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A Whateley Academy Story

Jade 4– Bottle a Jinn

by Babs Yerunkle

14: She's dead, Jinn

Whateley Academy  September 25, Monday morning

She got the idea from two separate classes. In her first class of the morning, Costuming, Mrs. Ryan started them all on a major project.

"I want you all to create a distinctive costume," she said. "Some of you may not end up using this costume – well, except for Halloween perhaps, but it's good to try it. Indulge yourself, even if you never considered yourself part of the 'spandex set.' We'll be tweaking your costume up through winter break, and it will constitute 60% of your grade."

It turned out that Mrs. Ryan had a thing for capes. Not surprising, considering where she worked. But she was particularly insistent that Jinn's costume needed a cape.

"Well, Dear, you're really nothing but clothes, are you? So take advantage of it! One of the main problems with capes is that it's hard to get them to billow properly. But you are the cape! You could billow properly no matter what the wind is like." She patted Jinn on the shoulder. "Just try it out, Dear."

"It doesn't work that way," Jinn tried to explain. "I can come out in two styles – I'm either the clothes, or the person. If I'm the clothes I can billow and all that, but it isn't like I have a body inside. If I'm the person, then it's like I have a solid body inside, but I'm just wearing the clothes. I can't billow any more than you can."

Mrs. Ryan thought about that. "Well, maybe that's even better! Think of the wonderful effects you could make. A real person, suddenly going all flat and everything as you fade into the cape. Billowing and swooping about, before you suddenly re-materialize as a person. Very spooky. You know, getting the proper effect is more than half the battle."

"But I can't switch back and forth – I'm just one or the other."

And that's when Mrs. Ryan dropped her bombshell of a question. "Why not?"

Then, after lunch, Powers Lab was its usual happy chaos. Speedsters were practicing dodges and intricate start-stop maneuvers, bricks and strong types were engaging in an egg toss. Several flyers were on the "water track". This was a walking course that periodically switched between solid panels and open water. The object was to walk "normally", not changing gait as you switched from walking to (effectively) flying. Other students judged, trying to spot errors.

Jinn was with several other smaller students at the instrumented nautilus, while Mrs. Bohn evaluated her strength project.

"Excellent," the older woman said. "Keep this calendar up to date as well. I see you have a measurement of 180 pounds from back in August. What was that?"

"That was when I had my preliminary evaluation, for getting into Whateley," Jinn told her.

"Shame you don't have any earlier data. But at least you kept good records for how long you could stay out before evaporating. We can get a pretty good curve on that one. From our previous discussions, I'm sure you can identify this type of curve?"

"Uh, logarithmic?"

"Asymptotic. Technically, a hyperbolic tangent, but why quibble? And as you can see, you've pretty well hit your maximum time of sixty-seven minutes and about eighteen seconds. Right now you're asymptotically approaching a limit," she punched it up on her calculator, "with this data, I see you approaching a maximum time limit of 67.532 minutes. Do you see?"

Jinn nodded. "And my strength is the same?"

"Yes, although I'm not going to run the calculations right now. The data's too sparse until you get a better baseline. Keep measuring on the calendar. It should top out at about 189 pounds, more or less."

"So those are my ultimate limits?"

Mrs. Bohn pursed her lips. "Not necessarily. Often, particularly in the younger students, this turns out to be the 'first bloom'. You need some special challenge or trigger to 'kick it up a notch' as my favorite chef says. It's hard to predict what that might be, but often some or all of your power will suddenly be pushed into a new upward power climb. That generally follows an S-curve, which is another reason to monitor these values. If something kicks you into a higher power range, we'll want to study it carefully, to derive maximum benefit from it."

Jinn nodded, although she wasn't sure she really understood.

"So, are there any other values you can think to measure numerically about your condition?"

"Uh, strength, duration (although I tend to think of it as 'lifespan'), I don't know – quality of my vision? Some sort of eye test?"

"Good, good. How about some non-numeric elements? According to your assessment file, you should be able to perform all sorts of interesting maneuvers in your bound-to-fabric form. I don't believe I've ever actually seen you that way."

"Uh, well," Jinn scratched the back of her head in embarrassment. She didn't actually ever get itches, but it was an old habit.

In the background, a flyer was struggling against a gravity-inducer. She suddenly crashed down into a padded foam pit, spewing obscenities.

"Language, Miss Ware!"

"I could handle this if you'd let me use my broom!"

"The exercise is to develop your innate levitation skills."

Mrs. Bohn turned back to her. "I believe you were explaining why I hadn't seen your bound-to-fabric form?"

"Well," Jinn tried, "it makes it tough getting back and forth to class. I mean, what if it was a amber flag day? I don't look that human if I'm just a bunch of animated fabric."

"Why don't you just switch from one form to the other in class. Perhaps right now?"

"Uh… I can't. When I'm cast, I'm either one way or the other. I can't switch."

Mrs. Bohn frowned. "That doesn't sound right. It seems like more of a psychological limit than anything else. I don't see why you can't easily switch from one style to another."

"Well, it's just sort of like how I get cast into a set of stuff. I can't extend my influence to cover more 'stuff'. It's only when I'm first cast."

The teacher was shaking her head. "No, that's completely different. Material focus, time of instantiation, there's plenty of documentation on that type of phenomena. But you're nothing more than a psychological collection of telekinetic forces. You should be able to flip yourself around, or whatever, without disrupting your bond to the original material."

Jinn shrugged.

"Well, work on it. That will be your project for this week. And keep in mind that initially, it may be easier to go in one direction than the other. Start out both ways, then try to go to the other state."

Later, back at Poe, Jinn thought about it. She certainly wasn't getting anywhere (as Jinn) in martial arts. Ito Sensei wouldn't work with her, since she had no body and no ki. He kept claiming that he had "nothing to teach her." Tolman Sensei seemed more tolerant, but was a bit puzzled on how to craft any tricks or techniques for the non-physical girl. She kept her practicing the same maneuvers in different orientations – mid-air, upside down, etc.

If Jinn could master this, she might be able to open up a larger raft of possibilities.

Of course, this wasn't the time to experiment. Everyone was piled into the study corner, with Jade lying on a blanket-chair in mid-air as she typed on the laptop, Toni dangling from a foot-loop tied to the ceiling, Tennyo reclining in mid-air, and Ayla poking halfway through the wall like a mounted trophy. Fey was missing, having said something about modeling practice, and Hank had offered to walk her there and back.

Jinn was taking up the slack. In addition to holding books, tables, pens, blanket-couches, drinks, and the like, she was also holding desk lamps in position to provide reading light. Fey usually handled the lighting, and she was sorely missed.

Jinn had also taken a subtle hold on Toni's clothes. The girl had been warned to be extra-careful of her head this week, but here she was dangling upside down and hanging by one foot. She'd have to let go if Toni moved more than a few feet away, but today the hyperactive girl had been unusually subdued. Perhaps it had something to do with Ito Sensei's brutal analysis of Toni's fight, or whatever had happened when he kept her behind class today.

They finally met up with Hank and Fey on the way to dinner. The green flag was up, so Jade decided to practice. For Jinn, she left behind the mask and wig and used only the black hood, full-body leotard, and gloves.

"Whoa, looking a bit flat, Jinn," Hank said, as he strolled up to them. "New look?"

Jade explained it for her. "We're trying to learn to switch between being a person, and being the object."

"Yeah," Jinn added. "There's a lot I can do in this form that I can't do as a person."

"Yeah, you can look a LOT more skinny," Toni quipped. "Damn! I've never seen such an effective diet."

Jinn floated up to the black girl. "Well… I can do this." She flopped her arm out toward Toni, then wrapped the sleeve round-and-round the other girl's arm.

"Hmmm." Toni pulled back against the binding. "Might be a good way to tie someone up, if they aren't strong enough to rip lycra."

Jinn unwound the sleeve. "I'm going to roam around, while I try to figure this out."

The rest of the team nodded at her.

"Look," Toni began, continuing her previous crusade, "I'm just saying that we all need to have code names."

"Is she on that again?" Fey asked, with a bored expression.

"Hey, it's fine for you. You already have 'Fey', and Billie goes by 'Tennyo' half the time anyway. But what about the rest of us?"

Ayla spoke up. "Phase. I told you back when we were first introduced."

"Huh?" "News to me." "I don't remember that."

Ayla shrugged, unconcerned. "Maybe I only thought about it. But I definitely picked it out then. I was sure I mentioned it to someone."

"Ooookay," Toni said. She eyed the selections with dismay. "Anyone notice that Mondays seem to be the low point on the whole menu biorhythm? I mean, meat loaf? Cabbage rolls?"

"Hey, do we have to do a trademark search or something when we come up with a name?" Hank asked.

"They recommend it, but you can let that slide for a couple of months. It's really only an issue when you start using it in public."

Nikki had a thought. "Can we change our code name?"

"You getting tired of 'Fey'?"

"No, it's just – maybe a girl needs some variety."

Surprisingly, it was Jade who answered. "My friend Juanita, from upstairs, is changing her name. She decided that 'Quickie' didn't convey the image she wanted."

Hank started snickering. "Oh, Lord…!"

"She's thinking of using 'Go Go', but a lot of us weren't sure that was much better."

Hank was laughing now. "Does she have special thigh-high boots? And a miniskirt? Does she wear really bright polyester?"

"Hank! I'm serious!"

"So am I."

So automatically that they didn't consciously think about it, the crew entered the domed cafeteria and moved to their socially-approved seating.

As freshmen, the school hierarchy pushed them to get tables around the far edge of the dome room. This was just as well, since a yelling match erupted in the center of the dome at least once a week. This time, it was a bunch of the high-status Alphas yelling at someone that Jade actually recognized. She'd eaten dinner with Mindbird a week ago, before Tennyo's big hearing.

She briefly wished that Jinn were around, so she could see the energies being gathered up. These sorts of events were usually pretty colorful to Jinn's special vision, including both the violent emotions and the mutant energies that were generated. Instead, she turned back to the conversation.

"I swear, that Don Sebastiano makes me so sick. I wish Mindbird would just shove her boot straight down his throat!"

"Naw, nothing can penetrate his Aura of Smugness."

Jade looked quickly around at her companions, but they were as surprised as she was. It was more of the curious acoustics of the dome. When you sat at the edge, you sometimes heard conversations from the other side of the dome. There was no telling who they were hearing.

"Well," Toni said, speaking as much to their unseen companions as to the team at the table, "I think he's about to be wearing her soda."

Sure enough, Mindbird flung her drink in the direction of the large Latino that was bothering her. But the Latino's companion, a lithe-looking Frenchman, held his hands out and immediately conjured a shield. The drink splashed harmlessly against the shield. While the Latino laughed, Mindbird stalked away in a huff.

"That makes me want to puke, every time I see it," the voice came.

"What are you talking about?" Toni asked the voice.

"Uh… I've probably said too much. If you want to know, ask what happened to Cavalier and Skybolt. Just don't ask too loudly. Get my drift?"

"No, I don't," Fey said. "What are you talking about?"

But the voice was gone.

After that bit of entertainment and mystery, the group returned to the perennial favorite of code names.

"Well," Jade admitted reluctantly, "I was thinking of something like 'Clothes Ghost'. What do you think?"

"Oh, puh-leeze!" Ayla groaned. "Clothes Ghost? Why not, 'Haunted Laundry' or 'Creepy Cleaning'?"

"Well it's a start!"

"You know," Tennyo realized, "you're probably going to need TWO code names. One for Jinn, and one for Jade."

"One for…me?" Jade squeaked. "But, I don't HAVE any powers! Not without Jinn."

"Yeah, but you were on the field with us when we faced the ninjas," Toni pointed out. "It's probably going to be the same in the future. Better get used to it. Besides, haven't you been learning anything in martial arts?"

"But… but… I'm just a normal person."

Hank snorted. "So is Ito Sensei – in theory. He sure smacked me around."

Fey looked over at the lone guy at the table, as he finished his third helping of meatloaf. "How about you, Big Guy?"

"Well, since I'm so tough, someone suggested 'Dense'." He glared at Tennyo, who seemed to be staring out the window so that she could concentrate on her whistling. "I didn't like that one, for obvious reasons."

"Oh, didn't want to go with 'Studmuffin'?" Fey slipped in.

Hank almost choked on his drink. Jade watched Fey and Tennyo exchange glares. She wasn't entirely sure she always understood the other girls.

"How about you, Toni?" Ayla asked. "You keep bringing it up. Are you settled on 'Chaka'?"

"Well let's run the numbers," the black girl said. "Whatever I pick, it's gotta be cool. That just goes without saying. Something sleek. And it would be nice if it mixes in martial arts, somehow. And since Chaka is the Masai name for the leopard, we got," she began to tick off points on her fingers, "we got the cool – 'cause what's cooler than the Masai? We got sleek. Are leopard's sleek? Betcher ass. And last – big cats 'n' martial arts? Hell, I'm there. Yeah, I'm sticking with Chaka."

"And you'll fit in absolutely perfectly with the Tigers!" Jade suggested. "They were already pretty impressed by your match. I think they kind of want you to join them. And once they hear your code name –"

Toni scowled. "I'm not sure if that's a plus or a minus."

"So what's with them?" Fey wondered. "Aren't the tigers all black? Aren't they, like, Afro-centric?"

"Yeah, none of you melanin-deprived types allowed. Nothing but brothers and sisters. You got a problem with that?"

"Well, aren't tigers native to India, not Africa?"

"Hey, get off their case, okay? There's a limited set of good martial arts names. 'Dragons' was already taken."

"Uh huh."

Dinner finished with no one (aside from Phase) coming up with a good code name. As they headed back up the walkway toward Melville and then Poe, Jade pushed things to a new topic.

"You know, we're going to need more than code names. We're all going to need costumes, too."

"Where'd you hear that?"

"It's for the yearbook pictures. You get your picture in your costume."

"That isn't until practically spring!"

"Well," Jade defended, "it's different for me. As Jinn, I mean. My name and my costume are practically the same thing."

"Clothes ghost!" Ayla muttered to herself, snickering.

"I don't know if I need a costume," Tennyo said, rubbing a hand back across her hair. "After all, no one's going to be mistaking this beautiful head."

"Do we need to learn how to do a quick-change?" Ayla wondered, gruffly.

"Hmm, maybe I don't need a costume," Fey mused. "If I could just sort of glamour something up…"

"Speaking of costumes," Hank said, "isn't that Jinn, up on the bench? Looks like she hasn't figured out how to switch into a girl, she's still pretty flat looking."

In fact, she was completely flat. The full-body leotard had been draped over the bench as if drying. The slippers and gloves were lying on the ground nearby, and the hood was quickly located on the ground.

"Weird," Fey said. "It's like she just dropped everything right here." She lifted up the empty clothes, which were obviously not inhabited by Jinn. "When did she come back to you, Jade?"

There was a quiet sob, and everyone turned to look at the small Asian girl. A girl that was suddenly shaking and white.

"She didn't!" Jade choked out. "She never came back!"

15: She sucks

Back in the common room, the other girls were trying to comfort Jade.

"She's just … gone," Jade whispered, hoarsely.

Tennyo awkwardly patted her roommate's shoulder. "Could she have gone flying off as a bit of lint or something?"

Jade sat up abruptly. "Maybe. Maybe!" She looked at her watch. "I always set this when I charge Jinn. I've been timing how long she can be out, and I know the maximum time is just a bit over sixty-seven minutes. That means we've still got ten minutes left!"

That cheered everyone up, but the tension mounted as Jade's watch moved forward. Finally, the second hand swept toward the magic mark of sixty-seven minutes. Then it swept past.

"That's… impossible!" Jade wailed.

"Maybe you mis-set your watch," Fey offered.

Five minutes later, there were no such excuses, and Jade had retired to her room in tears. "I'm dead!" she kept saying over and over.

The other girls looked uncomfortably at each other, but there was nothing they could do.


EARLIER THAT DAY, things had not been going well for Tansy Walcutt. She was a junior this year, and the way she figured it, it was about time they started looking to HER for leadership. After all, wasn't she beautiful? Wasn't she charming? In her own mind she answered the question, "Fucking right I'm charming! I can out-charm any of you god-dammed bitches all the way to hell and back!"

The other women in question were trying their first bit of runway work, under the guidance of 'Poise', the nominal leader of Venus, Inc. The "nominal" part was mostly in Tansy's mind – everyone else seemed to think that Poise had the position locked in.

Like 'Poise' is such a fucking great code-name. It should be 'Poison', which is what I'd like to do to her and all those other fuck-faces out there.

One young girl, in particular, was collecting her wrath. A freshman, of all things. This girl was one of those faerie types. She was an exotic near-human who practically glowed with beauty. Even worse, this girl seemed to have it all. Beauty, grace, an excellent figure, and a "sincere personality" (completely overrated, in Tansy's opinion). Tansy had thrown a couple of psychic jabs at the girl, just to get her to stumble on the runway. The girl had stumbled – the first time. Then she seemed to wave her hand dismissively, and the jabs didn't seem to get through to her again. Even worse, her impossibly wide elven eyes seemed to focus on Tansy briefly.

After that, Tansy just sat back and sulked. It wasn't like Whateley needed that many models throughout the school year. The freshmen were supposed to be gawky and naïve, not exotic beauties. They were supposed to need her guidance. But instead of asking her to lead them, all they wanted was help and some tips.

Well, Tansy decided to herself, if I can't run Venus, Inc. then I will god-dammed OWN the Alphas.

But that had problems of its own. Don Sebastiano's powers were too much like her own. Although neither of them were full telepaths, they both had tricks and techniques they used to control others. A game that Don seemed to be better at than she was.

Maybe if she slept with him, distasteful as that thought was.

No. She needed an edge. She ran through the power structure in her mind. By rights, Kody should have run the alphas this year. He was the senior. He had the muscle. No one was going up against Kodiak, if they had more than half a brain. But The Don had fear on his side. Somehow, he'd pulled a major coup last Christmas with Cavalier and Skybolt, and now everyone was more likely to shit their pants than go up against "The Don."

Abruptly, she pushed herself upright and went walking away from the stage. As an experienced member of Venus, Inc., she was supposed to be helping the new girls, providing them with critique and suggestions to help out their modeling careers. Well, to hell with that. She had plans to put under way.


She plied Kody at dinner. At 6' 6", the massive senior had a build that spoke of pure muscle and power. What wasn't so obvious was the native intelligence lurking behind those yellow eyes.

"Kod-ie," she wheedled, hanging off one of his massive arms, "the alphas would be sooo much better off if you were in charge."

He grunted non-committally, taking another large bite of salad. "Leaving you in the number two slot, huh?"

"Well, every king needs his queen."

"Look, I'll be square with you, which is a lot more than you're doing for me." He used his napkin to wipe his lips, apparently not even noticing that he half-lifted her from her seat as he moved his arm. "I don't like the way The Don is handling the alphas. Not at all. When Freya ran things –" he paused "Well, let's just say that things have changed, and NOT for the better.

"But after Cavalier and Skybolt – no one's going to touch The Don. You remember last year, before Christmas? She slapped him. She wouldn't even speak to him! But after we all came back in January, The Don brought a bunch of us guys together. We didn't know what he planned to show us.

"It was Skybolt. She was looking at him like he was the son of God. He just nodded at her, that was all, and she dropped to her hands and knees and sucked him off, right there in front of us. And Cavalier, her boyfriend, watched with a big smile like it was the finest thing he'd ever seen."

Tansy sighed in boredom. "Yada yada yada. You know how many times I've heard that stupid story? He probably paid her off. If so, he certainly got his money's worth."

Privately, she knew it was more than that, even if the telepathic probes had never turned up any evidence. Still, she was sure she could accomplish the same, given enough time to reinforce a few post-hypnotic suggestions.

"With what I know right now," Kodiak said carefully, "there's no way I'm going up against The Don."

"Poor little Kody," she said, stroking his huge arm, "so scared of The Don's evil mind-control."

"No," he said. "I hold the spirit of the Bear. The Bear protects me from that. But there are others who aren't protected. Don't start a war, unless you're willing to accept the casualties."

She slapped at him flirtatiously. "Silly bear! Why should I be bothered with casualties?"


She stopped for a smoke after dinner, going over the conversation in her mind.

"The Bear protects me from that."

Hmmm, she mused, maybe that's the edge I need over The Don. Tansy didn't believe in revealing the full extent of her abilities. She knew she was an avatar, but about the lowest level you can get. Back before she'd shown any of her other powers, back when she'd still been an ugly little fat girl, she'd always tried to get away from things. And Daddy's summer cottage was about as far away as you could get.

She'd hiked out on her own, once, trying to get to the "special spot" the groundskeepers always talked about. A little waterfall and pool that were supposed to be "something special."

It had been special, alright. She'd felt impossibly guilty at the time. With what she knew now, it was just some dumb nature spirit in its hallow. She'd stumbled into the spot and inadvertently sucked the spirit of the place into her. And had it given her any great powers or abilities? Hell no. It gave her "serenity" and an ability to gather peaceful animals around her.

As her fury had grown, she could feel the trapped spirit struggling to escape. From her point of view, it had been monstrously unfair. If she gained super powers, she was supposed to turn into some sort of beautiful mutant girl, so pretty that it hurt people to look at her. She wasn't supposed to gain the power to charm a bunch of god-dammed game animals.

Looking back on it, she was sure that it was her anger that clashed against the spirit's serenity. It has struggled desperately to be free. Even now, she wasn't sure whether it had escaped and returned to its hallow, or whether she had just shredded the useless thing in her rage. She'd certainly never returned to the spot. And there'd been even less need, when she finally did develop the type of powers she was supposed to have.

But she and The Don were pretty evenly matched. What if she had an edge? What if she had her own spirit, to protect her mind from Sebastiano's touch?

The problem was, finding spirits wasn't that easy. It seemed like a third of the avatars around hadn't linked to any spirits yet.

She wondered if she could buy a spirit off of someone.

While enjoying that little fantasy, who should come up toward the cafeteria but the stupid faerie model-girl that had irritated her earlier. Tansy's eyes almost popped from their sockets, when she saw who faerie-girl was meeting. It was Trevor! What was he/she calling itself these days? Ayla, she remembered.

She suddenly realized that these were the girl from the ninja attack, a couple of weeks ago. She hadn't recognized faerie-girl until now. In the daylight, she looked more filled out and feminine. Probably stuffs her bra, Tansy decided.

She kept back in her smoking hole, behind a screen of bushes, watching the girls talk. The floating clothing was weird, and wrapped its arm around the black girl. Then the girls headed into the cafeteria, while the clothing floated away.

That can't possibly be a spirit, Tansy told herself. There's no way I'm that lucky.

But fortune favors the bold, so she sauntered her way up the walk, following the floating leotard.

"Really," Tansy drawled out, "basic black is attractive, but this carries things a bit too far, don't you think?"

The leotard pivoted in mid-air until it was facing her. It hadn't moved suddenly, as if startled. This was a smooth pivot, as if it was hesitant.

"I'm just… practicing." The clothes had a girl's voice.

"How droll. Practicing what?"

"I – I should be able to, I don't know, come alive inside the clothes. Fill them out, as if a normal person was wearing them. I just can't figure out how to make the switch."

"Maybe I can help," Tansy offered. "I'm Tansy Walcutt. You've probably heard of me." She held out her hand.

And empty sleeve and glove flopped up into her hand. "Uh, sure. I'm Jinn Sinclair. I'm just a freshman."

"Hmmm, fascinating," Tansy said. She could get a tingle from the glove. She knew that there was something in the glove, something ticking at her avatar senses, but she couldn't quite get a handle on it. The material of the glove prevented her from making contact with the spirit.

"Uh, can I have my hand back now?" The clothes-girl was surprisingly strong as she tugged her arm back.

"Be patient, damn you!" Tansy hissed back. "I'm trying to figure this out!"

"Oh. I guess."

Tansy pulled the glove away from the sleeve. It stretched, like it was connected by elastic, even though there was nothing visible between the glove and the sleeve. But Tansy's avatar senses were suddenly sensing a thin film of pure spirit that joined the glove to the rest of the garment.

"Perfect!"

"What? What are you–?"

Tansy jabbed the bright-red painted fingernails of her right hand straight into that film of spirit. Harnessing all the greed in her power, she sucked at those energies that should rightfully belong to her.

"No! What are you doing? It hurts!" The clothing girl gave a thin screech of pain, then utterly collapsed.

Tansy smiled a predator's smile, and tossed the empty garment onto a nearby bench. She could feel the energies crackling over her skin, as they settled into place. She felt… strong! She reached over to the iron bench, which had to weigh nearly a hundred pounds. She lifted it in one hand.

Laughing madly, Tansy stretched her arms out, cruciform. Gathering the power in a way she couldn't explain, she lifted off the ground, flying into the sky.

To hell with The Don, she exulted. I should have done this AGES ago!

16: Jinn's sister

Tansy was careful to let herself down quickly. So she could fly now? Not as fast as some, but it was a hell of a lot better than the spirits some people had gotten. Still, she'd always been one to keep a little reserve hidden away. It wouldn't do to share this secret prematurely.

She wondered if she'd picked up the mental fuzzing that Kody had talked about. Her roommate should be able to answer that one.

She practically skipped her way back across campus toward Dickinson. The power didn't have to be used to fly – she could just make herself light on her feet. That meant less effort, added grace, and for once she didn't mind wearing high heels.

She was in such a good mood, she decided to have a little fun with the lower-tier dweebs she ran across.

And there, a bit ahead of her, were the perfect set of victims. A group of sophomores, mostly, that had pretensions of being criminal masterminds. The girl in front, the Asian one, what was her name? Hazard? She was a little too attractive for Tansy's liking. She saw no reason to share the spotlight with anyone. The rest of them were non-entities, completely dismissible. Except of course, for Jello. She wasn't sure why a bunch of reasonably good-looking kids would hang around with that thing. The girl – although it was hard to tell at times – seemed to be in the process of melting. It was revolting, and Tansy was under the firm impression that Jello and the rest of the freak-show crew should take separate classes and separate meals, so that they didn't disturb their betters. In fact, it would be better for everyone if there were just a separate school. One for the normal and attractive kids, and another for the losers and freaks.

Still, they did make amusing targets.

She prepared her favorite ability, the one she called "brain zap." It didn't necessarily make you stumble, or stutter. It just caused a little hiccup in the thought process. And if you happened to be in the middle of speaking or taking a step… well, that was too bad, wasn't it? Like all of life, half the trick was in the timing.

Strolling elegantly behind them, she was part of the sparse crowd that wound its way out of Crystal Hall and through campus on their way back to the cottages. The gas lights alongside the brick walk were beginning to provide more illumination as the twilight deepened. Clusters of students walked and talked. Tansy waited for the proper moment – when Jello had just raised her right foot. ZAP! And the melting girl stumbled, toppling forward flat onto her face. She was apparently so confused that she didn't even have time to put her hands out. She hit the brick walkway face-first, and splashed. Like a water balloon that doesn't burst, the uncontrolled shapeshifter bulged out to the side, before sucking back into roughly human shape.

Tansy howled with laughter. Around her, she felt other students joining in, some with uncomfortable chuckles, but a few bold ones echoing her own mocking howls.

"Oh, that's rich!" she chortled. "I'll bet that made an impression on you! Hey, I'd heard you were strong, but now you can be a real BRICK!"

Sure enough, as her friends helped her up, the Jello-girl's face held a perfect imprint of the walkway. Tansy howled again as she strode regally past them.

You did that on purpose, didn't you?

"What?  Who said that?" The girl, whoever she was, sounded like she was right next to her.

Why would anyone be so deliberately cruel?

Tansy suddenly recognized the voice. She'd last heard it coming from a flat piece of fabric. She kept walking, until she was out of earshot. "Be quiet, little spirit. I guess I'm not done digesting you yet."

You don't have the slightest idea what you're doing, do you?

"I know more than you do, that's for damn sure. And look!" She lifted off the ground briefly. "Guess who's got your powers now?"

Guess who's about to get haunted.

"Don't make trouble for me, or you'll regret it."

Oh, sure. What are you going to do? Hit me in the head?

"Hmm. We'll see." And she hurried a bit more, going back to Dickinson.


As always, it was a relief to get back to her room. For a trendy private school, it was surprising how shabby most of Whateley was. She'd actually had to pay out of her own pocket to get her dreary little room fixed up halfway decently. Even now, she couldn't get good maid service or plant service – her people had to contract out with indigent students to do the work for her. It was solid proof that being a mutant didn't qualify someone as adequate domestic help. Still, dreary as this home-away-from-home was, it was a hundred times better than what most of the other students had to put up with. She always got a bit of a lift coming back into her own little kingdom of a room.

The quality of her upgraded room was probably why her creepy roommate spent so much time there. As she entered, she was unsurprised to see that her girl sitting on the bed and meditating, or whatever it was that she did. It was weird – sometimes it almost seemed like Sahar was the only girl on the floor that would put up with her. Tansy didn't understand that at all. She was rich and beautiful – she decided that her other roommates just had a problem dealing with their jealousy. As for Sahar, she was attractive enough not to offend Tansy's sensibilities, and seemed grateful enough (given her terrible reputation) to have some contact with Venus and the Alphas.

Tansy breezed into the room, pirouetting on her toes. "Notice anything different about me, Semi?" In her one burst of amicability, she'd bothered to memorize Semiramis Vesmarran's actual name. Like most foreign names, it was a mouthful of gibberish, so she usually shortened it to the much more convenient "Semi."

The olive-skinned girl was sitting in full lotus on her bed. She pulled the curly black hair away from her face and stared with her creepy eyes. The eyes with a red ring around the iris. "What, you mean like the spirit you're carrying?"

"Not bad. I guess being a mind vampire pays off."

Sahar merely made a quick hand gesture. Tansy assumed it was vulgar. Whenever she translated any of the girl's Arabic phrases, they turned out to be rude enough to strip paint.

"What can you tell me about it?"

Sahar held out a hand. "One hundred dollars."

"I should have known!" Tansy flounced over to her purse and pulled out a pair of fifties. "I want everything you can figure out. Especially whether this fuzzes my mind out, or protects me from telepaths."

Sahar peered at her and did her creepy mental thing for a moment. "First, it's not a spirit, it's a human girl. I would say a human soul. And you call me a vampire? I'm not sure how it's going to affect either you or her, if you keep holding her. For all I know, she could end up taking YOU over."

She peered a little longer. "She does provide some shielding. Your thoughts and hers are too close together. It's hard to pick either one apart. Maybe with practice. It's not like a real shield, but it does confuse things. Yeah, 'fuzzing' the mind is pretty accurate."


Jinn had looked to the roommate as a possible rescuer. The girl had spotted her right away!

But then she took Tansy's money and began probing at her. It was technically interesting to watch the probes happen. Sahar had a mass of ultra-violet that covered her head like an Afro hair-do. Periodically, a laser-line of ultra-violet would snap out from her head and pierce through Jinn. After a couple of those, Jinn tried to communicate.

Hello? Can you hear me?

Slightly. You are strangely hard to hear – it's like your frequency is interfering with Solange's. And I can only hear what you send, not what you're simply thinking.

Can you contact my roommate, Tennyo, or my…uh…my sister, Jade?

Perhaps. What would you offer me? One hundred dollars?

That was as much as she earned in a week! Let me think on that. They've over at Poe Cottage.

I'm afraid I cannot help you. I would not be welcome at Poe. And contact ceased.


Sahar sighed. She'd agreed to report everything. "She claims to have a sister, and a roommate. I presume she'll be missed in her classes tomorrow, if not sooner."

"Oh, right. Like I'd be so much better off if I just let her go. I don't think so. Watch this!" And with a negligent wave of her arm, Tansy floated up to the ceiling. "Pretty impressive, huh? I'm strong, too." She reached over and hefted their mini-fridge. "Spirit-girl is staying right where she is. And that hundred bought your silence, too. Right?"

Sahar reluctantly nodded. "That is our arrangement."

"Maybe if I have any trouble, I'll pay you to give my little passenger the old evil eye, and shut her up permanently."

Sahar sighed again. Life with Tansy Walcutt continued to be educational. And Tansy was effectively immune to her powers. Sahar could learn skills from those she was extremely close to, but Tansy had nothing worth learning. And Sahar had the ability to discern hidden secrets and weaknesses. Again Tansy foiled her. Her flaws and weaknesses were so transparent that practically everyone already knew them.

But most of all, it was Tansy herself who was educational. Here was a woman with beauty, power, and more wealth than she could possibly spend. And inside, she was so vacuous and immoral that she put to shame most of the pimps and thieves Sahar had known in the streets of Beirut.

As a telepath, she was well suited to judge inner beauty.

She contemplated her own life, and felt nothing but sorrow.


Jinn discovered that she didn't sleep. She was somehow an unwilling passenger in Tansy's body.

This had some unusual benefits. She'd wondered what it felt like to be a real girl. She was swiftly finding out. Bound as she was to Tansy's body, she apparently shared in all the girl's sensory nerve endings. So she knew exactly what it felt like as the girl undressed and slipped into her negligee. Jinn might even have felt guilty at the voyeurism, if it had been anyone other than Tansy.

After the girl fell asleep, though, Jinn was in a quandary. She could feel everything the girl felt, but she couldn't move so much as a muscle.

Plainly, she was cast in her human-body form, with her spirit-body stretched to exactly match Tansy's physical body. If it were true that she was a body image template, what effect would it have if she continued to inhabit Tansy's body? Would Tansy begin to look more and more Japanese? Would her blonde hair turn black? Would her 17-year-old figure slim down to match Jinn's 14-year-old figure?

Then she realized something vital. She was in her "body" form!

When Tansy had absorbed her, she'd been in her flattened "cloth" form.

Which meant that she could change, without being re-cast. And somehow, this possession technique required her to be in spirit-body form. If she could alter herself, perhaps to flow along Tansy's skin, perhaps she could break free!

Ignoring the sleeping and lightly snoring girl that held her captive, she got to work.


Jade's alarm clock went off at the usual time. As she'd trained herself to do, she rolled over and slapped the gloves. It causes the usual small burst of fatigue. Suddenly, Jade sat up in bed, utterly, totally awake.

The gloves floated there in the air, in front of her. "I – I'm alive?" came the question from the speaker disk.

"No!" Jade almost squealed the word. "Come back!"

Instantly the gloves dropped.

Jade was already charging up the empty leotard. It rose, clearly displaying the contours of the girl underneath the fabric.

"Anything?" Jade asked, anxiously.

"No. Nothing. I don't know why we expected to pick up some lingering impression."

Tennyo rose slowly, rubbing her temple. "Jinn? You're alive?"

"No," Jade began, while "Yes, but –" came from the leotard.

"It's like this," Jade said.

"I'm not Jinn. She's still missing. I'm –"

"Jann," Jade and the new girl said together.


"Well you sure don't look any different," Fey said, around a bite of muffin. "Normally OR mystically. How do you know you aren't Jinn?"

"I just know," Jade explained, quietly. "There's a place where her memories ought to be. She should have come back. But there's nothing. And if I can be killed once –"

"I can be killed again," Jann finished.

"It might have been the exercises," Jade reminded.

"Yeah. Well, I'll try those again, but only while you're watching. That way, we'll know for sure."

"I don't get it," Toni said. "Whatever happened, you beat it. You're back from the grave. That's a good thing, right?"

"You've just been killed," Jann suggested. "But, lucky you! There's a clone ready. She looks like you, talks like you, and even has some of the same memories telepathically implanted. Are you happy?"

"Okay, okay, I get it."

"I'm not going to be happy for a VERY LONG TIME," Jann said, in case anyone had missed the point.


"So, Jinn, have you decided on that cape design?"

Jann's mood hadn't improved any. She'd given up trying to correct people on her name.

"Yeah, I guess. I'll take a cloak, but only if I can get a hood, too. Something black. Blacker than black."

"My, we aren't in a very nice mood, are we?"

"I died yesterday, and I haven't gotten over it yet."

Mrs. Ryan peered at her. "Sometimes it's so hard to tell when you kids are joking."

Jann said nothing, she just stared woodenly forward without blinking, in the way that she was so uniquely qualified to do.

"Well, maybe you'd like this fabric. A devisor came up with it. It's called ultra-black. See? You can't even tell where is folds or creases. It's like a hole across your desk there, isn't it? It isn't as strong as spandex or lycra or any of the Kevlar fabrics, and it needs special cleaning, but you don't sew it, you just apply a bit of electrical current. Also on the plus side, it mends easy and it's fireproof. Here, I'll show you how to work with it."

"I'll take it."


Tansy, on the other hand, was having a fabulous day.

"Are you still in there, little spirit?"

What do you want? Jinn replied, grumpily.

"Hmm, guess I haven't finished digesting you. Well, don't worry! Soon you'll be a permanent part of this fabulous package!" Following her typical morning ritual, Tansy gave her sexiest morning stretch, then rose to admire herself in the full-length mirror on the back of her door. She ran her hands down her perfect figure, while watching herself in the mirror to make sure the effect was as stunning as possible.

"I don't believe it," Sahar said from under her pillow. "You've finally gotten the power you always wanted."

"What's that?"

"A built-in audience."

"Ooo, is that right? Are you watching all of this, little spirit?"

