately all choices must be yours, though I do hope you will consider all sides of the problems you face. By now you are worried about your changes, The Palm, your family and your fate. Let me confirm for you that to take no action at all, is the worst choice you could make. I will not lecture you on evil, though you may have to choose what is the greater or lesser of evils.  At that time I hope you think with your heart.  There is a place in the world for you.

Sincerely,

Mrs. P.

PS, You can trust Robert and Tony. But you already knew that.  Also you should take things in moderation, especially all those medicines.

I looked towards the office where Tony and Rob were chatting. I waved them over and handed them back the letter.  “Can my life get any more weirder?”

“Sure kid,” Said Toni, “You could turn purple and your arms turn into tentacles.”  For a moment he held his face in a picture of solemnity then he lost it in gales of laughter.

“Everyone is a comedian.” I semi growled but I had to smile after a moment.  “Any ideas?”

“Well doing nothing, never gets anything done.” I rolled my eyes at Rob’s proclamation.

“She said as much.” I pointed to the letter.

Rob shrugged, then looked thoughtful, “When you’re ass deep in alligators you need a good sewer team.”

I must have looked confused, but to Tony it didn’t. 

“Right. Look kid, it’s going to take a day to get you any kind of reliable help.”

“But.” I started

“No buts, you leave Mr. Palm a thank you note and stay low key for a few days.” Interrupted Robert. “Take and transfer the cash too, you may need it.”   Robert suddenly looked more imposing than he seemed normally.  Almost heroic, “We know a few people.” Then he sashayed towards the office totally ruining the effect. “Toni why don’t you take Chad down to the food court, he’s had a rough time. I have to make a few calls.”

Suddenly the day didn’t feel so heavy.

Three Quarters Time
Saturday, 7 October, 2006

 

“The moon upon the ocean is swept around in motion,
but without ever knowing the reason for its flowing,
in motion on the ocean the moon still keeps on moving,
the waves still keep on waving and I still keep on going” Anywhere Is – Enya

“You know if you keep walking down the center of the mall you’re going to hit a rail.” That was Toni’s comment as he nudged my shoulder semi-steering me towards the food court.  Toni is about six foot tall, black curly hair, dark complexion, green eyes. He could be a surfer in the tropics if it was not for the pale blue barbers shirt and the black polyester slacks.

I was trying not to be sick but as I moved closer to the wall a nearby Coke™ machine burped and started to dispense plastic bottles in a cascade of thumps and thuds. A few steps later and a pair of telephones started to ring, then change rattled out obscenely. I could see the power lines connecting the soda machine to the outlet, the phone lines to the telephones, through the wall. The phone line was a dim blue, the power lines a bright blue. Some lines projected through the wall, some crossed under the floor.   

I wobbled and leaned against the wall. Security camera, security office, tape machine, static, then nothing. Toni took me by the arm and pulled me away from the wall I was suddenly sliding down.

“Easy kid, when was the last time you ate?” Toni asked as he dropped one arm over my shoulders, more to keep me upright I think, than to be comforting. 

“Well if you don’t count all my pills and half a glass of V-8™, the answer would be dinner last night.” We passed a small flock of girls, one girl frowned as her cell phone emitted an off cadence version of ‘Here comes the bride.’ Others made rude sounds as they dug for an assortment of pagers, cell phones and other communications accessories from bags, pockets and purses.

He pulled me to a convenient bench, “Sit, don’t go anywhere. You need something more than mall junk food I think.” He was half frowning, half grinning. “I don’t think the food court would survive either.”   He watched the gaggle of girls with faint disapproval, then he walked down past a few shops and into a vitamins outlet store. 

Eyes closed, I could see blue globs swimming among the girls. Faint spider webs of light seemed to connect them to some point high above the mall. Other lines twisted off to the distant tall shining pillars that pulsed and danced in time to some unheard rhythm.  I turned my head to follow the lines, I could hear a song that seemed to call me more strongly than the others. It was familiar, it was safe.

I took a breath then opened my eyes. I was staring at one of the new computer terminals they have been adding to the malls recently.  Insert your credit card, check your mail, send pictures and voice email and all sorts of things.  Standing up took some effort, but I made my way to that sirens call.  I touched the keyboard and my vision swam and everything turned blue. I lifted my hand from the keyboard and everything was normal again.     

Ok, too much too weird and not enough medication or something.  Ah the hell with it, The Palm wants his message, I better give it to him.  The world faded once more into blues and I fell into the ones and zeros and back out.  H E A D A C H E!  The terminal spat out a stream of receipts, like a mad court jester’s tongue. All little bells ringing and grinding sounds, with a small arc of light that flashed from the back of the terminal, followed by a small puff of smoke. “I let the smoke out… Not good.”  I backed away from the terminal, wasn’t me, wasn’t there. Nope. Nothing to see folks, move along.   

I wove my way back to the bench, fumbling for my shades.  “Great just great, I am so doomed.” I sat, rather abruptly.

Tony caught me as I started to tilt over sideways.  “Drama Queen.” He commented as he dropped a small sack in my lap. “Eat, drink and be Merry.”

I peered over the tops of my shades, “Merry, huh. Well I suppose.” I rifled through the bag, Sports drinks and power bars.

“Best thing in the world for a hang over, the flue and what ails you.”  He pointed at the sack, “You need at least two of those power bars for a start. Six hundred quick calories, in the lovely taste of dried cardboard and milk byproducts.”

“You are an evil man.” I grumbled at him as I peeled back the paper wrapper of one of the bars.

He pointed to the Cyber terminal.  “Not exactly low key is it?”  My mouth was full of power bar so I couldn’t comment, so I settled for a shrug. 

“So what’s it like being a mutant?”

Several witty and mean statements bandied for equal time on my tongue. Eventually I looked at him and swallowed the bite I was working on. “I expect it’s like being a elephant in a mouse’s body. It looks like a mouse, moves like a mouse, breaks your foot like a well placed sledgehammer.”  I washed the taste of the bar out of my mouth with something blue and vaguely pleasant.

He chuckled as he watched the cyber terminal continue in its antics. “If you ever get a grip on it, you could make a killing in Vegas.”  He nudged my knee with his hand, “Eat, I am guessing you know more about being a mutant than you want to admit. So I’ll spare you the lecture on needing fuel to feed a fire.” 

I had already started on the second power bar, so I grunted my affirmation.  It did make sense, after I thought about it a few moments. “This sucks. I didn’t ask for this, you know.” I waved the remains of the power bar at the terminal “Sure it seems impressive, it is also like asking for a permanent job with the government, more rules, babysitters or bodyguards or a pair of silenced slugs in the back of the skull.”  

“You are too young to be this jaded Chad.” He commented as he made a motion for me to follow him as he got up and started back towards the salon. “Sure, you got problems, but you also got resources and some skills. Most kids these days would have been locked in an institution from not being able to cope.”

“There is still time for that.” I commented waving to an ATM. “My sister thinks I am taking too much and too many medications. I don’t want the medications but, hurting all the time is not something I want either.”

“So you are going to become what, part girl?”    

“Well it’s not like I haven’t thought about it, or been forced to consider it.” It was his turn to grunt. “I dunno, having two sets of semi functioning equipmentis not exactly what I had in mind either.” I let out a long sigh. “I just wanted to be normal, have a normal life, date, you know, those sort of things.”

“We all hope for things we can’t have, you know the old expression; ‘Wish in one hand, shit in the other, see which hand fills up first?’”

“Is that why my life feels like it’s a crapper?” I offered.

“Smart ass.” He rolled his eyes and pointed to a television and gadget shop, “Remember when Ellen came out?” I nodded.  “Suddenly is was cool to be lesbian.”  He snorted with a semi rude gesture towards the shop. “Being gay on the other hand is still an up hill battle.”

“You seem to be doing ok.” I offered.          

“I am also living an accepted stereo type.”  I must have looked blank or semi confused.  “Think about it a minute, what are the accepted television roles for gay men?”

“Waiter, artist, musician, hair…” You could almost hear the click in my head.  “Oh.”

“It’s a big ‘oh’ mind you, but is a safe ‘oh’ in comparison to being a Doctor or Dentist.”   He studied his shoes for a moment. “We all make choices, some painful, some easy.  Love is an easy one, if you ever get there.” He glanced back to the salon a satisfied smile creeping back on to his face.

I could feel my face warm up slightly. “I’m sorry Toni. I didn’t mean anything.”

“Chad, it’s ok I dealt with that issue ages ago. One of my best decisions if I don’t say so myself.”  He smiled again. “You must be feeling somewhat better, no?”

I made a small shrug and held out a semi-shaky hand, “Well aside from still feeling like I have been half baked in a microwave, I suppose.” I rubbed my neck trying to ease some of the muscles.

“Well you don’t look like death warmed over, if that is any consolation.” His eyes seemed to light up as his eyebrows danced impishly, and in a falsetto he added, “But those Clothes, you really need a make over Dah-ling.”

With that, I spewed lime flavored sports drink out my nose and down my shirt. “Urg!”

He pounded my back as I coughed a few times. “There you go, much better. That’s the Chad we all know and love.”

I tried to glare at him but I couldn’t hold it, besides glaring doesn’t work through cheap sunglasses.  “Cute.”  I finished what was left of my drink, trying to think of something witty to say and failing.

He made a half step towards the salon, “You going to be ok?”

“Sure, I think I am passed the worst of it.” I waved a hand to the salon.  “Go make somebody beautiful.”

He laughed, “We try but there is just so much you can do some days.” Then slightly more serious he added. “Stop back in a few hours, catch a film or something, but stop back by before you go home. Ok?”

“Ok, I’ll try to remember.”

“You do that. You don’t have to face all the bad stuff alone you know.”  Then he strode into the Salon as if he was going back on stage. Perhaps he was.

 For a time I just stood there in a slight daze trying hard not to think of anything and well I was failing miserably. I found another one of those convenient benches and sat down. Somewhere between the boredom and the vaguely tasteless power bar my eyes fixed upon the ATM, not really focusing just letting it be blurred in my vision. Every few heartbeats, I could catch the faint glimpse of a palm tree on the ATM screen. “Smug bastard isn’t he?” I half muttered aloud.

Ok maybe I am not the brightest bulb on the tree, but stealing a single video or movie frame was done so much better in the movie Fight Club.  At least then the single frame in the movie was more interesting.  I took a moment to work my nerve up, got up then I walked cautiously to the ATM.

It was your standard ATM, takes all forms of credit cards, bankcards from other banks at a service charge. Of course it also takes the bankcard that the bank that owns it, issues. It also has a security camera that stares out at you, like every other ATM. Thump-thump, that was my heart taking a lunge to the left. Can you say trap?  Sure you can, its an easy word, one syllable, T-R-A-P. Easy wasn’t it? I could just picture my non-de-plume becoming, ‘Total Idiot’.  Do not pass go, go straight to jail. 

With an about face that would have made any Drill Instructor proud, I strolled. Ok, fine. I took several quaking steps away from the ATM and relocated my ass back on the bench, again. Sports, I never was into that whole, ‘Ball goes through the hoop thing’.  So I did a lot of bench warming, go fig.  Thinking would be good, thinking would be great, so why am I so not thinking?

The obvious answer; “You’re a stupid monkey who doesn’t know any better”, seemed to fit perfectly. Pity that Douglas Adams is dead, he had some of the best quotes.  I dropped the semi-empty sack to the side and thought. See all that smoke, that’s my brain cells firing up.  The only solid thing I could bank on was that banking was going to be very interesting in the future.

People don’t suddenly get two million dollars without some sort of money trail following after them.  Winning the lottery was out, I’m way under eighteen.  No one in my family had died with a sizable will made out to my name.  Nor was I going to be getting any refund checks from the IRS, legitimately anyways.  The Palm had mentioned getting me out of the way, spending several years at Club Fed, would do the trick.

 He also mentioned going after my family and my sister. I do what he wants, he wins, I don’t do what he wants, he wins. Twelve hours, is a lot of time for indecision. Time, thyme, halftime, quarter time, three quarters time, en concerto.  Yeah, I was in band, at least part of the school year, the part that didn’t involve sports.  Some time, any time, killing… time.  Make a list check it twice and what do banks do at noon or one o’clock on Saturdays?  They close.

Still, that would only give me a head start on the police by a day, maybe two.  Philadelphia, is a big town I could get lost fairly good in two days, all it takes is time, money and a lot of luck. Not to mention an ego the size of Texas.  I had that Titanic and Iceberg feeling again. Jeeze, at this rate, I’m going to need to take up a stock option on Malox™, pretty much like the guy in The Big Hit.  

SEPTA runs twenty four hours in Philly, so transportation is not so much a problem. You can catch the bus, subway or the elevated rail, da ‘EL’. Or walk. Walking sounds real original, doesn’t it? Costs nothing just shoe leather, and energy. Energy, time, and money. Tick tock, goes the clock.

Oh who am I kidding?  One bad hick up or what ever was happening to me,  on the ‘El’ and I am stuck, another on the subway, stuck, on the bus, well you can get off of a stalled bus, so not stuck. Stuck is bad, stuck is as good as caught.  I could discount planes as a sure way to commit suicide, if it got off the ground. Trains. Amtrak does come into Philly, so that was another route out, or the bus lines.

I sat up, then back down, in a slump. I’m fifteen, any easy way out of the city requires identification, and an adult.  I doubt that anyone is going to give me a ticket to anywhere, just by me flashing my neon illuminated baby blues at them. OK, anyone who isn’t going to use and abuse me that is.

Becoming a statistic of any sort did not have any appeal. Only three things seemed for certain, I am changing or will change further, staying at home was going to be a problem if not improbable, and the last bit; I have an utter nut case, on my case no matter which road I take.

If you have done three improbable things before lunch you may as well go to Milliways for lunch. I pushed my sunglasses up and rubbed my eyes, everything was so clear and easy last night. Yeah and you were blitzed out of your head on pain pills too, answered the sardonic side of my subconscious.   Ironically I was reminded of the story “Eye of Cat” by Andre’ Norton. The hero’s psychic powers were activated by drug abuse, the moral of the story is entirely too close to home.

I dug in the sack for another power bar, they sorta were growing on me. Somewhere in there I crossed a line; Becoming public enemy number two did not have any appeal and number one was too much like becoming an utter looser. Gee Palm you’re good for one thing, you are an perfect example of what not to be. I mentally saluted The Palm with an upraised finger. Then amused myself by picturing all the mottled red expressions of rage my warped cartoon inspired mind could come up with… On The Palm’s face.

I could run, for a time. Sure, the odds favored running slightly more than waiting on some benevolent Governmental Agency to take me in.  Eventually I would have to Deal, with the Fed’s. It was a given. I had a moral code of my own, sure the Fed’s were misguided in how they viewed the rules. Oliver North was a sterling example of how things could be skewed. I’m a hacker, who am I to point fingers?

I. Oh the arrogance of I, no wonder Satan was cast down, or up, or something.  I, indicates an identity, a self.  Alas poor poet, for ere these lips have kissed thine a thousand times your grinning skull mocks me yet. Or when all else fails, abuse Shakespeare. Sanity eludes me, though there are no solid rules for those touched by the gods, or touched by some quirk of destiny.  In this descent to madness leave but one thing for certain, to thine own self be true. 

So with madness in mind, I got up and went to the bookstore. I was going to need something to do until the banks were due to close, and I figured I would need some cash I could bet I would need at lest a half hour to make the withdrawal. Seriously though, what else could I do? Be sick and miserable, check, done that today, worry and freak out, another check mark, decided to get over it and get on with it.  Well I was working on that part..

Twenty minutes later I was immersed in the science fiction side of the bookstore.  I was doing fine until another cramp hit, a florescent light bulb took that moment to implode and to rain glass in a cheerful act of electrical defiance. Another cramp and another light joined its friend.  A wave of vertigo and the store plunged into semi darkness, the crackle of burning insulation, the counterpoint of popping control circuits and the final kick in the pants; The sprinklers came on.

At this point I didn’t care anymore, I dropped the book I was glomming through to the floor and went to the emergency exit so thoughtfully illuminated in glowing red.  It lead to a service corridor another cheerful red sign point the way out. It was a no brainer, follow the red lights, get out. Fortune follows the bold, or in my case the painful and angry twists of my emotions and the cramps.

A whole row of electrical breaker boxes, goody. I pointed my finger and pushed the outer case with an angry jab. “Go ahead pop, I dare you.”  It obliged.  It also ‘felt’ good.   So in rapid succession I told three more panels to take a merry jump into hell.  Each time I got a pop and each time there was a feeling of being filled up with something.  I swayed slightly, no cramps. 

I stood there staring blankly a few moments, then someone was telling me to move. I flowed with the herd of unhappy shoppers to the sound of fire alarms and sprinklers going off.  I wanted to feel bad, I did, but I was feeling so good. The silly voice in my head said it was dementia, I agreed, it was a good form of dementia.   I let the nice policeman guide me to where they were treating people who looked like they needed it. I suppose that I qualified.  

“Miss, are you all right?” The officer waved a few fingers in my face. I must have looked a bit bewildered because he repeated the question and finger bit a few times.

“Um.” Ok not my brightest bit of discussion, but it was all I could think of as another wave of vertigo drifted by.  This time there was a loud thump and the stink of ozone filled the air, accompanied by the crashing remains of something heavy landing behind me. 

“No. I don’t think I am all right.” I told the cute policeman. My voice seemed to fade into the background, as everything went gray, then blackish and there was that falling sensation, again.


Intermission:

“Two-fifty.“ A whining sound, “Clear.”  Ca-chunk.

“Three Hundred.” That annoying whine again. “Clear.” Ca-Chunk. Blip blip blip, blipty blip.

“Ok we have a rhythm, pulse is shallow and thready.”

My chest hurt, my throat was raw and I was choking on something even though I could breathe.  I didn’t want to know about it.

Exit: Stage left.

                                      As I fall into

           Darkness.


If ever there was a constant in the universe, I think the smell of hospital disinfectant must rank up there around the top five. I could tell I was in a hospital without opening my eyes.. Part of me was saying I had something important to do, the other part of me said it was fine where it was.  Curiosity being another constant in the universe, made me open my eyes.

Yep, I was in a hospital, wonderful. And I hurt, not a cramp, just a solid underlying wall of pain that made me invent a few new syllables. Then I decided to whimper, as a precursor to screaming.  Then my throat reminded me that something had roughed it up and suddenly cursing in a whisper felt like a better option. So I did.. Silence, silence answered.

Part of me was disappointed, I had expected someone to be shocked at my verbal assault. I attempted to look about the room, single bed, single occupant, intravenous lines, a bag of saline solution going drip drip drip. Attached was another smaller bag labeled something …illin, in a cheerful scrawl that can only be described as something a doctor uses when he wants you to be utterly confused, but somehow pharmacists can miraculously transcribe. 

I eventually located the nurse call box and pushed the ‘nurse come hither’ button. I focused on the far wall where a clock was reflected from mirror over a sink.  Using a bit of deduction I could tell it was in the too dam early part of the morning.  The outside being dark behind the curtains, and the hall way being dim was an additional clue.  Clues were cheap, this hospital bill wasn’t going to be. I was so dead, as Dad was going to kill me.

As I became more alert I could feel more pain, pain supposedly tells your body that this was something that it did not want to do.  As it built to a small patch of fire in my groin region, I was beginning to agree with my body, I did not want to do this. I pushed the nurse get here now button, but it wasn’t working any faster than the first button I pushed. Fine I’ll push every damned button until someone comes.

This as you may or may not be aware of makes the bed try positions it was never intended for by the manufacturer. It also causes the television to turn on, then off, then on again, it also makes the television in question much louder or softer depending on what button you pushed.  I opted for inhumanly loud, figuring it would disturb some other soul that the nurses really cared about. 

Ok that was a bit uncalled for, as most nurses are more caring than patients like me, deserve. I am a terrible patient, I have had practice.  Pain is a lousy teacher, if you were curious, pain only teaches you something hurts. It doesn’t teach you how to not feel pain either, it only teaches you that some pains are minor compared to other previous pains. Currently I was hitting the top ten on my personal pain-o-meter. 

As predicted the television volume was the first thing that the Nurse killed when she arrived. As she fixed a glare on me, I was hoping to be the second thing she killed. Yes it hurt that bad.  For the second time in what I presumed was less than a day, were the utterly wise words of “Uh?”  This time I managed to make it a question.

“You’ll have to wait for the doctor to arrive.” She was almost cheerful when she said that. She had a maroon set of hospital ‘whites’, not the Pooh or fish or cheerful shapes that said children’s ward. Clue number I dunno, five? I was not in Kansas, Toto, I was in a really expensive part of the hospital.

Just great, I am so dead.

Intermezzo

Wednesday, October 11, 2006.

And I've been thinking about the future, I hope some day I'll get away, But the current keeps bringing me back around, Seems the only place for me is underground. So tomorrow, when the sun comes up, I'll be going down. – Current -,  by the Blue Man Group

The nurse had left me alone with my pain while she went of to interrupt someone’s sleep.  That is another constant of hospitals; Nurses invariably make a point of rousing you from your deepest soundest sleep. Presumably to check your temperature, crush your arm with the blood pressure cuff, and to make sure you have medicines at the appointed time.  Can you tell I hate hospitals?

For a time I amused myself by counting the tiles of the room, sixteen one direction, twenty another, giving me a grand total of three hundred and twenty to count. I was working on starting to count the dots when the nurse returned to inflict me with a poke in the ear, for my temperature, then proceeded to do the arm crushing thing. I could tell she wasn’t happy with me, hell I wasn’t happy with me.

The name on her tag was Monica, a registered nurse I was able to deduce by the two letters that followed her name. As opposed to a licensed practical nurse, personally I never could tell the difference between the two.  I thought she had nice auburn hair and a touch of roses that seemed to follow her hands.

“Can I have a drink?” I managed to rasp out.

Then her expression changed from the usual and professional neutral. She seemed more angry and frightened than she should be, I mean, all I did was crank the television up. She leaned close to my ear then clearly and distinctly bit off each word.  “Suffer. Mutant. Bitch.” 

When she stood up I could see she was clenching her fists at her side. Shoulders tight, and voice trembling she continued in a soft stream of vulgarity and ecclesiastic abuse that would have made my father proud. The Pastor of my church would have given her a missionary position, and an award for biblical zeal.

I could feel a righteous anger of my own start to pound in tempo to her diatribe.  The lights in the room started to glow and pulse with each invective she hurled at me.  Finally I sat up and just slapped her across the face.

There was a small pop as my hand struck her, she stiffened and fell as if I had shot her in the face.  For an awful moment I sat there with my hand upraised, shocked at my actions and in a twisted part of mind, there was a savage glee. The lights in the room chose that time to flare up then burn out, the television randomly cycled through all the channels then passed on as well.

I peered over the railing of the bed to look down at the nurse. For a long minute I was in a sheer panic, then I could make out the faint movement of her chest. She was breathing at least. I hadn’t killed her, part of me was sick about feeling good that I had hurt her. That annoying voice in my head spoke up. It said I was going to have to write a book; How to Win Friends and Electrocute People.       

I couldn’t help it, I giggled at the thought, then I started to cry. Not the loud type of crying when you want to draw attention to yourself, but the quiet “don’t make enough noise to bring your father into the room”, kind. I had lots of practice with that sort of crying. Too much practice, offered another corner of my mind. Softly the tears came and dropped down onto the hospital gown, I pulled my pillow around to my face and inhaled hard through it, burying a sob among the breaths..

I stayed that way even though I could hear the nurse stirring and her less than polite exit.  I hugged the pillow close and let myself fall back on the mattress. For several long minutes I just let it go. Screw the nurse, screw the pain, screw the whole freaking world.  ‘God if you can hear me, if you exist, just let me make it.’ I prayed between waves of pain of self-pity and denial.

With a final sniffle I pulled the pillow, dry side up, under my head. A gentle cough and I turned to look at the door, a male orderly stood there. A man with black hair stood in the door, faintly illuminated by the dim hallway lights. It was too dim to make out anything more than that.

“Can I come in?” he asked in a soft voice, he was holding his palms out in front of him, they were empty.

“Sure, I guess.  Time for a trip to the psych ward?” I hazarded a guess while waving a hand to the door.

He chuckled softly then walked almost gingerly into the room. “Calmer?”

“I suppose. I didn’t mean to hit her.”  I sat up, “Just don’t expect me to apologize to her.” 

“How’s the pain?” He rocked on his heels then took another step closer. “I’m John, and well I think she’s had that coming for a long time.”  He appeared somewhat pleased by the notion.

“I hurt, badly. Is she going to be alright?” Not that I really cared, but there was that guilty feeling that was warring with the joy I had felt slapping her.  

“I think so. She has a problem with people of an alternate sexuality, and well you being a mutant has trickled through out the ward.” He looked at me from head to toe, “You’re glowing by the way.”

I spared a glance to my hands, he was right. Wonderful. “Could I please get a glass of water?”

“Sure.” He walked over to the sink and filled a cup from the sink. Then he put it on those handy rolling tables and moved the table in place rather than just handing me the glass. 

“It’s not contagious, being a mutant that is.” He winced slightly at my comment.

“I know, but you don’t know that you can drop people with a touch. Or did you know that?” He seemed to be honestly curious with his question.

I waggled a finger, watching the blue glow mute and fade for a moment. “This is all new to me, I knew I had something going on. If you have seen my medical records, I have had my tonsils out three times.”

“Ouch, and to answer your question. No, only the RN’s and Doctors get that privilege.” He glanced around and then pulled a chair around to where he could sit in it.  

“I didn’t know.”  I was suddenly conscious that he was not bad looking, and that he had a small pink triangle earring in his left ear. “Let me guess, you and Nurse Hard Ass are not friends?”

He laughed, it was a comforting sound. He offered in a conspiring whisper “She doesn’t like my jewelry.”

“I’ll bet. Can you tell me why I’m hooked up six ways to Sunday?” I was aware of an extra line of plumbing that trailed down my leg to feed into a bag partially filled with what I could only guess was my own pee.   

“I don’t have all the details, and I am not exactly supposed to tell you.” He seemed a bit uncomfortable at this admission.

“Please?” I blinked at him, “It can’t be any worse than what my imagination is telling me.”

He let out a sigh, “If I knew I would tell you Chad.” Then he shook his head, “I can guess at part of it, rumor control and all that.” He took a breath, “Your, um, period had started, and your body could not get rid of it. So it blocked up your plumbing and nearly shut down your kidneys.”

“That’s a nice way to describe it John.” Offered a deeper voice from the doorway. John turned an interesting shade of pink as he half rose to look.

“Hello Doctor Cox, I didn’t mean to…” John trailed off as he finished standing.

“That’s ok John, just don’t make a habit of it. Besides from what Monica hysterically has been yammering on about, it’s excusable in this case.” He grinned at the two of us.

Doctor Cox looked as if he had been rudely awakened. A few faint pillow marks easing their way among the spattering of wrinkles that hinted at his age being somewhere past forty.  His sandy brown hair was showing signs of some early graying, which made him more distinguished looking.     

“You, youngster, look remarkably well for someone who has come back from the dead.”  He tried to sound innocent when he said it, but something in his voice said he was not completely joking. “John was mostly right, you were in a bad way. If you were merely human we would not be having this discussion.  Ach, let me rephrase that. You’re human, plus a bit more. That bit more saved your life.”  He looked a bit embarrassed. 

“Even I have a touch of phobia about things we can’t precisely define. Though if you ask me God, didn’t create funny genetics as a punishment, any more than he allowed AIDS to happen as a punishment.”  He speared me with a glance, “So forget all the crap Monica was spewing and your slapping her.”  

“You have been unconscious for a few days. Mostly for your own sake, partially for the staff’s.” He took a moment to look at John, “Take a walk for a few minutes John.” It was not exactly an order but John nodded.

“I’ll be back, I’ve been assigned to you.” He grinned for a moment then turned and left the room.

“A few days?”  I took a sip of water, my throat had gone all dry.

“Yes, surgery and other considerations, namely your mental well being was a huge factor.”  He had walked over to the window, then he turned back to look at me. “I felt you had enough of a shock without having to have some time to recover.”  He studied me, the floor and then sighed.

“Sometime late Sunday evening, your house was blown up, killing everyone inside of it.” He let that sink in for a moment.

I didn’t respond, it didn’t feel real.

He turned to look at me, for a time he just stared. “Chad, I’m sorry. If there is anything I can do?”

I just shook my head, what else could I do. It was my fault. Outside it started to rain, inside, I just felt frozen, numb, dead.

“For the moment you are a ward of the state, that is once you get out of the hospital.  You’ve had a pair of lawyers from the insurance company and the bank calling or dropping by every day.” He continued.

His voice seemed a bit odd which made me look up from my bed. “Why?”

“Well Chad, not many teenagers have a net worth of a few million dollars.”  He looked at me, then continued. “I guess the bank is worried you will stop doing business with them.”

“And the other lawyer?” I asked rather stupidly.

“Insurance company, from the Mall, they are concerned your illness was triggered by the faulty wiring or something like that.”  He didn’t sound so convinced.

 “Oh goody.” I guess the sarcasm was a healthy thing because he smiled.

“I know this is a lot to drop on you all at once Chad. If you need something to make you sleep, John knows where to find me.” He took a half step, hand reaching out as if to be comforting, let he it drop.  “It’s ok to cry. You know.”

“Yeah, I know. I think I want to be alone, if you don’t mind?”  I looked down at the bed.

“Sure Chad.”

He took a few steps to the door before I asked “What day is it anyways.”

“Wednesday.” Then he stepped out the door and out of sight. I took a breath, then another before laying back on the pillow, slowly I became aware of the water leaking from my eyes.  Eventually, somewhere in the darkness the pain and tears, I fell asleep.


The morning sun arrived waking me by degrees. My meal had been hurriedly deposited on my rolling table by a grinning nurse.  While she didn’t seem willing to talk, she did seem wickedly amused by something.  Part of me groused that it was good some one was enjoying themselves.  As I worked my way through a portion of eggs, toast and orange juice the line from the movie Labyrinth wandered through my head. “It’s not fair, it just is..”

I sniffed and choked back on a sob. I was in a big river of denial, and nowhere near Egypt.  Part of me argued that everything was my fault, I was evil, I was going to hell. Then I shook myself, no, I hadn’t killed my family. No, I wasn’t going to hell because this was How God Made Me.   

‘But’, part of me wailed loudly in my head. I squashed that thought hard as I could. A quote from Tron drifted through my scattered mind. “No buts Clue, those are for users.”  I must be way past due for my medication. One of my regular diet of pills was for my ADD, it slowed my thinking somewhat, but it also kept me from leaping from one subject to another.

Pills, I was so sick of pills.  I had not had any of my usual round of medications since Saturday morning. Five days and a universe ago. I didn’t feel too off, though part of me was seriously wondering when the numbness would fade and I would feel the pain. 

You are in shock Chad, you know the symptoms, you have read enough about it in books to at least recognize it in other people. But, that’s books. It’s another thing to really feel it. So, argued that annoying voice in my head, you think the authors have never felt this crappy? Never ever lost anyone?  Never faced a day of pain?

Um. Fine smart ass, if you are so brilliant what do you suggest I do next? Heal. Sure but for how long. The idea of being a foster kid, did not have any appeal. Then there was the question of The Palm. Some how I don’t think I am off the hook there. There was a touch of anger there, it hadn’t worked into a full burn yet, but the embers were lit. 

 The bastard had killed or arranged for the deaths of my sister, my mother and dad. I think the most painful part of that trio had to be my sister. I could feel a touch more of that fire now. But you’re a kid. Legally you don’t have many avenues.  Avenues lead to roads, roads lead to streets, streets lead to alleys. A small step from Alleys, jump to Allies.        

I didn’t have any. I could count my friends on one hand, my enemy on a thumb. “Do I bite my thumb at thee, no kind sir but I do bite my thumb.”  How do I put the bite on The Hand?  I muddled through my breakfast and stared at the television, not that it worked but it was something to focus on.  

Eventually, that same overly happy nurse be bopped in carrying a bunch of flowers,

“Cheer up darling, its flower time.” 

I looked up at her, she was cute. “If you say so.” I managed a lopsided grin.  “What’s the name on the envelope?”

She looked briefly puzzled, “The Palm.”

I could feel that Titanic and Iceberg feeling reaching up to smack me in that part of my mind that was building up to a real fire. “Put the flowers on the table very very carefully.” My voice was flat. 

She looked startled then concerned, “Why?”

I was looking hard at the flowers. Flowers do not come with a blue glow in the center of them.  “Because the card probably reads. “Boom, as in bomb.”

I must have impressed her, because she set it down gently. Then she backed out of the room with a wild-eyed stare at the flowers, the card still in her hand. Evidently she never delivered a bomb before, funny I never had received one either. 

In my best Bugs Bunny voice I spoke to the empty room ‘So it’s War eh?”

I had a problem, ok three problems. One, the bomb, two  the IV., three the um catheter. Ok four, the hospital gown. I could ditch the IV, I have had enough of them. Peel the tape, then make a smooth pull backwards.  I suited thought to action with out feeling woozy. I looked down at the catheter. I looked under the gown, it wasn’t coming out of my penis. I used a word that my father would have been surprised that I knew, and no it was not encyclopedia.

Dr. Cox rushed in, “What’s this about a bomb?” 

