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A Whateley Academy Story

Jade 2 – Away from Home

By Babs Yerunkle

 

5: The Dunwich Furor

En route   August 31, Thursday

By the second full day on the train, it was less of an adventure.  She would have preferred taking a sleeper car, but they were so much more expensive.  Her travel allowance didn’t cover it, and she didn’t have the money herself to make up the difference.  Instead, she stayed in hotels near the train depot.  It had sounded like a good idea when she started out, but Pittsburgh had firmly destroyed that idea.

Having Jinn (as a person) on the train would have cost an extra ticket, but Jade made sure that everywhere else she went, her big sister Jinn went with her.  Two girls were far safer than one alone.  If worse came to worst, they planned that Jinn would do whatever was necessary while Jade ran for it.

The second night, they stayed in a cheap hotel, a half-mile from famous Penn Station.  Penn Station had been a bit of a disappointment, looking more like a 1920’s brick office building than a bustling hive of commerce.  Despite hoofing it a half mile to find a cheaper hotel, she was still set back a hundred bucks.  And the neighborhood had seen better days – about six decades ago.  Jade had been concerned enough to grab food at a convenience store and run back to her room to eat it there.  Just a cheap pre-made sandwich and a coke, but it was filling enough for the night.

She left Jinn on guard (for the first hour, until she ran out of charge), and huddled in the strange, squeaky, lumpy bed to fall into a nervous sleep.

For her part, Jinn turned off the lights and read a sci-fi adventure in the dark (at least, she assumed it was dark).  Jinn found that she enjoyed reading – perhaps even more in this state.  There was never an issue with lighting or eyestrain, and her reading speed was considerably faster.  Comic books, on the other hand, were no fun at all.  The colors turned into random blends of gray.  Even worse, the colors and shading were all based on fine patterns of dots.  In her spirit-form, her perceptions were different.  She couldn’t stop seeing the dots.  They never blended into an even shade.

So, although she’d picked up a good stack of comics for the trip, she could really only enjoy them as Jade.

She read until her watch indicated that she only had a minute left.  Then she undressed, removing the clothes of her “body” and folding them neatly in a pile.  The gloves were last, of course.  She stood for those final seconds, a naked astral form with only gloves on.  They’d managed to get her endurance up to sixty-five minutes.  She watched the second hand – yes, she’d definitely gotten a few extra seconds this time!  Ten, eleven -

Abruptly the gloves fell to the table, landing atop the folded pile.  Jade got a new burst of memories, but didn’t wake.  She just rolled over in her sleep.

Her alarm woke her at 4 AM.  She needed to catch the red-eye at 5:13, and nothing, absolutely nothing was going to make her miss that train.  She planned to wait in the station lobby for at least a half-hour, to make sure she wasn’t late.  Her first ritual, as always, was to touch the gloves left by her alarm and charge them.  Then, with both of them working, Jade could take her time getting up.  Yawning, taking her shower, getting dressed.

She spent a moment to model her training bra in the mirror.  It was strange that a stupid piece of fabric made her feel so good about herself, but it did.  She took it off and peered at her reflection.  Was the bra pushing her into shape, maybe?  Giving her a bit of definition?  Encouraging a teeny bit of early breast growth?  As always, she remained as flat as a board.  As flat as a boy (she tried not to dwell on that thought).  But there was always tomorrow morning.

Almost done, she managed to fit all her vital supplies in the suitcase.  The backpack was for her comics (she could re-read them), her book, room for Jinn’s clothes, her stuffed lion, and room for some sandwiches that she’d buy later.  She checked out with the night clerk, and headed for the train station.

As she walked alone through the street, she marveled at how relatively busy this big city was, even at 4:30 in the morning.  There wasn’t a lot of traffic, but Topeka would have been dead.  She liked the morning’s quiet better than the evening’s chaos.  For the moment (she glanced to her side) Jinn was perfect company.  Jinn helped her feel less small and alone, in this strange city.

The hot-dog restaurant wasn’t open yet, but the sub shop was.  Jade hefted her backpack and suitcase into a more comfortable hold, and reached for her money.

“One ham and cheese, two turkey.”  The man wrapped the sandwiches – which would have to do for lunch as well – and then counted out her change.

“I’ll take them.”  Jinn, in dark glasses again, stepped forward and accepted the sandwiches.  She zipped them into the backpack so that Jade wouldn’t need to take it off.

“I could carry things, we know,” she told Jade.

“Running,” Jade said back, in their abbreviated code.  Meaning, Remember?  If I need to run for it, we’ll need our stuff.  You need to worry about keeping us safe.

“Agreed,” Jinn answered back.  “But…”  I never get tired.

They stepped out of the shop and headed for the train station, now only three blocks away.  This street had no traffic at all.  No traffic, and no people.

“Is isn’t very smart for a pair of little girls to be out walking the streets alone.”  His hand came out of the shadows, revealing a small gun.  “I can offer you a little protection, for the right fee.”

One of the best things she’d ever learned from Aikido class was the planning.  Every move, every situation.  Plan for your actions.  How to attack, how to escape.  Fallback plans.  The encounter a few weeks back with her father had only underscored what happened when they got lax.  So they shifted smoothly into Plan A.  Jade ran.  As she did, she tried to dodge side-to-side, brokenly.  Endless discussions on the low accuracy of handguns came back to her.  She was forty feet, now fifty feet away, and she shifted to a sprint.

Meanwhile, Jinn immediately stepped forward, as if she had no fear at all of the gun.  The man was obviously caught off guard by the unexpected rush from a slight girl in her early teens.  Before he could figure out whether or not to pull the trigger, Jinn was inside his guard.  She moved in fast, as if she’d practiced a hundred times.  (It was actually closer to five hundred.)  The move went just like in practice.  Inside his guard, her right leg hooked behind his, her arms trapping his in a hold that just happened to move the weapon arm up and away.  Instantly tighten and twist and – a man almost a foot taller than her had been tripped backward.  Not just tripped, but practically thrown.  His gun went flying to the side, she heard a crack from his arm.  His head struck the edge of the doorframe with a meaty crunch and Jinn could instantly see the colors in his aura mute, as black blossomed at the back of his skull.  From growing experience, she knew he was unconscious, but he probably didn’t have a serious concussion.  Then she looked at her arm.

“Damn!”

Not only did he have a gun, he had small stiletto knives protruding from the toes of his shoes.  As he’d fallen, he’d flailed upward with one shoe and ripped open the fabric of her arm.  She’d flipped him a bit harder than she’d intended.

She looked at it.  The rip was on the underside of her right forearm, and was a good six inches long.  She could probably sew it up, but she didn’t have a sewing kit.  Just one more thing to buy.

She looked at the unconscious man before going after Jade, who was now alone.

It’s his fault I have to buy the sewing kit…

A moment later, she was flipping through his wallet.  Twenty, forty, fifty… seven.  She tossed the empty wallet back on his chest and hurried after Jade.  She paused only long enough to grab the gun, which she disassembled as she ran.  One piece flung that way, another piece dropped into a dumpster.

There were two many guns in the world.

hr1

There was another train change at Manchester.  This train was much older, but it had individual seats that faced each other, four seats around a central table.  For Manchester to Concord, the train was full.  She thought she wouldn’t be able to let Jinn out, which was a shame.  It would be nice if at least one of them could have a good time.

Fortunately, the service was better.  A stewardess (Jade wasn’t sure what you called the girl on a train) offered them magazines.  The only thing left by the time they got to her, though, was Cosmopolitan.  With a sigh, she took it.

“I’m not sure your parents would approve of you reading something like that,” the man across from her said.  He looked close to her father’s age.

“Don’t have any.  Anyway, I’m older than you think.”

He raised an eyebrow in doubt.

“I am.  I’m fourteen.”

“Well, you’re right about one thing.  That’s older than I think you are.”

She looked down again, but she was smiling to herself.  She got bothered about her age a lot.  But no one ever seemed to think she was anything other than a girl.  And if Whateley works out, soon I’ll be one.

hr1

She put the Cosmopolitan down in alarm.  She wanted to be a girl, but there was NO WAY she was ever going to do THAT.  Ugg!  She couldn’t believe that grownups were allowed to write stuff like that!  Had they been serious?  She started reading again, to double-check.

hr1

She took another break, stunned anew.  If this was a regular magazine, then what was pornography?  This time, she needed a break for real.  If only she could let Jinn out.

Hmmm, just how small can something be, and still hold a charge?  She’d charged a fly once.  She reached up and plucked out an eyebrow hair (she had too many anyway).  Nope – nothing happened.  Okay, what was smaller than a fly, but bigger than an eyelash?  She looked around for some paper to rip into shreds.  Maybe one of these advertisements in that slutty magazine.

Or maybe she was going about it wrong.  What if it wasn’t size, but weight?  She had the window seat, where…?  There was a small crack, with a fine collection of grit in it.  She carefully picked out a single speck of grit and peered at it.  It was a teeny for a rock, but large for grit – almost the size of a pinhead.  She concentrated on it -

There was a wash of fatigue, and she realized she’d succeeded.  With a sly glance to make sure no one was watching, she flicked the grit up in the air.  She didn’t worry.  It wouldn’t be coming down again.

Satisfied, she settled down to study the magazine again.  She knew about periods, of course.  Heck, if she succeeded in turning into a girl, she’d be having them.  In a way, she almost wanted one – icky as they were.  It was sort of like a badge of honor that all girls shared.  But this sounded like the extreme sports version of periods.  She decided she’d better read up on it, so she could be prepared.  It was hard, because the author seemed to assume that you already knew what she was talking about….

hr1

She had chosen to be the speck.  That is, she wasn’t a full-sized ghost pinching a piece of grit, she was a teeny spec.  She’d noticed that her hearing was better the larger she was, and her vision got more distance, sharpness, and depth as she got larger.  Even as a spec, though, she could hear decently well, and see okay.

It felt like flying, as she zoomed through the overhead shelf, dodging briefcases and carry-ons.  After a while, she rolled to the edge of the shelf so that she could people-watch.  Well, alright, spy on people.  The colors were so interesting.  Many people had the light blue that she was coming to associate with contentment, or repose, or perhaps boredom.  Someone over there had the very deep blue of depression.  And over at the head of the car – was someone very unusual.

The small girl virtually glowed in ultra-violet.  Jinn had only seen that particular color a couple of times before.  She (Jade, that is) had that glow, buried deep inside her skull.  The mutant bank robber had shown this color in his eyes.  And this girl – it looked like her entire nervous system was laid out in ultra-violet lines.

This demanded investigation.

The question was: cautious or bold?  What if the girl spotted her?  After all she knew nothing about mutants, and next to nothing about her own powers.  Would the girl spot her?  Could mutants see her?  She was invisible to Jade, but that might not prove anything.  On the other hand, old Melodious the bank robber had thought that she was a flesh-and-blood girl, and he’d had mutant eyes.

She decided to risk it.  She lifted up and flew along the upper shelf until she reached the front of the car, the rolled over the edge and hung, as if glued to the ceiling fabric above the strange girl’s head.

The girl was reading a magazine.  On second thought, she was just flipping through it.  Hmmm, Track and Field.  The girl was almost insanely hyperactive.  One foot tapping.  Pausing to look out the window every few seconds.  Flip the pages.  Surely she couldn’t be reading that fast?

hr1

Jade was engrossed in an article on breast cancer.  It wasn’t fair!  She didn’t even have breasts yet, and this author was trying to scare her that they’d get taken away again.  Or worse.

Suddenly, a wash of new memories came into her mind.  Without intending to, she looked up toward the head of the car.  Another mutant?  She dug out another spec of grit, while wondering if she dared go up to her in person.

hr1

After Concord, the train cleared up significantly.  The next two stops emptied it further.  Then they settled in for the long haul through the mountains.  Just two more hours.

Jade looked around the cabin and debated with herself.  Literally, in this case, since the last three rows were empty, except for her.

“She’s all alone up there,” she pointed out needlessly, since Jinn had given the information to her before this latest charge.

“What if she doesn’t want to talk?”

“Then leave again,” the little stuffed lion said, quietly.  Jinn didn’t want her squeaky voice to be overheard, but the clack-clack-clack of the rails was enough to cover quiet conversation.

“Will you stand lookout for me?”

The lion hung her head.  “Duh!”

Jade poked her toy in the nose.  “I hope you don’t mind being put into a boy lion,” she teased.  “But he was so much cuter.”

The lion bit her fingertip with a soft fuzzy mouth.

Jade giggled back.  “Okay.  Let’s do it.”

She scooped her stuff back into the backpack, plopped the toy lion on top, then grabbed her suitcase.  Mustering her courage, she headed to the front of the cab.  At the halfway point, she passed the last other passenger, a middle age farmer who was catching up on his sleep.

The hyperactive Hispanic girl had obviously seen her coming.

“Uh,” Jade began eloquently, “you wouldn’t mind if I… that is, you’re not busy or anything?”

From this perspective (rather than clinging to the ceiling) she could tell that the girl was even shorter than Jinn was (everyone was taller than Jade), but built!  The hyperactive girl had to be several years older than her.

“Heading for the academy?”

“Um,” dammit, what was she supposed to say? “Whateley?”

“Yeah.”  The other girl seemed to unwind a little.  She thrust her hand out.  “Pleased to meet you.  I’m Juanita Havier.  My tag is – never mind.  I think I’m going to be changing it.”

“What?”

The other girl scowled.  “Last year, everyone was calling me ‘Quickie.’  I thought it was cute.  Wasn’t ‘till summer break that I figured out why they were all snickering all the time.  Like, thanks a lot!  You’re supposed to be my friends!”

Jade shook the hand.  Or rather, had it shaken for her, much the same as she’d been swept away by the narrative.  “Jade Sinclair.”

“Jade.  Nice name.  Hi.  What are you, seventh grade?  We don’t get a lot that young.  Most don’t show any sign until a little later.  I guess they let junior high come early, huh?  Funny, ‘cause I thought the only ones coming today were going to be… well, that’s probably not important.”

Jade shook her head, trying to figure it all out.  She set her lion on the back of the chair to act as lookout, then set her stuff down.

“Setting up a lookout, huh?  Clever plan!”

Jade peered at her suspiciously.  Maybe this girl could see Jinn.  “Yeah, his name’s Kimba, even though he isn’t white.”

“Don’t’ you mean ‘Simba’?”

“No, that came lots later.  This is from old comic books my mom used to read to me, when I was just a kid.”  Her voice turned wistful.  “I didn’t even remember until a little while ago.  Now it’s all coming back.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.  A lot of things change on you.  So… if you don’t mind my asking, and you don’t have to answer, you know, ‘cause sometimes it’s kind of personal, but if it’s no problem, what do you do?”

How to explain it?  She didn’t want to go into all the details.  What could she say?  This was obviously the first practice for what would become a commonplace event.  Should she reel out the letters and numbers of the classification the Sergeant had given her?

“Cause just to show you I don’t mean anything by it, I’m a speedster.  You know?  ‘She runs as fast as ten fast men,’ get it?”

“Huh?”

“Sorry, private joke.  We put out our own comic, as a joke.  We even tell people it’s ‘New England Comics’ but they still don’t figure it out.  It hasn’t picked up so big outside the academy, though.”

Jade ignored the babble and concentrated on what she could figure out.  First, that there were all sorts of interesting things going on at the academy.  Second…

“You’re a speedster?  You mean, you run?  Like super fast?”

The short girl folded her arms over her ample chest and smirked.  “Faster than this train, honey.  And if you’re a speedster too, enjoy it while you can.  Let me tell you, you’ll have a real love/hate relationship with your means of support, if you get my drift.”

Jade didn’t.  But, “You mean, you could outrace this train?  All the way from Concord to the academy?”

“Yep.  Actually, endurance is a big factor too.  I got the speed, but my endurance poops out just short of ninety miles.  I’m going to work on that this year.”

“Oh.”  It was suddenly hitting her.  She was sitting across from an honest-to-God superhero!  “Well, if you can do that, why don’t you?”

The Hispanic girl smirked.  After having watching her restlessly struggle with the magazine, she’d obviously been waiting to get back into something social.  And she was certainly proving to be a font of information.  “First, like I said, there’s the whole distance thing.  Second, and a lot of people don’t give this proper attention, we don’t really want to draw too much attention to the academy.  So zooming along the highway is a no-no.  And as for zooming along the tracks – do you have any idea how filthy these things are?  I mean, really, they dump stuff RIGHT out of the train sometimes.  Yech!”

Jade was overwhelmed.  “Oh, I never thought -”

“Uh huh.  The luggage.  That’s the main reason.  I can do 89.7 flat out.  But not carrying no steamer trunk.  I can barely lift that thing, with the clothing allowance Mom gave me this year!”

It continued on in this vein for a few minutes, as Jade was rapidly dragged from topic to topic.

“But I never did hear your answer, if you don’t mind that is, about what YOU do.”

“Oh.”  She’d had an idea, a bit back.  Maybe this would work for most everyone.  She reached up and picked up Kimba, stroking his furry body.  She knew how good that felt.  She looked down at the toy that was now in her lap.  “I, well, I bring things to life.”

“Uh huh.  How does that work?”

Jade gave a little smile.  “Kimba -”

But Jinn was ahead of her.  The small toy sudden rose from Jade’s lap and gave a bouncy hop-hop-hop up onto the table and over to stare Juanita in the face.

“Hi, Juanita!” Jinn squeaked.  “You’re pretty neat!”

“Oh my GOD!” the other girl practically shouted it out.  “Oops, sorry!”

Jade looked back over her shoulder.  The farmer looked at them for a moment, then went back to sleep.  Maybe he figured it was just two girls talking…

That thought gave Jade a warm glow inside.

“You weren’t kidding, were you?” she said in a lower voice.  “That is SO COOL!  Well, I mean, it’s probably not so good for fighting evil masterminds, but it’s just like so COMPLETELY great!”  She peered at the toy lion.  “Hi, little fella.”

“I’m not a little fellow,” Jinn squeaked.  “I’m a girl.  It isn’t my fault that someone over there forgot that little detail when she was picking out an animal to bring along.”

“Oh, wow.  Can you make hundreds of these?  Do they last forever?  Can you sell them?  Everyone will want one!”

“Uh, hold on,” Jade and Jinn said simultaneously.  They were blanching at the thought of Jinn being sold into permanent toy-slavery.  Being kept away from your other half forever.  “It’s only one at a time, and she only lasts for a little while.”

“Still, I’ve got to show Angel.  We wrote over the summer.  She should be connecting in Lancaster.  You wouldn’t believe the strings we had to pull to get to come in today, with the freshmen, but Angel’s a special case.”  She leaned in confidentially.  “Real family trouble.  Anyway, we had to deliberately forgo the very best rooms, and agree to act help out in the cleaning and opening things up.  Most of the upperclassmen will be taking their time, coming in.  It’s really only the freshmen that are supposed to show up today.  But tomorrow, watch out!  Rooms are first come, first serve, and well, early bird catches the worm, you know?”

And with the ice broken, Juanita played with Jinn while happily spilling out disconnected tidbits about the wonderful and sometimes disturbing life at the Whateley Academy.

hr1

The Lancaster stop lasted for about fifteen minutes.  Near the end, a tall girl in a trench coat came on board.  Jade thought that the weather was still too warm for a heavy coat, and she would have worn her backpack outside the coat, but it wasn’t any of her business.  Juanita hopped up though.  Jade realized the Hispanic girl was probably no more than five feet tall.

“Angel!  Over here!”

The trench coated girl came toward them and took a seat, without removing her coat.

“You still up for it?” Juanita asked.

The trench coat girl nodded.  “I’d like that, if you don’t mind.”

“Mind?  Girl, half the cottage would love to have you as a roomie.  Not as many of them would put up with the ‘motor mouth.’  And don’t deny it.  I’ve heard it often enough.”

Jade studied their new companion.  Blonde, lightly curly hair that fell to her hips, deep blue eyes.  A beautiful face with a flawless complexion.  And it looked like the coat hid a nearly perfect figure.

“I see why they named you Angel.”

A brief frown passed over the blonde’s face.  “That’s just my handle.  My real name is Mary Goodhope.”

Jade gave a brief laugh, thinking of the conservative televangelist.  “Quite a coincidence.  I mean, if Reverend Goodhope ever found out that someone who shared his name was also a mutant -”

“He’s my father.”

That stopped Jade dead in her tracks.  Oh, she thought stupidly so that’s what she meant by ‘family trouble.’

“You’ve heard the ‘body image’ concept?” the blonde continued.

Jade shook her head.  “I don’t think so…”

“Many mutants have a sort of template in their head, an image of perfection.  And mine…”  She opened up her coat enough to reveal the large white wings folded against her back.  “It’s just that Daddy was always talking about… and I guess I thought…”

“Another bad summer?”

“Yeah.  He’s on this whole ‘intervention’ kick.  You’ve heard of it?  Get the person and confront them with their sin, the whole deprogramming thing, then force them to face ‘God’s way’ – which means they’d be pretty much forcing me to….  I don’t even want to think what would happen.  At best I’d just be puking my guts out.  At worst –“

Juanita moved forward, hugging the much taller girl.

“At worst he’d kill me.  And sometimes I think he’d rather have a dead martyr than a live daughter.”

After a moment, Jade responded to Juanita’s not-so-subtle beckoning head motion.  She moved in as well to hug the tall blonde.

“Thank you.”  Angel reached out, delicately stroking Jade’s face.  She seemed calmed by the action.  “I’m sorry you had to see that, but some of us have real problems at home.”

Emboldened by the intimacy, Jade dared to ask, “But… you really do look like an angel.  Does he hold that against you?”

Angel’s face took on a cynical look for a moment.  It didn’t fit well on her face.  “It isn’t that.  He’d love to use me in his broadcasts.  He’d exploit me as much as he could.  But there’s one other thing.  I think my mutation must have just crystallized it and made it more powerful.”

Jade waited patiently.

“I can touch a girl or woman with no problem at all,” she said, stroking Jade’s cheek gently.  “I think it must be psychic.  Some sort of resonance.  When I touch a man, even a boy, I just start shaking.  I get ill, sick to my stomach.  I’ve never really liked boys, but this -”

She started to sniffle and Juanita moved in again.

“That’s why her father hates her.  His daughter is gay.”

Jade couldn’t move.  But she touched my cheek.  Does that mean –  Is she wrong?  Or am I really a girl inside, despite my body?

“Hey, enough of that.  You need to help me think up a new name to replace ‘Quickie.’  And I haven’t finished introducing you to Jade yet.  Wait’ll you see her power!  She’s going to be starting seventh grade.”

“Not seventh grade,” Jinn squeaked out.  “Freshman!  We’re going to be freshmen!”

Angle goggled, tears forgotten.  “Did that toy just –?”

“Yeah, isn’t it wild?  C’mere Simba!”

hr1

When they finally arrived at Dunwich station, Jade barely had time to notice the ratty little train stop.  She, Angel, and Juanita got off together, talking quietly amongst themselves.  Angel was holding Jinn just inside her coat.  Jinn, for her part, was preening under the attention.  Jade couldn’t wait till later, when she’d remember that, too.

Angel barely managed to get her three trunks off the train before it pulled out.  Jade was almost glad that she only had a small suitcase and a backpack.

By then, the buses were arriving and the crowd began to grow considerably.  Someone had set up a boom box, making it hard to hear Angel.

“Don’t worry about a thing,” the tall girl was saying.  “We’ll keep an eye out for our little sister.  We’ll make sure you get settled in properly.”

“I’m not sure,” Jade responded.  “I think I’m in some sort of special dorm.”

“It’s a ‘cottage.’” Juanita corrected.  “Poe cottage.  You were supposed to show up today, right?”

“Yeah…”

“Then you’re a new little sister.”

“I don’t know…”

“Hey, Angel, what room did you ask for?” Juanita asked her companion.

“Three-oh-two.  It’s not the fourth floor, but at least it’s not one of those freezing north-side rooms, either.  We’ll get some sun.  And 302 is close enough to the bathroom.  And not in the corner.  I don’t know if you ever visited Becky before she graduated.  Remember?  That corner room.  I swear, the insulation must have been terrible, because that room was always ten degrees colder than anywhere else in the cottage.”

Jade was about to ask what they were talking about when Angel noticed something.

“I think our time’s up.  Look, we won’t be on the van with you froshes, so we’ll have to catch up with you later.  Take care of yourself, Li’l Sis.”

Jinn squirmed free and leapt to Jade’s shoulder.  Jade caught the toy and looked around, but most people seemed to be focused on the chaos of the moment.

The two girls both gave her a quick hug and began to move toward the back of the crowd.

As they left, it hit her again what she was doing.  She was hoping to spend an entire year, dressing, and acting, and being a girl, until she herself was convinced of it.  She would probably have a roommate – someone who would hate her if she ever learned the truth.  Hell, all the girls would hate her, if they figured the truth out.

And somehow she had to manage the girls’ bathroom, and sleeping, and who knows what else.  Gym class!  How could she have forgotten about gym class?

This was her last chance to back out.  She was dressed oddly for a guy, but she could probably recover from that embarrassment.  Did she really need to do this?  To spend the rest of her life living a lie, just so that she could try to become a girl, somehow?  Was it even possible, or was she fooling herself more than anyone else?

Shaking inside, she looked at all the kids milling around her.  There seemed to be about twenty of them.  She knew, somehow, that these were the students that she’d be sharing her life with.  Could they possibly understand what drove her – why she HAD to be a girl?  Probably not.  Most of them looked fairly normal.  A couple of black girls, a couple of super-attractive girls.  More girls than boys.  One or two that looked a little odd, but it was hard to imagine that any of them had problems like hers.

She gulped, and smoothed down her dress one last time.  She had to believe.  Somehow, it was possible for her to become a girl for real.  Somehow, she would do it.  And until then – she was going to be as much of a girl as she could be.

So maybe disaster would strike and she’d be exposed.  She’d face that when it happened.  Until then, she would be true to herself.

The loud music abruptly shut off.  Like everyone else in the dingy train station, Jade looked over toward the boom box.  There was an adult standing there; a Japanese woman in an expensive business dress.

Jade was happy to see another Asian there.  It made her feel like less of a minority.  It was odd to think that she could be a minority in the middle of a crowd of mutants, but for the most part the kids seemed to reflect the standard American ethnic mix.

The woman herded them into a set of vans.  Jade had been worried that they might call her by her boy’s name, but the name called was “Jade Sinclair.” 

The first van was already filled, so she moved to the second van, where people were still jockeying for space.  She ended up sitting next to a girl who looked Asian at first glance, except for her exceptionally large eyes, big ears, and blue-gray hair.  The hair was combed back in a set of not-quite-punk spikes.  It was a neat effect.  From a distance, Jade had thought it would be stiff or hard, like the girl had used way too much gel or mousse.  But up close she could see that each individual strand was soft and free.  The girl’s hair just naturally fell… upward.  Up and back really.  It was really tempting to touch it, to see how soft it was.

The girl glared at her and Jade turned guiltily away, unable to even meet the girl’s eyes.  “Sorry.”

“What, you never seen hair that looked like this before?”  Whoever this girl was, she had a voice that could cut into you like a buzzsaw.

Feeling worse than ever, Jade leaned forward so that her own hair concealed her face.  Then she peered through the screen at the other girl.  She also felt Jinn squirming into position to get a good look.  “Um, no, not really.  I mean, not in real life.”  The other girl seemed taken aback by that, so Jade plowed on before she could lose her nerve.  Maybe if the girl knew she meant well...  “How do you do it?  It’s really cool!  I saw you in the station, and I thought you’d just used a ton of mousse or something.  It’s almost like …”  She trailed off, suddenly embarrassed.

“What?  Go ahead, I’ve heard it all.”

“Well, it’s like animé hair.  Only in real life.  You know, animation, uh, Japanese cartoons?”

That was met by a resounding silence.

“Uh, sorry.  I didn’t mean anything by it.”

The blue-haired girl waved a hand negligently, as if it were nothing.  “Naw, don’t get yer panties in a bunch.  I’ve heard lots worse, believe me.”  She settled back with a smirk.  “Animé, huh?  So… if I were an animé character, which one would I be?  Which of ‘em has this kind of hair?”

“That kind of hair?”  She thought for a moment.  “Well, of course, the absolute best, and most popular too –”  the blue-haired girl leaned eagerly forward at this “– would have to be Tetsuan Atom.”

Jade was never quite sure if it was in reaction to her statement, or the bump in the road, but the other girl suddenly tipped forward to hit the seat in front of her, face first.

“Wow!  If this were an animé, I’d call that a – well, I guess they call it a ‘face fault’ in this country.  You see that all the time in animé.”

“I know,” the other girl said, around a mouthful of seat.  “It hurts, too.”  She seemed to pop right back, though, and rounded on Jade.  “Tetsuan Atom?”

“Uh, you know, Astro Boy?”

“I know that!” the other girl hollered.  Seeing the looks she was getting, she suddenly toned down the volume, but she was still intense.  “How can you compare me to some ancient old wimpy robot?”

“He’s not wimpy!”  Jade loved Atom even more than Kimba.  “He’s got 100,000 horsepower!  Besides, he’s the noblest!  And he’s not ancient.  They started the remake a couple of years ago.  I think it’s still on, some places.”

“Look, just forget it, okay?  Different conversation.  Spiky hair, gorgeous body, and you were talking about who I reminded you of.”

“Oh yeah.”  Jade paused in thought.

“Come on, you must have some idea!”

“Sure, but there’s just so many of them.  Hey, you okay?  You’re looking sort of twitchy.”  The other girl didn’t respond, so Jade just continued on.  “Well, if you had a tail, you could be a saiyan, but I don’t think I’ve seen any female ones.  And the color would make you a perfect Ryoko, except she’s got cat eyes, and come to think of it, you’d need a tail to be her, too.  But you’ve got the attitude just right.  On the other hand, if the color was black –”

“Alright!  Enough already!  Just drop it, okay?”  She abruptly folded her arms and turned visibly away to watch the scenery.

“Sorry.”

hr1

They drove for miles up into the hills.  At one point, they passed across a classic New England covered bridge and through a small town.

“Do you really think I have the attitude right?”

“Huh?”  Jade looked toward her seat mate.

“Ryoko.  You said I had the attitude right.”

“Well, yeah.  I mean, we’ve just met and everything.  But so far, you could do a pretty good job.  Hey, we never actually introduced ourselves, did we?  I’m Jade.  Jade Sinclair.”

“You can call me Tennyo.”

“Sure!  Hey, that’s a funny coincidence!  I mean, you look sort of like Ryoko, who’s from Tenchi Muyo! and if you contracted that you’d get –”  It took a moment for her mind to catch up with her over-enthusiastic jaw.  When it did, her mouth just hung open as she stared at the other girl in shock.  The other girl didn’t just have golden eyes, they were eyes with an impossibly oval pupil, stretched vertically to hold the cat-slit irises.

Tennyo stared back, gradually assuming a smirk as Jade goggled at her.

“It isn’t a coincidence, is it?”

Tennyo shook her head.  She had a strange look on her face.  Proud and arrogant, but it was a fragile look that could just as easily turn to tears at a moment’s notice.

Jade blinked, trying to figure it out.  If she looks like Ryoko and it isn’t an accident, that means that she has somehow done this on purpose!  Or maybe on accident.  But… This is terrific!  Less than an hour and I’ve already found someone who changed her appearance.  Now if I could only find someone who’d changed their gender, too, I’d be set!  If I could find out how they did it…  Gradually her mind came back to where she was, and the girl watching her reaction.

Jade looked up with wonder in her eyes.  “That is SO COOL!  Are you still changing?  I mean, are you going to a tail and the whole bit?  And what about all those cool powers!  Naw, that would be too much, wouldn’t it?  But if you could – wow!  Hey, what were people like in the train station?  How did they react to your hair?  Did you do this on purpose?  Please, can you teach me how?  Not to look like Ryoko, of course, one’s enough, right?  Well, aside from Minagi.  But I mean, picking someone and then becoming them – wow!  That is the coolest thing ever!”

“Whoa, settle down.  Besides,” Tennyo said, pointing to a large rectangular brick building.  “I think we’re here.”

 

6: Ushered into Poe

Whateley Academy   September 3, Sunday evening

She’d had the “Welcome to Whateley” introductory tour.  The experience left Jade gaping in astonishment.  Mutants, powers, even Champion!  And more!  The death of Champion and how his successors were chosen!  The hall of heroes (and villains)!  Underground reactors and secret training halls.  It was everything she could have expected from an elite secret school for mutants.

But all of that paled, next to the revelations that mattered most.  Five other freshmen, four girls and one guy, who were in the process of transitioning from one gender to another!  Including her accidental seat-mate from the van, Tennyo!  Some of them were willing, some were bitter, Tennyo didn’t seem particularly bothered.  And she’d had to tell them about herself!  Well, she hadn’t exactly blurted out all the details.  She hadn’t come right out and told them she was still a boy.

It gave her a glow that she couldn’t even begin to describe.  Every single one of them (even Ayla) was transitioning to become a beautiful young girl.  And while Hank was going the wrong way, he seemed happy enough about it, so she was happy for him, too.

Thinking back on it, she had mentioned (fairly strongly) that she wasn’t transitioning or changing at all – her loud cries of “I'm turning into nothing!  I'm just frozen!” were probably pretty strong clues on that.  And given what she’d said, they might have guessed that she was physically still a boy.  She wasn’t going to push it, because she wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize their acceptance.

But between the revelations about the school and the upheavals in her private life, Jade’s mind was reeling by the time they finally got back to Poe.  So she felt perfectly justified in staggering through the entryway.  She barely noticed Edgar’s bust on the one side.  She hardly glanced at the clever scene on the opposite wall of a stuffed raven perched over an ancient book.  She barely glanced at the luggage piled haphazardly in the entry.  She just staggered into the common room and collapsed on the couch.

She felt, rather than saw, her fellow initiates collapsing around her.

“Come, come,” Belle chided them.  “It wasn’t that bad.  Buck up.  You still have to pick rooms.  After that, I’ll leave you be for the rest of the evening.”

Jade blearily raised her head.  Toni and Fey were already talking to Belle.  Well, that was fine with her.  Then her mind kicked into gear.

I didn’t exactly tell them the whole ugly truth, she realized, but they must suspect that I’m physically pretty boyish.  And they’re all in the middle of changing…  She looked up at the remaining members of their tour.  Ayla, the sometimes surly punk-girl; Tennyo, forced to mimic an animé character; and Hank, the newly-made boy.  Including her there were four of them.  Two per room.  Obviously neither of the girls would room with Hank which meant…

Her eyes snapped wide in alarm.  They COULDN’T!  They WOULDN’T!

She was suddenly terrified that they would.  She didn’t want to room with a boy.  She didn’t want to BE a boy.  She wasn’t going to be!  Somehow, she was going to be a girl!  She didn’t care what it took, she was going to become a girl!

The first thing to do was to make sure that she didn’t room with Hank.  He was nice enough, in a dopey-old-puppy sort of way.  But she wasn’t going to dress and undress in the same room as him.  She wasn’t going to SLEEP in the same room as him!

Forcing herself not to hyperventilate, she quickly looked at the other two girls.  Ayla – there were interesting things going on with that girl.  Jade really needed to have a long talk with her, but for right now, the girl was a little scary.  Tennyo, on the other hand – Tennyo was sometimes sweet, and sometimes gruff.  Probably dangerous (particularly the way she’d said that her energy blasts went off spontaneously, or when she was under stress).  But Jade could see something in the other girl’s incredible cat-eyes.  Someone she could trust.  Someone that, maybe, she might be able to confess the truth to.  Someone that could help her, and be her friend.

She realized that she hadn’t had a real friend since her mother had died.  The closest had been the other members of the dojo.

She looked at Tennyo again and her heart felt a yearning.  Not sexual or romantic (she thought – she wasn’t really sure what those emotions felt like).  This was like she suddenly had an opportunity to have… a sister.  There was one chance, but she had to move fast.  She stood up.

Ayla was already standing, looking around in thought.

Jade found herself drawn almost magnetically to Tennyo.  She couldn’t look up to meet the taller girl’s face.

“Tennyo-san,” she said, tentatively and formally.  “Would you allow me to be your roommate?”

“Huh?  Me?”  The blue-haired girl reach back to rub the back of her neck.  Jade recognized the embarrassment-gesture, it could have come from the streets of downtown Tokyo.  “Well, yeah, I guess.  But you might want to know, I sometimes have a little problem with energy blasts.  I still have a tendency to blow things up a little, you know?  I’m not so sure you want to be rooming with someone who might accidentally kill you.”

Jade’s heart was hammering.  She’d just moved from disaster to triumph.  She knew the other girl was serious about the danger, but Jade wasn’t the least bit worried.  The need inside her, the chance for a sister, the chance for a real life as a girl, they all demanded this.  A little danger was nothing in the face of her dreams.

“Please.  I understand the danger.  May I be your roommate?”

“Well, if you’re sure.”  Tennyo slapped her on the back, in an obviously male fashion.  “Glad to have you on board, kid.”

Jade couldn’t talk, so instead she just reached out and hugged the girl.  Tennyo was a bit stiff for a moment, then seemed to relax.  Jade held the hug for a second longer, then stepped away.

“Thank you,” was all she could say before her throat choked up.  To cover up her emotional outburst, Jade turned toward the foyer.  “Maybe we should get our bags and get a room.”

The beautiful cat-eyed girl nodded and followed her.  Of course, Jade’s pink suitcase was under a pair of large steamer trunks.  She tried tugging it out before Tennyo stepped in.

“Let me help.”

The blue-haired girl reached down with one hand to lever up the two trunks, allowing Jade to slip out her suitcase.

“You sure got Ryoko’s strength.”

The other girl scowled.  “Look, can we drop the whole ‘Ryoko’ thing?  I mean, I know what’s happening to me, but it’s a lot to deal with, you know?  I need some time to learn how to be Tennyo, before I spend too much time walking in someone else’s shadow.”

“Yes, Tennyo-san.”

“And that’s another thing!  What’s with all this ‘san’ business?  You don’t have any accent.  Are you really Japanese?”

Jade laughed.  “My mother was.  But me?  This is actually the first time I’ve been out of Kansas.  But ever since my powers arrived, it’s like my memory has been getting better and better.”  At least, when she was Jinn.  And Jinn’s memories carried over to Jade.  “And I’m remembering more and more of Okasan.  It seems like a way to honor her, to try to become a little more of what she was.  But you’re right.  I’m not really Japanese.  Technically, I’m nisei, but culturally I’m more like sansei or worse.  I guess I’m trying to capture a little bit of my lost culture back.”

“Nisei?  Sansei?”

“Second-generation and third-generation Japanese.  And since my father wasn’t Japanese, I’m not sure exactly where I’d fall.”

The other girl scratched behind an ear, thinking this over.  “Yeah, okay.”  She plucked up a carry-on.  “Shall we pick a room?”

Jade grabbed her backpack.  She felt a bit under-equipped with just one backpack and a small pink suitcase.  But Tennyo was even worse off, with nothing but a carry-on.  “Is that all you have?”

The older girl shrugged, as if it were no big deal.  “I have more on the way, but they messed up my bags at the airport in Concord.  They’ll probably get here sometime tomorrow.”

Chatting comfortably, they headed toward Beltane, who waited with a clipboard.

“You’re down to two choices,” their guide informed them.  “Two-sixteen, the corner room on the north, and two-thirteen, in the middle on the north.  You’ll probably be bordering Boystown with that one.”

Jade suddenly remembered the conversation she’d overheard between Juanita and Angel.

“Nothing on the south?”

“Nope.  Last one was two-oh-two.  That went to Ayla, as a single.  But I just put her there because it was first on the list.  She said she didn’t care.”

Jade reached for Tennyo’s hand.  “Come on!  Maybe we can change her mind!”

“If you do,” Belle called after them, “let me know.  For now, I’m going to list you in two-sixteen, next to Toni and Fey.”

“What’s the big deal?” Tennyo called, as they raced up the stairs.

Jade spoke quickly.  “Do you want a good room on the south, where we can get some sun, or a cold room on the north?”

Tennyo looked at her.  “From the way you’re describing it, a good room, with sun.”

“And the corner rooms are supposed to be extra cold.”