After a moment, Jinn replied, I can't really help it, can I?

"Have you ever seen such a beautiful face?"

I don't see with light. I assume that's a mirror, but I can't really tell. I only see outward. I can't look back and tell what you look like.

"Too bad you can't feel what it's like to be inside the nation's classiest chassis."

...

"What was that? You almost said something, didn't you? Don't tell me you really can feel this?"

Okay.

Tansy had peeled off her see-through pink negligee, and was grabbing a towel for her morning shower. She paused to laugh. "You really can, can't you? You can feel everything I feel!"

I'm occupying your physical body. For some reason, your sensory nerves seem to be directly connected to me. At least, everything on your skin.

Tansy laughed again. "Why you lucky little minx! This little partnership of ours will probably turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you."

Allow me to disagree.

"So how exactly do your powers work?"

Jinn debated, but there wasn't much she could tell that Tansy couldn't pick up on her own. She decided that she had more to gain through any information exchange. I can lift things and move things. Your avatar powers seem to have taken my spirit and stretched it out to exactly fit in your body. My skin matches your skin. And wherever my skin is, I can lift or push or move – exactly 188.6 pounds, in any combination. So I can lift you off the ground, or help you lift something with your hands. She didn't want to give too much away. If Tansy couldn't figure out that this was basically a limited TK field, that was her problem.

"Really?" Tansy held an arm out and used the power to float the arm up in the air, then over her head, then she lifted herself by the arm. "Ow, it kind of hurts doing it that way."

For Jinn the experience was much different. The TK field was her body. Someone else had short-circuited the control nerves. She could feel exactly what was being done, but she had no power to influence the outcome. It was like being paralyzed, but feeling somebody else move your arm.

"I bet I can use it to make faces!" Tansy looked in the mirror while using the power to push and prod at her face. Jinn couldn't see the result, but it seemed to amuse her host. "Still, what's the point? I already have the most beautiful face. I suppose when I'm older I can use this to smooth out wrinkles or something – if I ever get wrinkles, which I doubt."

She wrapped the towel around herself when she suddenly realized, "Ooo! Instant boob job!"

There followed some of the most unusual sensations Jinn had ever felt, as Tansy used the TK to lift first her left, then her right breast.

"Hey, check this out, Sahar honey. Bet you wish you could have stolen this great 'perky tit' technique. Oh, but I forgot! You 'B' types don't really need the support that us 'C' girls require, do you? But you know what? I think I'm going bra-less today." Tucking the towel around her buoyant boobs, she flounced off to the shower.

Jinn was, once again, forced to play helpless passenger. It was interesting to see how many of the other girls moved out of Tansy's way. The colors of their emotions made it clear that they weren't moving from being intimidated, almost all of them seemed to harbor an active dislike of the girl, and merely wanted to be out of her way.

It was also apparent that cosmetics seemed to increase directly in proportion to age. The freshmen girls at Poe didn't use more than a fraction of the various preparations these juniors were using. Maybe she'd have to sneak up to the fourth floor of Poe some day, and see what the girls were using there.

Then Tansy was in her shower and washing up. Jinn's eyes metaphorically crossed. So this is what it felt like to be a girl!

Ohhh!

"Like what you feel, little voyeur?" Tansy was whispering. It seemed unlikely that anyone else would be able to hear her over the shower, but Jinn heard just fine. "I forgot – you were just a little flat-chested freshman, weren't you?"

I was an 'A' cup – pretty much! Jinn defended.

Tansy chuckled to herself. "Poor little thing. Hey! I'll bet you were still a virgin, weren't you?"

...

"WEREN'T YOU?"

Well, what do you expect? I'm just a freshman. Of course, there was also the matter that her physical body was somewhat mis-equipped, as well.

"You probably never even kissed a boy, did you?"

I'm not going to answer any your stupid questions about my love life, okay?

"You just did, honey." She made a hmm'ing sound to herself. "I think I'll have to see just how badly I can blow your naïve little virgin mind."

Jinn gulped.


Jann was working with a new mission. She'd never been big into atemi – the hard, direct strikes. She'd always preferred ukemi – flowing around your opponent and redirecting them into the ground. But right now, she really felt like hitting something.

And, working away here in costume shop, she'd suddenly figured something out. As Jinn (or rather, as Jann, now), she'd never been able to perform decent atemi. Her TK-body just didn't deliver a sharp blow. It was fast enough and strong enough, but it was like wearing a big boxing glove. Even with all the power and strength, the blow was invariably cushioned, greatly reducing it.

For a moment, she had a fond recollection of the last time she'd held a boxing glove. It was the day she had first appeared in her spirit-girl body, and the day that her life started changing for the better.

But the boxing glove brought up another idea – the concept of cheating. Tolman Sensei was always trying to convince them to find new tricks and techniques to compensate for their weaknesses. What if she added a horseshoe or brick to her boxing glove?

Or more realistically, what if she put hard striking plates over her knuckles, and added weight to the gloves themselves? Sort of the "brass knuckles" idea, but with extra weight behind it. Five pounds in each glove ought to do it. She'd test and see if she could up it to ten. It needed to have some heft, while being light enough for her to move with full speed using her TK. It would be like punching with a sledgehammer. She'd have to wear practice gloves over her regular gloves, and maybe start off fighting some of the more durable students.

Hmmm, some sort of rigid bracers for her arms and shins would help, too. That way she could really block.

With grim satisfaction, she set to work modifying her costume.


At lunch, Tansy made an entrance to the Crystal Hall. Part of it was the sleek skintight knit dress she wore, and the fact that she was obviously wearing nothing underneath it. Part of it was the bevy of male admirers she'd picked up along the way. Part of it was the way she focused on The Don, who was just sitting down.

Across the table from The Don, Hekate was taking her seat. Her eyes locked with Tansy's, and the air smoldered. Gauntlet thrown, challenge accepted.

Jinn had sensed, in a sort of peripheral-vision way, as Tansy had spun up an illusionary glamour about herself. She also sensed as Tansy sent tightly focused beams of mental energy at the people around her. The males escorting her received bursts of adoration. The Don was given a much more subtle treatment: greed and lust. Hekate got a diffuse transmission of doubt and uncertainty.

Tansy tossed her jacket casually to a male follower, then slinked her way up to the alpha table. Jinn had learned that Tansy was involved in the local modeling group. If she walked half as well on the runway as she walked on her way to that table, it was easy to see why she was successful. It was like she fed off the psychic emanations of those watching her. The more they adored her, the more powerful and confident she became.

Coming up to the tall Latino, she ran her finger down his arm. "Hel-lo, Sebastiano," she cooed. "Do you mind if I… sit with you?"

Don Sebastiano has an amused sneer. "To what do I owe the coming entertainment?"

"Well," Tansy wrapped herself halfway around him, making sure that her breast was mashed into his cheek, "it's just that you make such a splendid king up here. I thought you deserved a queen."

"Job filled, Solange," Hekate hissed out.

"Isn't that for the king to decide?" Tansy countered. "Maybe he's tired of looking at the same scrawny sticks."

Hekate glanced quickly at Don Sebastiano. From her vantage point, right there at the table, Jinn could see that so far Hekate was only showing mild irritation. Jinn thought that she wasn't taking Tansy very seriously yet.

"Don –"

"I would not dream of coming between two lovely ladies, who merely want to fight over me."

"Perhaps you forget everything I've done for you?" Hekate was growing much more irritated now.

The Don examined his fingers disdainfully. His aura showed him to be highly amused, and almost breathless with anticipation. "Old news. Have you done anything for me recently? Answer: no."

For some reason, that seemed to spike Hekate into a nearly volcanic fury. The magnitude of her anger didn't show on her face, though. She turned to Tansy. "You: begone, while I deal with this." As she said this, Jinn saw the other girl's eyes fill with ultra-violet energy. It launched out like twin beams, striking Tansy in the forehead.

But Jinn was in the way. She could feel some of the malevolence in that bolt. It was a compulsion, a powerful burst intended to accomplish several things at once.

First would be a total loss of bladder control. Fortunately, Jinn didn't have a bladder, and she apparently diffused enough of that energy that Tansy could cope with the remainder.

Second was fear. Pure, unadulterated fear. That momentarily reminded Jinn of the creepy tunnel she'd worked on, just two days ago. Next to that, this fear was a pathetic second. Jinn wasn't sure that any of that penetrated through to Tansy.

Third was an utter lack of confidence, and a need to flee. That struck through pretty solidly, but Tansy seemed to field that one on her own. So long as she had her audience, Tansy was solidly bolstered.

In short, Hekate's attack bounced. She snapped her fingers as Tansy sat down, and suddenly the chair wasn't there. From her 360-degree vision, Jinn saw it scoot silently backward. Tansy didn't see that, but she didn't fall, either. She merely sat down on the air.

"Can't one of you boys help me with my chair?"

The chair was immediately slid in under her.

Tansy had the next move, spotting the boy who'd fetched her soup for her. Somehow, Jinn was able to perceive where Tansy's attention was focused. Emotional bleed-through, perhaps. While trading glares with Hekate, Tansy waited for just the right moment before shooting out her favorite brain zap.

The boy stumbled, and the soup went flying – half missing Hekate, but half hitting her as well.

"You – clumsy – WORM!" The hapless boy collapsed immediately to the ground, before scrambling away on all fours, not even rising in his haste to escape Hekate. Jinn thought she was the only one who saw the torrent of energy that had blasted out of Hekate's eyes to drill through the boy's skull.

"Well, I can't eat that now," Tansy commented. "It's all filthy."

Hekate stood, glowing with a pulsating crimson aura. There was a sickly silver sheen outlining her as well. Without a word, she turned and stalked off, still dripping soup.

"Entertaining," Don Sebastiano said. "This seems to be the week for flying food. But I'm afraid it wouldn't be fair for you to continue without Hekate here. We'll resume this at dinner." He made a shoo'ing gesture toward Tansy. "You may go now."

Tansy stood, suddenly angry herself. "You're just … dismissing … me?"

"Yes. You may go."

Angry and confused, Tansy turned and walked away. Behind them, Jinn saw an almost delicate-looking girl holding a fork up to feed The Don. The look he gave her was covetous, and his face glowed with – Jinn would have described the emotion as "pride of ownership."


After every class, when they saw each other, Jann completely released, flowing completely back into Jade. They were both shuffling through classes, wondering when she would die. It seemed like every time she re-merged with Jade, that was one more hour that she'd cheated death.

The most satisfying time had been designing the costume and the new "punch gloves".

They didn't actually have the slightest idea what had happened to Jinn. The most likely theory was that she'd somehow obliterated herself while practicing changing her casting form. That certainly made the most sense, given what they knew. It was also hardest to accept emotionally. Jade, and particularly Jann, needed to believe that it had been some kind of attack – something they could learn to defend against.

Psychologically, it was impossible to just sit around waiting for an unknown death to strike. Jann needed to do something – anything – to fight back. It made things harder, since she had no idea who or what the threat was. Under circumstances like that, it was hardly surprising that she went with what she knew. And what she knew was Aikido. As Jinn, she'd been singularly ineffective in class. It was time to change that.

The whole "defend by hitting it" concept was trickling over to Jade, as well. Particularly since they re-merged after every class. And there'd been Tennyo's comment about Jade needing a costume and code-name. So it happened that Jade began fiddling with ideas, too.

All through bio class she found it nearly impossible to listen to the teacher. Instead she kept doodling strange costumes for herself. Should she go with armor? For someone of her size, armor seemed more hindrance than help. If the bad guys put out enough effort to penetrate the armor, they'd blow her to smithereens. It almost seemed better to emphasize her vulnerability, with a costume that was armless and legless. That way, if she got hit, they might not waste the extra effort and she had a chance of recovery. Besides, that kind of costume would enhance her movement and dodging.

The other thing to think about was a weapon. Her fascination with all things Japanese caused her to think of a sword first – specifically a Japanese katana. But although she might have a good time practicing with it, she wasn't sure she'd actually be able to use it against someone. It was a pretty deadly weapon, and cutting someone open was serious business. It was only the disaster of Jinn's death that even allowed her to consider it. Even so, she finally decided that her hesitation would kill her. If she ever was in a situation where she really needed the sword, she'd hesitate before making the killing stroke. That sort of hesitation would make her lose every time.

A staff or bo stick might be good. The question was: how many hand-to-hand fights was she going to get in? Even if she had excellent training, her size worked against her. By the time the fight came to her, she was probably in big trouble. It might be better to rely on standard Aikido.

Which brought her around to a point that she hadn't wanted to consider: guns. In a way, this was even worse than a sword. It there was one thing that spelled cheap, ugly violence, it was the gun. But … she was already a victim. Jinn was gone. And while Jinn obviously hadn't been attacked with a gun, Jade was supremely vulnerable. In one sense, the smaller and weaker she was, the more she needed an equalizer.

She finished sketching out various fanciful guns on her notebook, while trying to listen to the biology lecture.


As usual, Jann met up with Morrie and Stan, for the noon shift. Today was cleaning out the air-conditioning filters at the top of Shuster Hall. She didn't try to explain to them that she was "Jann" not "Jinn".

"No, you numb-nuts!" Morrie was yelling at Stan. "That's the old stack! We just took those off. We supposed to put on the new filters!"

"Geez, you make one little mistake…"

"Hey, Morrie," Jann finally asked. "You know a lot about guns, don't you?"

Morrie adopted an overly modest pose as he scratched his chin. "Yeah, well, I've been around the block a few times, if that's what you mean."

"Well I, I mean, Jade, we've had some trouble recently. And she was thinking that she needed a – an equalizer, I guess you'd say."

"Yep. That would be a gun, alright. You know, in any normal spot I'd be advising her to take the problem to someone older. But knowing how this school goes…" He shrugged.

"Well, are there any options for – I know this is going to sound stupid – non-lethal guns?"

Morrie scratched his chin again. "You know, if this were any normal town, I'd say you were out of your mind. You get into a gun fight and you want one thing: stopping power. However…"

Jann leaned forward eagerly.

"Fact is, you're sitting smack dab in the middle of the biggest group of tinkerers and gadgeteers in the world. I've heard tell of at least a couple dozen designs over the years. I'm not sure what's out there right now, though."

Jann drooped in disappointment.

"But I can tell you who would! Go look up Lieutenant Forsyth. He's part of security. He's always pretty gung-ho about the equipment. I know he sure takes his time looking over any new shipment we get for the maintenance locker."


Tansy spent the rest of the afternoon restoring her ego. Everywhere she went, she strutted, as if ethereally light on her feet in a way that lesser mortals could only aspire too. Her psychic projections were out full force, so that everyone who saw her knew that she was absolutely, positively, the most beautiful woman in the cosmos.

Jinn noticed that the whole shtick wasn't as effective as Tansy seemed to think it was. Nearly half the girls she passed rolled their eyes or made some other indication of disgust.  Of course, Tansy has been going to class with these girls for weeks. Jinn wondered how often she turned on the "I am so beautiful" vibes.

There was a minor percentage of guys who also seemed less than enthralled. And of those who watched her, a minority seemed to have somewhat predatory emotions.

Of course, no one expressed their emotions openly, where Tansy could see. Jinn had the advantage of having eyes in the back of her head. It also helped that she could see emotions directly. And to be fair, there were plenty of admirers, among both sexes.

She wondered why the teachers allowed it. Why did they let Tansy walk broadcasting telepathic compulsions? Was it deliberate – an exercise to build up Tansy's generating power, while simultaneously building up the telepathic resistance of the rest of the students? Or was it just a matter of, "if it isn't causing problems, ignore it"?


Jann was brutal against the bag. Her new gloves really were like punching with sledgehammers. She'd finally ended up with seven pounds in each fist, and when she hit, that momentum was concentrated on a solid metal ridge over her first two knuckles.

"Not bad," Tolman-sensei said from behind her. "You're suddenly looking mean. What happened?"

Jann explained, briefly.

"Well, the gloves are a good first step. Tell me what you come up with, so I can adjust training. I'd advise more of a hard style, considering how you're going. How's your movement? Have you compensated for the change?"

Jann nodded.

"Let's try you sparring against a brick. You've sparred with Punch before, haven't you?"

Jann nodded at the somewhat chunky girl. "Hi, Evvie!"

"Hi, Jinn!"

Jann didn't bother correcting her. She noticed Evvie cringing slightly, and explained, "Not your fault. I'll explain later, back at home." Evvie was an empath, which was pretty strange considering that she was turning into a pretty powerful brick. She lived in Poe, just three rooms down. "Something happened and I kind of decided it was time to get serious." She slammed her knuckles together. "Metal fists, you know?"

Evvie smiled. "Cool. Let's see what you've got!"

The two of them often sparred together. Evvie sometimes had trouble controlling her own strength, and she could accidentally do a lot of damage to normal opponents. Fortunately, they both knew that even if she accidentally obliterated Jann, she wouldn't actually hurt her.

Jann moved in, raising her hands into position. Evvie was strong but not fast. It gave Jann a perfect live punching back, and within moments she had the chance to duck down, slamming one shot into Evvie's gut, with a follow-up to the jaw.

The results surprised her. She knocked the other girl over onto her back.

Evvie rose, shaking her head. "Hey, not bad! I almost felt that!" She wiped a hand across her mouth. "My turn."

"Uh oh."


"You seem to be practicing more seriously than I have seen from you before," Ito Sensei told her.

Jade paused, and bowed to her opponent, signaling for a break. "Yes, Sensei. I've had trouble."

He nodded, saying nothing.

"Sensei, I was considering learning about guns."

The old man nodded again, then, seeing that Jade would say no more, he said. "It is something to consider. It would certainly make you more of a threat than you are at present. However, that is a problem, as well. Are you certain this conflict must be escalated to lethal levels?"

"I was thinking that there are non-lethal guns."

He nodded again. "So there are. Investigate. Find what you are comfortable with. When you have mastered this gun, not as an expert but a comfortable mastery, come to me. We will see then about joining your separate arts."


Tansy had finally decided on a strategy. She dismissed her flock, and took off on her own. She didn't need any witnesses for what was to come.

First, she stepped into an empty office. She knew from experience that the teachers usually lingered more than a few minutes after class. Closing the door, she pulled out her cell phone and made a quick call.

"Yes?" a male voice answered over the phone.

"This is Solange," she said. "I have work. Usual place, 4 o'clock?"

"I'll be there."

Saying nothing more, she hung up. Another call, to another memorized number. This one was answered by a rough voice that she didn't recognize. "What is it?"

"I want a meeting with Thuban."

"He's busy."

She fumed. Who was this jerk to talk to her like that? "I can meet with him at five. It will be worth his while."

"Who is this?"

"An old client," she told the voice, smugly.

"You know his place?"

"Of course I know it! And tell him to clear away anyone unpleasant."

There was actual growling from the other end.

"Oh, yes. I'll be coming in through the back door. I expect you to make sure that I don't run into that carpet Montana. There might be trouble with that."

"Ah. You'd be Solange."

She was half irritated and half pleased at her notoriety. "It shouldn't matter to you. Just do what you're told."

There was more growling, then, "Thuban will see you."

"I thought he would."


Jade discovered that security was located inside Kane Hall. It seemed to be a public entrance, so she and Jann let themselves in. Inside, there were old walls with posters (she'd never before seen supervillain wanted posters) and FBI-style sheets on "Secret Organizations". She wondered if it was some kind of joke. There was a small waiting room and a glassed-in receptionist.

"Do you have an appointment?"

"Uh, no. I was advised to see Lieutenant Forsyth? I want to find out about getting a gun."

"I see." The woman paused to light a cigarette. "And the purpose for obtaining the weapon?"

"Well…" How much detail to go into? "I was killed recently. I think."

The receptionist raised an eyebrow, and drawled out. "That's a pretty good one, even for here. It seems to me that death is the sort of thing you can be fairly certain about. You're either dead or you aren't, right?"

"Well, I…"

Jann pushed in, in front of her. She wasn't wearing the Madonna-face, she was wearing an all-black skintight outfit. "We can make duplicates of ourself, like me. An earlier duplicate is missing, and we think she's dead."

The receptionist nodded slowly, while taking a drag on her cigarette. "You're lucky it's a slow day. Yeah, I'll see if the lieutenant has time for this one."

While they waited, they looked over the posters. Jade revised her earlier opinion. Half the wanted posters were for super-heroes, who'd skipped out on damage bonds, or were wanted for other reasons (paternity suits being common).

Shortly, a door opened and a dark-haired man in a dark blue jumpsuit and padded SWAT vest walked out to see her. "Hello? You're the one who asked about the gun?"

Jade and Jann nodded together.

"Why don't you step into my office, and we can talk about it."

She followed him through the door, and was surprised to see an unusual blend in the cubicles beyond. The central area had open desks, currently mostly empty. There were glassed-in cubicles along two walls, while the far wall was taken up with a huge bank of monitors. The largest, central screen displayed a schematic of the campus and outlying areas, with complex codes and tags that made the display look like an air-traffic control screen. Strips of smaller monitors bordered that, with lines of displays to the left and right. These images were displaying scrolling pages of data, or cycling between camera views.

Jann suddenly recognized part of the schematic. "Hey, that's the sewer system, isn't it? And those are the tunnels for the underground class areas."

The lieutenant peered at her. "You know the sewer system?"

"Yeah. I'm Jann Sinclair. This is Jade. We work with Morrie and Stan."

He got back to his glass-in office and sat down. He quickly punched something in to his computer, while Jade took a seat and Jann floated. Jade noticed that he had his back to the wall, and had a perfect view not only of his guests, but also of the main display, and everything that happened in the common room.

"Right. Jade Sinclair. Although your other half is listed as 'Jinn', not 'Jann.'" He read a bit more. "Part of 'Team Kimba.' Huh. I had you figured for the quiet one. But I can see where you'd have more than your share of physical danger, considering your roommate –"

"She's not that bad! It's just that things happen…"

"Uh huh. But when the tornado comes through, it doesn't matter who's to blame. The point is, get out of the way of the tornado."

"She's not like that!" Jade was getting really tired of the way people picked on poor Tennyo.

"You familiar with the concept of the lightning rod?"

"Yeah, well, but –"

The lieutenant smiled. "That girl's a lightning rod if I ever saw one. That doesn't mean I blame her. And in a lot of ways, she makes my job easier. I'm still smart enough to be careful when I see a thunderstorm coming." He leaned forward. "Is that why you want a gun?"

"No! It doesn't have anything to do with her at all! And I don't want a gun, exactly. I mean, I can't really imagine shooting someone. But I was talking to Morrie, and asking about non-lethal guns. He said I should talk to you."

The lieutenant turned back to his computer. "Yes. You cleaned the Class X site at the end of the tunnel this past weekend, didn't you?" He seemed to be speaking to himself for a moment. "Morris's report said you held up pretty well. Says he issued you a laser rifle, and gave 'Jinn' a Mark 3 variable-dispersion flame thrower."

"Yeah, and some machetes and stuff."

"Uh huh. Laser rifle checked in with no shots fired."

"Uh, well, there was nothing to shoot at. Not like the flame thrower."

"Good, good." He paused, turning his attention to the display board outside for a moment, before settling back. "Okay, let's hear why it is that you think you need a gun."

"Well…" Jade launched into the story of how Jinn had vanished, and her discovery that she could still conjure Jann, but that Jinn was still gone. "And, I know she wasn't taken out with gunfire – that's stupid, it's not like guns could hurt her – but all of a sudden I'm realizing how vulnerable I am. I mean, we've seen those crystal chanting guys, and ninjas attacked, and Tennyo seems to be getting in trouble all the time. And, hey, she had assassins after her before she came here!"

Lieutenant Forsyth looked up at that. "That wasn't in her file."

Jann reached over to swat her physical self in the head.

"Uh, maybe she didn't want to talk about that. Can you forget that I said anything?"

The lieutenant made a "hmmm" sound while scribbling a note.

"Well, considering the fundamental purpose of this school, and your roommate, and incidents we've seen so far, AND the reports I've gotten from Morris, a non-lethal firearm is a reasonable request. Of course, you'll have to purchase both the equipment and ammunition on your own."

Jade winced. "Can you deduct it from my paycheck?"

"Uh huh. And you'll have to be extra-careful when you're off campus. We won't restrict you from using it off-campus, that would destroy the whole point behind this exercise, but other law enforcement agencies are bound to see things a bit more suspiciously. I'll get you permits for regular and concealed carrying."

He stood up.

"Come downstairs with me, and we'll check you out on something you might be able to use. Oh, and you'll need to get scheduled for the practice range. You'll want to start taking some afternoon or evening classes."

Jade gulped and followed him.


Tansy browsed through the books in the "obscure wing", as she liked to think of it. Personally, she would have been bored to tears by the technical areas of the library. But some of the students practically seemed to live there.

Speaking of "living there," as she moved through the main room of the library she almost collided with the spiky-haired girl.

Tennyo! Over here!

"Shut up," she muttered under her breath. Glancing covertly sideways, she recognized the spiky-haired girl as one of the ones who'd been talking to the annoying fairy-girl. Fey, that was the fairy-girl's name. Something like that. And the spiky-haired girl was… obviously Tennyo, from the way her internal spirit was carrying on. Tansy turned away, and hurried down a side corridor.

Although Whateley had barely 600 students, it had a library that was suitable for a large college or university. There were also many locked sections, containing collector's items, historical works, and other controversial reference material. She'd sneered at the stories that claimed there were black magic grimoires. Or rather, Tansy believe that there were volumes written by people who believed that junk, but she suspected they were all just ancient deluded psychics.

Finally, she came to the section that was least-used of the entire library. Classical literature.

She crossed her arms and waited, while listening to her inner spirit rail against her.

Oh, you're just LUCKY that my roommate can't hear me! She's got quite a temper when she's defending her friends. And an energy sword that lets her cut through two feet of solid steel! If she found out about me, she'd dice you into pieces that would fit through the shower drain! Of course, she'd probably regret it – afterward. She's like that, a real decent person. Not like SOME PEOPLE.

"Oh, shut up. Nobody cares what you think."

"I haven't said anything yet."

Despite herself, Tansy couldn't help jumping. She immediately tried to regain control. "Nex, how good to see you! You're late."

He just silently shook his head. "How is my woman?"

Tansy shrugged. "Eh, Sahar's okay. She should be, considering how much she extorts from me. I mean, who can tell with her? She just sits there and mopes."

The boy's bowl-cut hair wasn't flattering, considering his thin face. Still, his eyes narrowed as he heard of Sahar moping. "She'll be happier, once I reclaim her."

"Yes, yes. And you can do that so much better with a little spending money."

"I want more than money, this time. I want a favor, as well. Your influence with Sahar. Another date."

Tansy waved him off. "Like she'd be willing to listen to me. I swear, that girl doesn't appreciate ANY of the things I do for her."

"Your promise. You will arrange the date."

Tansy had had enough of this. "Alright! If I'd known you were going to be so tedious, I would have used another source."

"There are no sources as good as me."

She smirked. "For the right price, there's always another source."

"What do you want?" His voice was flat.

"Hekate. Everything about her. Her flunkies and friends, especially her powers – how she attacks and what her typical strategy is. Who's gone up against her, whether they won or lost, why and how."

He seemed suddenly leery. "Hekate is head of the Alphas."

"No," Tansy hissed, "Don Sebastiano is head of the Alphas. Hekate is just his current arm candy. Which is all about to change."

"She's a pretty big target."

"You'll do it for five thousand."

"And the date," he insisted.

"ONE thousand and a date," she countered.

"Done."

Tansy was surprised. Was he THAT hung up on her creepy roommate? Who knew? Well, maybe she'd finally get something useful out of the girl.


Tennyo finally finished her shift at the library, and dragged herself over to Crystal Hall to join the crew for dinner. When she finally spotted them, they seemed to be clustered around Jade and –

"Is that a GUN?"

Ayla answered. "Could you speak up? I don't think they heard you over in New Zealand."

"Who'd a thunk it?" Toni said. "Our little girl is all grown up and carrying her own piece. Next thing you know, she's going to be running drugs and capping rival dealers, just like home."

Nikki glared at her roommate. "You said you lived in an upscale suburb."

"Oh, yeah. Would you believe I was having a flashback to my brother?" She shuddered. "Who'd have thought that I'd occasionally miss the dumb jerk?"

"It's not really a gun," Jade explained. "It's non-lethal. The Cobra 400, linear-induction projector. It's got a nine-shot magazine, and I can prep it with all sorts of different loads."

"Uh huh," Tennyo said, nodding. "Can you hit anything with it? And what happens when you DO hit?"

"Well, it's got a pretty good kick. I had my first session at the practice range today and I'm pretty good." In a much quieter voice she added, "Unless it's more than twenty yards away."

Everyone else at the table snickered at that.

"But I've got all sorts of cool loads! You should SEE what some of the devisors can mount in one of these capsules." She held up a small ball that was a little over two centimeters in diameter. "I've got smoke loads – they'll make a cloud about ten feet wide. And there's the webbing load – it explodes into a bunch of fibers that tangle around you and stick together. And the shock load – it's like a taser gun. I can switch between three different magazines of three each. There were others that I didn't get, like the incendiary and high explosive. Oh, I did get two knockout gas. I'm not sure if I'll ever use them, but they sounded interesting."

Tennyo was half pleased. She liked the idea of Jade being able to defend herself better. But she was half disturbed. She realized there was only one explanation for this behavior from the smaller girl – Jinn's disappearance had really hit her hard.

"What if someone takes it from you, and shoves it up your nose," Toni asked. "That's the problem with carrying a gun."

"No way! It's a devisor special. Well, a 'gadgeteer special', I guess. I have to be wearing this ring to fire it, see?"

"I don't know, doesn't it seem wrong for a mutant to use a gun? Sort of like cheating?"

"You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold dead fingers!"

Nikki looked at her in horror. "You didn't join the NRA, did you?"

Jade gulped.


Jinn was still in a bit of shock at how much Tansy had been willing to spend for information on Hekate. There were currents on this campus that she'd had no clue on. Not until now.

Right now, Tansy seemed to be having a serious anxiety attack. Jinn didn't know why. She recognized the dorm they were approaching – it was Twain. This was where that sasquatch Monty lived, who'd given so much grief to Tennyo and Toni.

Tansy slipped around to the back of the cottage and knocked on the door. Some boy with slightly scaly skin was there.

"You'd better hustle downstairs," he said quickly. "Monty's upstairs, but he's in a bad way. Mood he's in, if he saw you now, he'd probably just say 'hell with it' and tear you limb from limb. And that'd be a real shame, 'cause Monty don't deserve that. Even if he is the world's biggest idiot."

Tansy opened her mouth to say something, but closed it again. Instead, she just hurried down the stairs. At the bottom, there was a boy with a kind of scaled helmet. He looked like he had a somewhat bloated body under his clothes. He led her down the hallway.

"Look, I know the drill. Third door on the left."

"No. This time it's the fourth door."

Tansy gave a theatrical sigh. "I don't know why I bother to put up with this theatrical shit. It's not like it impresses me."

The helmet-headed boy opened the door, then stood outside, letting Tansy go in alone.

Jinn was surprised. There was a hallway that led to a thick, bronze door. As Tansy approached, the door rolled aside, as if it were a gigantic disk. Jinn estimated the disk must have been at least six inches thick, and it was carved with what looked to be ancient Chinese illustrations.

The hallway had been long enough that they must have passed beyond the basement of Twain Cottage. And beyond the bronze door, a cavern opened up. The bulk of the cavern was below them. The ceiling held stalactites, and Jinn saw a pools of water below them, forming grottos. Some were lit with deep blue lights. In the center of the grotto, a tent was set up. It glowed as if there were fires within.

A man that seemed to be made out of stone held a rope, which looped through a pulley in the ceiling and lowered a small chair.

Tansy paused, then climbed into the chair. The stone man slowly lowered her down to the floor of the cavern below.

"Stay on the path," he called down. "It's not safe, otherwise."

Muttering to herself, Tansy got out of the chair. "I've seen the Wizard of Oz, too, you know!" As she stood, a pair of torches came alight, and a pair beyond that. She followed the torches through a winding passage until she finally arrived at the tent-like silk pavilion. From inside, a low voice rumbled.

"Come in. You may wish to restrict yourself to the outer chamber."

Tansy walked boldly in. The first chamber of the tent held piles of pillows, braziers, and comfortable-looking camp chairs. Tansy pushed past the curtain at the back of that chamber and entered a larger one. Inside, there was a scaled man – half man, half reptile. His face grew out in a pointed, reptilian muzzle, and he had sharply pointed teeth. He had spines instead of hair, and his fingers and toes were actually wicked-looking claws.

"Welcome, Tansy Walcutt. Please excuse the sssetting. These little … illusions … entertain me." Jinn's senses operated differently from any normal person's. While there had been a diffuse glow of power around the entire underground complex, she hadn't seen anything that indicated that this was an illusion. As for the lizard-man, she initially thought he wasn't displaying any emotions, but then she realized that he had the sickly silver sheen that she was coming to associate with hatred.

"Cut the mumbo-jumbo, Thuban. I'm offering a contract."

The lizard-man shifted, and Jinn saw that he appeared to be sitting on a pile of coins, shaped into the form of a chair.

"Why should I care about your money?" the other asked, in a hiss.

"What are you talking about? Everyone cares about money!"

"There are thingsss which are more valuable, and lessss replaceable."

"What will it take to get rid of Hekate?"

The lizard-man gave a hiss of surprise, and Jinn saw that his tongue was more like an animal's tongue than a man's. "You ssset your sssights high. Even as Queen of the Alphasss, she has power and influence beyond what is obviousss. She is also very … high profile. Besidesss, I do not do assassinationsss."

Tansy ran a hand through her long hair, tossing it back over her shoulder. "Okay then, a week. I want her utterly missing for a week."

"Possible. What price?"

"Ten thousand."

The creature gave a dry laugh on its throne of coins. "You waste my time. I want money, and more."

Jinn thought she felt a spark of fear from her host and captor.

"What? I made a good offer. Do you have a counter offer?"

"You. I am free to use you and your body, however I will, for that sssame week."

"Get real! I need that week. And I've never heard such a stupid offer in my life. Given a deal like that, you could kill me. No chance." She paused, and when she spoke again, she had a too-clever tone in her voice. "One hour, I never appear in public, no pictures or recordings, and I get to veto anything."

"One day, after the week is over, during which your body will be under the complete mental control of an …acquaintance… of mine. No permanent harm shall come to you, and your handler would feel any pain you felt, so you would obviously gain an amount of protection from that. I agree to nothing public and no records."

"But if your little telepath-girl or whatever messes up and can't handle me, then tough luck. And Hekate's gone tomorrow."

"Acceptable. After the twenty-four hours have elapsed, you are free from the contract. AND, the price will be thirty thousand."

"Twenty-five."

"Agreed."

And if Jinn had still had a stomach, she would have had a very cold feeling in the pit of it.

17: Frustrations

Jinn spent another fruitless night trying to somehow manipulate the sleeping lump of flesh she was trapped inside. True, she was getting lots of experience as a real girl – but she hadn't expected to get it as a helpless passenger! Besides, Tansy was hardly a model for women everywhere. Clearly, Tansy was hardly a model for anything. Jinn had to laugh at the irony, since the girl was also the school's lead model. It sounded like a bad joke. "When is a model not a model? When she's Tansy Walcutt!" Or perhaps, "Tansy Walcutt: she sure isn't a role model!"

That brought up another thought. Hadn't Fey just started doing modeling? If Tansy did any modeling work, would they run into Fey?  Perhaps Fey would sense what was going on.

By this time of the early morning she usually gave up her various efforts at changing her state or slipping free. As the early morning arrived, Tansy grew more restless and rolled around more in bed, so the sensations were a bit more interesting. Jinn tried to relax, and fantasized that this was her body, and that she was now fully female, lying in bed in her see-through negligee. Occasionally she'd roll over or shift to keep from squashing her large breasts.

She studied the way she slept as a girl – on her side, or on her back. The closest she got to sleeping on her stomach was a sort of three-quarters turned over, with an arm and leg thrown over an oversized pillow. Jinn imagined that they were next to her lover, draped around the person. She tried to picture what her lover was like – man or woman? Living in Poe, she'd been slowly abandoning her preconceptions about herself.

Rolling over to sleep on her back was most comfortable position, but each time she took a breath she couldn't help seeing her breasts rise and fall, gently straining at her negligee and the sheets covering her.

Equally interesting were the sensations that were missing. No matter how her legs shifted, she never felt the pinch or pressure on those annoying boy parts. She never felt the slightest urge to reach down and pull herself out from being trapped between her legs. Instead, everything always felt just perfect down below. It felt exactly right.

Another thing that was odd, but oddly right were her hips. They were so wide! They definitely affected how she slept, particularly when she was on her side, but somehow, they felt completely correct. This was the way she was supposed to be.

Like all fantasies, though, it eventually had to end. In this case, when Tansy's alarm went off, and Tansy began to wake. Of course, Jinn's first impulse was to reach over and slap the gloves to charge up … her. Naturally, that had no effect on Tansy, who did her morning stretch as she slowly opened her eyes.