I pointed at the plant, then I pointed at the catheter, “This has to go, and so does that.”

He looked at me a bit incredulously.

“Doc, I can see IT. You are just going to have to believe me.  Just get me unplugged and get out of here.”     

 He didn’t look too happy about removing the plumbing, but he did it. Trust me that is a sensation you don’t want to experience. 

I got out of bed, and stepped to the small closet, pants, t-shirt shoes. Underwear and socks could catch up later. I tossed the gown to the floor.

“You’re serious. Aren’t you?” I spared him a look.

“Doc some one blew up my house, somehow I don’t think I am in a joking, ha ha sort of mood.”  I was doing my utmost not to think of anything. Not to get outraged, not to loose it and not to trigger the bomb.  

The pants were damned tight, the shirt, was ok, the shoes fit loosely, probably due to lack of socks.  He was still standing there.  “I have to get out of here, you have to get out of here.  The bomb definitely has to get out of here.”  

He was still standing there.  I could feel something winding down, time was getting entirely too damned short.  I pointed to the chair, “Throw the chair out the window and get out. Now.” I glared at him.

I must have looked pretty dam spooky; Fear does wonderful things to the human strength level. I was almost in awe as he hurled the chair with an ease of a bouncer drubbing a drunkard, through the window.  

I picked up the bomb, “Go. Go. Go!”  I crossed the few steps to the window and gave it my very best shot putter’s push, throwing the potted bomb out. As I watched the bomb arc out and away from the hospital building I pointed my finger and let every bit of rage and fear out in one push of will. “Go BOOM.” It did, quite loudly.  I stood there listening to the sound of falling glass, car alarms, and the sound of the wind.

“Impressive, very impressive.” That was the Doctor.

“D-o-c!”  I looked at him with a bit of concern.  “Don’t you ever do what’s good for you?”

“Young man, I am a physician. I never do what’s good for me, speaking of which I need a smoke.”  He pointed out the window, “So now what?”

“I’m leaving.” He just looked at me. “Seriously Doc, anywhere I go, I am obviously in trouble.”   

“The police.” He started to say.

“Nice thought, but.” I motioned to the winking lights that were starting to gather. “It’s bad enough as it is.” 

“Where are you going to go?” he was frowning.

“Out.”  I was trying to think. Twenty dollars a tank of gas and the Blues Brothers quote was absolutely not going to work. Fine.

“Sorry Doc.” I reached out to touch the doctor’s hand. “It’s best you don’t know where.”

He collapsed like John said he would. I tried to ease him to the floor I did, though I had to be careful not to touch his flesh.    

On the way out, I paused by the mirror, my hair was back to shoulder length, and it was part brown at the ends, mostly black and there were threads of neon blue mixed all through out. I didn’t have time to worry about that now. So I looked more girlish, screw it. Time was flying and the SEPTA waits for no one.

Dolente

Wednesday, after the bomb, October 7, 2006 

“Don't look for me now--I'm not around.
All day long, I'm underground,
and I've been thinking about the future,
I've been waiting for the day.
Let the current carry me far away.”
– Current – Blue Man Group

 

 

I took a moment to grab my socks, and my underwear from the closet, admittedly not the most practical things to grab. Though the thought of just running around without them, didn’t seem right.  A lifetime of motherly training does that for you. Mother. Stay focused Chad, you don’t have time for tears.

Eradication, devastation, declination, aggravation, evacuation… A deep breath and I was in the hospital corridor. Adrenalin and chaos seemed to be the general theme of the moment. Who was I to argue?  I took a moment to survey the lack of lighting and sighed. ‘Seriously Chad, you need a better way to deal with your anger issues.’ Offered that part of my mind that was chortling in gleeful manner.  

The elevator was out, so that left the stairs. People in white, maroon and hospital gowns milled about like ants before a rain shower. No sprinklers so that was a plus, I let the current of bodies pull me towards the stairs, then down them.  Somewhere in the process I became aware of each jolting, jarring painful step.

I tried to slow down, but the press of humanity behind me was not having any of it. Part of my subconscious was working over time, this pain was familiar.  Part of me choked back a sob, the other part said I could manage.

Dad was drunk that night, and well drunks are not known for being coherent, intelligent or considerate.  I don’t think he had meant to break my arm that time. But the pain in my hips and pelvis was reminiscent of the few days of pain that followed the joys of having the bone set and placed into a cast.

I could foresee that a Stair Master™ was not on my Christmas shopping list this year. The sarcastic part of me was pointing out the fact that I could buy one if I wanted one. However, I some how think that the downward spiral of stairs would be burned into my memory for a long time.

At the lobby, hospital security was directing people in an orderly fashion out and away from one direction. It was fine with me, I was doing my utmost to be part of the herd. Moo. Me cow, moo.

“As an individual man, is smart, a mob is not.”  I think the quote from Men In Black fit in there somewhere.  I mused I sticking my hands in my pockets and moved with the ebb and flow. Part of me was happy at the level of pandemonium that I had prescribed for the hospital. It wasn’t my fault, ok, not all of it was my fault. I don’t blow up houses or hospitals.  

On that note a payphone decided to vomit change. Fortune favors the prepared, and well I needed a few bucks worth of change if I was going to catch a bus. Somehow I didn’t think the gift shop would be open at the moment. I must have giggled or something as I attracted a few odd glances. But, no one volunteered to stop me, in fact someone had even commented; “You go girl.”

The ‘girl’ part vaguely bothered me, though I filed it under the heading of. ‘Things to worry about later.’ After a pocket was fairly bugling with quarters, I rejoined the mass of humanity as they made their way into the bright sunlight.  Sunlight, it looked like a blue and red light sort of day. Police cars, fire trucks, black vans, hmmm, black sedans, that was a new addition.  People with suits and sunglasses, it looks like the Federal Dress Code has arrived.

“Losing Flynn.” I quoted absently and started to mingle with the crowd. I rubbed my wrist, hospital tag. That had to go. Hands back in the pockets, look to the left, look to the right, ease back a step, repeat.  A casual half turn to the right and walk, easy. Ok not exactly easy, I was still having a time with the pain of just walking. 

The South East Philadelphia Transit Authority, SEPTA, to us Philly locals. They have busses, the subway and elevated railway. Also known as how to get around one a dollar and change. Never super fast, mostly on time, and ever so popular with the pedestrian crowd. That would be me. The bus stop close to the hospital was out, so I elected to go a few blocks further down the way.    

Step, breathe, step, breath. My current mantra was interrupted a block later by the toot of a car horn and a semi-friendly shout.

“Need a lift?”

Normally the concept would have been to ignore it and keep going. Today I stopped and looked. A used and slightly abused looking primer gray Chevy Nova greeted my vision.  It stopped and John stepped out, sans hospital garb.  He was looking a bit tired and slightly sleep tousled.  Today he was dressed in blue jeans with a Penn State T-shirt. Somehow the moccasins suited him. He repeated the question.

I looked at the hospital then shrugged, “As long as it is away from all that.”

He frowned but nodded, “Get in, but I definitely have questions.”

I went to the door, and looked in the front seat. John cheerfully destroyed another stereotype for me. Bags and various residue from all sorts of fast food restaurants adorned the seat. With a careless shrug John pushed mess to the floorboards. “It’s ok, nothings growing this week.” He grinned at me.

I had to take his word for that, besides I was hurting. I opened the door with a wince, then I gingerly sat down.  The door closed with that solid thump of an all steel door, very satisfying.   

“Seatbelt.”  Commented John, as I worked my way to a slightly more comfortable position.

With a long suffering sigh I complied.  He gave me an amused glance, “It won’t kill you.”

“I know, it just seems slightly.” I trailed off and looked out the window. He pulled away from the curb and then took a left away from the hospital.

“Slightly?” He prompted.

I looked back from the window, “Normal?” Ok so it wasn’t the brightest of thoughts. It just fit.

“As opposed to abnormal?” He chuckled then shook his head, “Sorry.”

I affected a British accent “No problem.  If I don’t do three abnormal things before lunch the day is entirely wasted.”

He started to slow down for a light, “What’s today’s current count?”

“I’m over my three for the morning, so you can relax.” Yeah sure, offered my subconscious.

He stopped and waited for the light to change. “Going any one place in particular?”

It was a valid question, one that I had kind of been working on. “Out, away, gone.”

“Doctor Cox, said something about that.” We started moving again.

I studied floorboards. “I do feel bad about that.” That was true. “I didn’t think he would go for me just taking off. Not to mention that he doesn’t know when to pull a Monty Python and run away.” I must have struck his funny bone, because he spent the next block laughing.

“Oh that’s rich.” I gave him a look, he continued to laugh. “Not many people quote Monty Python after a bomb nearly blows them up.”

I thought about that, what could I say, he was right. I just put my hands over my eyes. Somewhere the voice in my head was smirking, the smirk crawled out to my lips. In my best or worst Bugs Bunny voice I said, “Oh a wise guy.”

The next few minutes of the drive continued with him trying to breathe and drive.  It was fairly amusing to watch, if not a bit scary. I mean here I am, in Philly traffic, with someone who’s obviously sleep deprived and on a hysterical roll. “Next stop Milliways.” That comment nearly put us in a three-car pile-up.

My big mouth, no harm no foul. I saluted the various car horns with an upraised finger, no not that finger, the index one. It confuses people.  John looked at me oddly, I must have been looking slightly demented, “What?”

“Are you normally this wild?” He asked. It was a fair question.

Part of me was rooting for the sarcastic and silly answer of ‘No, this is my normal Wednesday, post explosion attitude.’ I settled for something more mundane. “No. I am normally the guy who isn’t there.”

“Ah, next question; How are you feeling?” We let a pedestrian attempt vehicular lottery, the pedestrian got to the other side of the road.

“Un well.” I took a breath, “What is wrong with my hips and pelvis?”

“Aside from the surgery?”

“Yeah. I am not walking normal.” Much less sitting.

“They broke your pelvis and several other bones.” He stopped at a light, then pulled into a parking garage.

I just looked at him and tried not to think of anything for a few moments. He dealt with the machine and the bar went up. “Why?”

“Your plumbing was way out of alignment.”  The car stalled.  “Could you be a bit more specific?” 

He muttered a few swear words and the nova revived. “The doctor who, re-arranged your um, anatomy, the first time did a crappy job of it.”

“And you learned about this how?” I asked.  I thought he didn’t have access to my records.

“Doctor Cox told me while you were asleep. He figured you might relate better to me if I knew something more about your problems.”  He looked tired when he said it, “Also, he was being, um, political.”

Political.” I must have squeaked slightly.

“He figured that if you had someone to confide in who was um gay, you might feel calmer.” He hurried on, “Then there was Monica.  One thing the hospitals don’t want is a bunch of lawsuits based upon the lack of equal and fair treatment by hospital staff.”

He paused a moment, “So you got me.” 

I sat there for a moment, part of me was tickled, part of me was outraged. Part of me just wanted to blow things up. No wait, someone was trying to do that for me. I settled for sulking.  “I am not sure what I am, so nice of the Doctor to ask.”

“Well you didn’t exactly hang around long enough for him to ask.” He avoided looking at me. “I’ll understand if you’re upset.”

“Upset, well that would be one word for it.” I sighed, “It’s not you John, I do have gay friends, I just never was allowed to think in that direction. Or of sex, well not where my father or mother was concerned.”  You thought he was cute last night argued part of my mind. I also thought the bomb delivery nurse was cute too, I reminded it.  “What I do know is that damned few people would want to be in the same car with me.  Much less help me escape.”

“Think of it as part of my job, not creating other patients by dragging you back.”  He got out. “Come on.”

“Where are we going?” I asked as I undid the seat belt and remind my legs that they had to get up.

“My apartment.” He shrugged. “It’s as good as any place for the moment right?”

“Drag many of your patients to your apartment do you?” I tried for Yoda’s voice, I must have been slightly close.

“Sadly you are the first.” But he was grinning.

The elevator ride to the third ‘floor’ of the building was interesting.  I was doing my best not to have things go wonko. Ok, I was praying really damned hard that we would not get stuck between floors. Aside from an odd lurch or two, in which John turned a very interesting puce color, we made it there safely.

Blessings come in small packages, usually in my case never quite on time.  I was very thankful to which and whatever deity was looking out for me that his apartment was not far from the elevator. I also noticed that the apartment complex was somewhat over what I expected an orderly’s paycheck would cover. That and the security monitors looking every which way.

He guided me into the main living room, and my estimation of his paycheck went up another notch. Ritzy, though untidy.

“Bathroom is around the corner to the left of the kitchen.” He fished in his pocket and pulled out two small packets, “Pain pills, take one every four to six hours as needed.” He waved the other small pack. “Something to help you sleep, take one, and only one for a solid eight hours of sleep.” He dropped them to a semi clutter free coffee table.  “I would suggest one of each now, and a trip to the bathroom, while I unfold the couch into a bed.”

I eased around him and picked out one from each pack.  Then I walked in the direction he pointed out as being where the bathroom was. I found it almost orderly, though he has nearly as much hair care products as my sister has, had. Damn.

I lifted the stool seat, pulled it out and tried to pee. I was rewarded with another unpleasant surprise as everything washed out and down my legs. “FUCK ME!” I collapsed into the puddle of my own urine and started to cry.  Lights flickered and died, a hair dryer whirred in a demented way before grinding out with a stench of melting plastic. 

I was nearly clobbered by the bathroom door as I lay there sobbing as John burst in. “Chad?” He looked down at me and I could see confusion on his face.

I lifted my hands from covering it. “It doesn’t work anymore?”  I could not see his face, though he must have figured out what it was.

“Well.” He started and then stopped for a long minute “Shit. No one told you.” It was a statement. 

I couldn’t look at him, I was feeling sick in more than one way.

“Chad, the doctors did a lot of reworking. Your body was effectively killing you by trying to return to what it was at birth.” He studied his hands for a moment, “Chad, it was so bad, you did die. Or would have if they had not managed to restart your heart.” 

I snagged a bit of toilet paper from the roll, and blew my nose.  “I think I remember part of that. I thought the odd beeping dream was just that.”

“Not exactly, you seemed to regain consciousness partially when they first tried the defibrillator.” He shuddered. “I wasn’t there but the charge nurse had to be carried out.  You had a seizure or something once you passed back out.”

“Did she, um die?” I was starting to wish for a hole to craw into.

“No, though she had a nasty jolt.  Then they discovered that the thin latex gloves were not very effective in keeping from the same thing from happening to them.”  He seemed slightly amused, “I think that was the first recorded time the hospital had to use heavy duty electrical line-mans gloves in surgery.”

I frowned, “Wonderful.”  

“Ok strip and rinse in the shower. Don’t stand under the stream in or in water for very long though.” He pointed to the tub. “We don’t know if you’ll ground out and possibly die.” He gave me a grin, “You’re perfectly safe from me, you’re not six foot and Nordic enough.”

I had to laugh, “You got that right.” I sighed, “Ok.” He had the grace to leave me to skin out of my clothes and into the tub safely behind the dark blue shower curtain. A quick dash under the trickle of water, cold, what ever. Pits, tits… groin.  I looked down at my chest.

Slightly more defined than steroidal bitch tits, ok fine, feminine.  Soap on, soap off.  I kicked the water up to high and hot for a quick rinse.  I took a breath and went under, the world lurched downwards. I panicked and fell sideways out of the tub. The curtain rings in slow motion went plink, pop, snap.      

John somehow managed to catch me in the towel.  Though I was not sure how. “Now that you got me, what are you going to do with me?”  I might be able to blame that bit of humor on the drugs. 

He looked at me with a shake of the head. “Why couldn’t you be six foot tall and blond?”

I giggled, it just escaped. “Because God hates me?”

He groaned, “Kid, I hate to tell you this, you are going to make men and women crazy.” With that he put me on both feet and handed me a towel. Then he kissed me on the forehead. He froze and looked slightly wobbly for a moment.

I just looked at him during that moment. It wasn’t sexual, or at least didn’t feel like it.

“Sorry.” He colored, “I have a kid sister and well. You kind of look like her.”  He turned a darker red. “I used to.” He trailed off.  “I took care of her when my father was too fucking stoned to care for either of us.”

“Shhhh.” I didn’t know what else to do but smile. “You loved her, cared for her. Besides I wasn’t offended.” Oddly I wasn’t. Perhaps it was the drugs, or the fact that there were damned few times I could remember anyone caring for me, like that moment. Even if it was an accidental memory driven event on his part.

 “You’re weaving, and should be in a bed.  I have an overly large t-shirt for you, but no drawers. Sorry.” He pointed to the toilet lid. “Don’t fall over while I am out.” He shook his head then exited pulling the door behind him.

I looked at the t-shirt and picked it up, it was huge, and had a NEXT Computers logo on the front. NEXT computers are not for the general public.  Most have the power of a small CRAY super computer packed into a slightly oversized tower. He is either a closet computer nerd or has big dreams. One of these years I am going to own a NEXT PC Work Station. 

I wandered out. “Cool shirt dude.”

“You know about NEXT PC’s?”  He asked, a slightly goofy grin on his face.

“Only the best PC slightly available to mortal man.” I answered.

He frowned slightly. “Ah what the heck, come and see.” He grinned wickedly, “Besides with their warranty system, a small nuke would only be a delivery set back. If I was around to complain.”  

With a conspiring grin he made ‘follow me gesture.’  Ok, One portion of his bedroom looked like a small war of neatness versus computer clutter.  Sitting predominately on a stand was the familiar gray and red tower. He sat down in an executives chair and turned to the keyboard. He tapped a key and the system powered up. Soon the spinning dodecahedron that was NEXT’s Logo started bouncing, then it showered the screen with a starburst. Then the “Start with a Bang.” catch phrase.

I barrowed a corner of the bed, “How did you get one of those?”

“I do some research work from time to time. In exchange I get a bit of extra cash and this.” He petted the computer.

“Nice, very.” Yawn, “Nice.” Pills, blue glow, “Don’t email anything about me. Not safe.”  I fell over side ways into the bed, it was comfortable. “Danger.” Things blurred a bit. “Palm is alive.” I was comfortable, past my bedtime. I was… Asleep.

John turned to look at the kid on his bed. “So the rumors are true.” He stood up and eased the kid carefully onto the bed. Then took the time pull up the blankets around him.

“Jesus, this kid defeated the Palm’s AI’s. Unfucking believable.” John whispered. “This is too big. Backup, support.”

“Definitely no email. No cell phones. Land lines only.” He looked at the boy-girl  sleeping on the bed. “Pay phone.” 


Staccato

Thursday,October 8, 2006


”Tried to use things you sold me, no matter what the cost. Tried to go the way you told me, but each time, I got lost. The stairs didn't lead me anywhere! I'm taking the fire escape up to the roof. Don't care if it's not the way you find the truth. Time to make this right. Time to rise above.  -Up to the Roof- Blue Man Group

Chad slowly became aware of voices. It was fuzzy but not threatening.  Words like protection, secure facilities. Then there was Palm. That word jarred him in to full alertness.

Strange bed, some pain, gotta pee.  Oh yeah, John’s room. For a moment I lay there. You have trust somebody some time.  I pushed the blankets back, then put both feet on the ground.  My butt hurt. I don’t remember a shot. Yeah and how much of the last five going on six days can you say you really remember? Asked the sardonic voice in my head. I was faintly glowing in the darkness. Part of me wondered if I could get a Job in the Blue Man Group.  Ok the drugs were still making the world warm, but hey, its not like I have been warm before.

I opened the door to the John’s living room and walked by the small group of people who abruptly stopped talking. I pointed to the bathroom, “Don’t mind me.”  They had the good grace not to comment on my attire, so I was not too worried about them for the moment.

“Don’t forget to sit.” That was John. 

I gave him a look. Then I remembered my earlier surprise of the day. “Right. Pardon me while I die of embarrassment.”

“Sorry.” He was turning an impressive shade of red.

“No problem Bro.” I winked at the group and went to do my business. John was trying to breathe.

I closed the door, then I laughed. Poor John, his kid sister must have been fun. For the record, I will admit to needing the reminder.  Drugs make me fuzzy in the head, and underwear goes on the inside of the pants. Not one of my more favorite family moments.  Family moments. I choked back hard on that. It hurt. “Use it girl, don’t let it use you.”  That was Blade’s line from Trinity. Alleys to Allies. I remembered that much.

I finished my business then went out to where the party was in full murmur. They stopped abruptly, so I just stared at them. I gave them a whole minute of my new neon baby blues. “Ok, either talk to me, or I talk and I can ramble for hours.”

“I got in touch with some people.” Offered John.

“I can see that.”  I turned to put the butt cheek in question to face the entire room I lifted the shirt just enough for effect. “Care to explain why my butt feels like it has a knot in it?”    

John colored, then started to mumble.

“I can’t hear you.” The lights flickered out, then back on.

“I better explain.” This was the lady in medical whites. Lightly tan and slightly exotic, perhaps a trace of Asian mulatto mix. Killer black hair.

I made the universal get on with it motion.

“John was concerned about your plumbing problems, so he asked me to examine you, while you were asleep. The shot was Depo Provera, a birth control shot. There is a slight but very real chance you could make yourself pregnant. The shot should keep that from happening as your body sorts out what plumbing goes where.”

I heard the words she spoke, then let them percolate. I looked back at my ass cheek and took a deep breath. The lights didn’t flicker. “John. If you ever need a bit of code. Ask.”  I made my way to the couch, and made a move over motion at John.  He was going to get up, I put a finger on his shirt. “Sit.”  I took over a corner of the couch.

I looked at the lady who was in the corporate rat suit. Ok that that was unfair, but it was so very standard and unremarkable that she could conveniently be any sectary. Her brown hair was muted and flat, which I could relate to, a fairly neutral completion. Purposely, I could tell she was wearing makeup that didn’t draw the eye.

“Ok, you are doing your best to play wall flower, but you’re not that dumb.” I pointed at her. “Either you’re here for John’s moral support, or you’re here to say something important.” I leaned back to look at the man who was standing in the corner. Muscle or security. I have seen enough movies where it’s almost a fashion statement. Though I doubted it. “And tell Security boy here to sit.”

“Can’t, this point,” he pointed down, “gives me the best shot at anything that comes through the door without loosing cover.”

The lady had the grace to cover her smile with her hand, but her eyes danced. “Ok, I represent an association who owes you a bit of gratitude, and a hefty paycheck.”

“Really?” I made an effort to sound slightly amused, though bored.

“Really. You made quite a contribution to our organization though you didn’t know it at the time.” She answered. “Most of the time we don’t recruit people your age.” She held up a hand to keep me from interrupting, “We have holdings world wide, but we only exist behind the scenes with a few exceptions.” She took a moment to point to the T-shirt, I was wearing. I looked down, Ok Nice logo.

“Largely we favor technology and information, not too mention a profit.” She smiled. “The true power of any society is who controls the information.”

“Ok, I can relate to that. I might have issues with my neighbor building a nuke, so obviously that sort of information is buried. Just not very well.” I added.

She nodded, “True but it is handy for letting people know who to watch.” She pointed a finger at me. “We have had our eye on you for sometime.” She rolled her eyes. “We just did not expect your talent to so outstrip our watchers.” She gave John an amused look.

He looked at me with some odd sort of pride. “You are so far beyond Leet.” Was his comment.

“Sorry to surprise you.” Was my comment to her.

“You know you’re in deep over your head?” Was her parry.

The lights flickered slightly. “The bomb was sort of an obvious clue.”

“We were not expecting things to get to that point.” She looked uncomfortable.

I looked at the guard dude. “Please tell me she is not the brains of the operation.”

He shifted slightly and gave a faint grin of approval, like I had passed his test. “I am just here to keep you safe.” Was his only comment. He gave the lady an ‘I told you so’, look.

The lady shifted. So I plunged on in her silence. “I had that figured out Saturday. Before things went south.” I gestured at my body. “So to speak.”

Her eyes flashed briefly in irritation, “Really?”

“Duh.  The Palm more or less said in his email, that I was up shit creek, the two million was to make it interesting.  Hell I could get a Billion in a month if I wanted it bad enough. Cleanly.” She sat up slightly at the word Billion.

“Anyways, we have resources, you have a vital skill with computers.” She paused. “Ok, let me be blunt?”

I nodded, “Go for it.”

“The Palm is dead and may not be dead.” I waited for her to get to the blunt bit. “He wants you dead and does not care who or what he has to destroy to get you out of the way.” 

“Got that, go to the point.” Her blunt takes a bit of time to reach I thought.

“A great many people are scared, and you are likely the most sought after person in the world right now.  Some want you dead for the money it would bring them, others want to use you for their own destructive plots. Some, admittedly like the people I represent, see you as a priceless commodity. For your solo and singular ability to take out The Palm’s AI.”

“Amelia Hartford.” I offered.

“Is distracted and is well nowhere as successful as you are.” She countered.

“You have to be kidding me.” I wasn’t a fan but hey credit to talent where it lies. “Most of the Tree Freaks worship her for her efforts in locating The Palm.”

“No, she’s still good, I will grant you that, but.” She sighed, “You know that you eliminated up to four Palm AI’s in under twenty milliseconds?”

I looked at John. “I thought it was the meds.” He shrugged. Then I looked at the lady. “I was out of my head on pain pills. I am not that good.”

“Yes, you are. You also had a Gross Physical Manifestation that nearly killed you after you did it. You are a mutant. Probably one of the most rare ones on the planet.” She actually looked frustrated. “If we had known that bit of information we might have spared you some pain.”         

“I encrypted my files.” It didn’t stop The Palm from getting them. “He has them.”

“If is any consolation we have them too; If he is having as rough of a time trying to break your encryption as we are. He’s going to be very very busy.”

I laughed. “Don’t worry I can open it for you.  Though I am not sure what good it will do you.”

She nodded, “Well we think that since you are missing, he is going to focus a lot of time on finding out everything you know.” She grinned wickedly, “There is sort of an inter-office pool going on how long it will take him. Currently I am winning.”

John spoke up, “Just how many layers of encryption are there any how?”

“Well.” I paused to hook the lady in deeper. “More than seven, but less than twenty.” John whistled, the lady just looked more pleased.  “It gets so convoluted that the encrypted data is only able to handle forty gigs of information.”  I leaned back “Now if I had a real computer…” I left that dangling.

“We can help with that.” She said brightly.

“Though there is one real problem. Well several; Security, location and my survival.”

“Leave that to me.” Spoke Mr. Security.

I gave him a look. “You already made one fundamental error.” He looked puzzled.

I sighed, “Monica, Dr. Cox and whom ever might have access to the hospital records. John was assigned to me, how long do you think it will be before some one makes that connection?”

I’ll give Mr. Security credit for not being slow on the uptake. “Evacuate this place. Now.” Everyone one started to move when he made the statement.  Ok, interesting group dynamics.

“Clothes?” I asked.

John bolted over the couch and lifted a bulky sack. “Got them, we go now.” He moved to the door. Then tapped it four times, and received answering to four knocks.

“Roof or road.”  John looked at me, “Princess can you keep it together long enough to fly ten miles?”

“If I was unconscious probably. Other than that, not a good idea.” I answered.

“We can’t carry her.” That was the lady in the medical whites.

“Car it is.” From Mr. Security.

“Something without a computer in it. Or we may get stuck.”  The lights flickered to illustrate my point. “I don’t have any real control. 

“Crap.” That was Mr. Security.

“John’s car is old enough not to have one.” I pointed out. “Adapt, damn it.” I stretched then judged my pain level.

“Right.” Replied Mr. Security as we all moved to the small hallway.

Outside in the hall was a four man team, I looked again three men, one woman. Suited me fine. All dressed in the latest in urban police SWAT gear. With a nice array of deadly looking guns. 

“Blown. Evac.” Mr. Security said to the team, who went from semi relaxed to wound utterly tight. One ran to the elevator and pushed the button.  It did not light up.  “Elevators out.”

“Not me.” I said.

“Stairs.” It was not a question. The security team jogged ahead of everyone to the staircase.  Then stopped to listen. Dimly I became aware of a rattling sound. Gunfire.

“Kid when you call it, you call it. One of our teams is at the bottom.” He looked apologetic. “We’re going up.”

“Wonderful, let’s just deal with it when we get there.” I commented.

The four man team moved to aim down the stairs. As John lead the way up. Somewhere the two ladies and John had produced guns. Not that I objected mind you. One flight up and I could tell this was going to be hell.  Two more and I knew it was.

“Pain killer?” I asked absently. Trying not to disrupt the movement of the group.

“Two more flights love, then we have roof top.” That was the office lady.

I did my utmost to block the pain from my mind, it was not working very well. The lights stopped, and time started to stretch. Each upward step was a victory. Somewhere in the darkness I could feel something being draped over me.

“Trench coat.”  Whispered John. “You can’t stop the glow?”

“Not yet.” I sighed, then slipped my arms through the sleeves and stuffed my hands into the pockets.

“Keep going.” That was the nurse lady.

Upward ever damnedly upward we moved.  John pushed the door open and stared into a gun, “Blown. Evac.”  The man with the gun stepped out of the way.

I could hear the sound of an approaching helicopter. We all hunkered down and waited, Mr. Security came closer to me. “Sorry Chad.”  Then he sucker punched me.


There was a droning in my ears as I slowly became aware of rapid movement. I was feeling no pain and the world was full of glowing lines. “Traffic inbound, intersection angle.”  I murmured, I was aware of some cursing. I could feel the lines in the helicopter, and the lines of the one approaching. “Identity parallel, equation summary, mole.” I was babbling.

The nice office lady was swearing then I felt something tap my leg.  “Are you certain?” A voice asked.

“Certainty approaching ninety-eight percent.” I replied.

“Christ how?” It sounded like John.

“I’m not quite here.  John, I’m in lots of places. The Internet is in the air too you know. Should I drop them? I can bork their computer.” I was riding the lines, cris-crossing, skipping. 

“Are you sure kid?” That was Mr. Security.

“Watch the pretty lights fall from the sky.” I answered.

I touched that line, interrupted it, the glowy bits went dark. Somewhere in faint sounds that surrounded me I could hear some people cheering. 

“Are you ok Chad?” That was the nice nurse lady.

I giggled, you are doing that a lot the voice in my head said. “I’m drugged up good aren’t I?”

“Yes honey you sure are.” That was John.

“We need you to tell us where to go Chad.”  Insisted a voice.

I felt the lines in the nice helicopter, the computers in it and the ones it connected to.  Everyone tasted wrong. I bent the lines swimming in them. “Variables, cross checking, apple at the chapel. Angel not devil, safe house, unlisted.”

“What?” That was John again.

“Shut up John.” Different voice.

“Chad, you need to go to sleep now.” I felt a sharp jab.

“Sleep too much.” I complained.

“Is there any doubt we need Chad?”  It was that voice again.

The lines faded out and so did I.


Agitato

Monday, October 11, 2006

“I'm taking the fire escape up to the roof. Don't care if it's not the way you find the truth. And when I get up that high, I don't know what I'll find. But I'd rather look at the sky than wonder why I let you take my time. Time to make this right: to rise above.“  –Fire Escape-  Blue Man Group.

I was drifting in and out for what seemed like days or years. I was in a familiar blue world undefined by form, and connected to some many places. I remember questions, and silly rhymes that made little sense. Then there was another time of darkness.

I was slowly becoming aware of a dim light, must be morning I thought. I was becoming aware of a slight musty smell, and a slight chill to the air. As light slowly filled the solitary window of the room, I could make out more detail.

I was in a strange bed. It was fairly firm but not uncomfortable. Several layers of blankets, one in what could only be described as an ugly olive green.  I looked about the room, stone walls, not brick, with signs of vast age.  A wooden dresser, with three drawers, not modern, not exactly an antique either. A table with a mirror, a vanity I suppose, though the silver had faded about the edges. A chair, which had seen better days from the look of it.

To the left of the bed was a small table, on which were a glass pitcher, a glass and an very thick envelope. I reached over lazily and picked up the envelope. I lifted the edge and pulled the letter out.

Chad,

First off let me say you are safe, so you can relax for the moment.

Wonderful.

Secondly, you have been drugged for a while, and several days have passed since you all had escaped from John’s apartment. I realize you may be upset with us for treating you with such disregard for your own desires. Unfortunately, time and events drove us to take such drastic measures. It was not done without making absolutely certain you would take no lasting harm from it.

Define lasting harm. Loosing several days is not exactly what I call unimportant.

Without your ‘assistance’, even if it was not exactly voluntary on your part.  A great many people would have died. You may or may not remember much of your flight from the Roof of John’s building. However, Bill is worried you’re not going to forgive him for punching you.  He’s not one to hurt children, though he doesn’t hesitate to take action to protect people under his care. Even if his methods sometimes are not exactly orthodox.

Hell people are out to kill me, I can forgive one punch. Drugs don’t work fast sometimes either. I noted to myself

Your talents allowed most of our security team to make it away unscathed.  Those that were injured are recovering well. Needless to say you have some fans in the security department.

You also have a lot of fans for other reasons. We had a very ugly problem in our internal structure of our organization. While we are not one hundred percent sure we have rooted out the worst of the problem, NEXT, owes you a big debt of gratitude.

Funny way of showing it. I looked at the room again. “This is not exactly the Ritz.” I commented aloud.

While your current accommodations may not be very elaborate, or modern, they are safe. At least as safe as we can arrange at the moment. We are working on arrangements for getting you to a safer location.  Where your skills and powers can be trained and with luck, grant you a measure of control where ‘normal’ life will be possible.