“No thanks, but I don’t really want to stick it to poor Ayla.  She looks like she’s already had a rough ride.  What’s your plan?”

Jade was being pushed to desperation moves.  It was regrettable, but, “I think” she decided, “we’re going to have to ask her.”

hr1

“So you want to switch rooms?” the punk girl asked.  “Why?”

“You’ll be right next to Toni and Fey,” Jade pleaded.  “A corner room, with no neighbors to bother you on one side.”

“Yeah, I see the advantages just fine.”  Ayla sounded surprisingly competent.  Jade had been hoping to win her over with a blitz, but it suddenly felt like she was talking to a master negotiator.  “What I want to know is: if it’s so good, why do you want to trade?”

“I –”  She looked to Tennyo.

“Sorry, you’re on your own.”

“I –”  What could she say?  “I – nothing.”  She admitted it.  “Nothing at all.  It’s cold, and dark, and doesn’t get any sun, like this room.”  She sniffed.  “I’m sorry.”

“Ah, what the fuck.”  Jade was surprised to feel the other girl’s hand on her shoulders.  “Sure, I’ll trade.”

“Huh?  Really?”

The punk girl shrugged, looking for all the world as if she could care less.  “Sun’s over-rated.  Too much glare, wakes you up too early.  Besides,” she stuck her hand through one of the wardrobes, as intangible as a ghost, “there might be some advantages to the corner.”

Before she could help herself, Jade found herself hugging the other girl.  “Thank you!” she whispered.

“No big deal.  I haven’t even gotten my stuff yet.”  And with that, the girl simply sauntered out.

hr1

As they would soon discover, room 202 was just like every room on the second floor.  The walls were a sort of ochre yellow.  Not a very attractive color, but it was a competent paint job.  Nothing was peeling or blistering.  The room had wood up to about waist height, and the wood had vertical lines on it.  The wood was painted a darker green.  A piece of molding ran around the room where the wood met the painted wall, at waist height.  There was another sort of molding-shelf about six feet up.  The ceiling had a single domed light fixture in the center.

There weren’t built-in closets.  Instead, there were freestanding wardrobes, one for each girl.  The wardrobes also had dresser drawers in the lower half.  Each girl also had a bed, chair, and desk that doubled as a night table.  The wood furniture was painted a dark brown.  Jade unpacked her backpack on the bed first, getting out the bag that held Jinn’s body suit.  She wasn’t quite ready to explain about the rubber Madonna mask, so she tossed her jacket over it.  She put her stuffed lion on the desk for now.  She was just putting her first dress on a hanger, when she saw Ayla ambling past.  The girl had a steamer trunk in each hand, carrying them as if they were made of bulky Styrofoam.  There seemed to be something very … solid … about her.

Once she was past, Tennyo said, “You know, I think I’m glad we didn’t end up tricking her out of her room.  I get the feeling that she could make an unpleasant enemy.”

Jade just cocked her head and thought about it.

“Hey, Ayla,” Tennyo called.  “Need help?  You got any more luggage downstairs?”

Jade looked at her one small suitcase and backpack.  “She just walked by with two full steamer trunks.  How much more could she have?”

“Sure, thanks!” came the shout from across the hall.  “There’s two more trunks in the foyer, both tagged ‘Ayla Goodkind.’”

Jade sighed.  She decided to rearrange her seven changes of clothes one more time, to see if it took up more space this time.

Not too long after that, Tennyo went walking past, carrying two steamer trunks as easily as Ayla.  Jade decided that it would probably be a good idea to stay friends with both girls.

Then she noticed something new.  There was a stuffed cabbit, casually tossed onto the pillow of Tennyo’s bed.  Jade recognized the toy from the Tenchi Muyo! animé series.  Half cat, half rabbit, the cabbit has been more like Ryoko’s sibling, psychically bonded to her.  If she recalled, the cabbit could take three forms, the cat-rabbit shown in the toy, a sort of cat-girl, and a gigantic crystalline spaceship.  But hadn’t Tennyo said she was trying to forget about the whole Ryoko thing?

I shouldn’t, she told herself.  But she slipped a speaker disk underneath it and charged them both.  She had no set plans, but she’d know when the time came.

hr1

“I want to look up the friends I met on the train,” she explained to Tennyo.  “They definitely have a south-facing room, but I’m not sure whether it was on floor three or four.  Want to come?”

The spiky-haired girl scratched her scalp.  “No, I’ve got a couple of things I want to ask Fey.  Maybe later.”

“Okay.”  She decided it was only fair to give warning, though.  “Just be careful what you say while I’m gone.  The walls have ears, you know!”

“Huh?”

hr1

To get to the stairs, she had to negotiate past two rooms with other girls setting up, and four rooms filled with boys (more, if you counted the north corridor).  Some of them looked as young as she usually felt.  She waved to a couple of boys tentatively as she walked past, but neither side seemed inclined to break the ice yet.

It triggered a disturbing thought in her mind.  Was she any different from those gay boys?  She didn’t know much about gay boys – what they liked, what they wanted, what they believed.  Physically (though it hurt to admit it) she was a boy.  But here she was, dressed like a girl, acting like a girl.  She hadn’t really thought things through to their true logical conclusion, but she’d casually assumed that she’d eventually end up with a boyfriend, just like any other ordinary girl.

Did that mean that she was gay?

It was a disturbing thought.  It wasn’t that she was afraid of being gay.  It really seemed like just another label.  It was the thought that she’d have to leave the girls’ area, and move down here with the (ugg) boys.  The other gay boys.

Maybe when she was a little more sure of herself, she could talk to someone about this.  But not today.  Definitely not today.

She climbed up the stairs, and quickly made her way to the third floor.  The southern exposure would be the left hall.  She assumed there would be, once again, boys for the first four rooms.  But the third floor seemed mostly deserted.  There were only a couple of people present.  Almost at the end of the floor, she came across an open door and heard Juanita’s voice inside.  It was room 302, directly above her own.

“Um, hello?”

“Little Jade!” Juanita cried.  “See?  I told you that you were a little sister!”

She pouted and drew herself up to her full height.  “Little?  I’m only a couple of inches shorter than you!”

“Yes.  Great in stature, but perhaps still lacking in maturity, no?  What room are you in?”

“202, right under your room!”

Angel turned away from her position at the open window.  It was Jade’s first chance to see her without the trench coat.  With the soft white tunic the girl was wearing and the cascade of curly golden hair, she really did look like an angel.  Her smile made her look even more angelic.  “I must have missed you, when the tour came through.”

“Uh, I wasn’t on that tour.  My group saw the campus.”

For a moment, Angel drew back in shock.  “One of the TGs?  Don’t tell me a pretty young girl like you is changing into a guy?”  Fearful, she drew her hand back.

Juanita whapped her roommate softly.  “No, dummy.  She’s right under us.  She’s a girl.”

“Of course.  I remember touching her before.”  Once again, she stroked a fine, soft hand across Jade’s cheek.  “You must be quite far along.  When I touch you, I feel nothing but gentle feminine warmth.”

“I…” Jade’s eyes started to tremble.  “Not as far as I want,” she admitted.

“Don’t cry, little sister.”  Angel stepped forward, enfolding her first in arms, then in clean-smelling soft wings, as well.  “With a soul as feminine as yours, strong enough to shine through the errors of flesh, I can’t help but know that things will turn out correctly.”

Jade said nothing, she just gloried in the incredible embrace.  Once more, accepted, she though.  It was too good to be true.

hr1

Toni and Ayla took desk chairs, Fey dropped down on Tennyo’s bed, and Tennyo floated in mid-air.

“Pretty incredible, isn’t it?” Tony asked.  “I mean, from the outside it’s just some dumpy old private school, stuck up here in the middle of nowhere.”

“Not really dumpy,” Ayla corrected.  “It’s a pretty sharp looking prep school, even without the dome or that observatory.”  She sniffed disdainfully.  “Talk about your definition of ‘over the top’.”

“Hey, Fey,” Tennyo called, “we never did get a demo of your powers.”

“Consider yourself lucky.  I can’t exactly control them yet, and sometimes really weird –” she pause to stare at Tennyo’s stuffed animal in extreme suspicion.

“Case in point,” Ayla mentioned.

“I’m just not sure I’m ready to go to school as a girl,” Tennyo admitted.

“TELL me about it,” Ayla groused.

Toni just smirked.  “So whadya wanna do tomorrow?”

Fey groaned, falling back on the bed.  She poked the stuffed toy a couple of times, but nothing seemed to happen.  “I still haven’t finished unpacking.”

Ayla tore her hair out.  “Don’t even mention that!  I still have three trunks to go.”

Toni and Fey stared at her.  “Three trunks left?”

“And have you seen how small these rooms are?  Where am I supposed to put everything?”

Tennyo snickered.  “That’s an awful lot of clothes for a person who sometimes sounds like she doesn’t want to be a girl.”

Ayla hung her head.  “I know.  Sometimes I scare myself.  But… somehow, that lingerie just makes me feel so…wicked!  It’s like I can’t help myself.”  She smacked her head on the desk.  “I am SO messed up…”

Toni stood up, stretching.  “I’d better finish unpacking, too.”  She looked around the room.  “Hey, how’d you two finish so fast?”

 “I don’t think Jade has very much,” Tennyo explained.  “And the stupid airlines sent my bags to Nairobi or someplace.  Heck.  Maybe I’ll explore a little.”

hr1

All four girls stepped out of the room.  Jinn thought she could still hear Tennyo right outside, though.  Quietly she let out a sound.  “Nuts!” she said.  “Gotta find someplace to hide all these nuts!”

Sure enough, Tennyo came right back in, looking around suspiciously.  Jinn held herself completely passive.  It had been hard, earlier, when Fey had been poking at her.  The girl had obviously seen something that tipped her off, but she was probably unsure enough of her powers that she hadn’t fully trusted what she saw.

Tennyo turned around to leave again.

“Eat the nuts, or hide them?”

Tennyo snapped back around, stalking into the room.  Jinn took the opportunity to admire the spiky-haired girl.  She really did look exactly like Ryoko in the animation.  She sometimes even had that same little smirk, with little fangs that poked out sometimes.  And that hair was fantastic.  It was as if each hair was floating on its own.  To Jinn, it looked like the silkiest, softest thing she could possibly imagine.

Slowly, the girl approached the bed, looking around for anything unusual.  She even leaned toward her stuffed toy, to poke it gently.

Jinn waited…

Tennyo grunted, “Hnn,” as she gave the toy a poke.

At that exact moment, Jinn let out a loud, “AAAAH!”  She jumped off the bed and hit the floor running.  She discovered in the first half-second that cloth feet don’t get the best traction on hardwood floors, then kicked in her flying ability so that it only looked like she was running.  Behind her, she heard Tennyo falling to the floor with a muffled “Ack!”

The chase was on!

hr1

“So where’s your little pet?” Juanita asked.

Jade laughed.  “I’d better keep her away from you!  It feels way too good when you pet me.”

Angel made a strange expression.  “I think you messed up your sentence or something.”

“Naw, whenever we merge back together we both become just me.  It’s not like I spend half my life living as a toy or something.”

At that moment, there was a cry from down the hall.

“My cabbit!  You hexed my cabbit!”

“Wasn’t MY doing!  Hey, I’m the one who got mauled!  Has that cabbit had its shots?”

The three of them looked out the doorway to see a brown stuffed animal go racing by, cornering sharply to curve around the girls’ bathroom.  A moment later, three girls came pounding past.

“You can’t get rabies from a TOY!”

“Mighty lively looking toy!  How do we know it’s not possessed?”

The girls rounded the corner in pursuit.  Then a guy’s voice sounded out.

“Ha!  Outfoxed on the far side.  Let’s see you –”

“Hank, LOOK OUT!”

There was a sound like many bodies piling into each other, then a squeaky cry of, “I smell carrots!  Miya, MIYA!”

In the room, Juanita and Angel stared out their open doorway.

“Heh, heh.”  Jade tried, unsuccessfully to control her blush.  “My, ah, roommate.  Apparently chasing her stuffed, ah, animal.”

Juanita was quick with the question.  “I thought you said you didn’t spend your life being a stuffed animal?”

Jade looked up at her sheepishly.  “Only when it’s funny?”

Angel was listening to the chaos as it receded down the hallway.  “I’m almost tempted to join the chase myself.”

“You’d better be careful to stay out of the attic,” Juanita warned.

“Are the seniors here yet?”

“I don’t know and I’m not going to check, cause you can be sure they’ll find out if you do.”

Jade gulped.  “Then I hope I don’t go up there.”

“Wow, you really are two separate people, aren’t you?”

Jade nodded.  “All of a sudden, there’s two of me.  Actually, I think I’m a little more self-confident as Jinn.  But one second it’s just me, the next second, I’m both of me standing next to the other me.  Later on we join back up, and we’re just plain me again, but I remember both of us.”

Juanita rubbed her head.  “Too much of that and you’ll give me a headache.”

“Well, that’s part of the reason I came up here.  See, I think I’d like to take double classes, if I can.”

“That’s it!  Full-blown headache!”

“I’m just not sure if they’ll let me, or how to arrange it, or anything.”

“Hmm, you know, I might have an angle on this,” Angel said.  “You remember two years ago, when that Twain kid tried to enroll the robot he’d built?”

“Yeah, but that was a fake.”

“Sure, but they didn’t know it at the time.  You could use the same arguments here.”

“I don’t know.  Won’t they want to charge double tuition?”

“Not if she’s on a scholarship.  Almost half the student body is.”

Jade nodded.

“Okay,” Angel decided.  “First I’d run the plan by Zenith.  She was a T-girl like you, Jade, but she had the good taste to go lesbian.  I think she got fourth floor this year, but I haven’t seen her yet.  She should get in sometime over the next two days.”

“She can help me?”

“She might trade some chores over it.  Get in early, while you can.  She’s the best fixer in the cottage.”

“Fixer?”

“Yeah.  Rules, legal stuff, loopholes, favors, trades.  On her own she’s plenty sharp, but she can tap into extra skills sometimes….”

 

7: Kindred Spirits

Whateley Academy   September 3, Sunday evening

Jade was cautious when she returned to the freshman floor.  Things seemed relatively quiet.  “Relatively” being the operative word.  The third door on her hallway was open, and pounding music was coming out.  Inside was a literal pile of young guys.  About a quarter of them were touching, some rather intimately.  Two in immediate sight were playing tongue games with each other.

Half curious, half neighborly, and half confused (mostly at her math skills), Jade paused and peeked in the doorway.

“Hi, kid!” one of the tongue-swappers called, amiably.  “Come to see if there’s anything you like here?”

“Um… no?” she squeaked.

“Heck, don’t let him get you all flustered, Jade.  He’s not nearly as dangerous as he’d like to be.”

She turned to the familiar voice and then goggled.  “HANK?”

He lifted his bottle of root beer in a mock salute.  “You missed all the fun, earlier.”

“Er… yeah.  What are you doing in here?”

He looked around.  “Well, my room is next door.  Party.  Male bonding.  You know.”

Jade couldn’t help making a quick glance at the tongue twins, who seemed quite caught up in their ‘male bonding.’  “What I meant was….”

A fairly young looking guy came over and casually draped his arm around Hank’s shoulders.  “What she’s trying to say, Hank old bud, is why aren’t you with the other TG dudes, doing whatever it is that they do, instead of hanging around at the gay party?”

Hank nodded sagely.  “Ah.  That would be because there aren’t any other ‘TG dudes.’  Just me.  But at least it’s enough distinction to get me a single.”

Another boy, this one with porcupine hair that shot out horizontally to both sides, joined their impromptu discussion.  “This brings up a good point, Hank.  Presuming that in your previous life you had – how can I put it inoffensively? –conventional tastes, we might reasonably assume you’d join our band of brothers, as it were.”

Hank was finally starting to show a little blush.  “Just pencil me in as ‘confused’ and leave it at that.”

Porcupine-hair turned his attention to her.  “How about you, sweet thing?  Are you a sister-in-arms, or a T-girl?”

Confused, she looked back and forth between the boys facing her.  “I – well –”

Hank shrugged and gave her a smile.  “The only reason the network hasn’t pegged us all, already, is that the girls up in Gurlzone haven’t started dropping by yet.  From what I gather, the gossip channels are pretty thick around here.”

Porcupine-hair nodded.  “It’s a defense mechanism, really.”  He gestured into the party.  “Most of these guys, they’ve never seen so many like-minded young lads in one spot.  It’s a real eye-opener.  Of course,” he nodded toward the tongue-donors “there are exceptions.  And despite my looks, I’m actually a junior.  I just wanted to be on hand to help steer things in the right direction, these first few days.  Part of that is letting people know about the network.  Don’t expect to keep too many secrets from your friends here in Poe.  It’s a bit of a game, really.  On the other hand, we expect Poe’s secrets to stay inside these walls.  No one gets outted, and we don’t trash other Poes while we’re outside.  Inside, when it’s green,” he pointed to the LED above the door, “then this is OUR world.”  He made a sweeping gesture.  “Welcome in.  I’m Rafael Eagan.  Junior.  Mutant deviser.  Gay.  How do you do?”  He held out his hand.

Jade smiled at him.  “Hi.”  She shook the hand, gently.  “Jade Sinclair.  Freshman, uh, weird telekinetic sort of, and I guess… T-girl?”

Raphael nodded.  “Transgendered-girl.  Becoming a girl.  Correct?  Almost a shame, since you must have been a cute boy.”

There seemed no threat in his words, and she was pleased by his implicit assumption that she was no longer a boy.  “No.  I have to be a girl!  You don’t understand.  I have to!”

His smile was gentle.  “That’s part of what this party is about.  I understand quite well.  You’ll find that all of us here in Poe understand.  We all have something burning inside us, something that’s forcing us to feel or act or be a certain way.  According to society it isn’t ‘normal’.  Just the same, we can’t deny it.  Could you force yourself not to be a girl?”

It was still a nightmare she often had.  “No,” she admitted.  “I mean, maybe I could, but it would kill me.”

“Just so.  Far too many boys have forced themselves down that path, desperately trying to be straight.  And some of them, it does kill.  I just want you to know, whatever their gender, there will be a lot of people in Poe who understand you.”

hr1

She was feeling pretty good as she wandered back toward her new room.  What had the boys called it?  “Girls’ own” or something?  She’d thought they would be dividing up into three hostile camps, but this was really a lot friendlier.  With a smile on her lips, she turned into her room –

Tennyo was smiling cruelly, smacking some sort of heavy wooden cudgel in her hand.  In front of her was a cloth balloon, tied down to a chair.  On second look, Jade realized that it wasn’t a balloon, but a stuffed cabbit, wrapped up like a mummy.  Even its muzzle was tied shut.  There were just little eyes that seemed to glitter at her.  Upon seeing her, the cabbit tried to squirm some more.

“Well, well, well,” Tennyo said in a tone that promised pain to someone.  “If it isn’t Jade.”

“I—” she looked around desperately for some sort of distraction “surely you don’t think that I had anything to do with…”

At that unfortunate moment, the charge expired.  The floating cabbit suddenly dropped to the floor, and Jade staggered at the influx of memories.  She didn’t want to, she tried not to, but she couldn’t help snickering.  Then she started to laugh.

“Oh, dear.  That was a bit much, wasn’t it?  At least we didn’t go up to the top floor.”

A growling sound came from Tennyo.  “And how am I supposed to unload my frustrations?”

“Um…”  Jade looked at her desk and suddenly had an idea.  After all, he wasn’t white, and she didn’t really like him all that much.  She quickly snatched a speaker disk and slapped it on the belly of her stuffed lion, which she proceeded to charge up.  “Here!”  She held the lion up.  “Here’s the culprit!  Knock the stuffing out of her!”

Tennyo suddenly deflated.  “Aw, I couldn’t do that.  Not for real.”

Jade put a hand to her mouth and spoke conspiratorially.  “Jinn can’t actually feel pain, and it’s not like she’s got anything solid that you could hurt anyway.  But she’ll put up a good show.”

Tennyo seemed to think about it.  “Really?”

“Trust me.  If anything did happen, she could always just let go and instantly pop back into me.”

Tennyo took the stuffed lion.  “You don’t mind?”

Jade shook her head.  The lion said, “Do your worst!” in Jinn’s voice.

Tennyo bopped the lion on the head.

“Ow!”

Startled, Tennyo stepped back.

“Sucker.”

“Why you!”  Suddenly grabbing up the cudgel, Tennyo swung at the stuffed lion that had hopped onto her bed.  Direct hit!  She almost flattened the lion.

“OoooOOoo,” came from under the cudgel.

“Oh, I’m sorry!” Tennyo pulled the flattened toy off the bed.

With an almost audible “pop”, the lion puffed back out to normal.  “Not bad.  Pretty good hit.”

Holding her cudgel in one hand and dangling the lion from his tail in the other hand, Tennyo said, “This is too good to keep to myself.  Time to share the pain.”

“Am I going to regret this?” the lion asked, swinging by its tail.

hr1

Everyone was feeling much better, once Toni, Fey, and Ayla had also played “whack a lion.”  Some girls from next door had stopped over to investigate the commotion.  They looked oddly at everyone beating the stuffed toy, until the lion sprang up and said, “It’s okay, I deserved it!” only to get whacked down again.  The girls left quickly.

The five of them seemed to naturally gravitate in toward Toni and Fey.  The black girl was just too outgoing and friendly.  Her roommate was more cautious, but she was obviously having a tough time adjusting to her transformation.  And considering how stunningly beautiful she was becoming, she’d have a lot to adjust to.

The room was a little cramped, until they moved into the next-door sunroom.  None of the other freshmen seemed to have realized what a haven they had at the end of the hallway.  The sunroom was long and thin – seven feet wide and twenty-six feet long.  There was a TV at one end, reading chairs at the other, and couches in the middle.  Toni and Fey flopped down on a couch.  Jade was starting to feel how late it was, so she stretched out on another.  Ayla and Tennyo floated overhead, not taking up floor space, but bringing the group closer together.

In between bouts of “whack a lion”, Toni kept the fledgling conversation alive, almost bouncing off the walls in her enthusiasm.  Fey, the fox-faced girl, also seemed somewhat fox-like in her caution.  She was obviously still feeling things out, unable to commit herself quite yet.  And Tennyo – she alternated between enthusiasm and weird stops, as if she suddenly became aware of what she was saying, and wasn’t sure about it.

“So I’m still a little puzzled on powers,” Toni was saying, as strangled a toy.  “But then, mine are pretty straightforward.  Super martial arts.”

“Can you show us a quick demo?” Tennyo said.  She was floating at about eye level, as if she were laying down.

Toni shrugged.  Her eyes flickered to the curtains covering the windows and the green LED above the doorway.  “Well, you know, just really good punches –”

Saying that, Toni spun and with her left hand cocked back, her right hand seemed to flicker forward and back in a blur.  There was a sound like a card in the spokes of a bicycle, as the air itself seemed to crack.  In a dojo, you’d try to get that ‘snap’ sound in the sleeve of your gi, but Toni was wearing a half-length blue T-shirt that didn’t have any sleeves.  Jade was pretty sure that Toni’s punches were somehow compressing the air in front of her fist to give that sound.

“– and maybe some flips –”

From her standing position, without any apparent preparation she did a forward flip up over Tennyo (putting a hand down briefly on the floating girl’s back as a pivot as she passed by), and landed six feet away facing back toward them.

“Stuff like that, basically.”

There was a pause while the rest of them pulled their eyes back into their eye sockets.

“You know, ordinary martial arts, maybe with a little extra.”  She seemed to be suddenly interested in examining the quality of her nail polish.

“Wow,” Jade said, barely breathing.  “What do you even call that?  Taisabaki waza, or something like that?”

Toni looked at her in surprise.  “You practice Aikido?”

“Hai, Sempai.  But I only have four and a half years of study.  But I’ve never even seen a technique like that.  Where’d you learn it?  What rank are you?”

Toni laughed nervously.  “Actually, only gokyu.  I started advancing pretty fast, but they stopped when they realized it was all because of ki focusing.  I still haven’t finished mastering the basics.  What school are you?”

Jade smiled.  “Nakamura sensei taught aikikai.  He wouldn’t even late me pay, these last few years.  He said it was something he owed my mother.  How about you?”

Tomiki-ryu,” Toni answered easily.

“Oh,” Jade said, nodding.  “I would have figured you for shin-shin toitsu, with your ki skills.  Hey, I heard that tomiki-ryu has actual competitions, and you guys are really focused on kata.”

“Uh huh.”  Toni nodded.  “That seems to be the major branch out in my area.  I never see any of the other schools at any of the competitions –”

“Excuse me!” Tennyo broke in.  “Could we return to a language we all speak?”

“Sorry,” Jade said.  “But I just discovered that Sempai studies the art.”

Toni was looking a little embarrassed.  “You can quit with the ‘sempai’ business.  I got that at the dojo, too.  Look, I’ve got ki to burn, but I might not be so good at showing you the forms, okay?”

“Yes, Sempai.”

“Anyway,” Tennyo said, “it’s probably best to maintain a little flexibility on schools and styles.  For the next four years we’ll all be attending whatever Whateley provides.  So whether it’s Aikido, or Judo, or even one of the hard styles like karate, we’ll be limited to what they offer.”

Toni’s eyebrows went up as she looked slyly toward Tennyo.  “You study the art?”

“Yeah, well, maybe I’ve picked up a few throws and stuff, here and there.”

The girls’ eyes met and there was an almost visible crackle of challenge between them.

Fey broke in.  “Am I the only one here who isn’t obsessed over some form of martial arts?”

“No,” Ayla said.  “I was never that fond of boxing or punching people in the face either.”

“We don’t punch people in the face,” Jade protested, “we let them meet the mat.”

The two non-martial girls shared a glance.  “Uh huh.”

Toni shrugged and grinned, her smile eradicating any chance for hard feelings.  “Sorry, it’s just that martial arts have kind of taken over my life, lately.  And it’s nice to discover that we have something in common beside the, you know, the big thing.”

“Big TWO things,” Tennyo said.  “Don’t forget the whole mutant powers bit.”

“That’s what I was talking about,” Toni said.  “OH!  You meant the whole ‘turning into a girl’ bit.”  She waved a hand in the air.  “You know, it’s like, ‘shit happens.’  Deal with it and move on.”

“Easy enough for you to say,” Fey muttered.  “Maybe you didn’t have your whole life thrown in the toilet.”

“That’s just not fair!” Jade cried out.  “You’re probably the most beautiful girl in the entire state!  Some of us would die to look half as pretty as you!”  Abruptly she turned and ran out of the room.

Everyone looked at each other in confusion.  Finally, from underneath Tennyo’s cudgel, the lion squeaked, “Girls.  Who can figure ‘em?  Must be hormones or something.”

All four remaining girls took turns whacking the toy this time.

“I deserved that.”

hr1

Back in her room, Jade wrapped herself around her pillow and cried.  What if you have to change when you first get your power? she thought.  After all, that’s almost what happened to her.  One instant, she’s a guy with confused and suppressed feelings.  The next minute, POW, she’s standing there in her spirit-form.  What if that was her transformation?  What if there was never any more?  Only… she couldn’t really believe that her inner spirit, or soul, or whatever had changed in that moment.  She’d always been a girl inside, she just hadn’t realized it.

But what if that had been her only chance?

No!  She refused to believe that.  If all of those beautiful girls had once been guys, there had to be a way that she could do it, too!  There had to be!

Now if she could just make up for the fact that she’d made a total fool of herself.

She yawned, realizing how late it was.  It was probably past time for bed.  Which meant, past time to change into her nightgown.

That thought brought a sudden chill.  She knew the other girls were well along in their transitions.  While she  was not so far along yet (to put it mildly).  What if Tennyo spotted her, while she was changing?  What would the real girl say?  Tennyo even had periods!  What would she think?  Better to change now, when there was no one in the room.

She quickly changed panties, making sure to carefully tuck herself back.  She didn’t have that many clothes, so she decided to user her bottom drawer for dirty clothes.  Then, in panties and nightgown, she was ready to head back.  She felt a little exposed and didn’t have a robe, so she pulled the blanket off her bed and wrapped it around herself.

hr1

She knocked on the sill of the open door.  “Hi.”  The other girls stopped talking as they noticed her.  “I’m – I’m sorry I freaked out like that.”

In the room, it seemed like Tennyo was the focus of attention.  The blue-haired girl was upside down, standing on the ceiling.  Even so, her hair still fell in its own preferred direction, as if gravity were of no consequence.

Fey looked up at the returning member.  “Hi,” she said.  “Come on in.”

Jade smiled at Tennyo.  Standing on the ceiling was a cool trick the first few times she’d seen it.  Of course, she did it often enough herself.

With an odd catch in her voice, Fey asked, “You aren’t really jealous of someone like m-us, are you?”

Jade looked up at her.  Looking into those violet, almost-alien eyes she said, “You are so beautiful.  I’d give almost anything to be like you.”

The other girls seemed suddenly uncomfortable with the naked need in her voice.

“Well… hey!” Tennyo said.  “I was just telling the girls some of the things I do.  Didn’t want to show off any energy blasts, of course.  That lady did warn us not to destroy anything.  I think we were about to hear from Fey, right?”

“Yeah,” Ayla agreed.  “We got part of it on the tour – psychedelic squirrels, turning into a girl, forced to buy cool clothes.  And which of us can’t get behind that last part?  But you never really told us how it works.”

“I told you about getting power from ley lines, right?”

Jade shook her head.  “I didn’t quite understand that part.”

“The spirit of the world, all the life in it, all the material of it, are all bound together and interrelated.  The combined energies of that collection are conducted along lines of mystic force called ‘ley lines.’”

There was silence for a moment before Tennyo said, “Kid, I’ve been from one side of this country to the other.  I’ve seen a lot of strange things.  But I’ve never seen anything to make me believe there’s one all-powerful force controlling everything.  There’s no mystical energy field that controls my destiny.”

Fey just stuck her tongue out at the upside-down girl.

Toni added, “Yeah, remember Tennyo, hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side.”

Fey massaged her temple.  “Excuse me!  I was trying to have an origin here!”

Toni held up her hands.  “Sorry!  Please continue.”

“No, no, you’ve ruined the mood.  I’ll just cut to the chase.”  She turned her hands upward and shrugged.  “I don’t really understand it.  That’s why I’m here.  Mostly, I just grab a bunch of energy and weave it together.  I don’t really know what I might eventually be able to do, and I’m sure not going to chance an outbreak of weirdness tonight.”  She glared at the stuffed lion.  “Pardon me.  ANOTHER outbreak.”

“Weird is as weird does,” the lion squeaked, getting whacked for her troubles.

Jade yawned.  How late was it?  “Anyone mind if I lie down for a while?”

“Knock yourself out, kid.”  Ayla snickered at the joke.

“Can I have the troublemaker back?” she reached for the toy lion.

Fey handed it over, then said, “Wait a minute.  You said you were the same person.  That means you’re BOTH troublemakers!”

Jade and the lion looked at one another.  “No, we’re completely different!” they said in unison.

Everyone glared at Jade.  Sheepishly she offered up the lion.  “Uh, more scapegoat, anyone?”

Toni laughed.  “Get to bed.  There’s plenty of couches in here.”  But as Jade pulled off the blanket to shake it loose, Toni stared in alarm.

Jade paused.  All three girls were staring at her.  Had they spotted… something?  Was she showing, somehow?  Suddenly terrified, she asked, “What’s wrong?”

Tennyo gasped it out first.  “…Hello Kitty?”  She said it with a tone of horror.

“Hey, beggars can’t be choosers, you know?  Besides, I always thought Hello Kitty was cute.”

Fey shook her head.  “You really are Japanese, aren’t you?”

Toni shot a sideways glance at Fey.  “We can’t all be fashion goddesses.”  She tried, unsuccessfully, to keep from peeking back at the horrid emblem on Jade’s nightshirt.

Jade felt the wash of memories as Jinn came back into her.  She wished she could lay down in mid-air like Tennyo.  Then, realizing that she could, she shook out the blanket, pushed the speaker disk onto the corner, and charged them both.  Then she hugged the (now normal) stuffed animal, as the blanket flattened itself out in mid-air, about three feet off the ground.  It slowly flowed up to Jade and up her side.  She let herself fall over into the soft embrace.  Once she was resting horizontally, the blanket folded itself over her.  One part lifted up under her head like a pillow, while the other end folded over her feet.  Then it floated up to just over head height, where she could participate in the conversation without being in the way.

“Flying carpets, too,” Fey said in admiration.  “Versatile power.  And I thought I was the one who could do magic.”

“I’m not all that strong,” Jinn’s voice said from the foot corner of the blanket.  “Last time I tested, I could only lift about 180 pounds, but since I don’t get tired I can hold that entire weight until I fade.”

“There’s one part I still don’t get,” Toni said, staring at the floating blanket.  “Which one are you?  I mean, which of you is you?”

“Both” the blanket said.  A second later, the drowsy girl echoed, “both.”

“When I’m like this,” the blanket continued, “I’m separate.  There’s two of me – one in my body, and one in the object.  The whatever-it-is that we’ve charged up.  We’re like separate people.  I mean, we don’t have telepathy or anything like that, we’re really separate.  A minute ago we were the same, but now we’re in two places, get it?  And when I fade, we’ll all of a sudden remember both of ‘us’.  I mean, the only one of me then is the me-in-my-body, and then I remember both.  Does that make sense?”

Fey looked puzzled, but she nodded.  “No weirder than magic, I guess.”  She snorted.  “You know, together I’ll bet we could put on a hell of a magic show.”

“Yeah,” Tennyo broke in, “I could be the levitating lady.”

“That’s nothing,” the blanket said.  “I can be the lady that you saw in half.  Literally.”

Toni fingered one edge of the blanket which slapped back at her fingers.  “Uh, no offense, but you kind of have to be a ‘lady’ first.  No one’s impressed with the ‘saw the blanket in half’ trick.”

“Oh, yeah,” the blanket said.  “I guess I haven’t shown you that part yet.  Well remember the jacket-and-gloves, from when we talked by the statue?  If I put on a bodysuit, gloves, hood, wig, and a really good rubber face mask, I look good enough to pass as a real person.  It feels kind of like I’m actually wearing the clothes, and if you grabbed my arm it would feel like there was a person inside.  Well, for pressure and shape.  I don’t give off any warmth.  Blankets and stuffed animals are okay, but I really do prefer to be in girl-shape.  I go around that way whenever I can.  Then I can be Jinn for real.  No one’s really spotted anything unusual.”

Toni leaned forward.  “Really?  Could you show us?”

“Maybe tomorrow,” the blanket said.  “Only Jade can charge me into something, and she’s just fallen asleep.”

As if in response to this, soft snores could now be heard from the other end of the blanket.

“You call yourself Djin?” Fey repeated.  “Makes sense.”  She’d begun researching magic ever since she came into her powers.

“Oh, what time is it?” the blanket asked.  “I forgot to look when I charged up.  I only last for about sixty minutes.”

Tennyo looked at her watch.  “Seven forty-five.”

“Ouch.  We still haven’t finished unpacking, Fey.”

“Yeah.  It’s not so bad for me, though.  I woke up in a later time zone.”

“Still, it was a big day.”

Tennyo reluctantly agreed.  “I guess we’d better take off.”  She looked at the blanket.  “C’mon, cabbit.”

“I’m not a cabbit now,” the blanket protested.  “Besides, you don’t have any carrots.  Why should I follow you?”

“‘Cause I’ll lock the door if you don’t.  You might be able to slip underneath, but sleeping beauty there won’t be so lucky.”

The two of them drifted in mid-air down the hallway.

“Waaa!  My evil roommate is threatening me!”

“Shut up, you!  Laundry gets no special rights in this dorm!”

As they disappeared into their own room, Toni gave Fey a sideways glance.

“Enough to make you feel almost normal, isn’t it?”

The fox-faced girl gave a wan smile in return.  “For a while.  For a while.”

hr1

Morning presented Jade with a disturbing problem.  She’d have to shower in the girls’ restroom.  And although the showers themselves were individual and screened off, there was only a single shared changing room.  So how was she supposed to get in and out of the shower without “showing”?

She’d just returned from going to the bathroom.  At least the stalls had doors, thank goodness.  That still left her somewhat terrified.  But it was one of the things she’d have to get over.  If she couldn’t stand to use the bathroom here, among other transgendered girls and (presumably) supportive gay friends in Poe, how was she going to cope on campus?

But, of course, that was the problem.  She wasn’t transgendered.  Not yet.  She was just a stupid boy, with a hope and a desperate need.

No!  She was GOING to do this.  She COULD do it.  She wasn’t going to let anything stop her from becoming a girl.  If she had to do this, then by God, she’d figure out how to do it right.  Let’s see…

First off, she needed her training bra.  Or rather, as a boy, she didn’t need it at all.  Which was precisely why she did need it – to cover up what she didn’t have.  Even more, she needed her panties, to cover up what she did have but didn’t want.

It was lucky that Tennyo had just gone off to the shower.  Jade stood and looked at herself, wearing only bra-and-panties, in the mirror on the back of their door.

“Not too bad,” Jinn said beside her.  Jinn was currently gloves-and-speaker.

“What do you know?” Jade berated her.  “You can’t even see right.”

“I know I can see a small bulge at the bottom of our panties,” the gloves said.

“Yeah,” Jade agreed.  “How am I supposed to keep myself tucked in, without walking like a dweeb?”

“Maybe the towel will hide everything,” the gloves suggested.

Jade had retrieved an oversized white towel while she was in the bathroom.  She wrapped it around herself, then looked in the mirror.

“Hmmm.  The bra straps have to go,” she decided.

“Don’t worry.  The towel covers everything.”

They obviously both got the same idea at the same time.  If they could trust the towel to stay on, and strategically positioned…

“The towel!” Jinn, in the gloves, said.

But Jade had already had an even better idea.  She held out one finger, dangling a pair of small cotton underpants.  “The problem isn’t the towel,” she said, “it’s the tuck.  So if you –”

“Oh, no!” the gloves said, held up in protest.  “No way!  You aren’t putting me into a pair of panties again!”

––-

Well, it could be worse, she grumbled to herself.  There were all sorts of objects that would be worse to inhabit.  And the idea had worked.  As a set of panties with a mind of their own, levitation capabilities, and enough strength to lift the girl off the ground, she was able to perform a very good tuck, indeed.  Last time she’d done this had been a few embarrassing seconds with Miss Baker.  This time, she was actually able to use her TK.  Jade had looked into the mirror and announced that she looked just about perfect.  In fact, there’d been a touch of wonder in her other self’s voice.

And the way Jade kept running a hand down the smooth front of her panties… it was easily as good as being petted when she was a stuffed animal.  Quite pleasant, in fact.  She spent a moment wondering how it was that stroking could feel nice, when she had no erogenous zones in girl-shape.  After a moment, she decided that it wasn’t quite the same thing.  The pets and stroking weren’t really directly pleasurable, but they were nice.  It was mostly psychological.  Attention, stimulus, a caring touch.  It didn’t need to feel sensual in order to be appreciated.

The only problems was that, while she could keep her contours perfect in front, if someone were to look up her skirt (so to speak) they would see the panties clearly wrapped around something that shouldn’t be there.  So maybe next time, she’d add a minipad to the crotch.  That way, she could hold things in place while still giving a proper appearance from outside.

Jinn figuratively slapped herself.  She was getting way too carried away with this.

hr1

Jade was beaming, as she boldly walked down the hallway, clad only in towel-and-panties.  The image in the mirror had been perfect, absolutely perfect!  She couldn’t help but touch herself, stroking the beautiful flat contours of the panties.  This is what she’d dreamed of looking like!

Well, she’d dreamed of a little more up top, and maybe a figure.  And a face that was a bit cuter, and a lot of things.  But she felt like she was making real progress here!

The towel was wrapped just below her armpits (as if she had an actual chest to conceal) and hung down to nearly her knees.  But even if it fell away, she’d still look perfectly realistic!

She entered the girls’ bathroom, turned right past the stalls and sinks, and stepped into the common changing area.  Tennyo was still toweling off after her shower.  Jade could feel her face turning bright red.  She used to be a guy?  Before she’d forced her eyes to look away, she’d seen enough to know that Tennyo had naturally blue hair, and that there wasn’t the slightest trace of anything male remaining.