Jinn retained a bit of her fantasy mood, as she imagined that it was her stretching, feeling the fabric stretch tight over the swell of her bosom. It was a shame – Tansy's body would be so much nicer if it wasn't for Tansy inside of it.

Finally awake, Tansy paused at her vanity. She opened a small container and carefully popped a pill out of its appointed spot. She quickly washed it down.

What are those things? You take one every morning.

Tansy started briefly at the unexpected voice in her head. "Well, duh! You've never seen birth-control pills?"

No. I'm a little young to be involved in that. Not to mention that in her normal body she wasn't exactly equipped to become pregnant. And my roommate… She trailed off. Tennyo was probably old enough. But the thought of Tennyo taking birth-control pills, the thought of WHY Tennyo might take birth control pills, it was too much for her little mind to handle. She started giggling internally.

"What? What's so funny?"

A couple months ago, Tennyo had been a BOY. And while she was obviously equipped, the thought of her doing THAT was hilarious – and then suddenly not funny at all.

Yeah. Someday, Tennyo might need those little pills. But Jade wouldn't. It didn't seem fair. She wasn't entirely sure what she'd do once she became a girl, but she NEEDED to be one so bad.

Forget it, was all she'd say to Tansy.

Her unhappy mood lasted until Tansy's shower, which was an eye-opener. Tansy figured out she could use her "new TK power" to hold her skin stretched tight, to give herself a safer and closer shave. Jinn had to give the girl credit – when it came to finding her own advantage in a situation, Tansy was brilliant. Jinn wasn't sure she'd have thought of all these uses of her power on her own.

Then Tansy started shaving there. Jinn's mind went bright orange in embarrassment.

Apparently Tansy felt the emotion. "What's the matter, little spirit? Never shaved yourself down there?"

I don't even have HAIR down there yet! Not to mention that she didn't have a "down there" at all, in her physical body. This was so freaky!

"We don't want to give The Don any chance of a turn-off."

Jinn gagged, appalled. You aren't planning – you wouldn't do THAT with him? The birth-control pills seemed to indicate that "that" is exactly what Tansy would do.

"Men are only interested in one thing. You want to play the game, you have to pay their price. But they get bored quickly, so it's up to the girl to keep them interested. Either that, or get what you want and leave, before they wise up."

Jinn gulped. She had to get out of this body! That wasn't to say that someday, maybe, when she was physically female, she might not… But now? Tansy Walcutt and Don Sebastiano? She'd be emotionally scarred for life! There had to be a way out!


At breakfast, Hekate was missing from the Alpha table, but there were several other members of the clique in attendance.

Tansy breezed forward, much to Jinn's terror, and sat comfortably across from Don Sebastiano, while waiting for a male admirer to bring her breakfast.

"Where's Hekate?" she asked, in a voice that oozed sympathy. "Nothing too serious, I hope."

"No, not at all. Apparently she had a distant great aunt who passed away. They're reading the will on Maui, and they offered to fly her in, all expenses paid, first class. We think she might actually have a bit of money coming to her. With the flight out and back, and a few extra days at their expense, she should be gone for about a week."

Jinn was getting more adept at picking up her host's moods, and she could tell that Tansy was steamed. She'd just paid a large sum of money to send her worst rival on a paid vacation. Jinn herself was amused, until she remembered what Tansy would be trying to do in the intervening week.

"Gosh, Sebastiano, I guess that leaves you high and dry. No arm candy? No companionship? Those long, cold, lonely nights. My heart goes out to you. I want you to know if there's anything I can do to help…"

The man in question leaned over and kissed the delicate girl who seemed to wait on him hand and foot. "I lead the Alphas," he told her, with a tone of disdain. "Lest you forget, we Alphas are the tip-top of this school, the highest, finest, and best in every way. And I am the best of the best. If I want for anything," he snapped his fingers and figures to either side of him snapped to attention, "it is mine the instant I form the wish."

He looked to his left. "Skybolt, darling little doormat that you are –"

"Yes, my hero?"

Jinn had never seen a look of such devotion.

"If I asked you to strip naked and fuck me on this table, in front of the entire school, what would your answer be?"

"Oh, please, yes!"

He nodded. "Maybe later." Turning to the extremely attractive boy on his other side, he said, "Cavalier, lad."

"Yes, Sir?"

"I think I'll be taking a dump in a moment. But I heard they're out of toilet paper, so I'll need you to lick me clean."

Jinn felt Tansy's gorge rise.

"Yes, Sir! My privilege, to help you in any way I can, Sir!"

He turned back to Tansy. "So… what can YOU do for me?"

Jinn found it fascinating to feel the second-hand emotions. Right now, she could literally feel the blood draining out of her host's face. She was surprised, though, when Tansy's answer was level, and even seductive. She hadn't thought the girl had so much self-control.

"What can I do for you? Aside from providing power, and beauty, and absolutely flawless style? Remember, I'm an Alpha, too. Unlike those lusterless lackeys, as an Alpha, as me, I am the best at everything." She leaned in closer to breath the words in his face. "Everything."

"Ah, I see. Perhaps I'll have to take you for a test drive later, and see how you stack up."

If Tansy had been emotional before, that was nothing compared to the fury that suddenly shot through her. In a silent rage she rose, turned, and strode away from the table. At her back, Don Sebastiano laughed. After a moment, the other members of the table joined him.


"You finished the costume?" Tennyo asked, seeing Jann floating around the room in her flat-black bodysuit and hooded cloak. "I don't know, you look like a giant shadow. I mean, that super-black cloth is a pretty nice effect, but it's missing something. You need some sort of highlights."

"But this is spookier," Jann insisted. "It's like I am a shadow. See?" She pulled her arms and legs into the cover of the cloak, and they became invisible. There was only a cloak floating there in mid-air.

"Yeah, I see what you mean, but it would still be better with highlights. Especially if you could hide the other bits when you did the shadow effect. That would make it that much more spooky and mysterious. Besides, you need at least a couple of accessories. At least a belt or something."

Jade nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I guess you're right. The whole shadow-thing is too cool to lose, but it's really time to get a face again."

"Not the mask," Jann said. "That was Jinn."

"Well they must have something in the costume lab."

Tennyo paused as Jade continued dressing. "Are you going to wear that gun to class?"

Jade had just buckled on the holster, and was busy tying it down to her thigh. "Of course. That's the point. If I don't have it when I need it, what good is it?"

"But, it looks like a huge honking pistol! And you're wearing a skirt! What will people say?"

"They'll probably say that it messes up my skirt – which it does – but why should they say anything other than that? How many devisors do you know that go to class without their hardware?"

Tennyo shrugged. "Well, yeah, but that's different. They're devisors."

Jade fumbled with the holster. "Dang. They warned me about the big gun. Well, it'll just give me time to get used to it. Maybe I should check out the behind-the-back holster."  She looked up to see that her roommate was still staring at her. "Hey, don't worry. I picked this up from security. I've got all the permits. They've told the staff and teachers. I only have to notify them if I ever change to a lethal load."

Tennyo gave it up. "Whatever happened to that sweet, innocent girl I moved in with?"

Jade's voice was flat. "Someone murdered her."

Tennyo turned back around and went to hug her roommate. She wasn't always so good at this emotional stuff, but once in a while the need was obvious. She squeezed Jade close. "Are you doing okay?"

"Yeah." Jade sniffed once. "But sometimes… I'm really scared, you know? It's the not knowing. What if it happens again?"

"We're all here for you."

Jade finally hugged her back.  "Thanks."


In costume shop, Mrs. Ryan had the same comments about accessories. And, after many probing questions, she revealed that they did indeed have the ingredients needed to create masks and other forms of artificial skin. It was a common request, due to the many students with "skin conditions" or other physical abnormalities. Jann made an appointment for the next day, when she'd have to appear with Jade.


That afternoon, Jade and Jann had another session with Dr. Bellows.

"After today, you should be able to enter the trance on your own, and work through self-hypnosis," he told her. "It's still often useful to have someone else directing the session, but you'll be able to work without that, if you feel the need."

Once again, Jann was in the earplugs that buffered Jade from directly hearing the hypnotist.

"Is there anything in particular you'd like to accomplish this session?" he asked.

"You aren't going to try to alter my Body Image Template?"

"This session, we're merely going to confirm that we have a solid, reliable, repeatable trance."

Jann thought for a bit. "I've had some trouble, recently, so I got this gun from security. But I have to admit, I'm not very good with it. Is there any way that hypnosis could help me shoot better?"

The middle-aged man nodded. "Perhaps. I did some target shooting for a while, years back. I know some of the principles. I can give you some suggestions, but you'll still need plenty of training."

Jade gave a wan smile. "Almost anything would help."

"Very well. Let me strap on these monitoring devices. They will measure your heartbeat, respiration, and brain waves. It will help us measure the depth and potency of your trance."

That was quickly accomplished, and Jade lay back on the couch.

"I'd like you to begin counting backward from 100…"

From there, Jade proceeded quickly into the trance. Once she was completely under, the doctor rose to examine his instruments. He then made several pleased sounds.

"Alright, Jade. I'm going to give you a new spell for your book."

In her earplugs, Jann relayed the command, modifying them. <We will create a new command for your gauntlets. This will be on the pinky knuckle of your left hand…>

"You shoot most accurately when you see the target, align the sights on it, squeeze the trigger gently but firmly, and hold the gun steady through the recoil. You can do even better if you fire between heartbeats, while holding your breath. This spell will allow you to train all of these reflexes together. When you activate this spell, it will operate each time you spot your target. At the moment you decide to shoot, you will smoothly bring your pistol into exact position, align the sites, squeeze, and then allow the pistol to move smoothly back. Your movements will automatically coordinate with your breathing and heartbeat, so that you fire between breaths, and between heartbeats."

He also gave her another spell. "This spell will allow you to create your own trance. Activating this spell will quickly pass you through the countdown, into a deep state of suggestion. While in this trance, you will consider whatever issues and instructions you prepared for yourself ahead of time, and be able to incorporate those ideas into the deepest recesses of your mind."


Tansy was also contemplating hypnosis. Her second-favorite trick after her "brain zap" was to drop a post-hypnotic suggestion on someone. She tried not to over-use it, since people got particularly riled up about any sort of mind-control. But when there was no way to detect what she'd done, it had proven enormously useful.

She wasn't about to try anything on The Don. She wanted him to need her, after all. Hekate was another matter, but she was gone at the moment. No, she needed something subtle.

Then she had it. It wasn't a great idea, but it was a start. She needed to get to that little mind-slave girl The Don was always dangling. The girl, in turn, would feed suggestions into Sebastiano's ear.

Now, the only problem was when and where.


On the range, Jade noticed a dramatic improvement. Her aim still wasn't very good, but it had suddenly gotten a lot more consistent. That made correcting things much easier.

She burned through her entire salary for the day taking practice shots with the cheapest loads she could buy. They had assured her that the more complex devisor capsules flew the exact same way. Train for one load – train for all.


So your big plan was just to have sex with Don Sebastiano, figuring that afterward he'd make you his new queen? Jinn was less than impressed.

"You make it sound so tawdry," Tansy whispered. "But that's about right. See, I have this particular talent. I weave a mental projection around myself that gives people a finer appreciation for who I am. That's why my code name is Solange. That's French, for 'precious jewel' – because that's how people see me when I send my projection."

Uh huh. And how was this going to get you The Don?

"I can use the same technique during sex. Under such close, deeply intimate circumstances, it makes me the world's absolute best lover. The Don would be ruined for other women." She shuddered briefly. "Not that his attentions would be any great thrill. Take it from one who has the experience to know, sex is vastly overrated."

Jinn wasn't about to accept Tansy as an authority on anything. Well, I wouldn't know. So you sleep with him, give him a mind-blowing experience, and that's it?

"Oh, I can usually work things up to a pretty strong love compulsion. Even with other telepaths. The projection is subtle, and works its way in while they're distracted. And just at THE moment, I give him some extra oomph. It's one of the few times that even the strongest male telepaths are completely vulnerable. And after that, he's addicted. The Don will be hopelessly in love with me."

Except that he seems to want to humiliate you more than sleep with you. For which Jinn was profoundly grateful.

At that moment, Skybolt left her last class of the day. Predictably, she headed toward Melville Cottage – probably either her room or Don Sebastiano's.

Tansy stood up from the bench behind the hedge and moved to fall in behind the delicate-looking girl.

Before Skybolt could turn around, Jinn noticed a beam of energy issuing from Tansy's head, spearing through the other girl's skull. After a moment, Tansy moved up close to the other girl, and began to talk quietly. It was loud enough, though, for Skybolt to easily hear the words.

"Tansy? She's about the hottest girl in school. Everyone knows it."

and

"God, is Solange pretty! I wish I was even half that beautiful."

and

"Tansy is so unbelievably rich. She could just buy all of Whateley if she wanted. Heck, she could buy most of New Hampshire."

Then Tansy moved away again. Afterward, Jinn asked. What was that about? You just repeated some stupid catch-phrases to her?

Tansy smirked, Jinn could feel it. "You're nuts if you think I'm going to give away my secrets that easily."


As Tansy attended that afternoon's modeling session, Jinn thought she might have a chance.

"Alright," the photographer said, "today's shoot is for calendar pictures, background and exotic shots, some seasonal images. And of course, if anything fabulous comes out, there's the possibility of a poster."

One of the younger girls raised a hand. "What are 'exotic shots'?"

While the photographer set up against the background of trees on the east side of campus, Tansy sauntered over to explain. Jinn was surprised, initially, then figured out that it wasn't so much that Tansy wanted to be helpful – she just liked playing the expert.

"Exotic shots go into your portfolio and the school's expanding image gallery. We keep the photos in two very different categories. There's the normal, ultra-glamorous, like me. For these background and filler shots, my image might be picked for fill-in or emphasis on anything from a outdoor-wear catalog to a corporate report.

"The second category is super-hero and exotic. Those are used in plenty of similar circumstances, but they're usually trying to emphasize some point, rather than just furnishing an attractive image. That's why we keep the weirds and exotics around, like you," she said, gesturing toward Fey.

Fey, at the moment, was adjusting a costume that made it look like she was wearing so many leaves. She scowled at Tansy's barb.

Seeing that, Jinn tried to project an emotion as hard as she could. Fey was an empath. If she spotted Jinn's projection: familiarity, friendship, shared times, surely Nikki would understand those emotions couldn't possibly be coming from Tansy.

Fey stared at them, with her inhumanly large and beautiful eyes. For Jinn, those eyes glittered with an ultra-violet color, as Fey's face shone with the tint of confusion.

"You are obviously one of the most confused people I've ever met," Fey decided.

Tansy couldn't even let such an innocent comment pass without counter-attacking "What are you, anyway? Some sort of dryad? Wood nymph? Tinker Bell?"

"You're not nearly so hostile as you'd like me to believe," Fey replied.

"And what makes you think that, Tinker Bell?"

"I'm an empath. I can tell that a part of you, deep inside, really does hold friendship for us."

Tansy felt a jolt of fear that was strong enough for Jinn to feel, and doubtlessly strong enough for Nikki to notice. She immediately moved away from Nikki, saying, "Haven't they taught you freshmen telepathic ethics yet? You don't go prying into other people's heads!"

Jinn gave a mental sigh of defeat. Perhaps she hadn't projected well enough. Perhaps Nikki just hadn't conceived that there might be two different people occupying the same head.


The study group agreed that Jann's new costume was better. She still had the ultra-black hooded, but now she had cuffed-off gloves and boots, and bone white arms, legs, and face. Her body-suit was like a black void of a one-piece swimsuit, and she had normal black hair (exactly like Jade's real-life hair). Moreover, her face and eyes were just like Jade's, except for the bone-white skin tone.

As she moved, they saw that the inside of her cloak wasn't exactly the same as before. It had been lined with a material that was black, except when it rippled or bent. Then you could see iridescent shimmers of pure crimson.

"Not there yet," Toni decided, "but definitely a lot better. How'd you get the face? It looks so real. And that white isn't such a bad effect on you."

"It's Japanese," Jade admitted. "Geisha makeup, kabuki, and all that. Pure white makeup is pretty popular in classical Japan. I wanted something that was a little exotic, but attractive, but I kind of changed my mind in the middle, too. I'm trying for a shadow / ghost thing, as well."

"Yeah, right," Ayla agreed, sarcastically. "You want to throw in a few more themes, maybe?"

Tennyo was examining Jann closely. "How'd you do your face? It's perfect!"

"Thanks," she said. "It's just talcum powder. My doctor gave me the idea last week. But I need the black fabric behind it, otherwise my skin ends up being transparent."

Toni shook her head. "You need some makeup. And you still need accessories. Still too plain. How are you doing on a name?"

Jann floated up a bit so that her feet were dangling. "I want something that talks about my connection to fabric. And I want it to imply shadows, or gloom, or spookiness. That's why my first attempt was 'Clothes Ghost'." She paused to look at Ayla. "Some people thought that was silly. I tried 'Cloak' but that was copyrighted. 'Cape' was too super-heroic; I'm feeling a bit more morbid. I think I've got one, though."

Ayla tapped her foot. "Yeah? Let's hear the latest."

"Shroud."

Toni nodded. "Yeah, that accomplishes what you were talking about."

Billie broke in. "What's with all the spook imagery? Please tell me you're not suddenly going Goth on me!"

Jann shrugged. "I don't have enough style yet to be Goth. But … I'm probably the weakest member of our little group. I think I need to look for advantage wherever I can get it. One way to do that is by choosing a name and a style that confuses my foes, and doesn't give away my powers and weaknesses in one single word. I'm not going as 'Telekinetic Fabric Girl' or anything. That would be just stupid!"

Toni hunched over and rubbed her hands while cackling. "Besides," she hissed, "criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot!"

"Mostly," Jann admitted, "I'm just hoping I can scare the piss out of SOMEone, SOMEwhere. If the spook show will help, I'm all for it."

They got ready for studying while Jade went to change. Fey was still off at her modeling session. Just as they were settling in, Jade returned in a very different looking outfit.

"And this is MY costume! What do you think?"

She was wearing cargo pants, a tube-top, and a fisherman's vest (with about fifty pockets) over the tube top. She also had on a headset with an antenna and a Plexiglas screen that covered one eye. On her right side she had her gun and holster.

Everyone stared at her.

"Uh, you look like some sort of devisor," Tennyo said, stating the obvious.

"Of COURSE I look like a devisor!" Jade hollered. "That's the whole idea! I've got my gun here, I'm going to have to collect more stuff over time. Half of it will be stuff that I can TK-charge, if necessary. I'll bet I can fake a lot of devisor gizmos by substituting with Jann."

Toni pointed at the headphones, eye-screen, and antenna. "What's that?"

"Well, right now it's just a plastic mock-up from costuming props. I figure it's a good idea to have a radio link to Jann, especially in combat. We need to coordinate better. So once I can afford it, this will be a walkie-talkie. She'll have her own unit, but it'll be inside her where you can't see it. As for the eye-piece, well, it looks cool. Sort of Dragonball, don't you think? And maybe someday I can actually make it do something.

"Oh, yeah, and for my code name, I couldn't decide between 'Central' and 'Generator.' I think I'm going to go with 'Generator.'"

Billie nodded. "Yeah, that sounds like a devisor."

"Yeah, but it's also accurate, since I'm the one who generates Jann."

"Confusion to your foes, again," Toni said.

Jade nodded. "Exactly. And life preservation, too. I've noticed that people zap the gadgets really well, but they don't waste too much energy on the devisors themselves. After all, the devisors are usually just normal people. I want to take advantage of that habit."

Billie suddenly laughed. "So now I'm rooming with a ghost and a geek!"

Jade waved her fist in the air. "Take that back, you goof!"

And for a bit, everyone forgot their troubles.


Nex suddenly appeared at her side, holding a manila folder. "You wanted everything on Hekate? Here it is."

Tansy snatched the envelope from him. A quick flip through showed details about friends and family, her followers and confidants here at the school, dates and romantic relationships, and run-downs on her powers.

"I… haven't had time to arrange your date, yet," she admitted.

"That's fine," Nex said. "You can take the information as a good-faith offering on my side. I'm sure it will motivate you that much more. This Friday would be good. I'll expect a call." And he was suddenly gone again.

Tansy trudged back to her room, feeling the full burden of promises made that she wasn't sure she could keep. When she slipped into her room, she squeezed through the door – just in case Nex was invisibly following behind her. Then she realized there was a good chance that her creepy roommate would detect him, if he tried it.

She wasn't sure whether she wanted Sahar to be there or not, but the girl was in her regular lotus position on her bed, a textbook open in her lap.

In typical fashion, Tansy opened the issue bluntly. "What would it take to talk you into going on a date with Nex?"

Sahar looked up. "That worm? Is he still obsessed on me? That was last spring."

Tansy smirked. "Maybe he hasn't been able to get any since then."

Sahar's expression didn't alter. "He was not that good in bed. A typical shoot-and-sleep type. I'd be surprised if any other girl put up with him for long."

Tansy shrugged. "So he's a bad fuck. Does that make him different from any other man out there?"

Sahar stared at her through long, dark eyelashes. "If you didn't always go so psycho on it, I'd think you were a closet lesbian."

Tansy shuddered. "Don't even go there. I can't believe that you sleep with other women. That is just so… so…"

"Beautiful?"

"Disgusting! God, I'm not even sure what you do! You don't let her put her mouth on your pussy, do you?"

Sahar's smile was smug. "It's called cunnilingus. Her tongue touches you everywhere. Every fold, swirling around your most sensitive spots. And all the while her hands roam your body until you can't take it anymore."

Tansy was half-fearful, half needing. Already she was as hard as could be up top, while melting down below. Aloud she said, "That is about the sickest thing you've ever said! I think I'm going to puke. They idea that my own roommate is a twat-sucking cunt-licking lesbo – you just stay over on that side of the room."

"I've been licked out by guys, too."

"Look, can we just change the subject?" The whole topic brought images to Tansy's mind that she didn't want to think about until she was alone.

"I thought the subject was that you wanted me to go on a date with that worm – and I do mean to indicate size here." Sahar stared at her with a dangerous look in her eye. "And I sure hope we're ONLY talking about a date – if you even think of trying to pimp me out –"

Tansy held up her hands. "No, no, just a date!"

Sahar tilted her head. "How about value for value? You arrange for me to have thirty minutes, in private, to talk to Zenith, and I'll go out with that idiot."

Tansy ran a hand through her hair. "Look, I'm starting to get really strung out here. Can we maybe just arrange for cash?"

Hey! the voice came in her head, I know Zenith! I was talking to her just last week. If you let me go, I'll arrange for Zenith to have that private conversation!

"Not a chance."

"Huh?" Sahar looked puzzled. "Make up your mind. You offer cash and then change your mind?"

Tansy shrugged. "Sorry. I was talking to –" she tapped her head "—you know."

"Interesting. You know, she doesn't look any weaker. Any signs that she's starting to possess you?"

"No. It doesn't work like that!" Tansy was pretty sure that Sahar was just jerking her chain. "You don't know much about avatars, do you? We act as hosts to the spirit, and provide all the energy they need to keep going. In return, we get complete control over their powers."

Is that why I haven't faded yet? the voice came in her mind.

"Yeah, but don't avatars come in different power levels?" Sahar asked in her oh-so-smart tone. "What happens when a weak avatar holds a strong spirit?"

Tansy was pretty sure that if she ever got tested, she would be an "Avatar-1", the weakest level. She did not want to be putting ideas in her spirit-girl's non-corporeal head. "That doesn't matter. I've had no problem so far; I'll continue to hold her just fine."

"Uh huh. Except that I seem to remember at least three or four different classes of metaphysical entities. And avatars work real well against the most common class of entities, but they usually do squat against the more exotic entity types. And your ghost-girl is not a normal type of spirit."

Tansy was starting to get extremely irritated by this line of conversation. "Look, I've had no trouble so far, and I'm not going to HAVE any trouble, got it?"

Sahar nodded. "Two thousand dollars," she said, holding her hand out.

"What? Just for talking to you?"

Sahar rolled her eyes. "For agreeing to the date. Don't you even remember what we were talking about?"

"ARGGG!" Tansy stalked to her purse and pulled out her checkbook. She scribbled a quick check. "There! He expects you Friday."

"Oh, joy. Something to look forward to for the rest of the week."


As Tansy slipped into one of her amazingly indecent negligees, Jinn reflected on what she'd learned.

Tonight she'd work extra hard, trying to break free from the avatar's hold, and trying to break the lock on her form. Perhaps they would end up being the same thing. She figured she had double the chance to discover something.

Tansy was obviously still irritated at her roommate. Jinn wasn't sure why. It was hard to tell whether Sahar was as mercenary as she appeared, or whether she was just taking advantage of an unpleasant situation. Jinn had personally found the Nex character to be extremely threatening. She wouldn't go out with him for any price. Well, not that she'd ever been on a date.

Sahar and Tansy seemed to go to sleep by mutually ignoring the other. At least, that was the pattern she'd seen the previous two nights, and they seemed to be following it tonight, as well.

Jinn pushed and prodded in every way she could think of, trying to connect or alter her telekinetic body. But all she could sense, all she seemed connected to, was the skin of Tansy's body. And no matter how she struggled or strained, she couldn't lift so much as a finger.

But now she had a backup plan. It seemed to work best when the target was unaware. So once she could tell that Tansy was really asleep, she began talking in a low "voice" to her host.

You really want to let the ghost-girl go. You want to let the ghost-girl go. You don't want anyone else in your head, let the ghost-girl go.

It was going to be a long night.


Billie was about to turn off the light. That in itself was odd. For the past week, Jade had been summoning up Jinn for extra study, after both girls went to sleep. Jinn was silent and worked in the dark, and to be honest it was kind of comforting to think that someone was there watching over them as they slept. It was also handy, since she could just call out to Jinn and have her turn out the light (not that Billie had any trouble seeing in the dark).

The past couple of days, though, Jade had been going to sleep without calling up Jinn.

And tonight, she thought she heard a sniffle coming from the tightly wrapped bundle in Jade's bed.

"Jade? Are you okay?"

"…yeah."

Billie moved closer to her roommate. "What's wrong? Are you still bothered about Jinn?"

There was a sniff from the lump on the bed. "It's been two days! I keep hoping that somehow, some way, she's still alive. But it's been two days!" The smaller girl way openly crying now, and it was hard to understand her through the tears. "The most she's ever been away from me was 67 minutes. There's no way she could still be alive! And the worst part is –" she was sobbing in earnest now "—I'll never even know what happened to her! It could happen again! How can I even protect myself if I don't know what killed me?"

Billie found herself in the odd position of having her arms wrapped around the other girl, pressing Jade's head to her chest and rocking her back and forth, while trying to make comforting sounds. Just like a mother, Billie thought. It was a strange realization. Even now, she was occasionally hit with something like this, that reminded her of what her gender had been, not so long ago. It was usually something unexpected, where she found herself acting so very female – in a way she wouldn't have anticipated when she'd been a boy.

"I used to love becoming Jinn," Jade admitted, more quietly. "She was a real girl, like Jann. Not a – a freak like me. I was so happy when I did the charging and I came out as Jinn. I always thought I was the lucky one. Poor Jade was stuck in that dumb old wrong physical body.

"But now – now I'm afraid to be Jann. I'm a girl, but I could die at any moment. It's the not knowing. I just don't know what to do!"

"Shhh. It's okay. I'm here." And, utterly surprising herself, Billie held her smaller roommate, stroked her hair, and said whatever she could think of. She thought that maybe the school had some ideas that weren't so bad. Who else besides a fellow gender-switcher could have coped with Jade's confession? She wondered if Nikki and Toni ever supported each other like this. Did Ayla missing having a roommate? Did Hank ever need to be comforted? She tried to remember her own life as an emotionally self-reliant boy, and found her former gender and the thoughts that connected to it oddly distant.

Perhaps that was because, all this time, it felt like she was holding a child. It triggered a thought that Bill Wilson had never had. The thought was, Will I make a good mother?

She was shocked to think of herself having a maternal instinct. With her change and other upheavals she'd entered Whateley as a freshman. Despite the official forms listing her as fifteen, she was actually sixteen years old. Jade was fourteen, but looked twelve. So – four years difference, in one way of thinking. Was that enough to allow her to feel maternal toward her roommate? Not really.

She knew that she was comforting a friend. A friend who was sometimes a bit like a child, but was also sometimes an equal.

But as Billie fell asleep, gently stroking the other girl's head, her mind was filled with questions. What would it be like, to hold her own baby? Could she even imagine that? Was it really possible that she, Bill Wilson, was thinking about being a mother? Could she care for a child?

And so the two girls fell asleep. The smaller one held and comforted by her roommate, whom she trusted utterly. The larger one confounded by her own thoughts. Realizing that she had been a boy, so very recently, but that her mind was now filled with thoughts that were completely female.

18: Discoveries

Picking up her assignments from Miss Devlin, she really didn't have any trouble getting out of her morning English class. So far, her teachers had been very understanding about powers tests, medical appointments, and all the other reasons she'd gotten out of class. Of course, it probably helped that she kept up on her homework, and was getting fairly good grades.

They'd taken a chance and last charged Jann at breakfast, which meant that she'd be expiring in the middle of costuming class. But since Jade had to join her anyway…

Jade checked her watch as she made her way to the lower floor. Six minutes to go. She let herself into the Costuming Lab, and made her way to the back door that Mrs. Ryan had shown her yesterday. Before she entered, she almost ran into Mrs. Ryan coming out.

"May I help you, Miss?"

"Uh, yesterday you told me that we'd be doing the face mask stuff?" Jade reminded her. "I'm already in there, aren't I?"

Mrs. Ryan started to respond then seemed to think twice. "I swear, some of these powers DO take some getting used to. You're Jinn?"

Jade winced. "The name I use for my physical body is 'Jade.' But we're really all the same person – at least every time we reconnect."

"I think I see." She turned and headed into the back lab, gesturing for Jade to follow. "The plastic mix we use is pretty good. It's durable and very flexible – we use it for hands and even feet, which take a lot more wear and tear. The only problem is that it's pretty sticky in its liquid form, and it's hot enough to burn normal skin."

Jade came into the room where Jann, dressed as a shadowy figure in a hooded cloak, was standing above a boiling pot of goo. It looked like a giant fondue pot, filled with skin-colored cheese.

"Now that you're here, we can get a skin-tone reading," Mrs. Ryan announced. She took a small probe and touched it to Jade's arm, then to her forehead and cheek, then to the back of her hand and her palm.

"Pretty good, quite consistent," she announced. "We could tweak a little for the different pourings, but I really think they're close enough already. Let me bring it up to your current average tone." She carefully measured out some color from a bottle. Using a pipette, she added a precisely-measured amount to the bubbling "cheese".

"Okay, that should be close to perfect." She measured the pot with her probe. "Good. Let me stir it a bit."

"Okay. Give us a minute here," Jade asked, "I need to charge up Jann. She's due to vanish in," she glanced at her watch, "thirty seconds. I have a Powers Lab assignment to measure the exact duration, so I need to wait for it."

"Very well."

While they waited, Jann talked with her teacher about how to do the pouring. For most people, they made a negative mold using their face (or someone else's face), then poured the plastic into the mold to get a positive. Jann wanted to skip that step and have the plastic poured directly on her head.

"It's not like it can hurt me – I can't even feel heat. And if Jade gives me a new charge right afterward, I can incorporate the plastic and then I can provide the shape myself."

"Odd idea, but I'm willing to give it a try."

Jade was closely watching the second-hand on her watch.

Sixty-seven minutes and fourteen, fifteen –

She reached out to touch Jann. They'd be doing the super-quick merge-and-return, getting Jann back in place before the clothes collapsed.

Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen,

Had she gained another second?

Nineteen, twenty

Something was seriously wrong here. She shouldn't have picked up TWO seconds. Not in the last few days. Had she set her watch wrong?

thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two

That was just plain impossible! Her teacher had calculated her ultimate maximum time at sixty-seven minutes and just under thirty-two seconds. She must have set the dial off by a minute.

forty-nine, fifty, fifty-one

And suddenly Jann was back in her mind. She was already holding the outfit. Reflexively, she immediately charged Jann back into it. Jann glanced at her own watch.

"It matches yours," she said.

They both reset their watches, very carefully this time. "Must be an error." "Has to be a fluke." they said together.

Whatever had happened, they didn't have time to figure it out now. Mrs. Ryan announced, "I'm ready for the pour." She dipped a huge ladle into the bubbling pot and scooped out several cups of the mixture. "Now, pull off that cloak and we'll see about pouring it onto your head.

Jann complied, and Mrs. Ryan lifted the ladle high, then slowly poured it over the black hood that seemed to cover Jann's head.  The thick mixture began to roll down the front and sides of her head.

Jade reached out and held each of Jann's shoulders, being careful not to touch the hot plastic.

"Ready?"

"Now!"

Jann slumped for a moment, then rose again. This time, the plastic flowed under the control of her telekinesis. It quickly flowed around her head, forming a duplicate of Jade's head, if it had been totally bald.

"Remember to open your mouth," Jade reminded. "We need it to flow in through the opening. Nostrils. Eyes closed, to get enough eyelid."

While all this was going on, Mrs. Ryan was bustling about with black plastic hair, planting it like young shoots of rice in the still-molten plastic.

"Oh, this is a good one! Try making a few expressions – I think the stretching might help."

Jann had allowed the plastic to completely cover her neck, shoulders, and a bit down her back and upper chest.

"This is one of the most interesting cases I've had!" Their teacher was almost bubbling. "Usually, there's something underneath, but not in your case, is there? We have glass eyes, of course. Plenty of brown, if you don't mind matching your natural color –"

"That would be fine! Much better than the weird novelty eyes we had before."

"Yes, I remember those from the first week of class. But I'm not sure what to do about your mouth."

"I had some dentures that were the right size," Jade explained. "I should have brought them – they could have gotten set right into the plastic."

"Yes, too bad."

Jann was stretching out her tongue, trying to get enough material to cover a natural extension.

"There! That should do it for your hair. Not exactly like your normal hair, but pretty close. Of course, you'll have to get it cut and styled. I'll teach you how to attach the eyelashes and eyebrows. You'll want permanent tinting for your lips and the inside of your mouth. It's up to you whether you want to do makeup normally or permanently. I can warn you that cleaning is a bit of a problem – a plastic mask isn't as easy to clean or as durable as skin."

"Yeah, but at least I don't have any complexion problems," Jann could help adding.

"You realize what this means?" Jade asked her double. "Haircut, styling? More bills!"

"Ouch," Jann agreed.

Mrs. Ryan made sympathetic noises. "At least the mask and basics are free. We provide them to any student who has qualified in Costume Lab." She gave a stir to the bubbling pot. "Now, were you saying something about hands?"

"I'm suddenly thinking about feet, too."


By the time she attended Powers Lab, in the afternoon, Jann was sure of it. Her time had increased several more seconds since this morning. She was barely over sixty-eight minutes now. Powers Lab was in the normal gym room. She updated her chart, including the numbers from the morning, then waited for the nautilus machine set up for measurements.

The answer shouldn't have been a surprise. Last time she'd checked, her maximum effort had been 188.6 pounds of force. Today she managed 192. She headed for Mrs. Bohn.

"Well, those are certainly impressive results," the woman said. "What I can't figure out is why. If you've been triggered onto a new development cycle, there should have been some incident, or burst, or stimulus. Can you think of anything that might have triggered you off like that?"

Jann shook her head. "No, exactly the opposite. The only big thing that's happened recently was that…" her voice trailed off as she realized that she had the answer.

"What?"

"I died."


Jade and Jann went together to get Jann's haircut. They wanted it to look exactly like Jade's – perhaps just a bit longer, so it would match as Jade's hair grew out. They had to wait until after they got off work. Then they snuck back into the room, and Jade picked out a good shirt. It had a scoop neck (not that she had anything to show off) and long sleeves. Together with a light tan leotard, Capri pants, and sandals, and she was ready.

Jann came back into her, and then she cast Jann into the clothes.

Normally, her girl-shape came out at the height she was supposed to have – five foot three. But she could compress herself – that's usually what she did when she possessed a stuffed animal. It was her girl-shape warped into a slightly different size and shape. She supposed she could make herself bigger, too, she just hadn't had any reason to try yet.

Now she was planning something different. Jann was normally five foot three. Jade was four foot nine, a good six inches shorter. But with the newly realistic face mask and hands, Jann looked very much like Jade. Slightly older, slightly more feminine, and about six inches taller. Could she deliberately make herself shorter?

The clothes inflated. Jade watched as the leotard stretched, as Jann rose up taller than her – and then shrunk back down again. The other girl's height seemed to bounce up and down for a moment, before it settled at the same height Jade was.

Jann stared at her with normal-seeming eyes.

Jade smile back and gave a thumbs-up.

It was almost dinnertime, so Jann sauntered over to Toni and Nikki's room. It turned out that all the other girls were hanging out there, listening to Nikki's story.

"So I'm wearing nothing but these leaves," Nikki explained, "I'd had an actual outfit earlier, but the photographer suddenly wants to go all artistic. I mean, what do I know about this stuff? So he's talked me down to just my underwear – luckily I'd worn a beige set that was pretty close to skin color – and I'm draped around this tree and I'm supposed to be smiling like I've just swallowed the universe's best chocolate malt, and he's placing the leaves on me. 'Artistically' he says."