This will take time to arrange, and from what we have been able to deduce from some of our sessions with you. You had the start of a solid plan for your own escape. You impressed Bill, by the way, and from working with him in the past, that is no small feat.

We don’t think you should make a habit of using medicines any more than you absolutely have to. Or alcohol. While it may give you an easier way to utilize your powers, from what we can tell it puts you so deeply enthralled that you do not know what is occurring around you. I admit some guilt at having had to use your abilities while you were in that state. But rest assured I got an earful from everyone who owed you their lives. John and Bill can be very, forceful, when they want to be.     

Our experts predict that with proper training you will be able to do quite a bit more, and even they are not sure what your upper limits will be. Unfortunately, from my stand point, the time to get you trained is going to seem like forever. As we really do need your help.  Frankly, the world needs about ten people like you and well. While you do have a moral sense that echoes our own, you do have some lines you won’t cross even if you are in a suggestible state.  For which a great many people, even myself are extremely grateful and somewhat relieved.

I won’t lie to you and say we are exactly a bunch of white knights, or much concerned with right and wrong, as a ‘whole’.. Though our past history has shown us that we do better to stay firmly in the gray areas as much as possible. The old adage of absolute power corrupting absolutely, has been a bitter lesson, occasionally.

Tammy, who is one of our talent scouts or recruiters if you will. Is hoping you will continue to work with us, and has volunteered to be one of your primary contacts. No matter what the risk. (She says to say that she is still ahead in the office ‘pool’ by the way.)  From what I am able to gather, she may be coming out the winner.  Much to my dismay. 

From what we are able to garner form the sheer amount of effort my team has in trying to unravel your encryption. The Palm may not be able to break the files for another few days. We don’t know what resources the Palm has, but there are several people in the encryption department who are begging me to allow you to give them a key.  I said no by the way. I figure as much as I would like to win the office pool, we need a firm approximation on how much time before The Palm will do it. The office pool, is no small chunk of pocket change either.

On to other matters: We’ve arranged for clothing that will fit you, and I am sorry Chad, but we had to opt for a distinctly female attire, and identity for you.  Our people, feel it may be the safest avenue for you. It will allow you more freedom of movement since most people are looking for you, as a male.

On that note it is my sad duty to inform you that you have died. Chad Wilson was found in an ally having suffered a death resulting from his mutation.  We provided enough DNA and other evidence that most people will safely consider you dead. I am not sure if it will hold up under ultra intense scrutiny. However it will buy you more time.

Taking a cue from one of our sessions your new Identity was taken as a suggestion from one of your old friends. As of this time you are Merry Candice Powell. You were born in Philadelphia, to less than nice people, and have run away.  They do exist and they did have a daughter by that name. Sadly her fate was not as kind as yours. It is my hope that your use her name will grant her a measure peace, where ever her soul is. 

She would be about your age, and the police trail on her has grown cold. Her murder is still at large. Though you have my personal word that we will find him and deal with him. Permanently.

Your new parents, do not have the money or resources to continue looking for their daughter and any attempts to locate her will be squelched. From what I can tell, they were not trying that hard anyways, if that gives you any indication of why she/you ran away. Should there be any odd chance that you end up headed back to their custody, steps will be taken to get you out. 

Unfortunately, this means you will have to live on the streets, for a time. Though from what we have been able to learn about your plans you were prepared somewhat to do this.  We have given you a new ATM card, picture identity and adjusted some school records, though only slightly. In the drawer is a fairly powerful laptop with the best software we could stuff into it.  Also a PDA.  Both are capable of wireless connection to the Internet, but they are only wireless enabled if you plug in the cards that connect them. Even then there is great risk, like the cell phones it can be traced.

My advice is to Avoid using anything but public resources to connect to the web.  We also have given you a cell phone. It is turned off, but you know how easy those can be tracked. It is for and only in absolute dire emergencies. You must discard it, after you use it. It has one number stored in it. Dial that number. You will be given a retrieval point. Then dump the phone.

The PDA has a list of numbers that you can use for contact and email communication. Each number and account can only be used once before they become inactive.  Choose one at random, and erase that one after you use it.  There is also a list of drop points and pick up points.  Should you need to get something to us, or we need to get something to you. 

The PDA is your best link back to us. Should you feel that your Contact List is compromised. Plug in the wireless card, run the Escape program, and drop the PDA in a trashcan.  Then get very far from it. It will act as a beacon that our network team will be watching for. Do not expect pick up for a few days afterwards, and then it will be only by some one you have met in John’s Apartment. 

There is a beacon in the Laptop as well. It will only activate at absolutely random times, and in time duration so short that perhaps only you will be able to detect it.  We have ensured that it cannot be remotely set to act as an active homing beacon. Only you can activate that beacon at other times. It has it’s own battery and is heavily shielded, so if you accidentally fry the laptop it should still work.  We have provided a solar panel set up so all you need is sunlight to recharge both.

Bill also left a few toys for you as well, no guns, but he felt you needed in his words, “An edge suited to your grasp.”

I am sorry if we seem to be feeding you to the lions, we are going to be watching for you and over you. You won’t see us and we will be doing our Utmost to ensure you don’t run into anything you can’t get away from.   You are going to have to be creative as to how to fill the time from eight in the morning to three in the afternoon, Monday through Friday, excepting holidays. Truant officers do roam the streets during those times. Other times you should be safe.   

Bill says to say that movement is your best friend, do not stay in any one place for more than a night. He has also packed some things to make dealing with the elements a bit more easier, even if they don’t look like much.

We have scattered the group you met at John’s apartment complex, and sadly as much as he wants to be where you can reach him.  John is more worried about keeping you alive. (I think you have a made conquest, even if he isn’t your type. I know he’s mentioned his kid sister to you.)

You probably should examine all your new stuff and pack. I am not sure when the medications should have worn off. You have at least a day and night of safety where you are. If your location seems a bit morbid, well I will admit it’s not where someone would look for you. Even if Bill has a sick sense of humor at times.

   Sincerely,

Willard

 Sorry Sis, Willard is so, well, he’s right. Too many connections tie me to you. So I am getting a vacation in the tropics. Sort of.  I’ll keep you in my thoughts and if everything goes absolutely bug-fuck I’ll find you no matter what.

Love ya Sis, keep your head down and your chin up.

John

PS. On a side note, your ‘bank’ went ape shit when you disappeared and ‘died’. I think Monica is looking for a new job. I don’t think she’ll have an easy time of finding one. Doctor Cox is getting a better position in the hospital. ‘We’ take care of our own. Even if they don’t think they work for us.

J.

Hi Merry, it’s Tammy. There will be times we can get together.  So stay focused, stay safe. And like John if things go to hell, I’ll find you too.  Don’t worry about me I’ll be doing enough worrying for the both of us. Your ‘Funeral’ made national news. I pushed for that, considering you stopped one public act of terrorism. I know it may feel a bit uncomfortable, or down right scary. I think you will do wonderfully as Merry.  We’re working on getting you into someplace I think you will like. Even if it puts you behind somewhat, school year wise.              

Looking forwards to working with you,

Tammy

Hi Merry, it’s Bill.

You are sharp, smart and I feel like shit for having to knock you out. I’m not much for words. But I do hope you like my toys I left for you, and the books. In the drawer of the nightstand and table is a butane lighter. Re-read this all a few times and burn it. You won’t see me, but I will be watching over you.  Though even I need to sleep a few hours.  If it is any consolation, I will living in the same weather you will be. I have sole discretion on if the elements are too bad. Don’t expect me to pull you out if it unless I think you can absolutely not handle it.             

You can beat me up later, be sharp kid. I know you can do it. Today is Monday. I always hated loosing time too.

Bill


I looked about the room, “Morbid. I don’t get it.”  I got up and found a camping toilet tucked behind a canvas tarp. That business taken care of, I explored further. I moved the chair under the window, stood on it and peeked out the window. Outside was a graveyard suddenly I got it. “Bill you are one sick person. Glad you are on my side.”    

I hopped down, no pain. That was a plus. I wandered to the vanity dragging the chair behind me. I sat down and greeted myself in the mirror “Hello Merry, pleased to meet you.” My hair was longer and the brown ends were gone, It had been trimmed but was slightly ragged. You’re not going to be sitting in a salon girl, so it should be unkempt. I was not sure how to explain the blue strands. I plucked one strand out to look at the ends, it was blue at the root. I shook my head, I needed a hat of some type for sure. Though I had seen odder hair colors in school, so it may not be that far out of place.

I got up and looked at the chest of drawers. I pulled out the top drawer. Laptop, PDA and cell phone as promised. I pulled them out and set them on top. I double checked the top drawer and closed it.

The next drawer held clothes. Not ultra girly, but not overly obvious that I wasn’t living on the street.   Clean underwear, a few bras, and several thick socks.  I looked down at what I was wearing, nondescript black t-shirt, and panties.  Right. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck it must be a duck. I pulled out a pair of faded black jeans, there were another set of jeans and black t-shirt. Two sets of everything and a small bag marked sanitary stuff. I set that on top of the dresser and put the jeans and socks on. The jeans fit without the need for a belt.

I closed the drawer and opened the last one. One side was a largish backpack, empty. I pulled that out and dropped the pack to the floor. I sat down and studied the stuff.  One thick book with the title of “How to survive the end of the world.”  Cute.  There were several small pamphlet styled books, “Army Ranger Course Field Guide.” “Dirty tricks for fun.” The word fun had a line through it. The last book was unusual and as thick as the first and seemed out of place. “Meditation and Control.” The inner cover was stamped Whateley Press 1999.

I put all the books on the floor and looked at the other things. One was a short folding lock blade. It had a piece of tape on it labeled, ‘Legal’. I tucked that into my back pocket.  A longer knife was sitting with a bit of tape on it ‘Not legal, keep under your blankets and in your hands at night.’ There was a coil of braided wire, attached to a large ring at one end and a hefty looking spike at the end.  Under that was a pair of heavy duty gloves. The gloves were labeled ‘Electrically insulated and warm’ I didn’t try them on just yet. I did take them out as there was a piece of paper and a small ball of cord left.

Hi Merry,

By now you have seen the large ring, cable and spike. They are all made of a super conductive material. There are two reasons you got this. One, you can use the spike to get rid of extra power if you push the spike into the ground and just hold it. Secondly it is potentially a very useful weapon and tool. With the gloves on, your hands are protected enough where you could use it to climb trees. If you hit some one with the spike or ring while holding onto one end in your bare hand. Your body’s zap effect goes all the way down the cable to the other end.  Depending on how angry or scared you are when you use it, you could drop an elephant.

I don’t want to frighten you.  But, what little testing we did, you can pick and hold a charge that is plainly dangerous to other people if you brush or touch flesh, and possibly even through some heavy armors.  You should make a habit of using the spike to ground –daily- if not once every twelve hours. Also you seemed to get very drunk when you were that charged up. On top of the medications you were on. If you end up in a lightning storm, slip one are through the hoop and drag the spike. It should keep you from harm.

I drew some basic attacks on the back of the sheet of paper for use with the Hoop and Spike. I don’t know how familiar you are with Chinese martial arts movies, but if you have seen Kill Bill, you may have seen something similar.

Luck,

B.

Ps. I marked a few pages in the books. You have time, read them.  It will give you an idea of what you can take with you from here.

PPS. Arise Lazarus.

I had to laugh at the last bit.


I spent the day reading and finding the other essentials in the room, a pair of boots, a military coat and a stocking cap. They were obviously used, and the coat seemed heavy. I checked a pocket and found a scrap of paper. ‘Kevlar, and warm. It will stop some guns, but not a knife.’ The boots had a bit of paper too, ‘Steel toed’. The stocking cap was actually a ski mask. ‘Handy for hiding in the dark, warm.’

The bedside table had a few power bars, a wallet with all the goods from the letter and about three hundred dollars cash and a piece of paper with a pin number on it. Student Id with lousy photo, a plain white card with a magnetic strip on it. Unlabeled, or embossed. Though I could see a faint blue glow in one corner it, was a ‘smart’ card.  The card had a piece of tape on it ‘Daily limit, none, use as needed. Just use common sense.’ There was also a pair of wrap around sunglasses. They had a piece of paper under them,  ‘Ballistic, laser safe, military issue and damned cool looking.’

I tried them on and went to the mirror, what could I say, he was right.


Tuesday, October 12, 2006

Night passed much to quickly.  I took the tarp, blankets, toilet paper and the other stuff from the chest of drawers and stuffed them into the backpack. I put on the coat, stuck the long knife into the backpack on top of everything. The hoop and spike fit neatly into a front pocket of the coat.  The laptop came with it’s own beat up satchel and I put the PDA and cell phone into the inside coat pockets.  The pocketknife and wallet went into the jeans pockets.

I had one last duty. I quickly reread all the letters, and notes and such. I then burned them in the middle of the floor.  The lighter went into the front pants pocket.  I pulled the gloves on and went to the door. It was slightly ajar and rusty. It took some effort but I got it open, got out then pushed it closed again. The air out side was frigid and winter was definitely coming.

I glanced at the family name of the crypt I had in habited, Poe. Weird, but ok, I tried to think of anything by the author and failed.  Oh well, I tapped the door for luck and turned to go find a gas convenience store for breakfast.

It was early enough in the day where having to worry about the truant officers was not likely to happen. So I made my way into the Circle K and bought up all the power bars, a cup of mocha and a few Cokes™ and chocolate bars.  It seemed a life time ago, since Toni had introduced me to them, and he was right they do have lots of calories.  I hoped that Rob and Tony were not buried in grief.  I figured one place to go later on was the public library to read up on the last few days newspapers. Just not during school hours.

I was looking at least six to eight hours of hiding out each day.  Well, I did have several very handy practical manuals from Bill. I dug out the PDA and looked at the maps loaded into it. I didn't fancy a trip into the sewers, just yet. Even though several were marked at fairly safe and not in service.  Philly is filled with such areas if you can find them, I had a map. I figured that my first hiding spot should be sunny place with lots of trees and brush. I quick glance at the PDA maps and I settled on one not too far.

I figured that I needed to make sure every thing had a recharge. I also wanted time to find out just what was in the hardrive. Last night I was happy to note that were tons of things from decent hackers tools, to a few adventure games on it..  It was also just as powerful, if not more so than Johns tower. I don't know if NEXT had been entirely honest with me, but as far as services provided so far it looked like a good partnership in the future.

Willard had said he was somewhat pleased by my moral stance, and resistances.  So they had to have pushed me somewhat. But, hey. If what little of my dreams last night were real events, things must have gotten somewhat ugly in the corporate shake down.  "Yeah they were shooting, remember?"  I murmured to no one.

I passed an elementary school on the way to the park, the pre-drop off horde was jostling for position and kids were reluctantly filing in. Part of me grinned, no school for a while.  I hummed a bit of that song and checked for mp3's on the PDA.  Sure enough some of my favorite tunes were loaded.  They must have known me pretty well.  I put the list on shuffle and enjoyed the selection. 

Beltway Park was located on part of the river that bisects the city, I had not been there before so it was a treat.  No so much a kids place, but it did have lots of trees to sack out around and under.  It also had a restroom, which was not exactly clean, though I was happy to have my own roll of toilet paper, a sink that worked but no other amenities.  Part of me noted I could sleep here if I had to.  Though I figured while the weather wasn't drowning me, or burying me, under the stars was a better place to be.  

I made my way out and found a tree with enough brush around it I could be hidden from the street. I figured out the solar panel and plugged it in to the PDA, figuring it would be less power efficient.

I was not prepared for the world to turn blue when I turned on the laptop.  I sat it down then took a few steps back. The glow faded. I stepped closer, the world went back to blue.  I sat down and looked at the laptop.  No lines connect it to anything, but I was certainly not touching it.

There was a bright flash of light that blipped up from it. Ok, hello folks I am still alive. I pulled off a glove and removed the spike from my pocket. I pushed it into the ground, the blueness faded somewhat, but I was still very much in my own world. Of a sort.

I peered down into the laptop and it opened up and let me fall inside of it. I found myself randomly sifting through all the files, I knew what each one contained, how to use it and that I could change things on a whim. I stood on a limited terrain, it was a blue blank canvas. I had to get out for a moment.  OK, I was wanting out and then I was laying on the ground looking up at the sky.  

Part of my mind screamed, ‘Danger Will Robinson' the other part of me said. Damn this could be a real problem.   How can I possibly explain to any librarian or what not that I was not asleep.  Or worse. You are defenseless while you are in that blue realm. Bill's books are suddenly a godsend. Bill old buddy I am going to have to buy you a new gun or something. I decided that I needed to do something non computerish.  Though part of me was wondering what the difference between the PDA and laptop was.

I picked up the PDA and looked at it. Yep it was glowing, but the faint blue glow it sparked in me was not nearly as powerful as the washed out blue of the that the laptop inspired.  I lifted my shades, yes, so the world was glowing, I looked up and saw several traceries of light, but they were far up there.  In the distance the Radio towers looked like throbbing blue fountains that reached and sprayed through everything.

 A microwave tower not too far was a searchlight of focused blue light that struck another tower a few miles away.  Far off the steam from the power plant was illuminated by a glow that out shone the sun. I pulled out the ring and slipped it on under the coat, some more of the blue faded, but looking at the direction of the power plant was still dazzlingly bright.  I flipped the shades down, they helped some, but even so I could not look for long.

For a time I let my sight wander around the park, the high-rises in the distance and the various lines that seemed to be everywhere.  “Houston we have a problem.” I closed my eyes and I could still see the brighter of the lights. I dug in the backpack for the mediation book.  What the hell maybe it would help, maybe not.

It was dedicated to Noah Whateley, “You never saw this coming did you?"

Ok odd way to dedicate a book, but I had seen odder ones.  It seemed like an esoteric primer, for the first few paragraphs, then it mentioned mutants. I flipped a few pages and was amused to see that some one had scribbled a note, “This book is sorta helpful”.  Okay, I went back to the beginning and read until my stomach reminded me it was being neglected. I munched a few power bars and sipped at a coke.  After which I switched the charger over to the laptop.

I hit the chapter on spell working and rolled my eyes. I skipped that one.  My life was weird enough without adding any hokey magic stuff to it. The chapter following was energizer, whatever that was, but it made more sense than the one on psionics.  By the time I hit the section on mediums and avatars. I decided that the author was a bit screwy. So I jumped to the section labeled ‘Exercisers for Energizers’.. The only section in the book that made any real sense to me was the energizer one. So that's where I started. 

The first one was fairly simple just close you eyes and breathe regular. I did that for a few minutes.  The second exercise was similar, but you were supposed to reach out and feel for something.  It started off easy enough, I wasn't sure what the reaching bit was about, but I could feel a pull towards something so I reached out at it and pulled back.  

Sometime later I became aware of a faint burning sensation, I was laying on my back again and the patch of ground that I had shoved the spike into was smoldering.  I also felt like I was flowing down the cable to it. I looked at my bare hand, it was glowing intensely.  I grabbed the spike and pushed the flow along and faster into the ground. 

"Ok that exercise went a bit too well. Or I blew it. Somehow I don't think Bill had intended me to use the spike to start a fire, but it was potently useful. I packed everything up and decided to play with the spike and hoop. It had to be safer right? I also put my glove back on.

Well mostly safer. Lesson one, don't hit yourself with the freaking hoop or spike. It hurts. Lesson two, it’s not a lariat, well it did have potential for playing ring toss.  But I was not sure that was too combat effective. I spent some time using the tree as a target for the spike.. The first few times were embarrassing to say the least. Too far, and it nearly jerked the ring from my other hand. Too close and you can get a nasty bounce back in the chest. I could wrap it around some of the leg or arm sized branches easy enough. It did not promise to be a weapon I could use with out some sort of lead-time on the bad guys.

Though I could see that by just connecting on flesh with it would give me a extra few feet of room for either running or getting close enough to choke a person with it. After a bit more of playing around, I put it away and went to find a restaurant. Power bars were nice, but part of me wanted a steak. 

Ok, I wanted several steaks.  I sighed, think boy, girl, you are a girl. Girls don’t eat several steaks in one sitting. Change of plans. I am picking up munchies for my girl friends. Ok, I will have to make several stops, if the book is right. Energizer, lots of food, high calories.

“This is not an Atkins friendly diet plan.” I said as I exited my second burger joint in twenty minutes with yet another big bag of food. I opened the sack and pulled out my sixth burger. I am not a big fan of power bars but I can tell that hitting several burger joints every night is going to draw attention eventually. God, if you are not laughing at me, how about a sign?  I didn’t get an answer much less expected one.

My PDA had directions to a library, I was on my way when I saw the sign for a used book store. I rolled the edge of the burger bag into a handle and went in. Libraries require identification and an address, one that does not flag the Cops attention. Not to mention Merry, being me, does not have an online presence.  

Christ I am going to need a freaking handle. No, no, no handle, handles attract attention. I wandered for a time, the smell of old books was calming me somewhat. I found myself looking at of copy of “Stranger in a Strange Land.”  when I heard something out of place.  I eased around an isle to check the counter.  A man with a gun was pointing it at the clerk.

I eased back around the shelf. Fear grabbed me, then the light went out. I dropped the sack of food.

“Who the fuck is there?” shouted the man with a gun.

I eased back a few more steps and pulled out the spike and ring. Eating doesn’t work well with gloves, so that was one benefit thing in my favor. I crouched down, Bill’s books are proving a really helpful. I was burning brightly, not helpful, I pushed my shades up. 

I intoned with a deep rumble “You should be running now.” 

The gun came around the corner before the man did, never look a gift horse in the mouth. I looped the spike over the gun hand.  Lightning went down the cable. Pop goes the weasel.

I tugged the spike back, and walked to the man and kicked the gun away. I dropped the shades back down, and retrieved my burger bag. I commented to the shopkeeper. “Sorry about the mess. Hope you have a better night.”  I turned and walked to the door. Inside I knew I had blown it. Time to leave the area. Crap, so much for my trip to the library. I slipped a glove on and opened the door, “I wasn’t here. Honest.”   

I didn’t look back, no alarms, and night was starting to fall. I went around the corner and started to run.  I needed to put a few blocks behind me. I tried to pull  the mask out and on one handed handed, not something you can do with sunglasses on. I stopped took the precious seconds to put on the hood properly, then tucked the shades into a pocket. Running, running was good. Running was smart. I ran until my lungs burned.

I leaned against a wall in some ally. I didn’t care where I was. Time to regroup, I crouched and ate the remaining burgers.  Cold fries never tasted so good.  Once the bag was empty, I dropped it then I picked it up.  DNA, finger prints.   Just freaking wonderful. I found a dumpster and dropped the burger bag inside.  Ok, PDA time.

I dug in the satchel for the GPS card. Running for your life you loose track of where you are. I hated the idea, but going out in the open in the street was just as dumb as being mutant hero on the spot. Global positioning system, three satellites and you get a lock on your position close enough to drop a bomb on.  Gotta love technology, map software takes that information, and poof a neat little dot on the map show you where you are. 

I was not in love with the idea, but it was sewer time. I was not even a turtle. Nearest safe point was a mile away. I could do that.  I eased the shades through the holes in the mask and pulled on my other glove.  I took off with an easy jog checking the PDA every few hundred feet.  Night was falling, I was glowing, this is nuts.

Finally I reached the supposed entrance point. It was a manhole cover in of all things a badly overgrown park.  Fine with me. I pulled the satchel out, tuned on the lap top. I entered that blue space again. “Ok, like the man says, no problems only solutions.”  Goes the quote. I reached down into the lap top.  Files, commands, locator, ping. “Execute.” 

A bright flash and it was up and away. There were lots of lines intersecting this area.  My blue world jumped out  to encompass the whole world. Nice effect. I looked at myself. I was nude, blue and floating.  I laughed and looked around.  I didn’t have a network connection but I was accessing the net. This held a lot of promise. In the distance I heard the familiar sound from the movie Tron. Light Cycle.             

I leapt upward to watch, abruptly the flat blue of my world was impinged with the movie world of Tron. The Cycle screamed away below me and the world reverted back to its flat geometry. I looked around. No Recognizers, no trace programs.  Someone has an interesting trick. I dropped to the floor of my world.  Just for fun I yelled into the space. “Clue, Location query. Acknowledge!” Ok, enough fun. Out.

I sat back up, and packed away the laptop. Humming Current, I used the spike to lift the manhole cover. I removed my shades and tucked them away.  Nice to have your own built in flashlight.  I climbed to the bottom dumped my gear and went back up. I must be slightly stronger than I thought as I eased the cover back in place with a clang.  

In a room in Melville, Whateley Campus. Someone sat up abruptly to the sounds of “Clue, Location query. Acknowledge!”

Somewhere under Philly, a pair of blue eyes floated serenely to the to the sounds of music. She was dancing.

Somewhere else, above ground, in Philly, a man chuckled and wrapped a blanket around himself. “Smart move kid.”

Exit stage right, laughing.

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A Whateley Academy Tale

Toni and the Tiger

by Bek D Corbin

It was one of those ‘only at Whateley’ scenes. I was bouncing around the tennis court like a grasshopper, smacking the little orange ball around with all my might. But even with all my Ki skills, I was barely keeping up with my opponent. My opponent looked like a girl made of liquid silver. But that wasn’t the weird thing. No, the weird thing was that her racket was literally coming out of the end of her arm. She was able to stretch it out almost the entire length of the court. That, and the fact that she could extrude ‘stilts’ from the bottom of her feet, meant that she could be almost anywhere on the court in an instant.

We were tied, and it was sudden death. While she wasn’t quite as fast as me, her stretching definitely gave her an edge. Well, I wasn’t getting anywhere with speed and accuracy, so it was time to get fancy. I started putting some serious English on the ball, making it ricochet unpredictably. But that backfired on me, ‘cause she manifested another ‘racket’ out of her other hand, and sent the ball out to the far corner of the court, where I couldn’t get to it.

“HEY! You’re only supposed to have ONE racket at one time!” I objected.

Mrs. Hueng, the Tennis instructor, chewed on it for a second. I didn’t envy her the decision; it was the Game Point. But then, this IS Whateley, so she must have a lot of practice with weird calls like this. “Well, technically, she doesn’t even have ONE racket; she’s playing you bare-handed. And, as I remember the Rules of Tennis, they never explicitly state that there’s a limit to the number of rackets that you can use. So, Game Point: Silver. Next set!”

I tried to not spit in my frustration. I trudged over to the net and offered my hand. “Good match.” As Silver- boy, what an original code name!-  walked up, she made the metal stuff that covered her from head to foot pull away from her face. She turned out to be a pretty girl of Hindi stock, with a long regular face. “Thank you! It was a good game, wasn’t it?”

The metal on her hand was warm and gave like flesh did, but you could tell that she wasn’t just wearing some weird skin paint. And when I let go of her hand, it didn’t let me go. I startled a bit, and so did Silver. Then I looked at my hand, and I saw that she had let go; but for some reason, the friendship ring that Rip had given me was stuck to her hand.

Silver looked down too. “Weird! That’s never happened before.”

Mrs. Hueng snapped, “Hey, stop holding hands and move your stumps! There are other kids who want to play!” So, Silver and I skittered off the court, and tried to figure out what happened.

“That’s weird,” She said again, as we walked to the sideline. “I’ve never had problems with my dermis bonding with metals before. Are you sure that there’s no kind of enchantment or anything on this ring?”

I gave a sharp tug, and managed to pull free. “Hah!” But it turned out that I’d only managed to pull my finger out of the ring. The ring itself was still firmly embedded in Silver’s palm. “Hold on- how can that silvery stuff bond with anything? It’s just a manifestation, isn’t it? And from what I heard in Powers Theory class, manifested substances aren’t chemically active.”

“Well, then you’re doing better in Powers Theory class than I am; it’s all still Greek to me. No, this stuff isn’t a manifestation. It’s a real silver alloy, that I can control- most of the time.”

“Where does it come from?”

“Me. I secrete it.” She managed to pull the ring free from her hand, and she handed it to me.

“You secrete it? Y’mean, you like, sweat it?” She nodded. “How?”

“I’d dearly love to know. So would a bunch of scientists.”

I tried to put the ring back on, but the coating of silver stuff was so thick that it was several sizes too small now. I held up the ring and gave Silver a puzzled look. She took the ring, formed a blade of sorts on the tip of her finger, and started scraping away at the inside of the ring. “Dang! It's already set! It’s not supposed to DO that! At least, not so quickly! Are you sure that this ring isn’t magic, or something?”

“You have a lot of trouble with magical stuff?”

“Yeah, I do. Or, at least I did, back in India. There are a lot of very weird people who think that ‘Maiden’s Silver’ is supposed to be all sort of magic.”

“ ‘Maiden’s Silver’? They even have a special name for that stuff?”

“Yes. It caused all sorts of problems for me, back in India.”

“Woof! I can imagine! But your family must have been sitting pretty for a while, what with having a living silver mine in the family!”

“Well, they would have, if the village Brahmins hadn’t decided that, for the benefit of the village, that they should take me from my family.”

“You’re kidding! They DID that?”

“You make it sound unthinkable. Things like that happen a lot more often than you like to think.”

“So, how did you get away?”

“Long story- I’ll tell you about it some time.” She finished scraping out metal from the inside of the ring, but it was still too large to fit my finger.

I handed the ring back to her. “Here. I can’t wear it anymore, and it IS your skin.”

“Keep it. Once it sets, I can’t assimilate it back into my dermis, anyway. Besides, ‘Maiden’s Silver’ is supposed to be good luck.”

“Thanks. Though, I wonder- you said something about ‘magic’- would Ki fit the bill for magic?” I gave her the ‘dumb gaijin’ explanation of Ki, and she said that it fit the definition of Prana, or ‘breath’, which was a major Hindi mystic concept.

“Yes, I guess that would explain it. You were using this ‘Ki’ while you were playing?”

“Hey, it’s second nature to me.”

“So, the ring became charged with it, and so became ‘magical’ enough to cause the Maiden’s Silver to bond with it.”

“What’s so special about this ‘Maiden’s Silver’- other than the obvious?”

“Well, back in India, there were a lot of very strange people who wanted to keep me so that I would produce more and more of it for them. If the Golden Lions hadn’t taken me in, they would probably have worked me to death for it.”

“Golden Lions? Who are the Golden Lions?”

“What? You’ve never heard of the Golden Lions? They are the greatest team of superheroes in India!” Then she made a *humph!*, as if to make a remark about Americans, who can’t be bothered to learn about other countries. I challenged her to find Baltimore on a map, which took some of the wind out of her sails.

As we waited out our rotation, Silver pulled a strip of her ‘dermis’ off and worked it with her hands like clay. “Doesn’t that hurt?” I asked.

“Oh, No! I sort of intuitively know when some dermis is about ready to fall off. Besides, I since you can’t wear that ring anymore, I sort of owe you something.” She finished working it into a simple bracelet. She casually handed it to me. “Here! Let is set for a minute or two before you put it on.”

“Thanks!” I looked at it for a second. “You get a lot of requests for ‘cast-offs’?”

“Some, but most of the girls in Whitman get a little weirded out when the hear that it’s my skin.”

We each got in another set of tennis with another opponent, showered afterwards, and then we went to Lunch. I didn’t spot the rest of Team Kimba, so I continued my conversation with Silver. “Howcum you showered with the rest of us? Can’t you just use your dermis to clean yourself?”

“Well, yes. But cleanliness is as much mental as physical. I feel cleaner for it.”

“Okay, I can see that. By the way, what are those pills?” I pointed to a rainbow of capsules beside her tray.

“Mineral supplements. My body has some rather unique dietary requirements.”

“I can imagine. Come to think of it, I rather imagine that with so many oddball metabolisms, that the kitchen must have to prepare a lot of custom meals. My roommate, Nikki is on a strict vegetarian diet. Maybe you two can swap off plates some time.”

“Why would we do that?”

“Well, you’re Hindu, right? You don’t eat meat, right?”

“Well, first of all, I’m Buddhist, not Hindu.”

“But you said something about the Brahmins of your village taking you away from your family.”

“The Brahmins had control of the village, Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim alike.”

“YOWch! That must have made for some rather tense local politics.”

“Nothing that doesn’t happen all over India, and worse in some places. The Brahmins were on top of the social ladder, and the lower castes backed them, no matter how unfair it was.”

We discussed Indian politics for a while, and then shifted over into American politics by comparison. I was trying to put the rift between Professional Class African-Americans and Working Poor African-Americans into context, when Hank walked in with another guy.

“Yo! Hank!” I yelled, waving a hand. “Over here!” Hank, seeing that he didn’t really have a lot of options in the matter, jerked his head in my direction to the other guy. They walked over. “Hey, Hank! This is Silver, she just got through putting me through the wringer in tennis. Silver, this is Hank, one of my teammates.”

Silver flashed an appreciative smile at both Hank and his friend. “It was a very close thing. Chaka is very fast. And you can call me Sakti, which is my real name.”

Hank nodded. “Charmed and all that. You can call me Hank, or Lancer. That’s my code-name.”

Lancer?” I asked, unable to keep the grin off my face. “Your code-name is Lancer? Sort of advertising it, ain’cha? When did you decide this, and why didn’t you tell us?”