There were two other freshmen getting ready.  The first was a redhead (although it was hard to think of anyone else as a true redhead after seeing Fey’s flame-red locks).  The second was a blonde, about six-foot-one.  She had the body of a weightlifter, but managed to look feminine at the same time.  Small breasts, sculpted pecs, and she shaved everywhere.  Jade deliberately didn’t look.

She was extra careful in the shower.  She climbed in and closed the curtain, before carefully reaching through to hang her panties and towel outside.

hr1

Back in their room, Jade held her towel in place and tried to figure out what to wear.

Tennyo was wearing tennis shoes, very tight jeans, and a tank top.

Jade wasn’t going to say anything, but she couldn’t keep her mouth shut.  “No bra?”

Tennyo looked down.  “Why hide perfection?”  She grinned.  “Seriously, I don’t have a bra that works with this tank top.”

“Go ahead,” Jade said, with her head stuck into her wardrobe, “make me even more jealous.”

“Well it’s not like I asked for this.  It was all my stupid brother’s fault.  I still feel like strangling him.”

She finished pulling on a yellow sweatshirt and pleated gray skirt.  As soon as the skirt was in place, she felt Jinn returning to her head.

The rush of memories was briefly disorienting.  Being a pair of panties had certainly been different.  And (as she’d spent much of the morning considering) if only it weren’t so intimate, it would have excellent prank potential.  Of course, she also thought she could give new meaning to the ancient phrase “living bra.”

Shaking her head at the truly astounding new ideas that had suddenly come to her, she realized that she’d been in the middle of something.

“Hey do you mind –”

There was a knock on the door.  Tennyo opened it to see Fey, Toni, and Ayla, dressed and looking ready to go out.  “Interested in breakfast?” they asked.

“Ravenous,” Tennyo answered, immediately.

Jade looked up from her packet on the bed.  “I was about to ask if anyone minded if I brought Jinn along, too?”

Toni said, “Actually, we were hoping to meet her.”

Jade nodded.  “That’s right.  I promised you last night.”

“You need to invent some new pronouns,” Ayla grumbled.

Jade reached over to charge the bundle of clothes.  In what had by now become rather routine to her, the clothes lifted up into the air, coming into proper position and then suddenly snapping into an “inflated” appearance, as Jinn filled them.

“Sorry,” the other girl said, rubbing her hands against the mask.  “Let me just get my face on.”

“You know,” Fey said, “back in the olden days that meant something very different.”

hr1

The walk to campus seemed shorter in the bright morning light.  Around them, the trees were still green, although one or two were showing the first signs of yellow.  There were occasional leaves on the ground, but the brick walkway was kept scrupulously clean.

As Belle had predicted the night before, there was plenty of activity from Melville Cottage, as parents and students worked on moving in.

The girls crested O. Henry Hill and saw the campus spread out below them.  Near the center was their destination – Shuster Hall.  In an amazing marriage of styles, the ancient concert hall that had once occupied the south end had been replaced with a sparkling glass geodesic dome.  That dome (or “Crystal Hall” as it was sometimes called) was the school’s cafeteria and central hang-out spot.

“What do you want to do after breakfast?” Toni asked.

Tennyo looked back over her shoulder.  “Why, you interested in trying a little sparring?”  She was carefully walking on the ground, not displaying any unusual abilities.

“Well, since you bring it up –”

Fey broke in.  “How about uniforms?  Has anyone bought their school uniform yet?”

Four puzzled looks greeted her question.

“Didn’t any of you read the introductory packet?”

“Well, of course,” Jade said.  “But there’s plenty of time –”

“Nope.  Best selection and fit is always available on the first day.  And remember, they may not be required, but they are highly recommended for official functions and all special events.  To me, that sounds like, ‘You’d better have a uniform!’”

“Well,” Tennyo admitted, “I am pretty short on clothes.”

hr1

“I just realized,” Tennyo said, unlocking their door, “if you’d been smart you two could have been roommates.  Then you wouldn’t have to share a room.”

Jade and Jinn answered in accidental unison.  “But we want to share a room with you.”

“Huh.  Psychic twins.  Figures.”  She spotted something on the floor.  “What’s this?”

An envelope had been slid under the door.  The only notation on the outside was a hastily scrawled name that looked like “T-eyor.”

“Do you suppose they meant to write ‘Tennyo’?” Jinn asked.

The blue-haired girl shrugged.  “Beats me.  Let’s see what it says.”

She ripped open the envelope, then scanned the message.  Her large eyes were expressive as she displayed shock, then fear, then an almost wry disbelief.

“Well, what do you know.  Only our first day here, and already we’re getting death threats.  Only, not from very competent foes.”  She handed the letter over, so that Jade and Jinn could both read it:

Missing your family much?

Don’t worry.  However far they may be from your heart and mind, rest assured that they aren’t far out of our sights.  Particularly that so-called sister of yours.  Play things right and we give both you and her a wide berth, and never talk to you again.  Play things wrong and the very least that will happen is that those innocent young girls you’re living with will find out that their sorority sister used to look a lot different.

We’re looking for someone else, not related to you.  All you have to do is get the name and home address of every girl living in Poe Hall.  It should be easy.  Right now, everyone’s moving in.  They all have addresses on their luggage.

Write the information down, fold the paper up, and leave it under the bust of Edgar Allen Poe in the entryway to your cottage.  Tomorrow night, before 7 PM.  No tricks.  Complete this successfully and we will never again bother you or yours.

Don’t play games with us, Trevor.  We mean business.

Jinn frowned.  “But Trevor is Ayla’s old name, so this note was meant for Ayla. Why’d they send it to us?”

Tennyo slapped her head.  “I forgot!  We didn’t change our room assignments with Belle after we exchanged with Ayla.  Whoever sent the note must be using the old information.”

That didn’t make any sense to Jade.  “But we already know about Ayla.  Do they really think this is a threat?”

Tennyo mused aloud.  “If we were the innocent girls the blackmailers think we are, it might hurt Ayla if we were turned against her.”  She seemed troubled.  “I think we’re going to have to warn Ayla and get some help.  But how?”

Jinn immediately headed for the door.  “Let’s go find her!”

“Hold on!” Jade ordered. “We’ve got some crook watching for anything out of the ordinary, maybe getting ready to do something drastic.  Parents on every floor.  I think you look pretty good, but can we take a chance?  Particularly if you start spying on people?”

Tennyo nodded.  “Good point. The mask isn’t bad, but those eyes…  Anyway, I know where we can find more manpower.  Or rather, girl power.”

Jade got that immediately and nodded.  “Of course!  Duh!”

Jinn looked resigned.  “What about me?  Lookout?”

Jade nodded.  She took a small piece of paper from her desk and quickly folded it into a tiny paper airplane – almost a dart – while Jinn folded herself up and packed herself away.  As Jinn removed her face, Tennyo said, “Ugg. That’s just creepy.  So how are you going to do lookout work?”

Feeling Jinn’s return, Jade turned to see the gloves drop, then took them and tucked them into her purse.  She shook her head, as if that would help settle the memories, and immediately charged Jinn into the small paper dart.  With a toss, the plane glided in a perfect circle around the room, almost as if guided.  “See?” she explained to Tennyo.  “Paper airplane.  Perfectly innocent to unsuspecting parents.”

“Nice throw.  What’s her job?”

“She lodges somewhere near the ceiling and watches.  If she sees anything, she comes back to me immediately.”

“Cool!  She can keep an eye out for us while we get the others together and decide what we can do about this. Why don’t you go and get Ayla?  Bring her over to Toni’s and Fey’s room.  I’ll meet you there and we can pool our resources.”

hr1

“Who’s ‘Tievor’?” Fey asked.

“I think it’s supposed to say ‘Treyon’,” Toni offered.

Tennyo and Jade were looking at Ayla, who began to shake in rage as she read the note.

Jade whispered quietly, “It’s just bad handwriting, and it was supposed to say, ‘Trevor.’”

“Trevor Goodkind,” Ayla confirmed, hooking a thumb back at herself.  “And someone is going to pay for this!”

 

8: Highs and Lows

Whateley Academy   September 4, Monday

Jade studied the ‘introductory packet’ again.  It was better than listening to Ayla rant.  That girl could go on and on about how she’d been a target her entire life, and how tired she was of it.  Now, as a mutant, she’d find she was a different kind of target.  But it was up to Ayla how she wanted to handle the blackmail note, and whatever the skinny girl decided, the rest of them wouldn’t get in on the action until Wednesday night.

So Jade went back to her room, stretched out on her bed, and studied the packet.  Details on receiving visitors, visiting the near-by town, restrictions on handling the campus newspaper, when costumes were permissible, open display of powers.  She studied this last part again.  It seemed like just a repeat of the whole flag discussion, but she finally came across a worthwhile nugget:

“No restriction is imposed on powers which will not be noticed by ordinary visitors.  Consult with your councilor for additional details.”

That sounded promising.  Her appointment was for tomorrow morning; she decided to take Jinn with her.

hr1

That night featured the first “Poe Party” presided over by Mrs. Horton, Poe’s “house mother.”  They had video games and ping pong downstairs, as well as punch and dancing.  Of course, being Poe, most of the dances were girl-girl and guy-guy.  Despite that, she was still surprised when an older girl asked her to dance.

“I’m not sure I’m very good,” she admitted, biting her lip.

“Then you’ll have to let me teach you!”

The pretty brunette looked about sixteen, and was at least three inches taller than her.  The music launched into a fast-paced romp.  It was interesting to have the other girl holding her and leading her around, giving her tips on how to move her hips and arms.  And although the dancing was fun, Jade found she couldn’t stop looking at her dance partner.  She couldn’t stop thinking about how lucky the other girl was to be a real girl.  The jealousy was like a razor-sharp stab in her heart.  It’s so unfair!

So after three different dances and an ever-increasing depression, she decided to skip out of the dance and headed for the discussion rooms.  The sunroom lounges on each floor had been made over into theme discussion rooms.  On the second floor, almost right next to her room, the discussion was “Welcome to Whateley.”  Which was interesting, but she decided to check out the other discussions first.  Next floor up the topic was “being a sexual minority.”  Finally, up on the senior floor, everyone was talking about graduation, careers, and the legacy (whatever that was).  There was far too much to keep track of, so Jade pulled out the body suit and had Jinn circulate as a real person.

And, as usual, Jade fell asleep long before Jinn, giving one last charge before flopping down on her bed, a pillow over her head to keep out the noise.

hr1

Jinn had planned to sit in on the discussions, but found herself gravitating back to the dance floor.  She had no weight and no mass – could she dance convincingly?  She’d found the trick to be “thinking herself heavy.”  She had to draw on her experience in a physical body, and move the way she expected to move.  It was all simulated, but it gave a reasonably good impression of a girl subject to gravity and inertia – even if those effects were entirely simulated through TK.

She met the pretty brunette again (who, of course, didn’t recognize her behind the Madonna mask and brunette wig).  This time she had a lot more fun.  As Jinn, she WAS a girl.  There was no question about it.  So she felt none of the jealousy or longing that she’d felt in her physical body.  On the other hand, there were many other emotional issues – desire, lust, need, fear – that weren’t much of an issue for Jinn.  Then again, the whole lust thing was still more of an intellectual curiosity to both of them.  She assumed there’d be more developing with that, once she went through puberty.

After a particularly fast dance, the brunette (her name was Tammy) came back with some punch for Jade.

“Wow!  I can’t believe you haven’t even broken a sweat!”

Jinn looked down at the glass of punch in her hand.  What am I supposed to do with this?  “Yeah, well, I’m afraid  I’m going to have to pack it up for the night.”  She checked her watch.  “I only have another five minutes before I evaporate.”

Tammy laughed.  “Pretty funny.  Honestly – you can sleep in tomorrow.  Classes don’t start until Thursday.”

“No, you don’t understand.  I really will evaporate.”

“Yeah, right.  What’s your power, gaseous form or something?”

Jinn frowned.  “Well, promise you won’t freak on me?”  She grabbed her left glove and pulled it out of position, to display her empty sleeve.

“Ohmygawd!  You’re her!  The stuffed animal girl that Quickie was talking about!”

“Quickie?”

“Oh, sorry.  Juanita Havier.  She was telling us about you.”  Something else connected for the brunette.  “Oh, and that means you must be the cute little Asian girl I was dancing with before.”

“Well, yeah.”

“Hey, you were getting kind of depressed earlier.  Glad you came back.”

Jinn glanced at her watch, frowning.  “Jeez, I really want to keep talking to you, but in three minutes I turn into a pile of clothes.”

Tammy giggled.  “Only at Whateley!  Hey, there’s another party tomorrow night, too.  Maybe we can finish then.”

Jinn nodded, heading upstairs to pack her clothes away.

hr1

Next morning, Tennyo seemed to be in a fairly good mood.  When she left to take her shower, Jade quickly charged up Jinn (in full body suit) to run down and get a glass of orange juice from the fridge on the first floor.  She took the opportunity to make Tennyo’s bed and clean up the other girl’s extra laundry.  She cleaned up the rest of the room, and laid out all her own clothes for the shower.

Jinn returned, and Jade quickly re-absorbed her, then put Jinn back into her panties for the perilous walk to the showers.  She knew it would be more crowded today, and even worse tomorrow, so it was a good thing she was getting her techniques down ahead of time.  This time she’d remembered to use a panty liner.  It would probably be best to buy a box of them.  The thought gave her a happy smile.  It was an activity that was just so darned feminine.  It still felt a bit odd to sit when she was all tucked up, but anything was better than being a boy.

So she stood there, towel wrapped around her slim frame and panties squirming her into the perfect tuck, waiting for Tennyo to come back.

She picked up the orange juice and held it for her roommate.  It was strange.  Lately, her mannerisms had been growing to echo those of her mother more and more.  And her mother had been a first generation Japanese immigrant.  Jade was certainly not.  She was pure middle American in culture, but for some reason, it just felt right to behave the way her mother had: feminine, deferential, demure.  She didn’t act like this when she was Jinn, but then, Jinn didn’t have anything to prove.

Jade knew that she was desperate for anything that could make her more feminine.  Emulating her mother was just one small way to do that.  It made her wonder – once she achieved her dream, once she became a girl for real, would she still act so insecure?  She really wanted to know.

Eventually, the door popped open and Tennyo came striding in, her hair already dry.

“Hey, Jade, what’s up?”

Jade waited for Tennyo to close the door, then bowed and offered the other girl the glass of orange juice.  “Good morning.  I hope you showered well.  Would you care for some juice this morning?”

“Uh, yeah, I guess.”  Tennyo started to dress, tossing her towel casually onto the bed.  She stood there in naked glory, looking curiously at the glass that had just been handed to her.  “Uh, what’s up?”

Jade bowed again.  “Tennyo-san…”  She had to force herself not to say “sama”, but that would probably be insulting under the circumstances.  “Your accident… you said it was a million-to-one chance.  Please, I don’t mean to bother you with this, but when you became…” she gestured at Tennyo’s currently-naked body “…as you are, when you became a girl, was it because of the drug, or because of your powers?”

“Oh, that.”  The blue-haired girl took a chug of juice and set the glass down on her desk.  “My accident, huh?”  She started rooting through her dresser looking for clothes.  With an odd look of skepticism she pulled out a bra.  “I suppose I should wear one, even if I don’t really need it,” she muttered to herself.  Then she used one of those unconsciously sexy moves that genuine girls performed so easily.  She slipped the bra on, automatically arching her back to thrust her chest out, as she limberly fastened the hooks behind her back.

“Well, I can tell you it sure wasn’t the drug.  That stuff was pure poison.  I’m convinced that any other mutant that tried the stuff would end up dead, and it sure never changed anyone like this before.”  She was sorting through panties now.  “I think I’d have to chalk it up to my mimic powers, or rather, the mimic powers I used to have before they burned out.  That, and the fact that I was apparently a hermaphrodite.  Or a semi-hermaphrodite, or whatever.  Nothing that really sounds too useful to anyone else.  Sorry.”  She was now pulling her panties into place, making sure they were tight and snug.  “Hope it’s not too disappointing.”

“No.  Thank you for your time, Tennyo-san.”  Jade bowed again, then left for her shower.

As she left, she heard Tennyo saying, “Did you make my bed?  You didn’t have to do that.”

Jade sighed.

After hearing Tennyo’s story, she’d pretty much expected this.  But she was going to trace down every single possibility.  Somehow, some way, she would achieve her dream.

hr1

Her councilor was a middle-aged woman named Terri Larson.  Jade had stayed behind, outside the door.  Jinn went in for the interview instead.  Terri rose to greet her, and Jinn briefly took Ms. Larson’s hand.

“Always nice to meet the entering freshmen,” Ms. Larson said.  “You should be aware that, like any other high school student, you’ll need to load up on the required classes for your first few years here.  I know that some of the electives must look awfully tempting, but we need to get those requirements out of the way.  So, let’s get to first things first.  Perhaps you can tell me why you’re wearing that costume, why you look like that, and why you aren’t the Japanese girl that your file told me to expect?”

Jinn gave a sheepish smile.  “Busted.  I was hoping to convince you to let me take double classes.”

Ms. Larson’s eyebrows rose.  “Most of the students want to take less classes, not more.”

Jinn nodded.  “Let me bring in my other half, first.”  After receiving a nod of approval, she rose and opened the door.  “Come on in.  We’re busted.”

Jade came in, looking insecure as always.  It sometimes bugged Jinn how deferential and meek she looked in her real body.

“I’m sorry,” Jade said miserably.  “I just wanted to convince you that I could pass without too much notice, even on ‘red’ days.”

“I’m not sure I understand.  Are you two related?”  She peered at Jade’s charts.  “Your chart says something about manifesting a second astral body, but I shook hands with you.”

Jinn said, “Perhaps a demonstration would be in order.”  With that, she released her hold on her current body and ceased to exist.

hr1

Jade explained as she gathered up the clothes.  “…so it’s only when we re-join that I pick up my memories as Jinn.  Well, as that time of Jinn.  The two of us are usually only an hour out of sync.”  She considered.  “Well, no, I’ve gone longer, if I keep recharging her.”

“So only Jinn can use your TK, and only to move herself.”  Jade nodded.  “But if you attend classes separately, won’t she become the expert on English, while you become the expert on math?”

Jade shook her head.  “No, there’s really just me.  When I join up again, everything comes together.  Then when I split off Jinn, we both have our combined memories up to that point.  This just lets me be in two places at once.”

Her councilor looked upward.  “I never get the easy ones.  Never a simple flyer or super-strong hunk.”  With a sigh, she returned to the chart in front of her.  “Okay, I’ll have to think about this.  Just to help my thinking, can you bring her back – this other self?”

Jade charged the clothes again.  It was moderately amusing to watch her Ms. Larson’s expressions as the clothes inflated, and as Jinn ‘put on her face.’

“No way, no how, are you ever going to display that on even an amber day.  I don’t know.”  She looked between the two of them.  “But let’s see what you were planning to take, on this double schedule.”

hr1

“No, you’re still too heavy on electives.  ‘Flying 1’ is usually a sophomore class.  And do you really need it?”

Jinn lifted into the air.  “I do fly, sort of.  The description said the class would help on all aspects – speed, maneuverability, fine control.  I need the fine control, because I’m really flying even when I just walk.”

“Well, I don’t think it will fit in for your first semester.  But you definitely need to take ‘Costume shop 1’.”

Jinn nodded.  “To help on my disguise?”

“Exactly.  Now, Intro to Superpowers has both a theory and a practical.  Or Powers Theory and Powers Lab, as we tend to call them.  They’re electives, but if you can pull double classes, I think you should take both.  But we can’t forget the basics.  Even if this double-class idea fails, I want you in for Beginning English, Algebra I, one of the sciences, Civics, and a P.E.”  She smiled.  “Apparently, at normal schools they have problems getting kids into P.E.”

“I don’t thing normal schools give martial arts as a P.E. option,” Jade suggested.

“True.  I’d also like you to take a language as one of your main line – the classes you’ll keep, even if the double-booking fails.”

Jade had already looked over the list.  “You don’t have Japanese?”

“We’re a pretty small school.  But we do have Chinese, you’ll notice.”

“Not exactly the same thing,” she grumbled.  “If I take Chinese, everyone is going to think I’m Chinese.”

“Surely there’s some overlap?  There is with the romance languages.”

“Not quite the same thing,” Jinn said, nearly repeating Jade’s line.  “Still… it’s better than nothing.”

“Okay,” Jade agreed.  “So on the main line, I have Beginning English, Algebra I, Bio, an hour for lunch, Civics, Chinese, and I end with Martial Arts.”

Ms. Larson nodded.  “A good freshman line-up.”

“And on the second track,” Jinn added, “I’ll be taking Costume I, Powers Theory I, and Powers Lab I in the afternoon.  Which leaves me with three open slots.”

The counselor nodded.  “May I recommend Physics?  A lot of TK types find it useful, and it would help satisfy your fundamentals.”

“Okay.”  Jinn penciled it in on her schedule.  “And I’ll want to take Martial Arts again for my last class.”

“Aren’t you taking that already in your primary line-up?”

“Different body,” Jinn explained.  “Different rules.  I really need to be completely retrained.”

“For your last class, may I suggest ‘word processing.’  Even if you’ve done some computer work, most students get a lot out of the class.  These are tools that you’ll use for a long time to come.”

Jinn sighed.  Or rather, she emitted the sound of someone sighing.  “It sounds great, but I can’t see a computer screen.  If it was a straight typing class…”

“Can’t see the screen?”

Jinn nodded.  “I see matter density or something like that.  Material types.  Not light.  So I can’t even tell if a computer screen is turned on.”

“Hmmm,” Ms. Larson considered.  “Well, if Jade took the computer class, and you took Chinese…”

The girls nodded in unison.

“Okay, the biggest trick will be putting everything under the single transcript of ‘Jade Sinclair.’  But we’ve dealt with odder things…”  She worked on her computer for a few minutes before finally sounding satisfied.

Jade and Jinn both waited in silence.  They weren’t about to disturb her.  She’d gone from “I’ll think about it” to “let me set it up” in less than an hour.  They weren’t going to jeopardize this.

“Anything else?  It’s almost time for my next appointment.”

“Well…”  Jade was naturally embarrassed to bring it up.

“Money,” Jinn said, putting it in the open.  “I was getting measured for my uniform, and they said I needed to check my student account.”

“Excellent,” the councilor said.  “You’d be surprised how many students try to ignore that until they’re in deep trouble.

“Yes, your scholarship requires a part-time job for personal expenses and some supplemental fees.  We have a variety connected with the school, or you could commute to the local town of Dunwich.  They aren’t bothered by the strange, far from it, but they really prefer that everything look normal.  So flying into town isn’t really an option.  For now, I’d think that wouldn’t be the best job.”

“What does the school have?”  Jinn leaned forward eagerly, until she realized the information was on a computer screen.

“Pretty much the standard for young girls your age is cafeteria work.  We also have office assistant.  Then there are a wide variety of other jobs, not all that suitable for young girls.”  She spun the monitor around.

Jade looked at the list and thought.  “I could really use some cash as soon as possible.  How soon could I start on this one?”

The councilor looked to make sure.  “Give me a moment to call.”

After speaking quietly on the phone, she said, “Would this afternoon be too soon?”

For the first time, Ms. Larson looked disturbed.  “Are you sure about this?”

“It sure pays better than cafeteria work.”

hr1

She met them at the southwest corner of the library.  Both wore overalls, of course.  The larger, rounder once stuck out a hand.  “Good to meet you!  Morrie Goldberg,” he said, smiling.  Then he turned to the smaller, thin one.  “This is my esteemed associate, Stan Lipscowycz.  He’s a polack, but don’t hold it against him.”

Stan shook his head.  “Morrie’s got a mouth on him.  Don’t let it throw you.  So, you both going to the school?”

Jade and Jinn nodded in unison.

“Well, might as well tell us what your powers are.  If it can help on the job, we need to know.”

Jade looked at them both, but it was Jinn who spoke.  “You cleared for all this?  And how can we show you?  It’s a ‘red’ day.”

Stan looked disconcerted.  “Right.  Not like we’ve got powers or anything, but they still yell at us when we aren’t careful enough.”

Morrie grunted and scratched the stubble under his throat.  “Good catch, but I guess you super-whatzit types gotta think about crap like that, don’t you?  Okay, follow me.  We’ll do it in the maintenance area.  That’s off-limits to anyone else.”

He walked around to the side of the Beck Library.  A small set of narrow concrete steps led down to a basement-level metal door.  Morrie fumbled with his keys, then the door smoothly opened.  Jade had expected a creak, based on her estimate of the door’s age.

For a moment, she felt a tinge of fear at following two grown men into a secret locked room.  Both of them were larger and stronger than her.  She kicked herself, thinking that Mr. Larson knew where she was.  There were telepaths on campus.  She was sure that she didn’t have to worry about rapist co-workers.  Besides, she was going to be working with these men.

Her mind did a double-take, as she realized the tenor of her thoughts.  She was thinking exactly what a girl would think, and that briefly gave her a happy glow.  She noticed Jinn looking at her oddly.  Her other side was no doubt wondering about her spike of happiness.  Well, Jinn would find out soon enough.

Once Morrie closed the door, he said, “Okay, do your stuff.”

Jinn floated up in the air.  “I can fly.  I can also see in the dark.  In fact, I don’t see regularly at all – I don’t see with light, so I’m no good with colors.  Oh, and I don’t have a sense of smell.  I guess I’m pretty much invulnerable, and I don’t mind getting incredibly dirty, so long as you supply the clothes.”

Morrie nodded.  “Yeah, that’s definitely a plus.  I can almost see why you picked this job.  And how ‘bout your friend, the little chink girl?”

Jade glared at him.  Morrie certainly did have a mouth on him.  “I’m not Chinese, I’m Japanese!  Big difference.  Anyway, I don’t have any powers of my own, except…”  She looked at Jinn.  “Come back.”

Jinn nodded, then collapsed into an empty pile of clothes.

“That’s why I don’t mind getting dirty when I’m Jinn,” she explained.  “No body.  I’m just an ‘autonomous telekinetic construct’, but I have to be charged into something real.  Clothes, a mop, whatever.  I can only use my TK to touch and move that object.  But if it’s gloves, I can feel things, pick them up like normal hands.  When I’m done, I ‘let go’ of that thing and I’m gone.  No dirt, no fuss.”

“Well, that’s not too bad,” Morrie agreed, “but since there’s really only one of you, we’ll only be able to give you single pay.”

Jade clenched her teeth.  She hated confrontations like this.  Jinn did fine, but Jinn wasn’t here right now.  So for the moment, SHE had to be Jinn.  Aloud she said, “Well, darn.  I guess I’ll have to go then.  I really need that double salary.  And it’ll be more than fair, since I’ll give you at least double productivity.”  She began to walk toward the door.  “It’s a real shame, though.  The reason I did this was because of a move I came up with, a while back.”

While she was talking, she pulled out a broken-off end of a pocket knife, and charged Jinn into it.  “I found this in some trash a couple of weeks ago.”  The knife blade lifted into the air.  “See, I was thinking of self-defense, but I’m pretty squeamish about hurting people.  But I love the old kung fu movies, so I got an idea.  What if Jinn could make the knife spin?”

And the floating knife began to spin so fast that it became a blur.  A propeller.  And it remained hovering in mid-air.

“And I thought – what can I do with this?  Kill people?  Ugg.  Mix cakes?  Don’t think so.  There are machines that do it better.  But I realized that I could travel almost anywhere like this.  And I could see in the dark, and maneuver however I wanted to.”

The silvery disk rose up to the bare-bulb fixture, orbited around it twice, then descended to a large piece of plastic pipe, about four inches in diameter.  It entered the pipe and flew down the bore, spinning all the while.

“And I suddenly thought about this clogged toilet…”

The light dawned in Stan’s eye.  It was like he was looking at the holy grail.  “My GOD!  We’ll never have to fix a clog, ever again!”

Jade held up a hand and the knife zoomed out of the pipe and slapped into her palm.  It ceased spinning at the last moment, so that she wouldn’t get cut.  Jade tucked the broken blade away in a special envelope in her purse.

“But, I’d need the double salary.  Oh well.”  She turned back toward the door.

“Not bad, kid,” Morrie said.  “But to get double salary, you’re going to have to do like us.  Down into the sewer pipes, up in the harness, washing top floor windows.  And both of youse definitely earn your keep!”

She stared at him.  “Anything YOU can do, I can do!”

Morrie smiled thinly.  It wasn’t a cruel or nasty smile, it was more like he really enjoyed the game.  “Overalls are over there.  Don’t think we’ve got a pair small enough for you, but see what you can find.”

hr1

“Okay, let me know if the height is too much for you!” Stan called from below.

Jade hung up on the fourth story, suspended by a rope that connected to a small trolley affair in the eaves.  She was wearing a set of straps and harnesses that connected to the rope.

“You’re lucky you’re a girl,” Morrie told her from the next window over.  “Us guys kinda get bunched up with the crotch straps.”

Speak for yourself, she thought.  While both straps technically wrapped around the top of her thighs, between the harness and her clothes she was feeling an awful lot of pressure in the crotch region.  Five minutes ago, she had been uncomfortably reminded of the physical differences between her and a real girl.  Now that entire region had mostly gone numb.  That didn’t seem like a good sign.

“Do I really have to bother with the ropes?” Jinn asked, from her other side.

“Stupid!” Morrie hollered.  “You know what color it is today!  What are people going to think, if they see you doin’ whatever you want?”

“Yeah, yeah.  No need to get nasty about it.”

“Maybe you got a problem with my mouth?”

“No, forget it.”

Jade didn’t join any of the banter.  It would definitely take her a while to get used to Morrie.  She’d spotted him trying to hold himself back from some particularly vile comment, once or twice.  She figured he was trying to act nice on her behalf.  She wondered what he’d be like when he really got going.  But so far, his language seemed to be more of a game than something that really upset him.

“Okay, both of youse,” he hollered.  “Watch the technique.”  Morrie kicked his legs up against the sill.  “First, you get out of the way of drips.  Then you take your bucket – that’s why we’ve got one, and you take the brush.  You’ll notice that it’s on a lanyard.  Believe me, you’ll need it.  Now, you examines the target.  See that big spot of bird crap?  Fuggin’ pigeons all got perpetual diarrhea or somethin’.”

Morrie proceeded to instruct them in the finer points of window washing.  Jinn picked it up immediately, but Jade wasn’t quite so fast.  It wasn’t that she was scared, exactly, but hanging from a rope four stories up had a real way of riveting your attention.  It seemed even worse, being so close to a building.  Hanging in mid-air, or being on a bridge wouldn’t have felt so high, somehow.  But here, just on the wrong side of the window, it was impossible not to look down, not to see the three stories that plunged straight down, right between her feet.  And she didn’t have the knack with the ropes yet, or much real confidence in them.  Still, she forced herself to pick up the heavy brush, reach down into that heavy bucket of cleaning solution, and slop-wipe around the window.  She tried not to notice the drops, as they plunged to the ground, so far below.  She tried not to notice how each movement made her tip and sway.  She just did her best to work the squeegee, and clean the windows completely.

By the time she was done, Morrie was four windows away and Jinn was two.

It was going to be a long day.

hr1

Her legs were shaking so badly she could barely stand.

“Not bad, kid.”  Morrie clapped her on the shoulder.  Behind him, Stan was grinning.  “You passed the height test.  Pretty good for your first day.  Don’t worry.  Nothing too high, tomorrow.”  Morrie paused, as if to savor the anticipation.  “Naw.  And later this week we’ll go down under.”

“Don’t forget your nose clip!” Stan said, waving cheerily.

Jade gulped, wondering if they were joking.

hr1

The crew were their usual excited selves that evening, looking forward to the party, talking about school or clothes or town, or (in one case) muttering darkly about blackmailers.  Jade wasn’t up for it.  What she really wanted was an hour-long bath, but the cottages didn’t have any bathtubs.  Perhaps that was one of the grand luxuries up in the penthouse.

Not that it mattered.  With her little problem, she wasn’t about to take a bath in the middle of a girls’ dorm.  Instead, she took a quick evening shower and staggered downstairs to watch the party.  She’d turn in early, but she was still getting used to the cottage and she wanted to get a feel for people she’d be living with.  And there were more of them tonight, since people were still moving in.

She paused long enough to charge Jinn into her normal bodysuit before they headed downstairs together.

hr1

Jinn, on the other hand, felt fine.  Physical fatigue?  What was that?  Likewise, she never seemed to get sleepy.  She wondered if she even could sleep in this form.

Hearing the pounding of music from the floor below, she headed down the stairs, hips swinging to the beat.  Music and dancing didn’t have quite the visceral impact in this form, but there were compensations.  She could dance forever without getting the least bit tired.  Whenever she wanted, she was very light on her feet.  Lastly, to her spirit-vision, the people of the dance floor were a riotous rainbow of color, golds and bright greens mixing with the more subdued white and sky blue.

There was more variety tonight.  She saw Angel on the dance floor, her wings unfurled for the only time Jinn had ever seen in public, dancing with a tall curly-haired girl.  And Juanita was almost as easy to spot.  She was (oddly enough) dancing with a guy, but he was a speedster, too, and they were doing something that looked more like aerobics for hyped-out bumblebees than normal dancing.  Everywhere the air sparkled with the ultra-violet glow of mutant energies, and there were even people flying, which allowed them to pack even more people into the cramped space of the common room.

There was more room to the sides – the kitchen and dining room had smaller groups trying for conversation amidst the rumble from the common room.  The library, as always, was only sparsely populated.

There didn’t seem to be any prohibition against it, so Jinn lifted into the air.  She spotted a busty blonde in a blue leotard and white cape, sitting cross-legged in mid-air.  Jinn floated over next to her.

“Hi!  I’m Jinn,” she opened.  “And you’re ‘Megs’, right?  I think we met on Sunday.”  It was hard not to stare at the other girl.  Her leotard was legless, and sitting cross-legged as she was, the girl was not entirely modest.  There was nothing inappropriate or vulgar, but Jinn was more than aware of the other girl’s femininity and lush contours.  She eyed Marty’s breasts with a bit of envy.  Those whoppers had to be at least D-cup, and they looked as perky as Tennyo’s.

“Hi!”  The other girl slid sideways toward her, so they could speak more confidentially.  “Sorry if you’re looking for a girlfriend.  It seems like everyone is trying to hook up in the first couple of days.  I’m not really in the market, and besides,” her voice dropped a little, “I’m probably not quite what you’re thinking.”

Jinn held up her hands.  “No, no, no.  I was with Beltane’s group.  What did she call us?  The ‘gender baffled.’  She told us all about you.  Uh, what should I call you?  Megs?  Marty?  Do you have some other name?”

The blonde scrutinized her.  “‘Megs’ is fine.  I don’t remember seeing you in the crew.”

Jinn shook her head.  “No, I’m the small Japanese girl.”

“Pardon my straight lines, but you don’t look Japanese.”

Jinn thought for a moment.  “Oh, right.  Uh, lemme see.  From what Belle said, you create a PK shell, right?”  She eyed Mega-Girl.  That’s one hell of a shell.

Megs nodded.

“Well, imagine if the shell had a mind of her own, and could exist independently.  So you’ve got pretty much no powers, except the ability to create the shell.  And the shell is a full girl, only she doesn’t really have a body.  And after an hour, she evaporates, and suddenly you have both sets of memories.”

Megs’ eyes lit up.  “Are you the one Quickie was talking about?  The girl that brings stuffed toys to life?”

“That’s me!  Actually, now that I think about it, we have a lot in common.”  She leaned closer to whisper quietly.  “Only, maybe since my ‘shell’ is independent, it doesn’t seem to be affecting me the way yours is.  And let me tell you, I am so jealous!  Are there any hints you can give me?  I’m sort of stuck in the – you know – starting state.”

The blonde frowned, before finally getting it.  “Hey, don’t go pushing things too fast.  The transition is nothing to sneeze at.  In fact, it’s driving me nuts!  It’s like my skin gets all itchy if I don’t wear the right clothes, but I look like an idiot if I’m not ‘babed-out’ like now.”

“At least you’ve got something happening.  For me – zip.  It’s been driving me nuts!”

“Uh huh.  How long have you been ‘suffering’?”

Jinn thought back.  “Uh, coming up on four months.”

“Puh-leeze!  Come back to me when you’ve been flip-flopping between pink and blue for a couple of years, and maybe I’ll have some sympathy!”

Jinn pouted.  “Somehow I thought you’d be a little more understanding.”

“Aw, jeez!  Sorry, kid.”  The busty blonde reached out to enfold her in a hug.  Then, while they were wrapped up in each other (floating above the dance crowd for everyone to see), Megs blurted out, “Hey, this better not be some cheesy attempt to get a girlfriend.  ‘Cause I’m sort of, well, not taken, but there’s this thing…”

Jinn giggled.  “As if!  Honestly, I don’t know what I’m even going after yet.  I figure I might get a clue once I start puberty.”

The caped girl looked pointedly at Jinn’s form-fitting black leotard.  “Uh, from here it looks like you’ve certainly started.”

Jinn snuggled in the pleasant embrace.  “PK shell, remember?  My body hasn’t started a thing.  No hormones at all.”

“Well, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding donor hormones.  I swear!  Poe must have more hormones than the other six cottages put together.  So, uh, you want to find your ‘real body’ and talk about things?”

“Yeah!”

Just then, there was a loud buzz.

“Down to the floor!” Megs said in her ear.  “And try to look normal.  No gay stuff.”

“What’s going on?”

They found room near the library.  Mega-Girl pointed through the common room to the entry.  “See the red light?  We’re about to get ‘normal’ visitors.  That’s what the buzz was, to alert us.  Low profile.”

Jinn didn’t bother to explain about her vision.

The crowd had broken up and was completely re-arranging itself.  Jinn and Marty found themselves talking to an extremely tall, attractive … man?  He was quite androgynous, and had straight white hair that fell down his back to waist height.

At that moment, the front doors slammed open.  “Open up!  We have a court order!”

The crowd parted, giving Jinn a clear view.  There were a pair of men in dark blue suits.  They were clean-cut, and looked to be in their twenties.  One was holding some sort of legal paper before him, as if it were a holy talisman.

“Please be calm,” the taller man said.  “We’ve been sent here under court order.  We’re here to remove a vile serpent from your midst.”

The shorter man took up the speech, as the stepped forward.  Not toward Jinn, but toward the center of the crowd.  “One of your fellows conceals a loathsome secret!  Turning away from the Ordained Course, she has forsaken God’s ways to lust after her own sex!”  He licked his lips as he said it.  “But we will save you, Mary!”  He and the other man had stepped forward to grab the arms of the winged girl, Angel.  “We are Holy G.H.O.S.T.!  This is an intervention, Mary!”

And before anyone could move, a bubble of ultra-violet light exploded around them.

Beside her, Mega-Girl was blinking.

“What happened, Megs, why isn’t anyone doing anything?”

“They – they vanished!  It must be a teleport!  One of them must have been a warper!  They won’t get away with this!  The entire cottage will track them down if it takes every last one of us!”

Exactly as she said, the room had practically exploded into a flurry of activity.  Two speedsters had already zoomed out the still-open door.  There were people clutching their heads and frowning in fierce concentration.  Others were making strange gestures with their hands, while the flying types were picking up people, ready to zoom off to somewhere useful.

“Megs,” Jinn said in exasperation, “what are you talking about?  They’re right there!”  She pointed to where the two men were dragging an unconscious winged girl, not four feet in front of them.

Mega-Girl looked around in confusion.  “What are you talking about?  There’s nothing there!”

“What?  Can’t you see –”  And Jinn suddenly realized that everyone else probably saw with light.  Perhaps that explained the sphere of ultra-violet energy surrounding the trio.  “Of course!  Megs, they’re invisible!  Four feet ahead, right there!”

Suddenly sporting a grim smile, the blonde bombshell cracked the knuckles of a white-gauntleted hand.  She stepped forward, reaching and feeling about, blindly.  “Where, here?”  Her hand suddenly fastened around a neck.

Jinn saw the ultra-violet sphere pop, like a soap bubble.  Megs had the shorter man around the throat.  The taller man was still dragging an unconscious Mary.  He looked up in alarm.  The entire cottage had gone suddenly silent.  Everyone was staring at him.