Jann leaned forward, enraptured by the tale. The other girls, even Ayla, seemed to be hanging on Nikki's words.

"And just as he's at the camera, ready to take the shot, what happens?"

"The wind," Toni guessed, snickering.

"Damn right! But he's already shooting! And does he stop? Hell no! So I stand up to go stomping up to him, but that makes it even worse, of course. So I do my thing, you know," she waggled her fingers "and pull up a bit of wind. If there's going to be wind around, it had better be doing what I want it to do! So I pick up the leaves, 'cause there about the only covering there, and they're swirling around me like a little dust devil, hiding what you better believe is supposed to be hidden! And – I don't know – I guess I've got a pretty fierce expression on. That's what the other girls told me afterward. But this guy doesn't even budge. He's just fussing over his camera and clicking away as I come stalking up to him. And finally, just before I'm ready to deck him, he starts cussing and saying things like, 'Damn, out of film!' "

By now the other girls were laughing so hard that they could barely hear.

"And before I can kill him, and his little camera too, he starts babbling about how it was absolutely perfect, and that I could hit him all I wanted to, but please don't damage the film."

This proved too much, and even Ayla was laughing now.

"How – how'd it finally turn out?" Toni gasped.

Nikki shrugged. "Don't know. He still has to check the film. He said if it was anything like he's expecting, we might do best by offering an exclusive poster deal to the Sierra Club. 'Nature – beautiful, but fierce.' Something like that."

"God, I'd pay for a poster like that," Ayla blurted out.

Jann glanced over and was surprised to see the aura colors that she usually associated with guys who watched Nikki, but she suddenly realized that Ayla was standing rather awkwardly, and remembered that Ayla wasn't entirely unqualified in the guy department. Embarrassed, she quickly turned away… only to notice Nikki staring at her.

Nikki slapped her roommate and whispered into Toni's ear. Toni glanced at her, then did a double take.

"Hey, Billie," Toni called, "going to get your roommate for dinner?"

Tennyo looked at her, then looked back at Toni, puzzled. "Huh? What's up?"

"Your other roommate."

Tennyo shrugged. "I guess. Hey Jade, is Jann out?"

Jann smiled. "If you call, I'm sure she'll hear you."

Tennyo scratched her spiky blue head. "What's up with you people? HEY JANN! DINNER!"

Jade came out and walked over to Toni's room. She was wearing a long-sleeved sweater, gloves, long pants, socks and shoes. "Dinner? Great, I'm starved."

Jann grinned as Tennyo and Ayla peered back and forth between her and Jade.

"Ah ha!" Tennyo announced, pointing toward her. "Jann!"

"Hmph. How'd you figure it out?"

Tennyo blushed. "Uh, well, no offense, but you've got breasts. They may not be that big, but they're there. And even through your bra, we can see your – you know – your tips." She turned to Jade. "Sorry, kid, but you still haven't started developing."

Jade scowled. "'s not fair!"

Tennyo wrapped her arm comfortably around her smaller roommate. "Yeah, but what are you going to do? Give it time, girl. You'll grow up."

"I'm tired of waiting," Jade grumbled. "I'd do almost anything to have a real figure."

"I want to be my real height," Jann said. With that, she closed her eyes and suddenly grew six inches taller.

"There's a magic trick you don't see every day," Nikki observed.

"Our little girl's growing up so fast!" Toni added.

Jann smiled. "Hey, now that it looks like we're actually related, I get to be your big sister!"

Jade crossed her arms and scowled. "And once again, I get nothing!"

Jann grinned as she put a comforting hand on her 'little sister's' shoulder. "Sorry. But look on the bright side: I'm having a great time!"

Jade couldn't help grinning. "Yeah, good point."

"That's frightening," Ayla said. "I think that actually made sense to me."


At that moment, Jinn was trapped inside Tansy's body, as Tansy visited The Don in his room. Even he hadn't been able to get an attic room, not as a junior, but he was up on the fourth floor, which was still a pretty impressive feat. The room was decorated even more extravagantly than Tansy's, and it seemed to be entirely done in a style that Jinn would call "bachelor pad." There was an enclosed waterbed with a mirror set into the ceiling. A sound system for both the room and the bed. A wet bar along one corner. She wondered how he'd managed to get a room to himself, until she spotted a bedroll protruding from one of the cabinets under the waterbed. Putting the clues together, she guessed that Cavalier was The Don's roommate, and slept on the floor, so that The Don could have as much space as possible.

Tansy sat down delicately in a tall bar chair.

"Can I get you something," Sebastiano asked. "Jack Daniels? Bacardi? Absolut? Neat, on the rocks, mixed – I'll have Cav-man whip you up something to help you relax. Elaine?" He nodded toward Skybolt. "I'll have a slow comfortable screw against the wall."

She blushed as her hand moved, apparently unconsciously, to the top button of her blouse. "You mean the drink, or…?"

Sebastiano laughed at his wit. "The drink, little dick-licker, the drink. I've changed my mind, though. A margarita. And make sure you get the salt right this time!"

"It's so hard to find good help," he confided loudly to Tansy. "Now, I believe you were going to talk some more about me?"

"About us," she corrected. "The Alphas – well, of course they're the best. That goes without saying, but couldn't they be a bit more?"

"What are you saying?"

"Well," she shifted closer to him, and began running her finger up and down his arm, "what have the Alphas done this year? Not much. No recruitment, no publicity. Remember the charity drives? Or the collection for the poor mutants afflicted with hideous, disfiguring alterations? I do so enjoy being generous to all the lesser creatures below me."

Sebastiano was frowning, but Jinn didn't see any irritation in his aura, so it was probably an act. "You're saying we haven't done anything since I took over."

"Not at all! Anyway, you're the leader and the idea man. You have people to make these things happen. You just need a better … partner. Someone who can brainstorm for you, supply ideas for you to approve or disapprove. No, if anything, I'm criticizing your current, ah, associate."

The Don accepted his drink from Skybolt. "Well, I don't know about that. Kallysta has done a lot for me. What do you have to offer?"

Tansy crossed her legs, idly swinging the top leg and allowing her high-heel to dangle off her toes. Jinn had watched as Tansy deliberately practiced the move. She assumed it was meant to draw attention to the girl's nylon-clad legs. Now Tansy leaned forward, deliberately displaying her cleavage.

"Do you have even the slightest idea of how rich I am?"

Sebastiano snorted. "Elaine over there seems to think you're rich enough to buy most of New Hampshire."

Tansy gave a practiced laugh. "Oh, hardly! Even with all of daddy's money, I'd be hard-pressed to buy a city like Concord. Now control, well, that's so much easier than outright purchase. And often more convenient, too."

Sebastiano laughed briefly, then paused. "You – weren't serious."

Jinn felt a flash of triumph from her host. "Well, the most expensive areas would be downtown. The last skyscraper we bought came in at 230 million. What does Concord have? Twenty-thirty skyscrapers in that range? Okay, so that's do-able. Not petty cash, but do-able. Moving out to the rest of the city center, we'd need to liquidate some of our holdings. Perhaps that film studio – I've been pretty disappointed in them. Or the record label. Or the distillery." She reached out for the bottle of Jack Daniels. "One of our Brown-Forman holdings, as I recall. Last I checked, we owned about a third of the company. Glad you like it. Every bottle you buy, a third of the profit goes straight into my pocket."

Jinn was fascinated to note that The Don was suddenly showing the slightest tinge of intimidation. "But – why –?" He pulled himself together. "If you're that rich, what are you doing out here? Why aren't you in some rich-girl private school?"

"Dear Sebastiano," Tansy's voice was purring now, "do you think there is any school in this hemisphere that's more exclusive than Whateley? You don't get rich by playing fair. Power and wealth go hand in hand. I'd love to show you how." She reached over to finger the buttons on his shirt. "I think you'd quite enjoy the experience."

"Well… yes… but Hekate…"

"Oh, piss on that little tramp."

Tansy and Jinn both noticed Skybolt moving forward. They turned to her. "Don't like to hear anyone badmouthing your mistress?"

Skybolt shook her head slowly.

"Well, I can be generous, I suppose."

And the rest of the evening continued in that vein. To Jinn's immense relief, Sebastiano didn't make a move on Tansy that night. She'd even learned his full name – Sebastiano Lorenz Valensuera y Ramirez. She'd thought Sebastiano was his last name. It turned out that "The Don" was simply a title he'd adopted.

Sebastiano and Tansy fenced, as Tansy tried to spin the web of what her money and connections could do for both Sebastiano and the Alphas. The Don, for his part, was remarkably resistant. Whatever connections he had with Hekate, they seemed to be strong. But throughout the evening, Tansy had been using her projection of beauty on him, and Jinn was afraid he was weakening.

For his part, Sebastiano had obviously been overwhelmed by the extent of Tansy's wealth. He seemed to rally, slightly. She notice him emitting various beams of energy toward her head – telepathic probes? – but none of those penetrated the chaos of her dual mind with Tansy. And it seemed to her that Tansy had taken and held the lead for the entire evening. Sebastiano never quite overcame his initial surprise.

She'd almost panicked when Cavalier and Skybolt had been sent out to fetch dinner. Fortunately the pair had returned just in time to interrupt a scene that was growing ever more intimate.

By the time Tansy finally headed back to Dickinson (escorted by Cavalier – a generous offer extended by Sebastiano), Jinn was desperate. Another night of this, and she wasn't sure that they'd hold back.

So she planned and schemed as Tansy went through her nightly pre-bed ritual. She'd have to try the hypnotic suggestions first. Then she'd make more attempts to break free. And if none of that worked, she had one last backup plan.


Once Tansy was deeply asleep, she tried a new set of message.

Sorry, Don, I'm just starting my period.

No, nothing, it's just my period.

God, I have the most horrible set of cramps.

You aren't turned off by a period, are you?

She repeated those messages over and over, for a full hour. Maybe they'd help.

Then, she worked at breaking free. Perhaps it was her desperation, perhaps she was just pushing harder than ever before, but she accomplished a breakthrough. It wasn't quite what she'd been expecting, though. Normally, her "essence", her spiritual existence or however you'd describe her ghost body, was spread evenly throughout Tansy's body. No, she decided that wasn't quite correct. When she merged with herself, she was spread evenly throughout Jade's body. But tied to Tansy, she seemed to be stretched like a rubber band to conform exactly to Tansy's skin.

Now, through intense effort, she managed to gather herself together into a smaller patch – perhaps the size of a hockey puck. It surprised her and she let go – immediately snapping back to conform to Tansy's shape. Concentrating, she squeezed herself back into a small shape.

She held that for a bit. She quickly discovered that the slightest lapse caused her to snap back into Tansy's skin. On the other hand, she was growing more familiar with "pulling herself into a point."

There were interesting side effects. First, it wasn't really all of her that got pulled into a point. It was impossible for her to let go of Tansy's skin. But instead of being spread in an even layer, she was able to pull most her herself – all of her mind and soul and perceptions – into an ever-tighter little globe. At the same time, she still had tenuous filaments that stretched out across Tansy's skin.

Once she was comfortable holding herself in a "point", she wondered what to do next. She wanted to leap free of Tansy, but that proved impossible. Her "point" had ended up centered on Tansy's forehead. Could she move? Again, she had to learn a particular style of concentration, but she could. She slid across Tansy's skin like a puck on ice.  It didn't seem to help any. She tried sliding onto Tansy's hair, and then onto the bed.

No luck. She could move anywhere on Tansy's skin, but only on the girl's skin. She could only flow along one of the existing filaments. She let go, snapping back to normal shape.

Okay, time for exploration. She pulled herself into a point again, then slid over Tansy's body. Her ears, her eyelids, along the front of her neck. She skimmed over large breasts and rested across one gigantic nipple. From her bug's-eye perspective, everything seemed gigantic. She thought that she was even smaller than when she'd first discovered this. With the new practice, she was now able to squish herself down into a spot only a quarter-inch across.

Now she traveled down the breast, across the belly and navel. What about the intimate areas? If she was trapped here, she saw no reason not to explore. It was an interesting perspective, but ultimately unhelpful. She eventually returned to her original location on Tansy's forehead.

She let herself unsnap for a moment, resting. This new discovery must mean something! But how to use it?

She lay there on her back, watching her breasts rise and fall as she breathed.

There were old illustrations she'd seen, long, long ago. One showed the spirit leaving the body, exhaled through the mouth and nose, along with the last breath. Another showed some night creature – a hag, perhaps? – taking over a sleeping victim by covering their nose with her mouth, and breathing her breath and essence into their body.

Jinn realized something. She couldn't move down to the eyes – the eyelids were closed. She'd briefly tried and failed to enter certain intimate passageways (strictly curiosity, of course). Those passageways were clenched closed and Jinn had failed to get in.

But the nostrils – the nostrils were open. They provided a path into the body, into the lungs. Did the filaments reach there? She quickly squeezed herself into a point once more, then traveled down to the nostril. As with her physical, weeks before, as the opening was entered she seemed to flow forward. She wasn't sure whether she was actually extending the reach of her filaments, or merely activating threads that had been, until now, dormant. But it worked! She was inside Tansy's body, moving down the throat to the lungs. And there –

Tansy inhaled, filling the lungs wide. Jinn felt the familiar rubber-band pull, pulling her back out of her point and into the shape of Tansy's skin.  But as she expanded, she merged with the lungs. She passed through the entire body as she was pulled from the inside, through to the outside. And the filaments were pulled with her. For one moment, she was every organ in the girl's body, as she was pulled through them all.

A moment later she was back. Conforming to Tansy's skin, once more, as she lay on her back and breathed the deep breath of sleep.

Jinn sighed in frustration. Her body echoed that sigh. She was so frustrated that she rolled over in anger.

And she did.

Stunned, she couldn't help herself. Her eyes snapped open in reflex. Jinn didn't see anything; she still couldn't see through those eyes, but someone else did.

"What?"

Waking, Tansy sat up.

Instantly, the pressure on Jinn became tremendous. She was pulled the rest of the way through the body, like water through a sieve. Before she knew what had happened, she had snapped back to the surface of Tansy's skin, and was helpless once more.

"What was that?"

The girl looked around the dark room in confusion for a moment, before falling back into bed and quickly returning to sleep.

Jinn waited a few minutes for the breathing to become regular, then tried it again. She entered the lungs, Tansy inhaled, and – she was pulled up and into the body. The sensation was more recognizable this time.

Now, how much could she get away with, without waking Tansy?

It wasn't that she had any objection to waking the girl in the middle of the night. That had been her plan of last resort – to shout in the girl's ear all night long. She was afraid that, as a telepath, Tansy might have some sort of mind block that would lock her out. But this was a different kettle of fish. Once she had some idea of what could be accomplished, who knew what she might be able to do?

First, she practiced "releasing", returning to her original state. Then she practiced "possession" as she thought of it, moving to take control of Tansy's body. She got much swifter at both maneuvers.

It troubled her that she still couldn't seem to connect to her telekinetic powers. She could feel that they were there, but Tansy's avatar ability seemed to have the TK gripped like a bear trap.

Jinn practiced moving 'her' body. Rolling over brought Tansy to the edge of wakefulness, but she didn't wake. Sitting up or opening her eyes woke the girl, every time.

"What's going on?" Tansy demanded after the third incident. "Are you doing something, spirit?"

If I am, you can always solve it by letting me go.

"Dream on. Now quit bugging me, or I'll make you sorry."

Oh? And assuming that I was responsible, what could you possibly do to me?

"I could pay to have Sahar hex you or something. She's got some mental techniques that are way beyond anything I've got."

The concept was disturbing, but Jinn couldn't let herself be swayed. This was the first time she'd had power, and by God, she was going to exploit it!

Tansy fell asleep, and Jinn continued her practice. She tried breathing with Tansy's lungs, and speaking with her voice.

"Hello, I'm –"

Immediately the other girl woke, and sat up again. Jinn strained and tried to hold her position, but she snapped back into helplessness. And with Tansy awake, it was extremely hard to compress herself into a spot.

"It IS you. I felt something that time."

Jinn said nothing.

"Just stop it, okay!"

Once Tansy was asleep, Jinn went back to work. The voice had definitely sounded just like Tansy.

"Hello, I'm Tansy Walcutt, and I'd like to make your life a living hell."

Tansy woke more slowly this time. Jinn clung to her holds, but was ripped away again.

"What are you doing! Quit it! I swear, you're going to pay for this!"

Sahar sat up in her bed. "Whass going on over there?" she asked, inarticulately.

"The little pest is trying to do something! Every time I fall asleep, she does something to wake me up! ARGGG!"

"Oh." Sahar thought for a moment, then touched herself on the forehead. "Psychic technique: muffled senses." With that, she fell back into bed and began to snore.

"Hey! Don't go away! You can't just leave me with this little bitch! Sahar! Wake up!"

But Sahar didn't budge, and Jinn could tell from Tansy's emotions that her host was too intimidated by Sahar to actually touch her or shake her awake.

"I swear, come morning I am going to have her put such a whammy on you!"

Jinn pushed herself, trying to spot that exact moment when she could pull herself into a point. It was also helping her refine the skill and extend her natural limits. Each time, she didn't try to wake Tansy up, she just experimented with how much she could do before the girl woke. And as the night wore on, and Tansy became more and more tired, Jinn got away with more and more. Once she rose from bed and moved to sit in the desk chair before Tansy woke. Another time, she opened the door and began to move out into the hallway. Both of those times left Tansy rather disturbed, and it took her a while to fall back asleep. Each time, her curses and threats grew a bit more extreme.

And now that she had some power, Jinn decided to change her approach. Obviously, requests and pleading had done no good at all. If she wanted Tansy to let her go, she was going to have to approach things from the other direction. She would make the girl force her out!

By three AM, Tansy was only coming awake when she spoke or actually tried to walk somewhere. By four AM, Jinn was able to move to the desk without waking Tansy. There she sat, staring at the phone. The answer seemed obvious. I could call myself! One phone call would tell Jade exactly what was going on! But Tansy still woke to the sound of her own voice. She needed to be just a little more tired.

Jinn's eyes roamed across the desk. There, under a pile of other books was The Science of Hypnotism. With an aha of understanding, Jinn reached for the book and began to read.

That allowed Tansy to get nearly an hour of sleep. At five AM, Jinn wondered if Tansy's sleep were deep enough. Before using the phone, she tried speaking aloud. "Hi, it's me, Jinn." There was no reaction from Tansy. Carefully, Jinn picked up the phone and dialed her room. It rang in her ear three times, four times, five –

"Who the hell is it?" Tennyo answered.

Just as Jinn inhaled to answer, Tansy woke. Jinn struggled and strained to get just one word out – her name, but as Tansy's eyes opened the avatar power pulled Jinn away with a force she couldn't resist.

"What? What's happening?" Tansy asked in half-awake confusion.

"How the hell should I know? You're the one calling me at five AM!"

Tansy woke up enough to slam the phone back down on the cradle. "Whatever you think you're up to, you won't get away with it!" She practically screamed the words. "I am going back to sleep, and you are going to be a quiet and peaceful little ghost, or I'll make your life a living hell!"

Jinn just laughed (aloud) at her confused threat, and said, I've decided that since I'm trapped here, I might as well haunt you. This is going to be FUN!

With a growl, Tansy threw herself back onto her bed. It was just past five, and the alarm clock was set for seven. Jinn figured it was time to pull every trick in the book to keep Tansy awake. As "loud" as she could, she sent the mental sounds at Tansy:

Youuuuu light up my liiiiiife, you give me hope –

"NO! I hate that song!" Tansy tried pulling a pillow over her head, but of course, that did no good at all.

Hey, do you like show tunes? I sure do. Let's see how many I can remember!

After a half hour of this, Tansy fell asleep despite the worst singing Jinn could manage. She was thinking of allowing a minute of silence, then yelling a loud "Boo" or a scream, or something like that, but she decided to go back to possession.

Sitting up, Tansy was still asleep. So Jinn opened the door and left the room. It might be interesting to see what happened when she wandered down to the guy's end of the hallway, clad only in a see-through negligee. Stretching her hands out ahead of her, she Frankenstein-walked down the hallway. She'd gotten almost all the way to the far end, when a door opened and a girl came out, headed for the bathroom.

Dang! Forgot that Dickinson was all girls.

"Tansy? Is that you?"

"Hi!" Jinn replied. "I'm sleepwalking."

"Okaaay. Then how are you talking to me?"

"I'm the good twin. I was sealed away in a satanic ritual, so that the evil one could corrupt the world. And you have to admit, she IS pretty evil."

"Riiiight. What's really going on?"

That's when Tansy woke up. "Huh? Janice?" She looked down at her skimpy nightclothes. "Eep!" and then sped back to her room.

Gosh, you really need more chest support when you run like that!

"You vile little shit! I am going to turn you inside out with a rusty fork! You are going to beg for mercy while I cook you over a hot fire!"

Jinn couldn't help wondering how Janice was taking this, since Tansy's threats were audible down the entire hallway.

Tansy slammed the door and locked it, then climbed back into bed. "Now SHUT UP!"

You know, I always thought it might be fun to yodel. I'm not very good at it yet, but you have to start somewhere. Yodeeeeel-ah-he-hooooo!

By the time seven o'clock finally rolled around, Jinn had managed to take a cold shower (or at least start one), greet the mailman down in the lobby, and after discovering a permanent marker, draw a mustache and beard on Tansy's face, bull's-eyes around her breasts, and a giant arrow down her belly pointing toward her crotch, labeled "party here." But it was probably the final incident that pushed things over the top.

Tansy woke to find herself staring at the mirror in the girls' bathroom. One hand held a pair of scissors, and the other hand was stretching out a lock of hair, ready to start snipping away. Tansy didn't say anything, she just stared in horror at what was about to happen.

I decided we could really use a haircut.

"That's it. You are DEAD. You hear me? DEAD!"

Stomping past the curious girl who'd just entered, Tansy returned to her own room to face Sahar. The other girl was just rising.

"How the hell did you hear the alarm if you had your hearing turned off?"

"Mental discipline." Sahar's eyes slowly took in Tansy's state, particularly the drawings made with the permanent marker. Clearly trying her best to keep a straight face, she said, "You must have had an interesting night."

"I want you to blast her brain until there's nothing left! Wipe her out! Obliterate the little shit!"

"Hmmm. There's a teensy little problem with that."

"WHAT?"

"Well, as I recall, you picked up your amusing little passenger to get some extra mental protection, right? And it worked. The two minds together are much harder to probe or attack. All my normal techniques get tangled up. And if that's true for me, it's probably true for most of the other psi's you'll come across. Which means that right now I can't do it, even if you could pay me enough."

She thought for a moment. "Besides. The problem is that there's two human minds in the same head. If I could manage to get a clear shot at one of them, I'm not really sure I could target all that well. Which means I might get you by mistake."

"I'LL TAKE THE RISK."

"Sorry, not interested. Besides, I never really learned any techniques to wipe someone's mind out. Ugg. Is that sick, or what?"


By lunchtime, she was still in a vile mood. She wanted sleep, and lots of it, but she didn't dare give the little vixen time to take over her body again. For all she knew, she'd wake up naked in the middle of a biker convention, with commemorative tattoos over her entire body. No sleep. Not yet. But she had a plan. She giggled to herself. It was a good plan, too. Let's see the little minx get out of this!

It had taken most of the morning to get a solvent that would remove those god-dammed pen doodles. And it had taken another hour at her vanity to cover the dark circles under her eyes. Admittedly, the makeup was a touch thick, but who the hell cared?

She dragged herself to lunch. She only had a few days to snag Don Sebastiano, and she couldn't afford to waste any of it. She trudged up to the main table.

"Hi Don!" she said cheerfully. "I mean, Sebastiano. Don Sebastiano."

Okay, not the best entrance, but she could recover.

"Tansy," he leaned forward, concern lining his face. "Wow. You look like shit."

Her smile froze, like delicate crystal. "Uh, sorry Don, I'm just starting my period." Realization hit a moment later, and the smile shattered. "I – I've got to go."

Outside, she actually slammed her head against the wall. How could I be so stupid? Why did I say that? Now he won't even want to even touch me!

Hey, careful with the wall! That hurts, you know!

"Oh yeah? This is your fault, you little bitch!" She slammed her head against the wall again. Sure, it hurt, but it hurt the damn ghost girl just as much. "How do you like it now, huh?" Slam, slam.

I hope you don't earn a living with that face.

"I – Shit!" She raced for the medical center. This had better not leave a scar!

19: Good night

Thursday afternoon, Dr. Bellows was finally satisfied with her progress in hypnosis.

"The readings look excellent for the depth and strength of your trance. Have you been using any of the 'spells' I gave you?"

"Yeah, I've been using the marksman technique a lot – it really seems to help. I've used the study one, too. Jann tried that, but didn't seem to notice much difference."

The psychologist made a note. "Interesting. I'd be interesting in hearing about any other differences you notice. Since she's so physically different, we'd expect things to operate differently for her. For example, she doesn't have an organic brain; she seems to be some sort of energy pattern."

Jade shrugged. "Or something. I can tell you a lot about what she isn't. As to what she is – well, I think she's smarter than me. Her memory is certainly better. Ever since I started being able to call Jinn –" she paused for a moment, then swallowed the regret "—ever since then, I've been remembering back to even my early childhood much more clearly. And once Jinn or Jann remember it, I remember it too."

Dr. Bellows scribbled a few more notes. "Fascinating. Well, today I'd like to actually begin to work with you on experimenting with your body image, and seeing whether we can accomplish any changes. What do you think of that?"

Jade's eyes glistened. "Doctor, if you can do that, I'll be grateful forever!"

"Well, our first experiment will be with Jinn. Or Jann, as you're now calling her. According to your file, you're a little over fourteen."

Jade nodded.

"Your problem – one of them – is that you seem to be stuck at about twelve, not developing at all normally. Your body image template, if that's what Jinn is, is both taller and showing the first signs of adolescence. Not a lot of development, but some. I propose that we hypnotically convince you to increase Jinn's age. If we're successful, we'll have discovered that we're able to hypnotically influence Jinn's form, which might be useful to you. Even better, if she really is your body image template, the ability to alter that through hypnosis might have extremely interesting ramifications. Finally, there is the question on whether such alterations will have any effect on you, physically."

"I see." And she did. She was tired of being the little girl of whatever crowd she was in. Besides, if Jann grew up more, she'd have more of a figure, too, wouldn't she? That would certainly be nice. "What age are you going to try for?"

"Not much change. I was thinking of fifteen."

"Would we even notice much difference? Let's go for six – no, seventeen!"

The doctor tapped his pencil thoughtfully. "A three year jump? Skip straight past most of puberty? I'm not sure how I feel about that."

"It's just JANN. She's an energy being. Or a TK construct, or whatever they're calling her this week. It's not like she's going through any physical changes. Besides, if I started showing any physical reaction," Oh, please, God! "we could back things down again to normal."

"Well, you make an interesting case. Alright. Seventeen it is. Now, prepare for the trance. Let me connect the monitoring equipment. This time, I'd like you to put yourself in the trance, using the method I gave you last time. I will provide some guidance and suggestions once you are under."

Again, Jann was bound into Jade's clothing and earplugs. She'd gotten smarter this time, and had left the earplugs out (and hidden by Jade's hair) until it was time for the hypnotic suggestion. She found that she was able to monitor Jade's hypnotic state through the colors of her aura, better than the doctor seemed able to do using his machine. Initially, Jade started out with a sort of white color, which then took on a pearly sheen as she entered the true state of suggestibility.

She told herself that her inner self – the form she manifested when she called up Jann – should now become an older girl. A girl of seventeen. She emphasized everything she could think of that went with that. Hair of the same length, but a better, more adult figure (she went into detail about everything that should change). Taller. Longer legs. She definitely wanted nice legs. Her voice – which mostly a subconscious effect – should also mature, to become her seventeen-year-old voice.

She was very careful not to give herself specific measurements. She wanted to see what she'd really look like at seventeen. But she did emphasize that she hoped her eyes were large, that her cheekbones were high, and that her nose wasn't too large.

Then, following the doctor's lead, she ended the session and told Jade to wake up.

Jade yawned and stretched. "Oh. Are we done?"

"Yes. The instruments indicate that you were in a fine, deep trance. Are you ready to see if we had any effect on Jinn?"

The wrong name irritated her, but she'd given up trying to correct people. "Uh huh. Do you have anything she can manifest in? More talcum powder or something?"

The doctor offered his Genie-bottle again.

"Okay, let's try it." A moment later, Jade felt Jann come back to her. She reached for the bottle and charged Jann into it.

They'd managed to watch an episode of the old show since the last time they'd done this. Jann gave a good show of the bottle floating up, the top popping off, and pink smoke pouring out (or at least, a cloud of pink powder). She quickly coalesced into Jann, but she'd forgotten her clothes.

"Uh, doctor! Clothes!"

"Oh my, I'm sorry." He rushed off to fetch his blanket.

By this time, though, Jann had finished forming. It was clearly obvious that she was completely unchanged from before. Not seventeen, and no figure to speak of.

"Hmmm. Well, not as successful as I'd hoped. Still, we need to expect setbacks. Let me think. I'll have another idea by our next session, next week."


Tansy didn't see any of the Alphas for the rest of the day. She did manage to acquire several items in her quest to outsmart Jinn. By the time she'd finished dinner (after almost falling asleep in her salad), she was ready for bed.

Sahar, as usual, was sitting in lotus on her bed and reading.

"We'll see who gets the last laugh tonight!" Tansy announced to her roommate. "I'm ready for the ungrateful little bitch now!"

Sahar said nothing, merely lifted an eyebrow.

Tansy pulled out an extremely heavy pair of handcuffs. "I acquired these from a friend of a friend in security.  They're rated for an exemplar-4 or a TK-4. No way in hell the little ghost bitch can break them."

Sahar inclined her head. "You going to handcuff your hands together?"

"No, no, that's stupid. I'm chaining my arm to the bed. That way she can't walk off anywhere while I'm sleeping!" Tansy's voice had taken on a slightly demonic tone. "The worst she'll be able to do is to throw off the sheets. I'll need you to unlock me in the morning."

"This should be interesting. And what if she keeps up her singing or yelling or whatever she did to keep you awake?"

"Ha! I've taken care of that, too! First off, I'm tired enough that I could probably ignore her. Second of all, and most, I've got this!" She triumphantly pulled a small bottle from her purse.

"Sleeping pills?"

"Prescription strength. No way is she waking me up tonight."

Tansy quickly got ready for bed and took the pill. Then she called her roommate over. "Okay, fasten the cuff around my right wrist, so I'll be fastened right here at the wall. Now put the key out of my reach."

Sahar was about to drop the key on Tansy's desk, but thought better of it and put it on a high shelf above the bed.

Tansy lay happily on her back and was asleep within minutes.

"So," said Jinn, sitting up in bed. "You going to help me or not?"

Sahar raised an eyebrow. "I think… not."

"You know, she's guilty of kidnapping. The weird details mean that I might have trouble prosecuting in a regular court, but it's still kidnapping."

Sahar looked at her coldly. "If I've learned anything in my life, it is that you must first of all be self-reliant. If you cannot look after yourself, you will be forever a victim."

"Yeah? What about friends? I can't believe that you consider Tansy a real friend."

"She is useful."

"Hmmm."

Jinn debated whether or not to talk to Sahar about Zenith. She knew that Sahar was very interested in simply talking to the other girl. A day ago, she'd been desperate to offer her services as go-between. Now, it was different. She'd seen Tansy making promises to one group after another. Promises that she'd have a tough time keeping. Jinn didn't know what was going on here, but she was suddenly reluctant to put herself into the middle of it.

There was also the fact that with her discovery yesterday, she felt much more powerful. Tansy was now going to extreme measures just to get a decent night's sleep. Jinn was sure the girl couldn't last too much longer.

Still…

"What if I offered –"

"No," Sahar said. "I do not want to discuss this with you further." She touched herself on the forehead and muttered something. "Now I won't have to listen to you, for the rest of the night."

Jinn honestly wasn't that disappointed. If she needed to, she could bring the offer up later.

For now, she thought about what she had read in Tansy's book on hypnosis:

"Hypnosis functions when the mind is in a pure alpha state. The alpha state, when also combined with a state of suggestibility, achieves what we commonly call the hypnotic trance.

"It has been speculated that an equal or more effective state might be to provide the suggestions during REM sleep, when the mind dreams. This requires much greater time and patience, so is little used."

Jinn kept a close eye on Tansy's aura, and the state of her eyelids, watching for the Rapid Eye Movements that defined REM sleep. Perhaps this was why her suggestions had failed that first night – maybe she'd said the words at the wrong part of the sleep cycle.

She thought about the other useful advice from the book:

"To be accepted, suggestions must fit into the mental world of the recipient. The mind must find the suggestion trivial enough that it will carry it out, simply because it has been suggested, or else there must be a compelling reason – in the recipient's mind – to perform the action, however unlikely, that has been requested."

She also followed Tansy's technique, of wording the suggestion as if it were the recipient's own thoughts. As Tansy began to dream, Jinn began to send the mental message.

Jinn had crafted a new dialog. That damn ghost girl needs to be taught a lesson. You know what hurts spirits? Letting them free, for just an instant. Spirits need to be safe and protected, in a host. It hurts them to be out of the host. That would really show her, if I let her go for just a minute. She'd be begging me to take her back. A taste of the cold, cruel world would scare her to death. Then she'd do whatever I want.

Jinn worked on that until REM sleep passed.

Once that task was done, she practiced possession. By now, Sahar had gone to sleep. Apparently Jinn's contortions on the bed didn't amuse her. Either that, or she was ignoring Jinn.

And unfortunately, Tansy had done her job too well. There was no way that Jinn could break the cuff, or even reach the key. In frustration, she pulled herself into a point. She brooded for a while, then got tired and simply let go completely.

And that was the trick. For a moment, she snapped out again, cracking over the surface of Tansy's skin. But this time, she wasn't IN the skin, she was ABOVE it. The difference was fine enough that you might need special instruments to detect it, but to Jinn it was a universe of difference.

The difference was, she wasn't in girl-shape anymore, she was in object-shape. This was what she'd been trying to accomplish when Tansy had first approached her. Suddenly, she wasn't a girl-spirit, forced to stretch to match Tansy's body. She was a raw TK field, conforming to the object she was charged into. From the outside, there may have been little apparent difference, but from the inside it was completely different. For one thing –she now had control of her TK again!

She lifted an arm, manipulating the fingers, purely through TK. She wasn't nearly as dexterous as when she was in girl-shape, but in girl-shape she didn't have control of her TK field. Or… did she?

She experimented with reversing the effect. She pulled herself into a point, then completely relaxed. She realized that it was that moment of relaxation that allowed her to decide which style to use. Relaxing into girl-form, Tansy's avatar power grabbed at her, pulling back control of the TK field. Jinn was disturbed for a moment, but she quickly switched back, and regained control again.

What about combining the raw TK field and possession?

She quickly discovered that if she remained a TK field, she was never "pulled through" when Tansy inhaled. But if she "possessed" Tansy, she could pull herself into a point and convert to a TK field, but she was no longer "possessing."

So, one or the other. But the choice at least provided her with extra abilities. In fact, she suddenly knew how to get free.

She sat up, glancing over at Sahar. The girl's aura and deep breathing proved that she was asleep.

Jinn lay down, then shifted into a TK field. She was getting better. It only took a fraction of a second to make the switch this time. Now, as a TK field, she could fly. She floated Tansy's body up. She was still handcuffed to the bed, but there was nothing to keep her from floating up toward the ceiling.

Jinn's central awareness was usually located near what she considered to be her "head". This was often a completely arbitrary location, particularly when she occupied something like a blanket. In this case, she moved her awareness into Tansy's left foot.

Floating upside down, she could easily reach the shelf where Sahar had placed the handcuff key. And while her PK fingers weren't quite as dexterous as normal fingers, her PK toes were much more dexterous than normal toes, particular when she could easily see exactly what she was doing. Using her big toe, she scooted the key toward the edge, then grabbed it nimbly between her second and third toes. She floated back down to the bed. A moment later, she was unlocked and free.

It was an instant to shift into girl-shape and possess Tansy (most of that time was due to waiting for a breath). The first thing she did was to replace the key and shut the handcuff. Anything that confuses my foes!

Next… she looked around. And the first thing she spotted was a bottle of sleeping pills. Oh, my. She read the directions. "Adults dosage is 1 to 2 tablets every six hours, not to exceed 6 tablets in any 24-hour period." Tansy had only taken one tablet. Jinn quickly popped another tablet out and swallowed it.

Let's keep that sleep nice and deep.

Now what? This was more freedom than she'd had last night. Those sleeping pills were great – for her! Of course, Tansy might wake up refreshed, but she'd see what she could do about that later.

She sat down at the desk and pulled out paper and an envelope. She quickly addressed the envelope as "Jade Sinclair, Poe Cottage" and wrote a very quick note.

"Jade, it's me Jinn.

 

"I was captured by an avatar – Tansy Walcutt. Dickinson cottage. Working on a way back.

 

"Don't worry.  – Your better half."

Folded, inserted, lick, sealed closed.