He looked at me sourly. “That ‘advertising’ crack for one. Anyway, T-Bird, this is Toni Chandler, a.k.a. ‘Chaka’, one of my teammates. Toni, this is Scott Emerson, alias ‘Thunderbird’.”

Oohhh... is he stock, or does he come with the deluxe overhead carbs?”

Hank sighed. “Nice to meet you, Silver. How did you get tangled up with little miss motor-mouth over here?”

“Actually, she got tangled up with me.” Silver explained about the ring.

‘T-Bird’ actually seemed interested in the story. “So, the ring somehow become ‘enchanted’ in the short time that it was on your finger?”

“Yeah, we think that maybe my Ki-”

I started to explain what Ki was, but Thunderbird stopped me. “I’m familiar with the concept. I’m a pseudo- Avatar, so I try to be familiar with most of the basic mystical principles.”

Pseudo- Avatar? How can you be a ‘pseudo-Avatar’?”

“Well, I’m a Level 4 Shifter, a Power Mimic to be exact.”

“Y’mean that you can copy the powers of other mutants?”

“Yeah, for short periods of time- about an hour- and at a lower level. Anyway, I was back in Kansas-”

Aaahh, mystic, exotic, alluring Kansas…”

<AHEM!> “Anyway, I was back in Kansas, and a storm was rolling in over the plains while I was caught way out in one of the fields. Then, for some reason- I’m still not clear on it- but a Thunderbird attacked me and-”

“Thunderbird?” Silver echoed. “You got attacked by a car?”

“No, not a Ford Thunderbird, a real Thunderbird. It’s a Native American storm spirit that takes the form of a wide-winged bird of prey. Why it picked me, I haven’t gotten it to say. Classically, Thunderbirds only attack the Evil.”

“Maybe it was reacting to your mutant nature.” I guessed.

“But I hadn’t manifested any powers yet!”

“Hey, it was only a guess. Besides, just ‘cause you weren’t showing any mutant traits doesn’t mean that your off-kilter life signs weren’t provoking the T-Bird.”

T-Bird chewed on that for a while. “It’s a possibility. Anyway, I must have come in contact with someone who was an Avatar, or at least a latent Avatar, because as Sparky-”

“Sparky?”

“Well, what would YOU call a spirit of living electricity?”

“Okay, y’got me there. Go on.”

“When Sparky entered me, I was well on my way to being crispy-fired, when suddenly I knew that I could control it. Not only did I almost immediately heal most of the damage that Sparky had done to me, but I could fly and do a lot of other stuff.”

“Kewl! When did you find out that you could copy powers?”

“My first week here at Whateley. I shook hands with a telepath, and suddenly, I thought that I was going crazy, ‘cause I was hearing people in my head.”

“Did you get the ‘penny for your thoughts’ joke?” I leaned my chin on one hand. “So what happens when you kiss your girlfriend? Do you just copy her power, or do turn into a copy of her and get some red-hot lesbian action going?”

Hank almost coughed up his drink, and T-Bird went beet red. “Well, first of all, I can control when I duplicate someone’s Power Matrix now. Also, I can’t copy grosser forms.”

“Well, if your girlfriend’s cute, who says that it would be gross?”

“Err... I don’t have a girlfriend.”

“Oh, Really?” I asked, eyes suddenly wide, a smile forming on my face. I gave Thunderbird the quick once over. Damn cute. He was a little taller than Hank was, and much better built. He had that first bloom of an athletic figure thing going for him, you could even tell it through his Whateley school uniform. His face was damn cute, too; long and regular with a straight nose and soulful blue eyes. His blonde hair was so light that it was almost white, and one lock of it fell over his face and across one eye. And best of all, he had that ‘I’m gorgeous, but I don’t know it’ thing going for him. “Well now, we can have THAT…”

Five minutes later, I was sitting on his lap, and T-bird, or should I say _Scott_, was just coming to the happy realization that he suddenly had a girlfriend.

The kids at the tables near us took notice of this, and I heard someone mutter, “Yep, a Poe girl. Figgers.” Hey, screw ‘em.

Through the rest of lunch, I found out that Scott’s last name was Emerson, and it was particularly embarrassing, ‘cause he lived over at Emerson Cottage. We made a date of sorts to get together after classes. Scotty is a Sophomore, so he could show me parts of Whateley that I didn’t know about yet. Like ‘Inspiration Point’, or instance. We could… experiment... and find out if he copied powers from prolonged contact- like a kiss, maybe.

Hey, it’s an important issue, and warrants extensive research!

We finished up. As Hank and Scott left for their next classes, Sakti and I did the ‘girls go to the powder room together’ thing. The second that the door closed behind us, Sakti hissed, “I can’t believe that you DID that!”

“Did what?”

“You threw yourself at that boy!”

“Hey, it’s only embarrassing if they don’t catch you!”

“What must he think?

“He probably thinks that it’s his lucky day, and that his long lonely days are finally over!” I paused. “Emerson. That’s one of the Boys Only cottages, right? Bummer. Well, maybe I can sneak him upstairs at Poe.”

“Toni!”

“What? Just thinking ahead…”

“You can’t just throw yourself at a boy like that!”

“Sakti, Honey, with a boy like that, it’s the only way to get the message across. Scotty has ‘boy scout’ written all over him.”

“ ‘Boy scout’?”

“What, you don’t have Boy Scouts in India?”

“Of course we do! But what do the Boy Scouts have to do with anything?”

“Well, over here, ‘boy scout’ also means a guy who’s very, y’know, proper, and polite, and always does the right thing.”

“And what’s wrong with THAT?”

“Nothing. As a matter of fact, it’s kind of sexy, when you think about it. The whole thing about a ‘boy scout’ type is that he won’t make a move until he’s absolutely sure that the girl’s interested. So, if you play all coy with a ‘boy scout’, you could wait forever for him to make the first move. Heck, I’ll bet that a cutie-pie like Scott has a bunch of girls hanging around him that he thinks are ‘pals’, who are waiting for him to wise up.”

The door to the powder room burst open, and three girls came marching in, their faces set in ‘don’t fuck with me, bitch’ masks.

Annddd... Enter, right on cue.”

Like I said, there were three of ‘em. Two of them were serious competition, in the babe-age department, but the third one was walking proof that being a mutant didn’t automatically make you a beauty contest participant. Not Ugly, not even homely, just sort of… plain. If you’re into ‘Willow’ on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you might think that she was hot. She had a round face and a pointed nose with large brown eyes under large rimless glasses, with drab brown hair that parted in the middle and fell to about her jawline. I’ll lay you odds that even the other two thought of her more as Scott’s ‘pal’ than romantic competition.

The other two, on the other hand were worth worrying about. The one in the lead was a trim brunette with her dark hair cut in a jazzy ‘pixie cut’. She had a triangular face that suited the cut, and large dark green eyes that suited her face. She was wearing the Whateley uniform with the sort of confidence that suggested that she wore clothes well.

The other one was your basic cute blonde, with a round face, big blue eyes, and an upturned nose. She wore her hair in a ponytail under a bicycle cap, and she wore her uniform with a careless disregard that suggested that she was more the tomboy type. Or maybe she was a gadgeteer; she had one of those tool pouches slung over her shoulder like a purse.

Before they could say anything, I cut them off with, “Oh, don’t mind us ladies, we’re just fixing our makeup. You go on ahead.”

The jazzy brunette hissed, “And What do you think you are doing?”

“Like I said, fixing our makeup. Jeez, if you wanted to use the mirror, just say so!”

“What’s this about you being T-Bird’s ‘girlfriend’?”

“Oh, Scotty? We just hooked up. We’re going out after classes. Are you here to congratulate me?”

“Congratulate you?” She hissed, “For what? Sneaking up and stealing Scott?”

“ ‘Stealing’? How do you ‘steal’ somebody?”

The blonde pushed past the brunette and yelled, “I spent all of last year trying to get close to Scotty, and you just waltz in and sink your claws into him, the second that you lay eyes on him?”

“Yeah, that’s pretty much how it went down.”

“Who do you think you ARE?”

“Well, right now, I’m T-bird’s girlfriend.”

“What? No WAY! There is NO WAY that I’m gonna let you-”

“Ex-squeeze me, ‘Let’? Since when do we need permission from You to go out on a date?”

“Hey, I Earned-

“Oh, let me guess- you spent all of last year waltzing around, playing little Third Grade games, trying to get Scott to make the first move.”

IT WASN’T LIKE THAT!”

“Oh, yes it was, Widget.” The brunette purred. “You kept trying to impress T-bird with one pathetic little doo-hickey after another, like you could build a gizmo to get him to notice that you’re a girl!” Brunette struck a pose. “While _I_ never made any bones about that fact.”

“Oh Yeah, Sizzle, you kept parading one loser after another in front of him, hoping that he’d get jealous! Yeah, right, like THAT was gonna happen!”

“Oh, God!” I chortled, “Betty and Veronica! Pity that Scotty doesn’t have red hair!” I looked at the third one, the one with the glasses. “Okay, they’re Betty and Veronica- who are YOU supposed to be? Big Ethel?”

“_I_,” she grated out in a squeaky, high pitched voice, “am Scotty’s Best Friend!”

“Oh, so you’re Jughead.”

What did you call me?” She shrieked. Suddenly everything in the bathroom was shaking. At first, I thought that she might have some sort of vibration power, but she wasn’t shaking, and the ground wasn’t shaking. The basins were shaking, and the stalls and the sanitary napkin dispenser were shaking.

The blonde, Widget I think her handle was, spun around and grabbed ‘Jughead’ by the shoulders, “NO, Tesla! If you get angry and trash the girls’ room, Heartless will put you on Detention over at Freak House for a month! Do you want that?”

‘Tesla’ started to calm down.

“Okay,” I admitted, “The ‘Jughead’ crack was uncalled for. I apologize. But check this out- I straight out asked Scotty if he had a girlfriend, and he said ‘No’. Now, I don’t poach on other girls’ property. If Scotty has a girlfriend, and just doesn’t know it, that’s one thing. BUT, he can’t have THREE girlfriends without knowing it, that’s just plain ridiculous. So, exactly which one of you IS his girlfriend?”

Well, that really put the cat among the pigeons. They started yapping at each other. It was obviously an old and well-practiced squabble among them.

I caught Sakti’s eye and jerked my head at the door. Hopefully, we could sneak out while they were busy. Together, we edged toward the door.

But, just before we could get to it, the door slammed open. A tallish Hispanic looking girl with long coiling black hair cascading down her back was standing in the doorway. Her right eye ticked away in obviously barely restrained rage.

Oh My Gawd. ‘Girlfriend’ Number FOUR? How clueless IS this guy?

She glared at me, and I had the distinct impression of lots of power, barely contained. “She’s in there!” I said, jerking a thumb back over my shoulder.

She plowed past me with a growl.

As soon as the door closed, I grabbed Sakti’s hand and started pulling her out of the cafeteria. “What are you doing?”

“Getting the HELL out of here before those four get their act together enough to compare notes!”

“So, why are you dragging me? I’m not involved in this?”

“You were with me! Guilt by association!”

I saw the point click in her face. “Good Point! Let’s Go!” Together we hauled ass out of the building as the sounds of screaming and breaking porcelain erupted out of the girls’ room. As we hurriedly left the building, jeeps full of Campus Security in full riot gear pulled up.


After lunch, I was looking forward to the peace and quiet of the Introduction to Basic Mystic Concepts class. Sara gave me a wave from her seat, where her deskmate had this look that I normally associate with people who’ve found themselves in a cage with a sleeping lion. Nikki was sitting our usual desk, arranging her notes. “Yo, Roomie! I missed you at lunch!”

Nikki gave me a martyred half smile. “Oh, ‘Hard-Ass’ Haggerty kept me overtime with my Self- Defense tutorials. It seems that she doesn’t feel that she’s doing her job unless she makes me eat dirt at least twenty times.”

I laid a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “She’s goin’ at you pretty hard, huh?”

Nikki scrunched her face up in misery. “The worst part is, I keep getting this feeling that there’s something that I should be doing, that I dunno HOW to do!”

“Oh, Cheer up, Red! Hey, have you heard the latest about Hank? He’s chosen his ‘code name’. It’s LANCER!” I snickered and thrust my pelvis forward on my seat.

Nikki snickered back at me. “Well, it could have been worse- he could call himself Swordsman!”

In mid giggle, her eyes fell on my new bracelet. “Ooohhh what is THAT?” She reached out a finger and ran it down the bend of the bracelet caressingly.

“Oh this? Remember that friendship ring that Rip gave me? Well, I met this girl called ‘Silver’- and believe me, is she well named!- and she’s sort of covered with this sort of liquid silver gunk. Anyway, my ring got all caught up in her gunk when I shook hands with her, and now it’s too small for my finger. So, to make up for it, she just tore off some of the silver stuff, right then and there, and made this for me? Kewl, ain’t it?”

Nikki’s big violet eyes had popped wide open and never left the bracelet. She kept running her finger over it, fascinated. On a whim, I slowly waved my hand and forth. Nikki followed the movement with her eyes, like a charmed cobra.

“You’re getting sleepy, sleeeppeee…”

 “Oohhh…” she cooed, “Can I have that?”

“Why? I thought that you weren’t into jewelry!”

“But it’s so…” She just cooed again.

“But I just GOT it! And it was a present!”

Pleeeeze?”

I was searching for a nice way to say ‘MINE!’, when the teacher came in. Now, even at Whateley, Mrs. Chulkris, or ‘Earth Mother’, as she’s sometimes called, gets more than her fair share of second looks. She’s a large, rather heavyset woman with a round merry face, who looks like an ambulatory haystack. And I do mean that. She’s draped all over, from head to foot in vines and leaves and grass and flowers and stuff. And she’s not wearing it, it’s all growing out of her. What she wears under that canopy of green, I dunno, and I ain’t asking. Today, she was in full bloom, with lots of flowers all over the place.

It seems that back in the Sixties, ‘Earth Mother’ was a Counter-culture superheroine called ‘Flower Child’ (‘scuze me while I go get a barf bag), and she has kick-ass vegetation based powers. Somewhere along the line, she picked up a lot of different mystical concepts, and after she retired from the Super Scene, she was tapped to teach the various Magic courses.

Mrs. Chulkris read off attendance, and began today’s lesson, something about Ley Lines. I couldn’t pay that much attention, because Nikki kept running her finger over my bracelet. Finally, I snatched my wrist away.

Mrs. Chulkris stopped the lesson. “Is there a problem?”

“Yeah! Nikki keeps fondling my bling-bling!” From the hoots of derision, I could tell that I could have phrased that better.

The predictable response came from the head of the class. “Well, in that case, if this piece of ‘bling-bling’ is such a distraction, you’d best let me hold it for you, shouldn’t you?”

I shot Nikki a ‘this is all YOUR fault’ look, and walked to the front, taking the bracelet off my wrist as I went.

Mrs. Chulkris took the bracelet disinterestedly. That changed the instant that it touched her hand. The second that metal hit flesh, Mrs. Chulkris’ eyes popped open, and she took a long close look at it. “No! It can’t be!” She gave it a lick with her tongue, and then she concentrated and muttered something. A lick of violet flame danced around the rim of the bracelet.

Mrs. Chulkris’ jaw almost hit the floor. “Amazing!” Her eyes flitted back and forth between the bracelet and me. “Where did you GET this?”

“From a girl here in school.” I said, not quite sure of where this was going.

“And where did SHE get it?”

“Well, she sort of made it.”

“You’re telling me that a teenage girl is not only capable of smelting Mithril, but she makes it on a scale where she gives it away?”

Mithril? The name sounded vaguely familiar, and I narrowed it down to a passing reference in The Lord of the Rings, but I couldn’t nail it down exactly. “She called it ‘Maidens silver. And she’s sort of a special case.”

“What sort of ‘special case’?”

“You mean that you haven’t heard about her?”

Mrs. Chulkris looked at me like I was simple or something. “Do you have any idea of how many remarkable students there ARE at Whateley?”

“ah, Believe me, Miz C., Sakti kind of stands out, even at Whateley.”

“Well, then! Go get her!”

“But I dunno which class she’s in!”

“Then go to the Administration building, and ask for her.” Mrs. C. jotted something down on a scrap of paper. Then she looked at me. “What’s her real name?”

“Sakti.”

“Not her code-name, her real name?”

“That IS her real name; her code-name is ‘Silver’.”

“_oh_. Then go get this ‘Silver’, and bring her here. I have a few questions that I need to ask her.”

Well, never let it be said that I was too thick to appreciate a chance to goof off some. I lit out for the Admin, and from there to Kane Hall, where Admin said that Sakti was taking an Advanced Technologies course. Kane Hall has most of the usual Physical Sciences and Industrial Arts classes in the four stories that are above ground. But the Advanced Technologies Program, or the Workshop- as Bunny tells me it’s called- is underground. About Six stories under ground.

Even then, the elevator let out onto a catwalk that was a at least a story up from the floor. The Workshop was a long cavernous open chamber that was sectioned off into individual areas along the sides. There were large pieces of equipment that I assume were too large for the individual areas and had to be shared. Up on the ceiling were the kind of winches on rails that they use in automobile factories to move really heavy parts. I walked down the expansion grate stair to the floor and checked in at the desk. I showed the guy at the desk my slip. “Oh, Silver- yeah, she’s here. Booth #3, by the left foot of the Giant Robot.”

Yes, Giant Robot. This one was tall enough that its ‘head’ brushed against the ceiling, and three of the booths were set up near it. One was by the left foot, one between the legs, and one by the right foot. The Workshop was sort of a cross between a high school shop class and a Mad Scientist’s lab. There were signs posted saying:

‘ALL ISOTOPES MUST BE RETURNED AT THE END OF CLASS’,

‘NO SHOUTING ‘IT’S ALIVE!’ UNLESS IT IS ALIVE’,

‘TAKE ALL RANTS AND REVENGE SPEECHES OUTSIDE’,


and


‘CHECK YOUR DEATH RAYS AT THE DESK.

SAFETY IS EVERYONE'S BUSINESS’.

There were four kids in Booth Three, but they weren’t just by the left foot of the giant robot, they had a panel in the foot open and they were conducting some kind of check-up on what was inside. Or, more to the point, they were arguing loudly in very detailed Techno-babble. Apparently Silver wasn’t as unique as I’d thought- beside her was a tall girl who also had silver metal instead of hair and shiny metal hands that poked out from her greasy lab coat. Beside them was a guy who appeared to be standing on some sort of telescoping stilts. There was another guy, blonde, maybe seventeen, who wasn’t wearing the white lab coat that the others were, but a heavy greatcoat with lots of pieces of equipment that appeared to be part of the coat.

They didn’t seem to be coming to any consensus, so I cleared my throat and said melodramatically, “So, will Moose be able to play in the Big Game?”

They looked up from their project. “Chaka!” Silver said, “What are you doing here?”

The blonde guy in the coat cut her off, immediately getting WAY too close for comfort. “Oh , she undoubtedly has exquisite taste, and-”

The guy on the stilts reached out a long metallic arm, and pulled him back, giving me a little much needed space. “Back off, Maxx. She’s here for a reason.”

I held up Missuz Chulkris’ note. “Silver, Earth Mother wants to see you.”

“Earth Mother?”

“A.k.a. Missuz Chulkris, the Introduction to Basic Mystic Concepts class teacher. There’s something about that bracelet that you gave me, that she wants to talk to you about.”

The girl with the metallic hairpiece looked at me. “Chaka?” she said with a noticeable but not over-thick Australian accent. “Aren’t you one of those ‘Team Kimba’ girls who stopped those ninjas?”

“Yeah?” I wasn’t sure that I knew where this was heading.

“Do you think that you could arrange for us to get more access to those MCH units?”

“MCH units?”

“You know, that gadgetpack that the little one was carrying?”

“Oh! Oh, that’s what it’s called? Sorry, we just caught the idiots; the Faculty took what they had. I thought that they gave that thing back to the Yama Dojo.”

“Oh, they’re going to get around to it- eventually.”

“And speaking about ‘eventually’,” I hedged, “I DO have to get her over to Intro Basic Mystic before class is over.”

“Oh, but before you go,” ‘Max’ purred in an European accent that I couldn’t peg, “allow me to introduce myself, valiant lady. _I_ am Dynamaxx.”

I blinked. “Dynamax? Isn’t that the name of an electronics company?”

“Not quite.” He said sourly, “They spell it with ONE ‘X’, I spell it with TWO.” He leaned forward and leered, “Sometimes, I spell it with three!”

The guy with the stilts pulled ‘Maxx’ back again. “And on that note, I am Rack, you know Silver, and the Cyberpunk Illustrated centerfold girl is SheBot. SheBot thinks that we can use some of the Variable Interface stuff to get Tiny Tim here to balance well enough to walk, but I think that you can’t get around the fundamentals of Physics-”

That started yet another argument. I managed to pull Silver out of it, and we were gone before the others noticed. As we got into the elevator, I asked Silver, “What’s this ‘Dynamaxx’s problem?”

“Oh, he’s just a firm believer in the Law of Averages.”

“Oh, you mean that the figures that if he keeps pitching, eventually someone will catch?”

“Yes, and he’s right often enough that he keeps at it.”

“So, if he keeps at it and connects, then he doesn’t feel obliged to keep going after the same girls when it doesn’t?”

“No, Max may think that he’s God’s gift to women, but he’s not that big a pest.”

We rode up the elevator for a bit, until I couldn’t hold it anymore. “So, is this ‘SheBot a relative? Some kind of trait that I haven’t heard of yet?”

“No, she really is a cyborg.”

“ ‘I was a teenage cyborg’? Sounds like a bad 1950’s horror flick. What’s a cyborg doing at Whateley?”

“Oh, she’s a mutant as well. She was born with stunted limbs, like those children who took Thalidomide. When she was a little younger, her parents agreed to let her test out an experimental prosthetic. She took to it better than anyone had any right to expect, or so she tells me. Eventually, they figured out that she’s some sort of Energizer and Gadgeteer. By that time, they’d slapped all of that- or at least its predecessors- and reinforced her spine and hips, and the whole nine yards.” Then the elevator opened out into the ground floor of Kane Hall. “So, what does this ‘Earth Mother’ want with me?”

“Well, I showed her the bracelet that you made for me, and she got very excited. Past that, I’m as interested as you are.”

There were only ten minutes left in the class by the time that we got there. I opened the door and said, “Missuz Chulkris? You wanted to speak to Silver?”

“Oh yes. Now, dear, exactly where-” then Mrs. Chulkris actually SAW Silver. Her jaw dropped. “Oh. My. God.”

I looked around the classroom. Most of the other kids had ‘well, you don’t see that every day’ expressions. But four of them, including Nikki and Sara, had this expression, like they were starving and a walking T-bone steak just came in the door.

“Give ‘em the whole treatment,” I suggested. Silver let her ‘dermis’ cover her hands and face.

Mrs. Chulkris numbly walked over and did the mumbo-jumbo that she’d done before. Suddenly, Silver was surrounded in an inferno of pastel purple flame, which- Thank God- didn’t set her clothes on fire. Mrs. Chulkris plopped down into her chair, which gave loud creaks of protest. “How- how- how did this happen?”

Apparently, Silver had heard this question before. A lot. She just took a deep martyred sigh and said, “It just happened. I just produce this stuff, just as you would produce a heavy sweat on a hot day. Nobody knows why. I mean, there isn’t enough silver in what I eat to account for it.”

Earth Mother gave a derisive snort. “Silver? You think what’s covering you is silver?”

“Oh, I know that it’s some kind of alloy, but silver is the main ingredient.”

Mrs. Chulkris noted the intense interest that the class was showing- especially Nikki and Sara, who were practically drooling- and gave a martyred sigh. “I know that I’m not going to get any peace until you all find out, and I don’t want to waste any time after class. So, Class, the metal that this young lady seems to be dipped in, is not a naturally, or even artificially, created alloy. It is- normally- the product of years, even decades of Alchemical questing. It is known by many names. In the West, it is known as Hermargent, Lunargent, Moonsilver, or Mithril for those of you reading Tolkien.”

“In India, they called it ‘Maiden’s Silver’.” Sakti cut in.

“ “Maiden’s Silver’?” Earth Mother echoed, “I do remember some noise from Asia about a new source called that…” She cocked an eyebrow at Silver. “You?”

Silver nodded briskly.

“At any rate, this metal is the penultimate Alchemical metal.”

A kid at the back raised a hand. “Penultimate? Then what’s the Ultimate Alchemical metal?”

“A pale yellow metal named Orichalcum. Now Moonsilver is very attuned to magical energies, especially spiritual ones. It acts as a wonderful focus for magical energies and spells, and it’s a favorite material for enchanted items. Though, given the difficulty in processing it, Moonsilver is usually only used for the filling for inlays in enchantments. While it acts as a ‘lens’ of sorts for most spirits, it’s rumored to affect Lycanthropes and such, as normal silver does, only twenty times worse.”

Another hand rose. “How valuable is this stuff?”

“Well, you have to understand that this stuff isn’t smelted on an industrial base. Alchemy is a very personal process, and it really doesn’t take to Mass Production. Those who smelt Moonsilver don’t sell it in bulk. Given the current supply and demand for verifiably pure Moonsilver, I’d say that this-” she held up my bracelet, “-is worth in the neighborhood of $30,000 American.” Thirty Grand. For something that weighed maybe nine ounces. You could hear the cash registers going off in people’s heads.

Mrs. Chulkris steered us off that course. “Now, Sakti, I’m going to insist that you change one of your courses to Introduction to Mystic Concepts.” 

“Why? I’m not really that interested. I’m a lot more interested in High Tech.”

“Well, I’m afraid that it’s one of those ‘for your own good’ things. I know, you hate hearing that, but it’s true. If you produce Moonsilver naturally, then I’m afraid that whatever your classification was, is going to have to be changed. Apparently, you’re a Mage, with a specialization in Alchemy. Somehow, you naturally smelt Moonsilver out of metallic inerts in your body and deposit it through your skin. A power like that is going to attract attention, Honey, beyond the value of the metal that you produce; Magical attention. You’re going to have to know the rules, because odds are that people are going to try and drag you into the game, whether you want to or not.”

Then she faced the class with a ‘don’t mess with me’ look. “And just so that everyone understands, the Academy has rules about students providing unique or extremely valuable services. We will sit down, establish a median value for Moonsilver, and Whateley will become the broker for the Moonsilver that Sakti creates. We will make sure that she gets a fair price for it, and that she’s not exploited to create greater amounts of it. If any of you want to buy some ‘Maiden’s Silver’, you’ll have to go through Administration, and not harass Sakti here for it.”

I cleared my throat for effect.

“Yes, Chaka?”

“Well, as you just pointed out, that bracelet is worth roughly the cost of a new car. And Silver already gave it to me, so it’s mine.”

“Whateley policy-”

”That bracelet was given to me before that policy was applied. It’s already my property.” I raised an eyebrow. “Or is it just that you don’t want to let go of it?”

Mrs. Chulkris looked down guiltily at her hands, which were absently fondling the bracelet. With a wry grimace, she handed the bracelet over to me.

But just as the bracelet passed from her hand to mine, one of Sara’s tentacles whipped out, snagged the bracelet and pulled it from our hands.

“HEY! That’s MINE!”

Sara looked down at the bracelet with shock on her face. “I didn’t do that! I mean, I did, but I didn’t mean to! It just--” She started pick at the tendrils, which had completely wrapped themselves around the bracelet. “Just a minute—c’mon, c’,mon! Really, I had no intention -- will you come—ooooo…” Sara’s face suddenly went blank, and her eyes popped wide open.

“MISS WAITE!” Mrs. Chulkris snapped, “You have Miss Chandler’s private property!” 

Sara snapped out of it. “Oh. Right. Right. Well! It seems to be coming undone…” She unwrapped herself from the bracelet and handed it to me.

I took the bracelet. There were pits and jagged holes throughout the bracelet, as though mice had been nibbling at it. “You ATE my bracelet?”

Sara gave me a wide apologetic grin. “Well, if it means anything to you, it was delicious!

“It had better damn well be! This nosh cost two grand! That’s a pretty damn expensive snack!” I looked at the ruined bracelet. I wouldn’t be quite so upset, except for the fact that the pits and holes seemed to forming patterns that were really giving me the creeps.

Mrs. Chulkris heaved a loud sigh. “One produces a priceless mystic commodity effortlessly, and another one EATS it- Lords of Light, I knew this job was going to be weird, but-”

Silver took the bracelet from my hand, ran her hand over it, and the holes and pits were filled. But somehow there was a difference in the color and quality of the metal; you could still see the patterns, which had changed, and now looked like some weird sort of writing. “ah, Thanks, Sakti.”

“It was a gift, which I gave you in good faith. And if that’s worth thirty thousand dollars, I can afford to be generous now!” Then Sakti gave a withering look at Nikki, who was running a covetous hand over Sakti’s hair.

“ah, Nikki- I think that Silver needs a little personal space.” At the same time, I slipped my bracelet into my bookbag; no sense tempting fate.

At the end of class, I escorted Silver to her next class; no sense giving those kids in class an opportunity to harass her. Nikki was definitely showing signs of Mithril fever. While I don’t think that Nikki would do anything really wrong, I do remember reading somewhere that Elves and Dwarves have a real thing for Mithril.

Come to think of it, if there are Elves, are the Dwarves? Giants? Orcs? I think that I can rule out Hobbits.

After I dropped Silver off at her Freshman English *shudder!* class, I kicked in the afterburners to get to Intro to Criminology and Police Procedures. Hey, it’s my favorite class! The teacher, Inspector Kwan, used to be a detective for the Hong Kong Police Department, back before Hong Kong’s lease expired. He didn’t exactly get along with the Mainland government- problems with well-connected Triads- so he took early retirement. But the pension for a Police Inspector isn’t great, especially when you take early retirement, so he took this job at Whateley. He’s great. He has a great way of combining the straight shit, with great riddles and some kickass reminisces. Being in his class was like being taken behind the scenes in that Uber-cool detective/ spy/ crime drama movie that you’ve always had running in the back of your mind, while you were watching some Hollywood POS.

And then, Intro Criminology was over, and I had to go to *yuck* Freshman English.

And, finally, classes were over. I jetted back to Poe, and probably broke every existing speed limit- and maybe the Sound Barrier- getting there.

As I ran up the front stair, I almost plowed right into Jade and Tennyo. “Toni! Where are you going in such a hurry?”

“Can’t stop! Got a date!”

“Date?” I heard Jade call after me, “When did you get a date?”

“AskshankI’minahurrygotadate!” And I was down the hall.

Okay, the next bit was largely my own fault. I changed out of the uniform, and was wasting the time that I saved, trying to decide whether to go with the miniskirt or the leather trousers. There was a knocking at the door. “Who is it?”

“Hey, Toni, it’s me, Rip!”

“Sorry, can’t talk,” I said, brain set on ‘accessorize’, not ‘common sense’, “I have to get ready for a date!”

“_date?_” came from behind the door, sounding very small. There was a rushing sound that I barely paid any attention to, and then the door burst open. Rip was standing there, her face a mask of barely restrained rage, and there was a whirlpool of water churning around her. Where the water came from, I have _no_ idea. “You have a DATE?” she screeched.

Now, I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but even _I_ could tell that everything was not copastetic.

She trudged into the room. “YOU HAVE A DATE!?

“ah- Yeah, I just met a guy in the cafet-”

“YOU HAVE A DATE WITH A GUY?!”

“Hey, I thought-” Apparently, I thought wrong, ‘cause Rip gave out a screech like a dying eagle and threw this gignormous wave of water at me. I threw myself on the floor and let the water wash over me. Luckily, I was standing in front of the window that’s between Nikki’s and my beds, and that window was open. The wave went through the window, and didn’t do that much damage. That is, unless you count a trashed nightstand, clock-radio and a bunch of my school-books. Then, luckily, there was a sound of panicked shrieks outside the window, which snapped Rip out of the berserk that she was in.

Curiosity winning out over Dyke Drama, Rip and I poked our heads out the window. Guided by the sound of furious cursing, we saw two girls up in a tree that was about ten feet away in a direct line from the window. There was a large cannon-looking doohickey that was clamped to one of the major branches, and a sopping wet blonde in denim cut-offs was dangling from the grips. As you might have guessed, it was that girl from Lunch, Widget, which would probably have made the girl who was gummed up in the higher branches in this really nasty looking pale purple mucus-y stuff her buddy ‘Tesla’.

I called out to her, “Oh, Excuse me? Widget, is it?” She cursed even louder. “What are you doing up in that tree?”

“Trying to get down, without breaking my legs!” she snarled back.

“Hey, not to worry, Blondie! Security has that tree monitored, just in case any boys decide to try and use it as a peeping platform.”

At the sound of this, Tesla stopped struggling in the goop, and concentrated in the general direction of the gun. The gun began to vibrate. “Tesla!” Widget screamed, “No!”

Tesla must have ignored her, because the branches in the tree, began to bend, bringing Tesla and the gun closer. But, in the process, something snapped, drenching Widget in an extra big glob of purple mucus. Tesla magnetically pulled the gun off of the branch and both of them, covered from head to toe in goop, twigs and leaves, rode the gun off over the hill.

Rip looked at me. “Does Security really monitor that tree?”

“Hellifiknow- but it couldn’t hurt to spread that rumor around, now could it?”

“Now, what were we talking about?”

“You were helping me pick out an outfit for my first date!”