“Oh, Lord!”  He suddenly vanished, leaving Mary and his comrade behind.

“He’s gone for real, this time,” Jinn shouted.

“We’ll get him!” promised dozens of voices.

hr1

The party was over for the moment, while everyone finished comforting Mary.  The boys were careful not to touch her, but they were giving her both silent and vocal reassurances.  The girls were being much more touchy, hugging the winged girl, stroking her hair or wings, or giving her kisses – mostly pecks on the cheek.

“So as near as we can figure, the smaller man, Keller, had a highly limited psychic power.  It influenced the brain on a physical level into completely ignoring him.  That’s why the psychics and even those with enhanced senses couldn’t track him.”  One of the seniors stood on a chair as he explained to the crowd, while they comforted Mary.  “The taller fellow, Foyle, was a warper.  He could warp light, to achieve visual invisibility, or he could transport himself up to 200 feet away.  He must have hoped that would let him get away.  Apparently, they could transport a group several miles away, but that took preparation and concentration, which is why they were moving into the library and away from the crowd.”

“What was that whole ‘Holy Ghost’ business?” someone called from the crowd.

Mary finally rose to her feet.  She was still shaky, recovering from the drug on the needle they’d stabbed her with.  “I…I guess it’s time to reveal my dark secret,” she said in a trembling voice.  “My father is the ‘Reverend’ Theodore Goodhope.  Those of you who haven’t seen God’s Hour have probably at least heard of him.  He strongly believes in ‘deprogramming’, particularly for the ‘sin’ of homosexuality.  He thinks it’s caused by exposure to lewdness and immoral scenes in TV and movies.  Those men were part of his intervention team:  Good Hope’s Own Salvation Team, or Holy G.H.O.S.T.  But I never dreamed…!”

Everyone could hear the apology in her voice, and with their hands and voices, they made sure that she knew she was accepted.  No one there blamed her for her father’s teachings.

“So what about his thugs?” another student called.

As this point, the crowd suddenly quieted.  Mrs. Horton, Poe’s House Mother stepped forward.  She approached the senior on the chair.

“I don’t really approve of standing on chairs like this, but I suppose this is a special occasion.”  She held a hand out, and the senior lifted her up, abandoning his pedestal in favor of Mrs. Horton.

She cleared her throat, and then spoke to the suddenly-quiet audience.  “Well, this seems like a good time to address a topic that you older students have heard me mention before.  First, about those two uncouth men who entered previously.  Our senior telepaths,” one boy and one girl nodded in the background, “tell me that their minds have been erased of anything that happened today.  They’ve been given an extremely powerful compulsion against ever returning to Whateley, and left with a strong impulse to at least examine more tolerant variations of their faith.”

She frowned, and the crowd grew even quieter.  “As for the beatings, well, I suppose I can understand.  Given what so many have suffered at hands like theirs.”  She didn’t say anything at this moment, but for an instant Jinn saw something like a black hole in Mrs. Horton’s aura.  It was a sorrow and loss so profound that Jinn had never seen its like.  But the house mother continued, with barely a missed beat.  “So I suppose you can be forgiven, and they did rather ask for it.  And – once their bones heal – there will be no permanent damage.  So perhaps we should simply forget about that unfortunate little incident.  I won’t feel compelled to mention anything to security.”

Jinn distinctly heard several people letting their breath out in relief.

“But I don’t think we should forget about the good things we have learned here.  Those of you who are older students have heard this before, and you will hear it again.  All of us here in Poe are a family.  A very special family.  And like any family, we have our differences.”

Jinn couldn’t be sure, but she thought Mrs. Horton’s roving eye might have rested briefly on Toni and Hippolyta, among others.

“We’ll have our little fights and arguments.  But we are a family!  We stick together!  Remember today, and remember the dangers the outside world can sometimes hold, for any of us.  For any of you, because of who you are.  No matter how powerful, no matter how innocent.  When you are threatened for who you are, and you know what I’m speaking of here, I want you all to know that all of Poe stands with you.  All of us!  In this, we are a family, and we are unbreakable!  Remember the men who invaded our house tonight.  Those foolish, foolish men who thought they could threaten us in our own house.  It will be like that for everyone who threatens Poe.  Within these walls, you are safe.  Safe to be yourself, and safe to rest easily, knowing that you have a haven.”

She paused for a moment, and then seemed to laugh at herself.  “Perhaps it’s still a bit confusing for you freshmen and other entering students.  This is Whateley, and some of you will find yourself in fights or brawls that sprawl across campus.  Please don’t expect us to loom behind you like some rude motorcycle gang.  But we all know what makes Poe special.  The academy’s board has decreed that Poe’s secret shall remain a secret.  Perhaps that is wise.  But let me just state it plainly, so that no one can mistake me.  No one will be allowed to threaten you because of your sexuality.  Whether gay, lesbian, bi, asexual, transsexual, multisexual, or anything else.  Anyone attempting such abuse will be dealt with as we saw earlier this evening.  And I hope that if you witness such discrimination, on campus or anywhere else, that you will step forward to protect those who cannot protect themselves.”

Then, slowly and carefully, she climbed down from the chair.

“Well?  Weren’t you having a party?”  And as the music started up again, Mrs. Horton vanished into the crowd once more.

hr1

Jade lay in bed, her mind awhirl with the many things she’d seen today.

It seemed to her that she’d started a journey last spring.  It was a quest to become who she truly was, to explore the person who’d been hidden inside her.  To become that girl.

Here at Whateley, she’s seen the proof that it could be done.  She was watching it happen, in a dozen different ways.  Somehow, she knew she’d find an answer that worked for her.  She was certain of it.

But on the way, she’d found something she hadn’t even been looking for.  A home.  She hadn’t had a home for almost four years now.  She was meeting people who accepted her.  Even knowing her weird needs and mixed-up sexuality, they accepted her.  They might even become friends.  Tennyo was becoming a friend.  She thought that Toni, Nikki, and Hank were too.  Even Ayla, with the bleak and gruff face she put on, was becoming her friend.  And the people she’d met – Megs and Juanita and Angel and Beltane and … it went on and on.

Mrs. Horton told her that she’d be safe here, inside the walls of Poe.  Jade knew it was more complex than that – there would always be villains and foes that could attack without warning.  But despite that, she felt happy.  She did feel safe.

And for the first time in years, she felt appreciated.  Perhaps even … loved.

She fell asleep with a smile on her face.

The end

User Rating: 5 / 5

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A Whateley Academy Adventure

Jade 1 – Coming Out

By Babs Yerunkle

 

1: Pop goes the weasel

Topeka, Kansas   May 18, Thursday

“I’ve had it with you!”

The shove practically threw Jared across the room, slamming him against the wall.  Snapshots and cheap posters rained down.  Jared looked for somewhere to run, but he was already backed into the far corner of his room.

He was used to running from his father.  “Trouble prevention,” as he preferred to think of it; giving father time to cool off.  He was often the target of his father’s anger, but this time was worse than any he could remember.  Well, worse than anything since the crash that had killed his mother, three years ago.  That had resulted in a DUI conviction for his father, and a beating for him sufficient to keep him out of school for a week.

And if Jared couldn’t think of some way to escape, there’d be another fatality tonight.

“You got any idea how much it’s gonna cost me to get the grill and radiator fixed?”

With a quick backhand the man slapped him into the wall.  It wasn’t a hard hit – a few more cracks, some of the yellowing paint chipped off to expose the bare drywall underneath, Jared’s bookcase fell over.  Not that his father cared about books.  Jared himself rolled from the blow, softening the impact.  After bouncing off the wall, he tried to scramble away, out of the man’s way.  His fingers clutched at the debris of books and magazines, as if they might provide some sort of shield.

“I wasn’t even there!  I didn’t do anything!”  His protests sounded feeble even to his own ears.

“Gawd, you probably don’t even understand why I got to get out of this place!  Surrounded all day long by my stupid pussy of a son.  At least Mike’s has some real men!  When are you gonna grow into something a man can be proud of?  Not some runty little weakling!”

Jared had years of aikido training.  All the same, he knew he’d never have the confidence to strike back at his father.  He could train all he wanted, but when he faced his father, body and mind both seemed to freeze.  Even if, somehow, he had miraculously managed to defend himself, he father would only beat him worse for “cheating” and using “pajama-fighting tricks.”

His hands scrabbled in the debris, searching for something, anything.  He felt the boxing gloves his father had given him four years ago, for his tenth birthday (“So you can learn to fight like a real man”).  He knew they still fit.  That seemed to be the only thing the old man respected.  The stupidest form of fighting on the planet.  Oddly enough, that’s what he really wanted to do sometimes – to punch his father’s smelly face in!

“You make me sick,” the man said, unleashing a swift kick to his gut.  “How dare you hold those gloves?  Look at you!  Stupid little runt, with your skinny girl arms!  You never even tried that weight set, did you?”

He used it, at least once a day.  Sometimes twice.  But he never seemed to add any bulk.

“Look at you!  You’re no son of mine!”  His father reached down to grab the padded training headgear and threw it into his face, hard enough to bruise.  Then the old man straightened, as if in sudden realization.  “That’s it.  That’s the only answer.  She musta cheated on me.  You aren’t half Irish.  You’re a full-nip bastard!  You never even WERE my son!”

And he suddenly knew for a fact that his father was going to kill him.  Clutching the gloves and boxing headgear, if felt like his head exploded – before the first punch was even thrown.

hr1

He shook his head, disoriented.  He felt different.  Fundamentally different, but there was no chance to think about it.

What had he been thinking?  Lying there, curled in on himself, waiting for his father to beat him to death?  After all that practice in the dojo, why did he always freeze when confronted by him father?  This time, he resolved, he would finally face this conflict.  He would master the fear that had dominated him.

Despite the clear need, he hadn’t been taking Aikido to defend himself.  He’d started if for the grace, for the harmony.  A school of fighting that believed in non-violence first and foremost, with movement that sometimes seemed more like a graceful dance.  Sometimes, when he was practicing, that’s what it felt like – like he was dancing.  It was the complete opposite of the boxing gloves that he’d been laced into.  How had he gotten here?  Had he taken a blow to the head already?  Is that why he was so confused?

He must have taken a hit.  His vision was swimming.  He wasn’t even seeing in color.  Everything was gray, but he could see edges, transitions, surfaces.  There were no shadows anywhere, and he couldn’t even see the patch of sunlight that had been coming through the window a moment ago.  He’d been hoping to blind his father for a moment, so he could make a run for it.  And now his eyes weren’t even working right.  He didn’t remember being hit, but there was no time for distraction, not in the middle of a fight.  He reached for his ki and sought his center.

The discovery was devastating.

He didn’t have any ki!  He didn’t even have any breath!  In fact, he had no sense of his body or energy in any way.  It was like there was nothing but the gloves in front of him.

Even more impossibly, he had no center, no hara!  No matter how he moved his feet, his footing was sound and solid.  No matter how he leaned over, he was still in balance.  Except that there was no balance!  It was almost as if gravity and inertia had vanished.  The only components to his balance were, again, the gloves in front of him.  Oh yes, and the headgear he wore for protection.

The discovery of perpetually good footing and perfect balance might have seemed a gift to others, but not to him.  Him training was devoted to issues of balance and movement.  It was devoted to proper breathing and awareness of him body.  How could he use that awareness when he had no breathing, and so far as he could tell, had no body?

Utterly confused, he glanced down for a second.  His body was there, but it was a mist of silvery sparkles.  And he could see right through himself.

And then he understood.  His father had finally hit him too hard, and he’d died.  He was his own ghost, somehow haunting these idiotic boxing gloves – the last thing he’d held in life.

Him father seemed to come to a decision.  He threw a punch at Jared’s chest.  Reacting instantly, Jared moved to perform a simple oji waza – even with the gloves on, he should be able to block the blow, and then lock his father’s arms.

Of course, his father’s arms went though his without slowing.  Fortunately, the punch also passed harmlessly through him.  It was hard to forget his old reflexes, but it seemed it was impossible to hurt a ghost by punching it.

Jared chanced another quick look.  Now that he thought of it, he didn’t have to turn his head to look – he seemed to be able to see in every direction.  But his thinking was still trying to catch up.  He might be able to see in every direction, but so far, he was only noticing in the direction he concentrated on.  He quickly glanced down at his body.  It was still a mist, but his skin seemed to be firming up and forming a surface, rather than the wispy cloud of a moment ago.  More important was the fact that Jared was standing in the middle of his bed.  That is, his legs passed through the bed to reach the floor.

He saw his first flash of color then, in his father’s face.  For a moment, as Jared watched, his father’s face had glowed with an amber color.  Not golden, more of a banana tint.  Now his anger was rising again, turning his eyes crimson and filling his mouth with the glow of a blast furnace.  Jared could see it filling his father’s head and chest, and to a lesser extent lighting the rest of his body.

Jared wondered again.  Were ghosts made up of ki?  But, whatever he was, it didn’t feel like ki.  Just twice in class, he’d felt some glimmering of something.  His ki had been a feeling that united the swirling air in his lungs and the heat that filled his muscles.  Now, he had neither air nor muscles, and absolutely none of that ki feeling.

“You’re doing this, aren’t you?” his father bellowed.  “This is one of them achy-dough tricks, isn’t it?  It’s not going to save you, bastard!”  With that, the man struck for Jared’s face.  He shifted him head and moved to enter inside his father’s arms followed by a quick hip throw.  Again, his lack of a body thwarted him.  And without the block his arm would have provided, his father managed to hit him square in the nose.

Except that the fist went through his nose without pain or resistance.  When it struck the back of his headpiece, though, it pulled uncomfortably.  The man grabbed onto the headgear, trying to rip it from Jared’s ghostly head.  Jared screamed in pain before somehow, instinctually, “releasing” the headgear.  It slipped away, removing the pain and leaving his head feeling lighter.

What kind of move could he use when all he had were boxing gloves?  He hated atemi – the striking blows.  He’d always avoided those except for the minimum needed for competency in the art.  It was part of the reason he fit so well with Aikido.

He stepped back to consider, only belatedly realizing that he’d stepped back into the wall.  His face and hands were still in the room, but his body was in the wall.

His father turned from him and looked down at the object at him feet.  Jared glanced down and saw a boy’s body, curled around its belly.  He was only slightly disconcerted to recognize his own body.  Then he saw the small boy move, and he was astonished.  That was him!  That was his body!  It was not only alive, it was glowing in a mixture of colors – the banana yellow he’d seen in his father, a sparkling blue in the eyes and the top of his head, and an almost ultra-violet from deep within the skull.

But if he was a ghost – if he was here – how was his body moving?

Further speculation was halted by the need to take action.  His father lashed out with a kick at the cringing boy.  Jared instinctively stepped forward to block, sweeping his leg aside and around, but his legs were so much vapor.  Instead, his father’s steel-toed boot connected with the boy’s stomach in a sickening thud, and Jared watched as his body was slammed up against the wall and slumped down unconscious.  As his father prepared to unleash more kicks, Jared found his dislike of atemi suddenly vanishing.  He erupted in a fury.

A chudan-zuki connected in his father’s stomach, surprising the man but doing relatively little damage.  But the wild return strike did absolutely nothing to Jared.  Another strike, an oi-zuki hit, but without a physical body he was unable to add any momentum.

His father, unable to land a blow, seized his left glove and twisted.  To Jared’s surprise, it was as if he weighed nothing.  He spun upside down.  Even here, he still had perfect footing and no trouble with his balance.  It was disturbing.  It seemed less like he had flipped, and more like the entire world had flipped over while he remained still.  And with his father upside-down with legs spread wide for balance, Jared had a perfect target.

Normally a low blow like this would have been even more distasteful than a strike for the express purposes of harming someone.  But he’d seen those steel-toed boots at work.  He’d seen his father kick his body.  Another kick and there might be two ghosts in the room (although Jared couldn’t understand who was in his body).  So he struck.  A perfect gedan-zuki, right to his most vital spot.  With a moist cry, him father folded forward, slumping against the shelves that held Jared’s free weights.

Jared watched, not quite understanding, still trying to spin himself right side up, as one of the weights rolled off the shelf and then toppled (upward, from him perspective) to strike his father on the back of his head.

It only took a thought and he revolved in place, spinning about his center like a pinwheel.  Except that he had no hara.

His father and … his own body… both had muted grayish colors compared to a moment ago.  The red glow had vanished from his father.  Instead, there was a blackish tinge radiating out from the back of his head, where the weight had struck.

He was definitely unconscious.  Maybe worse.

He turned to his own body next.  That was also a grayish glow, with a blackish-purple blossoming from the stomach.  The bright colors in the face and head were gone.  He debated about trying to move his body, but decided against it.

It made a little more sense for his spirit – his soul? – to be here if his body was unconscious, but for a while they’d both been awake.  He was sure of that.  And when the body finally woke up again, would he go back?  He wasn’t sure he wanted to.  In his spirit form like this, he felt better than he ever had in the flesh.  His body had never “fit” quite right.  He wasn’t sure how to describe it.  But now, in this spirit form, he felt the difference.  For the first time ever, he felt right.  He had no ki, no breath, no center, no body.  And despite that, everything was correct in a way that had never been true before.  Perhaps he’d achieved a state of grace, being one step closer to the afterlife.

But there was no time for philosophizing.  He needed to call an ambulance, and fast!  He tried to strip off his right glove, but couldn’t figure out how.  His teeth didn’t seem to affect the laces.  Now that he looked, the gloves weren’t actually tied.  Somehow, the act of wanting it allowed him to slip out of the right glove and drop it on the floor.  He reached for himself – his body – trying to feel a pulse or anything.  He could feel plenty.  He could feel the fading panic in his body, the life-filled flutter of its weak and irregular pulse, but he couldn’t seem to move anything.

Panicking now, he raced into the kitchen.  He reached for the phone, but no matter how he tried to grab it, or kick it, or move it, he couldn’t.  Him body had as much effect on the physical world as so much fog.  The only thing that moved real objects was the stupid boxing glove, still on him left hand.  Desperately, he raced back to him room and tried to re-don the right glove, but for some reason, that failed too.

He knew he was running out of time.  He moved back to the kitchen and searched quickly for a tool – and spotted the butter knife.  Carefully using the clumsy glove, he scooted it partway over the edge of the counter.  Finally, he could grab it, clutching it with him “thumb.”  Using that, he flipped the phone receiver off the hook and used the knife to punch 9-1-1.

“Hello?  This is Jared Reilley!”  At least, he’d intended to say that.  No sound came out.

The operator spoke on the other end, demanding an answer.  Finally they threatened to send a patrol car if no one answered.

Jared’s last action was to use the butter knife to unlatch the chain on the door.  He placed the knife back on the edge of the counter, then used the glove to carefully twist the knob of the front door, pulling it open.  That would be a sure invitation to the police to come in.  Then he “let go” of the glove.  He might not be able to touch anything for a while, but at least he’d be able to silently watch.  But as he released it, consciousness abruptly winked out.

hr1

He knew his father was going to kill him.  Clutching the gloves and boxing headgear, if felt like his head exploded – before the first punch was even thrown.

A moment later, the boxing equipment was pulled out of his hands.  But then, no punches landed.  He looked up, expecting to see his father ready to unleash kicks or punches.  Instead, his father was facing... the boxing gloves and headgear, which floated mysteriously in the air.  It was almost like the gloves and headgear were being worn by an invisible boxer.

As he watched, his father made a jab for the boxer’s chest.  That did nothing.  It would have hit a real person, but it struck only air.  At the same time, the gloves spun through circular arcs.  It almost looked like some type of oji waza move.  If so, the gloves may have had physical substance, but the invisible boxer didn’t.

He felt a stab of terror as his father snapped a quick glance at him.  “You’re doing this, aren’t you?  This is one of them achy-dough tricks, isn’t it?  It’s not going to save you, bastard!”  With that, his father snapped a quick jab straight into the face of the invisible boxer.  It passed through the non-existent head, but got caught in the back of the head guard.  The padded headpiece seemed to resist, slowly stretching away.  Jared could almost imagine sparks or something going off, as the headpiece was suddenly ripped free.

That must have disturbed the boxer, because it backed right up to the wall, so that the gloves almost seemed to have been glued onto the wall like an ornament.  The wall over his head!

His father shifted his targeting gaze from the mysterious gloves down to the lump on the floor.  The big man gave a nasty grin.

Jared felt a moment of sheer terror as the foot flashed forward, then he felt it rip through his gut and slam him against the wall.  Then it went black.

hr1

When he woke, he was in a recovery ward in the hospital.  The bed was an old enamel-coated metal frame, and the room looked like it had once been white, before the paint had yellowed.  Perhaps it had been yellow, and faded over time.  The room held nine other beds, but only his was occupied.

As he came awake, he remembered both.  He had been lying on the floor as his father kicked him.  But he’d also been an invisible boxer.  The same scene, the same moments, but he remembered them from two very different perspectives.

He didn’t doubt it.  He didn’t think it was a dream or hallucination.  It was some sort of miracle, and it had saved his life, he was sure of that.  But it had really only postponed the inevitable.  Hospital bills on top of everything else would make his father more furious than ever.  When Jared finally went home, he knew what would happen.  Broken bones, hits that didn’t break the skin but left him bleeding on the inside, and then he’d die.

He knew it, as surely as he knew anything.  When he went home, he would die.

The thought terrified him more and more, as he lay in the bed clutching the sheet.

And then the miracle happened again.  Something flashed in his head, and suddenly, the sheet was moving as if it was alive.  It suddenly slipped free of the bed, bumping the blanket off and then sliding off like some sort of magic carpet.

“Are you me in there?” he asked in wonder.

The blanket paused, then turned and seemed to nod to him.  It flew up and wrapped a corner of itself around his hand.

Jared smiled.  Despite the massive danger that awaited, he couldn’t help marveling at the antics of this strange, animated piece of fabric.

Eventually, the sheet came back and settled on top of him.  There was a sort-of a “pop” feeling, and he suddenly had two sets of memories in his head.  There was him-in-bed, which he had definitely been a moment ago, and there was him-in-sheet, which was just as real, and just as immediate.  Somehow, for a time, there had been two of him – both as real, as honestly him as the other.  Well, that wasn’t quite true.  The him-in-sheet had somehow felt more true, more correct, and more real that the version of him left behind in the body.  It wasn’t like his soul had been removed – it felt more real than he felt now.  It was like the spirit-form, or whatever he should call it, was higher, or better, or improved in some way.

Another thing was becoming clear.  Somehow, the spirit-form was connected to material objects – the boxing glove, the sheet.  When it “dropped” the last object, it vanished like a popping soap bubble.  And that’s when the memories re-appeared in his head.

Could he do it again?

He clutched the sheet and tried to duplicate the feeling he’d had.  It wasn’t exactly a push, but it was hard to do –

hr1

And he was free again.  There was a difference.  He wasn’t sure whether it was just as he’d been pushed out, or whether it was him doing it, as he flowed into a form.  It was hard to tell, since the intention and direction had been his, and just at the beginning it was hard to tell the difference between the thoughts of him-in-body and him-in-spirit.

Last time, he had flowed into the sheet.  He had taken its form and shape, although he provided the life and movement.  This time, he’d had more of a sense of himself, and he’d formed a body and pulled the sheet to him.  This was the way it had been that first time, with the boxing gloves.

hr1

Jared watched as the sheet swirled up.  It seemed to be forming a wrap.  A toga?  No, more of a skin-tight wrap, winding around the body of the invisible spirit-self.  He could see the outlines of the body.  A corner of the sheet slid up the back of the neck and sat almost like hair on the top of the head.

He suddenly realized something.  “Wait a minute – you can’t be me.  You’re too tall!”

This had been a sore point for years.  He’d always been one of the shorter kids in class, but the last couple of years it seemed like he hadn’t grown at all.  Meanwhile, all his classmates were suddenly hitting growth spurts.  One of the girls had started the year at his height and was now the third-tallest kid in class.

But not Jared.  He didn’t seem to grow a bit.  He’d been four-foot-nine for years it seemed.

Yes, the ghost was definitely taller than him.  The spirit, or whatever it was, was as tall as most of his classmates.  About middling height, he thought.  The height I would have been, if I’d kept growing.

The thought took him by surprise.  “Hey, come back!  I just thought of something.”

Obligingly, the sheet unwrapped.  It was like invisible hands were holding one edge.  The invisible hands could be almost be seen by the effect they left, as they moved on the far side of the sheet.  Wrapping the sheet around his hands, the invisible spirit used the sheet like gloves, grabbing the blanket and pulling it off.  Next, it flipped the sheet out neatly, covering him.

“Yeah?  So how are you going to get the blanket back up here, smart guy?”

The fingers trailed along one edge of the sheet, then down to a lower corner.  This served as a glove again, grabbing the blanket and flipping it up and over.  It took a couple more straightening efforts, but soon the bed was back to normal.  Then, there was a rush like wind, and the memories of his other self were back with him.

No, not his other self.  His inner self.  That was what he’d realized that he had to share.  It was the height difference.  The spirit was him as he was supposed to be.  The height he’d be now, if he’d kept growing.  That’s why it felt so right when he was pure spirit.  The spirit was him as he was meant to be, not him as he was, in his stunted body.  Everyone kept thinking he was eleven or twelve, but he’d just turned fourteen.

Now he had to know for real.  How tall was he?  Or actually, how tall was he supposed to be?

The first step to finding out was to get a tape measure.  He looked at the box of disposable rubber gloves left on the tray beside him.  He had a plan for that…

hr1

In spirit form, he flowed through the space in the ceiling.  Beyond the hanging tiles, there was a fascinating world of pipes and wires.  There wasn’t enough space for a person to fit in here, despite what he read in Spiderman comics.  But there was plenty of space for a pair of latex gloves and an intangible spirit.

He discovered that he couldn’t poke his ghost-head down through a tile and see into that room.  A little of the material that was him had to go into the room before his perception followed.  Either that, or a tile had to be moved out of the way so he could see into the room.

He carefully lifted another tile and spotted it:  he’d finally found the supply room.  And sure enough, here’s where he found several measuring tapes.  It was a moment’s work for the gloves to float down and grab the tape.  They were as dexterous as human hands, and more sensitive than hands wearing the gloves.  It seemed that his sense of touch was on the outer surface of whatever material he inhabited.  Not on the inside, as with a normal person just wearing the gloves.

After that, it was a quick trip back above the ceiling tiles.

hr1

The next step was getting dressed better.  As gloves, he floated over to where they’d laid out his clothes for him.  A long-sleeve T-shirt, briefs, socks.  He could keep the gloves for hands.  What about his head?  He finally settled for a small towel.  He could cover his head and let the rest drape down the back.  And with a pencil, he could make a subtle mark against the wall and measure himself.  He carried the pile back to the bed, so that he could return, then get re-cast back into the full set of clothes.

It was odd that he couldn’t pick up an object and “add” it to the collection he was inhabiting, but it was one of the strange limitations of his form.

It was also interesting that, in his physical body, it took effort to pull out his “inner self” – it was like something was suddenly missing.  But as soon as spirit-form rejoined physical-form, everything was fine again.  He could be cast back out again immediately.

So he dropped the clothes on his body’s chest, then dropped the gloves on top and vanished.

hr1

Jared watched as the clothes seemed to inflate.  It was definitely like watching an Invisible Man movie – one with great special effects.  The towel on the head gave a good indication of height, and his inner self was definitely taller than he was.  He was a bit surprised to see that, despite the height growth, his arms hadn’t really gotten much larger.  And then he noticed.

At first, it was such an impossibility that he couldn’t believe it.  He stared at the invisible figure in underwear and T-shirt, watching the way it walked, bent over, used the pencil.

Now that he could see it, he couldn’t understand how he missed it before.  Everything about the figure made it obvious.

The figure picked up the tape measure and used it against the wall, and held one spot to demonstrate the answer:  five-foot-three, a good six inches taller than him.

“Uh huh,” he answered, from his daze.  “But I can’t believe you missed the most important part:  You’re a girl.

hr1

He’d returned and then been re-cast, over and over.  It was coming up on fifteen times now.  Every result had been the same.  He could be the object, or he could be a girl.  Not a boy, not a man, always a girl.  He hadn’t believed it.  But looking down (or turning his attention downward), the slight mounds of his breasts could be seen.  They were small, barely swelling in the front of his T-shirt, but they were undeniable.  His gigantic nipples were the most obvious part.  Well, maybe not gigantic, but compared to his boy-body…

This time, he was wearing briefs, T-shirt, and gloves only, so he could crawl into bed for a closer check.  Jared-physical wanted to examine the outside, and he was extremely curious about what that would feel like on the inside.

So while Jared-physical held the sheets up, he climbed into bed.  The sheets came down, covering them both.

He was almost trembling with a mix of anticipation and fear.  After all – the other person was just him.  He was touching himself, really.  There was certainly nothing wrong with that.  But still… somehow the idea of a boy touching him there, anyone touching him there…

Jared-physical’s hands slid over his shirt, feeling his narrower waist, wider hips.  He could tell, from the inside.  The way his hips flared out a bit.  Was his butt larger than it was as a boy?  It seemed like it.  Then the hands moved up to his chest.  The fingers traced over him.  He could definitely feel the difference.  Above and below, there was little skin covering his ribs.  It was odd to feel that, since he was an empty shirt.  But he could feel the structure of his invisible body, and he knew that to his physical counterpart it felt exactly as if there were a girl in bed, wearing nothing more than a thin T-shirt and boy’s briefs.

The fingers traced again, confirming the presence of his ribs, then moving up to those twin swells of padding, confirming their softness and shape, hands gently cupping his young mounds.  He felt his large nipples pressing into the palms.  Compared to the boy-body, his girl-nipples consistently stunned him.  They were so large!

And oddly, throughout it all, he felt no thrill.  No special tingles.  Neither pleasure nor pain, as the physical hands grew more bold, poking, tweaking, pinching.  He’d been planning to use the gloves to restrain his other self whenever it went too far.  But there was nothing.  He felt pressure, definitely.  He felt his physical body, as it was squeezed and massaged.  At least, it seemed like he was feeling a physical body.  And he felt texture.  Good lord, did he feel texture!  It was like his nerve endings were wired straight to the surface of the T-shirt.  When boy-Jared rubbed fingers over his nipples, he practically shot out of the bed.  It still wasn’t pleasure or pain or interest or irritation.  But he could feel so much texture, it was amazing.

He was starting to figure out that he seemed to have more nerve endings in some parts of his “body” than others.  For example, the skin of his legs had enough nerves to detect touch, but didn’t seem to have much detailed feeling.  On the other hand, the skin of his fingertips was so sensitive that he could gauge fine textures and identify objects by touch.  The skin of his nipples seemed to have almost as many nerves as his fingertips, which was a total surprise.  His boy-body didn’t have so many nerves there.

Another thing that took him by surprise was how good this made him feel.  It wasn’t a stimulation from the touching, it was a psychological thing.  With every stroke or squeeze, it was confirmed anew that he had breasts.  Every time one of boy-Jared’s hands passed up his waist or over his rear, it was clear that he was a girl.  And that made him extremely happy.  It was a sort of shy pride.  It made him want to quietly nuzzle his partner.  Which was impossible at the moment, since he had no face.

Why should he feel such happiness and satisfaction in being female?  It didn’t make any sense.  He was a boy, wasn’t he?  But right now, he wasn’t physical-Jared at all, he was his inner self – the way he was meant to be.  And that seemed to be a girl.  There were implications there, but he wasn’t ready to look too closely at them just yet.

In fact, he wasn’t able to think about much of anything.  Boy-Jared was finally moving the target of his explorations.  The hands were straying down to his belly, noting the subtle differences from his boy-stomach.  Now the hands were touching his briefs.

He knew that he’s scream (or want to, at least) if there was any hint of the ugly boy parts down there.  But he wasn’t really sure of what girls were like.  What did a girl have?

The fingers teased through the thick cotton, stroking, patting, feeling.  No boy parts, thank goodness.  Instead, he seemed to have an elegant smooth contour, that just wrapped smoothly under and came up on his butt.  The hand stroked between his legs, feeling, passing from the flat front, smoothly under, and coming out with five fingers spread wide over his butt cheeks.

But… there was a little more detail he could see.  As his hand passed down the smooth front, he could feel a bony ridge inside.  Then the fingers turned, and passed under him.  The hands made another pass.  There was a flattish hump on his front side, a small raised area.  Just enough to provide a sort of squishy mound.  It felt like fat, or extra flesh.  And just where the fingers went under, there was more structure there, too.  There was a slit that he could feel.  He pulled his legs open wider, to give boy-Jared more room to explore.

He knew that girls had some sort of slit there.  Everyone knew that!  But he hadn’t quite understood the details.  Now it seemed like just above his thighs, there were two ridges of flesh.  Except that “ridges” made them sound hard.  These were soft.  Soft, cushiony, fleshy lips that nestled together under his hips, between his legs.  When his legs were closed, the lips closed, and all he could feel was a slit running between the closed lips.  Like closing your mouth and feeling where the mouth would open.  Again, the cushiony sponginess was surprising.  Girls had padding in the oddest places.  And when he pulled his knees apart, the lips opened, exposing all of him that was hidden inside that innocuous slit.

He couldn’t tell what all of it was.  Not with the cotton underpants.  But there was a line of flesh down his very middle, and that seemed to split open, too.  And there were all sorts of complicated bits down there.  The nerve endings were just as dense as on his fingertips or his nipples.  He was fascinated by it, and he loved the exploration.  Once again, all he could feel was pressure and texture, but he could feel his body.  His illusionary, invisible body, but it felt real to him.

And he realized something that he’d been avoiding for a long time.  He was a girl.  This latest test proved it.  He shouldn’t be thinking of himself as a boy in a girl’s body.  He was a girl, in a girl’s body.

And he liked it.  He – she – he wasn’t sure how to think of himself.  He wanted to snuggle in with his partner and keep touching and stroking forever.  And another thing – he didn’t want to go back!  Boy-Jared was trapped in that stupid boy body.  He’d always felt a bit uncomfortable there, a bit off.  He’d never known why until now.  The answer was here.  He felt completely right as a girl.  Happy, joyful, quietly proud of herself, delighting in what she was and the shape she wore.  He felt good as a girl.  Why should he go back to being a boy?

hr1

After a half-hour, Jared was startled when the clothes suddenly collapsed.  The memories were back.  And while he’d been fascinated with the chance to explore a girl’s body, that was nothing compared to the feelings, memories, and emotions that she had felt.  It was impossible to think of her in any other way.  His inner self – the version of him that was everything he was supposed to be – was a girl.  And for no reason he could understand, she’d suddenly evaporated.

Terrified, he tried casting her back into the clothes.  He breathed a sigh of relief when the clothes inflated, but he also felt a tinge of jealousy now, too.  She got to be the girl, while he was stuck in this dumb boy-body.  He hadn’t thought of it like that before, but now the idea wouldn’t leave his mind.

hr1

He pretended to be sleeping whenever they looked in on him.  He was definitely in no hurry to be released.  The last thing he wanted was to go home with his father.  So he “slept” and experimented.

He discovered that he couldn’t cast her without “charging up” a physical object.  He couldn’t understand why.  Perhaps the physical object anchored her spirit form.  And she was connected to the anchors – she could move them around.  But as soon as she dropped the last anchor, she snapped back into his head.  The “charge” lasted about a half-hour, although he could touch her and re-charge, to give more time.  Using that trick she stayed out for four hours once, without coming back into his head.

He was also figuring out about his nerves.  They got pulled through the entire structure of an “anchor”.  When Jared first “charged up”, he could push his self into the anchor (or anchors).  If Jared charged himself into a pen, then picked up the pen, his girl-self felt the touch against the barrel of the pen as if someone was stroking her skin and squeezing her, as they wrote with her ball-point.  But it wasn’t like his hand nerves were spread over one part of the pen, while his intimate bits were in another part.  Instead, he was the pen.  It was hard to describe, but a part of him was the outside barrel, a part was the spring.  Several parts of him were the clicker.  He could feel all his parts, and feel how they all fit together.  He could hold the ball still, so it didn’t roll and no ink came out.  Or he could squeeze the ink, so that it out shot out in a blot.  He could use himself to write, although his handwriting wasn’t as good as when he was in girl-form.  As a pen he could fly around the room as a missile, or unscrew and take himself apart.

As a piece of tubing, he could coil and twist like a snake.  As a sheet, he could flap around as a living sheet, unconstrained by human shape and limitations.  He could turn into a flying carpet, becoming solid enough for his physical body to sit on, while he flew around the room.  He discovered that as a spirit, he was a little stronger than he was in his physical body.  And as a spirit, he never got tired.

If he didn’t actively push himself into the object, he tended to form in girl-shape.  In that case, he had a body of silvery sparkles (or so it looked to his spirit-vision), all his nerves were in the normal location, and the anchor objects were pulled to his body and wrapped around him like clothes.  His nerves seemed to get pulled through the object, so that it felt like the surface of his skin was along the surface of the object.  His dexterity was very good in this form – he could thread a needle, write legibly, and do anything that he could as a normal person.  And from the outside, it felt like there were a real girl inside the clothes.  She was invisible, but you could feel the structure of her body – bony elbows, soft breasts, muscular belly – everything felt normal.

No matter what he did, he couldn’t pick up, or transfer to, or slip into a new anchor-object.  It had to be there when was being “charged up.”  He could “drop” anything, at any time, but dropping the last anchor always sent him back to his body.  He could use gloves to handle normal objects, but he was merely holding them.  He had no special connection to them.

He broadened his experiments.  If he charged into a pillow, he could be the pillow.  If there was a hole in the pillow, he could control every feather (although it became progressively more difficult to keep track of them all).

But he had limitations, too.

First was the fact that the different “parts” of him all had to be within about six feet of each other.  His spirit-body wasn’t able to stretch farther than that.  And if some piece was pulled out of the six-foot zone, it hurt worse and worse until it broke free from him, or he dropped it.  This was the only way he’d found of causing pain for his spirit-form.

Second was his half-hour time limit.  It didn’t matter if his physical body fell asleep in the meantime, and he didn’t seem to have a distance limitation (he’d animated a dead fly, and by hopping from doctor to visitor to car to train, he’d managed to get over twenty miles away before the half-hour had passed).

One thing Jared never did, though, was to allow anyone else to know about his “inner self.”  Soon enough, he’d have to leave the hospital.  When that happened, he intended to use his miraculous secret to help him escape.  He was going to run away from home, and never come back.  His father wouldn’t be able to find him, and he’d finally be safe.

2: Refuge

Topeka, Kansas   May 22, Monday

“…so everything looks good,” the doctor reassured him.  “We’re always concerned when there’s internal hemorrhaging, and you were bleeding inside, in your tummy.”  For some reason, adults always spoke to him as if he was some sort of half-witted child.  “But that seems to be healing on its own.  Fortunately there’s no sign of infection or secondary effects.  We’d like to keep you overnight tonight for observation, but tomorrow you’ll finally be able to get out of here.”

He nodded quietly, not showing any emotion.  Inside, he was already planning to eat the biggest meal he could.  He’d sneak out around midnight, right after the nurse checked up on him.

“How’s my father?”

“Well, Miss Baker is here to talk to you about that.  She’s a social worker with CPS.  Have you heard of that?”

Jared bit his lip.  This would complicate things.  “Uh, you’re the government group that … takes,” his father had said steals, “children from their families.”

The woman smiled.  “Not exactly.”  She was a cheerfully plump brunette, not much taller than his girl-form.  “CPS is the Child Protective Service, and you and I both know how you got hurt, don’t we?”

Jared didn’t say a word, he just stared at her, waiting for her to continue.

“We step in when parents are hurting their children.  We’re here to protect children.  Doesn’t that sound like a good thing?”

Again, he was non-committal.

“If you’re in a place where you’re being hurt, we move you for a while to a new house, where people can watch over you and protect you, and where you won’t be hurt any more.  Doesn’t that sound like a good thing?”  No reaction.  “It would help a lot if you could talk to us.  Especially if you talked to a judge.”

He knew exactly how well that would go over.  His father had beaten him several times about what would happen to him if he ever talked.  On the other hand, he was already planning to run away.  And since his father seemed to have decided that Jared wasn’t his biological son, any restraint he had once had would be gone.  Going home was a death sentence whether he talked or not.

“I think you’d like it.”