Could she get down to the mailroom?

Tansy would have put on a robe, at the very least. Jinn, on the other hand, was rather enjoying being an exhibitionist. After all, what did it matter to her if someone spotted Tansy in the nearly-nude?

As she crept down the hallway, though, she realized an interesting thing. When you really truly possess someone, it quickly ceases to be "their" body. It becomes "your new body."

She made it to the mail room without being spotted. The outgoing mail was a locked box. Why do they even bother, in a school full of mutants? She slipped her letter in, and sat back to catch her breath. Whoa, slow down. Don't want to get too excited. Tansy might wake up.

The trip back was more interesting. More and more, Jinn was realizing that she was a real girl! For one thing, her breasts bobbed disconcertingly with every step she took. For another thing, the negligee was drafty. Dickinson didn't heat its hallways any better than Poe did. But the draft on her private area was so very different from what it was like as a boy!

Back up in the room, the first thing she did was to put on a bra and panties. The panties were no big deal – she wore those all the time now. It was nice how they fit, though. She ran a hand down her smooth front and down between her legs. No tuck, no stupid boy parts. Just smooth and perfect. It was slightly tempting to experiment around with this body. How would it feel to touch herself or stroke herself?

She almost hit herself in the head for having such perverted thoughts. Only the danger of waking Tansy stopped her.

The bra was completely different. Her normal bra was a training bra. She put it on, but it didn't hold anything yet. But now! She looked down at herself and admired the swell of her substantial chest. Tansy had to be at least a C-cup. She checked the bra tag. Yep, 36-C. Putting it on was a bit different. She had to place the cups around each of her substantial mounds before hooking it in back, and then she had to resettle herself inside the cups. It felt better, though, being supported. And the whole incident had left her a bit tight, her interest dimpling the front of the smooth cups.

She searched through Tansy's wardrobe for something comfortable to wear. Jeans were just the thing. And a bulky cable-knit sweater. That would keep her warm. She didn't dare try any makeup. The only way she could do makeup was if she had previously memorized the colors as Jade. Since she was colorblind, she had to be careful not to create a clashing nightmare.

She brushed her hair briefly, until she thought she was "good enough."

Tansy still hadn't woken, although she had stirred a couple of times. Each time, Jinn had grown still and waited, and Tansy had drifted off.

Okay then, maybe a longer letter. She sat down and composed a much longer letter, explaining what had happened on that first day, and how Tansy was involved in politics in the Alphas – she didn't go into details. 

"Apparently, some avatars gain some psychic protection from having spirits with them. Tansy wanted the same thing, but didn't have any handy spirits.  So she took me. I'm not a classical spirit, obviously, but her avatar powers are still working on me. They have sustained both me and the TK field for this entire time."

She went on to explain about her helplessness, and last night's discovery of possession, and how Tansy got no sleep. She continued with tonight's discovery, switching forms and exactly how she did it.

"Tansy's conked out on sleeping pills right now, so her body's mine! I'd give you a call, but I already interrupted Tennyo last night, and she didn't sound very happy. Anyway, my plan is to drive this girl absolutely insane. I've told her that I'm going to haunt her, and boy am I! If she manages to survive my tortures for many more days, I'll come over and visit you. I'm sure I'll get another opportunity. Until then, know that I am thinking about me."

 

"P.S. I really like being a full-grown girl."

She'd revealed a bit too much in that letter. She'd been afraid that Tansy would wake. But she managed to seal it up and address the envelope, with a "read second" on the back.

She made another trip down to the mailbox, with no interceptions.

On the way back, she ran into a girl in a robe, going into the bathroom.

"That's kind of dressed down for you, isn't it Tansy? And what are you doing up after curfew?"

"Oh, well… I've decided to change my wardrobe." And devilish inspiration struck. "In fact, I think I'll get rid of all of it! You don't know any girls who'd like any of my outfits, do you?"

The other girl was looking at her intently. "Your eyes aren't open."

Jinn sighed. "Busted."

"Uh, Janice had this weird story about a 'good twin' and a satanic ritual, and you talking in hellish curse words."

Jinn snickered. "Yeah, well, I was having a little fun. The truth is, I am a different spirit. Tansy's an avatar. I'm pretty sure she didn't let anyone know. Anyway, she kidnapped me, and I've been trying to drive her insane so she'll let me go."

The other girl snorted. "Pretty short trip." She held out her hand. "Hi, I'm Kandy."

"Jinn. Jinn Sinclair. I'm a freshman over in Poe, that is, when I'm not being kidnapped by egomaniacal rich bitches."

The other girl was grinning wildly now. "Wow, I can't believe this! This is great! And kind of weird, even for Whateley!"

"Really? Maybe things are quieter over in Dickinson. This seems about par for the course for Poe."

"Well, what do you expect? Poe had those nightgown girls flying out and busting ninjas, before the year even started."

"Hey, we are not 'nightgown girls'! We're 'Team Kimba'! And if we'd stopped to get dressed, the ninjas would have gotten away!"

"Ohmigawd! You're part of that group?"

The excitement was too much, because Tansy started to rouse. Jinn held a quick finger to her lips, and practiced breathing slowly. "Okay. Whew. Almost woke her. Yeah, it's a fun group. Hey, I'm serious about the clothes thing. I mean, think of how steamed she'll be if miss beauty queen wakes up to find all her clothes gone. If you're lucky, maybe she'll offer to buy them back from you."

Kandy was on the edge of laughter. "This is too good to keep to myself! Can I bring in some girlfriends?"

"Sure, the more the merrier!"

So it was that Jinn snuck back in and emptied every one of Tansy's closets, all her drawers, and cleaned out her shoes and accessories. And when she was with the girls from the far side of the hall, they worked through the pile.

"You know," Jinn said, "I think it would work better if we could leave her with one or two outfits. The more hideous the better. And if any of you want to let Tansy buy back her clothes, I'd better write you some receipts, so she'll know where to go."

"This is just completely freaky," one girl said. Jinn thought the girl might be black, but due to the oddities of her sight, she couldn't tell. "I mean, you look like Tansy, you sound like Tansy, but there's a completely different person inside."

"Well, it's no fun being a prisoner," Jinn admitted, "but at times it's kind of a kick. I mean, I'm just a freshman, and – I hate to admit this – I'm kind of, you know, not exactly well-endowed. So long as Tansy's zoned out on her little sleeping pills, I'm suddenly a big girl. I'm trying to figure out how to take advantage of it without, you know, doing anything gross."

"Model some clothes?"

"Flirt with some guys?"

"No," another girl said. "Too dangerous. Besides, it's after curfew. Where are we going to find guys in Dickinson?"

So they swapped clothes and stories, chatted (quietly, since it was after lights-out), and made plans. Each girl had her own suggestions on the growing "Torment Tansy" project.

Jinn traded away every last piece of Tansy's clothes and collected a small pile of receipts in exchange. In return, she collected outfits the girls had been planning to wear for Halloween – a black witch's dress and hat, a silly "farm girl" outfit, a Shirley Temple dress (sized for an adult woman), and the crowning glory: a clown suit. Jinn hung the clothes in the closet, and scattered the receipts casually on Tansy's desk. Then she returned to the room.

"You know," a girl from the sophomore floor said, "we thought of a way to really get Tansy, if you're up for it."

"What?"

"Well, you've been living with her pretty closely for a couple of days now. How does she react to lesbians?"

Jinn remembered. "Pretty violently. She and her roommate were talking about some stuff, and Tansy sounded like she was going to be sick. Her emotions were really twisted up, too. It's like she was personally threatened by the whole idea."

"You can feel her emotions? Poor girl."

"Yeah, only while I'm sharing the headspace with her. I normally just see emotions – that's not nearly so intense." Which led to a discussion of Jinn's vision, and other powers.

The sophomore volunteered, "I can do this." She reached out and touched Jinn, then her body began to morph. A second later, she was a perfect copy of Tansy.

"Wow, cool!" Jinn said. "How long can you stay that way?"

"About an hour. I can get a touch of her powers, too, but at a lower level."

"Yeah," one of the juniors broke in. "We were trying to figure out how Duplex –"

"That's me," the mimic said.

"—could copy Tansy's body, then get in some compromising position. But it doesn't seem worth it, does it? I mean, we've already got Tansy's body."

"So I got this idea," Duplex said. "I mean, you know how Tansy goes psycho around lesbians? She's pretty famous for it. Well, what if we filmed her in a lesbian scene?"

Another one of the juniors rubbed her hands together. "I brought my new laptop this semester. DVD burner. We'll shoot it in digital video, and I can pop out five quick DVDs, so we can all have a copy. It's the ultimate blackmail material. Tansy will go absolutely ballistic!"

"Uh, that's real keen and all," Jinn said nervously, "but first, who volunteered to do the scene? And second, I'm just barely fourteen. I haven't really started puberty yet. I'm not sure I'm ready for, uh, a big sex scene. I mean, think back to when all you had was the old 'hope chest'. Remember? And now," she gestured down at her ample breasts "I've got a brief shot at the 'big' time, if you know what I'm saying. But I'm not sure that I'm really prepared to take advantage of it."

"Well…" Duplex began, "I was thinking that I might be your, how can I say it, partner." She looked around at the other girls. "After all, I'm the only one here who admits to being bi. Besides," she suddenly morphed into a taller, older woman – perhaps seventeen or eighteen "it will be handy to have the other person on film be someone who doesn't exist. Tansy's going to go ape-shit when she sees this tape. But as for the seduction, I was thinking of mostly kissing and stuff. Just so it's clear that it's two girls making out."

Jinn felt herself blushing. "I… I've never been kissed before."

"Oh, wow," one of the juniors breathed, "this is so sweet! I can't believe I said that while looking at Tansy, but we have got to get this on tape!"

Duplex said, "I think I'll go for something younger. I was aiming at eighteen, but maybe fifteen would be better. My own age, but just a little different looking."

Jinn brought her knees up and thought. It was really tempting, but what did she know about these girls? On the other hand, she was sure that anything they filmed would really upset Tansy. And that was her goal, wasn't it?

The other girls began quietly to prepare, as if assuming she'd go along with them. Jinn scooted over to talk to Duplex. The girl shifted back into her normal self.

"Yeah?"

"Tell me about yourself."

"Well, my real name is Theresa Solla. I'm part of a team. We call ourselves the Power Cats. We were actually inspired by you guys. I mean, half of us are sophomores. You guys are all freshmen, but even before class starts, you girls are out building a killer rep. I guess we all kind of got jealous, so we decided, 'we're going to be just like them, only better.'"

Jinn smiled. "Yeah, the other girls tend to be pretty assertive."

"No kidding. Chet – I mean, Redlight – he says that one of the girls looks exactly like an animé character, and acts like her, too."

Jinn was nodding. "That's my roommate, Tennyo. Yeah, she's the spitting image of Ryoko. Long story, and I'm not sure I'm allowed to share it."

"Ryoko, that's the name he said. Anyway, lately Greta has gotten worried. The youngest – Jade – she doesn't even have a codename yet, but she's finally coming out as a devisor or gadgeteer."

"What? No way!"

"Well, she's got this weird gun she carries everywhere now, and either today or yesterday she was wearing a classic gadgeteer outfit."

Jinn was utterly confused at that. A gun? Gadgeteer outfit? How long had she been out of touch with herself? What was going on?

"Greta figures that Jade is her direct competition. She's glad that she isn't competing against one of the stacked ones. She's kind of sensitive about some things, since she's in a wheelchair."

Jinn wasn't even sure what to say to that. But finally she asked, "So are you guys watching our every move or something?"

"Not really, no. It's just that we've got five guys on our team, although you've got six, and since we're freshmen and sophomores, we overlap a lot of classes. We're watching you guys, since you got famous. If we can make a splash, who knows? Maybe you'll be keeping your eyes on us."

She'd been watching the other girl's emotions closely. Theresa's emotions had been sincere and happy all the way through her talk. Nothing negative, no real jealousy.

"I'm still not sure about this."

"Well, it's hard to give you a deep look in the eyes when you keep them closed."

"If I open my eyes, Tansy wakes up."

"Wouldn't want that."

Jinn thought some more. "I'm sure not ready for a lover. Not at all. I told you, I haven't even hit puberty yet – eager as I might be."

"How about a friend who happens to be playful?"

Jinn decided to be honest. "Theresa, this really scares me. Sure, I'm dying with curiosity to know what it's like to be a full-grown, beautiful girl. But I'm afraid."

"Too much, too fast?"

Jinn nodded.

"I was thinking just some tickling and teasing, and some kisses. Think of them as practice for your first boyfriend."

"Or girlfriend," Jinn said, blushing.

Theresa grinned at her. "You're going to be a heartbreaker, aren't you?"

"I hope so. Oh, really I want to find that one pure love. You know how it goes."

"Cameras! Let's get this all on film, okay?"

Jinn had to check just one more time. "Just practice kisses, right?"

Theresa nodded. "That's not to say I won't be doing my best to heat you up. I mean – what's the point of practice if you don't strive for excellence?"

Jinn giggled. "Okay. I'll do it."

That's when Kandy arrived. "Good. We need an outfit change for you. The T-shirt and jeans doesn't cut it for Tansy. Besides, not sexy enough. But we've got her whole wardrobe right here, don't we?" She led Jinn to a pile. "I think you should switch to this burgundy skirt and red sweater.  The whole scene happens on the bed there – it's pretty generic looking, and we have that sheet there as a neutral backdrop. If you keep to the bed, the cameras can catch everything, without revealing any of the room. We've got two cameras, and we'll cut between them later, when we edit it all together."

In the background, the other girls were lighting candles and whispering things back and forth like, "White balance" and "let's try the parabolic mike."

Jinn looked at the skirt and sweater, then at her cable-knit sweater and jeans. She finally decided, What's the big deal? We're all girls. With that, she pulled off her clothes and quickly dressed in the other outfit.

"Okay, you have the gloves on? Let me set the title. We're calling it, 'Initiation.'"

"Pretty good," one of the other juniors said.

Kandy moved Jinn until she was sitting on the bed. Jinn noticed that the other girl had long evening gloves on – something she recognized from Tansy's collection.

"Okay, I'm going to tie a blindfold on you – that's to explain why your eyes aren't open. Don't move – All I want the camera to see is my gloves."

"Right." She sat up straight.

"And… action," a girl whispered from behind the camera. She snapped her fingers

Jinn sat stiffly upright while a blindfold was tied on her. Of course, her 'vision' didn't rely on eyes, so she could still see just fine. After the blindfold was secure, another girl in a camisole and skirt approached. Jinn recognized Duplex in disguised form.

"You said you've never been kissed before?"

Jinn shook her head. "Never."

"Well you need some practice, before you try it on a boy."

"What's the blindfold for?"

"So you can imagine I'm a boy."

"Oh." Jinn nodded. "Okay."

"Now," Theresa pronounced. "I'll try it on you, then you can try it on me. Um, first I think, the peck on the cheek."

"Okay."

Theresa leaned over and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.

"My turn." Jinn leaned back and gave Theresa a kiss on her cheek. It wasn't anything grand on its own, but it made her tingle a little, realizing what was going on.

"Okay, now I'll give you just a quick kiss on the lips. 'Chaste,' I think they call it."

Jinn puckered up.

"Uh, that's a little overboard."

 

"Oh, sorry." Instead, Jinn just gave sort of 'pouty lips.'

And a moment later, she felt Theresa touch her lips lightly. Unconsciously, she reached up to touch her lips. "Wow."

"What?"

"My first kiss."

"How was it?"

"I—" she shivered. "I guess I better try some more, to see what I think. But enough with this stupid blindfold." Reaching up, she turned away from the cameras. "I want to see what you really look like. And I don't want to imagine you're a boy."

With her back to the cameras, she pretended to be studying her partner. "You're beautiful."

"So are you, Tansy."

Jinn held a hand up. "No names! Remember?"

"Sorry."

"Okay," Jinn continued, "I'm going to close my eyes, so I can concentrate on my sense of touch. I want to feel you. And it's my turn to kiss."

"Just a quick, chaste one."

"Spoilsport."

So she leaned forward and brought her lips to Theresa's. It was just a mashing together of their lips – no big deal. But… somehow, it was very interesting.

"Too quick," Theresa decided. "Let's try longer contact. But no tongues! Keep that mouth closed!"

Jinn was shocked. "Ewww! Why – you aren't serious, are you?"

"We'll have to get closer," Theresa decided.  She moved as closed as she could, then wrapped her arms around Jinn. "How's this?"

"Our boobs are all squished together. I can feel you pushed up against my right boob."

"Don't like it?"

"No, it's not that at all. Just kind of … interesting." Jinn shifted a bit. "Yeah. Definitely interesting."

"Good." Theresa was tracing a hand over her face, stroking over her forehead and cheeks, capturing a strand of hair and tucking it up behind one ear. She giggled.

"What?" Jinn asked.

"As I was stroking your face, I could feel you getting hard. You know," She gestured with her free hand. "Down where we're squashed together."

"Oh really?" Jinn retorted. "Well I'm not the only one, Lady Stiff-Nipple. I feel you down there." She thought for a moment. "I guess this is an advantage in kissing a girl instead of a guy – you know how interested they are."

"Are you going to kiss me, or not?"

 

"I thought it was your turn."

By unspoken agreement, they stopped the mutual face stroking. Wrapping both arms around each other, they came together and touched lips, long and hard.

Jinn started it. She pulled back so that she could lightly brush her lips back and forth across Theresa's. She liked the sensation of the brushing touch. Then Theresa started using her lips to nibble at Jinn's cheeks and chin. Soon Jinn was copying that, although they'd come back for kisses frequently.

They were now hugging and rubbing each other's backs, as they sat, as close as they could get to face-to-face, making out. Jinn secretly enjoyed each time they pulled apart, because when they leaned back together they got to do some boob jousting. It was amazing to realize that she had these two large appendages on her chest. Even stranger was that they felt so right, so good. She really liked being pressed up against Theresa, and she also liked the feel of Theresa pressed up against her. Then there was the stretching and moving, as she'd try to nuzzle Theresa's ear, or tip her head back so that Theresa could walk her lips up and down Jinn's throat.

It was while they were shifting their arms during one of these times that it happened. It was purely accident, but suddenly Theresa had her right hand solidly on Jinn's left breast. Theresa looked down, then Jinn felt Theresa squeeze her, just the slightest bit.

"Oh, wow," her partner said. "I can feel you getting hard against the palm of my hand. Even through your sweater and bra."

"Well what do you expect?" Jinn asked. "The touch may have been accidental, but the squeeze sure wasn't!"

"I'm sorry," Theresa dropped her hand away. "I guess we're done, then."

Jinn leered at her. "Not quite. I deserve tit for tat."

The other girl groaned. "I can't believe you said that."

Jinn reached out, almost touching… "Is it okay?"

"Huh? Sure. I'll let you grope me as much as you'd like."

Jinn rested her hand softly on the other girl's breast. It was warm and round, soft to her touch as she gently squeezed. She gulped and withdrew her hand. "I'd better stop."

"What's wrong?"

She was confused herself. "That was interesting. A little too interesting, maybe. I think I'd really like touching your breasts. But if I started doing that, you'd start touching mine. And I'm really not ready for that."

Theresa leaned forward and kissed her, gently. "It's just two girls, playing around together. Seeing what we can learn and what we can discover about ourselves. Did you learn anything?"

Jinn nodded. "Girls taste good. Well, some girls. I haven't tried any others yet. And they feel good, too. And I can't wait to grow up, and experiment some more, but I'm not ready yet."

Theresa brushed Jinn's face with the back of her hand. "Thank you."

Jinn leaned forward for a last kiss. "No, thank you."

They moved apart and Kandy's voice suddenly called out, "CUT." Then, "Pretty good. Probably not explicit enough to really drive her over the edge, but kissing another girl – and you did plenty of that – should get her decently upset."

"I don't know," another girl said. "That was pretty darned innocent. And like, who's going to believe that someone that innocent was really Tansy?"

"Good point," Jinn agreed. "She's spent the past week trying to get into some boy's pants."

"I think you mean, get some boy into her pants."

"Whatever."

"Actually," Kandy decided, "I thought it was really sweet. We could pitch it as something from Tansy's past. A tape she made a couple of years ago, before she became the rat she is today."

Theresa had morphed back into her own shape. "Uh, sorry about the hand on you – you know."

Jinn unconsciously put her hand over her left breast. "That's okay, I know it was an accident. I just got kind of weirded out because I don't have any figure. I'm just kind of hijacking Tansy's body, and that's what felt so strange. Maybe in my own body… I don't know."

"How old did you say you were?" Kandy asked.

"Fourteen. And a quarter."

A girl working the camera slapped her head. "Yikes, kiddie porn."

"Yeah, talk about robbing the cradle."

"Oh, come on! It wasn't that bad."

Jinn got up and looked through the clothes. "Hey, what's the worst outfit here?"

"Hey, take my old shorts. They look okay, but the seat's ripped out."

"Not bad." Jinn got dressed again as the girls packed up. "Hey, if you make DVDs, like you said, can you send one to me? Address it to 'Jinn Sinclair' over at Poe."

Theresa gave her a hug before she left. "I'll make sure of it. And, hey, when you get free of Tansy, look me up, okay?"

"Will do. But you know, I'm really not ready for a relationship yet."

"I know. But we can be friends, can't we?"

Jinn hugged her back. "Of course! If you don't mind hanging around with a little kid." She'd realized that Theresa had no idea that 'Jinn' and 'Jade' were the same person. Just the same, she hugged her back.

"And, everyone, thanks for the help!"

Kandy looked up from the clean-up effort. "No, thank YOU. Not only do we get to bug the heck out of Tansy, who's only been asking for it for about two years now, but she'll pay though the nose for these clothes, and probably the disks –"

"If I decide to sell!"

"—so who knows? We might make enough to pay for a semester's tuition."

Smiling, Jinn returned to her room and changed back into the flimsy negligee. She glanced at the clock: 1 AM. That means that Tansy had gotten six hours of sleep. That was as much as she deserved. By Jinn's calculations, the sleeping pills would probably be wearing off in the next hour or so, and she wanted to make sure that Tansy didn't get any more sleep this night.

Dressed in only the flimsiest outfit, and with Tansy's closets now filled with a total of three hideous outfits and a pair of shorts with a ripped seat, Jinn slipped down the hall to the Dickinson fourth-floor common room. In less than a second, she switch from a girl-body spirit to a TK spirit. Opening the window, she floated outside, then closed the window again to conceal the evidence.

It was rather chilly, in her gauzy nightgown, but that was half the point. She floated up higher and higher, noting how the air got chillier as she rose above 100 feet. It took her several minutes, but she finally stopped at what she guessed was something between 3000 and 5000 feet. She could feel Tansy beginning to stir from the cold. The girl had started Rapid Eye Movement, indicating that she was beginning a dream. Which was just about perfect.

And now – Jinn let go.

It was pitch black, the middle of the night. The only lights were those of the school, far, far below. She plummeted straight down, tumbling slightly, since she made no effort to assume any sort of skydiver pose.

For all of Jinn's flying (or floating) experience, this was the first time she'd really been in freefall. It was a little interesting, but the main characteristic seemed to be the powerful wind. It was quite surprising really that Tansy hadn't woke up yet. Of course, if she hit the ground and died, Jinn was pretty sure that she'd go free. But despite how rotten Tansy had been, Jinn couldn't just kill her. Scaring her to death, on the other hand, that was justice.

She'd fallen about halfway, so far, and Tansy hadn't woken yet. Her breathing and heartbeat were rising, which was a good sign, but she needed enough space to pull out of the fall. Jinn decided to go the extra step. Using her TK, she opened Tansy's eyes.


The dream had been a good one. Tansy had been indulging in her most secret, hidden, never-to-be-revealed vice. Tansy was a lesbian. An out-and-out man-hating, woman-loving lesbian. And she was terrified that someone would find out. If that happened, where would her status go? She would go from being the tormentor to being the victim, back like when she was a kid. Before she had suddenly blossomed, at thirteen. No one could ever know, and she would mock as many dykes, and fuck as many men as she needed to, in order to keep her secret.

But in her dreams, she could indulge. She was kissing another girl, and it was pure and innocent, and completely perfect. The other girl had accidentally touched her breast, and one thing had led to another. They'd been making out pretty hot and heavy, when things changed. Her lover turned to ice in front of Tansy's eyes. Tansy stared in horror, as her companion was frozen to death in an icy wind. A jury appeared, composed of everyone Tansy had ever wanted to impress. Her parents, schoolmates, the Alphas and Venus Inc.. Sahar was there. They stood around and judged her, then her father reached for the gallows rope and pulled it. A trap door opened beneath Tansy's feet and she fell.

It had the terror of a falling dream, but she knew that she'd done something to deserve it. So she fell and fell, growing colder herself, as the ice formed around her. And then she woke. And then the screaming started for real.


The sensor tech had reported a flyer leaving from somewhere near Dickinson. B-shift had just gone off duty, so the rest of the night belonged to C-shift. So Sergeant Hackitt and squad seven got sent to check Dickinson out – mostly to look for open windows or other irregularities. They all had enough experience to know that they weren't going to catch the flyer.

Hackitt was philosophical about the situation. Sure, at this time of night he'd rather be working on his own projects, with a hot cuppa in the squad room. But someone had to take the calls, and he'd prefer it to be something like this, instead of real trouble. Real Trouble was bad. A lot of the kids were okay but a minority were either so bad you just stayed back, or else they were so powerful (and uncontrolled) that they would chew you up without even realizing it. It was sometimes a big game of chance, but Hackitt knew his job. He studied the field and tried to track the major players. That gave him a powerful advantage. Besides, he'd always loved risks and games of chance.

Tonight, Hackitt's ticket was going to pay off big. While finishing the circle around Dickinson and finding nothing amiss, the sensor tech called them back.

"Flyer's coming back, fast. Over 100 miles per hour, headed straight toward you. Watch out, he's overhead coming straight down."

"Incoming," Hackitt snapped out. "Overhead. Visors! Circle formation, odd numbers overhead, evens cover."

Hackitt himself was using his visor to enhance his night-sight. Sure enough, there was a target, falling fast. And then he heard the screams. He boosted the magnification. It was a person, alright, and they looked like they were in free-fall, swimming, virtually clawing at the air as they fell. About 500 yards up, he thought. They'd be hitting maybe 100 yards southwest.

"We're moving to the impact point," he ordered. "Double-time."

There was no way they'd make it before the spat. As the figure fell closer, Hackitt's mind processed the scream and he realized it was a girl falling. Taking a look, then another closer look, he realized that she was virtually naked.

Just then, something changed. The screaming stopped and the girl spread out like a skydiver. She also began to slow, dramatically. It was hard to tell if she was shedding velocity fast enough.

Because of the girl slowing, squad seven managed to encircle the girl's target point shortly before she landed. Hackitt realized with a grin that she wasn't entirely naked – she wore a see-through nightgown that was clothing, at least in some technical sense.

"Business faces, men." Then, like every other man in the squad, he flipped on the visor's record function.

The girl settled slowly to the ground. She seemed to be shaking and possibly hysterical. Hackitt moved forward.

"Evening, Miss. Can we do anything to offer assistance?"

She spoke through chattering teeth. "Just need to get back to my room – back to bed."

"Certainly. We'd like to ask you a few short questions, first. May I offer you a blanket?" He'd already pulled one out from his small first-aid pack. It wasn't much, but it would at least give her some modesty. "And perhaps you could use my coat."

Hackitt had suddenly recognized her. This was one of the school's top models. She didn't look much like her poster at the moment, but Hackitt had a good eye for recognizing mug shots in Real Life situations, and this was much the same thing.

"Could I have your name, Miss?"

"Tansy Walcutt. Solange." Her teeth were still chattering.

"Here, take my coat. The station is just down this way, and it's nice and warm. Once you're warmed up and we know you're safe, we'll drive you back up here to Dickinson."

He was rolling out the red carpet, and suddenly thankful that he'd been so swift on the offer of the blanket and jacket. This was that ultra-ultra-rich bitch that Simpkins in squad eight was always going on about! He wondered if there was some way to tap into the lucrative trade that Simpkins had established with the girl. So while he was extremely solicitous on the outside, on the inside he was grinning to beat the band. Even if there wasn't any profit in this, that visor recording would be a treat worth re-examining again and again.


It was three thirty before she finally got back to her room.  The house mother had been awoken to let her in. That would be trouble in the future, she was sure of it. She would have bribed her way past that formality, but she wasn't exactly carrying her wallet.

The spirit-girl had been laughing at her the entire time.

Tansy's explanation to security had been surprisingly close to the truth. She'd had a flying dream, and woken to discover herself thousands of feet above the cottage, and falling. At the last moment, she'd somehow managed to slow herself to touch down lightly, but she had no clue as to how.

In reality, it had taken her a minute to remember the floating power she'd stolen from the spirit girl. She almost hadn't remembered in time. As it was, she'd slowed to a stop barely in time. And then she had NOT been pleased to find herself effectively naked in front of a bunch of leering old men. Fortunately, that kind Sgt. Hackitt had been present.

It hadn't helped a bit that the ghost-girl was moaning continuously throughout, complaining that, "Once you go splat, I go free!" The little bitch was sounding way too bloodthirsty, and it was starting to scare her a little.

Plus, it was three thirty in the morning, and she hadn't had enough sleep, and it was too late for another sleeping pill, and she was afraid that if she did take a sleeping pill, she might wake up in an even worse situation – if she woke up at all.

She returned and re-handcuffed herself to the bed, but from three-thirty until her alarm went off at seven, she only got another twenty minutes of sleep.

20: Conflict

Jade stuck her arms out and slowly turned around. "So how do I look?"

"Well, you're not going to like it," Billie warned.

"What?"

"I'm going to have to go with 'cute.' That blazer-and-skirt combo really works for you." Billie sighed. "I look like an idiot in the school uniform."

"Tennyo! That is SO not true! You always look really, you know, WOW."

"Oh, sure. You know, that would mean a lot more coming from a boy."

For a moment, Jade couldn't reply. She just stared at the ground and smiled in delight, while waiting for her blush to fade.

"You keep trying to convince me I look good," Billie continued, "but I've seen the guys. If I'm in a room with Nikki, they don't even look at me."

Jade had to roll her eyes at that one. "Oh, come on! You could have Marilyn Monroe, Madonna (naked of course), and Eve herself standing next to Nikki, and no one would look at them. What are you worried about? You are sexy! Look at your figure, girl! And that face? And you've got enough 'cute' to burn! Those little fangs are just soooo cute! If I were a guy I'd be all over you!" She never even noticed as she said that. "I mean, reach up and feel your hair! How soft is it? How much do you think your guy is going to like stroking your hair? How much are YOU going to like it? JEEZ! And how about that figure? Especially with your 'no visible means of support' trick. You walk around here topless often enough. You want to capture some guy's eye? No bra, cashmere sweater, and you are SET. He'll be staring so hard he won't be able to stand up without embarrassing himself. I mean, you are so hot you drive me nuts with envy! Power and beauty both in one sexy, dangerous package. Not for wimps, maybe, but the right guy – WOW."

Tentatively Tennyo reached up to touch her hair. Jade caught her glancing into the mirror and giving the shadow of a smile.

Truth to tell, Jade loved this game. Tennyo was normally so confident, but sometimes, in private, she revealed some of her doubts. It was at times like this that Jade could actually believe that Tennyo had once been a guy. Certainly no girl could have been unhappy about turning into Tennyo. But she could almost believe that there was a guy, a Bill Wilson, who was occasionally unsure of her new body and gender. It made her feel closer to Tennyo, and gave her a bit of hope for herself. After all, if someone like Tennyo could have doubts, then surely she was entitled to some too, wasn't she?

She'd been dressing and playing the role of a girl full-time for over a month now. Never once had she been forced to be a boy. She'd been accepted everywhere. And more than ever, she knew this was what she wanted. What she needed.

Heck, she'd even been jealous of their periods!

She'd been a little disappointed that yesterday's hypno session had failed. Much as she enjoyed dressing and being a girl, she really wanted to be one for real. And so far, there hadn't been much progress. She was slowly working up the nerve to ask her doctor for hormones, if she could only come up with a decent justification. But in the meantime…

"We're getting off the topic. I started by asking you how I look."

"And I told you: Fine. Cute. What do you want me to say?"

"I want you to say that you didn't spot the gun."

Tennyo's mouth dropped open to reply, and then just hung there.

"You really didn't, did you?"

"That's right! Where's that canon of yours?" Billie got a hard glint in her cat-eyes. "It isn't under your skirt, is it? 'Cause if it is, you're probably going to flash everyone if you have to pull it."

Jade smoothed her skirt down, sides and back. "See any gun?"

"You could have it between your – no, not the way you're standing. Okay, turn around again."

Jade did.

"Aha! Small of your back! Just under your blazer!" She snapped her fingers. "That's right, you were mentioning that kind of holster the other day, weren't you?"

Jade drew the gun, smiling. "Pretty good, isn't it?"

"Yeah, it really took me a second." Billie leaned closer. "Wait a minute. That's a smaller gun!"

"Yeah. This is the Cobra 250. It only holds six shots, and I can't switch between different magazines. But it reloads pretty quick, and if I need more than six shots I'm probably in big trouble."


At breakfast, Ayla had bad news. She slapped a print-out down in front of Jade.

"What's this?"

"Details on a comics character. A trade-marked, copyrighted character."

Jade glanced at it and groaned. "Oh, no."

Ayla nodded. "Uh huh. 'Shroud.' Been taken for years and years. And get this – this guy runs around in a completely black outfit with a long black cape."

Jade groaned some more. "No fair. Anyway, Jann's arms and legs and face are white now."

"Oh, it gets better. Turns out that this Shroud guy is blind. He sees with some sort of mystic vision."

Jade gave up and put her head on the table, covering herself with her arms. "And it was such a good name, too."

Ayla shrugged. "You might as well keep it, at least for a while. 'Shroud' suit you to a T. I mean, suits Jinn. Jann. Whatever."

"Where is Jann, anyway?" Nikki asked.

"I'm studying for my algebra test, right before lunch." Jade mumbled. "The rest of her is in my backpack. I'll zap her up just before class."

"You know," Toni offered, "you really should learn to use pronouns the way everybody else does."


In contrast, Tansy Walcutt was having another morning from hell.

She'd been woken at one AM, as she fell to her death. She barely managed to use the TK powers she'd acquired from ghost-girl to soften the landing when she realized that she was freezing to death, surrounding by a security squad of middle-aged perverts, and (to top it all off) she was only wearing her see-through negligee. Since then, she had only gotten another twenty minutes of sleep. When she finally gave up at six thirty, she found that she'd been robbed. Years, absolute years of shopping and acquiring the absolute best outfits from the best designers had vanished overnight. Instead, her closets now contained a witch's costume, a "Daisy Mae" farm-girl outfit, and a clown suit. A CLOWN SUIT.

"You are so dead for this, you little ghost-bitch!"

The spirit howled in mocking laughter.

"You think I'm beaten, don't you? You don't even have a clue!"

Shoving her robe on, Tansy marched down to the sophomore floor. There were two girls there who were part of her wanna-be entourage. Of course, Tansy was all smiles as she visited the first of her butt-kissing toadies.

"Prue, hi. Hope I'm not too early for you. Oh, so sorry. Say, you remember those Versace numbers I lent you? Yes, I'm afraid I'll need them back. Thanks! You're such a life saver!" Internally, she was thinking, Girl's got a decent figure – just my size – but what a face! I wonder if she howls at the moon and chases cars?

With a trio of decent outfits on her arm, she headed back upstairs, while talking quietly to her mental passenger. "I notice you stole all my underwear, too. Couldn't even leave me with a fucking pair of pantyhose? That's going too far, bitch." She used the TK to lift her tits into the exact perfect position. "But who the hell needs underwear?"

Back in her room, she held out the outfits. She couldn't decide between the black leather mini-dress and the black knit mini-dress. "The leather tomorrow, I'm thinking." She slid into the knit. It had a series of strategic inch-wide holes down the front from neck to navel, where another outfit might have buttons. Another set of holes ran down the outer edge of each leg, from upper hip to hem. Like all her Versace favorites, it would be indecent if she bent over. Doubly so, today.

She'd had just enough sleep to have a wickedly efficient fury, but not enough to actually enjoy ordering people around. So before steaming away her tensions in the shower, she called up two more of her coterie and handed over the receipts, with orders to recover her clothes. She used her laptop to go online to Sax's and have a load of necessities Fed Ex'ed out to her that evening.

"Damn primitive fucking school. Tuition is out of sight and they can't even give us cable modems."

Fortunately, her cosmetics had been untouched. They were specifically formulated for her skin tones, and would have been harder to replace than some of the outfits. She didn't mention that out loud, of course. Not with her ghost rider.

Once everyone was scurrying to meet her needs, she finally indulged herself in a shower. The heat soaked away much of her tension, and she enjoyed the ghost's embarrassment as she gave herself a close shave everywhere.