“WHAT? I was NOT!”

“Hey, y’can’t blame me for tryin’.”

“And what IS this about you going out with some boy?”

“Rip, on our first day here, you specifically said that you understood that I was making up my mind about where my head was at. As I remember it- and remember, I have a photographic memory- you said *ahem!* ‘If you decide that beefcake is your meat, I can cope’.”

“That was before!”

“Before what?”

“Good Lord, what are you children up to NOW?” Rip and I turned to find Belle standing in the doorway, testing the soggy carpet with her toe. “Riptide, dear, if you keep sloshing about everywhere without drying things up after yourself, they are going to slap you with a replacements bill that would bankrupt the State of California! And what are you all worked up over THIS time?”

Rip stuck out a finger that almost poked out my eye. “She’s double-timing me with a guy!”

I pulled myself up as straight with righteous indignation. “I am exploring both sides of my sexuality.” I said with as much dignity as I could screw up. “I have a date with a boy from Emerson, and Rip is pitching a hissie.”

“Well, I should think so!” Belle countered,  “Aren’t you two sort of an item?”

“Well, there was nothing in our arrangement that said that I couldn’t date boys?”

“eh, Are you sure that you even want to?” Belle asked.

“Hey, I don’t know, one way or the other!” I yelled. “That’s sort of the point here! It’s not like you can take a Cosmo quiz to find out exactly who pushes your buttons! You gotta go out there and experiment.”

“Experiment…” Rip said sourly.

“I thought that you said that you were cool with it!”

“I only said that because I figgered that you’d probably throw up the first time that a boy tried to shove his tongue down your throat!”

“And that may just happen! I don’t know!” I put my hands on Rip’s shoulders and looked her squarely in the eyes. “Rip, do you really want me to tell this poor boy, who is looking forward to his first date, that I couldn’t go out with him because my girlfriend wouldn’t let me?”

Rip screwed up her face like she was trying to swallow lima beans. “Nnnooo….”

I pulled her into a big hug. “You’re the best! If it means anything to you, you’re my only girlfriend!”

“Don’t push your luck, bozo.”

“Do you want to help me pick an outfit?”

“You’re pushing.”


I went with the black miniskirt, and added a white sleeveless turtleneck, a denim jacket that matched the skirt, a pair of large white plastic disk earrings, and a pair of white vinyl boots. I looked in the mirror and checked myself out.

Oh Yeah, Mothers, lock up your sons, ‘cause Chaka is on the prowl!

I’d arranged to meet T-bird in front of the statue of Noah Whateley. But, when I got there, I realized that I’d hurried so much that I beat Scotty there. And, let’s face it, the girl does NOT wait for the boy. It’s against Natural Law.

So, I was standing there around the corner of Kirby Hall from the Quad, waiting for T-bird to show up, so that I could come along just after he got there. Then he could complain about girls always being late, and it would be like a normal date. I was sneaking a look around the corner, when I heard this too-deep, too-smooth, too-Barry-White-to-be-real voice. “Well, what are you waiting for, Gorgeous? I’m here!”

I felt a stab of dread, afraid on one hand that Scotty had spotted me in my little stratagem, and worried on the other that he might think that that kind of posturing was cool. I turned to face him, and instead of T-Bird, I was looking up into the smiling- no make that smirking- face of a tall African-American guy. He was tall, he was buff, he was good-looking, and there was something definitely not right about him. It took me a second, but I got it: He was gorgeous, and he knew it. Worse, he knew it, and he was vain. Now, a guy who is really good looking can be forgiven that, if he doesn’t know it, like Scotty does. He can be excused, if he knows it but doesn’t make anything of it. But when a guy is gorgeous, knows it, and, and makes a big deal of it, that is just --- yyeeerrrggg…

This guy was gorgeous, knew it, and was tripping on himself like you wouldn’t believe. He had long dreadlocks and you just knew that he was waiting for his beard to come in, so that he could grow one of those oh-so-groovy goatees to go with it. He was lounging there in an unbleached linen shirt, the kind that laces up the front, so that he can show off his killer pecs, and he was sort of waiting for me to melt in the presence of his masculine glory. One of my brother Vince’s ‘posse’ is like this. I remembered from conversations that I hadn’t been able to avoid listening in on, that guys like this tend to regard the girls they date as some sort of fashion accessory. They choose who they going to date that night, by how well the girl accessorizes with what they’re wearing.

He leaned over and purred in his faux Barry White voice, “Hey, I have been wanting to catch up with you for weeks, Girl! And here you are, looking so fine...” He almost licked his chops, right then and there. Is this how Little Red Riding Hood felt?

“Well, you’re one up on me, Bud, ‘cause I don’t remember seeing you anywhere around campus.”

“Oh, ah, I’ve been around. Just been waiting for the right moment.”

“Well then, you just keep on waiting, cuz this ain’t the right moment. I got a date, and I’m waiting for him to show up.”

“A date? With who?”

“And what business is that of yours?” First that Dynamaxx bozo, and now this guy- does my cologne contain some sort of asshole attracting pheromone?

I sneaked a peek around the corner, and to my immense relief, Scotty was there, looking a trifle flushed. Omigawd, he had flowers! I’ve always wanted to get flowers from a boy! “Whoops, my date just showed up!” And I was out of there.

I skittered up to the statue of Noah as quickly as the heels on my boots would allow. “oh, Scotty! I’m Late! I’m sorry, were you waiting long?” *fluttering of eyelashes, look of dewy innocence*

He smiled at me in that ‘gee, I’m lucky to be with a girl as cute as you’ way that is SO much better than what the bozo around the corner was putting out. “ah, No, I just got here myself.” He stuck out the bunch of violets awkwardly. “I ,ah, picked up some flowers for you.” He blushed and grinned embarrassed, “Pretty corny, hunh?”

“Violets!” I gasped, giving him a forty thousand Watt smile of appreciation. “How Sweet!” Cute, sweet, considerate- wrap this one up, Saleslady, he’s MINE!

“I, ah, understand that there’s some sort of language of flowers, that when you give someone a certain kind of flower, it means somethin’, but I don’t really know what it is, so if violets means anythin’ special-”

I cut him off in mid-blither, “All they mean to me is that you really know how to treat a young lady, Kind Sir!” I took a deep sniff of the flowers, and looked up at him from the blossoms. Okay, it was corny, but consider my audience.

I slipped my arm through his and allowed him to guide me, him being an experienced sophomore, and me being a sweet, naïve little freshman. *fluttering of eyelashes, look of dewy innocence*

He took me to ‘the Bistro’, which is just a sort of appendage to the Crystal Dome, a bunch of bistro tables set outside the dome, with an order window. It was apparently an after school place to kick back. The fare was soft drinks, snacks, hot dogs and like that. Scotty offered to pay (GOD, I love being the girl in the dating equation!), and I ordered a demure little sundae (sugar-free with karob syrup), while Scotty ordered one of those overdone confections with the works thrown on (lucky SOB!).

First dates are always awkward, but fortunately we had nice neutral topics to start us off: our powers, the problems they caused, how we first knew that we were mutants, how our families reacted, our first impressions of Whateley, our cottages, and like all that. I told him (with tactful omissions) about Team Kimba, and he told me about his team, which was known simply as ‘Barricade’. It seems that his best bud on his team was a girl energizer called ‘Tesla’. *whoops*

“So, ah, this ‘Tesla’- is she cute?”

“Well, I guess so.” 

“Does she have a boyfriend?”

“I don’t think that she’s really interested in anyone right now.” Bubba, could _I_ fill you in a few things!

“Well, maybe she’s just a little shy… Maybe I could fix her up with one of the guys from Poe!”

“What’s this? You haven’t even met her, and already you’re playing matchmaker?”

“Well, one things that I’ve learned from my older sister Cindy, is that unattached females are dangerous to have around a new boyfriend.”

Before we could go any further, the tall Latina that I’d seen storming into the Girls’ Room at lunch, just before Security showed up in their Riot Gear, marched up. She jabbed a finger in our direction and roared, “You! You got me a Week of Detention!”

Scotty gave her a pained look. “What are you talking about, Az? I haven’t seen you in DAYS?”

“Not YOU, pendejo! HER!” She jabbed her finger at me.

“Don’t look at _me_,” I said calmly, “I only saw her once, in passing as I was coming out of the Powder Room, today after Lunch. What could _I_ have done, to get her any Detention?”

The tall girl, ‘Az’, lurched forward, her mouth open as if to say something. Then, like Daffy Duck in those cartoons, she stopped before she could say anything, her mouth still open, closed her mouth with an act of pure will, dropped her hand and turned to leave.

“oh-KAY, whowasthat?” I asked.

“Oh, THAT was Aztecka, a Whitman girl who seems to have it in for me. She was all over my case last year, and it seems that she’s gonna be all over my case this year.” Oh, she doesn’t want to be all over your case, Scotty Hon- she just wants to be all over YOU.

“Any idea of what’s got her panties in a bunch?”

“Not a clue.” Scott Emerson, folks, the perfect straight-man.

“So, any more women in your life that I should know about?” I asked coquettishly

Before Scotty could answer, there was another interruption. “Why Scotty!” an familiar voice blared, “What are YOU doing here?” There, standing beside a large- and not terribly bright looking- boy, was the jazzy brunette who had apparently somehow escaped getting Detention along with Aztecka. She was wearing a dress that looked more like an abbreviated coat of paint.

“Well, here’s one of the answers, Toni. Chaka, this is Sizzle, a good friend of mine. And beside her is…?”

“Oh THIS?” Sizzle leaned flirtatiously against the BDJ, “This is Bronco. Say hello, Bronco.”

“ah, Hello.” To give him his due, I don’t think that Bronco was as much stupid, as not really understanding what he’d been dragged into by this really cute girl. Poor Sap.

“ah, Hello.” T-Bird returned. “Sizzle, Bronco, this is Chaka.”

I leaned up against Scotty. “He’s my new boyfriend.” I said in a husky little whisper. Sizzle’s dark green eyes narrowed, ever so slightly.

“Care to join us?” Scotty offered.

Bronco started to say something, but Sizzle cut him off. “Oh, no need to be polite, T-Bird. You two have your little date, and Bronco and I will have ours.” With that, she sort of lead Bronco off to another table.

“Another friend?”

“Yeah, but don’t you worry- Sizzle could never stay with one guy long enough to be a real threat to anyone.”

Scotty and I made polite chit-chat about this and that, but I could feel Sizzle’s hostile eyes on the back of my neck. And, no that’s not just a turn of phrase. When someone is focusing on something intently, they project their will in a way at that target. I knew that someone was watching me very closely, I knew that it was Sizzle. I decided that the most effective way to flip her off would be just to ignore her, so I dug into my sundae, and got on with my date.

But just as I was getting my sundae to my lips, that feeling on the back of my neck changed, and I felt a high-velocity slap upside the back of my head. Not hard enough to hurt or anything, just enough to jerk my head forward and smear me with the ice cream.

Oh, Sizzle is going to play it THAT way, is she?

I tried another spoonful, and she came back for seconds, almost jerking my nose in the ice cream. But I had her timing down now. “Gee, Scotty, that whatever it’s called looks good! Could I have just a teeny little dab?”

Scotty indulgently allowed me a heaping spoonful. And as I was putting the spoon in, I felt the change in Sizzle’s gaze that I’d senses the first two times. Using my sense of my surroundings that’s equal parts my Ki powers and a lot of very effective drilling by Ito-sensei, I flipped a dab of ice cream right into Sizzle’s path. “Oh! I’d better get that before someone-”

“ACK!” *Crash!*

“-slips on it.”

Bronco, T-Bird, a few other students and I helped untangle Sizzle from the snarl of bistro tables and chairs, and then sent her to her cottage to get over it. She gave me a most satisfyingly shaken look as she teetered off.

We finished off our ice cream, and Scotty decided to show me some of the sights of Whateley. He decided to show me his ‘thinkin’ place’, which was off in the woods. I allowed myself a few minutes of hope, but it occurred to me that Scotty just wasn’t the type to take me to the local ‘Inspiration Point’ on the first date; he really was going to show me his ‘thinkin’ place’. Drat the luck.

We were rounding Schuster Hall arm in arm, when someone stuck himself in our path. The bozo with the dreadlocks sort of planted himself in front of us, fists on his hips. “WHAT? You mean that you blew off a chance to be with ME for this slice of whitebread?”

“Mace,” Scott sighed, “what do you think you are doing?”

“What do _I_ think I’m doing? What do YOU think you’re doing?”

“Well,” I said, as I leaned into Scotty again, “I was under the impression that we were having a nice little ‘getting to know you’ date. Apparently, I was mistaken.”

“Chaka, do you know Mace?”

“I sort of ran into him, just on my way to meet you.”

“Yeah, and you shined me on that you had a real date!”

“What do you call this?”

“I call it a lot of things, most of all, suckin’ up to Whitey-”

I turned to Scotty and said, “Do you have a quarter?”

“Why?”

“We’ll toss it. Heads, you get to pound him, ‘cause it’s a guy thing; Tails, I get to pound him, ‘cause it’s a Black thing.”

“Whoa!” Mace interrupted me, “Yer taking a lot on faith, little miss Oh-Ree-”

I interrupted him saying the ‘O’ word with my foot. It was so fast, that anyone who might have been watching would have seen him suddenly shut his jaw with a loud *clack!*, cant his head backwards as far as it could go, do a backwards flip, and land on his face with an “-Ohhh…” that may or may not have been finishing his offensive word.

“You didn’t have to do that.” Scott said, worriedly.

“Oh, yes I did.” I replied as I checked my boot. “When an asshole calls you an ‘Oreo’, you gotta put him down quick, or he’ll think that you’re a pushover. If I let him get away with it, he’d only keep talking trash until something did happen.”

“You could have just ignored him.”

“Been there, done that, learned better. They only think that you’re a wuss, and they can amuse themselves by ragging you halfway to death.”

“What if he lodges a complaint with the Administration?”

“First of all, he doesn’t know which one of us popped him. He literally never saw it coming. You can honestly say that you didn’t do anything to him, and I can say that I never laid a hand on him. Besides, do you honestly think that a guy with his ego is gonna go around whining that he got one-punched by a girl?”

“No, the other Tigers would never let him live it down.”

“The Tigers?”

“They’re sort of a Martial Arts clique around here.”

“Oh, right, right- I remember them from the dojo when I faced off against Montana.” 

“By the way- how did you do that?”

“Beat Montana? Well, I noticed-”

“No, I meant, how did you clock Mace like that?”

“You make it sound hard.”

“It IS! He’s a Paragon!”

“A Paragon? Hardly! From what little I’ve seen of him, I’d say that he has to really work at it, in order to rise to the level of sleazebag!”

He gave a deep sigh, “No, Toni- a ‘Paragon’ is an ESPer specialization. A ‘Paragon’ knows intuitively how to do anything very well. Mace is very tough on the mat, because even without realizing it, he knows exactly what you’re gonna do, how you’re gonna do it, and the all technical details. AND he knows the perfect countermove.”

“Yeah, I can see how that could be pretty hard to beat.”

“SO, how DID you clock him like that?”

“Well, the only thing that I can think of, is that he was focusing on his mouth, rather than his moves. Come to think of it, his ‘Paragon’ power must not cover interpersonal stuff, ‘cause his come-on to me was strictly Jerk 101. And if that’s so, then he may have been skating on his gimmick more than his skill.” I looked down. “Damn. I think that I knocked my boot heel loose.”

Scotty offered me a helping hand to hobble over to the commissary, where I bought some super-glue for the heel. Not that I didn’t enjoy having his arm wrapped around me. From there, he helped me over to one of the benches, where I could fix my heel.

As we waited for the glue to dry, I asked Scotty, “So, howcum a good-lookin’ guy like you doesn’t have a swarm of girls buzzin’ around him?”

He gave a rueful laugh. “Ah, heck, I dunno- I guess I’m just not the kinda guy that girls go for.”

I leaned against him, “Oh, _I_ wouldn’t say that!”

{heh} “I mean, girls go for guys with that whole ‘bad boy’ thing, the kind who are dangerous and all that. Me? I worry about whether I’m doin’ the right thing all the time. Girls don’t want a goody-goody spoilin’ their fun all the time.”

I gave him my best ‘oh, you don’t know how wonderful you really are’ smile. “Maybe. But believe me, some of use know better.” I leaned closer, getting ready to {ahem!} ‘experiment’ with that whole ‘prolonged contact’ thing.

Hey, it’s an important issue, and warrants extensive research!

I had my face an inch away from Scotty’s and I was just about to initiate ‘extensive research’, when he pulled away. “Damn!” he said.

“What’s the matter?”

“Oh, it’s not you! It’s just that something popped up, and I- don’t go anywhere? I’ll be right back!”

There was a crackle of electricity, and Scotty flew off and went around the corner of Kane Hall.

“What IS it?” I asked the air, “Did I come on too strong? Or is it my breath?”

“Oh, it’s your breath!” giggled a voice just next to me. I hadn’t noticed anyone come up. I turned my head, and my eyes damn near popped right out of my head.

Sitting next to me, scarfing cereal out of a big bowl with a spoon, was a tiger. Not a real tiger, but a cartoon-style anthropomorphic tiger. It managed to skirt copyright infringement with no less than three franchises, blending Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger with Disney’s Tigger, and Hobbes, from the old comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. It stood about three feet tall or so, though this was hard to judge since it was sitting on the bench, its padded feet poking out in the air. Around it’s neck was a red kerchief.

“what… are.. YOU…?” I asked, agog.

“Aw, what’sa matta? Were you gonna get all- ” it suddenly raised its voice to a near shout- “KISSY FACE?” Then it puckered its furry lips and made loud smoochie noises.

“HEY!” I objected loudly.

It made a gurgling growl, and laughed, “ooohhh... You gonna get all snoggy with the big studmuffin?”

“Not so loud!”

“OH!” it yelled, “YOU GONNA CHOW DOWN ON SOME BEEFCAKE? THAT’S G-R-R-R-R-REAT!””

I didn’t have the slightest idea of what this thing was, or what it was about, but I’d had enough. I whipped out with my hand to squash it, but it hopped out of the way of my hand and onto the top of my head. I felt velvety paws do a Charleston on my head, and heard the stupid impossibility giggle and shout, ‘Oh, Yeah! Hot Stuff!”

I snatched at it, but the silly tiger hopped down, and grabbed the boot from where it was laying on the bench to let the super-glue dry. It took the boot in its stubby little arms and went off, bouncing on its tail like a pogo stick. It bounced off with a hooting giggle, heading into a copse of trees, and bounced up into the branches of a tall tree. I started after it, falling on my face at first, until I got used to running with one foot in a high-heeled boot and the other bare- which is harder than it sounds.

I got to the tree, and started skinning up it with a growl of outrage. I was just at the lower branches, when an orange-and-black striped arm thrust down with a bowl of milk and cereal, ramming the bowl into my face. *Sploosh!*

Not really stunned, more just utterly croggled, I fell out of the tree, flat on my back, and had the wind knocked out of me.

I was laying on my back, sweeping the little tweeting birds out of my head, when Scotty came back and found me. “Toni! What happened?”

“A tiger…” I murmured groggily, “grabbed… my… boot…”

“A Tiger? Which one? Mace? N’Dizi? Spinner?”

“What?”

“You said that one of the Tigers grabbed your boot.”

“Oh! You meant one of the Tigers clique. No, I meant a real tiger- or at least a cartoon tiger-” then I realized that T-Bird was looking at me like I’d lost my mind. “What? Didn’t you see it?”

“Toni, I just got back; I didn’t see anything.”

“Scotty, I’m telling you, something that looked like a little three-foot tall talking cartoon tiger grabbed my boot, ran up into that tree and threw a bowl of cereal in my face!” Then, I suddenly realized that my face was bone dry, and even my makeup wasn’t mussed. “Scotty, I know what it sounds like, but it really happened!”

T-Bird gave me an uncertain look, and lifted up into the boughs of the tree. He came back down with my boot. He looked at it as though it proved something, he just wasn’t sure what, and handed it to me.

I checked the boot. It was still in good condition, and the glue on the heel had set. I pulled the boot on, and we returned to the bench. “Honest, Scotty, I dunno WHAT it was, but there WAS something.” A change of topic seemed strategic. “By the way, why did you go running off like that?”

“Oh, I thought that I saw something.  I thought that I saw- oh, never mind, it was nothing.”

“Oh well, where were we before the insanity started?”

T-Bird chewed on it for a bit. “As I remember, we were discussing why I wasn’t more popular with girls.”

I gave Scott a broad feline grin. “Oh, no we weren’t.” I leaned forward, to pick up where we’d been when we were so rudely interrupted.

“Hey, SCOTT!” a high pitched, slightly whiney voice shouted.

We broke out of our incipient lip-lock to face the source of the voice. The girl that I’d last seen flying off on top of Widget’s goop-cannon, was trotting towards us.

“Oh, Lord, what now?” I snarled.

“Hey, Louise!” Scotty waved at the girl that I knew as ‘Tesla’. “C’mere! There’s someone I want you to meet!” Oh Yeah, I guess that she wasn’t just gassing when she said that she was Scotty’s best friend. I guess that I can’t just shine her- or most likely, Widget- on or make her look stupid. You don’t trash your boyfriend’s buds- never make a guy choose between you and his buds; either he’ll choose his buds, or he’ll resent you for making him make the choice.

Tesla came loping up, and the first thing that I noticed was that she stank! The smell got there five seconds before she did. “Pfew! Jeez, Louise, what did you do, fall in a cesspool?”

{Heh} “Sorta.” She came back, rather shamefacedly. “One’a Widget’s gadgets sort of backfired on us.” I carefully looked; yes, she’d changed her clothes, and her hair was wet, so I guessed that she’d taken a good long shower. Still, I could see little bits of gunk still in her hair. My guess is that the gunk that Widget had come up with contained some sort of chemical that was designed to permeate the skin and/or the hair, and reek for as long as possible. Y’know, if they hadn’t planned on dumping that stuff on ME, I’d feel sorry for them?

Scotty waved the smell away from his nose. “aaahh.. anyway, Lou, this is Chaka. We’re, ah, sort of, y’know, going out.” Louise gave me a smile and ‘pleased to meet you’ that didn’t fool me in the least. “Toni, this is Louise, a.k.a. ‘Tesla’. She’s on my team and-”

“And, more to the point, your very best friend.” I finished for him.

“Yeah! How’d you guess?”

“Only a true friend would expect to get this close, smelling like that.”

“yeah, it is pretty foul,” Louise agreed, “but you should try it from this side. Anyway, Scotty, I hate to do this to you while you’re on a first date, but there’s something that you really wanna see-”

“Is it-” T-Bird leaned in and whispered something intently. Tesla gave him a flickering ‘hunh?’ look that I just barely caught and he missed altogether. But regardless, she nodded tentatively.

Scotty broke off. “I hate to keep doing this to you, but there’s something going on, and I gotta check it out. Hey, it won’t take more than a few minutes. If I come back in, say five minutes, will you still be here?”

I shot a nasty glare at Tesla. I AM going to get you for this, bitch. Then I smiled up at Scotty. “Well, sure! If it’s something that you gotta take care of, take care of it! eh, maybe I should come along?”

“ah, No, if this is what I think it is, then I’ll have to keep it as simple as possible. And you being in Poe, would only complicate things.”

Oh? The Poe thing was a new wrinkle! But before I could ask, Scotty and Tesla lifted off. From the way she was lagging behind, I think that she was hitching a ride on his electromagnetic field.

Man, this stinks! In more ways than one! Come to think of it-

{sniff! sniff!}

-the reek from Tesla wasn’t fading. But there was a mild breeze, which wouldn’t have killed the stench while she was still around, but once she left, it should have faded quickly enough. Now, my nose isn’t in a league with certain heavily copyrighted and massively merchandized mutants, but it is pretty sharp. The breeze shifted a couple of times, but I managed to turn that to my advantage to get a better idea of where the smell was coming from.

I tracked the reek to a sunken stairwell going down into Kane Hall. Peeking out of the stairwell was a tiny little periscope, a dead giveaway- IF you were looking for it.

I poked my head over the edge of the stairwell, and spotted Widget, holding her breath and trying to blend into the pile of whatcha-gimmickery that she had assembled. I leaned over, grinned widely and drawled, “Why Widget! Fancy meeting YOU here! Now, I gotta admit, you really had me goin’ there for a while! What was it? A remote controlled robot? Some kind of really involved hologram? Some sort of subliminal imagery inducer? C’mon, Betty, I’m dying to know! And how did you get the milk to disappear?”

Widget straightened up and looked at me like I’d flipped. “Robot? Hologram? Milk? What ARE you yammering about?”

“Oh, don’t play coy! I caught you red-handed with the control mechanism! All I wanna know is, how you pulled it off!”

Widget started to say something, thought better of it, assumed a more confident stance and folded her arms across her chest. “I’m not gonna tell you! If you can’t figure it out, then that’s YOUR tough luck! But lemme tell you, as long as you keep bugging Scotty, I’m just gonna keep it up!”

“ ‘Bugging Scotty’? Phu-LEEZE! We were having a very nice first date until the Four Stooges and their animal act butted in! You had all of last year to let him know that you were interested, but you were too wrapped up in playing little Junior High games! You futzed around, playing fooly-fooly games with his head, and it got you nowhere! _I_ was open and honest with him, and see where it got me? And as for ‘keeping it up’, well this do-jobby here is obviously what you’re keeping it up with. So, if I just bust it up ever so slightly, at least I’ll be sure that I’ll be able to finish this date in peace!”

I flipped down into the stairwell, and looked at the pile of junk. It looked like it could be collapsed and carried in a backpack, and there was a power cord leading through a not-quite shut door. “Well, lesse what you got here-”

Widget inserted herself between me and the whatchamacallit. “Don’t you touch this! This is proprietary technology!”

“Oh, I don’t wanna steal it, I just wanna bust it up a little.” I shoved her aside, and was about to do a little percussive therapy- hey, _I_ would have felt better!- when I felt something land on my head. An orange and white fuzzy face peered down into mine.

“oohh, I LIKE ‘em feisty!” Then the impossible cat gave that gurgling growl, and gave me a big sloppy kiss on the mouth.

I pulled back and fell on my ass. As I struggled to get to my feet, I felt another bowl of milk and cereal land squarely in my face. *sploosh!*

I pulled the bowl out of my face and wiped away the milk, only to spot the tiger up on the landing, balancing on his spring-like tail, hooting away and pointing at me. I gave a savage growl, jumped up, grabbed the rail and-

-landed squarely on my face. My hand was still stuck to the railing. I tugged at my hand- the rotten little fuzzball had super-glued my hand to the rail!

As I was figuring out how to get my hand free without ripping all the skin off of my palm, the tiger was bouncing all around me giggling, and Widget was disassembling her whatever in a hurry. I was just gearing up to shatter the enamel on the railing, when Widget finished up and disappeared inside the building.

But the tiger was still there, chortling gleefully. I was after him like a shot, and right on his tail as he rounded a corner and-

·        *sploosh!* I wound up with another bowl of soggy cereal in my face.

I fell on my ass again, thoroughly croggled. Then I heard a voice, “Toni? Toni, hon, what are you doing?” It was Belle.

I looked up at her and said, “Did you see it?”

“Did I see what?”

“The TIGER! It was bouncing around, giggling, and it hit me in the face with a bowl of cereal-”

“What kind of cereal?”

“I don’t KNOW! Soggy cereal!”

“Well, if it was a tiger, doesn’t it make sense that it might be Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes©?”

“What does that MATTER?”

“Well, have you been eating any sweetened cereal lately?”

“NO! You know how refined sugar drives me crazy!”

“True, and you’re sitting in the dirt, talking about getting creamed in the face by a tiger, while you’re supposed to be on some sort of date.”

“Are you saying that I’m having some sort of hallucination?”

“Well, you said it was a bowl of soggy cereal- so, where’s the bowl?”

“I don’t know!”

“Very well, what about the cereal?”

“I don’t KNOW!”

“Well, at least you should be able to account for the milk!”

“I .DON’T. KNOW! I can’t explain it, but it happened! See?” I held up my hand. “It super-glued my hand to that railing over there!”

“And why would a jungle cat have reason to adhesive you to a railing?”

“Because I was about to bust up Widget’s gizmo that was doing all of this!”

“Oh? How?”

“I don’t know! But she admitted it! We were standing down there in the stairwell, and she flat out admitted that she was doing it to screw up my date with Scotty!”

“Hmmm… well, that might explain it- but how did she make the bowl, cereal and milk disappear?”

“I dunno! I asked her and she was playing cagey- and-”

Then Scotty finally showed up again. “Oh Scotty!” I rushed up and wrapped myself around him “Thank God! Tell me that you saw him!”

“ahhh… Saw what?”

“The Tiger!”

“Again?”

“You mean that you saw this tiger?” Belle cut in.

“Well, no--- but if Toni says that she saw something, then she saw something.

Ah, sweet credibility! I gave him a big thankful hug. I pulled myself together and gave a deep cleansing breath. “So, what was it that you had to take care of?”

Scotty gave an embarrassed grin. “Oh, it wasn’t anything. False alarm. Tesla thought that she saw someone who looked like my brother and-”

“Your brother?”

“Yeah, Jigsaw. He’s been missing for a while, and-”

“And you’re worried about him.”

“Well, yeah.” He grinned again. “Corny, hunh?”

I gave him a big hug. “Nope. Not corny in the least.”

“Hold on,” Beltane said pensively, “I think that I may have an idea as to what your friend Tesla may have seen. Come with me.” We started to move, but Belle said in my direction, “Oh, the fewer people who go traipsing about, the better.”

“And since when do I traipse?”

“Just stay here- this shouldn’t take long.”

‘This shouldn’t take long’- where have I heard that before? Some first date this is turning out to be. I watched them round the corner of Schuster Hall, and then I turned to head back to the bench and-

-*sploosh!* I was on my ass again, a bowl of soggy Frosted Flakes in my face.

I pulled the bowl from my face, and let out a cathartic scream. The tiger was bouncing away on its tail giggling like crazy. I let out a low growl of frustration and lit out after it. Then it suddenly hit me that, in my frustration, I was playing into Widget’s hands. She was keeping me off-balance, and making me look like a nutcase. Okay, I am NOT letting that refugee from Battle Creek continue to make a monkey out of me. If I just let her take potshots, she’ll just find some other way of making a fool out of me. But that doesn’t mean that I have to play the game HER way.

I stopped and lit out into the brush. From there, I took to the high branches. There was no sign of either Widget or her freaky little whatever-it-was. I spotted a rattan basket for raked leaves, and got an idea. In bursts of speed, I was out of the trees, had the basket, and was back under cover in the blink of an eye. Lugging the basket on my back, I was in the high branches and on the prowl.

Hey, if you think prowling silently through high branches in a miniskirt and boots is easy, YOU try it!

I snuck through the foliage for several minutes, when I finally saw what I was looking for- an extension cord. And yes, there was that telltale reek of whatever it was that Widget had planned for me. Yes, closer, closer, I had her, and there she was, with her weirdoid gizmo and some sort of power transformer. The gizmo was set up under camouflage tenting, and she was peering around intently with a set of binocular thingies that I doubt were just field- glasses. No sign of the tiger thingie, though. Still, once I unplug it, I sort of doubt whatever’s making it run, or directing it or whatever’s making it so damn annoying, will still be up and running.

I took advantage of Widget’s narrow focus and stole up on her. First I unplugged the whatever-it-was from the transformer, and then, as she was at one end of her sweep, I tapped her on the shoulder. “Nice perfume,” I smirked.

Widget spun her binoc-whatevers into my face, damn near had a heart attack, and fell over herself, pulling back. “Pretty good cammy setup too; and then you go and use an ORANGE extension cord!”

Widget lunged for her gizmo and turned it at me. Oh, so THAT’S it- the tiger was to lure me to a specific spot, so she could zap me with that thing. She hit the activation button-

-and nothing happened.

I held up the unplugged cord and smiled. “Nice try, Blondie. Now, tell me how to shut off that damn tiger-thingie of yours.”

“Mine? You think that thing is mine?”

“Hey, I don’t know any other devisors or gadgeteers who could whip up something like that, who have anything against me.” And then I saw a blur of orange-and-black. “Never mind- I’ll find out, when I dismantle your little plushy!”

In move fluid move, I leapt out at the tiger, brought the basket into play and brought it down on top of Mister Stripes.

HAH! GOT ‘IM! Who’s the Big Cat Now?

But there wasn’t any sounds of struggle inside. Curious, I peeked under the basket.

Nuthin’!

Flabberghasted, I looked around and-

·        *sploosh!*

When I managed to get my wits back, the tiger was gone, the gizmo was gone and Widget was gone. The only things left were the transformer and the extension cable. I barely managed to keep a snarl contained in frustration, and wiped the metaphorical egg off my face-

-on which, there was no sign of milk or cereal.

There is something seriously screwy going on here.

Just then, I heard Scott’s voice. “Toni! Toni, where are you?”

“Here I am.” I walked out of the woods, and there was Scotty- holding both Tesla and Widget by the arm. Widget had her doo-hickey semi-disassembled and slung over her shoulder. “I think that I have an answer to your ‘tiger’ problem.”

“Oh?” I said innocently.