“Look,” he finally said.  “I’m fourteen, not ten or eleven, or whatever you’re thinking.  And I’ll agree to talk to the judge, but only if you can guarantee that I never, and I mean NEVER, go back to live with that man.  I don’t even want to see him again.”

She seemed taken aback by that.  “I’ll have to talk to the judge, first.”

He reached out, offering to shake her hand.  “Let me know.”

As she shook his hand, he make contact with the sleeve of her silk blouse.  Should he…?  He did.

hr1

She came alive.  Jared was only touching the cuff of the blouse, but somehow she flowed into all the clothes connecting to that.  It seemed to be most of the non-living material touching Miss Baker.  Not the hair or surface skin cells, but she flowed smoothly through the garments and purse – blouse, bra, skirt, panties, pantyhose, and onward.

She reeled back, metaphorically.  This was way more than she’d wanted!  As quickly as she could, she dropped everything, skipping back down until all she still clung to was a single broach on Miss Baker’s chest.

That, she could handle.  She smiled grimly to herself.  Talk about ‘too much information’!

Miss Baker was just speaking to the doctor.

“How serious was it really?”

“Not too bad.  We were lucky.  There was no intestinal rupture, the organs appear to be fine.  Blows like that are tricky.  A weightlifter or boxer has the musculature to take something like that without even blinking.  A child is a very different thing.  And from the way he was talking, not only is this not the first time, but I think he’s terrified of what might happen next time.”

The woman spoke in a quiet fury.  “I just can’t understand the kind of monster that would do that to a – a child!”  Finally, she asked, “How’s the father?”

“Still unconscious.  We’ve stabilized his head, but there was internal bleeding.  It’s too early to tell whether there will be noticeable brain damage.  I wouldn’t expect him to wake for another day or two.  Even when he does, it may be weeks before he remembers the day of the accident, and he’ll probably never get back the incident itself.  Head wounds are like that.  You can expect to permanently lose anything from minutes to hours immediately preceding the wound.”

“That will give us time to arrange foster care then.”

“I should think so.”

“Can you keep him here for an extra night, if we need to?”

“One night.  As you saw, that ward was empty.  I’ll have problems with more than that, though.”

Jared had heard what she needed.  No escape tonight.  And if things worked out, she might not have to run at all.

3: Facing fears

Topeka, Kansas   June 28, Wednesday

Upon hearing the alarm, he moved through the usual motions.  Still half asleep, he slapped the alarm off, then slapped the gloves, “charging” Jinn, as they now called the process.  It was hard to compare to a physical exhaustion, since it wasn’t exactly, but it felt about as tiring as running up and down the stairs a couple of times.  Not bad, but more than a few times in quick succession would wear him out for a bit.

That done, he swung his feet to the ground and rubbed his eyes.

hr1

Jinn flexed her fingers in the gloves, ensuring a good fit, then rose up toward the closet.  They had quickly realized that gravity had no meaning to her.  She didn’t have a body, really, only silvery mist.  She could stand upside-down on the ceiling, stand sideways on the wall, stand through the bed and his body, or stand happily in mid-air.  She was only constrained by her own imagination.  And now that her mind was opening to the possibilities, she was learning to fly.  Well, to glide.

It was a heady experience.  Admittedly, it didn’t feel any different.  There was no wind (not at the modest gliding speed she’d been able to attain).  But to be able to glide up high in the sky and look down on the world, to hover at cloud height, or see a bird’s nest from just above, these experiences were fascinating.

Right now she was after a more material form of treasure.  Pulling open the closet, she rose up to the ceiling, at the front left corner.  A piece of plaster lifted away, revealing a nine-inch hole.  The material of her gloves slipped through into the attic proper.  No one had been up here since the house had been built.  It was here that she kept the small footlocker, filled with her girl clothes, her body stocking, wigs, and all the other vital items she’d been able to collect.  This time she’d be bringing down extra clothes.

hr1

Jared watched, half eager, half afraid, as she came back down with today’s supplies.  One brown plastic grocery bag filled with items from the footlocker.  The gloves dumped the collection on the bed and the invisible girl began sorting through it.  He hesitated, shivering as the floating gloves picked a set of panties with triple frills on the front, handing it to him.

It was the logical extension of what had been happening.

His inner self – they’d named her “Jinn” – was definitely a girl.  She was glad to be a girl; it made her feel whole and complete and right in a way that Jared had never felt.  She hated going back to his “boy body.”  One of the things she liked was dressing up.  Skirts, blouses, bras, panties, anything feminine at all seemed to make her happy.

And she’d finally gotten the idea that if she was a girl, and if she was Jared’s inner self and perfect form, then he must also be a girl.  Inside.  It’s just that his body had gotten things wrong, somehow.  And although the ideas made plenty of sense when he was Jinn, once he was back in his body again, he kept hearing objections.  Well, mostly he heard the imaginary voice of his father, and the kids in his class mocking him.  His father would be so humiliated that he would take the belt and –

But the truth was, he wanted to try on the panties.  They were very pretty.  He could wear them, and imagine that he was a girl for real.  It was getting harder and harder to cope, each time he came back to his physical body.  He could wear the panties and they’d never know at the club.  If he was honest, he’d admit that he wanted to wear a bra, too, but they’d spot that at the club.

Carefully, he slipped on the panties.  They were snug, and fit just right.  He had to tuck his boy parts back between his legs.  He’d be just as happy if those parts just withered up and fell off.

He’d been letting his hair grow.  It wasn’t much yet, but there were other Japanese girls around.  Most of them had pretty short hair.  Unable to hold back, he grabbed Jinn’s bra and put it on.  It was too big for him, of course, since it was an A-cup.  But he tried to comb his hair forward a little, hiding some of the more boyish features in his face.  He looked at himself in the mirror and tried to imagine he was a girl.

There was a knock on the door that nearly caused him to drop dead from heart failure.

“Jared?  Are you about ready?  You don’t have much time for breakfast, if you still plan to leave early.”  It was Mrs. Lasater.

He dove toward the bed, grabbing the gloves and charging them.  As Jinn was flying to hold the door closed, he yelled, “I’m getting dressed!  I’ll be right there.”

“Alright.  Your breakfast is already on the table.”

Pulling off the bra, he practically jumped into his ugly boy clothes.  Checkered polyester pants – no combination could possibly be more hideous.  Loafers.  A tan polo shirt.  Ugg.  It wasn’t just that they were such boy clothes.  He suspected that even if he liked boy clothes, he would have been made ill by this selection.

With his adrenaline still granting extra speed, he was dressed in a few moments.  The gloves floated back, moving around him and synchronized with him, pulling up his socks, zipping his pants, and running a quick comb through his hair.  He and she weren’t perfectly coordinated, but they were working on it.

Abruptly, his mind filled with Jinn’s memories as she fell back into him.  From the corner of his eye he saw the gloves drop to the bed.

He stepped back to the bed, gathered the clothes and items in his hands, then charged her again.  Before she formed up, he tossed the package out his window, to the ground of the first floor below.  Then he walked downstairs to eat with his ‘parents.’

He still wore the panties, and he was very aware of them.

The Lasaters weren’t bad.  Certainly better than his own father.  But they kept the relationship cool and professional.  There was no chance of a real bond forming; they made very sure that he knew they were only foster parents, paid to do a job, and purely temporary.

“Afraid you’ll miss the bus?” Jerry asked, sipping his coffee.  “It’s a bit early.”

“Um, I’m going to meet Jinn at the bus stop.”  It was true enough.  “Don’t want to be late.”

“Are you ever going to introduce us to this girlfriend of yours?” Anna asked.  “You’ve been seeing her, what, almost since you moved in with us.”

“Just about,” Jerry agreed.  “Over a month now.”

“Uh… it’s kind of up to her.  She’s kind of weird.”  Like, for example, she had no body, and spent half her time living in his head.

“We’d still like to meet her,” Anna insisted.

“I’ll try to convince her,” Jared promised, stuffing the last of his toast into his mouth.

“You’re probably catching lunch at the club.  Back for dinner, as usual?”

“Uh huh.  Maybe a little late.  I’m going to hit the mall.”

“How late?”  He’d heard this tone from Jerry before.  Despite the sound of it, it wasn’t so much that Jerry was concerned for him, as that Jerry wanted to scrupulously obey the proper behavior of a foster parent.  He did an excellent job.  Jared sometimes wished the man had a little more warmth, but he was usually distracted by his own problems.

“Uh, nine thirty.  That’s the last bus.  That okay?”

“No later than that.”

“Okay.”  And he hurried out the door.

hr1

He stepped to the bed, gathered the clothes and items in his hands, then charged her again.  There was a moment of disorientation, then he realized he was standing through the bed, connected to all the items in the bag.

As always, when he came alive as Jinn there was the thrill of realizing the he was a she – that he wasn’t Jared (for the moment), she was Jinn.  She might not have a physical body, but she was definitely a girl in this form.  Somehow, there was never any doubt of that.

She held her pieces together, but remained passive as she fell to the ground.  Once there, she lifted the bag en mass, and quickly glided into the ring of trees at the back of the public playground across the street.  Slightly screened, she allowed herself to flow fully into the black, full-body leotard.  It immediately inflated, filling out with her form.  She ran a quick hand check over the manikin head, blonde wig, oversized straw hat, gloves, socks, shoes.  She “released” her grip on the turtleneck sweater and skirt, letting them settle and drape over her leotard-clad form.  It looked more natural that way.  She cleared her throat (that’s the way she thought of it) to make sure the speaker was in place below her neck.  There was a five-inch speaker today – although with the practice she’d devoted, she could sound almost as good using far cheaper materials. Then she took her seat on the swing and slowly swung back and forth, while she waited for Jared to come out.

She’d managed to scavenge a good collection from the trash bins in the mall.  The expired clothes were slated for destruction.  The mall rent-a-cops kept people away from the trash rooms, but they never seemed to notice a pair of gloves floating through, sorting, collecting.  Slipping through the spaces in the ceiling worked as well as it had back in the hospital.  She liked to think she’d remained on the proper side of the moral line, even if she wasn’t strictly inside the law.  Everything she’d taken was intended for either the dump or the incinerator.  The chipped manikin head, the three wigs, the skirts, sweaters, and blouses.  Even the underwear that Jared was wearing.

She swung again, admiring the swish of her skirt as she thought about her problems.

Everything had seemed so wonderful until that first leotard.  Jared’s exploration of her body in the leotard had been pleasant for her, and bittersweet for him.  More and more, he was thinking of how he didn’t want to touch her, he wanted to be her.  And from her perspective, she was beginning to wonder how all of this would feel to a real flesh-and-blood girl.  Which left them with the same problem and the same solution.  Somehow, Jared had to become a girl for real.

It was so obvious when she was in spirit form.  As Jared, she kept remembering words like “impossible.”  That was one of the reasons it had taken this long to get him out in public with a simple pair of panties on.  But she and Jared were the same person.  And they were coming to realize that they liked being a girl, and they didn’t much like being a guy.  The feeling was only growing stronger over time.  In fact, she sometimes worried that the pressure was getting too strong.  She had an outlet, but Jared didn’t.  She thought that dressing might help relieve that psychological pressure.

And maybe if she could do more as a real girl – but she wasn’t ready for public scrutiny yet.  Her voice was pretty normal sounding now.  But once people got closer than about ten feet, they noticed the manikin head and kind of freaked out.  She could see it in the precise moment when their auras suddenly flashed into banana yellow or pea green.  The large hat wasn’t exactly proper fashion, but it kept her face in the shade.  That helped a little, getting her as close as ten feet to normal people.  She’d tried both a veil and a surgical mask.  The mask might have worked in Japan, but not here in America.  The best she could manage was dark sunglasses, Audrey Hepburn style, combined with a black veil and the hat over her head.  That worked up to about four feet, unless she really had to interact with someone.  Then they always freaked.  And she’d have to duck around a corner, drop everything but her gloves, and stuff her ‘body’ away in her purse to hide the evidence before someone could catch her in the act.

Well, if today worked out, she’d solve that problem, too.

She spotted Jared hurrying out with a tinge of orange for his embarrassment at wearing his caddy clothes in public.  There weren’t many jobs available for a fourteen-year-old (who looked twelve) and was living in foster care.  Being a caddy paid best of all the choices she’d seen.

hr1

He immediately saw Jinn swinging on the swings while she waited, like usual.  He passed an admiring eye over her.  Why couldn’t he look like that?  Okay, the veil was weird, but the black bodysuit under her clothes maybe implied some sort of Goth thing.  Most people seemed to accept it.  He noticed that she still couldn’t swing and make it look natural.  The chain hung loosely, as if the swing was holding a weight of only a few pounds – such as some clothes and a pair of shoes.  She was going to have to figure out how to be “heavy” when she needed to be.

He ran up to her, and gave her a new “charge” as they touched.  Immediately, they both adjusted the bezel on their diver’s watches.  Constant practice had increased Jinn’s time to 43 minutes on a single charge.  But he’d been keeping her going almost constantly, ever since discovering the power.  It had become an obsession with him.  She was his innermost self, his better half.  So long as she was active, he was walking the world as a real girl somewhere.  Perhaps a disembodied ghost-girl, but he needed to get in as much girl time as he could.  That was one reason they rode the bus together despite the added expense.  The empty bus was a chance for her to “get out in the real world” and feel like she was actually taking part in it.  Those experiences were still rare enough to be treasured, and were well worth the cost of bus fare.

Reaching out, he took her hand and rudely yanked her out of the swing.

“Hey!  What was that for?”

Despite her tone, he knew she had a tough time staying angry at himself.  All he had to do was wait for the end of the bus ride, when they’d merge again.

“Heavy, remember?  Real girls don’t float to the ground when they’re yanked out of their seat.”

“Yeah, yeah.  You sure I can’t just fly, instead?”  She drifted up horizontal, as if lying on an invisible bed.

“NO!  Normal weight.  Remember that.”

“Slave driver.”

hr1

The caddy room was empty, so he ushered her in.  She’d gotten the change ‘n’ stash routine down to ten seconds.  It was actually kind of disturbing to watch, since the gloves were the last thing to go.  She pulled off her shoes (and feet, it looked like), socks, hat, hair, head.  As she went, the pile of neatly folded clothes quickly grew, but it looked as if she were dismembering herself.  Finally, her bodysuit deflated and the gloves folded the leotard, then dropped to the top of the stack and he felt her memories falling into him again.

He quickly hurried outside to set up Mr. Cavendale.  Once he knew which ball the man was using, he charged Jinn into it.

hr1

Being a golf ball was good training.  She’d tried it a couple of different ways.  Being in her ghost body, while she ‘held’ the ball in her hand.  She’d decided that she preferred just being bonded to the golf ball, so that it became her body.  Even without her ethereal body, she was still completely female.

She still wasn’t sure how a ghostly spirit could have a gender, but she definitely had one.  Whether in her ethereal spirit-form, or just bound entirely into an object – she still felt distinctly female.  She wasn’t sure how she knew, but she did.

And that was exactly what Jared was beginning to fear.  When they were in his physical body, he had learned enough to sense that same feminine spirit – only encased in male flesh.

If she’d only ever been Jared, it might have taken her much longer to figure it out.  Instead, she had felt her spirit in dozens, hundred of different situations.  On the inside, she now recognized that she was the same everywhere.  The same girl.  But the outside…

She gave herself different names, for convenience.  ‘Jared’ for when she was stuck in her physical body, and ‘Jinn’ for when she was out, when she could be a complete girl.

Jared was scared of the idea.  He knew that doctors could do something, but that was a pretty big thing to be facing.  So as Jared he did his best to deny it, and as Jinn she fumed at her own indecisiveness.

But for now, she stopped her perennial grumbling and concentrated on her training.  In this case it required her to be perfectly passive.  The first time she’d tried this had been Miss Baker’s clothes.  But she’d made some goofs with the golf balls.  People tended to stare if your golf ball was whacked into the sky, only to suddenly pause and hang there, before belatedly dropping straight to the ground.

Now she had so much experience with being passive that she could do it in her sleep (if she could sleep in this state, which didn’t seem to be possible).  The her-plus-golf-ball always went exactly where it was whacked, and nowhere else.  Okay, maybe she’d nudged an occasional putt or pushed a ball to the edge of the rough, but that didn’t really count.

And despite the startling surprise of being suddenly whacked from the tee (it didn’t really hurt), the view as she sailed over the golf course was just killer!

hr1

“You ready?” he asked, as he changed out of the atrocious golf pants into cutoffs and a t-shirt.

“Believe it,” squeaked the stuffed kitten that clung to his hair.  People looked strangely at a boy with such a toy on his shoulder, but he didn’t care.

hr1

“Absolutely the best, most lifelike Madonna mask you can buy.”  The man laid it on the counter with care.  “If you really want to use it, you’re going to need the spirit gum to apply it.  And it should be properly applied, too, blending in the lips and eyelids.  I don’t guarantee quality, if a buncha you school kids want to use it for some prank.”

“I’ll take it just like this, thanks.”  He carefully counted out the precious cash from his tips.

The mask was magnificent.  It looked just like real skin.  It moved and shifted, but was nice and thick.  It seemed sturdy.

He wasn’t really worried about the eyelids.  So what if she was slightly wide-eyed and never blinked?  The lips were more of a problem, but the mask had enough to cover the outside of the mouth.  For the inside, he had a fake tongue from a gag shop, and dentures liberated from a dentist’s trash bin.

Reverently, he took his new possession with him, going only as far as the nearest handicap restroom.  He locked the door to the private room.  Whereupon the stuffed animal leapt off his shoulder and glided into his backpack.  A flash of memories later, and he took the bag holding Jinn’s clothes, added the mask on top, then charged her into it.

There was the swirl of activity that he’d grown used to, as all the pieces floated up and into place.  Teeth, speaker behind the mouth, fake tongue, face in place, black hood outlining the rest of the head, the long blonde wig above that.  The masterpiece was the pair of novelty plastic eyeballs.  They were oversized, with huge irises that gave her a touch of animé character appearance.  It didn’t hurt that the irises were more-than-mutant exotic in color, alternating purple and gold streaks.

She gave the appropriate tugs, as her sweater and skirt dropped into place, falling from her ‘grasp’ as she released her TK hold on them.

Jared stared at her.  She was wide-eyed perfection.  Not a hint of his own Asiatic eye shape.  Impossibly long blonde hair, perfectly managed but loose and wind-blown.  Those impossible eyes.  She was missing eyelashes on top, but he didn’t care.  She opened her mouth to speak.  He could see her teeth, her tongue moving in her mouth.  It all looked normal and correct.

“You’re beautiful!” he said, in a voice barely above a whisper.  She was a fourteen-year-old bombshell.  Wide-eyed innocence with her first curves just beginning to show.  She was much taller than him – 5’ 3”, and unlike him, she sure didn’t look twelve.  She looked fifteen.  That was due to the face, which looked so much older than the rest of the body.

“Beautiful?”  Her voice was half joyful, and half disbelieving.  “Really?  Ready for the street?”  She bent over to retrieve her hat.

“You won’t even need the hat.  But I think you will want the sunglasses.  Unless you want everyone to stare at you.”

She smiled at him, and her lips actually moved.  They stretched – naturally – into the proper shape.  The rest of her face responded correctly, looking perfectly natural.  This is much better than the manikin head, he thought.

“Yeah,” he repeated.  “You’re ready.”

hr1

They walked the mall together.  She was a real girl, an attractive blonde (that thought still blew her mind).  With her was a twelve-year-old boy in cutoffs and a Pokémon T-shirt.  They didn’t look quite like boyfriend and girlfriend.  At fifteen and twelve, it didn’t quite work.  It would have been sister and brother, but her blonde self had no resemblance to Jared.

Still, they managed.

Guys kept coming up to her, saying she looked familiar and asking what her name was.  She kept telling them she was new in town, and didn’t know them.

They stopped for a snack in the food court.  Jinn didn’t need anything, of course, but Jared had a hot dog.

He looked at her with a wistful look of longing on his face.  Under that, she could see the shiny green of envy.  She knew that everyone who saw them probably thought he was in love with her, but his want and envy had a very different source.

They looked at a few more shops, then she spotted something odd.  There was a man following them.  He was a fair distance back, and she wouldn’t have seen him if she hadn’t been able to see out of the back of her head.  This all-around vision took some getting used to, but with the month of practice she’d had, she was now regularly watching in every direction.  This fellow has the rosy tint of interest to his aura, but he also had a disturbing silvery sheen to the aura.  He had a baseball cap that he kept pulled down, so she hadn’t been able to spot his face.

She leaned over and told Jared what she’d seen.

“Should we look for a security guard?”

“What would we tell him?”

So they decided to get a little more clever.  The first trick was to get Jinn packed away back in the backpack.  With someone suspicious following, that left out any plans where Jared doubled-back to pick things up.  He might run straight into his follower.  His next thought was to use the bathrooms, but he might get cornered there.  Finally the spotted a garden store.  It seemed likely to be less concerned with shoplifters and less suspicious of teenagers.  It also had a number of tall displays that Jinn could hide behind.

They walked in together.  Jared casually dropped his backpack on the floor behind a tall rack of fertilizer products.  He’d already unzipped it.  Jinn stayed with the pack while Jared continued at his same pace.

Jinn didn’t bother folding herself, she virtually stuffed herself into the backpack, keeping the gloves until the last second, when Jared walked back around.  A bodiless glove picked up the pack and handed it to him, so that he didn’t even pause in his walk.  Then the gloves tucked themselves into his pocket, and she vanished.

hr1

Now that Jinn was back, he had a lot more options.  It was sometimes handy to have two people, but Jinn’s powers helped her, not him.  Now that she was back and he could cast her when he needed her, he had a lot more flexibility.

First he wanted to get a good look at his follower.  Was it someone he recognized?  Were there more of them, maybe a team?  Was the follower being followed?  He picked a penny out of his pocket and charged it, then tucked it into the waistband of his pants.  The penny slid down his leg inconspicuously, out of sight of the crowd.  It lay on the floor, ignored by everyone that passed.

Jared continued on straight, allowing his pursuer to follow in his footsteps.

Jinn returned barely a minute later, quicker than he’d expected.  The news was bad: It was his father!

That told him everything he needed to know.  He father would either be dragging him home (by force) or just looking to unload some frustration.  Probably the first so that he could do the second in private.  Either way, it was bad news.

He could probably get help if he went to a mall guard – but all sorts of details might come out.  Like his current address.  If that happened, he knew his old man would find out somehow and tracking him down.  It was better just to avoid any problem in the first place.

He could run for it.  That would be his last-ditch plan, because even if he stayed ahead of his father, it wouldn’t do much good to beat the man to the bus stop by 50 feet.  But he might get away clean if he used Jinn.  He thought as he walked.  Jinn could slow his father down somehow – tangle him up or trip him or cause some kind of trouble.  Maybe push a heavy box on his head – he certainly deserved it!

Or… Jinn could help him fly!  He could cast her into his clothes and shoes, and she could lift him right off the ground.  He could jump up someplace impossibly high, or jump down – maybe from the second level to the first level, bypassing the stairs and elevators.

He formed a quick plan.  First, he walked halfway down the mall, looking for likely hiding spots.  The exit nearest the bus stop had a joke and novelty store.  He’d purchased eyeballs, a rubber tongue, and other useful items here.  This time, he bought three dozen realistic plastic flies.  They were bigger than he really wanted, but it was the best he could do.  He put the bag in his backpack, but took a handful for his pocket.  Then he headed back in the opposite direction, directly away from the bus-stop exit.

A quick check in the reflective glass of a store front showed the follower still behind him, five stores back.  He could have used Jinn to check, but the whole charge-look-pop-back thing was a little inconvenient.  In fact, his plan relied on Jinn keeping tabs on his father.  The biggest problem was that if he and Jinn were separated, she wouldn’t know when she needed to come back to him.  What if he needed her, but she was off in a different part of the mall?

He thought through his plan again, trying to figure the timing and coordination.  Finally, he thought he had it.

The store ahead of him sold fine furniture.  Expensive sofas and chairs, dining room tables, beds, and bookcases.  It also had the advantage of being a “pass through” store – it was in the middle section of the mall, and its near and far walls opened onto different hallways.

For once, Jared blessed his small stature.  He walked up to a table, set with decorative candleholders in the middle.  He touched one and charged – putting Jinn into the candleholder, his clothes, shoes, and backpack.  She could straddle it all, provided that he stayed close to the candlestick holder.

The salesman looked into the hallway, and Jared ducked under the table.  Instantly, Jinn lifted him up.  His feet turned out to the sides, to remain flatter.  One hand tucked into his backpack.  Belatedly, he stuck the other into his pocket.  Now Jinn held up everything but his head.  He turned that to the side, pressing his ear to the flat underside of the table.  His head was flatter that way.

It was up to Jinn, now.  That’s why he’d touched the candlestick holder.  With part of her “self” up above the table, she’d be able to keep watch.

Quicker than he expected, he spotted the shoes and pants of his pursuer.  They walked forward briskly, then paused by his table!  Jared tried to breath as shallowly as he could.

“Looking for anything in particular?”  It was the salesman.  He touched something on the table, and Jared could hear him readjusting the candlestick holder.  If the man pulled it more than a few feet away, it would break free of Jinn and she’d have no way to watch, above.  Worse, her concentration might falter for a second, dropping him.

He pressed tighter, trying to hide behind the wood framing that edged the underside of the table.  It provided a four-inch lip that further sheltered him.

Both sets of feet moved on.  A moment later, Jared floated to the ground.  He quickly scrambled to his feet.  Doubling back, he headed out the original door.  At the same time, he withdrew a black plastic fly, charged it, and flicked it toward the far exit – the exit his father had taken.  He set the bezel on his watch – to count seconds, this time.  Jinn was to follow for 30 seconds.  If she couldn’t find him, she’d pop back.

“You!  Kid!  Where’d you come from?”

Jared gave a start.  He hadn’t expected the salesman to care about a young kid.  “What are you talking about?  I’ve just been looking.”

He made his way out of the store and past the salesman.  He was careful to walk in the wrong direction initially.  After a moment, the salesman shrugged and went back to work.

Jinn reported back a minute later.  She’d been a “fly on the wall,” sticking close to the ceiling while she followed her father.  He was headed in the wrong direction, moving slowly as he tried to inconspicuously looked into near-by stores.

Jared charged another fly, and sent it after the first.  This time, she had three minutes to find her father.  If she couldn’t, she’d come back.  He figured he could do without her powers for that long – they were still in public.

For his part, he made his way along he pre-planned route, moving as quickly as he could without attracting notice.  Two minutes later, he was outside and heading for the bus stop.  Ten minutes later, Jinn still hadn’t returned, which was good news.  After thirty minutes, he was on the bus and headed home.  That’s when he felt the flush, as Jinn’s memories washed into him.  It was hard not to smile.

She’d found her father fairly quickly.  He’d still been moving from store to store.  She’d flown down, doing her best to emulate the unpredictable flight path of a fly, and lighted atop of her father’s baseball cap.  From this vantage, she’d ridden along, perfectly tracking her quarry as he moved from store to store, slowly increasing in frustration.  After ten minutes, he’d gone back to prowling the main walkways, hoping to get lucky again.  He’d never even thought to look outside.

It was good news that they’d been able to get away so easily.  The bad news was that next time his father found him, he probably wouldn’t wait.  Given this failure of the subtle approach, if his father spotted him again he’d probably move in immediately to grab his “property.”

But that was a problem for another day.

4: Dressing up

Topeka, Kansas   July 25, Tuesday

It had taken nearly than a month.  A month of urging Jared to try the bra, see how this blouse felt, try the skirt, let’s do your hair.  A month of her being a girl, him wanting it desperately, and going into denial.  A month of pointing out how useful the disguise would be, for avoiding his father.  And despite their very different opinions on the matter, they were the same person.

The entire difference seemed to be that there were major biological components to emotion and thought.  A perfect example was facing up to their father.  Jared froze, she didn’t.  But they were the same person.  Nearly any emotion was richer for him than it was for her.

When it came down to it, he was scared and she wasn’t.

They both knew how much he wanted to do this.  She’d had the clothes ready for weeks.  But when push came to shove, he chickened out.  Well, not today.  After waking, the plan had come to her.  She’d packed the extra clothes.  Of course, he knew that as soon as they merged, but he hadn’t unpacked them.

So she worked on him.

“Look, ever since the bit with your father, we’ve hit random malls, right?  And this one is, what, twenty-three miles?  There’s no way anyone we know will be there.  It’s Tuesday, so the crowd’s light.  I’m a brunette now, so your father shouldn’t recognize me.  If you’re a girl, he won’t be able to recognize you, either.

He’d finally uttered the fateful words.  “I’ll try.”

hr1

Jinn studied the new girl with a critical eye.  Girl-Jared was wearing her favorite panties with the triple frill.  Despite her fears, you could see how happy “she’d” been to slide on the half-slip, to fasten on the small training bra.  Each and every step moved her a little closer to being the girl she needed to be.  Now Jinn stepped back to examine the entire effect.

The girl wore a light green sleeveless blouse that didn’t quite reach her waist.  A glimpse of belly button showed through.  Her tube skirt came to mid thigh, and she wore open-toed sandals.  There was no way she’d ever pass as a more grown-up girl, not at 4’ 9”, but she looked fine as a precocious pre-adolescent girl – perhaps eleven or twelve.  A twelve that looked definitely eager for sixteen.  But it was nice to know that the hair worked.  They’d been letting Jared’s hair grow out for a couple of months now.  It was just long enough for the boy to keep it in a pony tail, low on his neck.  The girl wore it loose, brushed out, reaching to almost her shoulders.  It hung almost straight, except that it tended to curl in slightly at the bottom.  Overall, it tended to emphasize the oval shape of ‘her’ face.  It also seemed to hide her, slightly.  When ‘he’ had it pulled back, his face was completely exposed.  But ‘she’ was almost surrounded by her hair.  When she tipped her head forward or looked at her feet, the oval of hair fell in around her face, hiding her.

Like much of his looks, Jared had inherited the hair from his now-departed mother.  A complexion that looked slightly tan, a modest Asian cast to the eyes, and that beautiful straight, sable-black hair.  Jinn cocked her head, studying the new girl.  To be honest, the slightly flatter face made it look like she still had a bit of baby fat (even more emphasized by the shape of her face).  The small nose looked good, especially on a young girl.

“You pass,” Jinn decided.  “How do you feel?”

They’d carefully picked a name for the new girl.  She was “Jade.”  It had implications of China more than Japan, but they both like it a lot.  “Jade” came out of the stall and looked in the mirror.  Suddenly her eyes were glistening with unshed tears.  “It feels really good,” she said quietly.

“Ready to admit it?  That this is what you want for real and forever?”

“Ji-inn!  I haven’t even been out in public yet.”

The taller, older-seeming brunette took the hand of the shorter, Asian girl.  “Then come on, girlfriend.  We’re finally going to get those ears pierced.”

hr1

He walked through the mall as if he were walking the streets of heaven itself.  He kept thinking to himself, I am JADE.  A girl.  I’m not a boy any more.  And it worked!  People looked, but they gave him normal looks.

His feelings were hardly a surprise, more confirmation.  Was this was who he wanted to be?  Could he become “Jade” for real?  Could he leave “Jared” behind forever?

But it all came down to small steps.  Dressing, walking in public like this was something he’d worked up to for weeks.  Getting ‘her’ ears pierced made for a pretty big second step.

When the jewelry counter had an unexpected line, ‘Jade’ took a seat and picked up a copy of Seventeen to read.  Someday... she thought to herself, daring to dream about being a real girl, and growing up female.

“Shall I hang with you?” Jinn asked her.

Jade shook her head, more than content to be out in public, dressed as she was.  “I’d like you back here to hold my hand… when it happens.  But my appointment doesn’t come up for thirty minutes.  You want to wander, don’t you?”

“And how!”

“Okay, let me -”  but Jinn was already extending a hand for a quick charge.  Both girls twisted the dials on their watches to mark off 50 minutes from now.

hr1

She prowled.  She walked the mall, like any normal person.  People still gave her occasional odd looks.  Many of them would recognize something familiar in her Madonna-mask face.  It was a lot easier now that she’d abandoned the blonde wig.  So the people would shrug and move on.  They usually attributed it to her eclectic clothing selection.  Who could follow teen fashions these days?  And there was no shortage of oddly-dressed fifteen-year-old girls in the mall.  So she had a thing for electric blue, or Hello Kitty, or leggings and sandals.  Partly it was a mix she was experimenting with, partly it was because she was colorblind, and partly because she was limited in what she could acquire from the incinerator bins.

She came to the makeup counter, but quickly moved on.  It was interesting, but she couldn’t let them examine her face too closely.  What would they do if they realized it wasn’t skin?  So she moved on, perpetually trying to copy the walk and mannerisms of the other girls her age.

The next shop was a bank outlet, where there appeared to be a robbery in progress.  After that was the figurines and collectables store.

She stopped and looked back into the bank.  Yep.  Every single person with a glassy-eyed stare, except for the man in the tailored pinstripe suite, who seemed to be directing them.

Unsure quite what to do, she stepped in.  There was an alarm panic button on the far wall.  She began to stride forward.

“Oh Miss!”  It was Mr. Pinstripe, calling out to her.  His voice was silky and rich.  “Miss, don’t you care at all what I say?  I’d really like just a moment of your time.  I’m sure we’d both be happier if you helped me out here.”

“Yeah, right,” she muttered, heading faster for the switch.

“Stop her!” Pinstripe shouted, and immediately a wall of men and women stepped forward.  Before she knew what to do, they had grabbed her by the upper arms and spun her around to face Mr. Pinstripe.

She struggled for a moment.  She figured she now had her father beat for strength – but four adults holding her was too much.  She still might have gotten clear if she’d dropped everything but her gloves, but there was no way she was going to abandon her face mask.

“Odd.  Perhaps it’s the glasses.”  He reached forward to remove her glasses, then stopped when he got a look at her over-sized eyes, with the impossibly colorful irises.

She was forced to stare back into his eyes.  To her unusual vision his irises glowed ultra-violet.  But his pupils – those were harsh, bright points of ultra-violet flame.

“Wow, nice eyes, mister.”

“I should say the same for you, young lady.  Well, I suppose that explains it.  What kind of mutant are you?”

“Why?  You planning to shoot me now?  What did you do, hypnotize them all?”

He waved a hand negligently.  “They apparently found themselves entranced by the sound of my voice.  I admit, it’s a gift I have.  As for shooting people – please!  I may be a bit lax about ideas of property and ownership, but I like to think I have some style.”  He looked at the wooden populace in the bank office and then shrugged sheepishly.  “Well, I was running short, you know.  Needed a little withdrawal.”  Then he looked back at her.  “So young.  You aren’t even sixteen, are you?”

That stopped her.  “Uh… beg pardon?”

But he was already lost in reminiscence.  “Ah, high school.  You wouldn’t believe some of the stunts we pulled back then.  They wanted me to go pro, of course.  Too much trouble, really.  I’m happy enough with a nice standard of living.  But kids these days?  They’ve got no style, no understanding.  They get a couple of new powers and they think they can suddenly smash everything in their way.”

He wasn’t making a bit of sense.  “Uh, right.  Gosh, it’s been really great catching up, but I have to be going…”

He turned back to stare into her face.  “Nothing at all.  You have a nice resistance, if nothing else.  Could you at least blink?”

She shrugged.  “Sorry, I can’t.  It’s sort of… part of my condition.”

He stared at her again, blinking his own eyes several times.  “How very disconcerting.”  Then, collecting himself, “well, I must say, you’ve been quite polite – for one of the younger generation, that is.”  He leaned close to peer at her again.  “Say, you aren’t getting some sort of mentoring, are you?  No, ah, older mutants near-by, showing you the ropes?”

“…older mutants?”  The thought collided with his earlier comment about her being a mutant.  She’d passed it off before, thinking that her fake eyes had fooled him.  But it gradually dawned on her that she was a mutant.  That is, in her Jared body.  “There are other mutants out there, aren’t there?”

The man in pinstripe was scribbling on the back of a card.  “Indeed there are, although it’s nice to know that Topeka remains delightfully free of the scourge.  Ourselves excepted, of course.”  He quietly added, “And this might get rid of you, too.”  Then, reaching over, he pressed the card into her hand.  “You might give these people a call.  It’s worth checking into, at least.  Eyes like that.”

Then, collecting a set of money sacks from a pair of helpful tellers and an eager-to-please branch manager, the man in pinstripes sauntered away.

“Ta ta!  Let me know how it works out.  Leave a note for me at the alumni association!”

hr1

Jared – rather, ‘Jade’ – was still waiting when a breathless Jinn returned.

She doesn’t even breathe.  How can she be breathless? he wondered.  He didn’t say anything, just raised one eyebrow.  They knew each other’s body language.

She sat next to him and leaned close to whisper.

“Mutant!  Robbed the bank!  I tried to stop him.  Somehow, people heard his voice and just did whatever he said.  Didn’t work on me, though.”

“Did he hurt you?”  Could she even be hurt?  He reached over and gave her a quick charge-up, then re-adjusted his watch.

“No.  He had them hold me.  Said we were the only two mutants in Topeka.”  It dawned on Jared that he was a mutant.  It was the only explanation for his strange ability to summon Jinn.  And he knew there were plenty of other mutants out there -

“That’s not all,” Jinn whispered.  “He gave me this!”

She held up the card so Jared could see it:

Whateley Academy
Dunwich, New Hampshire
(505) 666-7777

On the back was scrawled, “Melodious Silvertongue, class of ‘87.”

They looked at it in puzzlement.

“Jade?  You’re next, honey.”

Jinn held her hand as she walked gleefully forward.  This was now her second step on the road toward becoming a woman.

hr1

“Whateley Academy.  How may I help you?”  The woman on the other end sounded like a typical bored clerk.

“I – I’m not sure.  I met this man in a mall, and he said something about mentoring and other people” his voice dropped “like me.”

The voice on the other end almost drawled her boredom.  “Ah, let me guess.  A teenager new to her powers, right?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”  He was calling with the Lasaters’ phone.  He’d asked permission a week ago, then waited until they were both out of the house for the evening.  He was just sure he was going to have to mention words like “powers” and “mutant”, and he didn’t want them to overhear.

“Well, honey, we get applicants from all over.  I can send you the forms, no charge.  You’re advised to be discreet with the material.  If that checks out, and I’m not saying it will ‘cause we get lots more asking than actually get in, you hear what I’m saying?  But if it does check out they’ll want to give you testing in person for both your academics and so-called powers.  And if they find out you’re cheating on any of that, well, more than a few people have been plenty sorry.

“So, you still interested?”

“Uh, yes.  Please.”

“Alright.  Give me your name and address.  The packet should arrive in two to three business days.”

hr1

It actually took a full week before it arrived.  When the thick package did finally show up, he was so excited that he wanted to read everything at once.

“Here you go, Jared.”  Jerry was polite to him, as always.  Distant, but polite.  “It looks like it’s from that private school you were talking about.”

“Thanks!”  He grabbed it out of the older man’s hands and tore up the stairs.

“I don’t want to be a stick-in-the-mud, but you do realize that you’re currently a ward of the state, don’t you?  You’d need your case worker’s approval.  And the state isn’t going to be providing tuition for any expensive private schools, much less out-of-state -”

The door slamming cut off the annoying voice.  Jared instantly slapped the gloves-and-speaker, charging Jinn into them.  That way, he could look through things twice as fast.  He ripped open the package while the gloves floated anxiously beside him.

“I’m taking the brochure,” he told her.  “You couldn’t see the pictures in color anyway.  Why don’t you look over the admission form?”

At first, he was scared.  The brochure looked completely ordinary.  The front was dominated by a picture of ivy-covered brick buildings, set against a backdrop of stately oak and maple with the riotous reds and yellows of a New England fall.  In the foreground a collection of well-to-do students were walking, and seemed to be discussing some academic subject.  Three students wore what appeared to be a school uniform, while a fourth wore casual prep-style clothing.  One of the students was female, one black.  It looked as ‘ivy league’ as you could imagine.  He opened the brochure, expecting a discourse on how attendance would improve his chances of entering Harvard.