Breakfast, for once, went like clockwork. The Don was looking bored, and she caught his eye from the minute she slinked into Crystal Hall. Predictably, someone was out to get her. They'd greased the floor on the way up to the Alpha table. She was in heels, so it might have been tricky, but her stolen TK let her strut with no worries. She had all the smiles of a fine sexual predator as she primly sat down across from The Don. She licked her lips, as if ensuring that her bright red lipstick was still in place.

"I hope you aren't still under the weather," Sebastiano offered, in an obvious setup. "I know how tough it is for you chicks when you're on the rag."

She waved her hand negligently. "Not to worry, that's long past. I'm clean enough to eat off of." She noticed him staring at her chest. Specifically, the holes in her knit dress – the hole right between her tits. "Trouble? If there's anything I can do, little ol' Tansy would be happy to help."

For once, Aries was sitting beside The Don. "Fuck. It looks like you aren't even wearing a bra."

She gave him a withering smile. Crass little asshole. Leaning forward, she confided in The Don, "Well, I just hate to ruin the lines of a good outfit. But you know, there are ways to keep underwear lines from showing through." She crinkled her nose at him. "You know. Ways."

And as Aries turned to the white-haired boy beside him, drinking his orange juice, Tansy gave him the slightest little brain zap. Enough to cause him to choke and spit up a mouthful of juice over the hapless Icer. It ended up acting as nice punctuation for her emphasis on "ways."

For once, Sebastiano was looking the slightest bit interested. Tansy pumped up her projection. Experience had taught her that it was subtle enough to slip under the blocks of even good telepaths, like Sebastiano. Radiating to enhance her sex appeal, she gave an 'innocent' morning stretch, arching her back just so. She was rewarded with a flush on Sebastiano's face.

"Well, if you're sure you're okay," the big man said. "Maybe you'd like a little… exercise. Some of us thought we might like a little hike tomorrow morning. Maybe a picnic, a blanket in the sun, far from the oppressive eyes of school?"

Tansy's mind worked overtime on that one. Somehow – she wasn't sure of the method – The Don had used his telepathy to turn both Cavalier and Skybolt from noble true-blue types who wouldn't give him the time of day, into his fuck-toy mind-slaves. She knew the school had brought in high-level telepaths to check for tampering – and found exactly nothing. All of this made The Don about the most exciting prospect around, as well as the most dangerous.

And it was clear to her that a private secluded little picnic would be exactly the opportunity The Don needed to take over her mind the same way.

Which was why she had to put up with that underage virgin-bitch ghost-girl. The psychic protection she received from the spirit should halt The Don's efforts to tamper with her mind. And after a quick rut in the sack, she expected that Sebastiano would be her victim. He'd be spilling secrets faster than seed, if she could just set her hooks into him.

So after barely a moment of consideration, she agreed.

"Sounds," she licked her lips again, "delicious. What shall I bring?"

"Just yourself. There will be a bit of hiking, so dress appropriately."

She smirked. Thanks to this TK, my hiking gear will consist of high heels and that Versace leather minidress. "And where shall I rendez vous?"

"How about here? We can have breakfast, then head out." He turned to Skybolt, beside him. "Arrange a nice picnic lunch."

She bobbed her head. "Of course."


Tansy gave a variety of strange orders throughout the day. Jinn wasn't able to decipher a pattern. The strangest was a call to some mysterious boy, and an arrangement for him to come meet her in her room at 8 that night.

To be truthful, Jinn was a bit impressed with how quickly Tansy recovered from the disaster of the night before. Picking up the Fed Ex packages that afternoon, she had a restored set of underwear, panty hose, shoes, and basic clothes. Of course, having unlimited funds made many things easier.


On the way out to dinner, Billie called, "Hey, I want to see if I finally got a letter from my folks. Anyone else need to check mail?"

"Not me," Jade said, emphatically. "I haven't received anything since we started school. I guess that might be because I have no family or friends (that care), and I didn't leave them my new name, and they certainly have no idea about my address."

"You've got us," Toni offered.

"I sure do! So why should I care about mail?"


Friday night at 8 PM, a scrawny looking boy showed up at Tansy's room. The girl "Prue" appeared, minutes later.

Jinn was burning with curiosity, particularly noticing how solicitous Tansy was being.

"Glad I could count on you, Delwin," Tansy told the geek. "This whole caper rests on you.

"Prue, this is Delwin Florian, also known as 'Negator.' He'll be using his powers on me continuously for hours. We need to test how effective he is, and how long he can keep it up. I'll be his subject on this. I'll even dress the part, with this sweat suit and this black hood to cover my head.

"Delwin – I know prolonged use of your power may drive me unconscious, but that's actually what we want. My main plan calls for the defender to be kept unconscious for ten hours. If we can do that, we're in fat city! The main question is how long you can keep it up for.

"Prue, your job is to monitor my breathing and heart rate, and to log it into this computer over here. Delwin, I'm going to sit on my bed, so that I'll be comfortable when I pass out. Remember, you're getting $30 an hour, basically to sit over me and watch me sleep. There will be a $100 bonus if you can keep this up for ten hours. Okay?"

Everyone nodded and Jinn braced herself.

Tansy pulled on her hood.

Delwin sat down and, apparently, did nothing.

Jinn immediately felt a wave of weakness wash over her.

Tansy collapsed onto the bed, and fell unconscious almost immediately.

Jinn tried to pull herself into a point. It was immensely difficult. She struggled a dozen times. Finally succeeding, she "relaxed" into object form to gain control of her TK. As she'd feared, the contact was there, but the TK was missing. She recalled the words of her physics teacher, "If you ever do find out where someone's power comes from, you know how to turn him off." She'd never been sure where the energy for her TK field came from. Wherever it was, Negator could obviously disable it.

Her next effort was for possession. Without all her practice from the previous nights, she would have never had the determination or stamina needed to pull herself into a point again. As it was, she drifted inside Tansy to take possession of the girl.

Again, this tactic failed. She felt herself come alive in Tansy's body, but she was barely awake. She was too weak to rise, too weak to move, all she wanted to do was sleep…

Jinn snapped back to "normal" just before she could fall asleep. She wasn't sure what would happen if she and Tansy slept at the same time, and she had no desire to find out.

So she was left with her last-ditch backup plan. Whispering hypnotic suggestions into Tansy's mind as she slept.

And after Tansy moved past REM sleep, Jinn figured out that this was the perfect opportunity to practice all her new techniques of pulling herself into a point, and possession. If she could do it when it was such an effort, she'd be able to do it anytime.


Every other Saturday Billie had an early breakfast. The other girls usually slept in, but she had flight class from before the sun rose until 7 AM. So she usually stopped by the cafeteria for early breakfast, came back for the crew, and returned for late breakfast as well. After all, a growing girl needed her fuel.

Billie was just devouring her second plate of bacon when the newest member of their group came rushing through the cafeteria. Sara looked like a pubescent vampire. The truth was even stranger. The Goth girl gave an airy wave before sprinting off to the library.

On the way back into Poe, Billie checked her mail slot, but there was still nothing from her family. Could it have been put in Jade's slot, instead? They did share the same room number.

There were two letters there, but her elation faded when she saw they were both for Jade. Stifling a yawn, she grabbed them and headed upstairs.

When she flicked on the light, Jade was still hiding under her pillow, but Jann (the gloves and speaker-disk workaholic) was busy reading a textbook at her desk. Billie flicked the letters onto her desk.

"Mail for you," she announced. "No return address, but no stamp, so maybe you have a secret admirer on campus."

Jann picked up the first letter. "Read second?" She moved to the other letter and opened it up.

Billie had stuck her head into her closet, considering changing outfits, when the scream caught her. Spinning wildly, she saw a pair of gloves holding a letter. Suddenly, the gloves dropped and Jade sat bolt upright in bed screaming.

"SHE'S ALIVE! She's alive! She's alive!"

Billie reacted on instinct, diving across the room to grab her roommate by the shoulders. She never even realized that she was in a horizontal position, hovering in mid-air.

"Jade! Snap out of it! What are you talking about?"

Jade pulled loose and scrambled toward her desk. "Jinn is alive! She was captured by an avatar! I've got to read the other letter!"

"Huh?"

She had time to pick up the fallen letter on the floor when Ayla came bursting through the door, followed closely by Toni and Fey (who actually had to open the door).

"What's going on? Are you okay?"

By this time, Billie's eyes were wide. Silently she handed the letter to Ayla.

"Jade, it's me Jinn.

 

"I was captured by an avatar – Tansy Walcutt. Dickinson cottage. Working on a way back.

 

"Don't worry.  – Your better half."

Ayla's expression clouded in rage. "Tansy? TANSY? She. Is. Dead."

Toni was prying open Ayla's hand. "Hey, don't crumple the letter! Some of us haven't had the chance to read it yet."

Fey was only just waking up as she asked Ayla, "You aren't talking about Tansy Walcutt are you? She's been on my case all week in modeling."

Ayla and Fey looked at each other. "You know Tansy Walcutt?" they both asked.

"Not as well as I do," Jade announced, with all the authority a middle-schooler can command. "Well, not as well as JINN does." She held up the second letter, which was much longer. "Okay, listen to this. Apparently Tansy – Yes, Tansy Walcutt – has some sort of thing she's up to with the Alphas. And they do this telepathic sniping on each other. Nice bunch. But Tansy's an avatar, although I guess she hasn't told anybody –"


By the end of the explanation, Billie was the one with the temper. "Look, it's no problem, right? If she's DEAD, then Jinn goes free, right?"

"How the hell can you be so selfish?" Ayla shouted. "Did you ever stop to think that maybe somebody ELSE might like the opportunity to gut her? She's been on my case since we were in GRADE SCHOOL!"

"EXCUSE ME!" Everyone turned to see the youngest and smallest girl of the group shouting. She was standing on her bed, to make herself taller. "You seem to forget that I was the one kidnapped. So I think I should get first dibs. Besides, I seem to be the only one who doesn't want to kill her." They suddenly noticed that Jade was caressing her new gun in a slightly psychopathic manner. "I only want to shoot her a little."

"Why is it?" Nikki drawled with a small chuckle. "That I get the idea that your 'only wanting to shoot her a little' is going to be on a par with me saying Oops?"


Things quickly adjourned when they all agreed that Team Kimba's reputation wouldn't be improved by yet another battle in nightgowns. They all gathered in front of the sunroom, and apparently all of them had decided to dress for a fight. Jade was in her devisor outfit, with side holster, army boots, and a thousand pockets.  She also had the earphone headset and single eyepiece. Jann was in her "Shroud" outfit, with her powder-white limbs and face.

Toni was going for a 'plausible deniability' look, consisting of a red cowl-necked cable sweater over black glove-leather jeans, and a pair of black leather running shoes. She'd forgone her beloved 'hoopy' earrings in favor of simple studs.

It didn't take Tennyo long to get ready as she hadn't put together anything like a suit yet. So she dressed in a pair of jeans, a red plaid shirt, and boots. She was also wearing a sports bra under protest. But Jade wouldn't have it any other way and Tennyo wasn't going to waste time arguing with her either.

Nikki appeared wearing a halfway defiant, halfway embarrassed expression as the others took a good look at her outfit.

"Hey! My DAD sent me this! I didn't ASK for it. He said to wear it when I saw trouble coming, and if you ask me, this business sure looks like trouble barreling down on us really fast." She gave one leg of her snug pants a pat and grinned. "It's got some kind of armor for a underlay, and that is lined with silk."

The pants and sleeveless top were of dark green, supple leather and left very little for even the overactive imaginations of teenage boys to work with, showing off her curves in all their glory. She glared at the stares she was getting, lifting one delicate foot clad in low-heeled leather ankle boots that matched the rest of the outfit. "What? I'm not wearing high heels with it!"

"Uh, Nikki." Toni quietly answered. "You would be trouble coming in that outfit. At least for any girls with boyfriends they wanted to hang on to."

"I can't believe my Dad sent me this..." The redhead trailed off into unintelligible muttering.

And finally, Hank had come, wearing army boots, camouflage pants, a camouflage "muscle T", and fingerless black leather gloves. As one the girls paused to admire him.

"Hank – not bad. You're looking dangerous," Fey said, with more than a touch of appreciation in her voice.

"Uh, thanks. You don't spend your entire life hanging around army bases without picking up a few things."

Toni called everyone to attention. "Okay, we're ready to go. What's the plan?" She turned her gaze to Jade.

"Uh… find Tansy and hit her until she lets go of Jade?" The girl looked suddenly sheepish. "Okay, I don't have much of a plan. The only thing I can think to say is that apparently Tansy thinks that Jinn is my sister, and I'd just as soon not give away any extra info."

Toni looked to the ceiling, as if she'd expected more. "A little skimpy on details. Where do we corner her?"

"Dickinson? That's where she lives."

"Crystal Hall," Billie offered. "There were a bunch of Alphas coming in, as I came up to Poe. It hasn't been very long. They should be done with breakfast in a while."

"That's it, then," Toni decided. "The green outside of Shuster Hall. We'll wait for Tansy to finish breakfast and head for Dickinson, and stop her there." She looked around. The other girls seemed willing to follow her lead, so she continued. "Jade, you can confront her. Fey, you should see whether you can help somehow, magically. You're about the only one of us who might."

"I want in on that confrontation, too," Ayla demanded.

"No. Too much old blood, too many side issues. Afterward. Somehow, I can't see this confrontation going down without interference. Not with the entire breakfast crowd wandering out. Hank, Tennyo, you're our strongest, try to keep the crowd away, PEACEFULLY. Make it clear that she's a kidnapper. Talk to them. Jann, you can do the same. Talk about your sister. If you have to face up to someone, go for an energizer, since they won't be able to hurt you. Ayla, you and I are backup. Sound good?"

There were minor grumbles from those who had been "cut out of the confrontation," but everyone agreed.


The group of them loitering might have caused a riot anywhere else. At Whateley, they were able to pull off a fairly innocent act. No one saw anything odd about a group of six girls hanging around one guy, and meandering about outside the cafeteria.

What they hadn't expected was Tansy exiting Crystal Hall in the company of the core group of Alphas. Plainly, from the basket the flying girl was carrying, they were headed off on a picnic.

The team spread out as Jade stepped forward.

"Hey you!" Jade shouted. "Tansy Walcutt! You kidnapped my sister, and I want her back!"

The Alphas paused, and Tansy turned to face them. She was dressed in a tight leather dress that barely came down to the top of her thighs and made her look sexy, sophisticated, and vastly more mature than the young girl yelling at her.

"And who might YOU be, little girl?"

"Jade Sinclair! You kidnapped my sister, and you'd better let her go!"

"I don't know where you got such an outlandish idea –"

"She's right," Fey announced. "I can see it now. You are an avatar, aren't you? And you've sucked up Jinn's spirit form. I can see her thread." She made a twirling gesture with one finger. "I'll bet I can pull her right out."

Tansy screamed, and suddenly it all hit the fan.


Tansy panicked as she felt ghost girl being pulled out of her head. She was in utter terror. Without ghost girl's mental protection, The Don would make her into a vegetable mind slave exactly as he'd done with Cavalier and Skybolt. But perhaps she could bluff. She already knew that the elf was an empath. Covertly grabbing and yanking hard on her own hair, she emitted a very realistic scream of pain.


Nikki was suddenly worried. The emotions she read were contradictory. One set was triumphant and gleeful, while another set was in terror. She could also sense pain coming from Walcutt's head.

"Nice job, fairy," Walcutt yelled at her. "You're pulling her apart. You're about to kill your own friend! Hey, don't blame me!"

Nikki couldn't tell who's emotion was which, but she quickly decided that she couldn't take the chance. She let Jinn's thread drop, and noted that the emotion of terror immediately faded. "Bitch! We aren't finished yet. I promise you that much!"


Don Sebastiano motioned to Cavalier and Skybolt. "Those girls are interrupting our picnic. Make them pay. Hurt them BAD. Oh, and see that none of them bother me. I'll be waiting on the sidelines over here, watching the show."


The other Alphas present – Aries, Icer, and the twins Hamper and Damper – hesitated. Behind them, the last member of the picnic, the 6' 6" tower of muscle that was the senior Wyatt Cody, stepped forward toward the one man in the opposition. They saw Kodiak move to face off against a short, skinny freshman boy in camouflage, and nodded to one another. One down. How hard can it be to take out a bunch of freshman girls. Selecting their targets, they moved forward.

Hamper and Damper noticed the girl Tennyo, whom they'd faced before. They headed in the opposite direction.


ZIIIK! ZIIIK!

The linear accelerator pistol made its usual quiet sound. Jade was pleasantly surprised when she actually hit her target. The first shot missed, but the second hit. Electricity arced across Tansy's body, and she gave a choked scream before collapsing to the ground. Moments later, though, she clawed herself back to her feet, as if the stunning voltage hadn't affected her in the least.

"Wow that hurt!" Walcutt looked toward her and smiled. "What's the matter with you? Didn't you get the second letter? She's conked – it's me!"

Jade's eyes went wide. "Jinn?"

Walcutt nodded back to her. "And Fey, I've got to tell you – LOOK OUT!"


In the library, Sara jumped out of her seat, sending the chair toppling over. A nearby boy with freckles and thin glasses shot her an annoyed glance, "Shhh!"

Sara ignored him, walking hurriedly over to one of the tinted windows. Something's wrong I can feel it, she said to herself. And she was right. Students were running past, back towards the cafeteria. Despite the thickness of the glass she caught the words, "FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!"

"This is bad, very, very bad…" She whispered to herself while heading out the door and into the sunlight, leaving her books and bag behind.


Fey and Jade both had enough warning to look up, where Skybolt was floating above them with crackling hands. She shot a bolt of electricity from each hand, one toward Fey and one at Jade. Between the warning and the difficulty of the shot, both girls were able to dive away from the potentially lethal shots.

Jade rolled, trying to bring her gun to bear. But her next shot was another taser capsule. Would that do any good against an electrical energizer?

Before she had a chance to act, a six-foot tall man suddenly appeared in front of her, bearing a sword and small shield. He backhanded her with the shield, sending Jade flying, as she lost her grip on the gun.


Toni and Ayla barely had time to blink. One moment everyone was talking, the next moment it was chaos. Walcutt screamed and yelled to Fey. Jade shot, other people were rushing together, and then a swordsman was knocking Jade across the lawn while a flying girl was shooting electricity at Fey.

"I'll take the swordsman," she snapped. "Can you help Fey?"

"I'll try," Ayla promised.

Clearing her mind, Toni raced toward the swordsman before he could do any further harm to either Jade or Fey.


Lowering her density, Ayla launched into the air after Skybolt. She wasn't sure what a bolt of lightning would do to her intangible form. Bullets passed right through her. Electricity? That might be another matter. She thought her chances were better than Nikki's, though. Ayla was used to bodybuilder and muscled types, and she could go toe-to-toe with even the biggest bruisers. If her ultra-dense form couldn't overpower them, she'd go intangible and slide through them, knocking them on their butts.

Truth to tell, Ayla has a LOT of testosterone in her system, and she liked her occasional stress relief sessions. Also, to her eyes, Nikki the elf-girl looked pretty damn frail. Sure, the girl could throw some wild special effects, but in a real fight you needed stopping power.

Unfortunately for Ayla, while she could fly, she wasn't as fast or maneuverable as Skybolt. Her lanky opponent zipped sideways, avoiding her, then turned for the perfect shot.


Recovering from her impromptu dive and roll, Nikki looked up in time to see Cavalier send Jade flying into the distance, before he turned back in her direction.

Another bolt seared the air and the redhead barely dodged that. But as her hair stood out from the electricity, she felt a sudden surge of strength flood her mind and body. 

Not that she had a lot of time to think about things like that. There seemed to be bolts of electricity everywhere, and she definitely did NOT want to be where any of them hit.


Jeez, Toni thought to herself, a guy who carries a sword and shield to Breakfast! Gotta take him out quick, before he decides to gut Jade! Five yards away from the swordsman, Toni executed a vaulting Flying Horse Kick at him. He sidestepped her at the very last second, and clipped her on the back of the head with the butt of his hilt. Toni spun the impact into a low sweeping kick that should have knocked him off his feet, but he nimbly dodged it. The fight quickly devolved into a melee of misses, as Toni used the force of the swordsman's own ki to shove her out of the way of his blow, while he somehow managed to never quiiiite be there when any of her blows came.


A tall stocky boy with short, curly, black hair moved towards Tennyo. He was dressed in jeans, hiking boots, and a heavy, green plaid shirt. Tennyo turned towards him as he approached.

"If you know what's good for you," she warned him, "stay back and let those two work it out for themselves."

"It's not them I'm bothering with. It's you." There was a definite sneer in his voice. "Seems you 'froshes' don't know your place around here and you, girlie have been taking on airs."

"I'm not a 'frosh', I'm a sophomore, and the name's Tennyo, not girlie."

"Names Aries, and maybe you ought to go back to kiddie school where you belong."

"If the best you think you can handle is to take on someone from kiddie school then you ought to go back to third grade where you belong."

"Maybe I ought to show you just how good I can handle you then, girlie."

With that comment he became a blur that stopped in front of Tennyo and groped her left breast.

SLAP! In the next moment he was back in his previous position and waving his hand like it was stinging.

Tennyo had dropped into a fighting stance.

"I've seen better. Take your loose hands and go somewhere else before you lose them."

"So the little girl wants a challenge. Maybe she wants it a little rougher?"

He became a blur again and despite Tennyo's best efforts he landed several blows in the next few moments. He then stopped in his previous position again. Tennyo's clothing was ripped in several spots and most of the buttons were gone from the front of her shirt. Her sport bra could be seen through the open front. She maintained her fighting stance.

"If trying to rip clothing off is the best you can do, you better go back to second grade."

"Hah! I've got your number now, Babe. Let's see what else you have there."

Another blur and he was behind her with his left arm around her neck and his right hand groping for her bra.

"Challenge... Accepted!"


Jann stood in her Shroud costume, facing the oncoming horde. A white-haired boy split off from the group and headed toward her. As he approached, ice formed around him, making him look more crystalline. He thrust a hand forward and a film of ice shot down the sidewalk, passing under her feet.

What was the point of that? Oh! He thinks I'm walking! A hasty plan formed. Jann did her best to fake a slip, falling to her knees, with her head down. The way her hood covered her, she'd need eyes in the back of her head to see his approach.

The ice-boy came up to three feet away. "Pathetic –"

But as he was speaking, she was already flying forward. Forward and up, with a glove that packed a solid seven pounds of lead for its fist. Her surprise was perfect as she slammed him in the chin. She pulled the punch at the last second – even if the ice helped armor him, she was afraid that full strength would snap his neck. Still, ice boy rose a good foot in the air before crashing into the flowerbed beside the walk. He didn't rise.


Sara cut through the forest, taking a more direct route towards the noise than the curving path that the rest of the students followed. More shade, more stealth. Sara felt that she'd be needing both before long. Bursting from the tree line, Sara halted dead in her tracks. The last she'd laid eyes on a scene like this, it was a double-page spread in a comic book.

Tennyo was nearest, caught in a wrestling match with a guy who looked like he'd learned his moves from Happosai. Fey was busy dodging lightning from a girl who flew overhead, Ayla rushing towards her while Chaka sempai charged a meaty looking guy with a lightsaber and a shield. Just then, Shroud decked a white-haired kid made of ice while Hank faced off against a big guy twice his size.

Sara made her decision in a moment, leaping forward to help Tennyo…

CRACK!

Sara stopped in mid stride. A wiry American Indian 16 year old boy with royal blue hair popped into existence between her and the fight, arms crossed and a wry smile plastered across his face, "I wouldn't if I were you."

"Who the fuck are you?"

WOMP-CRACK! He disappeared and reappeared in an instant, his nose right in her face, "Such language from an innocent young girl," WOMP-CRACK, he was standing to one side behind her, his tone lusty, "is such a turn on."

Sara span about to face him, "I don't have time for this shit. My friends are in trouble."

He shrugged, "Hey, my friends are in all that too, but you don't see me helping them out do you? Let the children play, we higher beings are above their petty squabbles."

Sara turned his back on him, "Then stay out of my way…"

Reality lurched slightly as Sara felt herself being tugged, as if every particle in her body was yanked back under the cover of the forest. She lost her balance and tumbled across the ground, her flight stopped by the trunk of a large tree.


Ayla wasn't a fast flyer, but she was smart. For a moment, she returned to her super dense form and dropped like a rock. The lightning bolt shot over her head, a clear miss.

"Watch where you shoot those things!" came from the sidelines.

Ayla flipped between super-dense and intangible, and then back again, slowing her speed, hitting the ground in her strong form, and leaping just as she dropped her mass to zero. The technique worked like a charm. She rocketed toward the lithe form of Skybolt.

Caught by surprise, the girl shoved both hands toward her and Ayla felt a bolt of lightning shoot straight through her!


"This is getting real old, real fast." Nikki griped to herself as yet another lightning bolt stuck the ground. It was a clean miss, but extremely powerful. Then she felt it. And knew she had a possible way out of the trouble she was in.

The surge of energy Nikki felt was a surprise, but not unfamiliar to her. It was like tapping into the Ley Lines, only this was more immediate and held a lot of violence. Lightning! She reached her mental fingers out and caught another bolt, drinking it in and watching the flying girl closely for anything that might shift the advantage to her.

Skybolt turned from the distant figure of Phase and threw a hasty bolt at the redheaded fantasy poster girl.

Nikki seemed to sense the buildup, and dodged at the last moment.

Skybolt cursed, "Damn, she's agile!"

Nikki brought on her power, and Fey emerged in a near fury of wind-whipped red hair as a crackling halo of power outlining her body. The flying girl was wearing a pack of some kind that Fey sensed was adding power to the attacks sent downward at herself.


Kodiak smiled grimly at the smaller, younger boy. "I'll give you a chance to back down and leave. No one would blame you."

The kid returned his smile. "I've never backed down in my life."

Kodiak nodded approval, then summoned the bear. He knew the image of the gigantic grizzly as it roared and flickered around him was enough to terrify most opponents. During the moment when the boy would be frozen, Kodiak swung an easy underhand, punching straight into the younger boy's gut. He didn't use his full strength, of course. He didn't want to kill the boy.

His fist stopped as if he'd hit solid steel. The boy didn't budge so much as a millimeter.

"My turn!"

Moving as he spoke, the boy grabbed his extended arm, turned and swung. Kodiak was 240 pounds of solid muscle, but the boy swung him up and over like he was a rag doll. He had an instant to cry out, "Shit!" before being slammed on his back hard enough to knock all breath from him and bring stars to his eyes.

He lay there gasping helplessly. It would be a while before he could rise again, and minutes more before he could fight.


Ayla shook her head. The good news: a direct hit by lightning didn't kill her. The bad news: it hurt like hell. She thought even her fillings were throbbing. And to top off her frustration, even the jump-and-fly trick hadn't let her catch the fast-moving girl. She was close enough to hear her, though.

"There will be no dodging this time, Red."

Skybolt was ignoring her slow-moving pursuer to stare at Fey. And why not? There was no way that Ayla could reach her in time. But maybe…

Skybolt wound up like a major league pitcher. Ayla flew – not at Skybolt, but exactly between Skybolt and Fey. The timing was critical. At exactly the right second, she went 'solid'.

This time, the lightning bolt barely tickled.


Hamper and Damper had been running toward the black-clad cape-girl. The twins went everywhere together, and combat was no exception. They figured they could back up Icer. They hadn't expected him to be laid out by the tiny girl in black. Even more surprising was the sight of Kodiak slammed to the ground.

"Fuck. Kodiak in one shot?"

"He's heading this way!"

"Gotta be an energizer! Damp him!"

Facing their targets, the brothers pushed forward with both palms. One attempting to disrupt the brain of the girl in black, leaving her dazed, forgetful, and confused. The other, cutting the power source of the camouflage boy now stalking toward them.


And once again, Ayla found herself slamming into the ground and sinking in up to her knees. By now, she really wanted to hit something. Or someone.

And her eyes found the perfect target.

"Tansy, you are so dead!"

The model backed up in fear. "Wait Ayla! It's me, Jinn!"

"I'm not falling for that!" She stalked forward gleefully, each tread shaking the ground. Her fist pulled back like the hammer cocking on a gun.

"Really, you've got to believe me! Uh… umbrellas in the hallway? Chasing stuffed animals? Our study corner?"

"Damnation." Ayla lowered her fist. "Jinn?"

"Yeah. Tansy got knocked out, so I'm in control while she's in la-la land."

"I really need something to hit."

"How about that huge guy, who's starting to get up?" She pointed at Kodiak.


"Shit, it's not working!" Hamper yelled. The girl hadn't slowed in the least. From the feedback he got through his power, it almost felt like she didn't even have a brain!

"Switch targets!"

In terror, Hamper swung his aim toward the camouflage boy that was almost upon them. He projected as he never had before. The boy halted, looking confused. As Hamper poured on the power, the boy sunk to his knees, dazed.

Damper was having even more luck. As he turned his power on the girl in the black cloak, she fell to the ground like a puppet with cut strings. He realized a moment later that the cloak had gone completely flat. The girl had vanished, leaving an empty suit of clothes behind. But as he relaxed his power in superstitious fear, he saw the flat cloak begin to rise. The girl was rising from the ground like a spirit of the dead! He blasted forth with his ability again, then began to stomp on the flattened cloak.


What IS IT with this guy?, Toni wondered to herself. He isn't that fast! He just seems to know what I'm going to do, like he's... reading... my... mind... Toni grinned and shut the 'brow' chakra, which her reading suggested was the point at which psis managed to enter the mind.

Okay, Scaramouche, now we do this MY way.

Toni set up a lightning barrage of kicks and punches that 'Scaramouche' was having a much harder time dodging. Toni noticed that he wasn't really trying to hit her with the 'sword', he was just using it as an 'area denial' technique. He was using it to try and steer her into a position where he could hit her with the shield. Not a bad technique, actually. The sword was probably very deadly- too deadly for a schoolyard brawl. But the hilt didn't have any power source that Toni could tell. It was just a thin, flashlight-like cylinder, like a Star Wars lightsaber.

Curious, she shifted to a more defensive posture, and checked out his ki.

Odd- the sword and shield both had ki. Hold on- if he was a telepath, why couldn't he also be a psychokinetic? The sword and shield were PK manifestations, like Jinn was, and the dinguses that 'Scaramouche' was carrying just refined them somehow.

But if the shield was formed of PK energy, then the battle was suddenly a lot more in Toni's favor that it had seemed up to then.

Toni allowed a plan for a combination array of moves to 'slip through' her brow chakra. Sure enough, 'Scaramouche' fell into a counter-array that would have neatly blocked her finishing blow and set her up for a counter-strike. At the last minute, Toni shifted the ki in her blow from Yang to Yin. It merged with the PK energy of Scaramouche's shield. The shield imploded in on itself, destroying the bracer and knocking Scaramouche back into a tree.

Toni gave a quick chuff! of breath to center herself again. She turned to check out how the rest were doing.

Then she felt herself lift off the ground. She twisted around in mid-air, to see 'Scaramouche' picking himself up from the ground, one hand extended at her. Man, he was tough!

Scaramouche didn't bother picking his 'lightsaber' up. Instead, he took a few deep breaths, and Toni could see his brow chakra glow an angry red.

Toni did NOT want to see whatever Scaramouche had in mind. She took a deep breath and belted out: "Kiiiii-YAH!!


"Oooofff!"

That was all Aries had to say as Tennyo grabbed his left elbow with her right hand and drove her left elbow into his lower ribs. Then she launched into the air and was fifty feet up before Aries recovered enough to start protesting.

"Owww! Hey! I can't fly!"

"Should 'a thought of that before you started with me, Honey!"

Tennyo twisted free and started looping around and slamming into him in such a way as to start knocking him even higher into the air. His speed, strength, and training allowed him to block most of the hits enough to reduce the amount of damage that he was taking, but since he couldn't brace himself, that was all he could manage. When they reached about 150 feet up there was a sudden interruption caused by a loud KIIIYYAAA!


Fey probed, trying to loosen the pack and maybe even detach it from the girl's form. The synthetic materials of the casing resisted her, but the metal buckles started to loosen as she concentrated. Until a slightly glowing sphere of energy surrounded the girl, keeping any probes Fey sent from penetrating to their target. Another, very close bolt, momentarily staggered her, but for once didn't spoil her concentration.

Skybolt paused as the redhead began to glow, then positively seethe with crackling energy. Even her long, thick red hair was crackling with the fury of whatever power the girl had brought up. Another bolt aimed to probe that power glanced off the girl, but managed to stagger her a little.

Then she noticed that her power pack was coming loose – as she watched! The buckles holding it in place were working loose as if they had minds of their own. She recalled that the redhead was a magic user, swearing at first herself then the other girl. "That bitch is getting through my shields."

And immediately put more power into those. While sending a flurry of bolts at her opponent in hopes of hitting her enough to get through the energy surrounding the small figure on the ground.

Nikki, seeing that her small attacks were having no effect reached for the lines she could see in the air to create a wind that swirled around the flying girl, hoping to at least knock her around enough to get a respite from the electrical bolts falling around her like raindrops.

A sudden gust of wind sent Skybolt careening towards Shuster Hall, then suddenly reversed itself to shove her away from the dangerously close walls. But it didn't stop with that. Violent gusts whipped her from side to side, up, down, and in zig zags that had her head spinning. In desperation, she powered up to launch one more attack. The most potentially devastating one she had ever used.

Nikki watched her manipulation of the air currents bounce the flying girl around like a ball bearing inside a metal jar with some satisfaction, but still couldn't get anything through the girl's force field. thinking hard, she suddenly came up with a solution. So, if I can't get through it... Of course!

Skybolt took very careful aim. It wouldn't do to damage school property any more than was absolutely necessary to get rid of this upstart little girl. Her next shot had to hit precisely, or she knew there wouldn't be another in this fight. Not from her, at least.

Nikki suddenly dropped the wind she had been using with such good effect, wrapping the other girl's force field tightly in one of her own. Then poured her power into holding the second sphere, her own, in place.

To Skybolt's consternation and horror, her attack rebounded from the inside of her own force field. Filling the small globe of air surrounding her with sparking, hissing, static discharge that shorted her power pack out and stunned her in the process.

Nikki grinned in triumph when she saw an extra powerful bolt rebound from her own force field and disintegrate into static that filled the sphere that had once protected her opponent. 

A very loud, very familiar shout literally filled the air and Nikki was very glad that she had already set the globe around the globe trick up as Toni's Kiai shout interrupted pretty much everything else that was going on just then.


Sara pried herself from the indentation she'd made in the bark, sticky sap clinging to her blazer. "KI-YAI!" A girl's shout echoed through the trees.

CRACK! "You know, I'd heard you were a regenerator, but that's pretty impressive." The Indian boy whistled in appreciation.

Sara snarled, "I thought you weren't helping your friends."

He rolled his eyes, "Weeellll, they aren't my friends exactly. More like toys or playmates or eye-candy."

WOMP-CRACK! "Like you." He whispered into her ear. WOMP-CRACK! "Besides, the Don has yet to make me an offer I can't refuse," he spread his arms wide WOMP-CRACK!, "and I really couldn't let you rush in and pull a Deus Ex, how lame would that be?"

Sara glared as the boy leant against a tree, standing on a branch ten feet in the air, "This isn't some stupid story. Someone could be killed out there!"

He shrugged, "So? Why burden yourself with mortal concerns, Sara?" WOMP-CRACK! He was standing on the leafy ground again, "Why not enjoy the conflict? As we stand apart, they fight for our amusement. Morituri salutamus te!"

He chuckled to himself at his own joke.

"Well, ave Caesar." Sara growled, concentrating. Time slowed, the blue haired popinjay's grin seemed plastered to his face. She spat a fanged tentacle at him, the maw speeding straight for his face, closing about the tip of his nose…

WOMP-CRACK! "Well that was close," he laughed from behind her again, "I thought…"

The second tentacle scratched his face before he could teleport again, WOMP-CRACK! He stood back in the tree, rubbing the wound, "Oh… you foxy mythos minx! You are soooo cute when you're angry, you know."

Sara let her tentacles snap back, annoyed with the gaping hole in the back of her blazer where the second tentacle had ripped through, "War-torn vet'ran, skilled debater, trickster famed of bridge and road, now for each grim gladiator gapes oblivion's drear abode. Should the last great final jury turn their thumbs down -- it must be! 'Ave, Caesar, morituri salutamus te!'"

He laughed, "You are fun! Just what was that?"

"Banjo Paterson," Sara snapped, "Now get out of my way!"

"Oh, go on then," he smiled, leaning back against the tree, "I'll stay here if you need me. For anything. Name's Bluejay, by the way. Try not to become one of the Don's mind sluts, I prefer 'em feisty."

The explosion that shook the leaves stopped her from making a retort, she span about and sprinted back towards the noise, which had turned into frightened screams.


By the time Tennyo recovered from the shock of that shout, Aries was on his screaming way towards the ground. Tennyo dived after him and grabbed him from behind. Then she accelerated down. Aries' screams increased in volume.

At the last moment, Tennyo decelerated some and made a 90 degree turn so that they were traveling about four feet off the ground and heading right towards Hamper. At the last moment she released Aries and looped around. Aries drove into Hamper at about 40 miles per hour and the two of them tumbled along the ground.