“Yes, I think that Widget here was having a little fun at your expense, with Tesla’s help.” Scotty hefted one up and then the other in emphasis. “I found these two trying to sneak out of the woods with one of Widget’s inventions.”

“I don’t know WHAT you’re talking about, Scotty.” Widget said with truly enviable sang-. “Lou and I were splattered by another project of mine, as you can probably smell. I kludged together this thing here to get rid of the smell faster. I came here to get Lou, ‘cause she isn’t harmed by intense electromagnetic waves, so I can fine tune this without hurting anyone, especially ME.”

“Then why were you sneaking around like that?”

“Do you honestly think that I want to run into anyone smelling like THIS?”

“Oh, come ON, Widge! This is an adaptation of one of your vertigo inducing gadgets, and-”

“And, actually, Scotty,” I cut in, “I believe her.” I paused to enjoy seeing Tesla and Widget’s chins hit the dirt. “I mean, c’mon, is there any way that that thing could have created that tiger-whatever-it-was?

“And, besides, Scotty- they’re your FRIENDS! Your Pals, your Buds, your AMIGAS!” I watched as they both twitched at each of these classifications. “I mean, what sort of friends would they be, if they tried to sabotage your first date, hunh? What sort of shallow, petty creeps would try to scuttle you like that, hunh?”

Scotty let them go and looked at them shame-facedly. “ah, She’s right, guys. Sorry about that.”

“Well, I’m sure that you should be!” Widget started. I shot her a ‘don’t push your luck’ look.

“Yes,” I breezed, “I’m absolutely SURE-” Hard look right in Tesla’s eyes “-that you have absolutely nothing to worry about-” shift hard look to Widget “-from EITHER of them. Does he, girls?”

“No.” Tesla and Widget droned in unison.

“Well, then now that we have that misunderstanding cleared up,” I continued, “why don’t you two girls take this thing back to your cottage, and see if you can’t get it to work? For the sake of everyone’s noses, if nothing else.”

With that, they bundled up the gizmo and headed off. As they rounded Schuster Hall, Scotty turned to me and said, “Not much of a first date, is it?”

“Well, look at it this way- at least we can be sure that the second date won’t be a letdown!”

“Are you saying that there’s going to BE a second date?”

I stood up close to him and looked up into his face. “Well, it’s getting late- if you wanna make sure that there IS going to be a second date, you’d better make a real impression, and fast!” 

He pulled me to him and lowered his face to mine. Our lips met and I caught my breath.

My First Kiss.

And it was a keeper.

I’m not sure how long we stood there, wrapped up in the eternal mystery of Boy and Girl; it seemed like a second, it seemed like Eternity.

Finally, we broke the kiss. I gave myself a second to get my breath back and said, “Oh, definitely- there’s gonna be a second date!”

We made plans for the next day, and Scotty gave me a very nice going-away kiss. As he walked away, I let out a very happy sigh and began to walk home to Poe on a cloud. I raised my head high, smiling to beat the band and-

*sploosh!*

I sat there, watching through a film of milk and cereal as the tiger bounced away, giggling.

But- Tesla and Widget- they wouldn’t- they couldn’t- they were!

I fought the urge to chase after it again. I heard the voice of Inspector Kwan in my mind, as he said, “Remember- when you have eliminated the impossible, what remains, no matter how improbable, must be true.”

I sat there and concentrated furiously, recalling what little that I knew, and what I could reasonably surmise about the tiger. I spotted a couple of flaws in my reasoning, corrected them, and put the facts and surmises in place. That didn’t work, so I rearranged them a couple of times. What I kept coming up with, was that this really wasn’t either Widget’s, or Tesla’s, or Aztecka’s, or even Sizzle’s style…

…Style…

That was it.

I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and calmly walked over to the commissary, where I bought two boxes of breakfast cereal and a big gallon jug of milk.

From there, I carried my purchases back to Poe, where I fixed up a big bowl of Frosted Flakes©, and let it sit for a half-hour, until it was good and soggy. With the bowl in one hand and the other, I walked up to the third floor and knocked on one of the doors.

Beltane’s roomie, Electrode, answered. “Yes?”

“Is Belle in?”

“Yeah, she just got in a few minutes ago. Belle!

Beltane poked her head out the door. “Yes?”

*SPLOOSH!*

Belle fell back on her ass, and pulled the bowl off of her face, and looked at me through the milk and soggy flakes, which weren’t going to just disappear. “HAH!” she exulted, “You figured it out!”

I leaned in the doorway, with my arms folded. “Well, I could roll out this whole Sherlock Holmes bit about how it had to be someone who knew that I was going out on a date, and had seen me facing off against Mace from the Tigers, and knew that I hated being called ‘Toni the Tiger’. Or, that the only reason that the milk, cereal and bowls could come out of nowhere and then disappear again was that they and that tiger were some of your Ectoplasmic manifestations. BUT, to be honest, I only really twigged to it, when I asked myself WHO would have that sense of humor. And YOU immediately popped into my mind, and I remembered that little questioning session that you ran at me. You really shoving my nose in it, weren’t you?”

“Well,” she picked herself up, “a good prank is only really great when the sucker realized how badly she’s been had, and who had her. Besides, you needed to be taken down a peg or two.”

“Excuse me?”

She looked me straight in the eye. “Hey, who do you think you are, going out with that boy, when you’re in the middle of something with Riptide?”

“Hey, you do NOT tell me who I can and who I can’t date!”

“WHO you date isn’t the point- HOW you treat the people that you date IS. How do you think Riptide feels right about now?”

“Hey she said that it was okay-”

“BUGGER what she SAID! How does she FEEL?”

Okay, that took the wind out of my sails. “You mean, she really feels bad?”

Belle rapped her knuckles on my head. “Not solid wood, that- must be some sawdust, as well.”

“Okay, okay- I’ll go and apologize to her. And, we’ll work this out, okay? BUT, just in case you decide that that ectoplasmic tiger is too good to pass up, be warned-” I held up the other box of cereal. “I have Cocoa-Puffs©, and I’m not afraid to use them.”

FINIS

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A Whateley Academy Vignette

Baker’s Dozen

by Kristin Darken

 


Fort Myers, Florida
October 10, 2004

The super-group Baker’s Dozen were not particularly welcome in Fort Myers but were being tolerated. They were famous, infamous really, for their vigilante activities in Tampa but few of the non-powered locals really agreed with their methods. In reality, these self-proclaimed heroes were little more than villains who took out their own kind. Still, they were helping out with the post-hurricane devastation and that was an effort that was more suited to super-humans than regular rescue workers. There’s only so much a man with a chainsaw can do to prevent further damage on the street level and to neighboring buildings from multi-story buildings with damaged facing, windows and worse. A few fliers and telekinetics made a world of difference.

The average citizen was going about his daily routine, though there was an unpleasant hush to the streets that spoke volumes about the emotional impact from the storm. It would take a long time before anyone would forget the sound of the howling wind and the violence it perpetrated. In its own way, the hurricane had proven nature itself to be as much a terrorist as those who had destroyed the Trade Center in New York.

Baker had brought his team in to help out in the hopes that it would earn them a little credit with the locals; which they needed desperately after the little fiasco with the popular cheerleader at FSU. Even after she’d been revealed as a super-villain who’d knocked over several jewelry stores in Atlanta, the Tampa locals had tried to get them locked up for putting her in the hospital. He’d tried to take her in peacefully… but she’d resisted. She’d resisted a whole lot.

The Feds had convinced them to drop the charges after Baker had one of his teammates pull some strings. After all, the girl was a criminal. Her college girl popularity shouldn’t give her the right to steal without paying the price for it. Especially since most of that popularity was probably earned by sleeping with the football team. 

Public relations were typically Kimmy’s problem but she’d suggested that they come down here and help out, so here they were. Even her powers, mundane and supernatural, couldn’t convince people to like the Dozen if there wasn’t some kernel of feeling there to start with. At least they weren’t doing this instead of something else; the villain community seemed as staggered by the power of the hurricanes as everyone else.

Jacob Baker was doing his thing down by the waterfront. His thing was projecting cube shaped fields of energy that kinetically accelerated matter inside them, increasing heat and pressure during the time they were enclosed. His ovens, as he called them, weren’t quite the same as pyrokinesis but they worked a lot more effectively for contained situations than the typical fire-bug. At the moment, he was cooking down raw materials into easily moveable sections that could be cleared by one of the brick twins, Rocky and Bullwinkle.

“Hey Baker,” a woman’s voice spoke in his earpiece. The ID chirp before and after the signal told him, even if he didn’t recognize the voice, that it was Handler. He looked up to where she’d last been working as she continued. “I’ve got this next section freed up, where you want it?”

He looked around. There were a couple ovens still burning but the twins had cleared a good-sized section of the high-temp bins near the entrance to the parking lot. He started toward it.

“Over here should be good,” he told her, pointing at the spot he was considering. As he did, several of her mechanical creatures clamped to the large piece of concrete and steel floated toward the spot. While Handler had a moderately good telekinetic ability, certainly strong enough to cut and shape pieces of debris like this, her true genius lie in gadgets like the one that let her fly and these ones that she controlled with a devise that she claimed was part telekinesis and part radio. It was science that would tie knots in the brain of even the best technical experts… only another deviser would bother trying to duplicate the effort.

As soon as the piece hit the bottom of the bin, the gadgets released it and flew back towards their mistress. He pictured the cube around the junk and manifested the oven. In a few minutes, the concrete would have cooked off it and the metal would be ready to cool into a block shape defined by the bin it was in. Once it cooled enough to solidify, it would be ready for the guys to move it.

“This place reeks,” commented a voice from the street behind him.

“Tough,” he replied, turning to see who the voice belonged to. It wasn’t one of his team members.

“Couldn’t you clear it out of town before melting it down?” The voice belonged to some kid, a scrawny geek probably barely into high school.

“Too much work kid. They won’t reuse most of it, just the metals, this little bit of smell is the price for saving thousands of dollars in work crews and trucks to get it all out of here.” He wasn’t sure why he was talking with the kid anyway. Besides, civilians weren't supposed to be in the area for safety reasons. “You aren’t supposed to be close enough to smell it anyway, do I need to get someone to escort you out of here?”

“It’s Jack… not kid. You can smell it all over town,” the kid complained. Baker took a step toward him, looking menacing. The boy backed off and held his hands up as the scowl crossed the older man’s face. “Fine… I’m gone… just taking a short cut home from work anyway.” The boy pointed up the street at the Gamers’ Emporium, some sort of local video game place Baker had noticed earlier. As he turned back, the kid was already heading away.

Baker watched the kid trudge away, almost sorry for him for some reason. There were plenty of times when he wondered what might have happened to him if he hadn’t gained the ability to form ovens. He’d had every inclination that he’d be like that kid, small and weak and without many prospects, but then he’d started changing. He’d started bulking up and he’d have been a potential athlete in any school but Whateley, assuming the school was too backwards to do testing for mutations or didn’t restrict them from playing.

He tapped his communicator key. It chirped.

“Vulture.” The system chirped again as it directed his call. “Hey Jill, got a kid wandering through the parking lot. I’m pretty sure he’s what he said he is, but let’s make sure, eh?”

“Check boss. I see him.”

“He’s heading home from work at the game shop down the street.”

“Ok.” The system chirped a release signal.

He glanced up, but as usual the girl was far out of his sight circling over the area watching for signs of trouble. The doctors claimed it wasn’t normal sight, even like the birds she’d taken her name from, because if she had line of sight she could see it. She was nearly the perfect recon agent but her flight and vision were the extent of her powers. So, she couldn’t do anything but report on it. She was the main reason the team had looked into a top-notch communications system. What was the point in having the ideal field data but having it jammed or out of reach when you needed it?

“Another piece Jacob.”

“Put it right next to the last one.”

“Got it.”

He was starting to wonder where the twins had gotten off to when the younger one waddled his way across the street and into the parking lot. For twins, the two were about as dissimilar as was possible. Rocky was a short stocky guy with chiseled features and built like the brick he was. His younger brother was tall, thin, and awkward looking and just as strong and even more invulnerable. He made up for the advantage by being a lot less bright than his older brother.

“Hey Bullwinkle, how’s the truck looking.”

“It’s Moose, Baker.”

“How’s the truck look?” Baker asked again. The brick corrected everyone each time they called him Bullwinkle but no one ever called him Moose. He was slowly working his way through the description of how many more cubes of metal the truck would hold when their communicators chirped.

“Got a flier inbound from the direction of Tampa, wake of rainbow refracted light behind him and a bright object held out in front of him. Looks like our old buddy,’ came the warning from Vulture.

“Scramble everyone. How long we have before he’s here?”

“Less than two minutes.” The comms chirped and Vulture repeated her message on the all-call.

They weren’t ready when their opponent pulled his right angle turn about thirty feet above their formation in the parking lot. The sonic boom and wind impact hit a moment later, scattering the non-bricks. Rocky and Bullwinkle tossed large cubes of metal at the retreating shape. Fortunately, they were flying in the direction of the Gulf and weren’t likely to hit anything that the locals wanted left intact.

“Coming back at you,” came their report.

They’d been fighting this guy, Beam or something like that, on and off for months in Tampa. He considered them villains and was determined to make them pay for what they’d done. Baker had about had it with him.

“Vulture, give me a 200 yards warning. Fliers to ground level.” He’d given this guy too much leeway; it was time he paid.

 “3… 2… 1… Mark!”

Baker manifested an oven that was nearly as large as their formation just above where Handler had been hovering with her creations. Then, he poured everything he had into it, pushing the air inside into inferno status almost instantly.

“Holy shit!” came a shout as someone recognized the blurred walls of the cube. His team scattered, having seen what this sort of thing did when he released the boundary. The superheated air would erupt in a fireball, roasting anything nearby.

Baker didn’t have time to release the walls before their attacker punched into the side of it. The gas erupted from the hole, creating a fountain of flames nearly a hundred yards back toward the water. The flier twisted and came out the side, looking burned but not crisped or dead, but at his speed was unable to avoid the building the team had been working on. The second spout of flame followed him into it. A moment later, the force of the impact and superheated air blasted a large section of the building into pieces. The rest collapsed in on the hole.

The team watched, expectantly, until after the rumbling subsided. The sound of sirens was building nearby. They exchanged looks before looking to Baker for direction. He released the remains of the oven, the pressure already drained out the two holes punched in it.

“Back to work kids, we got some free help on demolitions but we’ve got plenty more to do today.”

They sighed and headed back to their assignments. Whatever happened, they knew Baker would take care of them. He always did. The team leader waited until everyone had gone before tapping his communicator again.

“Kimmy.” The device chirped. It was followed by a long pause before a second chirp signaled that she’d connected.

“Yes?”

“It’s Baker. We’ve got a bit of something for you to handle.”

“What? Aren’t you still in Fort Myers?”

“Yeah… look, that Beam character just attacked us while we were working down here.”

“So? Isn’t that place already slated for demolition anyway?”

“Uh… true… but he might be dead somewhere in the rubble. I don’t know what the locals saw, but I thought you’d better know. I think the police are on their way.”

“Oh, Baker.” There was a long moment of silence. “I’m on my way.”

“Thanks Kimmy.”

The line disconnected. He sighed and went back to work. There was a lot left to do and they needed the help for their reputation.

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Disclaimer

This is a work of fiction. I borrowed the idea of the Whatley Academy from the four who made it. There should be no way that these characters are like anyone else, but if that isn’t the case, it has definitely been unintentional. Also, if you happen to find that your life is represented in these pages, I’ll be impressed.

A Whateley Academy Tale

Destiny’s Wave

by Heather O’Malley

 

Tennessee, June 13th 2006

I think it all began with the sword.

Wait, let me back up a bit and clarify things a bit. There were things that happened before the sword, like the rest of my life. But those things have changed. My life is worlds different now and there is not much I can do about it.

I used to be Alexander Farshine. Now, I’m still working on that. Things changed massively in a short period of time and I am still in shock. But the school seems nice. Wait...let me try and start this again. I don’t think I am making much sense.

You see, I think it all began with the sword.

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Alex worked his way through the gun show, looking at all the neat guns and knives and swords there. His father had told him that good deals could easily be had at places like this. He stopped at another table that was covered with World War Two Nazi daggers and Japanese Officer’s Swords. He nodded and smiled. If only he could find something he liked.

He moved on and had to take a break. Alex had never really been in shape, he loved movies and reading and spent all his time doing that. He had recently gotten into swords after watching several films that had lots of good sword play. He already had about twenty-three blades of varying quality. He liked to swing them around in his backyard. It was fun. He got to pretend that he was like Conan or Aragorn. Sometimes he pretended to be other characters but not for long. He could only play with his swords like that for a few minutes before he got tired.

The hall was filled with people milling about . They were stopping at various tables, looking at firearms of all types. He finally saw something, farther down the hall that caught his interest.

An old Asian gentleman sat alone at a table that looked empty, but he also thought he saw a couple of things on the table. As Alex moved closer the old man turned and looked at him, smiling broadly. “Come, come. Look at my wares. Is there anything you like.?”

Alex looked over the table, following the man’s gesture. All he saw on the table were three objects: a bell, a bead necklace thing and a Chinese straight sword. It reminded him of that really cool sword everyone was fighting over in Crouching Tiger., Hidden Dragon. That might be cool. He didn’t have any Chinese style blades at all. This one looked nice and there was something about it that bugged him. He couldn’t seem to take his eyes off of it. Something inside seemed to resonate with the sword.

“Uh...sir...how much is the sword?”

“A good eye young man. This is an excellent weapon.” The man’s dark eyes scanned over Alex slowly. “For you I will charge 49.95.”

All Alex had was the fifty in his wallet. If he got the sword he wouldn’t have any more money for the rest of the week. And it was comic week as well. He would have to wait a week to get his comics if he bought the sword. He pondered this as he looked at the sword.

He nodded and pulled out his wallet. There was something about the sword and he had to have it. He could wait a week for his comics. He was sure that he could manage that. He handed over the bill.

“Thank you very much. I am sure you will enjoy the blade. It is very special.” With that he turned and pulled up a cloth covered box. Alex blinked and couldn’t see the sword any more. “Here you go. Please wait until you get home before you draw the blade. The way it is now is easy to transport. I am sure you do not want any awkward questions.”

Alex nodded and headed towards the entrance. He hoped Gene, his friend was ready to go and he could go home right now. He really wanted to see the blade.

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I really wanted to see that blade. There was also something keeping me from opening up the box and drawing the sword in the car. I guess I wanted my first moments with the sword to be special and personal, just me and the sword. Looking back I think it is just totally weird that I wanted some personal time with the sword. I usually wanted that time with my dad’s “borrowed” Playboys and Hustlers.

So I went home with the sword.  I was a little nervous, as I had spent all of my money on a sword that I had not really examined. I had no idea what it looked like.

Dad wasn’t home when I got there so I hurried to my room and locked the door.

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The door closed behind Alex and he moved the dead bolt over. He really did not want to be disturbed while he was looking at his new purchase. He barely remembered what it looked like, just that it was a Chinese style sword. He glanced around his room at all the swords on the wall and tried to figure out a good place for the blade. Maybe next to one of the replica blades from Lord Of The Rings?

“That would look good.” he thought to himself as he laid the box on his desk. He undid the two peg closures and lifted the lid. There it was, even better than when he saw it sitting there on the table at the gun show.

He looked it over closely. The scabbard was a rich chestnut brown, the grain of the wood clear. The bottom of the scabbard had an intricate cap of a silvery metal, it didn’t look like pewter and for what he paid it couldn’t be silver. There was a similar cap at the top of the scabbard. There was some sort of design in them, like waves or clouds. Alex wasn’t sure.

The hilt was wrapped in a deep jade green string, tight and it looked worn. The pommel nut was also of that silvery metal, the same design etched in that. From the end of it hung two tassels, with knot work strings of vibrant yellow. The guard looked like the classic lions head motif, with green stones of some kind in the eyes. They were catching the light in an interesting fashion, he  almost expected them to blink.

Alex reached out and grasped the sword, one hand on the scabbard and the other on the hilt. The hilt felt comfortable under his hand. Well worn and comfortable. What ever the history of the sword, Alex could tell it had been used. He slowly drew the sword, just a little, to glimpse the blade.

His eyes widened in surprise. The sword didn’t look to be metal. The first inch or so of the blade appeared to be some sort of milky jade. Alex couldn’t think of why anyone would make a blade out of stone and decorate the blade like this. He drew it out the rest of the way just to assure himself that the rest of the sword was not as messed up as the first bits of the blade.

As the blade cleared the scabbard he could tell that the whole blade was of the milky jade. His eyes narrowed in consternation as he looked at the sword in his hands.

He then felt a rush of energy flood into his body, speeding up his heart and stopping his breath. He closed his eyes as he felt his body felt all out of sorts. His head was spinning and he felt light headed. His heart was pounding furiously in his chest. Blood roared in his ears and he swayed a little. His muscles vibrated, as if they were clenching and relaxing rapidly. His lungs burned with the need for air. He couldn’t let go of the sword. His legs felt cold.

Then the sensation was gone, as fast as it had appeared.

Alex could tell that his pants had fallen around his ankles and his shoes felt too large for his feet. His shirt seemed to swim on him though there was a heaviness on his chest. Something was also tickling the back of his neck. His hand on the sword also looked different, smaller, and more delicate. Something was also different but he couldn’t pin point it.

When he glanced at his mirror he jumped in shock, dropping the sword on his dirty clothes covered floor. An Asian girl was looking at him. He spun and no one was there. He looked back and the girl had a look of surprise on her face, and just a hint of fear. Her eyes were a deep jade green.

Alex’s thoughts raced quickly and he glanced over himself. His legs were bare, mostly hairless and much thinner. They even seemed longer. Both of his hands were hairless and smaller, with thinner and more delicate fingers. He touched his face, which had changed shape, had no acne or its usual scruff of beard stubble. Alex shuddered in shock. He was that girl. Somehow he had been transformed. He sat heavily on his bed, feeling his underwear bunching up under him.

“Ni hau ma?” came a woman’s voice.

Alex looked about and then his eyes settled on the sword.

“Ni hau ma?” came again, the green stones looking more like eyes at the moment.

“What the fuck?” he scampered farther up the bed, accidentally hitting himself in his new breasts. “Ow, crap that hurt!”

Nothing moved in the room as Alex really began to panic. He had no idea what was going on. He plucked one of his swords off the wall, holding it in front of himself.

“Shemma? Jung gwo hwa ma?”

He felt something tickle his brain. He started to cry in fear.

“Hel-lo? You are there?” came the woman’s voice, now in broken English.

Alex yelped and ducked, expecting something to hit him. Nothing did.

“Hel-lo? You are there? The one to draw the sword.”

Alex was shaking heavily, tears burning his face. His heart was racing and he was sure he was going to die. “What the fuck are you?!”

There was a pause, as if the voice was thinking through his answer. “I am Destiny’s Wave. I am the sword.” the voice was calm. “You are the one to draw me?”

“Yes...”

“Sye sye. Thank you. What are you called?”

“Alex.”

“Yes. Alex. What can I do to serve?”

“Huh? What?”

“You have drawn me, thus you are my wielder. It is my task to help you.”

“First off, what is wrong with my body? Why am I a girl?”

There was another pause. “You were not a girl when you drew me?”

“No. Not even remotely.” Alex was starting to calm down, some.

“And, were are not in the Middle Kingdom?”

“The what?”

“Ah....I think I may understand. I am Destiny’s Wave, a Taoist sword made for Women who walked the path of the Sage and the Warrior. I have never been held by a man. One of my gifts is to make the woman’s body stronger, faster, more perfect. It could be that, in the hands of a man, the body shifts to match what I am used to.”

“A talking fucking sword....this is so crazy.”

“Shemma?” the woman’s voice sounded slightly confused.

“Nothing. It...this is just hard to deal with. Go on.” Alex sat uncomfortably and looked at the sword sitting on the floor.

“I guess that you might change back when I am sheathed or when I am back in the carrying box. I am not sure. This effect stayed until the wielder died or gave up the sword. The carrying box was used to sever the link between sword and wielder. If one does not work the other might.”

“Uh...should I try it now?” Alex was not sure he wanted to move, but if it meant being back to normal he might as well try it.

“Will doing that make you feel better?”

Alex sat there and thought. “Yes...yes it will.”

“Then do this. I wish to talk to you more but until you are reassured this cannot happen.”

Alex reached down and picked up the sword in his dainty fingers. He reached for the sheath as well and slid the blade into the scabbard. Nothing happened. He then but the sword back in the box and closed it. The same sensation rushed over him and he returned to his male body. He sat down heavily on the bed, the springs groaning under the weight.

Alex wondered if he should risk drawing the sword again. But in a way the body had felt so good. He was lighter, clear faced, his breathing wasn’t troubled and he had felt more...alive? He wasn’t used to feeling that way. It was definitely different and that was only after a few minutes, spent mostly panicking.

Alex wiped his sweaty palms on his sweatshirt and opened the box. The sword was still there. He took a deep breath and drew the blade. The sensation wasn’t so bad that time as he was expecting it. He also didn’t drop the sword.

“Ni hau ma?”

“Uh...what...” He felt the tickle again.

“Ah...you are back. You had to put the blade in the box then?”

“Yes...I changed back.”

“That is indeed something worth remembering. I am afraid that the benefits of wielding me are no longer in effect if I am shut away. Part of the magic of the box is to cut off my link. It is how I was made. Now where are we?”

“The U.S.”

“Shemma?”

“Huh...the United States of America.”

“I have never heard of that place. What is the Emperor’s name?”

“Emperor? We don’t have one.”

“Fine...when are we?”

“2004. Why?”

“These answers are not making sense. I guess I will not worry about them. Now then...what are your questions?”

“I get that you are a magic sword...but what are you here for?”

“It is my purpose to aid in the fight for balance.”

“Against good and evil?”

“What do you mean by good and evil? Sometimes people kill in the name of good and others are left to live in the name of evil. I serve the Tao. The balance is what is important. Good and evil are not important concerns.  I serve to protect, to heal, to care for others, to teach. There is no higher purpose than that. I save lives and I take them, when it serves the Tao. I help my wielder follow the Tao and strive to become one of the Immortals.”

Alex blinked in surprise again. “Okay, I now have more questions. I don’t think I followed more than half of that.”

“You do not know the Tao?”

“The what?”

Alex heard the front door open and his father call out. “Alex I’m home!”

“Gah...its my dad.” With that Alex resheathed the sword and returned it to the box. The rush flowed over his body and he returned to normal. He quickly pulled on his pants and headed downstairs.

Alex’s father was built much like Alex, only two inches taller and more muscular. The hair was thinning a little but the color was still dark. He was just getting his seat in the living room, with a beer in one hand and the remote in the other. He clicked on a football game as Alex came in. “How was the gun show?”

“It was really good. I enjoyed it.”

“Buy anything?” My dad actually liked my sword collection, though he liked guns better himself.

“Yes. I got a Chinese style sword. I thought some variety would be nice.” I smiled at the irony in the statement. Being a girl was certainly variety. Hopefully my dad would never learn about that.

“Nice. Oh...nice play! Did you see that?”

Alex nodded, though he hadn’t seen anything, since he was watching his father.

“Want to watch the game with me?” his Dad asked, then belched.

“No thanks. I was going to read some. I have some books I’ve been wanting to read, and now that classes are over I can start on them.”

He shrugged and went back to watching the game.

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My father was just like that. Not really distant, but we were interested in different things. I knew he loved me and we were close, we just had no real interests in common. For a while he had been worried about my being gay, until he caught me with some of his magazines that he kept under his mattress. That had been a nightmare. I had been so embarrassed. That is why I have a bolt on my door. No more of those surprises.

I went back to my room and started reading one of my fantasy adventure novels. I had gotten several over the weeks leading up to my finals but I had studied instead of read. But it really had been tough to do.

As I was reading I kept looking over at the box. There was something about how I felt when I was transformed. I felt healthy and good. I guess it was because the girls body had been so athletic, so in shape. I never really exercised so it was definitely a different sensation. I think I kind of liked it. I got to feel healthy and in shape merely by drawing a sword. What a great weight loss and exercise plan!

My eyes kept drifting towards the sword that night, but I had decided to wait. Tomorrow my father would be at work and I could spend the whole day getting used to this. I might even get some answers that made sense from the sword.

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Alex got up and went downstairs for breakfast. His father wasn’t there, as was usual. Today should be just fine. After he ate and showered he went into his room and opened the box. Destiny’s Wave was sitting there, just like he had left it. He lifted it out of the box and drew the sword. He was ready for the sensation that time. He was amused when his PJ bottoms fell to the ground. This female body was a lot smaller than his was.

“Ni hau ma?”

“Fine. And you?”

“I am a sword, I am usually the same.”

“So what can you tell me about what I can do with the sword?” Alex was interested. This sort of thing was just like the magical tales he read about in his True Adventure Comics. He loved superheroes and had been a little sad when he hadn’t turned out to be a mutant.

“Well, right now not much. I have looked through your mind and you know little to nothing about sword work. You also know nothing about combat. I can fix that a little.”

“Fix it how?”

“I can give you some access to skills that you do not have: the basics of sword work, kung fu, Chinese, chi gung and Taoism. To learn more would require you to work from that starting point. I was only equipped for helping the person take the first step or two, the rest of the journey is up to you.”

“Cool! Hey can we do that now? I want to spend the day getting used to this. I want to try you out and see how this body moves and feels.” Alex was bubbling with excitement. This had the potential to be just like his fantasies of being a superhero, except for the being a girl thing.

“Very well. Please sit down Alex.”

Alex sat on the edge of the bed. After he had gotten comfortable he felt that tickle again. This time it grew more intense, almost like an itch in his brain. His head swam and he grew dizzy. Finally the sensation stopped.

“Alex, are you alright?” the voice sounded a little concerned.

“I’m good.” his voice sounded a little weird but he knew what he said.

“Well, it looks like the language took. Let us go out side and check the rest.”

“Right.” Alex stood up and realized that he was naked, except for the t-shirt that hung like a short dress on him. “Uh...maybe I should get some clothes?”

“That might be prudent. You will be moving around quite a bit if this worked.”

Alex searched his room for anything that might work. He tossed aside a lot of his clothes as simply being too big. He finally found a pair of sweatpants he had from when he was nine that fit his new curves. However, he had no underwear that fit.

He pulled them on and felt the difference between his old body and his new. This new body did have curves. His hips had shape and his waist was smaller than he remembered having in a long time. He changed into an old black t-shirt that didn’t swim too much on him. Now all that was left was getting his long black hair out of his face.

He found one of his old bandanas, which he used to tie his hair back. He turned and looked at the mirror. His reflection looked back. He definitely looked all girl now, even in his old clothes. He looked like a girl ready to work out or do lots of housework. He found the look fascinating. The sword broke his concentration.

“Are we ready to practice with the sword and body?”

Alex nodded and the realized that the sword might not be able to see him. “Uh...sure. Let’s go.”

He picked up the sword and scabbard and headed through the house. It was still kind of messy but he and his father didn’t really mind. The dishes were mostly clean and their clothes were washed when needed, so there really was no problem with the clutter. Alex almost felt a little embarrassed but that passed.

The backyard was a well mowed area with a pool and a good sized lawn. There were also the remnants of a garden. The landscape people who watered and mowed things did a good job.

Alex laid the scabbard on a small outdoor table and stepped barefoot onto the grass. It felt cool and relaxing under his new feet. The sword spoke to him, “Why don’t you start by swinging the sword around and getting a feel for how it moves. Just have fun and play a while.”

Alex started out making circles in the air with the sword and then moved into performing cuts and thrusts, swinging the blade in huge arcs. It sped through the air. It felt like the moves were effortless for him. He had never felt this good as he moved, ever. He wasn’t breathing hard and his arms were not growing tired. In fact the action felt liberating. He began to smile and the joy of movement overtook him.

After what seemed like awhile Alex stopped and stood there. He wasn’t panting and there was only a light sheen of sweat on his new body. The day was warm and there wasn’t a lake of sweat coating his body. He was amazed. He was staring to like this new body.

The breeze tickled his arms and he felt his hair move with the air. He closed his eyes and lost himself to the sensations coming at him. His breathing deepened and slowed. As he just relaxed and enjoyed this new collection on feelings he felt something just outside what he could normally feel. It was like the current of a river or something that seemed to flow between things. As he deepened his breathing and relaxed his body more he could almost seem to touch the current, feel it move about him.

He could begin to sense the same current pulse and move within the female body he now had. He relaxed into that as well and could feel how that pulse was moving into the sword and out, almost as if the sword was a part of the body. He moved the sword and could feel that energy move with the blade. He could also feel the energy beginning to flow out past the end of the blade. This energy was entrancing. It felt natural and alive.

The sword’s voice interrupted his train of thoughts. “What you are feeling is your Chi and the Chi around you. It flows through all things. It is the energy that keeps things alive and in the forms they wear. This is something we can use to do different things. With this energy you can jump great distances, balance on top of plants, move objects or people, heal yourself and others, fly and many other things. These things all come with time. There more time you spend in this body the better your control of Chi will become.”

“Fly? Really?” Alex was excited by the prospect. “That would be so cool. I would be a superhero. Awesome.”

“Like I said it will take time. Since you keep taking me out and putting me back into the box, the development of these skills will take even longer. It is a matter of the body and the mind getting used to the flow. Without the body it does not work.” The sword passed the information calmly and without judgment. Alex thought it was a little odd.