The interior immediately dispelled his doubts.  On the left, a caped figure floated in mid-air, holding a helpless young woman and using his own body to shield her from the incoming rain of gunfire.  On the opposite page, a man in a tailored suit held a crown and scepter, while draped negligently over a royal throne.  At his feet, supplicants kneeled in homage, amidst a wealth of loosely scattered coins.

Jared’s eyes bugged out and he began to read.

hr1

“Okay, listen to this,” Jinn said.  “ ‘I can regularly and reliably use the following powers.’  It’s got a check off list.  And listen to some of these:  ‘Disintegration, Domination, Elemental affinity, Flight, Invisibility, Resurrection (with entries for self or other), Superhuman strength, Time control, Transmutation…’ “

“Anything that applies to us?”

“Hmmm, maybe.  Telekinesis?”

“Well, yeah, sort of.”

“Okay.  How about astral projection?”

He scrunched his face up.  “I don’t think so.  Not really.  Can’t people like that fly to the other side of the world, just by thinking of it?  And they pass through walls and stuff.”

“Okay, no check.  How about clairvoyance?”

“Yeah, I guess.  That’s probably as close as anything.”

hr1

“Here’s something,” he said.

“Who’s the guy in the picture?” she asked, floating in over his shoulder.  “I can’t quite make it out.”

The picture was of a gigantic man – probably seven feet tall – hovering angrily above an enraged mob.

“Heinrich Harnhold.”

“The Übermensch of Berlin?”

“Yeah.  The caption says the shot is from 1943, when Germany’s ‘Theme Operatives’ reached their peak.”

“Whoa.”

“It fits.  Listen: ‘The Academy exists to prepare new mutants and other students of power to exist successfully in a world of normal men.  A world that outnumbers us a million to one.  A world that we may choose to protect or exploit depending on our own calling, but a world that we must always respect.  For history teaches that when the powerful war against the normal, both sides are devastated.’ “

hr1

“We’re going,” she said abruptly.  “I don’t care how.  We’re going.”

“What?  Why?”  He tried to look at the admission form she was working on, but it seemed to be about a hundred pages thick.

“Okay, I was filling this out.  Listen to this.  ‘Sex:  Male  Female  Complicated’ “

“Complicated?  What the hell does that mean?”

He got the sense she was staring at him, as in perfect synchronization they said, “Think alike.”

“Okay,” she continued.  “So the ‘complicated’ entry cross-references sexual preference on page fourteen, but that sent me on to fill out the following on page sixty-two.  ‘Please fill in as closely as possible:’

‘My powers or incidents associated with them, are/have transformed me:

‘to have no gender’

‘to become more masculine’

‘to become more feminine’

‘to exhibit characteristics of multiple genders’ “

They both focused on the second to the last line.  It took a moment for Jared to realize what this meant.  It was so common that they had a check box on the entry form!

“You’re right,” he agreed.  “We’re going.”

hr1

Once the reply had come through, it had taken him a week and a half to earn round-trip bus fare to Kansas City.  Now he was sitting in a Kansas City police station in a sealed, soundproof interrogation room across from “Sergeant Everest.”  This was his “powers” interview.  The sergeant was seven feet tall, four feet wide, and looked tough enough to enjoy a diet of nails and bricks.  It didn’t help that the interrogation room had a low-level stench of fear, from the thousands of interrogations performed here.

“Okay, this is first of all to make sure you really got the juice,” the sergeant rumbled in a nearly subsonic bass, “and to give a first stab at classifying you.  I’m no expert on that, but I can give a starting point.  Also, something to keep in mind is that a lot of the stuff on the entry packet is deliberately made up.  It weeds out the loonies, and helps in case that info is released to the public.  I mean, like anyone’s going to be talking to me, after they’re practiced ‘creating anti-matter.’  Yeah, right.  So, don’t rely on any of that junk, but use your own words to tell me what you do.”

Jared had been too scared to dress as a girl for this, and now he was almost regretting it.  Dressing as a girl always made him a little more comfortable and confident.  Of course, being Jinn made him downright cocky.  Still, he gathered his courage.  He wanted to be completely honest, since this was so important.

“Well, I can sort of ‘charge’ things up.  Like gloves.  Or a whole outfit even.  Or just objects like a paint brush and paint can.  And while things are ‘charged’ it’s like I’m two people.  The charge lasts for almost 55 minutes these days.  Anyway, when I’m her – I call myself ‘Jinn’ when I’m charged into something, it’s like I’m a regular person, but the only way I can touch the real world is through the things I was charged into – if that makes sense.  So, if I like charged a pair of gloves, then it’s like my hands are in the gloves.  But no matter how I try, I can’t shift the charge into some other object.  But I can pick things up with my gloves.  Do you understand?”

The sergeant made some rapid notes on his pad.  He picked up a thick leather reference book, but Jared couldn’t spot the title.  After quickly flipping to an appropriate section, the sergeant asked several more questions.

“Okay, how far away can you be while this is going on?”

Jared shrugged.  “Which me?  In the physical body you mean?  I haven’t really found a limit yet.  We got up to twenty miles once, before the time limit ran out.”

“Oh, so you’re awake while all this is happening?  Eh, strange.  Okay, what happens when the TK construct fades?”

Jared shrugged and smiled.  “Then I suddenly remember both of my experiences.  Physical and non-physical.”  He’d almost said, ‘in this flesh and as her.’

“Okay.  Well, let’s get a strength test.”  The sergeant gestured at a rack of weights.  “Do your thing and let’s see how much you can lift.”

Jared pulled out the pair of gloves that he always carried with him.  He decided to add the speaker as well.  He charged them, and watched the speaker float into position about where Jinn’s mouth should be.

“Okay,” she said.  “I’m ready.”

The huge policeman motioned to the rack of free weights.  “Start at the bottom and work your way up.  Let me know when you reach your limit.”

Jared already knew reasonably well, but he was pleased that Jinn followed the instructions.  He wondered if she was bending down or just sinking into the floor to get the lower weights.  Finally, she began to collect combinations.

“It’s getting kind of awkward to hold in one hand,” she admitted.  “But it looks like about 180 pounds.”

“Hmm,” the sergeant made a note.  “And if you use both hands?”

“You know, it’s odd.  I’ve noticed that too, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference whether I use one hand or both hands.”

“Right.  How about reps?  Can you lift and lower them several times?”

The gloves holding the weights began to bob up and down.  “All day long.  Or at least, until I run out of charge.  I don’t get tired.  Of course, ‘exercise’ doesn’t seem to make me any stronger, either.”

“Right.  Now a couple of fine tests.”  He handed the gloves a pen and piece of paper.  “Write ‘Peter Piper.’  You know, the whole thing.”

Jared watched as Jinn put the page on the desk and neatly wrote out the requested sentence.  He’d always been proud of his handwriting.

“Okay, same pen, do this maze.”  She did.  “Good.  Now, look through this microscope.  You’ll see some tiny beads on that slide.  Sort the red ones to the left and the yellow ones to the right.”

The gloves spread in apology.  “Do you have a needle or something I can use?  And the microscope is just in the way.  I don’t see with light.”

“Here.”  The sergeant handed her a toothpick.

Jinn fumbled with it for a minute, but was no better than Jared would have been in her place.  In other words, not too successful.  It wasn’t until much later that he realized that he could have charged up the slide and beads.

The sergeant flipped back and forth in the book, before finally copying some results over to a complex form.  “Right.  I’ve got your telekinesis down.  You’re classed as a TK-2d.  Good dexterity, approximately human strength.  Let’s look at the esper side, now.”  He peered at Jared.  “You can be in the other room, right?”

“Yeah.  I mean, she can do whatever she wants, even if I go into the other room.”

“Okay.  Step outside.  I’ll call you back in a few minutes.”

Jared nodded and stepped outside.  It wasn’t very comfortable sitting on a bench, watching sleazy suspects come and go as they were herded around for interrogation.  At least they were all escorted.  After about five minutes, the door opened and Sergeant Everest called him back in.

“Okay,” the big man rumbled, “what did you see?”

“Uh, sir, I can’t tell you that until Jinn over there lets go and comes back to me.”

“Do it.”

And he remembered.  “Oh, yeah.  Well, you had us read from that book – Power Classification, Testing, and Limitations.  Is Whateley Press connected with the Academy?”

“Uh huh.  Keep going.”

“You had me look at the nine of clubs inside that dark box, proving I could see in the dark.  I described your aura colors as you tried to make yourself happy and sad.  You suddenly lashed out and hit me,” Jared rubbed his left hand, “not that it hurt or anything, and you had me look at some super-tiny etching, but I couldn’t see it.”

“Right.  I make that,” again he consulted the book, “An Esper-3 (clairvoyant/aura reader) unlimited range.  And for the weird part,” he scribbled on the complex form again, “I’m tentatively putting you down as a manifestor, with a second astral body.”  He flipped through the book once more.  “Or should that be as a wizard with one spell, or an avatar: disconnected?  Damn this new system!”

While the sergeant wrote, Jared collected the gloves and speaker from where they’d fallen.

He finally finished writing.  “Well, that’s that.  I’ve already seen your academics.  Above average, but nothing to write home about.  Still, they’ll probably offer you a hardship scholarship.”

Jared couldn’t believe his ears.  “What, you mean I’m in?  I was able to lift enough?”

“Naw.  Your TK’s no great shakes, but who knows, you might develop.  The esper-3 is a bit more unusual, particularly with your mobility.  Man, we could use you in the department starting today.  The perfect spy, undetectable except to specific types of other mutants.  It’s the reliability that’s always the hard part, and you’ve got that cold.”

“I’m in…?”

The sergeant slid a sealed packet across the desk to him.  “Here’s the final entry forms.  I’ll be sending off my evaluation separately.  You’ll want to get those in the mail pretty quickly.  The new year starts in just over four weeks.  If you want to arrange for a scholarship and forms, that’s cutting it pretty close – especially since I see you’re a ward of the state.  That means an extra round of paperwork.”

The huge man nodded to himself, then added more quietly, “They told me you were a Category Three.  I don’t care about why, although I’m guessing it has something to do with the ward of the state business.  You’ll have to give the admissions office your real and assumed names, but for all public activity, you’ll use the new name.  Details are inside.  Don’t feel bad about it, lots of folks use it.  Protecting their families, some types of body change.”  He gestured at himself.  “It means that you can make up your own handle and identity when you finish the application.  Don’t worry.  You can choose an official tag later, in your senior year.  But this lets you pick one for use with the other students.”

hr1

And so it was that Jared found himself on a train speeding toward New Hampshire.  He’d gotten a lot more experience dressing.  He’d been a girl for almost a day at the time as he wandered malls and meandered though the city with his “big sister.”

It was excruciating and delightful, all at the same time.  Delightful as he let himself believe that this was real, that he really was a girl, that he would be this way forevermore.  Delightful in being able to act and behave in ways that were finally allowing the real person inside to emerge.  He wasn’t sure exactly who she was yet, but he desperately wanted to find out.

He’d read the information through, fifteen different times.  The rules seemed to allow it, his unique circumstances qualified him.  He was allowed entry under the name, race, culture, gender, and species of his choice, with the rights and responsibilities to dress, act, and in all ways behave appropriate to his assumed identity.

He shrank at the danger and the audacity, but Jinn’s confidence pushed him forward.  His entry into Whateley would be his only big opportunity for years to come.  Could he pull of the disguise, the lie, in a full-time boarding school?  And what if he finally entered puberty?  He had a wild idea that the reason he still looked twelve was that his body simply refused to go through puberty as a boy.  And while he didn’t want to be twelve forever, that was a ton better than turning into a boy.  But… living as a girl, full time?  That meant rooming with other girls, sleepovers, maybe they could teach her fashion and makeup.  It meant sharing secrets, trying new clothes, learning how to be pretty.  His mind was filled with the wonder that seemed almost within reach.  But it also probably meant eternal hatred and being completely ostracized from his school, his friends, and everyone that he’d grown close to if his lie was discovered.  It might well mean that he’d be beaten to a pulp or killed, as anger turned to rage.  He knew things like that happened.

Oddly enough, the danger didn’t seem to matter as much as betraying the friends.  That would be the hardest part.

But the opportunity!

So, with Jinn pushing on one side, and his experience and happiness with dressing pushing on the other side, he ignored his fears.  He listed his circumstances (as best he could in the spaces they had on their forms).  In his registration, he deliberately gave a new name and gender.  “She” was now registered as “Jade Sinclair.”  There was a delicious shiver as Jared contemplated that “she” would have to think of herself as a girl, full-time now.  She would never more be “Jared.”

Which brought her back to the train she was now on.  She had a small suitcase filled with feminine clothing – there wasn’t a stitch of ugly boys clothes.  This would be all or nothing.  Her pierced ears proudly displayed a pair of small Jade balls, to match her new name.

She was about to enter high school, not as the abused son of a drunken widower father, but as the orphaned daughter with a hidden and mysterious past, who had gained an inexplicable ability.

Beside her on the seat, a toy stuffed lion danced and cavorted, as if it were feeling as gleeful as she was.  She glanced around, ensuring that it was out of sight of the other passengers, then smiled indulgently.

She couldn’t wait to begin her freshman year!

The end

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A Whateley Academy Story

Enter The Chaka!

By Bek D Corbin

August 31st, Thursday

I woke up, and the first thing that went through my mind was, ‘Finally! Today’s the day!’ I literally flipped out of bed, landing on the balls of my feet in a near perfect gymnast’s dismount, and made for the bathroom.

HR

Vince watched his younger brother zip out the door. ‘Wonderful,’ he thought to himself, ‘the goddam freak is finally leaving.’ Vince pulled himself out of his bed. Vince was in a lousy mood, and for all the world, he didn’t know why. He was finally getting rid of his little brother. No more watching as Tony preened in front of the mirror, checking the progress as his body got more and more feminine. No more worrying whether the kids at school were noticing that his little brother was turning into a freak. No more having to listen as Tony went on and on about his Aikido lessons, and how if he did this, his Ki would do that. No more watching Tony do impossible things like jumping up to a second story window. Nope, no more of that. They’d found a school for freaks like him, and Tony was going there, hopefully to stay. So, why didn’t he feel better?

HR

The thing that really pissed Vince off was that Tony was so fucking happy about it all. He was actually happy that he was turning into a girl! He was actually glad that he was some kind of mutant freak, who’d probably wind up growing claws and fangs and things! Why couldn’t he just stay his little brother and be a normal boy? His life had been perfect until Tony started taking those idiot Aikido lessons and all this fell out of the closet...

HR

I came bounding back into the room, and noticed Vince giving me the cold fish eye. “Well, look at the bright side, Bro! One less person in line for the bathroom!”

“How did you do all that so quickly?”

“Believe me, you don’t wanna know.” I went into my warming up Tai Chi Chu’an routine as Vince climbed into his clothes. With the last bit of the routine done, I stripped out of the pee-jays that I’d slept in, and pulled on a pair of lacy pink panties.

Vince almost tied himself up into a knot doing a wince of revulsion. “Do you HAVE to do that here?”

“Hey, it’s my room, too- for the next hour or so. If you don’t want to see this, why don’t you just go downstairs and wait for someone to cook you breakfast?”

“Why should _I_ leave? It’s MY bedroom!”

“Yeah, and YOU’RE the one getting all weirded out!” I struggled for a bit with a lacy bra that matched the panties, and then tucked my B cup breasts into the cups. That done, I looked into the mirror and bounced a bit. My breasts bounced securely in the cups, and the pink contrasted nicely with the bittersweet chocolate brown of my complexion. I smiled at the effect and saw a lovely picture in the mirror. Y’know someday, I’m going to get used to this; in the mean time, I’m just gonna enjoy!

“Jeezus KRIST, don’t _DO_ that!” Vince spat out.

“Vince, what is your problem? All summer long, you’ve been bitching at me to wear those stupid baggy clothes, even though you know that I HATE those ratty ‘Hip-hop’ things that you’ve been handing down to me for the last five years.” I cannot stand Gangsta Rap, largely because big brother Vince, a.k.a. ‘.44 Mag Vin’ was so heavy (and in a totally whack way) into it. I pulled on a baby blue demi-T with a glittery butterfly decal on the front, and a pair of low-riding blue jeans.

HR

Vince curled a lip at Tony. Dressed up like that, Tony made a very pretty young African American girl. Tony was thin, but he wasn’t the scrawny thin that he’d been last year. Now he was a sort of sleek, pantherish thin, with just enough curves to suggest the beginnings of a killer female figure. Tony’s face was heart-shaped with a pointed chin, very high cheekbones, a leonine nose, a large pair of amber colored almond-shaped eyes, and a wide mouth with full lips. The features, set on Tony’s long graceful neck, all joined together to create a rather feline impression. The fact that Tony’s hair was trimmed close to his head didn’t make him seem more masculine- too many girls wore exactly the same style. Even without any jewelry or makeup, Tony made a Stone Cold Babe. Three years ago, Vince would have made a total fool of himself to get next to a girl who looked like that. Vince made a disgusted sound. “Y’know, dressin’ like that still ain’t gonna make you White!”

HR

I shot a hard look at Vince in his jeans that buckled nearly at the knee, ‘muscle T’, flannel over-shirt, big belt buckle, and do-rag. Man, I have been taking this shit for too long. There is no way that I’m gonna leave without letting ‘.44 Mag Vin’ know what I really think. “Yeah, and dressing like that ain’t gonna make you Tough. Vince, we do NOT live in a rat-infested tenement in Bed-Sty! We live in Pleasant Oaks, our parents are married and well employed, nobody in this family does drugs- and if you’ve even SEEN crack cocaine, I’m telling Dad!- and the closest that you’ve ever come to being ‘Put down by The Man’ is getting pulled over for Driving While Black! You don’t have to go out and pull crimes to support this family, ‘cause Mom and Dad both pull down six-figure a year salaries, plus bennies. You wouldn’t know what to do with a gun even if you found one, and if you ever even suggested to your girlfriend Muriel that she turn tricks, she’d pound the crap out of you! The only _Posse_ that you got are those six shit-head Gangsta-wannabe friends of yours, and two of THEM are whiteboy wussoids who are even bigger losers than YOU are! We are well-off! Get used to it.” Even at fourteen, my voice is still smooth and clear, without a hint of cracking, and I can use it like a whip. Of course, it helps that I have all the real ammunition.

“F’ the luvvakrist, why don’t you at least try to be a Man, y’fucking sissy?”

“ ‘Be a Man’? ‘Sissy’? Hey, _I_ ain’t the one who just stood by while his six loser friends jumped his brother and tried to beat the crap out of him. And then shit in his drawers when that brother wiped up the floor with the aforementioned losers!”

Vince got up in Tony’s face. “Yer a goddamn disgrace to this entire family!”

“Disgrace? Me? Hey, I’M the one who has an all-expenses paid scholarship to an exclusive New England Private School! You? You’re a second string athlete on three mediocre teams! And with your grades, you’ll be lucky if Dad can grease you into a college that’s even in the same Zip Code as an Ivy League school.” I glared up at him, square in the eyes. “What’s really got you pissed off, Vince? That I’m turning into a girl, or that I’m a mutant, or that now I’m stronger, faster, tougher and smarter than you are? Don’t worry, Bro- maybe some day, you’ll evolve into a higher life form, too!”

Vince went red in the eye, stepped back, cocked his fist and let fly. Not bothering to move, I calmly caught Vince’s fist in the palm of my hand, and didn’t budge an inch. Vince looked into my eyes, and saw rage there. I have taken so much shit from this chucklehead that I am not about to take any more, especially on this, of all days! He tried to wrestle his fist free from my grip, but couldn’t. I could tell that he could feel something building up in me, something invisible and silent, but still ominously strong. HR

But before Tony could unleash whatever it was, Valerie Chandler opened up the door to her sons’ room and walked in. “Are you two decent? OH!” She saw Vince and Tony. “And exactly what is THIS?”

Tony let go of Vince’s hand. “Oh, nothing, Mom. Just getting in a little ‘male bonding’ while we still can.”

Valerie looked at her two elder sons, decided that it wasn’t worth the aggravation, and gave that sigh that only a mother can give. “Okay, but come down to the kitchen- I want us all to have a breakfast together as a family. After that, well you know that there’s always something the pops up at the last minute, and we have to be at the train station at Eleven. Tony, honey, are you going to be wearing that on the train?”

“Sure!”

“But why are you wearing one of Cindy’s hand-me-downs? We spent most of the weekend buying you girl clothes to wear at Whateley.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t want to waste any of my new stuff on the train. You know, sitting next to the guy who gets motion sickness, the idiot who’s carrying coffee past me just as we hit a rough spot, not to mention the joys of eating on a train.” Besides, it would probably drive Cindy crazy to see Tony wearing her old clothes.

HR

Big Sister Cindy didn’t disappoint. When she came down for breakfast, she took one look at me and shrieked, “Those are MY jeans! And MY baby-Tee! What are you doing in MY clothes?”

I just kept chewing peacefully. Cindy is SO EASY. “Eating.”

“You go upstairs and change out of them right now!”

“Cindy, you haven’t worn these things in over a year. And you know the Rule: If you haven’t worn it in a year, it’s handed down. B’sides, they don’t fit you anymore. Though they might if you laid off the Rocky Road.” Y’know, I really shouldn’t enjoy razzing Cindy so much, but I really can’t help it. Even more than Vince, Cindy has me pigeon-holed: I’m the brother than she can get away with ordering around. I’m the one who doesn’t get the grades that she does. I’m the one who isn’t in all the committees and clubs and teams that she is. I’m the one who doesn’t get picked to be the lead in the school play. I’m the one who makes her look even more like the perfect child that she needs to be.

Or, at least I wasn’t. Things have changed.

Twelve-year old Lucy glared at me. <Hmmph!> “I wanted to wear that! By the time that you’re through with it, it’ll be all worn out!”

“Luce, by the time that you’re big enough to fit these, they’ll be way out of date.” I leaned over and whispered, “Besides, if _I_ wear them all out, Mom’ll have to break down and buy you something NEW. And aren’t you sick and tired of wearing Cindy’s hand-me-downs?” Despite their big-time careers, Mom and Dad have FIVE children to pay for in a bad economy. So, they use old-fashioned money-saving tricks like handing clothes down and jumping at the opportunity to send one of their children to a private school for _free_. Indeed, the only reason that Mom had sprung for the new clothes, was that she wanted me to make a good impression up at Whateley.

A calculating look crossed Lucy’s face, and she started complimenting me on how good I looked.

HR

Joel Chandler came down to breakfast, and did a double take when he realized that the lovely young girl sitting at the kitchen table was his son, Tony. “Ahhh... Looking Good, Tony!”

“Thanks, Daddy!”

Joel almost managed to not flinch when Tony called him ‘Daddy’. “So, are you excited about going to Whateley today?”

“You betcherass!”

“Tony!”

“Sorry.”

Nine year old Matt, or ‘Mutt’ as Vince sometimes called him, looked hard at his next-to-eldest brother and tried to figure out why Tony was dressed like that. “Why does Tony have to go to school t’day? School don’t start ‘til next week!”

Valerie put a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon in front of the baby of the family and said, “Well, honey, Tony isn’t going to the same school as Vince this year-”

“Thank You, Jesus!’ Vince intoned with rare sincerity and piety.

Valerie resumed, “Tony’s going to a boarding school that’s up in New Hampshire, and they want all new students to go up there and get used to the place before school starts.”

“Why does he have to go to New Ham’shire? Why can’t he go to school here?”

Lucy smiled widely. “I heard Mom and Dad talking- it’s ‘cause Tony’s got Super Powers!” She pointed her hands at Tony and made noises like energy discharging. <Sha-Kow!>

“Howcum Tony gets super powers, an’ I don’t?”

“ ‘Cause you aren’t old enough.” Tony replied with the calm certainty of an expert.

“What’s that got t’do with anything?”

“Mutt, I’m what’s called a Mutant. I’m born with certain kinds of things that most people aren’t born with.” Tony made a point of ignoring the disgusted noise that Vince made by way of comment. “But they don’t become active, until you hit puberty. Mine kicked in about five months ago, while I was at my Aikido dojo. It took a while for Mom and Dad a while to find the Whateley Academy, and by then, it was summer, and the Academy didn’t want to start me until the beginning of the regular school year.”

“What’s all that got t’do with me not getting super powers?” By the irrefutable logic of a 9-year-old, if one family member got super powers, then so should everyone.

“Matt, it’s not like Mom and Dad got a super power in the mail and decided to give it to ME. You’re either born a Mutant, or you’re not. I was born a Mutant, and it’s too soon to be sure about you two munchkins.”

Matt perked up. “Y’mean I might still be a Mutant?”

Valerie jumped in. “It’s not that simple, Matt. There are a lot of drawbacks to being a Mutant, and one of the reasons that Tony’s going to that school is to learn to deal with them. You should be glad if you don’t turn out to be a Mutant.” Naturally, this levelheaded maternal advice went in one 9-year-old ear and out the other. Matt was too hyped on the possibility that he might have super powers.

Further discussion was cut short by the sound of a knocking at the kitchen door. Joel held up a hand and went to the door. “Oh, good. He’s right here.” He opened the door and let in two fourteen-year-old boys.

“Thanks, Mister Chandler.”

HR

It was Scott and Greg, my two best buds. What were they doing here? Dad turned to me. “Tony, you haven’t told Scott or Greg why you’re leaving. I think that you owe them an explanation as to what’s going down.”

Scott and Greg goggled at me in stereo. “Tony? Man, is that YOU?”

I let out a gusty sigh. “Yeah it’s me.” Then I looked around the kitchen at all the focused family attention. “Can we take this into the living room?” Scott and Greg nodded and moved through the kitchen. I glared at those who started to get up from the table, and then joined my friends.

Once we were (reasonably) alone, Scott said, “Tony? What IS this? You goin’ fag on us, or somethin’? And what’s this about you goin’ to some outta state school?”

I held up a hand for silence. “Okay, it’s like this. You guys know that things have been kinda weird for me lately.”

Greg folded his arms across his chest and glared at me. “No shit!”

“Guys, you remember a few weeks back, when I jumped over that ten-foot high fence in a single leap?”

“Yeah- you said that it was something that you learned at that Aikido school that you go to. I been buggin’ my Dad to let me take classes.”

“Well, that wasn’t completely true. I did learn how to do that at the Dojo, but it isn’t anything that Mister Colliard can teach you. Guys, I’m a mutant.”

“A Mutant? Y’mean like all those superheroes an’ stuff?”

“Not quite- just ‘cause you’re a mutant doesn’t automatically mean that you put on a cape and tights.”

“What’s being a mutant got t’do with you going away to some school, and looking like a girl?” Scott’s eyes drifted down towards my chest. “Are those real?” He stretched a hand out.

“YES!” I slapped Scott’s hand away. “It matters, ‘cause being a mutant is the reason that I’m wearing these clothes. Guys, I’m turning into a girl.”

“Hunh?” “Say What?” “Yer kiddin’! What kind of mutant power turns a guy into a girl?”

<sigh> ‘Sit down, this is gonna take a lot of explaining. Guys, you ever noticed when you read one of those superhero fan magazines that superheroes and super villains- at least the mutant ones- seem to come in one of three basic types? Either they look like Joe Six-Pack in a leotard, or their bodies are all weird an’ twisted lookin’, or they look like they could pose for ads for health clubs.”

“Yeah? So?”

“Stay with me, I’m going somewhere with this. The last kind are called ‘Exemplars’. These are mutants whose power, or some aspect of their power shapes their body, making it stronger, faster and tougher. Somewhere in their mind, everyone has an idea of what the perfect body looks like. Somehow, their power uses that idea- they call it a ‘template’- and molds their body into something that looks like that idea.”

“Yeah? So, howcum you ain’t all buff and stuff, instead of looking like a chick?”

“Well, y’see, you can’t choose what your template looks like, it just sort of happens in your brain. And my template is a girl’s. So, every time that I use my power, it makes my body a little more girlish.”

“So, why don’t you just NOT use your power?”

‘It ain’t that simple, Greg. There’s all sorts of other stuff going on, too. Y’see, my power is that I can manipulate Ki.”

“Ki? Isn’t that that stuff that you were always talkin’ about, that you learned at your Dojo?”

“Yeah. Ki is this bioelectric force that runs through your body. It’s what all those martial arts masters use to do all that weird stuff like you see in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The thing is, most people have to study for years, decades even, in order to control their Ki enough to the slightest thing. Me? I can, just by snapping my fingers, do Ki stuff that Mister Colliard would have to meditate for hours and work up a gallon of sweat to do. I am to Ki what Mozart was to music. Also, I can tap into the Earth’s magnetic field to power my Ki stuff. Thing is, my power is working, even when I’m not thinking about it. My Ki is constantly flowing through my body, making my power change my body. Even if I made a point of not doing any Ki stuff, the doctor says that it’s already affected my body so that it’s producing female hormones, not male hormones.”

“Couldn’t you use your Ki to make your body more, y’know, manly?”

“I don’t know how, nobody I know knows how, and it’d probably be dangerous as hell.”

“How do you know all of this?”

“Well, do you remember about four months ago, when my eyes suddenly changed color?”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

<aggravated sigh> “Have you ever noticed that mutants always seem to have these really weird eye colors?”

“Yeah. So?”

“The doctor told me that there’s this gland in your eye, all it does is kick in ONCE, when you’re a baby, and it turns your eye from that kinda dark blue that all babies have, to whatever eye color you get for the rest of your life. BUT, in mutants, when your mutation goes on-line, it kicks in that gland again, and it turns your eyes a new color, and a lot of the times it’s a pretty rare color. It’s one of the classic signs of a person being a mutant. ANYWAY, when my eyes changed color, Mom and Dad took me in to see a doctor ‘cause they thought that something might be going wrong with me, and he referred us to another doctor. He told us that I showed all the signs of being a mutant, and then I started doing all that weird stuff in Aikido class. And I’ve been going to that doctor once a week ever since. And that’s how I know all of this stuff.”

An awkward silence fell over the room. Then Scott looked up uncomfortably. “So, what are you gonna do now?”

“So, now I’m gonna go to this school out of state. The doctor knew someone who knew somebody, and they arranged for me to go to this school, where they teach mutants like me to take control of their powers. I mean, I’ve only lost control of my Ki once or twice, but believe me, you DID NOT want to be there when I did.”

“And, when you come back, you’re gonna be a real girl?”

“Well, eventually, Yeah.”

“Man, you are taking this real well.”

I shrugged. “Well, like my cousin Herb said, back when he was doin’ the Black Muslim thing, ‘When Fate throws a dagger at you, there are two ways to catch it: by the handle or by the blade’.”

“Hunh?”

“That means, you make the best of a situation when it happens to you. The way I see it, if I gotta be a girl, I might well be a Babe!”

Greg looked me up and down. “Well, at least you got THAT part down!”

I flashed my best Stone Cold Babe smile at him. “Why thank you!”

Scott looked uncomfortable. “Tony- why are you telling us all this? I mean, what are you gonna do if we start spreading around that you’re turning in to a girl, or that you’re a mutant? Won’t that put your family in danger or sum’thin’?”

“I think that my Dad asked you over ‘cause he thought that you deserved an explanation why I’m suddenly gonna up and split. And, besides, I’m gonna be coming home for Summer and the Holidays.” <amused snort!> “Besides, what are you gonna do? If you go spreading around that I go around wearing dresses, you guys ain’t gonna look too good y’selves. Guilt By Association, and all that.”

Greg shifted his feet nervously. “Uhm- Tony- Exactly how do you feel- y’know- about Guys and Girls? I mean, you had it real bad for Gail Enderby. How do you feel--- now, that you’re a girl and all, I mean.”

“Hey, I DON’T KNOW! I’ve only been like this for a couple of months! I mean, I’m still getting used to all this! Right now, I’ve got enough to worry about, not freaking out when I go into the Ladies’ Room!”

That pretty much put the capper on the conversation. They made the usual ‘we’ll still be buds’ and ‘well get together and hang out on Summer vacation’ noises, but nobody was fooled. The fact of my mutant powers was like a wall between them and me. And, to be honest, our friendship was largely a matter American Grade School Social Dynamics. In American schools, cliques form along lines of a kind of specific gravity. Out-going, gregarious types only have ‘wacky best friends’ on TV. In real life, A-List types hang out with other A-List types, thugs hang out with thugs, weirdoes hang out with weirdoes, and wimps hang out with wimps. Through Grade School and most of Middle School, Scott, Greg and me were almost depressingly average kids, and our averageness was the bond that held us together. Now, I was extraordinary, beyond even the A-List types. They might have held onto our friendship, even with me being a mutant, but my becoming a girl made that unlikely. And my becoming a Stone Cold Fox made it impossible. Looking like I do, I’d almost certainly be expected to hang out with the A-List types.

But the thing that put the last nail in our friendship’s coffin was the fact that I was leaving school. Grade school friendships often fall apart in High School, and best friends in High School usually go their own ways when they go to different colleges or they get jobs. And I was going to High School out of state. There was no way that I could stay ‘in the loop’ of Greg and Scott’s lives. There’d be embarrassed, awkward attempts to stay in touch during the Summer vacation, but they all knew that I was already pretty much out of their lives.

There was an embarrassing silence for a long minute. Then there was a yelp from the landing at the top of the stairs, “Hey Tony! Watch me fly!” Little brother Matt hopped onto the top of the banister. Mom gave a panicked shriek from the kitchen doorway. I did a lightning back roll onto the back of the couch and was coiled to spring even as Matt jumped off the railing.

It took a split second for Matt to realize that he wasn’t going to fly, and was beginning to scream as I caught him in mid-air. I tucked Matt into my midsection and rolled to brace against the wall. I rebounded and tried to diminish my speed by caroming off a couple of walls, but didn’t hit one right, and went tumbling down to the ground. I managed to wrap myself around Matt so that I took the brunt of the landing, rather than little brother.

Mom skittered over in a near panic and pulled Matt away from me. She fussed over Matt, who was striving mightily to keep from crying with fear. I pulled myself up and muttered, “S’okay, I’m fine, thanks for askin’.”

Mom glared at me and snapped, “This is ALL YOUR FAULT! If you hadn’t been doing all that freak crap, jumping all over the place, none of this would have happened! You almost killed your little brother!” Then she let loose with what I’ve heard called ‘a blistering stream of the old rancid’ on PBS.

‘Freak’. She said it. For all his homophobic crap, Vince had never said ‘Freak’.

I put up with this for several minutes. When Mom finally ran out of steam, I trudged past a smugly smirking Vince up the stairs. Several minutes later, I came back down wearing a blue denim jacket, a large carrying tote slung over each shoulder and a trunk that must have weighed at least sixty pounds up on my shoulder. But these days I might have been carrying a bag of groceries for all the effort that I had to put into it. At the foot of the stair, I turned to Dad. “Dad, would you drive me to the train station? I might as well wait for the train there.”

Looking at Mom, Dad nodded, and went to get his keys.

I went to the door, but stopped in front of Scott and Greg. “Ah, guys- I don’t think that you’ll have to worry about avoiding me, come Summer vacation. I don’t think that it’s gonna be an issue.”

I went out to the garage and loaded my luggage into the family SUV. I climbed in the shotgun seat, fighting tears, and tried to pull myself together. Just breathe, let it in, let it out, and breathe from the bottom of your stomach. Dammit, this was supposed to be where it gets GOOD! This is supposed to be one of the best days of my fucking life, and everybody shits all over me, even my own mother! Damn!

I sat and stewed for several minutes. Then Mom came out, wearing her overcoat, and climbed into the driver’s seat of the car.

I looked at her warily. “I thought that Dad was going to drive me to the station.”

“He was.” She started the engine and pulled out of the drive. “We changed our plans.”

We drove for several minutes in complete silence. Then, at a stoplight, Mom said, “Honey, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have cut loose on you like that. I know that it isn’t your fault that Matt took some damnfool idea into his head. It’s just...” She grimaced, and you didn’t need super powers to tell that all her feelings and tensions all balled up in her throat, all wanting to be voiced at the same time.

I looked at her. “Mom? What am I supposed to do? I mean, I know what Vince wants. He wants me to pretend that nothing happened, and go around wearing baggy clothing that hide my body, and maybe go through some Sit Com shtick about getting me out of Gym class. All so that he can go on living his bullshit suburban Gangsta fantasy. I know what Cindy wants- she wants me to shut up and dumb down, so that she can still be little Miss Perfect. They want me to crawl back into that neat little pigeonhole that they built for me, and nail myself in. Is that what you want me to do? Maybe you want me to go around wearing weights on my wrists and ankles, so I’ll only be able to run as fast and jump as high as ‘normal people’. Is THAT was you want?”

She grated out a “No” through gritting teeth.

“Mom, I’m one of the lucky ones! I got super powers, and I didn’t even have to get bit by a radioactive gerbil or anything! My super power is, mostly, a safe and useful one! There are mutants out there who are growing bug exo-skeletons and bleeding radioactivity! Mom, I already told you that I always felt that I shoulda been born a girl, and now, not only am I turning into a girl but I’m turning into a FOX!

“Mom, you always said that it isn’t the cards you’re dealt, it’s how you play them. For the past fourteen years, I’ve been playing the game with a pair of fours- now I got a dealt a new hand, and it’s a freaking ROYAL FLUSH! I am supposed to be ashamed of this? Mom, not only can I do things with Ki that revered Chinese Kung Fu masters can only dream of doing, not only am I as strong as Arnold Schwarzenegger, not only do I have the reflexes of freaking Jet Li, but I’m actually smarter now! I can remember things right off the bat, now. I can do Algebra in my head. When I put my mind to it, I can read an entire 400-page book in an hour. Why shouldn’t I be able enjoy all of that?”

Mom conceded the point with a sigh. “You’re right, you’re right. I know, you’re right. I just got so scared when I saw Matt jump off that stupid railing. And I feel that I’m losing my little boy...” She stopped the car and looked at me pleadingly.

Oh Crap- how can you be mad at your own mother for being a Mom? “Mom- there’s nothing that anybody can do about it. I’m not going to be male- let alone a boy- for very much longer. But you’ll always be my Mom.”

She did a classic ‘Mom Melt’ and gave me a big hug. Y’know, at fourteen, you’re supposed to think that getting a big hug from your Mom was all smothering. But this was good. Real Good. Good like I really needed. As she started up the car again, she said wryly. “I notice that you didn’t tell your friends that, along with all the other stuff, your IQ went up 40 points.”

I preened a little, and said in my best ‘flighty girl’ voice, “Yeah, well, you know how boys are- they’re always scared off by girls with brains.”

Mom looked over amazed, and started to snicker. She was barely able to restrain it long enough to pull over and then give way to an all-out laughing jag. The laughter was catching, I found myself laughing along with her. Mom laughed herself out, and all the fear, worry and tension that had been bottled up washed out of her. Letting the last giggles play themselves out, she wiped the tears from her eyes and looked at me. She could see that I’d needed that as much as she had. The air between us was much clearer now. She gave her daughter another big hug.

As we drove along, our conversation shifted from strained confession to all-out girl talk. We agreed that I would spell my name with an ‘I’ from then on, and that Matt would move in with Vince, so that I could have my own room when I came back for vacations.

Mom was telling me what she really thought of her mother-in-law when we pulled up in front of the train station. “Oh dear.”

“What’s the matter, Mom?”

“I just realized- it’s only a little past Nine! The train leaves at Eleven! We went storming out the door so fast, we’re two hours early. I don’t want to hang around a train station for two hours!”

I barely managed to restrain a grin. “Weeellll... You did say that the only reason that you wouldn’t let me get my ears pierced is that it would freak out the menfolk...”

Mom grinned back at her daughter. “We have just enough time- let’s do it!”

Two hours later, the train pulled out as Valerie sadly waved Toni off. Oh well, she’d have a chance to get to know Toni better when she came home for Christmas vacation. And she seemed so much happier now. Tony had always been such a quiet and withdrawn boy. Maybe Toni would genuinely be happier.

Train travel is hardly the most interesting way to travel, and the stretch between Baltimore and Boston is a particularly bleak stretch of urban and suburban blight. But I’m headed somewhere where they don’t know me as Vince’s little brother or Cindy’s dimbulb tagalong. After I switched trains in Boston, the scenery grew more interesting, especially as the train rolled out of Massachusetts and into the wilds of New Hampshire. The local from Concord rolled up into the Mountains region, stopping at more rinky-dink little burgs than I thought a little place like New Hampshire could possibly have. My stop was a place called Dunwich.