The loop put her right in front of Damper who was kicking the clothes that kept trying to form into Shroud.

"Hi! Remember me?"

His look of shock and his reflexive defensive maneuver came too late to help as her foot connected to a sensitive part of his anatomy again. Tennyo grinned and commented as he folded up around himself again.

"You're getting pretty good at that. You might consider doing it as a profession."


Toni shouted into the general melee "Nikki leave her! Get on to damage control! Try and protect the bystanders and property from any more damage!"

Nodding, as she saw a satisfied looking Tennyo boot one of the twins in a very sensitive place then arcing gracefully upwards towards Skybolt, Nikki turned her attention to keeping the damage from getting too out of hand.

Skybolt, still stunned from the static discharge that had filled her force field globe focused long enough to see an animé Character come to life flying towards her wearing a huge grin and with a fist cocked for a strike. It was the last thing she saw for a while.


Wyatt Cody, better known as Kodiak, was 6' 6" tall, and 240 pounds of solid muscle. On top of that, he was a high-level exemplar and filled with the spirit and power of the bear. And he'd just been slammed by a skinny little freshman.

He sat up, then slowly came to his feet. He could still barely breathe, but at least he was standing.

Being so large, Kodiak often equated size with power. That's why he didn't pay much attention as the five foot tall girl came stomping up to him. Perhaps he should have noted how her tread shook the ground, but she looked scrawnier than the classic 98-pound weakling, and besides, she was a girl.

Normally, Kodiak might have put up a better showing, but he was still catching his breath. And, bent over as he was, his chin made a nearly perfect target. So when Ayla swung, it caught him utterly by surprise. And although the punch didn't hit with the power of a freight train, it did have the impact of a good-sized SUV. So Kodiak barely had time to think, "Not again!" before he was, once again, flat on the ground.

And Ayla was heard to mutter, "Damn, that was satisfying!"


Tennyo lowered Skybolt to the ground. The energizer had been so preoccupied that she hadn't seen Tennyo until it was too late, and she didn't have time to dodge or put up a defense. One hit was all it took and she was out.

As Tennyo looked around to see if her help was needed elsewhere, she saw a small group to one side that looked as if they might join in. Forming one of her contained bolts, she sent it into an ugly old iron bench nearby. The results were more than she had expected. The blast totally shattered the bench and sent shrapnel flying that sent most of the nearby crowd diving for cover or setting up defensive barriers.

"Ooopps!"


The echo of some impossibly loud sound echoed in her ears. Tansy wavered as the shock snapped her back to consciousness. She actually felt it this time as she pushed ghost-bitch out of the way. That would explain why she was standing. And perhaps also explain why none of Ayla's little friends were attacking her. The ghost-bitch had been possessing her again. Who knew what she'd told everyone?

What Tansy really wanted was a few minutes alone with that little devisor girl. That underage shit has shot her! The girl was across a no-man's land of insane melee, so that was out. This was probably her best opportunity to slip away, without anyone noticing her.

She used an aspect of her power that didn't get much practice. Her normal "I'm fantastic" projection enhanced her beauty, importance, prominence, and sex appeal. Although it galled her, she could reverse it into an "I'm nothing" projection, which left her seeming plain, inconsequential, and of absolutely no importance. It wasn't invisibility, but people tended to ignore her.

She made her way along the edge of the fight. If she could slip back into Crystal Hall, she'd be safe, protected by the crowd.

And then she spotted a target of opportunity that was too good to pass up.

It was ghost-girl, almost. The costume was similar, but there were many differences. As Damper turned his power on her for a moment, she went as flat as ghost-girl, when Tansy had drained her last week. Were there two of them? It didn't matter. Damper was fighting someone else now, she only had a second. She rushed forward, as the other ghost girl struggled to rise.

Tansy wasn't sure how strong her avatar powers were. She wasn't sure she could hold two spirits, but she couldn't pass up the opportunity. As the costume re-inflated and the black-clad girl rose from the ground, Tansy yanked back the girl's head and grabbed her powder-white face.

Yes! She could feel the spirit! She pulled it free, hearing the mental scream of agony and rage as she sucked it into her. The effort was almost too much, and she staggered backward.


For a moment there were two of them. Jinn / Jann. Shoved together in a space only large enough for one. It didn't matter. Their natural need was to merge. But the memories! A week's worth of separate experience tried to merge and re-integrate. She was Jinn, and for a week she'd been physically female and the top model of the school. She'd been inside Tansy's body and learned and done so much! She'd been Jann, coping with death, stunned by her loss, surprised to find her powers increasing, trying costume after costume, buying a gun…

There was too much. Her mind couldn't handle it. Jinn/Jann never slept, but under the astonishing mental load, she passed out.


Nikki had more than enough to do containing potential damage to other people and property. A large piece of masonry from an exploding bench was headed straight for the downed Kodiak, and it was clear that he wouldn't have a prayer of moving before it hit him. Grabbing onto the lines surrounding the fragment, she diverted its path so it landed harmlessly (mostly) in a nearby pool.

The one who had been fighting Toni was in danger, as well. The tree he was leaning against had caught fire for some reason, and he was engulfed in flame. She gripped the lines on and around him, forcing the flame to die away, then restored the fellow's clothing and without realizing it, the burnt skin that would have had him incapacitated for a long time. She also restored the tree to its original state.

"Get back you idiots!" She screamed at some gawkers who hadn't run back into Crystal Hall when the fight started while putting a hasty screen between them and more shrapnel-like debris from some part of the fighting. The debris hit the screen and stopped in midair, then slid harmlessly to the ground.

She continued shielding downed people, regardless of what side they were on, and the glass walls of Crystal Hall for what seemed like forever. It seemed that the more power she drew from the lines around her, the more was needed. Her body was beginning to feel fatigued, and she knew that she wouldn't be able to keep it up much longer.


Sara stopped, ducking down behind a shrubbery as she caught a glimpse of men in security uniforms hustling down the path. She cursed herself, then stepped calmly out into the light, following as slowly and innocuously as possible.

They made their way out across the battlefield, towards the yelling match that was being overseen by another Indian guy. Though this one is a bit more pleasant to look at, she judged. The fight was over, so she disappeared into the crowd and waited.


 "That's ENOUGH! STOP THIS NOW!"

The authoritative shout rumbled out of 6' 2" of Amerind perfection. Adam Ironknife stood in a pose that commanded attention. Arrayed behind him, in poses that indicated they were instantly ready for action, were the four other members of the Wild Pack, sometimes derisively known as The Betas. One of them burst into flame, another man was as tall as Kodiak and even wider. Of the two women, one crackled with power, and the other had a look in her eyes that promised that absolutely nothing would stand in her way.

They weren't in costume, but everyone recognized them. And as much as some liked to snipe behind their backs, there were few that would risk standing against them together, when they assembled as a team.


As the new group stepped in, Nikki dropped her shields. It looked like the bystanders could take care of themselves for a moment. With more than a little relief, she gingerly sat down to catch her breath. Panting combatants on each side glared at each other for a few seconds, but no one seemed at all inclined to disobey Adam Ironknife's order. Nikki had no objection so, holding her hands carefully away from her body, she shouted back, "Ok with me! I'm stopping right now!"


Adam Ironknife, AKA Stormwolf surveyed the carnage. "Who started this?"

Tansy Walcutt stepped forward, and he forced himself to suppress a sigh. Of course. Another one of her games. Is it too much to hope that this time some of the pain will stick to its creator?

"SHE started it!" Tansy yelled, almost hysterically. She was pointing, Adam had to do a double take, at a small, twelve-year-old girl. "She SHOT me! Right here!" And Tansy began rubbing her left… female chest area.

"ENOUGH!" He beckoned to the young girl. "Is any of this true?" He tried to speak kindly, to pose as little threat as possible to the child. "Did you really shoot her?"

"You bet I did! And I'd like to do it again! She kidnapped m– my sister! She's still got her!"

"You underage little fuck! I'll see you DEAD!"

"Hey!" Nikki jumped up to enter the argument. "All we did was ask the bitch some questions. Then these others jumped us! I was dodging lightning bolts before I realized anything was happening for crying out loud!"

At that point, the usual happened. Adam was well used to it, as the situation degenerated into chaos. Everyone began to speak at once, most of them yelling, and no one listening to anyone else.

At least in this stage they weren't actually fighting. He signaled subtly to the team, and they began to spread out to keep things stable. If they could keep the lid on for another few minutes, security would arrive in force.


 

Lieutenant Forsyth was positively thrilled to discover that the fighting was already over, with apparently no permanent injuries. The Wild Pack (he tried not to ever call them "Betas") had apparently been first on the scene and handled things perfectly. A quick glance at the two lines of combatants caused him to metaphorically gulp.

On one side, The Alphas. You never saw them in a real fight. Not directly. Not openly. He certainly had no liking for the stuck-up crew of scheming manipulators, but they were skilled at never getting caught with dirty hands. Which meant that (once again) one of their victims had been pushed too far, and had lashed back.

On the other side, the girls from the ninja attack. Two of the girls, Nikki Reilly and Billie Wilson were already up on the "beware board." Of the others… he groaned, recognizing the girl who'd talked to him about the gun permit. Tell me she didn't use it!  He knew what the answer was going to be, though.

"Alright men. Notebooks out. Let's start taking statements."


Tansy was almost trembling with glee. She wasn't sure how, but the two ghost girls had canceled each other out. She could only feel the barest hint of presence. But the powers were definitely there. A brief test confirmed that.

"I'm sorry Officer," she peered at his name tag, "Haskins. I'm sorry about all the trouble. Lord knows, I didn't start it. But those girls jumped me, with some insane story about kidnapping her sister. Can she even give a hint as to where I'm supposed to be hiding the body?"

"Well, I haven't talked to her yet, miss."

"And then they were accusing me of doing something mental to steal the girl's spirit or something. I insist on an immediate telepathic probe to ensure that I'm not harboring some extra mind or spirit or whatever."

She tried to control her glee. She couldn't be sure, but the spirits seemed to be gone – for the moment. She had to act fast, before anything changed. Besides, a check at the scene itself would carry more weight.

"Well, I suppose I could get Mindbird to check. So long as you're volunteering."

"Please. I would consider it a personal favor. My character has been impugned."

A moment later the officer returned with Dale in tow.

The other girl nodded to her, brusquely. "Tansy."

"Dale. These girls are spreading some sort of story about me. I don't know what they're thinking, but in one tale I've kidnapped someone's sister – I don't know how I'm supposed to be providing room and board. Maybe I'm just supposed to be desperate for the petty cash. And in the other scenario, her sister is in my brain or some such lunacy. I'm not going to let my shields down, but I want you to confirm that there's no sister living in my brain, whatever that means."

"If you're actually requesting it, Tansy." She closed her eyes and tipped her head forward for a moment.

"There's something there. I can't tell what – it's just a jumble. She's much harder to read than she's ever been before. It almost feels like … an avatar effect. Tansy, are you an avatar?"

"I don't have to answer that."

"Hmph. So much for cooperation." Dale tipped her head forward again. "No, the other whatever-it-is doesn't seem to have any intelligent thought, it's more like a churning pool of impressions."

"Then you would certify that I am 100% free of having her sister inside me."

Dale snorted. "I'm not going to go that far for you, Tansy. But if she's there, I sure can't find her."


Their statements had been taken, and Team Kimba huddled together, rather subdued. Sara shoved two gawkers aside as she approached, her expression concealed by her mask and glasses but her worry plain in her voice, "Are you OK?"

Hank glared, "Where were you?"

Sara put her hands on her hips, "I was delayed. We'll talk later."

An officer came up to them, holding a loose collection of fabric. "I can't find your other teammate, the girl named 'Shroud.' This is all we could find." He held out the empty costume, weighted with lead in the hands and feet.

Jade looked at the costume in horror, and then finally reached forward to touch it. "Not again," she wailed. "Not again!"

"That's the last straw. This time, she has to pay," Ayla promised.

"Excuse me," Fey said in a cold voice. "DIBS."

They looked to see Tennyo, but the girl was busy holding her crying roommate.

And at that worst of all possible moments. Lieutenant Forsyth returned, shooing Sara off to one side. "Well, I'm not going to sugar-coat this. You're in big trouble. You admit starting this. You attacked as a group. And you deliberately launched a premeditated attack on another student. The only thing in your favor is that no one was permanently injured, and there wasn't too much property damage. But we can't let this go."

"What's going to happen to us, sir?" Hank asked, rather meekly.

"One of the administrators will decide on your punishment. You've got an appointment Monday morning with Ms. Amelia Hartford."

Those who recognized the name were too stunned to groan.

"We'll send notes, excusing you all from your first-period classes."


"God, combat makes me hot," The Don admitted. "And watching those dweebs get slapped down like that…!"

Tansy put her hand on her hip, as she cocked those hips just so. She knew how good it looked in her leather mini-dress. "Maybe you should come back to my room and… cool off."

"My place, I think."

"Done."

They hurried off together.

21: Aftermath

Jade wasn't hysterical – not quite. She was crying pretty solidly, though. "All my fault!"

The entire crew was gathered in mutual depression in the Poe's downstairs library. The others were doing their guilty best not to see the too-intimate scene between Billie and Jade.

Billie was sitting and holding Jade the way a mother would hold a small child. Jade was much larger than your standard small child, but then again, Billie was much stronger than your standard mother. And as she held her small, young, crying roommate, Billie was growing steadily more furious. Not at Jade of course, but at the cause of their problem.

"I swear, I'm going to use my FINGERNAILS, tear open her belly, rip out her guts, and STRANGLE her with them!"

"Tennyo, no!" Jade grabbed her even tighter than she had been. Not that the small girl was strong enough to hurt Billie, but she still had an impressive grip. "I know you could stop her, kill her, or whatever you want, but what would they do to you then? At the very least, they'd take you away. I'd probably never see you again. EVER. Tennyo, you have to promise me! Promise me that you won't go and hurt or beat up … that woman!"

Billie groaned. "Don't make me promise that! It's not fair!"

"Please! You have to! I've already lost Jinn and Jann! I don't want to lose you, too."

"Aw, you know you haven't lost 'em. You got that letter. You know where they are. And they'll find a way to get free."

"Promise me!"

"No!"

Jade started crying again.

"Oh, come on! You sound like a little girl."

Jade sniffed. "No fair, trying to cheer me up."

"Okay, I'll promise. But if she pushes me or does something else to provoke me, all bets are off!"

Jade just hugged her again.


God, what a fiasco, Toni thought to herself. It's just like fucking junior high – the goddamn 'cool kids' got the whole thing wired just the way they want it, and if you do anything to them, they sic the fucking teachers on you. Yeah, we beat the crap outta 'em, but they got us busted. As usual. Gotta be slicker about it, next time.

The scene with Jade and Tennyo was getting a little too thick. Toni needed something to take her mind off the mess that they were in. Sara and Hank sure weren't helping to calm her down.

Sara had been subdued, as they all walked back to Poe, staring mutely at the ground. The girl had told them about Bluejay, but then Hank had gone into a tirade about how he would have never been taken down if the demon-girl had shown up. It was obvious to Toni that Hank's anger was mainly at himself, and that he was just blowing off steam.

But Sara had finally fled from Hank's ire, claiming that she'd left her things in the main library, and needed to get them.

Toni decided that was her cue to slip away to find her own stress relief. And since her old standbys, chocolate and ice cream, were off limit – the sugar drove her crazy – it looked like it was going to have to be exercise. God help Hippolyta if she was hogging the Nautilus machine again!

Toni was almost at the door to the stairway, when a hefty black girl that she vaguely remembered seeing on the floor blocked her.

"So, I heard that you got yer ass kicked. 'Bout damn time!"

"'Scuze me?"

"I SAID, it's about damn time that somebody showed you 'Team Bimbo' fags up for the losers that you are! You ain't such hot shit now, are you?"

"You got a problem with me and my team?" Toni was beginning to see red.

"Yeah, I got a problem wi' you! I got a problem with a fucking FAG like you goin' around dressed like a girl! I got a problem with that fucking he-she freak goin' around wavin' his balls in ever'bodies' face! I got a problem with that red-head BOY walkin' around like he was some kind of queen! Oh, that's right! He IS a queen – a drag queen!"

Toni was about to reply that this loudmouthed bitch was obviously in the wrong cottage if gender-benders bothered her that much, when she was staggered. A burst of red-hot ...emotion... for the want of a better word, lanced out and all but slapped her down to the ground. It was like experiencing someone else's rage, disgust, loathing and... despair?

The hefty girl was obviously just getting warmed up, when there was a gentle *ahem!* They both turned to see Mrs. Horton standing there, looking blandly at them. "Is there a problem, girls?"

Vanessa, the curvy girl that Toni and Rip had been dancing with at the train depot when they first got to Whateley, came up and interrupted before either of the two other girls could get started. "Ah, no, there's no real problem. We gotta go now, Sharisha!" She tugged at the chunky girl's shoulder.

"Oh, I ain't _nohow_ finished!" Sharisha grated, her eyes fixed on Toni.

"I beg to differ." Mrs. Horton said calmly. "Tony- Sharisha- there are too many fights that break out in this house as it is. I don't want this developing into a feud. Whatever your differences are, deal with them."

"Mrs. Horton, I'd love to deal with our differences, but I don't know what they are! I've never even spoken to this girl before! I didn't even know her name until Vanessa said it."

"Oh, you're gonna know my name, all right!" Sharisha started up again.

Mrs. Horton gave another calm *ahem!* "Vanessa, would you see to it that Sharisha gets to her room all right? Toni, where were you headed?"

"Down to the exercise room."

"Very good. Tell Hippolyta that I said that it's your turn on the Nautilus."


Jinn slowly came back to full awareness. Or should she be calling herself Jann now? It didn't matter any more than what she called herself when she was back in her body. All of her were still her, whether separate or combined. Jinn was probably most convenient.

She remembered both sides now, in perfect clarity. Is merging always going to knock me out like that? She suspected that it might, at least when she had to sort together days upon days of separate memories. But the merging seemed to have worked fine. Both sets of memories were fit back together, and she had no trouble at all remembering every detail of the last week, from either perspective.

As the integration-induced fog lifted, she realized she felt different. As always, she felt Tansy's skin as if it were her own. It took a moment to realize that she was feeling a bit more than before. Aches and feelings inside that skin. An abrasion on her neck, a bit of a bruise forming along the side of her left breast. Churning indigestion in her stomach. A strangely warm feeling in her vagina, accompanied by a seepage of sticky fluid from that same region.

She recoiled in horror. Surely Tansy didn't – she hadn't – !

As quietly as a mouse fearing a cat, she opened up other senses and peeked out.

She was in a bed, lying on her back. A canopy bed? No, it had four posts and a wooden roof or something built over the top. A sheet was pulled up over her chest, providing some modesty. Sitting up on the far side of the bed, facing away from her was a MAN. He was smoking a cigarette.

Jinn told herself rapidly over and over that it wasn't her body, this wasn't her, it was Tansy, she hadn't even been aware or awake or present, so it didn't matter and it hadn't happened to her!

Her panic was diverted by another discovery. The scene was in color! Jinn was seeing. She was looking out of Tansy's eyes!

A quick double-check assured her that she still had her own unique style of vision. She could see behind herself, and she could see the man's deep glow of satisfaction.

"God, Walcutt," he said – and she finally recognized Sebastiano's voice, "you are without a doubt the best fuck I have ever had."

She felt the churning roil in her gut and realized that those were Tansy's feelings, not her own. It began to dawn on her that the girl hadn't liked this any more than she did. But if that was the case, then why…?

The thought came floating up from Tansy's mind. Jinn had felt feelings from Tansy before, but never complete thoughts. Not like this one.

Set those hooks even deeper, next time.

Things were definitely different since she'd awoken. She could feel the inside of Tansy's body, not just the skin. She was getting emotions clearly, and thoughts occasionally. What she was afraid of was that somehow, they had begun to merge. That she and Tansy were becoming a single person. But before she went into a full mind-blowing panic, she wanted to consider other possibilities. There was the sex. She could think of it, now, in a sort of abstract way. She finally decided that this didn't matter. She was definitely still a virgin. This wasn't her body, and she hadn't been around for it anyway. But maybe the sex had altered her connection to Tansy, somehow. Or perhaps it had been adding Jann to the equation, or the period of unconsciousness. There was too many possibilities. She did her best to lay low, study, and learn.

"You know what the best part was?" Sebastiano continued. "It was your utter disgust.  And, hey, I'm not insulting your shield. It's pretty good. But I specialize in prying out people's fears and weaknesses. And, as I'm sure you're aware, contact, especially intimate contact, makes telepathy sooo much easier. I could tell you hated it and hated me. Everything I did just made you sick, didn't it? GOD, that was such a total fucking turn-on! It was practically like I was raping you!"

As ill as this entire conversation made her, she could tell it was affecting Tansy just as badly.

"You knew? The whole time, you KNEW?"

"Naw. I told you that. Just while I was banging you." He turned to face her, a lazy smile on his face. "You're good. Hell, you're great. Putting yourself through that, just for a chance at the brass ring." He punctuated that by blowing a smoke ring into her face. "It's the power, isn't it? You couldn't resist the power."

Tansy pulled the sheet up tighter around herself, and tried not to cough. Jinn could feel the effort it took. She could tell that Tansy was considering Sebastiano's words.

"What if it was? The power, I mean."

"Nothing. Well, I mean, it's perfect. It is so god-dammed perfectly Alpha that I could cry. Most of those shits down there have no idea what we have to go through to be on top. Like those stupid cunts that tried to jump you this morning. Was there any truth to that, by the way?"

Tansy's emotions pegged way into the defensive.

"Truth to what?"

"The kidnapping and avatar stuff you guys were yelling back and forth, for everyone to hear. Besides, they took statements afterward. Cavalier typed up a nice little summary." He raised his other hand which held a wireless personal organizer with glowing green text against a black screen. "In more detail, they claim that you're actually an avatar, that their friend was some sort of energy being, and you 'sucked her in'."

"What of it?"

"If so, it's sweet. Like I said, perfectly Alpha. Seize the advantage. You might work a little more on your defenses – you've been leaving quite a few angry psychos in your wake, haven't you? Never know when the bill might come due."

He gave her a look that made both Jinn and Tansy erupt in clammy fear.

"God, I could almost do you again. You are, without a doubt, the best lay I've ever had. Maybe even better than the first time I went down on my little fucktoy, Skybolt. Frankly, she's gotten a little old, if you catch my drift. But you, forcing yourself to spread for me and hating it so much, hell, I'm almost stiff again."

Quickly and carefully, Tansy slipped out of bed and moved toward her clothes. Jinn noticed that Tansy sat up, she turned away, hiding as much of herself from Sebastiano as possible. She stepped into the black lace thong quickly. To Jinn's mind, it didn't provide nearly enough protection. Likewise, the black lace demi-cups of her bra didn't cover enough. Notably, Tansy slipped on the leather mini-dress before she bothered with her pantyhose.

"Hey, no need to rush away. I haven't even paid yet."

That sent another wash of self-disgust through Tansy.

"What about Hekate?"

Tansy was turned away, so she didn't see the face and derisive gesture that Jinn saw. "That cow? She's okay for relieving the tension, but she's a little too possessive, you know? Going on and on about her needs, like I give a flying fuck. Can you believe, the first time she actually wanted me to wear a condom? That sums up our relationship right there. She even tried objecting when I used Skybolt. I was like, so what the hell were you thinking?"

Tansy's interest had pegged over to high. Jinn even caught a corner of a thought, – clue on what/how he did it?

"So, even with Hekate back, you'd still –?"

"Well, we'd have to keep it quiet, of course. Hekate would blow a gasket if she found out. She's still in hate with Dale Townsend."

They were both confused until Tansy's mind connected, Mindbird!

"Thinks Dale came between us or something. As if. Frankly, all of the 'us' was really only a 'her.' Not even much of that, since she's stopped putting out. Which is pretty much of a green light, so far as I'm concerned. Still, best to keep it on the QT. And seeing as how my touch seems to disgust you, I'm guessing you won't be so fucking clingy, will you?"

Sebastiano finally pulled on a pair of boxers and sauntered over to drop in a chair.

Now that she was dressed again, Tansy grabbed her purse and started fixing her hair, turning to the mirror and digging for some makeup.

"So, let's talk price. Lemme be honest here. Now that I've dipped the wick, I'm going to be coming back for more. Lots more. And you probably aren't going to help out, unless I make it worth your while. After all," he gave a nasty smile, "you sure aren't coming back for MY sweet touch. Makes me wonder who your main man is? Never heard even a hint of a rumor. Anyway, name your price."

Done primping, Tansy gracefully lowered herself into the chair facing Sebastiano. "I want the Alphas. You're king, I'm queen."

Sebastiano shook his head. "Not going to happen. Hekate's got that. Don't even think of going up against her. That means you don't get the public status or leadership either. If she catches on that I'm drilling you, we'll both be in a world of hurt. Believe me. On the surface, she's all hexes and jinks. Tip of the iceberg. The lady gives me nightmares sometimes."

"If that's the case, it looks like I was wasting my time then."

"Not at all! Alphas are a hell of a lot more than status. We're contacts and influence. We're the people to see when something comes along. We are the movers and shakers. It may be that I've got something for you that's a bit more interesting than being queen of the Alphas."

Jinn felt her eyebrows rise.

"Well, now that we know you're an avatar…"

The pause grew uncomfortable, before Tansy reluctantly nodded.

"How's your little passenger, by the way?"

Jinn was utterly quiet and still as Tansy lanced out with a quick probe.

"I've taken care of her. Finally finished the digestion, maybe. She was trouble for a while, but it's handled."  She briefly rose up an inch off the chair, as if assuring herself that she still had the powers. "Why?"

"Well, you might be able to assist me in a little project that's come along."

Tansy nodded for him to continue.

"Well, the question has come up: Can avatars trade spirits? Which brings up a whole slew of new questions. Such as, Can you take an avatar's spirit? There's even the possibility of opening up a bit of a black market.

"It's not really my idea, but I was the man in place to help with a few technical difficulties. You know, of course, that they're only barely starting to understand what avatars are, and what they do. Hell, we've all heard the intro-lecture bit about how Champion One and Two died. What they're less open about is that they're still doing a lot of poking around in the dark. And you know what the problem is?" He leaned forward, with a very disturbing expression on his face.

"Lack of test subjects."

Jinn was thankful that her conditions spared her from the more visceral emotions. She had enough of a cold fear at the moment that she didn't want any hormones helping it along. Even Tansy was swallowing in reaction.

"Look, I'm not the point man on this, but I was there when they needed some rough spots smoothed over. We're just starting, but the possibilities are VERY interesting. As an avatar yourself, I'm sure you can see that. Maybe you're interested in upgrading? Unload whatever you picked up from the Poe Pussies and slip in something with a bit more power?"

Tansy finally found her voice. "I'm not sure I'm –"

"I don't think you understand what I'm talking about here. Imagine if we figure out how to rip the spirit out of one avatar and push it into another. Do you have any idea what I'm talking about here? What about Kodiak's bear spirit? How'd you like to be packing that sort of power?"

Jinn caught enough of a mental flash to see that Tansy was suddenly imagining herself as hairy and bulked-up as Kodiak. "Ugg. No thank you."

"Champion."

That stopped her.

"He's just another avatar. We've all heard it, ever since the intro lectures. Hell, we've all heard how his successor is training here at Whateley. They keep a plane on tap for him at Berlin Airport, in case he has to fly out to accept the Champion Force. Plenty of people have attacked Champion the hero. As if it would be so wonderful to defeat the hero and rob some fucking bank. Those idiots have missed the real treasure! They should be trying to steal the Champion Force!"

"I don't know…"

"What is there to know? How would it feel? How would you like to be the new Miss Champion, or Champion Girl or whatever the hell you wanted to call yourself? How would you like to have the power to walk up to those in your way and step on them like the bugs they are?"

The images in Tansy's mind were much sharper now. This morning's fight was a fresh memory. Jinn had the strange experience of remembering as the little girl Jade shot at her. Jade's image was up there in the "To be dealt with" category. Other images loomed larger, though. Fey's image was sharp and clear. Just as prominent was Trevor/Ayla, with his/her disturbed sexuality.

"Even if the Champion Force remains out of reach, there are other spirits, some of which are extremely powerful. But until recently, we never understood about avatars. And there were never enough of them around for us to poach on. But Whateley has such a fine crop of powerful spirits, housed in naïve young hosts."

"You're not suggesting –?"

"I'm not suggesting anything. Just pointing out an opportunity. You know that someone is going to exploit it eventually. Only question is, do you want to be in on the ground floor? Do you want to pick and choose the spirit you get? Maybe not. Maybe all you can stand is a financial investment, or maybe you want to simply act as a purchaser, without knowing any of the dirty details. Whatever you're up for."

Tansy's mind was spinning faster than Jinn could follow, but as she finally seemed to catch up with what Sebastiano was offering, she said, "What's in it for you? Do you see yourself with the power of Champion?"

He laughed, lounging easily in his boxers. "I'm no avatar. Besides, I see myself more in a position of leadership. After all, look what an inspiring leader I've been to Cavalier and Skybolt! Imagine them with spirit upgrades and I think you'll see what I'm looking at. They're not avatars either, but you get the point."

Tansy nodded, engrossed in thought.

"So, I think you agree, you've been more than paid for services rendered. And such fine services they were, too."

"Yeah, yeah. Say, does Hekate know about his little venture of yours?"

"Ah, well, she was always more interested in other areas of mysticism. Avatars don't particularly tickle her fancy."

"I see."

So did Jinn. It seemed to her that Don Sebastiano was about as bad a leader as you could imagine, if he was really busy betraying everyone he knew, so rapidly and incautiously.

"You realize that I'm not a captive slut like your little Skybolt, to come running whenever you need to, how did you put it, 'dip the wick'?"

"Oh, but you are! This is my scheme now, and if you want to be a part of it, you'll put out whenever I tell you to." He held up a business card. "Or else you don't even get the first contact. Agreed?"

Jinn could feel the self-loathing Tansy was pumping out, but the girl answered, "Agreed."


Jade followed Tennyo, and they both wandered listlessly across the hall, to Toni and Fey's room. That was empty, but they found the gang in Ayla's room. The two girls slipped inside and closed the door behind them.

"Any conclusions?" Billie asked.

"No good ones," Ayla practically spat the words.

Toni sounded equally depressed. "This whole thing has been great for those 'real life lessons.' I mean, it's pretty obvious why it's so handy to wear a mask and hide your identity. Imagine an adult getting caught in a situation like that. We know we were right, but we can't prove it. Somehow, Mindbird of the Betas did a telepathic scan of Walcutt afterwards and couldn't even see Jinn in there. All of this argues so well for adopting the techniques of the bad guys that it positively drips with irony. We should have been in disguise, we should have attacked from ambush, we should have made sure there were no witnesses, we should have had alibis, and on and on. I think the moral is, if you aren't helping some old lady across the street, if it might possibly be interpreted as a crime, you'd better assume that it WILL be. Sooner or later, you have to face the music."

"They took my gun," Jade told everyone. "I can still practice on the range, but I'm not allowed to carry it. Indefinite suspension. It's because I shot her 'without provocation.' "

Nikki picked it up from there. "The thing that gets me is how everyone knows about Walcutt. About the Alphas, too. Everyone knows what scum they are, but they still end up with their high status and spotless record. And for us – who knows?"

"Well," Ayla added, with some satisfaction. "At least we kicked their butts. I'll bet old Tansy's pissing her panties right now, thinking that Billie might come for her. I don't think they'll be bothering us for a while."

Sara snorted, "Really?  I think they're positively ecstatic.  We're the ones that look like fools right now, that puts us on the back foot.  Narcissistic bastards are probably laughing it up, having a ball, planning their next move."

"I'm sure they are," Nikki agreed. "And I'm sure they'll pick a move that don't allow us to hit back. In fact, it might be easier for them, since we don't dare hit back."

Ayla suddenly had a wild gleam in her eye. "So let's do what they least expect! Hit 'em now. We'll do it in secret, exactly like you were talking about, Toni. No witnesses, masks and disguises, hit 'em hard and fast. Breeze in, beat Walcutt to a pulp until she lets Jinn free, and there's no evidence at all."

"Nope," Hank said. "No chance. Maybe if we'd done that first. Now they would know it was us. All it takes is one report. I mean, we'd be the obvious choices, wouldn't we? Heck, we'd better hope no one thinks to frame us.

"But for now, our best bet is to pull a Steve McQueen."

The girls universally looked at him in puzzlement.

Sara nodded knowingly, but the other girls looked at him in puzzlement.

"Oh, come on – Steve McQueen? The Great Escape? Best damn war movie ever made?"

Everyone but Sara had blank looks.

"Okay, but as soon as possible we're all getting together to watch it. POW movie, Americans and Brits in a German POW camp. The 'cooler' was a hellish little uninsulated concrete bunker they used for solitary confinement. Roasting in the day, freezing at night. McQueen is the 'Cooler King' because he'd attempted the most escapes and been tossed into the cooler more than anyone else. Something like twenty times. But he never let it get to him. They'd toss him in, and he wouldn't bat an eye. Other men cracked in the cooler, but never the Cooler King. And that's why so many of the other prisoners held him in awe. He could take whatever they threw at him."

Hank smiled.

"That's the way we have to be. We take our punishment with a smile. A little thing like this won't get to us. We're Team Kimba. That doesn't change the fact that, as soon as we see an opportunity, we're going to turn right back around and do whatever we have to. Oh, we'll get smarter, all right. The Cooler King was no idiot. The scary thing is that there's no way to stop us."

Ayla was nodding, and Toni started to nod as well.

"For now, there's no choice. The foe is alert, the school is watching us. Jade, did Jinn sound desperate? Did it sound like time was running out?"

Jade gave the first glimmer of a smile. "Hardly. She was just getting started."

"Then we wait. Monday morning, they'll try to scare us with The Cooler. I don't know what it's going to be, but be prepared for a shock. Our reactions should be mild. No happiness, no sorrow, no anger. Just accepting. 'We can handle this.' We'll do our time in the cooler. And afterwards… we'll see what things look like then."

Now everyone was nodding.


Jinn decided to maintain her low profile. It was the opposite of her initial approach, which had been "annoy Tansy to death." But she was learning things. Incredibly valuable things.

First on the list had been the avatar discussion with (she still shuddered at his name) Sebastiano. Somehow, she had to get that information to the crew, or someone who could do something about it. A threat to Champion? That was major stuff.

Beyond that, there was also the whole mind shield business. Most telepaths had them, and non-telepaths could develop them. Actually, the details she'd heard were more complicated. Apparently there were many different types of mind shields, with varying advantages and disadvantages. Some of them could be trained into non-telepaths, but only a telepath could learn all of them. She gathered that it was a bit like a blind man practicing Aikido. Some of the moves required an intimate awareness of position and movement that was only possible when you could see.

During the discussion with (shudder) Sebastiano (his name seemed to drip with slime), Jinn had once again noticed him sending telepathic probes at Tansy. But this time, she'd noticed something she'd never seen before. His probes hit a layer that was just at the outside surface of Tansy's mind and got broken up. It was like the beam had been scattered, like when a laser beam his a piece of frosted glass. After observing this for a time, Jinn realized that she was seeing this because she was now inside Tansy's mind shield.

Does that explain why I can also feel inside her body and see out of her eyes?

If so, the question was how had she gotten inside of Tansy's mind shield? Had Tansy relaxed during (shudder) sex, allowing her to slip inside? Had it happened when she was unconscious? Was it a sign that they were (double shudder) merging? That last thought made it more important than ever that she escape, and soon. But first, there were a few more things she needed to learn.

She had been carefully experimenting with duplicating Tansy's mind shield. Psi phenomena didn't really follow normal three-dimensional space, but it was easier for her to think of things that way. If Tansy's mind shield was a flat pane of frosted glass, then she could form a "blister" on the inside. Tansy, looking out, wouldn't feel or see her unless she looked super close. And someone on the outside, looking in, would have to get through Tansy's shield and then her shield to spot her. She was creating her shield by feel, as much as anything else. It was a sort of static fuzz that was constantly in motion. A buzzing at the edge of her mind. She knew that Tansy was experienced enough to maintain it, even while she slept. That wouldn't be a problem for Jinn, of course, but she was a long way from maintaining it automatically. It was all she could do right now to generate it at all, and it kept fading away again.

The third thing she was learning was a subtlety to hypnotism that she hadn't previously understood. Her proximity to Tansy's thoughts were giving her occasional peeks at how Tansy perceived the world, and how she could manipulate it. After leaving (shudder) Sebastiano's room, she had immediately looked up Cavalier, and was busy chatting him up in her most flirtatious way. The thought of anything flirtatious made Jinn's skin crawl, but she tried to keep that hidden so that the emotion couldn't leak out.

"You really are a Cavalier! So noble and loyal." Tansy was stroking his arm, as she looked deep into his eyes.

Jinn realized that this was one thing she really missed with her spirit-vision. There was an particular communication, when eye stared into eye, that she missed entirely. Of course, remembering Melodious Silvertongue, there were also advantages to not seeing "eye to eye."