“So, if I am a girl I can do all these cool things. If not, I won’t?”

“That is the basics of it, yes.”

Alex sheathed the blade and sat down to think. If he stayed in this body and became a girl he would be able to do all sorts of cool things. But then he would cease to be Alex. But if he went back to his life as Alex and left Destiny’s Wave he would miss out on all that fun. According to the sword, he would still gain the skills if he flipped flopped, it would just take longer. But what was longer to a sword?

Alex looked down at his body, at his breasts and the swell of his hips. This was certainly a different body and it would take time to get used to being shorter, lighter and more limber. He was so used to being larger that he wasn’t sure he could deal with the change full time. That and he would need new clothes.

He rubbed his breasts and his sternum. The moving put a strain on body pasts that he was not used to. His breasts hurt. “Man, I’m going to have to get a sports bra or something.”

“Pardon?” asked the sword.

“Nothing. I was talking to myself. So, if I didn’t turn back, how long would it take to use the chi fully.”

“At your level of skill, about two weeks.”

“And switching back and forth?”

“Possibly two months or more.”

Alex had his answer. If he was patient he could get those abilities before the end of summer break. All he would have to do is spend a lot of time changed and he would be able to do all sorts of superhero type things. He was excited at the prospects.

He stood and stretched. He was able to place his hands on the floor and bend back into a nice arch and then into a handstand. He could really get used to being in this kind of shape.

He tried all sorts of weird Yoga poses he had seen in books and his body could handle them easily. He then tried some gymnastics stuff, like flips and rolls. The girls body just flipped through those with ease. It was surely part of the basic information Destiny had given him. If this was what he could do with just that basic information he wondered what he would be able to do with training to enhance what he had. That thought made him giggle with glee.

The sound made him stop cold. He had just giggled and it freaked him out a little. Where had that sound come from?

“Uhm...Destiny....what was that?”

“I would say you giggled. It probably has to do with the fact that everything is female, including your chi. That could make some differences.”

Alex shuddered. Maybe the cool powers weren’t worth the whole being a girl thing. Another thought crossed his mind, if he were a girl would that mean he did girl things like periods and stuff? He had heard lots of jokes about that, like bleeding for five days and not dying. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.

“What is it Alex?”

“Nothing. I’m just going to put you up and do some house work. It’s getting late.”

Alex put up the sword and headed inside. Once he shut the blade back in the box and returned to his body he shuddered and headed into the shower. He felt dirty and weird. He liked how he felt when transformed but he didn’t want to be a girl.

Alex tidied his room and got some of the dishes done. He even tidied the living room, collecting the most obvious trash and taking it out. He played video games to take his mind off of the sword.

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That first set of realizations creeped me out. I was happy being a boy. I liked standing to pee. I didn’t want to be a girl. But what I could do in that body was amazing. And that wasn’t even the cool stuff. I was just getting the basics.

After nearly a day of such free and light movement it was tough getting used to being heavy and uncoordinated. I almost hated it, except for the fact that this was me.

I didn’t want to use the sword again for a while but I had enjoyed it so much that two days later I used it again, all day practically. Sitting down to pee was weird but I got used to that. I soon found myself using the sword almost every day. In a way it was like drugs. I felt good in the lighter body, and could do things that were amazing.

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Alex opened the box and transformed with Destiny’s Wave. He was going to get some clothes that were easier to move in with his new body. He was getting tired of his smaller sweats and his chest hurt after his breasts were bouncing around all day. He had figured that some sort of bra would help.

Alex knew he would have to spend his own money on this so he had saved up. The plan was to change, take the bus to the strip mall with the Goodwill store and buy some clothes that would fit and be easier to move in.

The trip to the store went by easily enough. Alex figured he looked like a young Asian girl dressed in old sweats, which was the case. No one looked twice at him...her. He sat quietly, with a backpack slung over one shoulder, holding money and the like.

He got off at the stop and had no problems at the Goodwill. He had managed to find a few sports bras that fit him, some stretch pants and yoga pants that almost clung like a second skin, panties, shoes and some t-shirts that would work. Alex felt good that he would not have to wear the baggy clothes he had been making do with any longer.

After he made his purchases he went into the bathroom at Mancino’s, a local hot sandwich and pizza place. It was weird going into the girls bathroom. He was surprised to see that it was just like a men’s room, only with stalls. Alex did like the way the sports bra held his chest. Now maybe it would stop hurting. He put his sweats into the bag, tied up his Keds and went to get some lunch.

Something felt wrong. Alex stopped before he opened the door. Things felt... chaotic out there, wrong. He listened and could hear raised voices barking angrily. She opened the door a crack and looked out. There were two men out there with hoods on and holding guns. The girl at the register looked really scared and was busily stuffing cash into a to go bag. Alex could hide here until they were gone.

But that was wrong and this robbery was wrong. That feeling filled him. He dropped his backpack and stepped out of the bathroom. One of the gunmen turned to face him. “You, Girl, Freeze!!”

Alex felt like he was sliding on ice. He slid up alongside the robber and clotheslined him.  His body flipped through the air and slammed heavily into the ground. The other turned , trying to draw a bead on Alex. With a twist Alex disarmed him and flipped him onto his friend. They both lay there stunned and confused. Alex crouched in his female body and looked at them. “Don’t move or I’ll have to hurt you.”

The people in the place cheered. Alex blushed.

Soon the police came in with guns drawn to pick up the crooks. Alex backed off of the two when they entered. One of the officers came up to him. “Miss? Are you the one who stopped these two?”

“Yes Officer.” Alex thought quickly. He didn’t want the cops to know his real name as that would cause too many problems. He ran through the list of girls names from various anime series he had seen. The problem was that they were all Japanese, not Chinese.

“Could we get a statement from you?” The officer was taking out a pen and gesturing towards a table. Alex moved to sit down.

“First things first, what’s your name?”

Here it was, the moment of truth. He remembered a name of a character from one of the Hong Kong comics he liked. “My name is Chou Lee.”

The officer asked her how to spell that and went on, unaware that Alex had lied. Alex meanwhile sighed with relief. He might be able to pull this off.

“So why did you attack those two? You could have been hurt or killed.”

“I wasn’t too worried. I have had lots of Martial Arts training and it seemed like a valid time to use them. I also figured that I shouldn’t hurt them too much. In case you needed them for something.”

The cop chuckled at that. “Well, try not to do that again. We get paid the big bucks to get shot at. Teenage girls shouldn’t have to do our job for us. Its embarrassing.”

Alex blushed a little and felt that weird vibe whenever this body did something girly. “Uh...okay.”

The questioning went along fine for a while and then the police left. Alex went up to the counter to get some lunch and found it was free of charge. This was definitely a weird day.

The bus ride home was uneventful. Alex got home and hid the clothes so that his father wouldn’t be able to find them. He was a little nervous as to what his dad would say to finding girls clothes in his son’s room. He really didn’t want to have to go through that much interrogation.

He picked up Destiny’s Wave and told the sword about what had happened. Then he put the sword into the box. The rush of the transformation shook him. Then the realization of what had happened at lunch hit him. He had fought two guys with guns. He could have been hurt. He...could have been killed. He started shaking uncontrollably as the fear that had been delayed hit him. He started crying and curled up into a fetal position. He fell asleep hiding under his sheets, his door locked.

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I mean everyone tells you that they were just fine. I was too when the action took place. But I freaked out when I got back to safety. I had never had a reaction like that. I had gotten into fights as a kid but never on that sort of level. I was seriously scared.

When I woke the next day after several nightmares of me getting shot, I spent over an hour trying to get myself clean. I felt dirty inside and out. It also seemed as if no amount of scrubbing would fix it.

I also spent that day holed up in my room. I was afraid to go out, even downstairs to the kitchen. It was bad. But by evening I had calmed down and had dinner. Dad was still doing his beer and the game thing so again it was mostly me on my own. The food helped and my Dad being home made me feel safer. Which when you think about it is rather funny. I had all these swords in my room but I didn’t feel safe. Heh...

Though, about then things seemed to get odder.

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Alex was in the back practicing with Destiny’s Wave, leaping onto the roof and off. It was fun and made him glad no one could see the show. He had just leapt down with a flip when he heard some applause coming from the corner of his house. He spun and brought the blade into a ready position.

At the corner stood this Asian boy/girl. Alex couldn’t decide if it was a boy or a girl so stuck with both. He/she was dressed in a way that was also androgynous. “Nicely done. Good form by the way. Though with your reach you might want a different opening stance.”

Alex didn’t lower the blade or his guard. “Who are you?”

“Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Lan Caihe Ho. I felt the sword awaken again and came to check it out, especially with it sleeping and waking in such an odd fashion.” S/He walked closer, keeping her arms open. The flow of her energy was calm and deep, making Alex aware of how much he had to learn. “By the way, Chou Lee, good choice.”

Alex blinked, “What?”

“The name you gave to the police? When you stopped the robbery? Remember?” S/He had gotten closer and stopped, looking perfectly calm with the sword aimed at her/his heart.

“Oh...yeah...how did you know?”

“My dear, I am an Immortal. When I felt the blade awaken I left Penglai Shan to find out what was going on. The blade was supposed to still be on the island.”

Alex blushed. “I didn’t steal it. Honest.”

Lan Caihe Ho smiled, voice smooth and genderless. “I know. I can also tell by the taste of your Chi that you are male, except when you have the blade out. This is an interesting development. So lets talk.”

Alex led him/her inside. They both sat at the table in the kitchen. “Uh...want some tea?”

“Sure.”

Alex got out the mugs and tea bags. He started heating the water. This Lan Caihe Ho was just sitting there content to say nothing and wait for the tea. It was starting to unnerve Alex. “Uh...so I bought this sword at a gun show from this old Asian guy. There were also a set of beads, I think it was a necklace.”

“I see. Anything interesting about the sale?”

“Now that you mention it there was. I think the sword disappeared when he got out the box.”

“Actually that is probably true. There was probably an illusion cast so someone who could feel the blade could see it without waking the blade up. Rather tricky. I wonder who it was who sold it to you? Master Lao?”

“You said you are Immortal?”

“Yes. I am a Taoist Immortal.”

“What is that?”

The laughter was unexpected. It had a nice musical quality. “It would take too long to explain. Suffice it to say I studied a long time and have never died. I live on an island no one else can find and go out into the world and have fun.”

“Like a superhero?”

“Almost but entirely unlike that. I and the others do things to keep the Balance, not to make one side stronger than another. I am sure Destiny’s Wave told you about that. The Balance is much more important than Good or Evil. Sometimes both need to be fought.”

“And I was chosen to do this?”

Another chuckle. “Not really. But sure, why not? If I knew who gave you the sword I could tell you the answers. I think you have been drafted into the fight.”

“Oh...” Alex felt a little down at that. It had made him happy to think that he could be a superhero now he was told that wasn’t really the plan.

“If you want to be a superhero, that’s fine. Chou, to do that you need to become this you forever. I am not sure the other you can keep up with the shocks of the change. Eventually the Chi will spiral out of balance and you will die.”

“What?!” Alex stood up quickly, the chair falling over.

“And there is also the fact that the Demon Lord of the Hell of Fiery Immersion wants the sword destroyed. He has been thwarted numerous times by its wielders.  Add the fact that the Monkey King wants to play with the wielder of the blade and the Tong of the Black Madonna wants the blade for themsleves.  So there is some real danger in owning Destiny’s Wave. If you are not the full wielder of her, if and when they show up, you might just die.” Lan Caihe Ho said this calmly and very straight forward.

“I am not surprised the Sword didn’t tell you. Most of these things she is unaware of, as she has been sleeping and out of the world. I however am trying to help you. Either way, things will follow the Tao.”

Alex started shaking a little. Demons? Death? What?

“Chou, have a seat. I am sure I got here before they did. I just needed you to understand the situation fully. If this experience is only for play, you will die. If not, then I figure you can live. If I take the sword, you’ll be fine. If not, then you will have to deal with it. All of it.”

Alex collapsed into another chair. “This is too much. I just thought I was buying a sword not getting involved in something bizarre. What the hell am I going to do?”

“Simple. Close your eyes and think about all of this. Then let it go. The answer will come to you in the span of seven breaths.” Caihe imparted the advice with the same voice as everything else.

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And so that is just what I did. I took a deep breath and thought about all of this and then let it go. As I kept breathing I recalled how good I felt that I had helped those people at Mancino’s. I kept thinking about how I could help people. As I exhaled the seventh breath I knew my old life was over.

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Alex exhaled and opened his eyes slowly. “I think I want to keep the sword and do what I can to help others. This sword lets me do that. I don’t really know what that means at the moment, but that is what I want.”

Caihe smiled brightly. “Well good. Now you just need to watch out for demons and assassins and you’ll be fine. You need training. I will go and find someone to help you. Watch out for things. And take care Chou. You have made a decision, be prepared to deal with the consequences.”

Alex smiled weakly. “I’ll try.”

Caihe stood up smoothly, as natural as breathing. “I will be in touch with you later. Some of my siblings may show as well. Rest assured, we will only have your best interests and that of the Balance at heart.”

With that the boy/girl left out the back. Alex just sat there in shock.

When he looked up and saw the time he cursed and ran up stairs. His dad would be home soon. He sheathed and stored the blade in the carrying box. He was a little light headed but by the time he had redressed he was fine. As he was coming downstairs he heard his dad come in.

“Hey Alex, let’s get some Pizza! The Yankees are playing tonight and we can watch them.”

Sounded good to Alex, so he called out. “Great.”

Alex poured himself a coke and got his dad a beer. When he took his seat his father was hanging up the phone. His father sat in his easy chair and took the beer. “Thanks kid. Food should be here in about forty-five.”

They watched the game happily. Alex was getting into the swing of things, like he usually did when he actually watched a game for more than twenty minutes. He wasn’t a fan of sports but they were interesting to watch with his dad. His dad seemed to know every fact and detail about every team in every sport. Alex had always been proud of the fact that his dad was a sports guru.

Alex got up and headed towards the bathroom. He heard the doorbell ring and his father getting up. It was sure to be the pizza. When he heard the question in response to his fathers hello, he knew it wasn’t. “Where are Chou and Destiny’s Wave?”

“What the hell? You have the wrong address! Now go away.” Alex heard the door slam shut. “Fucking weirdoes.”

Alex’s heart was racing. That hadn’t sounded like Caihe, or even something nice. Alex slowly started creeping up the stairs. As he heard his father sit back down there was also the terrible sound of the front door splintering. Alex started to run. His father began to scream. He could smell something burning, cooking.

As he got to the door of his room his father’s screams stopped suddenly, as if someone had flipped a switch. He stopped and yelled out, “Dad!”

He heard footsteps heading his way, heavy and filled with purpose. Alex grabbed the box and freed the blade. With a jerk, the blade cleared the scabbard and the box fell to the floor. Her body shuddered through the transformation. This one had not been as smooth as the others. The door to her room snapped open, breaking the frame.

A large figure with black skin stood there, lines of red ran through the skin. He was very obviously male and very obviously naked. Heat poured off of him in waves, choking the air. “Destiny’s Wave! It shall be mine!”

Alex slashed the blade back and forth, keeping the thing off of her. It glowered at her. “You think you can stop me, the Demon Lord of the Hell of Fiery Immersion? Foolish mortal, do you think I fear a mere blade. Give me the sword or burn.”

The floor boards began to smolder and smoke. Tongues of flame began to leap up from them, catching fire from the heat of the Demon Lord. It took a step into the room and stepped on the box with one foot, holding it in place. Alex cursed under his breath, he needed that box to turn back. The flames were starting to grow and spread. The heat was overwhelming and the smoke was making him cough. The smoke was hazing everything.

“I tire of this, mortal. Destiny’s Wave will be mine or I will make you suffer eternal torments. You will burn until the universe fades.”

Alex grabbed his backpack with his money and girl’s clothes, the scabbard in his other hand and threw himself out the window. He could hear the thing laughing, mocking him. He had to get away.

“Alex, run. We can not fight this thing and live. He is stronger than us at the moment.” Destiny’s Wave spurred Alex into action.

Using the skills the sword had taught him, Alex took great leaps, crossing thirty feet at a go. He hurried away from his house, which was glowing orange behind him, smoke pouring blackly out of it. He could still hear the laughter and the mocking sound of the Demon Lord screaming, “Run child!  It does not matter, I shall find you eventually!”

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I didn’t know what else to do so I just ran. I had never done that with this body, but there didn’t seem to be much of a limit. I ran quickly and for a long time. The sun was coming up when I collapsed in some farmers field. I was spent, physically and emotionally. After a few hours of troubled sleep on the ground I changed into more comfortable clothes. I went through my money and found I had thirty-two dollars and sixty-three cents. How was I going to live on that?

As I was shaking from that realization, I realized that with the box gone I was stuck in this body, forever. And my father was dead. And I was alone.

I cried for a few hours. I realized that the demon was probably still after me so I stood up and ran on. The next five days were like that, a haze of panic and running. When I got tired I collapsed and slept fitfully until the fear would wake me.

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Alex walked into the edge of the town. The sign said Taylor. The population wasn’t very large and she was hungry. Alex was realizing that Alex was dead and that Chou was all he had for a future. One that didn’t look all that good as things stood.

He trudged in and realized she was a she now. He shuddered again. He felt sick and dirty. He hadn’t bathed for six days while running and sleeping on the ground. He wanted to be someplace safe where he could rest, but the dreams of the Demon Lord kept waking him.

Chou headed for a diner that he could see about a half mile ahead. Food would be good. He had barely eaten anything since this whole ordeal had started and his stomach rumbled.

Alex walked in and headed for a booth. He could feel the eyes of everyone in there on her. It made his skin itch with the way their Chi touched his, trying to make a connection. An older waitress, looking to be about fifty came up, her eyebrow cocked up at the sight of the sword and the backpack. “Anything I can get you sweetie?”

Chou scanned the menu quickly. “Yes. Can I get a Cheeseburger plate?”

“Sure. Want a salad with that?”

“Please. Ranch dressing. And water.” Chou figured that this would cost about four dollars, according to the menu.

The woman went off. Chou smoothed out her/his matted black hair and took stock of things. He had ten dollars left and no plans. His father was dead, and she could no longer return to her male body. Alex had no identification that matched his body and no clue what to do. Caihe had been the one with the plan but Alex had no clue where he/she was. In a way he had no clue where he was either. He had never heard of this town.

The salad arrived with the water and Chou started eating. He was famished but took his time to avoid becoming sick. She finished the salad and was working on the burger when he felt a tickle on her Chi. She turned on his seat and watched a sheriff’s car pull up. Great. She continued eating, as that was slightly more important at this point.

Alex heard the door open and could feel the Sheriff moving towards her. His energy was strong and pulsed warmly.

“Excuse me miss, mind if I take a seat?” the voice was deep.

She looked up, and up. The sheriff was about six foot six and huge. Alex could plainly see muscle definition under a thin layer of fat padding, smoothing the lines. He slid into the seat without waiting for an answer, hitching his belt up to move in easier.

“Edith, two pieces of your apple pie if you please. Coffee and a tall glass of milk.” The elderly waitress nodded and set about that task. “So, you’re new here. Just walk in?”

Chou nodded.

“Family troubles?”

Again he nodded.

“So its onto the road eh?”

She blinked, and then nodded.

“If you don’t mind my asking, what’s with the sword? The backpack makes sense, but if you run away from home why take a sword?” The pieces of pie were set down along with the drinks. “Thankya Edith.”

“The sword is special. And in a way is part of why I had to leave.” Chou nibbled at the pie. She...he hadn’t had any apple pie in weeks. It was so sweet and tasty.

The man nodded. He sniffed. “Sweetie, when is the last time you had a shower?”

Chou blushed. “A...about a week ago.”

“I see...When did you last sleep in a bed? About the same time?”

He nodded.

“Hmmm...I guess this is where I take you with me. What we do after that depends on you. I’ll let you shower and get clean. Then you can tell me about things. I’ll see what I can do.” He seemed pleased with himself. They finished their pie in silence.

She meekly followed him out of the diner and into the squad car. It was nice to have someone who seemed to have Ideas. Alex was getting tired of running.

As the doors of the car closed the Sheriff started the engine. “So...is the sword a magical focus or something?”

Chou felt his jaw drop. “What?”

“The sword. It’s magical and part of the reason this all happened, right?”

“Uh...yeah. How do you know these things?” Chou was confused. How could a small town sheriff know these things?

“I used to be a hero, before I decided to become a sheriff. I found I wasn’t really cut out for the hero life. So I keep this town safe. No cape. No secret ID. Just me. Kind of nice really.” He turned the car onto the road and headed into town. “My apartment is above the office. You can shower there. Do you have anything clean?”

“No.”

“I’ll see what I can dig up. A t-shirt might do the job for now. Hang on you like a dress. Heh...”

Chou blushed again. Part of Alex rebelled at this but there was also the realization that he had a new life and needed to get on with it. He just didn’t know what that meant. “Thank you.”

The Sheriff chuckled and drove on. He gave her the penny tour of the town. Alex learned all about the town's life, more than she had ever wanted to. Finally they pulled up at the sheriff’s office. He tossed her a set of keys. “Go around to the side. The door is there.”

Chou found it easily enough. Finding the right key took a little bit of work though. He made her way upstairs and found the shower after a little searching. This would be the first time he had showered in her new body. She was not really looking forward to it.

The water was warm and it eased some of the tension. The shampoo barely lathered the first time in her hair but did the second time she washed. There was even a bottle of conditioner in the shower. She slicked that through her hair and then began to soap up her body.

It was one thing to know she had a female body, another to have it proven without a shadow of a doubt. Alex made sure to clean everywhere and felt uncomfortable the whole time. The contours of her body were different and what made her a girl was very different. It was a shock to learn what a girl felt like when touching herself. She wanted to be Alex again, but the box was gone, and his father was dead, and everything else he had known was gone.  She huddled under the warm water and cried.

After a while he felt the water turn off and felt herself being picked up in a big towel. It was warm and soft. She curled into the sheriff’s arms. He held her as she continued to weep.

Alex woke up in a strange bedroom, warm and comfortable. Some of her clothes were folded and put by the bed. They had obviously been washed. Chou got up and dressed in them awkwardly. When she left the room there was a plate on the table with a glass sitting next to it. There was a little sign made out of a three by five card.

“Eat. The plate will keep everything warm. Milk is in the fridge. Come on down when you are ready.”

Chou smiled at that. The eggs and bacon were good and the biscuits were light and fluffy. The milk was cold and tasted different from any milk she had ever had before. It was apparently some local brand. He helped herself to a second glass of it.

She looked around and found Destiny’s Wave in the living room. It was sitting where he had left it. She felt better when he knew where the blade was. He ran her hands over the scabbard and hilt. Her hand wrapped easily around the hilt.

She picked up his sword and headed downstairs. He made her way around the building to the front door. She opened the door to the sheriff’s office. There was another officer at a desk who smiled at her. “The Chief is back there, third door on the right. He said it was okay for you to go on in.”

Chou walked in to the office of the Sheriff. His wall was covered with pictures of several superhero groups and several diplomas. He smiled at her. “So why don’t you have a seat and tell me everything that’s happened and I’ll see what I can do for you.”

Destiny’s Wave was comforting in her hand. It made him feel strong and capable. She began his tale haltingly, crying at points. The Sheriff sat there listening patiently, taking a few notes. He handed her a Kleenex after a while.

“So, what do you want to be called, Alex or Chou? At this point you can do whatever you want.”

She looked at herself. She was both Alex and Chou. But Alex had no future, his life had been destroyed. Chou had become his future. Did he really have any other option? “Chou.”

He nodded. “Let me call around and see what I can do. I will see if I can get you into Whatley. It’s a private school for those of us with the Hero or Villain vibe. It is in New Hampshire. And for another thing, you certainly covered distance Chou. We are three hundred miles from your old home. Good job.”

She smiled at the compliment. “So what should I do between now and your calls being done?”

He looked at her and then smiled. “You need clothes. Real clothes, not just workout clothes. Take my business card and go shopping. Tell them to charge me and I’ll have Rob talk to them when they call. Get everything you need. I’ll try to keep you here until we figure out what needs to be done.”

“What about the Demon Lord?” Chou was actually worried. “What if he shows again?”

“Some of my calls will deal with that as well. Go along. You have the sword and if trouble starts they will call me. Don’t worry.”

Chou nodded and left, taking one of his business cards. Sheriff Joshua Tate. She smiled at the thought of being able to get some jeans and new shirts. Actually she wasn’t sure what she would need. She had a new body that felt very different and she didn’t know what to do with it. Alex had never been around girls much, so their rituals were a mystery to him. Now Alex was a girl. She would have to throw herself on the mercy of the sales ladies. She hoped they would be kind to her.

The first store seemed to have clothes for older women. Chou didn’t find anything there that interested her. She went across the street and found that the store had a wide variety of clothes for girls her age and older teens. She smiled when she looked at everything. She might be able to get some clothes after all. While she was looking over things a woman walked up to her. “Can I help you?”

“Uh...yes. My name is Chou Lee. The Sheriff is buying me some clothes and I liked your stuff and I could use some help.”

The woman smiled at that. “Alright. Do you know your sizes?”

“Uh...no. I have never really bought clothes for myself.” This wasn’t really a lie. Mostly Alex had held clothes up to his body to see if they were close enough in size to fit. He had rarely tried on any clothes.

“No problem. I think I can help you. We have some really nice things in here. There are even some Mandarin style tops. They seem to be catching on. I think they would look good on you.”

She led Chou over there. The Mandarin tops were nice. In red, blue, yellow and purple. Chou wanted one of each. She also got some black slacks that looked good with the tops. The saleslady offered her several skirts, but she refused. She had no interest in being too girly. This was hard enough as it was without having to look odd. In some ways she was still a boy.

After getting several bras and panties, Chou went over and looked at the shoes. There were several boots and sneakers that looked good. She got a pair of flats because she figured that those would go really well with the black slacks and Mandarin tops. There were a couple of cute backpacks for school available as well. Several of them seemed larger than the one her stuff was crammed into now. She added one of those to her pile as well. There was even a bag that could hold her sword and make it less obvious. She blanched a little when she saw the small mountain on the counter.

The woman began ringing it up and Chou began to get dizzy at the sheer amount of money that these clothes cost. Alex had never even seen that much money at one time. The woman called the Sheriff with the total and then began bagging it all up. He really had bought all this stuff for her.

Chou changed into her black slacks and the blue Mandarin top with the flats. These clothes felt softer than Alex’s clothes had. Chou looked into the mirror and was still stunned to see the Asian face looking back at him. The breasts were taking a while to get used to as well. The bra was holding them out, not in like the sports bra had. But there was no denying the fact that she looked like a cute Chinese girl. Definitely a girl. Which was weird.

Chou found she had little problem picking up all the bags. They seemed to weigh very little. She was a bit surprised at this. “Wow...I didn’t know I was this strong.”

“That is because your Chi is strengthening and your body is becoming more attuned to the Tao. You will become stronger still, faster and more flexible. This will become only more pronounced as you grow older. Eventually you will be stronger than anyone.”

“Destiny! I thought you weren’t talking to me?” Chou was surprised to find that she really had been worried. the sword had said nothing since the flight from the burning house.

“There was little to say. This is not my world. The stars have changed quite a bit, at least five hundred years have passed since I was out last.  I know nothing of this world and therefore cannot really guide you in some things. I do not know where any Taoist temples are. I do not know where to find the texts you need. I can only aid you in learning how to fight and move. So what reason is there to talk?”

“But you have been helping me. Without you I would not have been able to do this.”

“Without me this would not have happened.”

“I could have given you to Caihe, but I didn’t. I can do things with you that I couldn’t do before. I can help people in a way I never could before. Why would I want to be without you?”

Destiny’s Wave was silent.

Chou raised her head as she saw the Sheriff leave the office. “Chou, drop those bags over here and let’s get lunch. You’re too scrawny.”

She hurried over, smiling since things were looking up. He took her to the same diner where they had met. He made her order a good amount of food before he started talking to her. “I’ve got some good news and some bad news.”

“Can I have the bad news first?” Chou was a little nervous about what the bad could be.

“The bad is that the Demon Lord is still on the loose. My guess is its coming here. None of my contacts can really do anything since it is not destroying at random. Once it shows up and starts destroying things they can do something. They said you have two days lead on it right now. So you can’t stay here until classes start.”

Chou was shaking. “And the good news?”

He smiled at this. “I got you into Whateley. They said their defenses are strong enough to keep the demon out unless it is summoned directly onto the school grounds. They can test you there, see what you can do and help you reach your full potential.”

“Cool. I can go to Superheroes school?” Her eyes were big in surprise and the news almost balanced knowing the Demon Lord was still chasing her.

“Now the trick is to get there. I was told to keep you away from large groups of people, so busses, trains and planes are out. I can’t drive you and I won’t risk one of my deputies.”

“So I walk?” asked Chou, incredulous.

“Nope. I can get you either a bike or a horse. Which do you want?”

Chou blinked at him. What? Alex had never dealt with horses and the thought of riding a bike that far was horrible.  Destiny’s Wave spoke up. “The horse. I can tell her how to take care of a horse. I do not know what a bike is.”

The Sheriff didn’t even blink in surprise. It seemed that his claim to being an ex-superhero was true. “Sounds good. I can get the horse and maps ready in a few hours. I’ll help you pack. Trust me kid, it’ll be a fun trip. This should also extend your lead.”

Chou sat there stunned. The Sheriff reached over and closed her mouth. “Finish your pie and we’ll get going.”

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So that was how I found myself on a horse traveling about a thousand miles. It was cool. It took me a few days to get used to riding, but apparently it was in the burst of information Destiny gave me. In her day people rode horses all the time, apparently. So I knew how to feed them and care for them. Which made the trip here so much easier. I don’t think I could have walked the whole way.

So I got food, money, a map, directions, a compass and all sorts of other stuff that would be returned once I got hereto Whateley. We said good bye and I was on my way again. I knew it would take a while so I figured I could talk with Destiny and find out about Lan Caihe Ho, the Demon Lord and all sorts of other things. I should be able to reach the school in time for classes to start.

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Chou was enjoying the late summer trip. She was riding through some part of North east Pennsylvania. Ahead she could hear the faint sounds of a flute of some sort. She extended her Chi like she had been taught and felt two people with incredibly strong energy signatures. She reigned in her horse and felt for what the signatures told her. One was the mixed male and female of Lan Caihe Ho and the other had a strong Yin flavor, so a woman. She moved forward cautiously.

While Caihe was playing a flute that looked like a staff, the woman was sitting happily in the middle of the trail listening to the flute and the wind. They were both wearing what looked like robes with pants underneath. They both looked very peaceful. In a way it made her a little jealous. She stopped her horse and got down. Caihe finished the song after a few minutes.

“Hello again Chou.”

“Hello Caihe.”

“This is my sister He Xiangu. She wanted to meet you.”

Chou stood there patiently while the woman got up and bowed to her. Chou returned the gesture.

“So, you are the new wielder of Destiny’s Wave. Congratulations. Caihe has told me all about you.”

Chou looked at her nervously. The woman smiled. “There is nothing to be worried about. We are both here to help you. The others decided to stay and not inundate you with people. We are excited to see the return of one of our own after so long. So we thought to travel with you for a few days, answer your questions and see if we can help with the Demon Lord.”

Chou smiled brightly. “Really?”

Caihe got to his/her feet. “Really. Please, walk with us.”

Chou grabbed the reins and led the horse through the forest with the two Immortals. They walked along in silence for about an hour. Chou was having trouble with the silence. When riding she had talked to her horse for some sort of conversation. She was about to say something when Xiangu spoke up. “Mastering silence is a good way to master the blade. In silence you can hear the stirring of the wind, the animals scurry, the busy marching of the ants, the heart beat of the world. When you can do that, feeling the current of the Tao becomes easy. Those are the things that will make you stronger.”

Chou kept walking, thinking about what Xiangu said. She guessed it made sense. She was sure this was more of that mystical stuff that the sword talked about. She walked on with them, silent, trying to listen to the rest of the world and not her thoughts. As they walked on she could hear sounds she hadn’t noticed before. The forest seemed to be more alive than she had felt before. Now it wasn’t empty, it was full with life and wind and became even more wonderful. She smiled.

The day passed wonderfully, with a whole new world opening up to her when she was silent. Some of the things Destiny had said, about quieting the mind and just being were starting to make some sense. She could feel her Chi growing into the silence that was filling her.

As the sun was lowering itself in the sky, heading closer towards night Caihe stopped them and the three of them made camp. She broke out her food and they all shared in making the meal, gathering wood and water. As the flames were crackling Lan started playing the flute again. The sound was a little haunting. Xiangu started speaking in the spaces between the notes.

“Chou...this sword...Destiny’s Wave...is special, in many ways. This blade is a bit different...than others...as she is a teacher....who let herself be...placed in the blade. She has chosen you...despite being a boy. There is a ... potential depth...to you, if you can tap into it. To find it...you must find yourself. Right now the world seems bright... new ... wonderful, but it is both black and white, not just one or the other. The current of this nation likes things to be either or, one or the other. Balance is not something this nation cherishes. So you will be struggling...against the current...of this nation when the Tao wants you to only flow. We have been to this school...this Whateley. You should...be fine there. Classes have started...but you should be able to catch up. There are others whose Chi shines brightly. Find them. There are several in the building where you will be living. We will come by...occasionally. Guan Yu will be by as well, to see how you are doing.”