The Dunwich train depot (you couldn’t really call it a station) looked like it hadn’t been renovated since the Great Depression, and the only sign of that upgrade was a WPA mural. Two other people got off the train at Dunwich, both of them kids about my age. We all looked at each other warily. One was a foxy-faced white girl with big violet eyes and flaming red hair that barely reached her jawline. The other was a fine-featured white boy with dark hair and strange gray eyes.

Well, they were just standing there, so I decided to take the initiative. “So, are you guys, like, going to Whateley Academy?”

The redheaded girl just nodded shyly. The boy gave a tentative smile. “Yeah. It’s my first year here.”

“Me Too! Kewl! My name’s Toni Chandler! And you are?”

“Hank. Hank Declan.”

The wispy redhead managed to get out. “Fey. Call me Fey.”

“So... any idea of what we’re supposed to do? Do we wait for someone to come get us, or do we call the school?”

“I’m not sure. How about this- you go ask at the counter, while I watch our stuff.”

“A man with a plan. I like that! C’mon, Fay!” I marched into the depot building, walked up to the ticket window and gave the desk bell a whack.

A rather sour looking middle-aged man came from out of the back and glowered at me. “Let me guess- you’re here for the Whateley Academy, right?”

“Right!” I chirped back at him, refusing to be intimidated in the least.

“The school should be sending a van for you pretty soon. There are a couple of kids already here, waitin’ on ‘em. You can wait in there.” He pointed at a wooden door with a pane of frosted glass in it. “They got a special waitin’ room, just for you Whateley kids, with refreshments an’ everything. You can leave your bags and stuff on the hand-truck out on the landing.”

“Thank You!” I sang back at him. As I turned, I almost ran into Fey, who was tagging along after all. We hurried back to Hank with the news.

As we loaded the bags and trunks on the hand truck together, I noticed that Hank barely struggled with the heavy trunks. Well, I guess that I have a good idea of what his mutant power is.

The ‘special waiting room’ consisted of three ratty plastic covered couches, and couple of even rattier looking plastic covered chairs, a coffee table with magazines that the local dentist had probably thrown out, a pay phone, and some vending machines for hot drinks, soft drinks, candy and snacks. The sole provision for keeping school age kids from dying of boredom was a very old pinball machine, which two boys were busy hogging. They were dressed for traveling, so I guessed that they were going to Whateley too.

Sitting on one of the couches, flipping through a hardback book was a Hispanic girl whose classic ‘Aztec princess’ looks were set off by a strip of scarlet hair down the center of her head. She looked up with large ice blue eyes. She gave a hasty smile. “Hi. You’re for the Whateley School?” She had a California accent, with a hint of something else.

“Yeah. Any idea of when the bus for the school is due?”

“Well, when I got my travel arrangements, they said that they were expecting me at 4, so I don’t think that they’ll be here much sooner than that.”

The clock on the wall said 3:15. I sighed, “Okay crew, grab a seat and settle in, we’re gonna be here for a while.”

I plopped down on the sofa. “Hi! I’m Toni Chandler. That’s Hank Delancy.”

“Declan.” He corrected.

“Ooops! My bad! Hank Declan. And that’s Fay.” I smiled expectantly at the young Latina, hoping that she’d take the opening.

“My name is Elena Neva Natividad Amicella Lucita Obregon.”

“You got extra luggage, just for that name?”

“You can call me Rip.”

“Rip?”

“Short for Riptide!” With a wide grin on her face, ‘Rip’ cupped her hands in front of her, and a mist formed. The mist quickly condensed into water, formed a tiny wave in Rip’s hands, and then dispersed into mist again.

“Hiisst!” Hank hissed at Rip. “I don’t think that it’s a good idea for us to go flaunting our powers, at least not until we’re sure of what the score is around here.”

“Aaahhh... what’s the use of having special powers, if you can’t have any fun with ‘em?” Rip looked at the three of us. “What can you guys do?”

Once again, it was up to me to take the initiative. “Well... let’s see what I can do without upsetting the locals...” I noticed a row of shabby hardback books on the table with the magazines. There was a gap in the row. “Did you get this book from that table?”

“Yeah. Why?”

I took the book and hefted it to get an idea of its weight and balance. “Let me shelve it for you.” With a brisk snap of the wrist, I threw the book at the table. The book flew right to the gap and fit in perfectly. Okay the spine stuck out a bit, but what do you want? I plopped down on the couch, kicked my feet up, folded my hands behind my head and grinned in a ‘That’s right, I’m BAD!’ pose. Gawd, I love this!

“COOL! How did you DO that?”

I gave Rip a thumbnail sketch of my Ki abilities. “Y’mean you can do all that ‘Matrix’ stuff, with running along walls, dodging bullets and hanging in mid-air when you’re about to kick the shit out of someone?”

“Uhm, run along walls- Yes; dodge bullets- I dunno; hang in mid-air- Get Real. I can’t stop bullets in mid-air, neither.”

“Oh well, y’can’t have everything.” Rip turned to the other two. “How about you two?”

Hank looked around. “I don’t see anything that I can do without blowing our cover.”

Rip and I looked at Fey, who blushed under the scrutiny. “Me neither”, she mumbled.

Since that fascinating topic seemed to have tanked, I settled in to talk with Rip. Or at least Rip settled in to talk. Period. Rip was from Redondo Beach, which was just outside Los Angeles, she wasn’t exactly sure where Baltimore was, she was the fourth of six children, her older sister Angela was a pain, her parents ran a beachside shop back in Redondo, she was an avid surfer, and her powers over water had almost gotten her lynched. Rip passed along that information in almost exactly the same way as the previous run-on sentence. And people say that _I_ have a motor mouth!

We rambled on, talking about everything and nothing, and I could tell that she didn’t have the slightest idea that I wasn’t a girl. I felt a knot in my stomach that I didn’t even know was there start to untie itself.

Another train stopped at 3:30, and dropped off five more students. Long-distances buses also stopped, dropping off a few students. As 4 o’clock rolled around, there were about twenty or so Freshman age kids milling about the waiting room. Most of them looked normal enough; well except for the chubby kid who wouldn’t take that weird looking knit cap off, or the gangly boy who was at least 6’6” tall and all of ninety pounds, or the girl with weird blue-gray hair that grew up in spiky clumps that sort of crested back along her head. Most of them had obviously never been away from home for very long, and they were either very subdued, or they were enjoying being loose for the first time. Somebody had a boom box, and Rip, a curvy black girl named Vanessa, and I were dancing along with the bubble gum pop. I tried to get Fey to join in, but the she was having a shy-fit and refused to be pulled out of her shell.

At 4:00 on the dot, a tall Asian woman came in. She walked over to the boom box and shut off the music. “Okay, listen up! I am Mrs. Shugendo; I’m the Dean of Students at Whateley Academy. There are two shuttles here to take you to the school. I’m going to call off your names alphabetically. When I call out your name, let me know who you are, and then go out to the vans. Now, I know that you have a lot of questions- but, unless it’s an _Emergency_, save it for when we get to the school.”

Mrs. Shugendo called off the names and I found myself crammed in between one of the boys who’d hogged the pinball machine and a very tanned white girl with pale blonde hair piled up on her head. My nose is sharper now than it was before, and I noticed a smell around the girl. It wasn’t a bad smell, just an odd one- the scent sort of reminded me of just after a rainstorm for some reason. I tried to start up a conversation, but the girl was really wrapped up in her personal stereo and pinball boy had an attitude.

I tried to get interested in the scenery. The Mountain section of New Hampshire depends heavily on tourism, and you could really tell it. The little town of Dunwich laid on the ‘New England Rustic Charm’ with a trowel, with red brick and fieldstone buildings, high gabled roofs and all that touristy crap. The town was small, maybe three or five long streets crossed by seven or so short ones, and the blocks weren’t exactly densely packed.

But, give ‘em their due, the natural scenery was worth the trip. Dunwich was situated on a good-sized mountain lake, and the woods were really thick. According to the wooden signs that they passed as they left town, there were a couple of summer camps set along the lake, as well as the School itself.

The road wound itself through the hills, following the angles of the Presidential Mountains. After about a half-hour, the vans pulled off the road and went down a private road and through the gate of a high fieldstone wall. On either side of the gate, the posts were ‘guarded’ by a pair of weird lookin’ gargoyles that had baglike wings, but no faces, carved in a slick black stone.

The vans passed by the large red brick buildings that I’d seen in the brochures, and then went past several smaller buildings, and pulled up in front of one of them. Like the other buildings that we’d just passed, it was four stories tall, four if you counted the attic with the dormer windows, and made of dark red brick with white trim in a blend of the Colonial and Federal styles. As the students piled out, I noticed a discrete plaque by the door, saying ‘Poe Cottage’, and, yes indeed, inside the entry there was a bronze bust of Edgar Allen Poe set in a niche.

After getting all the luggage inside the entryway, Mrs. Shugendo called us into a large common room. When we kids had arranged ourselves on the sofa and chairs, Shugendo called three seventeen-year-old kids wearing school uniforms and a middle-aged woman over to her. Then she addressed us all.

“Well! Welcome to Whateley Academy! Now, you’ll get the formal Welcoming speech from the Headmistress along with all the other Freshmen, but this little talk is just for YOU. Now, the reason that you were all told to come here a day ahead of the other Freshmen, and the reason that you’re being put up in this dormitory is that you all have something in common that sets you apart from the other students, even beyond your individual mutations. You are what is currently called ‘Alternative Sexuality’ types. You are Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered, or so aggressively Bisexual that it is an issue for you. We don’t condemn you for this; you didn’t really have a choice in it, any more than you chose to be mutants. We realize that it’s hard going through adolescence. We realize that it’s even harder when you’re a mutant. You have enough to put up with; you don’t need the extra aggravation of being branded a -quote- sexual deviant –unquote-.

“Unfortunately, homophobic bias is so deeply ingrained in the American, Canadian and British school systems, and to a lesser extent in the European schools, that letting you go around openly declaring that you’re Gay or Lesbian or Bi or Transgendered is just asking for trouble. So, we have Poe Cottage, a place where you don’t have to worry about the kids down the hall finding out, because they already know about you, and you already know about them.

“Now, while we are very proud of the fact that you were brave and honest enough to admit your... persuasion during on your admittance forms, I’m afraid that we’re going to have to ask you to curb that honesty. I’m afraid that it’s a matter of your continued safety. There are students here who have been victimized quite cruelly. And, unfortunately those who have been hurt that way tend to be the cruelest of all, when they find someone that they can pass that pain onto. And in our society, homosexuals and ‘fellow travelers’ are still considered fair game for that sort of thing. Given the abilities that students at Whateley have, a ‘Gay Bashing’ could turn deadly, even Apocalyptic. It is, simply said, easier for all involved, if it simply doesn’t become an issue. If your sense of pride demands that you come out of the closet, then you have a right to. But please, have consideration for the other people here at Poe, and don’t reveal the overall status here.

“The reason that you were brought here a day before the more.. mainstream Freshmen, is twofold- to give you a day to get used to the campus before the others get here, and so that you will sort of be part of the background when they get here. This will give you a certain... credibility that should allow you to make connections more easily. Yes? You have a question?” She pointed at the tanned blonde girl who sat next to me on the van.

“Ma’am, you’ve just pointed out that everyone here is queer or something like that. So, how is that gonna affect how we’re paired up when it comes time to choose roomies? I mean, the brochure kept mentioning roommates like it was a given. So, like, are you gonna put us in Boy/Girl- which would make my mother, like, shit, fart and die!- or are is it gonna be Boy/Boy- Girl/Girl, which would be, really, like the same thing, but for real?”

Mrs. Shugendo cleared her throat nervously. “It will be Boy/Boy- Girl/Girl. To have it otherwise would advertise that there was something unusual going on at Poe Cottage to everyone who looked at the roster. However, I must remind you that Carnal Relations involving students, whether between opposite sexes or the same sex, is Strictly Forbidden at Whateley, and any homosexual student caught breaking that rule will be punished as severely as any heterosexual student doing so!” In other words, she knew that they didn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell of really stopping anybody, but she had to say the words, for form’s sake, and don’t embarrass us, kids.

Hank raised a hand. “What are the rules about using your powers openly, like flying for instance?”

“That question, along with many others, will be handled by the Headmistress at her Freshman’s Orientation speech in two days. In the mean time, just try to keep a low profile. If nothing else, it will keep you from tripping into some of the more senior students.”

Shugendo then introduced the middle-aged woman as Mrs. Horton, the ‘house mother’ for Poe. Mrs. Horton said the expected pleasantries, and then explained the layout of the cottage: there were three floors, the bedrooms were built for two, there was a bathroom for each sex at each end of the hallway, there was a community room and a library for studying. There was also kitchen, but meals were to be served at the campus dining room. Food left in the kitchen was more or less open game, but there were ‘studio coolers’ in each room. There was an exercise room down in the basement, which was open to everyone. There was a laundry room, and the students were responsible for their own laundry. “In other words, it’s your own fault if you stink”, she finished up. Mrs. Horton looked like any other suburban matron that I’ve ever met. And yet, there was something about her impeccably maintained person that suggested that she was completely unfazed by the prospect of keeping an eye on a group of super-powered teenagers.

Mrs. Shugendo took over again. “So, if your heads are quite ready to explode from information overload, let’s get you broken down into groups that we can actually work with. These three-” she indicated the three uniformed teenagers, “are Steve Rossiter, Belle Forbes, and Rosalyn Dekkard. They’ll be your Student Guides for today. You can also go to them for help after today, but you do so at your own risk. They’ll show you around, answer your questions, and get you sorted out as to your sleeping arrangements. And so, I’ll leave you with these words- Don’t destroy anything.”

Steve Rossiter was a buff looking 17-year-old blonde guy who looked like he could audition for the lead in a Captain America movie. Belle Forbes was a svelte 17-year-old girl with sapphire blue eyes and ravenswing black hair pulled back in a high ponytail. Her face was long and angular, with a long straight nose. She might have been harsh looking, if not for a touch of wry humor about the eyes and mouth. Rosalyn Dekkard was also 17, and had the lush curves of a homecoming queen. Her eyes were emerald green, and her hair was also ravenswing black, but it hung loose in waves past her shoulders down to her waist. Her triangular face also had humor, but it was more of the amusement of a pantheress regarding a flock of tender young lambs.

In turn, they started reading off names from clipboards. Belle Forbes called my name, along with Hank’s, Fay’s, and names of the girl with odd spiky gray hair, and a girl with short spiky black hair and dark green eyes, who dressed like a punker. She also called a girl I hadn't seen waiting at the depot. The last girl didn’t look like a teenager; she looked to be about 12 or so. She looked Asian, with long straight dark hair, large dark eyes, and a cute upturned nose. The girl with the odd gray hair called herself Billie, the girl with the punker look was called Ayla, and the kid was called Jade. And, for some reason, Fay answered to Nikki.

When Fay joined us, I shot a glare at her. “I thot that you said that your name was ‘Fay’.”

“That’s my superhero name. And its ‘Fey’, with an ‘E’, not an ‘A’.”

“What kind of superhero name is ‘Fey’?”

“ ‘Fey’ means ‘touched by magic’.”

“OH-kaayyy...”

Our guide cleared her throat for attention. <Ahem!> “Very well, welcome to Whateley, pleased to meet you and all that jazz- hope you don’t mutate into giant slugs.” Her voice had a merry British accent, the cultured ‘Public School’ kind, with a trace of a lilt that suggested touch of the Irish, delivered with a John Cleese deadpan. “Don’t laugh- it’s happened. I’m Belle Forbes, as those of you with short term memories that exceed 15 seconds should well recall. Just between us,” she added conspiratorially, “My name isn’t Belle, it’s Kendall. But, my ‘code name’ is ‘Beltane’, so everyone’s taken to calling me ‘Belle’. Don’t worry, I won’t eviscerate you if you call me Belle- well, not unless I’m having a really bad day. Don’t want to commit to anything I can’t make good on.”

The two other groups finished pairing off. I noticed that all the boys had gone with Steve Rossiter (and were looking up at him like he was a centerfold), and all the girls were clustered worshipfully around Roslyn Dekkard. The division complete, the guides started to shoo their charges off in different directions. Rip caught my eye and gave me the ‘call me later’ hand jive.

Rosalyn took the girls upstairs, and the other two guides took their charges out of the cottage. Steve took the boys off in one direction, and Belle took us off towards the main building. “Very well, Fresh-things,” Belle sang, “Here’s what’s going to happen. We’re going to have to discuss some rather personal things, and we don’t want the others listening in, and vice-vicious. So, Rosalyn will show the Dykes in training around the cottage, Steve will show his little nancy-boys around the grounds, and _I_ will show you changelings the school buildings. And then we rotate.”

Changelings? If the gay boys went with Steve, and the lesbian girls went with Rosalyn, then that must mean... They’re like --- Me? I looked at the others, and the others were looking at me and each other. The little one, Jade, had her jaw almost scraping the sidewalk.

Belle smiled acidly. “Ah, the light dawns! Yes, m’lovelies, you are all in this group because you are, one way or another, defecting to the enemy in the War between the Sexes.”

The punker gritted her teeth and grated, “OR, were drafted by the wrong side!” I don’t know what her problem was-- _I_ was dancing on air!

Belle just waved us in the direction of the Administration building. “Yes, yes, I’m sure that it was all very traumatic. Now keep up, keep up! We ARE on a schedule!”

As we walked, I looked over at Hank. “You are getting more feminine?”

<Heh> “Wrong Way.” Hank blushed.

“Y’mean- you’re really a girl?”

Hank reddened even more. “Well... I was born a girl, but right now, I’m what the doctor called a ‘bilateral hermaphrodite’. I sort of have both sets of equipment. But the doctor also says that my female equipment is shutting down.”

“Hey, Dewwwd! Not to worry! You got the recipe for Studmuffin, and all the makin’s!”

It was only a short walk to main campus. Poe was at about middle distance, as cottages went. Belle pointed out three cottages farther out from the center and identified them as Hawthorne, Twain, and Whitman. As we passed the others in succession she called out Dickinson, Emerson, and Melville. Around us, the trees were still green, although one or two were showing the first signs of yellow. There were occasional leaves on the ground, but the brick walkway was kept scrupulously clean.

We crested a small hill and saw the campus spread out below them. Near the center was our destination - Schuster Hall. It was a really weird mix of styles, your basic Federal style building, with a huge sparkling glass geodesic dome at the end.

Belle gestured to the large building and the nearly incongruous dome at one end. “That, Fresh Ones, is Schuster Hall, administration, classrooms, and that dome is called The Crystal Hall. It’s where the dining room is and tends to be where most students with free time hang out. We’ll be having dinner in The Dome, then I’ll give you a thumbnail tour of the classroom areas, and show you where to find the offices and important stuff like the restrooms and gaming areas.”

We continued along the pathway until reaching a wider, flagstone-paved square in front of the imposing, if strange looking building. There were stone and metal benches scattered all around the square, and a small fountain occupied the center. Fey looked at the benches as if they were hot griddles.

Belle stopped the group in front of a statue of an old man with longish hair, a beard and deep penetrating eyes. “This is the statue of Noah Whateley, the man who founded this school back in 1878. They only put this thing up because a school is supposed to have a statue of its revered founder. Actually, the school that he founded was mediocre at best- the highest that any graduate of the original school ever reached was a Congressman for Vermont. Anyway, after about eighty years of producing complete non-entities, the original Whateley Academy shut down and was foreclosed on by the bank. Then it was bought by a group of mutant superheroes in 1966, because they wanted a remote place to train emergent mutants in how to use their powers. They kept the name, mostly so that the school would appear to have a long and presumably illustrious history.”

Belle took a long breath and gave us a long measuring look. “Very well, now that we have that tiresome bit of trivia out of the way, let’s get down to it, shall we? First, we’ll tour the Administration and School buildings, so that it won’t be a complete shock to you. Also, this will give the girls a chance to get their luggage upstairs and choose their rooms, without tripping over us. After a decent interval of viewing the torture chambers, we will return to Poe, and you will lug all of your stuff up the stairs and pick your cells. When all of that’s settled, we’ll thrust out again, this time to tour the grounds, athletic fields, and the Combat Training Areas.”

Combat Training Areas? We all stiffened as one

Belle grinned as she savored a direct hit. “Yes, Combat Training Areas. No, you haven’t been kidnapped a Mutant Terrorist Cell, or drafted into the military. Whateley’s policy is that the students are left completely to their own devices to make up their minds as to things like politics and philosophy. HOWEVER, given the nature of many mutants powers, the bellicose nature of humanity in general and the viciousness of Anti-Mutant militants in particular, it is quite likely that (whether you want to or not) you will be faced with situations where you will have to fight. And it would be a criminal waste of all this expensive education if we let you graduate, just to let you die a week later because you couldn’t defend yourself.

“And here we come to one of the reasons that we split up as we did. Young ladies, Gentleman, we are a group apart. Even more than being a mutant or being *ahem!* of ‘Alternate Sexuality’, we are a group apart. Whether as a matter of deep-felt conviction or as a matter of our mutation forcing it on us, we are all changing into members of the sex opposite from that which we were born in. Others, even the Gays and Lesbians, may sympthatize, but they don’t really understand. So, while we’re here, we’re going to have to rely on each other much more heavily than the other students do. Now, having Six transgendered students is a trifle unusual, especially at the beginning of the year. Normally, we only have one or two TGs at the beginning of the year, maybe with one or two showing up later in the year. Still, the rule is that the TGs room together and help each other out. With Six, we have the makings of a nice little team. At least, that’s what we’re going to try for.

“So, while we’re here, out of earshot, I’d like each of you to introduce yourself, tell the others about your background, how you feel about your change, what you want to make of that change, and- Whateley’s version of ‘what’s your major?’- what your mutant power is. Let me start off.

“My name is Kendall Forbes, and I was born in the outskirts of Bristol, Yew Kay. My family was a perfectly respectable Professional class one. And in keeping with sacred tradition, my parents packed me off to a ‘decent Boys’ School’ the first chance they got. What they didn’t realize was that I wanted to be packed off to a decent Girls’ School. At any rate, when I was in my Second Form, I started seeing wispy things floating around. I started having nightmares about a ghoul that I called ‘Gnashitty Rippit’, a foul thing with a wide befanged mouth and grasping betaloned hands. Then one night, I woke up in my bed, and Lo And Behold!, there was Gnashitty Rippit, floating over my bed, licking his chops. The demmed thing chased me all over the school before it cornered me. Then I screamed at it to go away. And strike me down, if it didn’t! It turned out that not only did I have complete control over Gnashitty, but I had actually created him, out of that wispy stuff floating around. That ‘stuff’ is called ‘Ectoplasm’, and I have the power to gather it up, mold it into whatever form that I want, and set it to doing things.

“I, being a sane, stable, responsible young man of Twelve Summers, immediately started one of the most horrific hauntings in the history of England. Severed heads floating down the halls, blood dripping down the walls, gawd-awful screams in the dead of night, horrible things turning up in the Masters’ beds-” A misty look of nostalgia went over her-“Lord it was wonderful! They wound up sending the Gray Wizard, one of Britain’s foremost superheroes (AND a bit of All Right, if I must say so!) in to investigate. It took him a solid week to figure out that it was me! I’ll give him this, he is a sharp one- the only reason that it took him that long was that his scryings indicated that a Girl was behind it all. Y’see, I’d discovered that I could also use the old Ecto to disguise myself-” Belle swept a hand down in front of her, and suddenly turned into Marilyn Monroe, dressed as she was in that scene in ‘The Seven Year Itch’ where the gust from the grating blows her skirt up. ‘Marilyn’ cooed at us, and swept that hand back up, and Belle was back, grinning evilly.

“At any rate, the Wizard took me aside, explained that I was going about it all the wrong way, and set me up with an interview with an agent from Whateley. He even explained it all to the Mum and Dad, which went a LONG way towards me not getting my backside shellacked. When they sent me to the doctor, to see if anything else unexpected was growing in me- you know, forked tail, cloven hooves, unspeakable writhing mass, that sort of thing- the doctor discovered that I was showing the first signs of puberty. A Girl’s puberty. It seems that by disguising myself as a girl, I was affecting my body so that it was conforming to the image that I was projecting. The doctor told me that if I kept disguising myself as a girl, that it could affect the progress of my puberty. So, naturally, I started disguising myself Twenty-four/Seven. They had no choice but to enroll me here at Hogwar- I mean, Whateley as a girl at Poe.” Belle finished with a grin.

“Now, just to wrap up, as I said before, I can gather up or generate Ectoplasm- though just gathering the stuff up is a lot easier- and I can mold it into various things and animate them.” To demonstrate, she cupped her hands in front of her. A pale gray mist gathered in her hands and congealed into a white dove. The dove cooed and then spread its wings to take flight. It flew for a few moments, then dispersed back into a gray mist, which faded.

“Now, it’s your turn.” She looked at Hank. “Well, you’re the odd man out- and in this group, that’s saying something!- why don’t we start with you?”

We all turned to look at Hank, who blushed at bit. He seems to do that a lot. Then he stood up straight and squared his shoulders. “Okay, my name is Hank Declan. It used to be Hannah Declan, but that doesn’t really fit anymore. I’m an Army Brat, I was born at the Military Hospital at Fort Dix, and I’ve lived at four different postings. That I can remember. I’m the oldest child-”

“Oh, don’t tell me it’s the old ‘my father always wanted a son’ gag!” The punk girl- Ayla, I think her name was- interrupted.

“Ah, No, Dad was always happy with a daughter. Besides, I have a younger brother. Dad never saw anything wrong with a girl going out and rough-housing with the boys- especially not with some of the female Non-Coms that he’s served with! As a matter of fact, I didn’t have any real problems with being a girl! It’s just, when my body started changing, and my testicles dropped, it just seemed so... right! Y’know, it was like, of course! That’s the way that it’s supposed to be!”

“How did your parents take it?” Belle prompted.

“Well, they were weirded out, all right. All their ideas of what the rest of my life was gonna be like kind of went out the window. The one that was really weirded out was my little brother. And he really went nuts when it turned out that I could lift five tons without even straining, let alone when I found out that I could fly!”

Billie, the chick with the weird gray hair asked, “You can fly?”

“Yeah. It came in real handy when my little brother went to one of the Sergeants at Bragg who had a hate on for mutants a foot wide and a mile long, and told him that a mutant was holding his parents hostage.”

“Your own little brother did that to you?” I asked. Jeezus, I’d trust even Vince not to rat me out to the local Mutant Haters!

“Well, it was a lot more involved than that. A lot of melodrama went down before that happened. Anyway, Sergeant Lennox came at me with an entire squad armed with assault rifles and LAWS rockets. I managed to get away, and there was a lot of noise, with Lennox screaming that there was a dangerous mutant terrorist at large, and my Dad screaming back at him that that ‘mutant terrorist’ was his daughter, and Lennox screaming back at my Dad that he was under some kind of weird mutant mind control, and Jay -that’s my brother- backing him up.”

“Dear, that’s two ‘Ands’ too many.” Belle gently corrected.

“Anyway, after a week of dodging Army helicopters, a Ranger team caught up with me and convinced me that Dad had convinced the Colonel that Lennox had his head up his ass, and they brought me in. While they weren’t going to press any charges- I sort of had to wreck a couple of patrol jeeps and a tank getting out of the Camp- it wasn’t a very good idea for me to stay at Bragg. Y’see, while Lennox didn’t exactly follow procedure, he was using proper initiative in a High-Risk situation, so he was still on base and he still has his stripes. Then some people from the Academy showed up, and did some weird tests and stuff, and they talked my Dad into signing the papers so’s I could come here.”

“Still too many ‘Ands’, Hank. Remember, Grammar always. You said that you could lift five tonnes and fly. What exactly are your powers?”

“Well, they said that I was a ‘High Level Functioning Non-Ranged Psychokinetic’ or something like that. I sort of generate this telekinetic field. I can lift stuff with it, includin’ myself, and I can stop bullets and things with it. Oh, and they said that I was a ‘Level 3 Exemplar’, whatever that means.”

“Well, you see, Hank,” Belle explained, “There are some terms like ‘Energizer’, ‘Warper’, ‘Shifter’, ‘Deviser’, ‘Wizard’ and of course, ‘Exemplar’ that describe the basic function of what a mutant does. The more powerful or extreme the traits are, the higher the level. This is not necessarily a good thing. You see, the further you stray from the baseline human mean, the higher the likelihood that you will develop gross physical deformities is, and the higher the chance that your mutation will turn lethal.”

“Gross physical deformities?” “Lethal?”

Belle nodded and said, “Well, I hate to be the one to break it to you children, but being a mutant isn’t all fun and games. The more powerful the mutant ability that you have is, the greater chance that something’s going to go wrong with your body. Last year, five students died during training. Some of them burned out, some of them had seizures during practice. One chap just upped and died in class. Nobody noticed anything until everyone got up at the end of class and he didn’t. The girl who sat next to him had a panic attack that laid her up for a week.”

Belle waved that rather morbid topic aside. “Now, where were we? Oh yes- Exemplars. An Exemplar is a mutant who has the power to slowly shape their body according to an ideal that they’ve formed somewhere in their subconscious. They make their bodies stronger, faster, tougher and usually cuter. Hank, when they say that you’re a Level 3 Exemplar, that means that your power pushes your strength, agility and so on to a level that is just above the maximum that a normal, unaugmented human can achieve. Anything more, Hank?”

Hank shook his head. “Very well. Next--- let’s see--- YOU.” She pointed at me.

Well, it’s time to make that all-important first impression! I turned to face the group and bounced on the balls of my feet a bit. “Hi! I’m Toni - that’s Toni with an ‘I’- Chandler. I’m fourteen- I’ll be fifteen in February- and I’m from Pleasant Oaks. That’s a suburb of Baltimore. I come from a big family, and I don’t have any really traumatic ‘trigger’ stories or anything. I was practicing at my Aikido dojo, and I was facing off against Danny Mancell, who’s a 14 karat jerk, and he was giving me shit about being a wimp and stuff. Anyway, I was trying to focus my Ki-” I gave them all a thumbnail description of Ki and what it does. “Anyway, I was trying to focus my Ki like Mister Colliard- he’s my Aikido sensei- told me to, and suddenly *Bam!* I feel this force flowing through my body, and I hit Danny with it, and he goes flying across the Dojo and smacks into the wall on the far side.”

“Too many ‘Ands’, Dear.”

“Sorry. Anyway, at first, I just thought that I was really hot shit with Aikido. But then my eyes changed from plain old Brown to this-” I pointed at my Amber colored eyes, “and they got the clue that something might be up. So, they took me to a doctor, who referred us to another doctor, who referred us to the Academy, and well...”

“So, basically, your shtick is Super-Martial Arts.”

“Well, sorta, but there’s a lot more to it than that. I can see how Ki flows in other people and how it flows through the Earth and the stuff around it-”

“Wait a minute! The Earth doesn’t have Ki!”

“Of course it does. Or at least it has a sort of magnetic field that’s somehow related to Ki. And beside marital arts moves, I can use it to increase my strength and speed and toughness even beyond what being an Exemplar makes me- oh, Yeah, I’m an Exemplar, too-, I can use it to increase my running speed and how far I can jump, and--- well, let’s just say that if you saw it in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I can probably do it.” Belle nodded then turned to Fey. “Your turn, hon.”

From here, the other ‘girls’ each told their tale. If you are interested, you can read their stories in their own introductions.

“Well, that’s everyone. At least until some Ten O’clock Scholar comes straggling in, in a few months. There’s always at least ONE. Now for the Grand Tour!” She waved them towards the wide white marble steps and large oaken double doors of the Administration Building.

The entry hall was floored in gleaming hardwood, probably oak from the feel of it to her, and stretched into what almost seemed to be infinity. A grand staircase dominated the center of the huge room, made of gleaming and lovingly cared for mahogany and led to a landing branching off into what looked like more spacious hallways.

There were comfortable looking chairs, couches, desks, tables, tasteful lamps and potted plants scattered apparently at random through the hall, and huge fireplaces dominated each end. This isn’t a school, it’s a set for a movie about an English Men’s Club.

“This is the main hall, children.” Belle explained as she led us through it. “Study and quiet gathering area for students and staff. It’s kind of chilly in the wintertime, but the fireplaces are nice. Get a spot close to one if you have the chance during the cold months. It’s a lot warmer and kind of cool sitting by the fire. Especially with the right guy or girl.”

She gave an evil little grin at the expressions on her charge’s faces at the mention of boy or girl friends, then relented a bit. “Not to worry, if you guys aren’t ready for something like that you can just say ‘thanks but no thanks’ and no one will get bent out of shape over it.”

Belle walked over to a wooden door and peeked her head in. “Hiegh-Ho, Mrs. Linford! I’m leading the first wave of Poe Cottage Frosh Orientation Tours. Would you please open up the Homer Gallery?”

“Of course, Belle.” A warm alto voice responded. A moment later, a trim 50ish African-American woman in a green dress came out, flipping through the keys on a ring. She clipped over to a set of double doors with a bust of Homer set into a niche beside the doorway. Mrs. Linford gripped the dome of Homer’s head and pushed back. The bust swung back revealing a lock set into the base of the bust. She inserted the key, and a panel in the doorjamb swung open, revealing a card-slot and a keypad. Linford swiped a card and punched in a combination. There was a sound of bolts being withdrawn, and Mrs. Linford pulled one of the doors open.

“Thenk Yew!”, Belle sang as she shepherded the Freshmen into the gallery. “This is the Homer Gallery, which is where we keep mementos of prominent Alumni. Note, I said ‘prominent’- not ‘famous’ or ‘glorious’, just ‘prominent’. Of course, the very nature of this place requires that we keep it locked off most of the time, just in case anyone not ‘In The Loop’ drops by.”

The Gallery was a long room lined with glass cases, with paintings on the wall and statues and freestanding exhibits on the floor. Belle walked up to a wax figure of a heroically built man wearing an odd suit consisting of a royal blue metallic looking armless and legless body sheath with shoulder plates, a wide golden belt with a thunder-bolt design on it, white gauntlet gloves, high white boots, a long white cape and a large red triangular ‘C’ on the chest. The tabs holding the cape, and the greaves and bracers over the boots and gauntlets were gold metal matching the belt. “I don’t think that I have to tell anyone that this is a uniform belonging to Champion, the greatest superhero that Chicago has ever seen. This is the outfit worn by Champion during most of the 1970’s and early 1980’s. This really is one of his costumes, one that he wore during several of his battles of that period. This statue was on display at Madame Tassaud’s in Paris; when Champion changed his outfit in 1983, Tassaud’s made a whole new statue, and Champion asked them to deliver this one here.”

Hank raised a hand. “Champion was a student here? I thought that he was around way back before World War II!”

“Okay, this is one that almost everyone gets wrong. It’s a ‘sort of Yes, sort of No’ thing. You see, the original Champion, who was operating in Chicago as early as 1934, was what we now call an ‘Avatar’. An Avatar is a sort of mutant who has a psychic gift of bonding with spirits. Now, most spirits can, and will, try to possess human beings, but it isn’t a very good ‘fit’. The host tries to fight the possession, and if the spirit does manage to completely take over the host, the host is usually so utterly wrecked by the struggle that they’re a physical and psychological ruin. You see them sometimes, hanging out with the winos and schizos on various ‘Skid Rows’. But an ‘Avatar’ can successfully fight the spirit, take control of it, and use its magical powers. As I said, the original Champion was an ‘Avatar’, even though he didn’t know it. In the course of his career, he managed to capture and ‘bind’ several spirits within himself. In so doing, he sort of fused all these spirits together into a single, greater spirit that we now call ‘the Champion Force’. But unfortunately for him, he didn’t know what he was really doing, and he came up with some rather bizarre ideas to explain to himself how he was able to do all the things that he did. Some of those ideas wound up costing him his life in 1953.

“But one of the things that the original Champion-” Belle pointed at a LIFE magazine color cover picture of a man in blue tights with a white cape, hood that showed the lower half of his face, trunks, gloves and boots, with a large red ‘C’ on the chest, standing holding an American flag. “- did right, was to train two Avatars like himself.” She pointed at two figures standing on either side of the original Champion in the picture. To the left was a young blonde girl of maybe 15, wearing a short dress of a blue that matched Champion’s. She also wore a domino face mask, cape, belt, boots, gloves and large hair bow that matched the white of Champion’s trim. To the right was a young man of maybe 17, wearing a costume that was almost exactly like Champion’s except that the blue and white were reversed, and he only wore a blue domino mask, instead of a hood. “They were called Miss Champion and Junior Champion. When the original Champion died, he managed to pass the Champion Force onto Junior Champion, who became the second Champion. Since the original Champion trained him, the second Champion also inherited the original’s rather odd notions of how his powers worked. This caused him no end of troubles during his career.

“It was a very good thing that Champion did train Junior Champion and Miss Champion back in the 1940’s, because in the 1950’s there was a wave of legislation making ‘Kid Sidekicks’ illegal, under the ‘Endangering Minors’ laws. Now, the second Champion wasn’t just an Avatar, he was also a very versatile Kinetic. That’s where his ‘lightning vision,’ ‘polar breath’ and ‘thunder shout’ came from- pyrokinesis, cryokinesis, and psychokinetically created vibration. Mind you, his base kinetic powers probably weren’t that great, but the Champion Force most likely amplified them. As the 1960’s rolled around, the term ‘Mutant’ entered the popular lexicon, mostly as a synonym for ‘dangerous freak’. As Champion II interacted with mutants of both the superheroic and supervillainous persuasion, he began to suspect that he too might be a mutant, not the rather bogus ‘Olympian’ origin that his mentor had taught him. As the nature of mutant abilities was researched by various fronts for various reasons, Champion II found another Avatar, someone who he could pass the Champion Force onto, if he should fall in combat. But he couldn’t train the boy personally- those ‘Anti-Kid Sidekick’ laws. So, in 1966, Champion II was part of the cabal of mutant superheroes and sympathizers who bought up the bankrupt Whateley Academy and turned it into a refuge for emergent mutants, who needed to be taught how to control their powers. Among the first class was the young Avatar that Champion had chosen for his successor.

“In 1969, Champion II died, killed by a knife formed of ‘Tartareum’. It was just a piece of volcanic glass that someone had chipped into a knife-” Belle walked over to a glass case, where a crude knife of black glass lay on two brackets. “-but in Champion II’s mind, it was Tartareum, the one substance that could penetrate his defenses. So, it did, and he died. Champion II managed to hold on long enough to pass on the Champion Force to his successor, who was still taking classes at Whateley. The boy waited a year to graduate, and then took up the mantle of the Champion. The first thing that Champion III did was hunt down the vicious bastard who killed Champion II. The idiot had another glass knife- he wanted to go down in history as the ‘Man Who Killed Champion Twice’. Champion III didn’t have the psychological crutches that Champions I & II did, though. The knife broke on Champion III’s skin, and he dragged the scumbag to jail by his heels.

“Ever since then, it’s been understood that Whateley Academy will always be training at least one Avatar at all times- the best, the smartest, the strongest, the bravest Avatar enrolled- who is ready at all times to accept the Champion Force, in case the worst happens. We even have a jet on call at Berlin Airport, just in case.”

Belle walked them across the room. “On the flip side, here we have Lord Paramount, the mutant Prince of Wallachia.” Belle gestured at a large oil portrait. It showed a long view of a trim, athletic man, dressed in a deep purple coat cut in the manner of a Napoleonic Era officer, with a high collar, tails down the back, large cuffs, embroidered silver trim everywhere, and a white lace jabot down the front. He was wearing tight white trousers tucked into black riding boots, bound up with a silver lame sash, and had a white cape thrown over his shoulders. The man was aiming his classic patrician features up at the mantle of a rough-hewn fieldstone fireplace, contemplating a bust of a hawk-faced man with a large mustache. The painting projected an air of ‘the melancholy Byronic noble man, enduring the majestic loneliness of splendor, meditating on the lessons of a bygone hero’.

I took a long look at the painting. “I get the impression that I’m supposed to recognize the bust, but I don’t. Who is it?”