“Guan Yu? Like from the Three Kingdoms era?” Chou’s eyes went wide. She loved playing that character in her games. His pole arm was awesome. She called it the Big Broom.

“Yes. He will make sure your sword work is okay. Also I told you that Monkey wants to bother you. He is harmless but irritating. He may try to steal your underwear.”

Chou giggled. “Really?”

Both nodded. “He loves playing pranks. He is a God but an irritating one.”

“A God!!”

“Well, I guess you could classify him as an Immortal as well. Don’t worry about him. Even at his worst he will not harm you.” Caihe smiled and started playing again. She fell asleep to the sound of the flute and the wind in the trees.

The next morning Chou noticed that Caihe was not there. Xiangu seemed to be making tea. She smiled at Chou and handed a mug over. It smelled heavenly. The taste was tangy and stayed with her after drinking. “What is this?”

“It is a herbal tea I have made for you. It will help strengthen your Chi and balance your energies. I will make sure to leave you some. I also have several books for you to study. These are Taoist texts. Even one of the ‘Books of Sacred Forms.’ That should help your fighting ability.”

Chou smiled brighter. They seemed to be so nice to her. “Thank you. I really mean it. Learning some of this Taoist stuff might just help me cope with things.”

Xiangu smiled warmly at her. She brushed a strand of hair from her face as she poured herself a mug of tea. “That is part of the plan. You were chosen by a Taoist blade, we hoped you wouldn’t mind learning what that means.”

The smile they had held for a moment, before a tree crashed over. The Demon Lord strode into the campsite. “Xiangu...very touching. Nice of you to lie to the shemale. Give me the Blade girl and I may let you live!”

Chou spun to her feet, drawing the sword in one smooth motion. The weeks on the road had given her time to integrate the first amount of information completely. Her body flowed with the movement. The Demon flung a boulder at her. She spun the blade and turned her body so it glanced off of the pressure the blade was building. The Demon lurched towards her and she danced out of the way, feeling the attacks reach for her before the Demon moved. It made it easier for her to evade it.

Chou kept dodging and blocking whatever was thrown at her. She knew she was not good enough to fight back but she could tell she could avoid the attacks for a while. The battle continued, as she flung herself about the forest with the Demon tearing things up. She could feel the heat starting to rise up from him and she knew that fire was not far away.

“So Farshine...have they lied enough to you? Made you feel like you were their child...their kin?” The voice was smooth, but it burned.

Chou could smell that some of the underbrush was catching. The Demon Lord would have the advantage in the fire, since it didn’t seem to bother him at all. After all he was the Demon Lord of the Hell of Fiery Immersion, that was probably a hot place. She was starting to get worried. Was Xiangu alright? How was she going to stop this guy? She was running out of ideas. What was he saying...was it true?

Suddenly there was a bright flash of light and the roaring stopped. Chou turned and noticed that the Demon was no longer there. Xiangu was standing there with her hands folded, her fingers intertwined, red beads over her hands. Suddenly it started to rain. The small fires petered out and faded. The fire was gone.

The rain trickled down Chou’s face as she watched Xiangu. The air shimmered around her. Chou felt her heart racing in response to whatever Xiangu was doing. The amount of Chi the woman was pushing was amazing.

The rain trickled to a stop. Xiangu looked up at Chou and smiled again. “I see you have gotten fairly good at the basics. That is good to know.”

“How did you stop him? He just disappeared.” Chou was slightly confused and panicked. The Demon had disappeared as if by magic.

“Taoists have various ways to deal with Demons. I sent him back home. He’ll be stuck there for a while before he can come back. The basics of that are in one of the books I have for you.” Xiangu was dripping and didn’t seem to mind. She lead Chou back to the campsite. “Well, lets pack and head out. I am afraid the horse has run away.”

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That night, after a long walk, I made it to one of the stops I was told about. This was a farm run by an old Japanese couple. I stayed with them overnight and headed out the next day. Xiangu left me there with the books and the tea. The rest of the trip was rather quiet until I got here.

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Chou crested the hill and saw the town of Dunwich. That meant that the school would only be a few more miles away. It would be another hours walk at most. Then she could stop running and rest her tired feet. Soon she would be where she could eat and sleep and drink without having to be moving on every day. In a way she figured she would miss this.

She had grown up a lot on this trip. Being responsible for her own survival in the wilderness had been an experience. She had fought off wild dogs, drunk thugs and even a drug dealer who had gotten lost. She had also helped some animal families and a couple of lost kids younger than her. It had been very fulfilling. She figured she was starting to serve the Balance.

She walked down from the hill and followed the roads that were supposed to lead her to the school.  Several locals waved at her.  She waved happily back.  All in all the area seemed nice. She did wonder how cold it got in the winter.

She made her way closer to the school. Ahead she saw the gates. They were impressive. Chou wondered how they had managed to get wrought iron to do those things. She walked through the gate sedately.

She consulted the map of the school that she had been given and haded towards the administration building, Schuster Hall. She would have to find someone to check in with and start the whole process of moving in. Granted it would be easy but she was not looking forward to dealing with too many people. She had gotten used to the solitude that her ride and walk had offered her.

After a bit of looking she found Schuster Hall. It was an older building and the road led pretty much right up to it. There was a sign over the door reading, “Administration”. With Destiny’s Wave in her hand she walked into the building.

The secretary at the front desk smiled at her. It was a warm and welcoming smile that made her relax. “Yes, can I help you?”

“Yes ma’am. My name is Chou Lee and I am a student here. I am sorry I am a few weeks late. I had some trouble getting here.” Chou smirked a little at that. In a way it was a terrible understatement.

“Ah...yes...let me see. Yes, you will need to see Ms. Claire. She is down this hall and to the left.”

Chou thanked her and headed out on her way. The woman was on the phone when she reached the cubicle. She was a young woman with a head of auburn hair that brushed her shoulders. Chou was waved into a seat by the woman who was saying uh-huh a lot and typing furiously. Finally she got off the phone. “Gah...some peoples parents! How can I help you, Miss...”

“Lee. Chou Lee. I’m supposed to be a student here.”

The woman turned and typed in Chou’s name. “Yes. I am Ms. Elaine Claire. No pastry jokes please.”

“What?”

“Nothing.  I see you are three weeks late for classes. Any reason why?”

“I had to travel here on horseback for security reasons. At least that was what I was told. It took a while to get here. Especially after a Demon chased off my horse and I had to walk the rest of the way.”

“I see. I hear that one all the time. Well, so far you are in no classes and have no advisor. But you do have a place in Poe Hall. That is where you’ll be staying. It says here that you have secret sponsors. Not too uncommon. Let’s get you to the dorms. I can give you things to read over. I’ll get you an advisor and we can work on classes tomorrow. Okay?”

“Uh...sure. I could use a long shower and a bed.” Chou smiled broadly.

“If you rode a horse  and walked over a thousand miles, I am sure you need one. We can also see Miss Shugendo as well, she’s the Dean of Students.” Ms. Claire stood, grabbed her purse and headed out. Chou moved quickly to keep up with her. She had to jog a little to catch up.

“I will have the house mother find you a room. There is probably some space as you were scheduled to be here but weren’t. Don’t worry. We won’t have you sleeping in the Quad.” Ms. Claire seemed nice, but Chou felt something darker in her Chi and was wondering what it was. This sense of hers was new and she still didn’t know what it all meant.

She soon returned with an older woman. “Chou Lee, this is Mrs. Horton the house mother for Poe house. She will get you settled in. You have everything?”

“Yes. I carried everything with me.” Chou smiled.

Mrs. Horton was taller than her but seemed to give off a very maternal energy, as she looked down at Chou. “Well, let’s get you settled in, shall we?”

“Uh...sure.”

“You will be staying on the second floor. There was a spot held for you so one of the girls has a spot free in her room. That would be Ayla. If I remember my charts correctly she doesn’t have a roommate at the moment. Belle will be the one to show you around, later this evening. Is there anything you need right now?”

Chou thought about it. “Not really. I’m not that hungry, so I can wait for dinner and I guess I can wait to meet the girls before I get a room.”

“Good. Take a look around the house. The fourth floor is for seniors, so please stay off it. Laundry and exercise room is in the basement. I’ll get to work making sure you have everything you need for your room.”

Chou nodded and Mrs. Horton walked off. Chou wandered around and stopped before the bust of Edgar Allen Poe. It was a really good likeness and it made her smile. She felt something approaching however and turned.

In walked this slender black girl. Her Chi was burning powerfully. The girl stopped and looked at Chou. She seemed to be trying to figure something out. She shrugged and walked up to Chou. “Hey, I’m Toni. New here?”

Chou nodded. “Just got here a little while ago actually. I’m late I guess.”

Toni smiled brightly. “That’s cool. So what do you do?”

“What?”

“I do all sorts of cool martial arts stuff, like from the Matrix and Crouching Tiger. It has to do with Chi.”

“Really? Cool. I have this magical sword that lets me do, I guess, similar things. But I don’t really know too much about martial arts. All the stuff I have been learning about Chi is not about building the body. I can do the sort of flying thing though. That’s cool.”

“Neat! Hey, we can practice together. I can help you get better at the martial arts side of things and you can help me with the other stuff. I am a little shaky with my subtle work.”

Chou stuck her hand out. The girl seemed open and honest. Her Chi resonated a little with hers. Toni’s Chi though was a huge fire compared to hers. “Deal.”

“Oh...hey. Who are you rooming with?”

“I’m not sure. I was told Anya...I think.”

‘You aren’t an Energizer, are you?” asked Toni worriedly.

“A what? I just have a sword. I don’t speak superhero yet.” Chou smiled.

“You haven’t been tested yet or anything? Wow! So how do you know what you can do?” Toni seemed really energetic to Chou, who was much more sedate.

“The old fashioned way. I do something.” She giggled as Toni mock scowled.

“Hey, the other girls will be back soon. Let me introduce you round.”

“Shouldn’t I wait for Mrs. Horton? She was going to lead me to my room and stuff.” asked Chou, worried about offending the House Mother.

“Don’t worry. I’ll show you around and introduce you to everybody. Besides I am sure Belle will be forced to give you the tour of the place. But we can take you to dinner and help you get settled. Need a hand carrying anything?”

Chou held up her backpack and sword. “This is all I have.”

“Wow...you have like nothing. Not to worry...we can help you get what ever you need.”

“I should be fine for a little while. I have been living out of these things for a few months. Just to be able to hang things up will be a novelty.”

“What do you mean?” asked Toni, cocking her head.

“I rode on horseback and walked about a thousand miles to get here. That took quite a while.” Chou sighed at another realization of how far she had traveled. “At this point I don’t want to see another horse for a while.”

Toni led her down the hall to Mrs. Horton’s office. The black girl knocked on the door and opened it up. “Mrs. H, I can take Chou up to her room and at least get her to dinner. Is that okay?”

Mrs. Horton looked up from the paperwork she was going through and nodded. “That would be nice dear. I can finish getting all the paperwork finished for her. Make sure she sees Belle tonight. She needs the tour. Also Chou, please finish that paperwork Ms. Claire gave you tonight so we can get you into classes.”

Both girls replied, “Yes ma’am.”

They headed up the stairs. Toni broke the silence. “So I guess you must be a changeling as well, given that they are rooming you with us?”

“A what?” The term had Chou confused.

“Changeling. Like, were you a girl when this all started?”

Chou blushed as she realized what the term was implying. “Uh...no. I wasn’t.”

“No worries. Trust me, the group of us all have that in common. Now welcome to our floor. Over here is the bathroom and here is your room. Take a shower, change and relax. I’ll grab you when we are ready to head out.”

Chou smiled and thanked Toni. The bottom bunk seemed to be claimed already so Chou placed her bags on the floor. She put Destiny’s Wave on the emptier of the two desks. She unpacked her things and hung them up on one side of the closet. There still seemed to be plenty of room on what amounted to her half of the closet. She got out one of her Mandarin shirts and her Yoga pants. Now that she was here she was going to get comfortable.

She grabbed her towel and hygiene bag. It had everything she needed to get clean and stay that way, including tampons. The first time her period hit she had freaked out. Thankfully the sword talked her through things. The sword had not known what the tampon was though.

Chou blushed at the memory of going into a store and looking through the feminine hygiene isle until she got her courage up enough to buy something. That had been terrible. She turned on the water for the shower and adjusted the temperature before she undressed.

She stretched and felt the tight muscles from the long walk relax a little. It had been over a week since she had had a hot shower. She had mostly bathed in streams over the last week as she had pushed things to get here a little faster. Now she was here at Whateley and seemed to have made a friend. That would help things. And if Toni was right, she would have a number of people who would understand about being put into another body.

While the sword was great and the abilities were awesome, the cost of losing her real body to wield it was still something of a shock. She still occasionally freaked out cleaning the female body. There were times when she forgot her new body and expected to feel body parts that would never return.

The hot water helped her work out a number of kinks from her back and neck. This was now her new home. No father, no mother just this school. She started to cry again. The pain and cost was overwhelming her again. She crouched down on the bottom of the shower and cried for a little bit.

She felt better after a while. She rinsed in cold water. It invigorated her and she hoped it would hide the fact that she had been crying. She wasn’t sure she wanted to face new people crying.

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Chou headed towards the administration building. She had plenty of help to choose classes. And the girls were amazing. She liked them all, especially Jade and Fey. The flavors of their Chi were interesting and Chou really wanted to get to know them both better. Jade felt like a little sister, Jinn felt just like Jade, and she was sure she knew Fey from somewhere. There was this nagging feeling like she should be able to recognize the girl.

Tennyo was odd. Her Chi felt all sorts of mixed up. The fact that she looked like she had come straight out of one of Alex’s favorite animes didn’t help matters much either. Chou had to work hard to keep from staring.

Hank didn’t really feel all that odd all things considered. He felt like the Sheriff in many respects. She liked him.

Sara was another matter. The girl seemed to draw in Chi, as if she ate that energy. The girl seemed dark and gothic, haunted but friendly. Chou had shuddered when she had felt Sara consume her dinner. It had felt like she had ripped the life force from the animal.

Ayla wasn’t a bad roommate. The girl seemed preoccupied a bit, as if something was bothering her. But they split the room easily enough. The girl didn’t even stare when Chou was meditating like she had been taught. Ayla could do really cool things with her density, becoming intangible or as dense as stone. That was neat. Besides, she was cute.

Everyone on Team Kimba also seemed to like Destiny’s Wave. The sword told a few stories about life in ancient China. The descriptions of some of those battles were pretty intense. The point of view of the sword was fairly intimate. Tennyo and Chaka seemed really enthralled with the stories, which made sense. Sara did as well, especially the darker stories of demons.

Chou was beginning to feel like she might actually be able to do well here at Whateley. She hoped that they might ask her to join them on their team. She was also a little scared that they might not. She really wanted them to be her friends. Friends were something new to her and after the traveling, she discovered that though she could be alone comfortably she really wanted to have people around her. The hugs before heading off to bed were nice as well.

She entered into the administration building and made her way to Ms. Claire’s office/cubicle. The woman was on the phone again and waved her in. Chou sat down and lay the papers on the desk. She had chosen a number of classes that the others had so she could get some help in catching up. Destiny had suggested the magic classes since the sword had mentioned that Chou would be able to do some magic. They had been glad to hear that she wasn’t seeing someone named Hartford. Apparently the woman had caused them some trouble.

Ms. Clarie hung up the phone and turned to face her. Her smile was bright. Apparently she was something of a morning person. “Good Morning Chou. Have you finished the paperwork?”

“Yes I have ma’am. I chose classes and everything. Some of the other freshmen at Poe are going to be helping me catch up. So I have a lot of classes I share with them. I didn’t see any classes in sword work though. I was told that I have to have classes in that.” She had been a little sad to see there wasn’t going to be anything there to help her develop her sword skills. Destiny wasn’t worried but she was.

“Well, after you go to unarmed and get tested you might be able to schedule classes with either Mr. Ito or one of the other senior instructors. Though I am not sure if there are any instructors who use Chinese weapons. Mr. Ito would know if anyone would. Also your Guardians have set up your account and have left a letter for you. I will have your advisor give it to you when you get your card to draw on your account. Now, lets looks at this list of classes you have.”

She picked up the sheet and began glancing down it. She nodded her head as she went through the list. “Looks good. I can definitely get that set up for you. Now I need to get you an Advisor and get your powers tested. According to you, you don’t really know what you can do.”

Chou smiled. “That’s true. I can fight, use my Chi for some things and have a sword. If I can do anything else I am not aware of it yet. Destiny’s Wave has told me of some things I can do later when I learn them.”

Ms. Claire smiled. “Not to worry. Dr. Hewley will help you work on the powers. He is waiting on you in the lab. And then I will send someone to take you to your Advisor. They will be who you talk to about all other problems. Here are the directions to get to the lab. Have fun Chou.”

She dismissed Chou and got onto her computer. Chou took the slip of paper and followed the directions. When she got there, there was a lab tech sitting at a desk. His hair was tousled, as if he had been running his hands through it. “Can I help you?”

“Yes. My name is Chou Lee and I am here to have my powers tested by Dr. Hewley.”

“Ah...yes. We have been waiting for you. They mentioned that there was someone with a sword on their way. My name is Chris. I’m one of the techs here. Please follow me.”

He lead her deeper into the building, past all sorts of machines and computers. “Don’t worry about the tests. They aren’t that bad. They don’t hurt, except for the blood test.”

She smiled and didn’t get any less worried.

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Chou walked out of the area in a daze. The sheer range of tests she had been given caused her head to spin. She had been busy with them for over five hours. They had poked and prodded her, asked both her and Destiny’s Wave questions. The sword had talked a great deal, occasionally using Chinese to say things when she could not find the words in English. The sword had learned a great deal of things about the world and was still trying to come to grips with it.

They had explained to her that a Level 3 Exemplar was nothing more than a human body at the peak of perfection. She was stronger and faster than most humans, but was not too over the top.

They said she was a Level 2 Esper, since she could use her Chi to sense things with her eyes closed and feel other peoples emotions. She knew she could use her Chi to feel things but to have it measured was a bit odd.

Her Magic was at Level 2, but they expected it to get to 3 in a few years. Destiny’s Wave led her through some of the exercises for magic so they could measure that. The feeling was a little weird. But she enjoyed it. She guessed it would come in useful later. According to what Destiny was describing it sounded like fun.

She had been stunned by the revelation that she was a Level 2 Healer. That was another aspect of things that had surprised her. Those exercises made her feel warm and comfy. They also classified her as a Level 1 Devisor since the sword mentioned that she would be taught Alchemy at a later date.

It also freaked her out when she found out that Destiny’s Wave would cut through just about anything. If she tried to actually cut things, they cut. But if she didn’t want to do that, the blade was dull. Dr. Hewley was trying to figure if that meant telekinesis as he guessed her “flight” meant that as well. The sword called it Lightfoot Kung Fu. She could leap a long way and balance on almost anything. Chou thought it was cool but all the science talk confused her.

There were also various conjectures about the power of the sword. Chou had really gotten lost there when they were wondering if she were an Avatar and that was how the sword linked to its wielder or if it were something else. She had no idea and really didn’t want to worry about it. They tentatively classified her as a Level 1 Avatar.

She felt a tug at her from something. She looked around confused, trying to spot anything that could have caused the reaction.

Nothing.

In fact all she could see was a person coming down the stairs scanning the room for someone. When they spotted her they waved and hustled over. It was Belle. The girl headed over smiling. “Chou! Cool. They just called me to say they were done with you. I hope they weren’t too bad.”

“I don’t think so. I just couldn’t follow what they were saying most of the time.” Chou shrugged. “Though I learned about powers I didn’t know I had.”

“Hey, that’s cool. I had the basics figured out when I got here, but so far no real new ones have shown up in me. It’s like a surprise present.” Belle smiled. “I am here to take you to meet your advisor.”

“What about lunch? They wouldn’t feed me.”

Belles stopped and looked as if she was going to storm in and yell at some people. “They what? I should give those jerks a piece of my mind.”

“That won’t get me lunch.” pointed out Chou.

“Humph! I guess you could tell your advisor. Dr. Bellows is a nice guy.” Belle started to lead the way from the testing lab.

“Really? That would be good. I could use more help dealing with this place. It is so different from any school I have ever been to.”

“That’s so true. But at least you have a house full of people to look out for you.”

“There is that. Thanks Belle.” She hugged the older girl.

Belle hugged her back. “No problem. Now lets get going.”

Dr. Bellows was in his office going through a book. He smiled at both Belle and Chou when they came in. “Thanks Belle. You must be Chou. It is a pleasure to meet you. Please, have a seat.”

Chou sat and Belle left, closing the door quietly. Dr. Bellows looked at her quietly for a minute. Chou was nervous but simply sat there enjoying the silence. Dr. Bellows broke the quiet. “It is really interesting having a student who has been sponsored by two of the eight main Taoist Immortals.”

“What?”

“You didn’t know that you were sponsored by them? They paid your tuition and gave you drawing funds in pure gold. You have something like ten thousand dollars in your account at the moment, after tuition. They left a letter for you, in Chinese. So I doubt anyone else has looked at it.” He handed across a letter to Chou, who was sitting open mouthed.

She took it and read it quickly, the characters giving her no problem.

Chou, we left this to let you know we have not forgotten our little sister. We have paid for your school and made sure that the boundaries will keep out the Demon Lord. They will, for the most part. And if he gets through there are plenty of people to fight him. Lan Caihe Ho thought you should have some money to buy clothes and the like with. Enjoy it. Don’t worry, there is plenty more. Guan Yu said he would drop by later to make sure you are being taught well. He wants to check out your combat teachers and see if they are any good. Do not worry, it is just how he is. I will come by later as well. Have Fun. He Xiangu.

 

Chou blinked and then smiled. It looked like she still had a family. “It’s good news. Also He Xiangu and Guan Yu are going to be visiting me from time to time.”

Dr. Bellows nodded slowly. “I see. Well, this will be new for the school. Not too many Immortals come by for a chat. Should be fun. Now, here are the things you need to get access to your money. And I was wondering if you have any problems you might want to talk about? I was wondering if anything was bothering you since you lost your father and got transformed?”

Chou started to tear up again. She had managed to not think about that event too much. “I miss him and I miss being who I was. I have had some time to deal with things but it still hurts terribly and I never wanted to be a girl all the time. I liked being able to do some of these things but I liked being Alex. I wish I didn’t have this body, but I don’t have that option now do I?”

“It’s okay Chou. I got you since your joining us is linked to you going through quite a bit of trauma. I am also a Psychiatrist. So I can help you deal with these things. I can see you almost any time you need me.”

Chou sniffled. “Thank you. That would help. I find myself crying uncontrollably sometimes. I just wish things had been different. This body is nice and all but I was a boy. I was happy being a boy.”

“That was another reason for putting you in Poe. The group you are with is dealing with many of the same things. They can help you cope as well. As far as I can tell, there is no way to reverse what has been done to you. So I can also help you become more comfortable with this new you. Now, onto happier stuff. I think your class load looks good, especially taking classes with other people from Poe so they can help you catch up. Mr. Ito says he does know someone who is skilled with the type of sword you use. He and Mrs. Tolman want to see your skill before they set you up with a class schedule for that. Any way, that is all I had, since I figured that Dr. Hewley would have forgotten to feed you. So go get some food, and a school uniform. I’ll make an appointment for you next week, so we can talk.”

Chou nodded. “Thank you Dr. Bellows.”

Chou returned to Poe to see if anyone was in. Apparently everyone was still in classes. She sighed. Well, time to get things from the school store.

The school store was in a building all by itself, past the cafeteria. It was run by a group of enterprising locals from Dunwich who knew that the school regulations kept the kids on campus more than let them off. So, they found a way to offer the students things and help their economy in classic Capitalistic fashion.

Chou walked in and froze. She wasn’t expecting something like this. There were all sorts of items here. It was almost a Wal-Mart. There were sections for school clothing, men’s and women’s, causal clothes and exercise clothes, shoes, school supplies and normal things like towels, hygiene products and things to decorate the rooms. With the money she had been given by Lan and Xiangu she could buy almost anything she wanted. It was more than she had ever had. So she dove in and lost herself n the shopping.

In the end, she stopped due to her strength almost reaching critical mass. She had clothes, uniforms, underwear, two nightgowns, some Chinese stuff for decoration, a sword rack, shampoo, conditioner, soap and all sorts of good things. She had even seen a few stuffed animals that she liked, which was a little weird. Alex had liked them a little but Chou had to have the bear and the raccoon. She looked a bit abashed at the huge pile of things but smiled. It would be all right. She had even gotten something for Ayla. A thanks for letting me share your room kind of thing.

As she was on her way back, she noticed that classes seemed to have been let out. There were students everywhere. She knew it wasn’t a large school, with only 600 students, but she was wondering how many of those she would remember.

This one girl kept showing up as she was walking. She was this girl about her own height with mousy brown hair and glasses. Her hair was in two pony tails. Chou thought she looked cute. They both caught each other looking and turned away blushing. When Chou looked back, the girl was gone.

The pull was back, more insistent and she turned from her path and followed the pull into the woods just next to Poe. It seemed to be leading her somewhere. It reminded her a little of the energy that pulled her to those events on her way here.

Ahead she could feel someone with turbulent emotions. She narrowed her eyes in concentration. She could feel them ahead, through the trees. It was Jade. Jinn was nowhere in sight.

Chou sat down her bags and moved ahead slowly. Jade was sitting next to a tree, looking out into the forest. Chou cleared her throat and Jade jumped a little. The girls hand darted to her back but she stopped when she saw it was Chou. “Hey Jade. Are you okay?”

“Why do you ask?” Jade looked a bit confused.

“I don’t know. I felt something pulling me this way and here you are. So I ask.”

“Well, there is, but so far no one and nothing can help me.” Jade sounded forlorn.

“Are you sure? I mean, I can try.” Chou tried to sound as honest and as sincere as she could.

“Thanks Chou, but, I don’t really know you. This is my problem.”

Chou nodded. She felt a little down. She was only trying to help after all. Wasn’t this how you made friends? “Well, if you change your mind I guess you can find me. Take care Jade.”

Chou turned to go and started off. She then felt something else, like someone or thing was watching them. She turned and scanned the trees, drawing Destiny’s Wave slowly, the jade rasping against the sheath. Jade saw the action and spun, drawing her pistol. The air was quiet and heavy.

Chou moved a little forward to better cover Jade. Jade pulled something out of her pockets and charged it up. It looked like a little shield and it moved to protect her. A figure separated itself from the trees. Jade hissed but Chou had no idea who it could be. A middle aged man stepped out of the shadows and glared at Jade, his eyes glowed madly. “What the hell are you doing here!? I told you I would find you.”

Chou barely heard Jade whisper, “Dad?” She moved between them. Something felt wrong about this. The Chi that she was feeling was not that of a normal person. It reminded her of the Demon Lord, but not as deep or dark. “What are you? Stay back or we will fight!”

The thing paused and took a good look at Chou. The feel of the eyes on her was oily. Chou let out a breath, relaxed and was ready to fight. The thing in the shape of Jade’s father turned back to the smaller girl. “You! I know you can access the barrier. Take me there.”

At that Jade reacted. She started and furrowed her brows in concentration. The gun made an odd sound to Chou and electricity seemed to dance over the thing. It flinched back and moved forward. Chou slid forward and halted its progress with the blade. It stopped as Chou let her Chi flow out. It turned again to face her. “You would be wise to leave girl. The boy is mine. He can open the gate.”

“Gate? What Gate?”

Jade gasped in shock, remembering the cleaning and painting in that evil place. Jinn with the flamethrower and her with the rifle. She remembered the sense of evil that had crawled over her. This thing in front of them wanted to break that seal?

“Yes, boy...you know what it is I want. Come with me.”

With that it lunged. Chou swung the sword, not intending to cut the thing. It twisted away from the blade with inhuman speed. Its eyes glowed red and it laughed.

“Chou, lets get out of here.”

“Sure thing.”

The two of them left in a hurry, trying to get out of there. There was a blur of motion and suddenly it was before them. Jade fired her gun and the electricity hit it once again. It ignored her. The air shimmered around its left hand and a blade of fire stretched out.

The attack drove the two farther back into the trees. While Chou covered her Jade quickly charged up a pair of devices to help protect them. Bunny said they were energy shields. So far they hadn’t been tested. Now was not a good time for them to fail. Chou kept trying to change the momentum of the battle but the thing seemed to know more sword than she did. She was breathing hard at the flurry of blows the thing delivered. She cursed in Chinese.

The thing spun to the side and quickly grabbed Jade, who was not expecting the move. “Now boy, you will free my kin.”

With that it bounded off. Chou raced after it. Her lightfoot kung fu was enabling her to gain and even pass the thing. If only she could think of something to do. “What the hell am I going to do? How can I stop this thing?”

“You need to use your Chi more. Try pushing him with it or cutting his link to his energy source. That thing is a force inhabiting a body. Cut that binding cord and you release the body.” remarked Destiny.

“Easy enough to say, how do I do that?” Chou could see the figure swerving through the trees, heading rapidly somewhere. Chou would have to act soon.

“Use me. Aim for the line of energy and see me cutting through it. If I connect with it, it will sever.”

“You can do that?”

“Yes. Chi is energy. I can cut energy as easily as anything else. I just need to know what you want to cut.”

Chou had a plan forming. This might just work. She flung herself down in front of the thing. Jade was trying to change the shells in her gun as the thing ran, ignoring her. She took a deep breath in, pulling in all the Chi she could. She wanted to have all the energy she could. She closed her eyes and started feeling for the energy of the creature. There was a thin line of blood red coming from the navel of the creature, like a thread. That would be her target.

The thing raised its blade again and the two started fighting again. The shock of blade against blade was causing her arm to tremble. She was looking for a moment when she could strike. The air pressure was building from the speed of the blades. Leaves began to swirl.

Suddenly the things head rocked sideways and it dropped Jade. As it staggered back it’s arms went wide and Chou struck. The line snapped under the blade and the body collapsed, like a puppet with no strings. As the body collapsed it was obviously several days dead.

Chou headed over to Jade. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. It didn’t do anything but carry me. I had time to get some impact rounds out. The only deliver a non-lethal kinetic punch. I guess it worked. Thanks.” Jade looked down embarrassed. “And I guess you know my secret now.”

“Huh? The boy thing?” Jade was quiet and only nodded. “You mean you haven’t changed physically?”

Again Jade only nodded. “Well, Can I try and see if there is something I can do? It could simply be some sort of energy block. If so Destiny here might be able to show me how to release it, letting you change. If that doesn’t work we can always try something else. Your body isn’t who you are Jade.”

Chou felt a kind of connection then, a deep welling of energy that filled her. There was a resonance for herself to what she had said to Jade. That was true even for herself. So she was now female, in a lot of ways she hadn’t changed. She just hadn’t been able to see that.

She put her arm around the girls shoulder. “Come on Jade, let’s head back.”

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Team Kimba was assembled in Poe when they got there. Everyone seemed to sense that there was some thing wrong. Ayla took the bags from Chou and tossed them in their room as they were both steered into Nikki’s room.

Fey’s eyes seemed to glow with power as she began. “I felt a flash of magical energy and I could feel that you two were in trouble. You got here just before we were going to leave to get you. What’s wrong?”

Jade answered slowly. “I don’t know. I thought it was my father until Chou hit it. What ever it is, it is evil and may be back. I have to tell people about this one. It is after something dangerous. Something frightening.”

Tennyo looked at Jade carefully. “Are you okay?”

“Yes. Chou was there. The bullets I hit it with did nothing. If she hadn’t been there it would have gotten me. She managed to figure out a way to stop it.” Jade shook a little. “It’s touch was nasty. When we’re done I need a shower.”

Tennyo turned to Chou. There was obvious relief in her eyes. She really seemed to care for her roommate. “Thank you for watching out for her. She can take care of herself usually, but this sounds like mystical stuff, which we are weak on, except for Nikki.”

“No problem. I felt like there was something wrong and I went to find out what it was. And there was Jade. Luck really.” Chou was a little embarrassed to be thanked for something she would have done anyway.

Jade turned and hugged Chou. “Thanks. I think I may just be able to trust you. I mean, you stepped in front of that thing to keep it from me. Thanks.”

Chou blushed. “You’re welcome Jade. I couldn’t just walk away.”

“So Chou, I heard that you were tested today. What did they rate you at?” asked Hank from the doorway.

“Uh...Exemplar 3, Esper 2, Magic 2, Healer 2, TK 2, Devisor 1, Avatar 1.” Everyone leaned in and stared at her. “What?”

“That is a really weird combination.” remarked Toni.

“Hey, it’s all the sword’s fault. I don’t really understand any of it. From what I got, I was an Avatar as Alex, keyed to the sword. The sword then keyed everything else. They were talking so fast I barely understood half of that.”

Jade leaned in. “Maybe you can help me with my problem. Thanks again Chou, I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t been there.”

“Hey, what are friends for?”

Chou was suddenly enveloped by a group hug. She was surprised but relaxed into it as there was no way she could get past Hank or Tennyo. Even Sara joined in on the hug. It was warm and comforting, even welcoming.

“Welcome to Whateley, Chou.”