“It’s Vlad Tepes Bessarab, Prince of Wallachia and Moldavia. You may know him better by his nickname- ‘Dracula’. And no, he wasn’t a Vampire. He was a 15th Century nobleman who ruled over much of a region called Transylvania, the border between Hungary and Rumania. While he had a reputation for being harsh, even brutal, he was also known for being even handed, and expecting Nobles to obey the same laws as the Commoners. He’s remembered as something of a romantic hero in Rumania. I rather expect that Lord Paramount is trying to cash in on that perception to help bolster his regime in Wallachia.”

“Why do you keep such a big picture of him here? I mean, if he’s an alumnus, I can understand you having something- but this?”

“We have to- Lord Parry is a big contributor to the school, and a condition of his donations is that we keep this picture here, and show it to all the incoming Freshmen.”

Hank took a long look at the painting. “How the heck did a loon like Lord Paramount wind up being a head of state, even in a backwater like Wallachia?”

“Well, give his Lordship his due, he’s not as daft as he sometimes comes across. While he makes no bones about doing the whole ‘supervillain’ thing, he’s sharp enough to know exactly where the line is, and to play his game right up to that line and no further. Or at least not where anyone will ever catch him at it. Anyway, back in the 1980’s, when the Soviet ‘empire’ crumbled in the space of about three months, some parts of Transylvania, which is traditionally Hungarian, wanted to secede from Rumanian and rejoin with Mother Hungary. Others wanted to become their own Nation. And others wanted to avoid trouble by staying with Rumania. Lord Parry here stepped into this, stirred things up, got a good-sized militant group behind him. He used his powers to strategically steal fuel, ammunition, supplies and other essentials, and manipulate the tides of war. Remember, just because Lord Paramount comes across as a posturing git, doesn’t mean that he isn’t a clever dick under it all. For instance, Wallachia has about a dozen different political, ethnic, and religious rivalries going. Lord Parry doesn’t waste time and effort trying to stop them- he uses them, and has set himself up as an impartial arbiter of their squabbles, giving each faction just enough to keep them thinking that they can get more from him. He keeps the squabbles down to shouting matches and the odd street fight, and everyone else in the region thanks him for being a peace-bringer. While he has his bullyboys handle most of the ‘peace-keeping’, every so often, he takes off the kid gloves and shows them that he’s equal to an armored column all by himself, just to remind everyone that he can.”

Billie cocked an eyebrow at the brooding figure on the canvas. “What are his powers, again?”

“Well, if memory serves correctly, he’s a level 5 Exemplar- just look at that chin, what else could he be?-, but he’s also a level 4 Kinetic- sort of along the lines of what you do, Hank, but more versatile-, a level 3 Telepath and a level 3 Esper. He’s supposed to be able to lift a good-sized car without straining, and can tip over tanks with some effort. Plays a mean game of Chess too, I hear.”

Belle walked away from the painting, to neat pile of what appeared to be large gold ingots, protected only by a red velvet rope. “Is That.?”

“Quite. Exactly one metric Tonne of 16-karat Gold. It’s a donation from Gabriella Guzman, the Mexican tycoon. She’s an alumna. Her ‘gift’ is some sort of Esper thing, that she uses to manipulate various markets. She started out dirt poor, from peon stock, and attended Whateley on a scholarship, but now she flat out owns Delicias, a major Mexican city in the Chihuahua province, most of the rest of Chihuahua, and good-sized holdings in Los Angeles, Phoenix, and El Paso. She donated this on the condition that it’s not be sold, but displayed here. She said that it’s supposed to be a statement. Apparently, either you get it or you don’t. If you get it, no explanation is necessary; if you don’t, you wouldn’t understand the explanation.”

Belle swept her hand around the rest of the large room. The cases were full of odd statuettes, bizarre looking pieces of technology from differing times, bits and pieces of clothing, stuffed animals that couldn’t be real and skulls from impossible beasts, one of which was almost the size of a VW Bug. And there were weapons! Ancient weapons, odd weapons, weapons that looked like they belonged in a Sci-Fi movie. “All these things are mementos and oddments from events in various Alums’ careers. If you really want to, you can ask Missuz Linford, and she’ll let you into to look at them more. That’s why it’s here. Also, there a printed guide to each and every one of these doo-hickeys, to explain exactly what they’re about.”

With dinner out of the way, Belle led us back to Poe. “And so ends the first part of our tour. Now, you get your bags from where they’ve been cluttering, and figure out which cell will be yours.”

Hank effortlessly hoisted one traveling trunk onto his shoulder for the trip up the flight of stairs. But before anyone could get up the stairs, there was a loud *thud!* against the front of the building. “I’d know that thud anywhere,” Belle said dryly.

She walked to the front door and looked outside. Curious, everyone else followed close behind. We followed Belle’s gaze to a blue and white heap on the ground right at the base of the wall. “It wouldn’t have done you any good, anyway, Megs,” Belle drawled. “They’re reassigning rooms, remember? You’re on the Third Floor this year. That is unless you WANT to stay on the Second Floor with the newbies.”

“Oh, go boil your cauldron!” The heap snapped back. With a groan, the heap pulled itself up and resolved itself into a rather nicely put together blonde girl of about 16 wearing a legless blue leotard, with a white belt, gauntlet gloves, buccaneer boots, and cape, and a stylized red ‘M’ on her chest. “Everyone, this is Marty Penn, a.k.a. ‘Mega Girl’, or invariably ‘Megs’. Marty is one year ahead of you, one of Our Crowd, and a card-carrying member of the Cape Squad. Megs, this is the Freshmen crew of the Gender Baffled.”

‘Megs’ smiled sweetly, stuck her hand out for Hank to shake, and bubbled out a stream of welcomes and disconnected bits of Sophomore wisdom to us Froshes. A bit of recognition clicked, and I thought to myself ‘Dear Ghod, somebody went and gave Lizzie McGwuire super powers!’

As Marty’s babbling brook paused for a second, Belle asked innocently, “You flew in from the train station?”

“Sure? Why Not? It was getting late, and nobody saw me, and they’ll bring in my luggage with the others-”

“And you’re going to hide the fact that you’re here well ahead of the others with only your super-suit to wear from Mrs. Horton, exactly How?” Belle arched an eyebrow.

Marty’s bellflower blue eyes popped wide open, and she worried her lower lip. “You could.... use your Ectoplasm to disguise me?”

Belle smiled acidly. “No-no-no-no-no- I’ve ‘bibbledy-bobbledy-booed’ you out of trouble for the last time. You can get yourself out of this little mess. I’m going to have my hands full with this lot, thank you very much!” With that, Belle shooed us Froshes back in, and pointedly shut the door behind her.

“Isn’t that a little harsh?” Jade asked worriedly.

“Not to worry- it will take her a bit, but eventually it will occur to her that all she has to do is fly up to the roof and hang out there until the rest of the incoming students come in. She just wanted to get first call on rooms.”

Ayla raised an eyebrow. “When you said that Marty’s ‘one of Our Crowd’, did you mean that she’s here in Poe Cottage, or that she’s---?”

“Transgendered? Most definitely. You see, under that PK shell, Marty is a rather weedy looking young man.”

“You mean, Marty can make himself look like a girl by creating a ‘PK shell’, but under it all, he isn’t changing into a girl?” Jade asked.

“Not quite- you see, Marty IS changing himself in rather the same way that I did, but it’s very slow. She’s going to be switching back and forth for quite a while until she manages to redefine her biological patterns. So, if you see a strange boy walking down the hall in a lacy blue nightgown, and he says that he's Marty, there’s a good chance that he is. Just steer him up to the Third Floor and let them heckle him to death.”

“You said something about ‘the Cape Squad’. What’s a ‘Cape Squad’?” I asked.

Belle took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Ah, well, you see, here at Whateley, we have our cliques, the same as everywhere else. We have the usual roster of groups- there’s the Alphas, our resident self-appointed ‘elite’; there’s Venus Inc., the local Fashion Police and Beauty Nazis; there’s the Rat Patrol, the inevitable group of grungy losers, and so on. And we have some groups that could only exist here at Whateley- the Masterminds, the Ninjas, the Robo-Jox, and of course, the Cape Squad. The Cape Squad is basically a bunch of kids who are VERY up on the notion of being ‘future super-heroes of America’ and all that. If the superhero fan magazines are right, Marty spent a good part of the summer trying to be accepted by the Empire City Guard. Again. Ah well, at least Marty can come back here and try to get Iron Star to get to notice her.”

“_Iron Star_?” Ayla said in a pained tone.

“Well, Yes---” Belle said with an embarrassed grin, “Well, Marty likes him, anyway. He’s sort of the ‘main man’ in the Cape Squad.”

After getting my stuff into my room, I decided to check out the rest of the floor for myself. They had a shower room with four stalls of discretely clouded glass. Oh well, bathtubs were a bit much to hope for, anyway. But the stalls were nicely designed for modesty, at least. As I stepped out into the hall, I almost ran into- or over Rip. “Hey! I thought that your group was supposed to be out doing the Tour!”

“We’re running late. REAL girls do that.”

“And what is THAT supposed to mean?”

“Why didn’t you tell me that you’re really a boy?”

“Why didn’t you tell me that you’re a lesbian?”

“What business is that of yours, and what does it have to do with anything?”

“My point exactly!”

“Hunh?”

“What was I supposed to say, ‘Hi there, I’m Toni Chandler, and don’t let the figure fool you, I’m really a guy’? I mean, I didn’t even know about this ‘Alternative Sexuality’ cottage- after all they don’t exactly print it up in the brochure! And, besides, my body is changing into a girl’s, and I’m already halfway there, so who cares, and why is it any of your business! I mean, it’s not like you were looking for a girlfriend- or- any- omigod.” Rip had gone beet red. “Oh Jeez, I’m sorry, Rip! I didn’t know!”

Rip struggled with anger, embarrassment, heartbreak, and frustration, and sheer exasperation won out. “Arrrggg! WHY does this always happen to me? Every time I meet a great girl who’s fun and really cute, she’s Always into boys! And they ALWAYS get all weirded out, and it gets all sticky and we can’t be friends anymore, and-”

“Who says any of that?”

“You mean that you’re not into boys?”

<Heh> I gave my wide apologetic grin. “Well, t’be honest, I’m not really sure WHAT I’m into, just yet. Y’see, I’ve only been changing like this for a few months and I haven’t really had Time and there was this one girl back home, and I had some real powerful feelings, and like I said, I haven’t really sorted all of this out....”

Rip gave me a long look. Emotions flickered past her face too fast to keep track of. Finally Rip seemed to make up her mind. “So... you’re turning into a girl? The whole works, not just the gazongas?”

“Uhm... Yeah. The doctor said that in the past month or so, my uterus has grown so much that they can see it with normal sonograms and stuff. And the male stuff--- well, it’s still there, but only for the time being. The doctor said that in a few months that I’m gonna have to be laid up, ‘cause they’re gonna have to break my pelvic bone in order to widen it.”

“Why would they HAVE to do that?”

“ ‘Cause if they don’t do it under controlled conditions, there’s a good possibility that the stresses on my body would do it when I fell down or something, and that could lead to all kinds of complications.”

“Eeewww! And I thought that _I_ had it rough! And after that...?”

“Well, it will probably take a couple of years until the transition is complete. Though the doctor admitted that his evaluation was pure educated guesswork, so I’m not making any schedules or anything.”

“And--- you had a real crush on this girl back home?”

“Yeah. Gail Enderby. I made a complete idiot of myself a couple of times, but I don’t think that she ever caught on.”

“And you’re not really sure which way you’re gonna swing, preference-wise?”

“Is anybody, until it sneaks up on them and bites them in the ass?”

“Now I know that you used to be a boy. Well!” Rip slipped her arm through mine. “If you decide that beefcake is your meat, I can cope. BUT, if you’re walking on MY side of the street-” Rip raised her voice so that everyone in the hallway could hear, “I call dibs on the slammin’ black boy-chick!”

A voice wafted out from one of the rooms. “Dibs? You gotta call Dibs? Nobody told me anything about that!"

As Rip leaned her head into the room to play with her victim’s head a little more, I ducked down the stairs, and passed the ground floor down into the basement. The basement was tricked out as sort of an all-purpose mini-gym, including mats, a ballet bar, and an exercise machine that was to your average Nautilus machine what Arnold Schwarzenegger is to Woody Allen. It was Hyuge! The main leverage bar was at least five times as thick, and the whole thing was probably made out of some high strength titanium alloy. Looking at the little sign on the main strut, it said that the main leverage bar weighed fifty pounds all by itself, and the bars that you could add were in increments of 50 pounds, up to Ten Tons! Something like this could only exist at a place like Whateley. They probably had to put it down here in the basement because it would probably come crashing through the floor in they put it up any higher.

Now, you simply can NOT see a machine like this and not want to give it a test spin. I re-set the weights from 8 tons (!) and some odd pounds to 250 pounds, my absolute upper limit on the machine that I used back at my old dojo. That done, I wriggled in under the bar, and settled in for a set of 50 lifts, just enough to get a feel for this machine.

I was at push #34, when I heard a metallic clinking sound from behind me in the machine, and I felt the tension on the bar go weird. Then the leverage bar suddenly became like a thousand times heavier, and came crashing down on my chest, even though it’s supposed to be designed not to do that. I struggled to get the bar off of my chest, which was made harder by the fact that I couldn’t breathe. Then a snarling face came leering down at me, said something that I couldn’t follow- I was too busy trying to breathe- and pushed down even harder on the bar.

Suddenly, there was a blur of movement, the face was gone, and the bar jerked up. More out of pure survival reflex than real thought, I got out from under it before it could drop again.

When I could see straight, I saw Hank grappling with a tall- and I do mean TALL!- woman. The first thing that I noticed was her build, but then you would. Many female body builders sort of fall into a trap of trying for more and more bulk, and wind up looking like men with delicate faces and token bikinis. Mind you, she had bulk, but it had a sleek quality to it that emphasized her feminine curves, and added an element of raw physical power to her sensuality. Damn nice, if you’re into the Masters of the Universe. She had a cap of finger length golden (and I do mean Golden! Not Blonde, not yellow, it was like gold metal!) curls over a square face with a square chin. She was wearing a tank top and warm-up pants. As Hank and ‘Gigantor’ wrestled, they slammed into the wall of the basement, and made the house shook.

When they finally broke their clinch, I launched myself at Two-Ton Tina. Hey, I had enough of that being bullied crap back in my old school! I am NOT going to get myself get sucker-punched on my first day. With a fierce cry, I landed a Ki punch right in the middle of her breadbasket.

*tink!*

Nuthin!

This woman had abs that could stop a LAWS rocket!

She made a grab at me, and I decided that if Hard style wouldn’t do the job, maybe Soft style would. I intercepted her grab, reversed it into a throw and sent her flying. She tumbled into a perfect standing recovery and came roaring back. I sent her flying face first into the floor. I’ll give her this; she can really take it! Fast too; I barely managed to dodge a double fist hammer slam that set the entire foundation of the cottage rocking.

As she recovered from her missed hammer slam, Hank came up behind her, got her in a Full Nelson hold and lifted her up off the ground. Which was a pretty good move, one that denied her leverage to use her super-strength. Pity, someone must have used it before- she pumped her legs back over his head, kicking him backwards, got her feet on the ground and threw him in a backwards cartwheel move.

Then a pie hit her in the face. “Dammit, Hippolyta! If you’re going to pound on Freshmen, pick on ones that I’m not responsible for!”

I backtracked the voice to the stairs, where Beltane was standing, glaring at the amazon that I assume was 'Hippolyta’. Beltane cocked a hand back and darkness swirled into being in her hand. “You survived my Banana Cream Pie. Don’t make me use the Double Fudge Custard.”

Hippolyta glowered at Beltane. “Belle- these are yours?”

“Yes! Now, step away from the Newbies- you DON’T want me to break out the Éclairs, now do you?”

Hippolyta glowered at me and downright snarled at Hank (?). Then she fixed her snarl back on me. “Well, tell your little freak here to keep her hands off of MY Weight Machine!”

“YOUR Weight Machine?” I yelled back. “Hey, this is a COMMON exercise area!-” Well, if you’ve ever spent any time in a gym, you’ve heard this spat. We were nose to nose, and still screaming at each other at the top of our lungs, me furiously defending my right to get buffed and ripped, and her just as loudly defending what she obviously thought of as her private property.

Our shouting match was suddenly interrupted by a calm, quiet *ahem!* Hippolyta immediately shut up, so I did likewise and turned to see what had put a cork in her bottle.

Mrs. Horton was standing there, very calmly, with one eyebrow arched. “There seems to be a problem?”

I beat Gigantor to the punch. “I was using that Nautilus machine, and this BITCH-” Mrs. Horton fixed me with a reproving glare. <ahem!> “-This Person-” Mrs. Horton nodded approvingly,“- jimmied the weights and tried to KILL me! Then she got on top and tried to hurry things up! If Hank hadn’t-”

At this point, Hippolyta interrupted. “This little worm totally messed up my arrangement on the Weight Machine! I just got it set Just Right-”

“Well then, if you got it just right once, then it shouldn’t be a bother to restore, now should it?” Mrs. Horton interrupted serenely. “Hippolyta, this exercise area and all the equipment in it, is for everyone to use. When I gave my introductory talk, I specifically told everyone to come down here and feel free to use the equipment; that’s what it’s here for.” Then she looked at me. “And, as for you, while I admit that you had cause, it still isn’t a good start if you have a fight on your very first day. And you, young man?”

“Oh, Hank got her off of me and let me get out from under those weights.” I beat him to the punch. Hey, he was there for me, I’ll be there for him.

Mrs. Horton nodded approvingly. “Very good. Hippolyta, Miss Chandler, both of you go to your rooms and stay there until Lights Out. Scoot!”

Hippolyta trudged off without a word, and I followed her up the stairs. Somehow, challenging Mrs. Horton didn’t seem like a very good idea...

I was ‘helping’ Nikki unpack by shelving her books. From a reclining position on my bed by tossing them onto the bookcase across the room. “ ‘Archetypal Imagery In Folk lore’ by Dr. Tregwaithe Brown, Ph.D.” <Shelf!> “ ‘Universal Concepts In Metaphysical Systems’ by Sylvia Wiggins- I’ll bet that’s a real page-turner!” <Shelf!> “ ‘The Magic Mirror: Medieval Legend And Modern Psychology’ by Dr. Donald Ryecroft. Don’t tell me how it turns out, I want to read it on my own!” <Shelf!> “ ‘The Glory That Was Avalon: An Overview Of Faerie Lore in Europe’ by Jessica Godfrey. I think I’ll wait until the movie comes out.” <Shelf!> “ ‘The Tribe of Oberon: Analytic Comparison of Faerie Concepts in Global Folklore’ by Horace Brigham- jeez, Nikki, are you into this whole ‘Fairy Princess’ concept or what?” <Shelf!>

Nikki sniffed, “Well, unlike some mutant powers, _mine_ require a real understanding of how they work. I can’t just wing it, the way that you do. Besides, you have all those martial arts teachers just panting at the idea of working with you. Me? Real magicians are pretty rare, and they don’t exactly part with their secrets easily. I need every bit of lore that I can scare up!”

< Humph!> “Maybe, but I think that you’re more into this thing than you let on. I mean, what kind of superhero name is ‘Fey’, anyway? I can just see your Action Figure- ‘The new ‘Fey’ figure, now with Power Limp Wrist!’ ” I waggled a floppy hand at Nikki.

<Humph right back at you! >“And what kind of ‘superhero name’ have you decided for yourself? ‘Mega-Mouth’? ‘Thunder-Thighs’?”

That took me back a bit. “Y’know, I haven’t really given it any thought! From what I get, ‘Code Names’ do seem to be pretty de rigeur around here, don’t they?”

“Weeelll, as a matter of fact, I did read something about students being required to use a Code Name in their training exercises, for security reasons. Exactly what those security reasons ARE, I dunno.”

I dug out another book and was about to shelve it. When there was a knock on the door. Rip poked her head in. “Hey, are you guys decent?”

“Jeez, the straight lines they throw you here!” I muttered to the air. “Yeah, we’re cool!”

She stepped in. “Hey, I know that it’s asking a lot, but it’s our first day here- would one of you be willing to trade rooms with me?”

“Aahh-- Rip-- in case you forgot-- We’re TGs. There’s no WAY that they’re gonna let us share a room with a genetic girl.”

“Oh, C’Maaawwn! I _gotta_ get out of that room!”

“What’s so bad about it?”

“Oh, you have got to SEE this to believe it!” She grabbed my hand and pulled me off the bed.

“Hey, I’m sort of grounded for the rest of the evening.”

“Oh, who’s gonna know? And you just won’t understand until you see this!”

I looked at Nikki, who shrugged and got up. Rip almost dragged me down the hall to her bedroom. The bedroom was the same size and layout as the one that Nikki and I shared. It was the contents that sort of jumped out at you. Aside from one stripped bed with a couple of suitcases on it, the place was absolutely packed! There were – (one, two, three, five-) SEVEN trunks that were already open and the contents laid around the room. Rabbits! Dozens of stuffed rabbits! All over the place! And Eggs! Huge decorated, bejeweled eggs, some of them three feet tall. All over the place! “Look at this room!” Rip wailed. “It looks like Liberace exploded!”

Nikki peered at one of the overblown omelets curiously. “What in world?” She reached over and touched one of the ‘jewels’ on the egg. The ‘jewel’ lit.

“Don’t touch that!”

We turned to the door. A short blonde girl was standing there. She was wearing tight Capri pants that really showed off how well she was rounding out and a blue shirt with white polka dots that was tied off across her tummy. Her hair was done up and two ‘spaniel ears’ that sort of made her wide blue eyes seem all that bigger in her kewpie doll face. Standing next to her was a three-foot tall stuffed rabbit that was carrying yet another trunk. Yes, a three-foot tall stuffed rabbit was carrying what had to be a hundred pound trunk. Do you honestly think that I’d make something like that UP? She said, “I haven’t re-programmed that for unpacking yet!”

Before Blondie could get into the room, the ‘Egg’ sort of exploded as curving panels on the ‘egg’ opened up, making it look more like a really tacky artichoke than an egg. Long thin cables snaked out from behind the panel, started grabbing things, and stowing them away in the trunks. More cables snaked out and moved the egg around so that it could get to the trunks more easily.

“No!” Blondie yelled, “I was just getting settled in!” She rushed in and tried to grab the egg, I guess so that she could shut it off. “Dammit, Hubert, I don’t want to have to unpack all that again!”

‘Hubert’, as I guess she had named the Egg-bot ignored her- I guess that she spaced on giving it Voice-Recognition programming- and kept stashing things away. Hubert didn’t so much fight her as it pointedly ignored her and avoided her attempts to shut it off.

“Harvey, get in here and help me shut Hubert off!” The big rabbit- she would call it ‘Harvey’- put the trunk down and advanced. Hubert picked it up, detached the head, arms and legs, and stowed it away in a trunk.

The girl kept trying to wrestle with the stupid egg, but wasn’t getting anywhere. Nikki, Rip and I watched in baffled amazement. Nikki turned to me. “Couldn’t you, y’know, throw a pencil at the ‘Off’ switch and turn it off, or something?”

“Sure- IF I knew which dingus was the ‘Off’ switch.”

“Hey, don’t put yourself out on MY account,” Rip muttered, “It’s doing just what I want.”

Blondie was fighting tooth and nail against ‘Hubert’. When it was done with all the ‘eggs’ and plush, it suddenly wrapped its cables around its maker and hauled her off her feet. Blondie gave a shrill squeal of outrage as it tucked her inside one of the trunks and shut it. “Dammit, Hubert, let me OUT of here, so that I can DISMANTLE you!”

‘Hubert’ only retracted its cables, sealed its panels and shut off the light.

“LET ME OUT OF HERE!”, came muffled from the trunk.

I started towards the trunk. Rip grabbed my arm. “Do you have to right away? Couldn’t you just, y’know, sort of wait until I got all of my stuff unpacked?”

Nikki said, “We can’t just leave her in there.” She walked over to the trunk and tried to open it. “It’s locked. And I don’t have the key.” She thumped the trunk. “HEY! We need a key to open this thing! Where is it?”

“It’s in my pocket!”

Nikki shook her head disgustedly, and wiped the metaphorical egg off of her face. She muttered something, and twiddled her fingers as trails of energy traced out from her fingertips. Then she pointed at the lock, which sprung open.

The second the trunk lid was open, the girl fussed at us, until Nikki offered her a hand out. Blondie’s eyes went wide as she got a good look at Nikki. “Wow. You’re cute. I like you. What’s your name?”

Nikki blushed and stammered, “Oh, it’s Nikki, Nikki Reilly.”

“Hi, Nikki! My name’s Bunny Cormick. I’m from Las Vegas.”

“Well THAT explains a lot.” Rip muttered under her breath.

“Gee, I don’t know what happened with Hubert, I didn’t expect him to pack me away like that, I didn’t program him to, by the way how did you get the trunk open, the key was in my pocket, and I didn’t hear you picking the lock, so how did you get it open? You’re not an Energizer, are you, ‘cause I haven’t managed to surge protect my eggs yet. Please, you aren’t an energizer, are you?”

I flickered my eyes over to Rip and mouthed ‘My Condolences’ at her. She just nodded and rolled her eyes.

Nikki blushed and stammered again. “Uhm, well, I’m sort of a magician-”

“A magician? Cool! You do Escape Artist stuff? Don’t you just love Sigfried and Roy? Too bad about Roy and that tiger, I hope they don’t kill the tiger, Roy doesn’t want them to kill the tiger, he says that it was all a mistake. My daddy works special effects and he works with their support team sometime, and don’t they have the greatest tricks?”

“Oh, ah, not that kind of magician. I’m a Mage.”

Bunny’s eyes snapped open as if she’d just found out that Christmas hadn’t been cancelled after all. “A Mage? You mean that you can do REAL Magic? Oh that is so cool! Would you mind sitting for a spectroscopic examination while you do it?”

Nikki looked like she was going down for the third time, so I jumped in. “So, ah Bunny... what’s your real name?”

Bunny blinked and looked at me. “Bunny _is_ my real name.”

It would be. “What’s with all the heavy tech eggs?”

“Oh, my eggs? Don’t you just love them? They are SO CUTE! Oh, I build all of my projects inside egg-shaped carapaces- square boxes are just SO last century, don’t you think? The Egg is the perfect protective shape, and with a little ingenuity, you can fit almost anything inside an egg!”

There was a sort of whoosh-ing sound in the hallway outside, and I caught a glimpse of a whitish streak go by the door.

“So, Bunny, you’re some kind of inventor?”

“Oh, yeah, I’m what they call a ‘Level: 4 Esper/Gadgeteer’, and a ‘Level: 3 Deviser’. I mostly do robotics and electromagnetic field formation effects for hologram and Special Effects stuff, but I also do other stuff.”

“You said ‘Gadgeteer’ and ‘Deviser’- I thought that ‘Deviser’ and ‘Gadgeteer’ were pretty much the same thing, Mad Scientist stuff.”

“Well, they’re not. They’re similar, but they aren’t the same thing. But you can have both traits in one package. Like Me.” She laid a coy hand on her chest by way of demonstration.

“Well, what’s the difference?”

“A Gadgeteer can go to the Patent Office- a Deviser can go anywhere BUT the Patent Office.”

“Hunh?”

“Sorry- Tech-Head joke. Y’see a ‘Gadgeteer’ is an Esper thing. It’s a kind of Clairvoyance where you know instinctively how to use the tools, equipment and components at hand to do what it is that you want to get done. At the lower levels, it’s just sort of like the guy who is REALLY good at fixing cars or appliances. At the higher levels, you get Ground Breaking inventors, like me.”

“And a ‘Deviser’?”

“Well, ‘Devisers’ really Are the ‘Mad Scientist thing. Y’see there’s this thing called ‘the Schimmlehorn Effect’.”

“The Schimmlehorn Effect?”

“Yeah, they named it after this character in a series of Science Fiction stories called ‘Papa Schimmlehorn’ who could build almost any kind of machine, no matter how bizarre- Time Machines, Alchemy Machines that turn lead into gold, stuff like that, stuff that has no basis in Real World Physics, Chemistry or Biology. Some guy called Reginald Bretnor writes these stories. Anyway, they call it the ‘Schimmlehorn Effect’, after ‘Papa Schimmlehorn’, because the effect causes these ‘Mad Scientist’ devices to work in the face of the conventional Laws of Physics and so forth.”

“You mean like ‘Zergatronic Megadeath Rays’?”

“And Giant Robots that can tear buildings up off their foundations, when they should barely be able to move, and shrink rays that work and things like that. The basic principle is that the *ahem* ‘Mad Scientist’ first rejects the principles of accepted science, and somehow imposes her own set of rules on a small piece of reality. She sort of makes the principles that her inventions operate on work. Mind you, you can’t patent any of those things, ‘cause they just won’t work if the ‘Mad Scientist’ doesn’t built the device.”

Nikki looked rather worried. “That is uncomfortably close to a lot of theories of how Magic really works- that all the magical principles and procedures are just the Mage imposing their own theory of how magic is supposed to work on the universe. So, Bunny, when you’re working on something, how do you know if what you’re inventing isn’t a ‘Mad Scientist’ gizmo that won’t work for anyone else?”

“Those things are called ‘devises’- with a ‘S’ instead of a ‘C’. And I don’t. I have to finish every project, perfect it, and get someone else to try to build one too. Would you like to see some of my work?” Bunny opened a trunk and pulled out one of her eggs. “This is Eldon. He’s a-”

“Yeah, yeah, very nice!” Rip interrupted, but do you have to stash all of these things in MY room?”

“It’s MY room too!” Bunny squeaked.

There was another ‘Zip’ past the door. “What was that?” I asked.

“What was what?”

“I heard something go past the door.”

“I didn’t see anything.”

“I’m telling you, I heard something.”

“Maybe it was one of Bunny’s stupid rabbit robots.” Rip groused.

“My Rabbits are NOT stupid!” Bunny squeaked back.

“Maybe, maybe not, but you’re cramming them into MY space! Hey, _I_ have stuff too!”

“But I can’t just throw them out! They’re my BABIES!”

“I don’t care what you do with them! But either you find somewhere else to stash ‘em, or you can get a new roommate!”

There was that zipping noise again, and that tanned, blonde girl who had sit next to me on the bus was suddenly there. “You want a new roomie! Kewl! I’d be glad to move in!”

“Oh, No.” Riptide moaned. Bunny and Rip looked at each other.

“Uhm, that’s all right, Jay Jay- I think that Bunny and I can work this out.”

“Oh, it’s no problem!” The girl disappeared with a whoosh! and a heartbeat later, was back with a suitcase. “Which side is mine?”

Bunny smiled apologetically. “No, honestly, we’re just ironing out a minor misunderstanding-”

“Oh, come on! A promise is a promise!”

“I don’t remember making any promises.”

“Oh, I suppose that now you’re going to welsh on your promise to help me with my homework!”

“Jay Jay, I never said that I’d help you with any homework!”

“But you were bragging about being such a genius!”

“You asked me what my IQ was, I answered.”

“Bunny, how are we going to be roommates, if you keep breaking your promises?”

“J.J., I never asked you to be my roommate.”

“But you GOTTA! You wouldn’t believe the weirdo that they got stowed in my room! She-” But before J.J. could go any further, Bunny’s egg ‘Eldon’ erupted in a shower of sparks.

“Get OUT!” Bunny screamed, “You’re an energizer- you’re projecting some kind of electric field and my projects are overloading!” The other egg, ‘Hubert’, exploded its panels and the cables started waving around wildly, and one of the trunks burst open as Bunny’s other projects went haywire.

J.J. left with yet another ‘zip’.

Rip instinctively began forming a thick fog around herself. Seeing things going even worse if that much humidity hit Bunny’s electronics, I grabbed Rip and carried her out of the room. As I cleared the door into the hallway, I heard Bunny wail, “She scrambled my eggs!”

Cradling Rip in my arms, I said to her, “I think that we ought to let Nikki calm Bunny down a little before you go back in there. Who the HECK was That?”

“Oh, that was Jay Jay- Joanne Jackie- Jengle-somethingerother, I forget. Apparently, she’s the Gurlzone Freshman superspeedster- everywhere except between her ears.”

“What happened with Bunny’s eggs?”

“Well, if I remember our Walk and Talk correctly, Jay Jay’s superspeed actually comes from some kind of Energizer trait, and besides moving like the Flash, she also generates this powerful magnetic field.”

“Oh, right- and Bunny said that her eggs weren’t surge protected. So this Jay Jay comes in, generates her magnetic field, and *Kzzaatt!* Bunny’s eggs go kablooey.”

“That pretty much covers it. So, are you going to put me down, or are you going to carry me over the threshold into your room?”

Then I noticed that I was still carrying Rip cradled in my arms. “Opps.” I gave her an apologetic grin and put her down. “Sorry.”

“Hey, not to worry! You might get to like it!” She sashayed into my room. Amazing, a girl whose figure is only starting, and already she can sashay.

She plopped down onto Nikki’s bed and looked around. “So, you two are still unpacking, I see. Man, for guys who only turned into girls recently, you got a LOT of clothes!”

“Hey, my Mom and I tried the bonding thing while shopping.”

“Hmmm... did it take?”

“Yeah. Not over shopping, but I think that I’m gonna have a whole new kind of relationship with my Mom when I go back home.”

“Like, Whaow! Your roomie must be loaded! I don’t see anything here that isn’t 100% silk or 100% cotton or 100% wool! What, is she allergic to blends, or something?”

“Well, as a matter of fact, she is.”

“Hanh?”

“Well, apparently, she’s allergic to synthetics- rayon, dacron, spandex, like that.”

“Ooogg- that is gonna be MURDER when Summer rolls around, and she’s gotta find a bathing suit!”

“Oh, it gets worse- it seems that she gets a nasty rash whenever she touches wrought iron.”

“Yer kiddin’.”

“Well, I don’t know how much to take seriously and how much is just in her head. But I gotta empathize- I gotta watch what I eat, so her allergies don’t seem that off the wall to me.”

“Watch what you eat? Why? You got a great figure!”

“Well, it’s a start anyway. No, it’s not my weight.”

“You got allergies, too?”

“Nope- it’s like this- my metabolism is too finely tuned. For instance, I can’t drink soft drinks, ‘cause most of ‘em have caffeine, and almost all of ‘em have some kind of really concentrated sweetener. If I drink a Coke©, I get all wired and start bouncing off the walls.”

“Yeah, well, so does my brother Ernesto.”

“No, I mean, I start literally bouncing off the walls. Hyperactive Overdrive. I can eat fruits, and drink most fruit juices, but I gotta be careful of stuff from concentrates.”

“Let me guess- refined sugar sweeteners.”

“Bingo.”

“Not even Chocolate?” Rip asked mournfully.

“Not unless I wanna get incredibly horny.”

Rip started patting herself down. “Ah, Maann, what a time not t’have a Hershey© bar on me!” She gave me a speculative look. “So, what’s your roomie like?”

“Oh, Nikki? She’s a little on the quiet side, but after listening to _your_ roomie and that whacko with the twinkle toes, I’m beginning to think that’s a bonus!”

“Nikki? I thought that her name was Fay?”

“It is, sorta. That’s her superhero name.”

“Her superhero name is ‘Fay’? I knew a girl named Fay back in Redondo!”

“Not ‘Fay’- ‘Fey’ with an ‘E’. It means ‘touched by magic’, or sum’thin’.”

Rip gave me a hard look.

“Hey, don’t lookit me- _I_ didn’t come up with it.”

She leaned forward on the bed, folding her hands on her crossed knee and gave me a sly smile. “And so, what’s YOUR ‘superhero’ name gonna be? I think that ‘Vixen’ is taken.”

“Actually, Nikki and I were just talking about that. I haven’t really decided.”

Her eyes popped open wide and began to sparkle. “REALLY? Kewl! Lessee now, what would fit you? You’re this big Ki muck-a-muck- so how about ‘Black Dragon’?”

“Sorry, I’d look crappy in a chiamsong, smoking with a long cigarette holder.”

“Nngg... How about ‘Dragon Princess’?”

“What? And have to mix it up with the Powerpuff Girls?”

“How about ‘Doctor Ki’?”

“Sounds like a Hong Kong Dentist.”

“How about ‘Dragonfist’?”

“Naahh- it’d be too easy to twist into ‘Dragonbreath’.”

“Humpf! Okay, let’s dump the whole ‘Dragon’ thing.”

“Fine by me!”

“Okay, something ‘hunterish’- how about ‘Stalker’?”

“Great! And if that’s taken, I can try ‘Mugger’ or ‘Serial Killer’.”

“Hmm- good point. Okay, let’s face it, you got this whole ‘feline’ thing goin’ down.”

I curled up on my bed and ‘mewed’ at her.

“Panther?”

“Too ‘Huey Newton’.”

“Okay, how about ‘Tigress’?”

“NO WAY! Toni the ‘Tigress’? I get enough ‘The’re Gr-r-r-r-r-EAT!’ jokes as is!”

“Aahhh- how about ‘Simba’, as in ‘Lion’?”

“Already covered this with Jade- ‘Simba’ is a GUY lion. And I don’t wanna go back there!”

“Good for you, sweetie. Then how about ‘Nala’?”

“Nala? What’s a ‘Nala’?”

“It’s the name of Simba’s girlfriend in The Lion King.”

“WHAT? And take on Disney? Are you Crazy?”

“Oh god, you’re right! I never even said that!” She worried her lip a little and then inspiration seemed to strike her. “I got it! Chaka!”

“Chaka? Y’mean like Chaka Khan, the R&B singer?”

“No, I mean ‘Chaka’ as in the Masai name for the Leopard!”

“I thought that ‘Chaka’ meant ‘warrior’ or something.”

“No, that’s ‘Shaka’, which is Zulu, and a completely different language. And y’gotta admit, even if the words sorta blend t’gether, it still works for you!”

“How do you know all of this?”

“I used to sit next to a girl in Junior High who was REAL BIG on ‘African Heritage’. Y’hadda stuff a sock in her mouth to get her to shut up about it. She went on about it so much that some just sort of seeped in and stayed there.”

Chaka? Either a leopard or a warrior, depending on who you were talking to? “Y’know, I remember reading in a book called ‘Jungle Kitabu’ by some Belgian guy, that he believed that the Lion didn’t deserve to be called the ‘King of the Jungle’, because first of all, lions don’t live in the rain forest. Secondly, he claims that, pound for pound, the Leopard is the deadliest of the Great Cats, and is so has a better claim to the title. Also, if I remember my African Studies, while warriors can wear Lion’s manes as part of their war-stuff, only a Chief can wear a leopard’s skin.”

Rip spread her arms in a ‘Well, there you are!’ gesture.

Chaka? I like it! It sort of brought into focus that I wasn’t Tony Chandler, Vince and Cindy’s nebbishy little brother anymore! I was-

-well, for one thing, I was somebody who wasn’t dumb enough to let a golden opportunity slip through her fingers!

I turned to Rip and advanced on her with my most slinky feline walk. Giving her a catlike smile, I looked her over and leaned over her, gently pushing her down to mattress.

She looked up at me with dancing eyes, as if a dearly beloved fantasy was finally coming true.

With my best Eartha Kitt purr, I said, “I am CHAKA, hear me roar!”, and mashed my lips against hers.

FINI

 

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A Whateley Academy Tale

Fey: Mom, I Don't Feel So Good

By Maggie Finson

Kansas City September 15th, 2005

Nick Reilly got up from his bed and wished he hadn’t. Every part of his body at least ached, with sporadic jabs of pain from individual parts that informed him they weren’t at all happy with things as they were. As that was being imprinted on his fogged brain, his stomach gave a sudden lurch that had him running for the bathroom. “Ahhh, maaan!

“Nick?” His mother’s voice penetrated his misery, barely. “What’s the matter, honey?”

“I dunno, flu maybe.” The boy managed to answer between bouts of nausea and stabbing pains that made him feel worse than he ever remembered in his thirteen years of life. “All I know is that everything hurts and I feel like my stomach is trying to crawl up my throat and find somewhere else to live until it’s over with.”

“I haven’t heard of any flu going around.” His mother worriedly answered while resting a hand on his forehead. “But you’re burning up. Go back to bed and I’ll call the school to let them know you won’t be going today.”