There was the faintest trace of a hum. No, not a hum, more of a special pattern. It was coming from Tansy, as she projected it into Cavalier. It seemed half familiar – and all at once Jinn thought she recognized the alpha wave pattern of brain waves. It was hard to tell, since the waveform was more complex than a pure tone, but she thought that must be it. And she could get glimpses of feedback, too. A … feeling … from Cavalier's brain, and Tansy adjusted her frequency slightly up and down. She spoke and her voice droned on and suddenly there was a harmonic. Cavalier's brain echoed the same pattern back again, the two reinforcing each other like a chorus. At that moment, she felt a flash of triumph from Tansy.

"You know, Cavalier, Sebastiano values you so highly. You're the only one he can really trust. And he's afraid. Afraid he might forget some important detail. That would be terrible, wouldn't it? So the way you made the report today, remember that? He wants you to detail his regular life, so that he never loses any details. But you would never want to disturb him, writing these reports. You must do it in secret. Hide it so that he never sees, and is never disturbed. Write it in private. And then send it to this address, where it will be filed in case Sebastiano ever needs reminding of anything. Do you understand?"

She passed him a slip of paper with an email address: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

"I understand."

"Let's go over the important details together. Don Sebastiano wants you to record all the details of his day."

"…Don Sebastiano wants me to record all the details of his day…"

"And he wants you to write them into a report, every night or two."

Again, Cavalier repeated the sentence. Jinn noticed the hum growing particularly resonant while he did so.

"You must never never let Don Sebastiano see you writing these reports. It would disturb him."

"You should memorize the email address on the slip. Send the reports there, where they'll be saved for Sebastiano."

"This is such a good idea. No one else suggested it, you thought of it yourself. You don't remember talking to anyone about this, do you?"

Cavalier echoed, "It's such a good idea. No one else suggested it, I thought of it myself. I don't remember talking to anyone about it."

"And we never had this conversation, did we?"

"No. We never had this conversation."

Tansy finished it off by deepening the pattern and then slowing it. There was no snapping of fingers, as Jinn had expected. Instead, Tansy waited patiently for Cavalier to come out of it on his own. When he did, he seemed slightly confused.

"I'm sorry, what were you saying?"

Tansy smiled, as she rose from her seat. "Nothing. It was just talking about how good Sebastiano has been to me, and how much I treasure my time with him."

"Of course you do."


By Saturday afternoon, Jade was ready to try the obvious. She used the gloves, first. Touching them, along with a speaker disk of course, she charged them. The familiar rush came, as the energy poured out of her. She wasn't really surprised, but it was a relief. After Jinn was taken she'd made Jann, so it only made sense that… I guess this would be Jeanie.

"Jade… I feel different."

"What is it, Jeanie?"

Tennyo looked up from a textbook. "Jeanie?"

"Well Jinn and Jann are gone. Jeanie's next."

"Uh huh," the gloves said. "Followed by Jasmine, Jewel, and Jayna, although I hope we never have to go that far."

"Too weird." The cyan-haired girl turned back to her book.

"So what's different?"

"I feel taller. And, uh, older, I think."

Jade had a hope. "Ooo! Come back. Let's see."

Once Jeanie was back in her head, she reached for her Shroud costume. It had some footprints on it, but it was otherwise okay. She cast Jeanie into it. The costume inflated, filled, stretched…

"It's not big enough."

Jade was impatient. Her TK body could really be almost any size she wanted, but only one size was right. She had a hope, and she was impatient. "Push! Do it!"

The Shroud costume overinflated, stretching taller and wider. Jade had a moment to notice that yesterday's attack had left more than footprints on her costume – it had left a large number of small holes and --

RRRRIIIIIP!

"Oops," Jeanie said. "I think I kind of outgrew it."

"I'm… big." Jade stared in wonder.

Tennyo finally gave up and rose out of her chair. "Hey! You're taller than I am! No fair. You're my little roommate. You must be at least five-foot-seven."

"No, I'm … big!" Jade was staring at her alternate self's chest.

"Oh, yeah." Tennyo tossed her the measuring tape. "Check it out. Let's get your sizes."

Jade measured while explaining. "It was part of my hypnotherapy. I wanted to see what I'd be like at seventeen. Hmm, thirty-three inch band, thirty-four and a half bust."

"That's either a large A or a small B, your choice."

"I'll take a small 'B'," Jade announced, giggling. "And let's see, twenty-three waist, thirty-five hips. Five foot seven tall."

"How are you even measuring her?"

Jeanie was wearing the shroud costume, but she'd grown four inches taller overnight. The costume had ripped in several spots – at her waist, left shoulder, right forearm, left thigh, and right ankle. The gaps were empty space, with nothing inside.

"There's enough fabric around her waist that I can still measure."

"You know," Tennyo said, "those rips aren't too bad looking. Sort of a rip, maybe a black flame effect. What do you think?"

Jade dove for her closet. "I think I've got the first costume left over from last Monday or Tuesday…" She pulled it out in triumph, and then immediately cut into it, at the elbows, knees, and waist. "Okay, come on back."

Jeanie stepped over the bed and folded herself back up, then Jade zapped her into the new costume. By the time the other girls knocked on their door, Jade and Tennyo were both cutting artistic flame/rips in Jeanie's top. Of course, they were doing this while the girl wore her costume. So not only was there an invisible patch where her torso was, but the two roommates were reaching inside her and using scissors to trim away at the plane of her skin.

"What the HELL are you doing?" Ayla hollered. "That's the sickest thing I ever saw!"

"Hi, Ayla!" the three roommates called.

"Jann, when did you get so tall?"

"That's Jeanie," Tennyo corrected.

"Right. Why do I even bother?"

She'd just collapsed by the time Toni and Nikki arrived. Jade added the talcum powder and re-charged her. The resultant girl was easily the tallest in the group. Her face was much more mature than Jade's, although the resemblance was plain. Her long limbs and curvy form were all that Jade had ever dreamed of.

"Oh my God!" Jade looked at herself and was in heaven!

Nikki, on the other hand, gave a quick glance at the exposed navel above the low-cut ragged-flame beltline, then her eyes moved up to the skimpy top, which was straining and on the verge of ripping each time Jeanie took a breath.

"Well, you certainly look… healthy."


For dinner, they picked an out-of-the-way corner in the very back. After the violence at breakfast, everyone was eager to give them space.

"I've been thinking it over," Toni said, "and we were pathetic."

"Bull!" Ayla shot back. "We kicked their butts!"

"Yeah, but we took way too long. And we took some hard shots on the way there. I'm thinking that we've got a lot of weaknesses, and this is our first real incentive to look at them."

Jade was well aware of her weaknesses. As the physically weakest, smallest, and most powerless member of the team, she was very aware of her weaknesses. "I'm willing to listen. What are your suggestions, sensei?"

"Okay, we'll start with you. You had that plan for looking like a gadgeteer. Did it work?"

Jade cocked her head and thought. "Yeah, I guess. I tried to go for my gun twice. Each time I got close, either Skybolt zapped off a lightning bolt or else Cavalier zipped in and kicked it even farther away. But they pretty much left me alone."

"How about your Aikido? Why didn't you use that?"

"Against Cavalier? He had a SWORD! Besides, I did use it. I don't know if anyone was watching, but I did a perfect roll after he hit me. Came up on my feet, too. I just… couldn't do anything else."

"Uh huh. In other words, the gadgeteer approached worked perfectly, you just don't have enough options yet. I figure, keep the Aikido for the close stuff, but without a few decades more work, you're not going to be facing down Cavaliers. We aren't all Ito sensei. So you need some more gimmicks. For the first part of that, you need to start talking to Bugs."

"Bugs?" Hank asked, with skepticism.

"You know, Bunny Cormick? Blonde girl, sounds like an airhead, rooms with Riptide, and has an IQ score you wouldn't believe. Fey's little snuggle partner?" Hank's face clouded briefly when he heard this last part. "She's a gadgeteer. She goes nuts over special effects. She'd absolutely love to rig you up some flashing lights and stuff."

"Okay," Jade was willing to pursue the idea if sensei suggested it, but it didn't sound like it was going to turn her into a powerhouse anytime soon.

"For the second half – well, I think you should keep pursuing the gadgeteer angle. It throws 'em off the track, and has a bunch of advantages like you've already figured out. But you need more backup. Extra protection, maybe a little extra punch here and there. Most of the time, something to cover your back when you're using the gun."

"Yeah, and?"

Toni grinned. "Got an extra glove?"

Jade pulled out a pair. She always had gloves handy.

"Well, we know Jinn is still around, and that didn't stop you from calling up Jann, did it? And after Jinn and Jann were both captured, you called up Jeanie."

"She's studying right now…" Jade's voice trailed off as she finally got it. She looked at the gloves and charged them.

A wave of fatigue hit her. For a moment she wanted to fall forward into her salad. "Wow. I'm exhausted." And she stared, they all stared, at the gloves hovering over the table.

The right hand formed into a "thumbs up" and the speaker disk quietly said, "Call me Jasmine." She floated back to Jade and tucked herself back into the pocket, then vanished.

All at once, Jade's fatigue seemed to lift. "Whoa. I'm okay again! It was really draining, but once she came back…"

Fey looked at her and wondered, "Just how many can you create?"

Jade started to grin. "Time to experiment. I think I'll wait 'till I get back to the room, though."

Toni finished up, triumphantly. "Now imagine that you've got your gun, but at the same time you've activated a dozen 'gadgets'. Shields and swords and stuff that are 'automatically' controlled by 'magnetic' beams. The hover right around you, protecting you, and providing extra offense and defense. But still part of the whole gadgeteer image."

Jade smiled, nodding. "I'd thought of that. But it was so much cooler being Shroud."

"Why not both? And by the way, Shroud needs more oomph, too. There ought to be plenty she can do. I mean, the weights were a nice start, but you need more than punches and kicks."

"And invulnerability."

"Sand." They all turned and looked at Sara, who was staring at her pot plant with a look of utter concentration on her face.

"What?" Toni asked.

"Or small items," Sara added, "stuff that can be hidden under the cloak. Spit sand in their faces, hit them with concealed weapons from under your cloak. Why only use one hand when you could have thousands?"

"Yeah. Anyway, we'll brainstorm."

Hank nodded thoughtfully. "Good. One down, two if you count Shroud, although we didn't give any solid suggestions yet. Who's next?"

Jade shoved her hand in the air. "I know! Toni!"

"What?"

"Okay, so you're like the martial arts expert. And you really are, too. But what's your biggest weakness?"

"Hmmm, power of attack against a brick? Too vulnerable against someone like Cavalier, with his sword? Can't reach the flyers, like Skybolt?"

Jade shook her head sadly. "Toni, Toni, Toni, Toni. You aren't watching enough martial arts movies! Shuriken, throwing knives, little needle darts. I've watched you reshelve books from across the room. Tell me you can't throw a pin through a crucial part of Skybolt's harness, even when she's flying thirty feet away."

Toni was stuck dumb for a moment. "Well damn."

"And for real distance and power, what's better than a Zen archer? What you mostly need is some tricky was to stash the bow and quiver when you aren't using them. And for close power, the sword is mighty handy. Classic martial arts, it should be perfect for you. Has some nice blocks, too, although a staff or bo stick might do better. A little on the lethal side, but a true master should be able to control that. Your one big problem is finding a way to stash all the weapons. And there's got to be some trick at Whateley that will let you handle that."

Toni had a wide-eyed look. She stared at her fork, then at someone walking by. "Hell, almost anything. I'll bet I could throw this fork to pin his shirt to the wall."

"Now you're thinking."

"And playing cards! I saw this movie once… I wonder if I could do that?"

Jade rubbed her hands together and chortled. "I got one on sensei!"

Hank smiled. "Think about this when we get the bad news Monday morning. We made mistakes. We'll learn from them. And next time – things will be a LOT different. Now, who's next?"

They moved on to discuss Hank. His points were minor, and not quickly addressed. He needed to work on defenses against mental attacks, he needed better speed and control of his flight, and his form could use some touching up.  Only Sara had a suggestion, "Guns. Great big fucking guns. You've got strength to burn and the whole soldier thing, you can carry a lot of ammo. And if it explodes, you're invulnerable, so you won't get hurt."

Hank glared, "I don't want to become just another gun emplacement, thank you."

Toni didn't sound so sure, "You, all of us, need to work on holdouts or backup. For those weird cases when our powers fail. It's going to happen – I've heard too many stories. Some kids have the power to stop you cold. They're rare, but we need to think about it."

Everyone was getting into it now. "What about me?" Nikki asked.

Toni stroked her cheek and thought. "You're really more of a cannon. Maybe a mortar. Really powerful, but best when you've got some distance from your target, not so good close up. I know you've got some tutors to help on that, but…"

"What about body armor?" Hank asked.

Fey looked at him sourly. "Daddy's outfit has armor!"

"That outfit wasn't designed for fighting, it was designed for –" With a sudden halt, he visibly swallowed whatever he'd been about to say. "No, wait, I'm getting an image. I admit, at first I was thinking of some sort of SWAT team flak jacket, like security wears. But imagine some sort of silvery armor, made for your figure, with intricate elven craftsmanship. I can just see some elven princess in her plate mail. Of course, a lightweight sword or rapier would fit the image too, if you had the skill."

Nikki nodded. "Maybe. I can almost picture it. The way you describe it seems… not unacceptable. But I can't believe it would help much. I mean, Daddy's suit was pretty nice."

"Too nice," Hank muttered under his breath.

"So maybe I didn't take any punches or anything, but believe me, it was pretty good. And besides, how often are we going to have enough warning to get all decked out ahead of time?"

"Gee," Hank said with a cheesy smile, "it's a shame you don't have some way to make it just vanish and then reappear when you need it. All that powerful magic, and you can't do that. Still, it's bound to be a really complicated spell. It's probably too much for you."

Fey glared at him. "You think you're really clever, but you're not."

Everyone else discovered that elven faces could be extremely good at glaring.

Sara had pulled a pen from her bag and was scribbling notes.

"How about me?" Ayla asked.

"Well," again Toni considered. "Obviously  you need some work on formalized hand-to-hand."

Ayla snorted. "Figures you would concentrate on that part."

"I know, you've got classes like everyone else. But I'd say your biggest problem is speed. Your intangible form can reach flyers and probably disrupt them, but only if you catch them. Likewise, your super-dense form can go toe-to-toe with most anyone, if you can get them to come after you. The biggest issue is, how do we get you to there?"

"Rocket pack?" Jade suggested. "No, wait, rocket shoes! See, she goes super light, then the shoes could push her super-fast."

"I don't know…"

And then Hank came up with the simple answer. "I throw her."

"What?"

"It solves my problem of a distance weapon, too. Phase runs up to me, makes herself a little tougher, and picks a target. Then I throw her as hard as I can, straight at the target."

Ayla's eyes glittered. "Yeah! I phase through them on the way out, disrupting them if I can. Then I loop back and grab on, turn solid, and start pounding."

Fey snorted. "Yeah, Hank used the same trick with me, back during the ninja attack. Watch out for him, Ayla. Especially when he's 'getting a grip' on you."

Hank was momentarily in a panic, looking rapidly between Ayla and Nikki. "But that was just –" to Ayla "– I mean, I wouldn't, not with you –" back to Nikki "how much self-control do you expect –" until his brain caught up with his mouth and he buried his head in his arms. "Oh, shit."

Nikki and Ayla both stared at him with looks that promised future retribution.

"So what about me?" Tennyo asked, as her eyes glittered in amusement. "Any suggestions for me to become more powerful?"

Toni groaned. "Look, you're the one person who needs to become less powerful."

Tennyo shrugged. "Hey, more power is better, right?"

Toni shook her head. "Most of the fights we get into will be non-lethal. If someone dies, it will be a disaster for all of us. You need some techniques that are weak enough to take someone down without killing him."

Jade added, "Although I almost bust a gut when you got Damper at the end. Have you seen him? He was at dinner, and he's still walking bowlegged!"

Toni shot the younger girl a scowl. "You're not helping here."

"Sorry."

"Look," the black girl said, "you've got plenty of power. But unless we're fighting Galactus, we need something more controlled. Heck, with the amount of energy you put off, you ought to be able to clean up a crew like that in a couple of minutes, and do it with enough precision that all of them are taken alive."

"Yeah, I guess." She mumbled something which sounded suspiciously like, "Let God sort 'em out."

Sara's head shot up from her notes, looking with such intensity at Tennyo that the larger girl leant back in surprise.

"What?"

"Why were you wrestling with that big guy while Ayla was taking on the flier?" Sara asked.

Tennyo scratched her head, "Well…"

"No matter how fast or strong he was, Ayla's practically invulnerable. You could have slapped the flyer down in under a minute, and eaten him for seconds if you hadn't decided to get into a pissing contest."

"WHAT!?!" Jade grabbed Tennyo's arm before she could stand, "Do you expect me to swallow that when you weren't even there, you stuck up…"

"Yes." Sara stated firmly. "Control, Tennyo, control.  We were very lucky that Fey isn't in hospital right now, would you want that on your conscience?  I've got enough on my own right now.  NO, I wasn't there and I should have been.  Yes, I have my own problems.  Hank was right, if I had been there I could have blocked the mind assault, or could I?  I've never had the opportunity to try.  As the team is now, a moderately skilled Telepath could cripple us, and from what I hear Don Sebastiano is no moderate psychic.  You think he'll stand by when his team gets slapped down next time?  Don't bet your ass on it, 'cause you'll be slipping off chairs for the rest of your life."

Tennyo sat back down, not quite so sure of herself.

Toni made a show of dusting her hands off and returning with some glee to her food. "Come on, now. No infighting. We've got plenty of work for everyone, but if we can make progress, real progress, then the next fight we get into will be a lot different."

"You know," Ayla said thoughtfully, "a lot of what you're talking about is special clothing or gear or whatever. But it won't do any good unless you get used to living this way, full time. I mean, 24-7."

"What do you mean?" Jade asked.

"Well, look at you. There you are, wearing that Barbie t-shirt and pink skirt. What were you wearing this morning?"

"My devisor outfit."

"Right. And we got slammed today, because we were all 'premeditated'. So if the only time you wear your devisor outfit is when you're spoiling for a fight, it's going to be a lot easier for them to tag us with another premeditated charge. Same for you, Hank. Either dump the camouflage, which would be a damn shame, or wear it more often. Remember Skybolt, with her power harness thing? Hell, she was expecting to go to a picnic! But she had it on. We've got to be like that. Mix it up, wear our battle gear to class a bit. And make sure that wherever, whenever, we are completely ready for a fight. That way, next time we start one, we can say, 'But this is what I always wear.' "

"Communications too," Sara added, "I was caught with my pants down, figuratively speaking. If you'd given me a call, I might even have been able to make a flank attack before Bluejay showed up. They may also decide to take us out one by one after we separate between classes, we have GOT to be prepared."

Hank was nodding silently, the look on his face mirrored Sara's, but was more disturbed.

"What's the matter, Hank?" Fey asked.

"Yeah," Tennyo followed up. "You look, I don't know, kind of upset."

He grabbed his head in frustration. "Don't you see? Doesn't anyone get it?"

"Wha?" Toni asked around a mouthful of food.

"Tactics! That's all we're talking about here. Just tactics. We haven't even touched the big issues. Strategy, intelligence, the mission itself."

Sara was nodding vigorously, making more notes.

"What are you talking about?" Fey was scowling in confusion.

"Look," he seemed particularly earnest. "I grew up on a bunch of different army bases. A lot of the stuff just seeps into you, you know? And for most of the grunts, the stuff we're talking about is perfect. Refining the tactics is what soldiers work on."

Everyone nodded. The overall impression was, "What's your point?"

"There's more to the situation, more to real combat, than just a bunch of enlisted! You've got officers. You have strategy. You have maps and plans, and a higher level goal."

"Yeah? We had all that," Toni said. "Admittedly, in retrospect our plan was kind of stupid. We'll fix that next time."

Sara was scowling slightly.

"No we WON'T. Not if we do it this way! Look Toni, you're pretty good at tactics. Hell, the plan against Montana was brilliant. Be we have to approach a real fight from a completely different perspective. We start with the goal. Let me use yesterday as an example. We start with the goal: rescue Jinn. It we're thinking this through, from a strategic perspective, we do not jump directly into a confrontation. Particularly since we knew that she was doing okay, and could hold out for a while.

"Step two is intelligence. We gather as much as we can about the target. About everything else that we can think of. Avatars. The layout of Dickinson Cottage. Walcutt, her powers, friends, allies, foes. Maybe we look up the Alphas, since they came to her defense. Find out the same sort of stuff about them. THEN, and only then, do we sit down and craft strategies. Do we use force to influence Walcutt? Diplomacy? Bribes or favors? Is there some other approach? Do we ambush her? When and where? Do we try to hide our identities? It all revolves around accomplishing our main goal, and minimizing the cost to ourselves."

He waved at Sara, having completely forgotten his earlier anger at her. "Maybe she could have helped block the mind attack I got hit with, but it might have only helped if we'd known in advance about that Alpha mind-zapper. And Sara wanted to switch up Tennyo's targets. That only works if we have a chance to plan ahead of time, who we're going to hit and what their strengths and weaknesses are."

Jade still didn't quite get it. "But how do we even find that stuff out? You just said 'learn about Walcutt, her powers, and all her allies' powers.' How are we supposed to do that?"

"We could start by asking. I'll bet the Betas would help us. She's got to have some unhappy enemies that would talk to us."

"Anyone doing modeling," Fey offered.

"The library," Sara added, "cross reference what we know with hero's past battles and look at tactics that have worked in the past to counter similar threats. Search for anything we can exploit."

"Exactly!" Hank agreed. "And beyond that, we have our own ways of gathering intelligence."

Everyone looked at him in anticipation.

"Well, first there's Fey. I'll bet if you pushed it, you could learn all sorts of useful things with your powers. Sara, you can read minds, find out their darkest secrets and fears. Ayla – you're pretty well off, aren't you?"

"I guess."

"Ever considered using some of that money to build yourself a network? People talking to other people, all funneling in to you? It would cost a bit, but probably not all that much, if you're really rich. And I'll bet there are contacts at Poe we could use. And lastly, we have a unique method – beyond Fey, who's pretty damned unique already."

"What?"

He looked at Jade. "How small can Jinn make herself? How tiny can she get, while still being completely hidden inside an object?"

Jade suddenly understood. "About the size of a grain of sand."

"And she can still move, and see, and hear perfectly, can't she?"

"Yeah."

"You couldn't ask for a better spy."

Hank's gaze swept over the table. "Look, we have some weaknesses. I hate to admit it, but we need a Telepath on this team." He stood and reached over the table, offering his hand to Sara, "Sorry I was a bit of a jerk back there. Friends?"

Sara took his hand without hesitation, "We never stopped."

Hank smiled.

Jade noticed that Fey's eyes had hardened slightly for a moment, but then the look was gone.

"I'm hoping we can shore things up through magic," Hank continued, "but that puts a lot of burden on you, Fey. Among all your other tasks, you'll need to investigate magics to spy on people, and counter-techniques to prevent them from spying on us."

He slapped his forehead. "Now that I think of it, they might already be spying on us! Weakness number two: electronics. You mentioned this 'Bugs' girl, Toni. Think she can help us to start sweeping our rooms for electronic bugs?"

Toni shrugged. "Dunno. I'll ask. Or better, why don't you ask her, Nikki?"

The faerie girl had the decency to blush.

"If we're going to be a real team, we need to start thinking about this professionally. We made a lot of enemies in the Alphas. We probably made a lot of friends, by fighting the Alphas. Let's start the intelligence process both ways – learning about them, and hiding details about ourselves, or better, providing false information."

He seemed struck by a sudden thought. "Jade, you should start by not revealing that you can create more than one of Jinn. Practice plenty, but do it in a way that doesn't reveal things to outsiders."

Jade nodded.

Ayla sighed. "This has suddenly gotten a lot more complicated."


Back in her room, Tansy opened up her laptop and dialed in to an anonymous email account. Jinn was gleeful. She could see through Tansy's eyes! She could actually read the screen! Even better, she took note of the password that Tansy typed in. She couldn't get the whole thing, but she got the got the first part: "Sex" followed by right-hand (one letter), left, right, left (five letters). She hoped she might guess the rest.

It was interesting to note that her reading speed was much faster than her host's. She read Cavalier's synopsis and tactical analysis of the fight. He had some interesting points, particularly regarding Tennyo:

"In my opinion, she never actually hit her limit. She was holding back the entire time. This makes her upper power levels difficult to gauge. She poses a significant threat. Fortunately, her self control is weak. She is often controlled by her emotions. This opens the door to a variety of tactics, such as drawing her off with a fast and agile opponent, so that her strength is wasted on a 'wild goose chase', rather than in the combat itself."

Of Fey he said:

"Astonishingly powerful for an untrained, freshman wizard. With more skill and training, she could pose an extreme threat. Her magic appears to be broad-based and not at all limited by power or energy concerns, as with many other wizards. Fortunately she remains vulnerable to close combat."

He dismissed Toni as a conventional martial artist, "Extremely well trained, has learned several special techniques, but otherwise ordinary," Jade as a "beginning gadgeteer, not a serious threat yet," and Ayla as a "versatile density manipulator, but rough on combat skills." Jann was listed as, "unknown, good punch, no assessment yet." And lastly, Hank was listed as:

"Extreme threat. Strong, invulnerable, flies. Reasonably good tactical intelligence. May be unstoppable without special measures. Vulnerable to Damper. Telepathic attacks may succeed. Gas or poison?"

She went on to read about the security investigation and Mindbird's probe of Tansy. She read how the team had been charged with assault without cause, and how they would receive their punishment Monday morning.

When Tansy finished, she leaned back in her chair and laughed.

Jinn had a very different reaction.


Back in Ayla's room (freshly checked for bugs and other eavesdroppers), Toni brought up the topic they hadn't wanted to face.

"Okay, Crew," Toni addressed her friends, "we have to start thinking about Monday morning. I've been thinking about this a lot, and the first thing that we have to remember when we go into this is: WE are NOT the bad guys. If we go in there like we got caught with our hands in the cookie jar, then we are dead meat. We blew it when security came. I gotta admit, that Walcutt bitch handled that like a pro. But then again, she probably has a lot of experience with that kind of thing." Toni realized something and looked at Ayla. "Ayla, you say that your family has been dealing with this crap for generations- so, private school bureaucrat, who apparently has it in for one of our crew, and according to Tennyo, is a Grade-A bitch; how would your father deal with her?"

Ayla leaned back and screwed up her face. "Well, every bureaucrat that I've ever heard of, academic or otherwise, was scared for her job. Since threatening her with the Goodkinds would be cutting our own throats, and none of the rest of you have families with real name recognition value, we can't use family influence. So we'll have to go with suggesting favoritism, incompetence, corruption, cowardice, or some combination of those."

Toni chewed on that for a bit. "Corruption is overplaying it, I think. After all, we're school kids, what can any of us offer an administrator?"

Billie perked up. "When I first met her, I noticed that Hartford was wearing that 'Alpha' pin that you see the Alpha bitches and some of the guys wearing. If she was a Whateley student, wanna bet that she was an Alpha when she was here?"

Toni gave a feline grin. "Bingo. We lead off by insisting that an investigation as to the disappearances of Jinn and Jann- who ARE registered as students- hasn't been begun. Then we hit her with the 'Are you cowardly or just incompetent?' charge."

"Only Jinn is officially registered," Jade corrected. "I never filed on Jann. But I did mention the 'murder' to security, back when I was getting my gun. And remember, we want to keep Jann, and Jeanie, and any other spirits a secret."

"I don't know why WE are the ones being called on the rug," Nikki grumped, "WE didn't start the fight, the Alphas did. We confronted Walcutt, but the Alphas were the ones who started getting violent."

"Good Point, Fey!" Toni nodded, "We still open with 'where are Jinn and Jann?' – okay, maybe 'where's Jinn?' – but if Hartford still keeps harping on us supposedly starting the fight, then we retaliate by confirming that we confronted, not attacked Tansy. We call as many witnesses as we can, until we-"

"I don't think that there's gonna be any witnesses," Hank grumbled, "Odds are, Hartford's just gonna call us into her office, yell at us and throw the book at us."

"Hartford doesn't have an office, just a nook in the open general office." Tennyo told them. "I think that she doesn't like that very much."

"Better and better. We go into the office and beat her to the punch, by loudly asking WHY nothing's being done about Jinn's disappearance."

"Whatever you do, Toni, don't yell." Ayla told her, "Yelling at a teacher or an administrator is an automatic charge of 'disrespect'. Whether it's a real charge or not, it's something that Hartford can beat us over the head with."

"Okay, then I'm gonna havta do most of the talking," the black girl insisted.

"Hell, you'd do that anyway," Tennyo grumped.

"Because, I can pitch my voice to be very clear and carrying, without actually raising my voice." Toni suddenly raised one eyebrow. "Come to think of it, that's not ALL that I can do with my voice."

"You're not gonna break the windows, are you?" Nikki asked worriedly.

"Not to worry, girlfrien', just gonna do a li'l voodoo." Toni grinned. "When we go in, I want Ayla by my side. Ayles, I want you to back me up. I do outraged PC, you do rules, regs, and consequences that could severely impact on Hartford's career. Guys, Ayla and I switch off; if Hartford tries to drag you into the debate, you hand off to one of us. Nikki, I want you flanking me, about a step to the rear; Hank, you flank Ayla, same way. Fey, if you can, put that Glamour that's always causing you so much trouble to work- intimidate the bitch with it. Hank, put on your best 'solider of honor' face." Hank nodded and gave her a thumbs-up. "Billie, Jade, I want you two to be the last to come in, the first to leave, and stick behind the rest of us as much as you can. We don't want Hartford focusing on either of you. We don't want her trying to stick a 'dangerous' tag on Billie again, and Jade, you DID shoot someone, so you're the most vulnerable target."

"Does it help that it was a non-lethal weapon?"

"Yeah, and we'll hammer on that as much as we can, IF the gun becomes an issue! But if it doesn't, we avoid the whole gun thing, right?"

Ayla looked thoughtful. "The real problem is, our defense relies purely on Jade's accusation that Tansy 'kidnapped' her 'sister'. How do we prove that Jinn didn't just change her name to Jann? Because she never stopped going to class!"

"But she DID!" Jade wailed.

"And I believe you, Sweetie! But try and prove that to Hartford. No, our best bet is to try and get a Change of Venue."

" 'Change of venue'?"

"Get someone besides Hartford to handle the matter. If she's wearing her 'Alpha' pin, maybe we can make an issue of her *ahem!* 'notorious preferential treatment of the Alphas', and maybe hassle the other people in the office to get someone else to take over."

"Does she really give the Alphas preferential treatment?"

Ayla shrugged. "I dunno. But either way, it's gotta be something that she's vulnerable to. Open bias for or against one group is career suicide for an Administrator. If she does favor the Alphas, then she's probably very careful to keep it under wraps. Tennyo, what was Hartford's general tack when you spoke with her?"

"Tack?"

"What approach did she use? Was she carefully neutral, openly hostile, dismissive, inquiring, sarcastic, what?"

"Oh, she was blatantly hostile to everyone and everything," Tennyo recalled.

"Did you get the impression that she was having a bad day, or did it seem like that's the way she normally is?"

"Well, from what I heard, she pretty much has a bug the size of a Volkswagen up her ass, 24-7."

"Okay, so she's used to being the aggressor, and putting everyone else on the defensive. So, we go on the offensive and stay there. Don't give up just because she doesn't fold after the first volley, and don't cave in, no matter what she says. With that attitude, she probably isn't that used to people standing up to her. I say, make it an all or nothing gamble- Either she lets us skip, or we get thrown out. But an expulsion would require a meeting of the board, and we can call witnesses, have telepaths scan our minds for lies and everything else that we can come up with. Hartford would never put her precious Alphas in a position where they'd get the boot. After all, if us attacking them is an expulsion charge, then THEM attacking US is too!"

Hank sighed and said, "Nope, nope, it doesn't work."

"Hunh?" Ayla all but hooted.

"We can't make a big deal of getting out of detention, or Kay-Pee, or whatever they have around here. Justified or not, we gotta accept the consequences of our actions, or we won't get any respect from anybody worth bein' respected by. We got in a fight, so we gotta pay the price. There is nothin' that says that we gotta put up with more'n a week or so of it, but if we get off scot-free, it'll be more trouble in the long run than it's worth. 

"Look, the Alphas never take any punishment, and how do people see them? Remember the Cooker King? That's us. We accept responsibility and we take their punishment and we don't even blink, because we're so damn tough we can take whatever they dish out!"


Jinn pondered her self-hypnotic message. It hadn't worked before, but she'd learned a bit since then. So she repeated her last message:

That damn ghost girl needs to be taught a lesson. You know what hurts spirits? Letting them free, for just an instant. Spirits need to be safe and protected, in a host. It hurts them to be out of the host. That would really show her, if I let her go for just a minute. She'd be begging me to take her back. A taste of the cold, cruel world would scare her to death. Then she'd do whatever I want.

But this time, she took the brainwaves of REM sleep and tried to beam them back at Tansy, while she delivered the message. At one point, she managed to achieve the harmonic effect that Tansy had shown with Cavalier. And sure enough, she heard the thoughts picked up and echoed by Tansy's mind.

Once REM sleep was past, Tansy moved into a deeper sleep. Suddenly intrigued by a new idea, Jinn tried echoing that, too. Could she force Tansy to fall asleep? She beamed the 'deep sleep' pattern back into Tansy's brain, but there was no effect.

Rising, the moved to her desk and unscrewed the bottle of sleeping pills. She popped two, then got gently dressed and grabbed her coat and a pair of sunglasses. She slipped out and headed for the window in the common room. Slipping quickly into TK mode, she floated to the ground and made her way down the walk toward Kane hall – where she (as Jann) recalled seeing the security facility when Jade had picked up her gun.

As she got there, she spotted a small patch of a familiar three-leaved plant. She knew from her work that they deliberately left patches of poison ivy here and there around the campus. As Morrie said, "It looks nice, it's evergreen, and encourages students not to mess with the plantings." There seemed to be a nice amount of it around Kane Hall. Perhaps a message not to fool around outside the security building?

Unsurprisingly, the exterior door was unlocked. She was surprised to see a person manning the glassed-in reception booth.

"Name and business?" The man asked.

"Tansy Walcutt," Jinn lied. "I – I'm concerned about the fight that happened this morning. I want to talk to someone in charge."

"That would be Lieutenant Reynolds. Hold on a bit. I'll see if he's available."

She waited in the front room, fiddling with her sunglasses, for about ten minutes. Finally, "Lieutenant Reynolds can see you now."

Jinn followed an escort in to another glassed-in office, a little farther down than Lieutenant Forsyth's office. Reynolds sat behind his desk and didn't rise to greet her.

"It's past curfew. You shouldn't even be out right now."

"I couldn't sleep. I had to get this taken care of."

He leaned forward. The tinge of his emotions was mild curiosity, but his vocal tones were hostile. "What exactly was important enough to make you break curfew, sneak out after lights out, and make your way into security?"

"I'm worried about those girls that attacked me this morning."

Reynolds leaned back in his chair. "Worried, how?"

"Well, they may have had some cause. And, now that you're going to throw the book at them, there's nothing to stop them from coming after me until I give them what they want."

His interest was definitely piqued now. "And what exactly do they want? Why do you say they had 'some cause'?"

She pretended to wrestle with a moral dilemma. She hoped she wasn't overacting, but she didn't have a lot of experience with this sort of thing. "I'm not going to incriminate myself."

"Miss Walcutt, we're campus security, not police. In any case, Whateley has always applied its own unique spin on the normal legal system. Now, why were they after you?"

"Well, you know that whole thing about draining that girl's sister? It's kind of true. I managed to get the other one at the fight – that's why all you found was an empty costume."

"Uh huh. So why didn't Mindbird find this when she scanned you?"

"Puh-leze," Jinn said, "I am a telepath. Probably a better one than she is." It sounded like a good explanation to her.

"And what do you get out of this?"

"Well, I'm an avatar. I never really told them that during my assessment tests. And so long as I hold onto the ghost-girl – that's what I call her – I get these cool telekinesis powers." She switched from possession to TK and rose a few feet in the air, before lowering back down again and returning to possession.

"Jim Dandy. Let me just make a few notes here. Okay. So, why did you feel compelled to visit security at this time, and give us this story?"

"Well, I wouldn't sleep right if I thought those girls were after me. So I want to drop the charges."

Lieutenant Reynolds steepled his fingers and stared at her. "I already told you: we're not a police force. We don't have crimes and charges. There aren't any charges to drop."

"Well, would it reduce their punishment if I asked you to be lenient on them? Or even to let them go completely?"

"Hmmm, perhaps. Would you be willing to go on camera to ask for leniency?"

"I'll try. Can we keep the light dark, so that I don't lose my night vision?" There was no way she could wear her sunglasses on camera. And if she opened her eyes, Tansy would wake up. But if the lights were down…

It was a job of juggling. Her words were a little stilted, but that was because she was busy "humming" the mental pattern for deep sleep. It's possible to sleep with your eyes open, particularly in dim light. That night, Tansy did exactly that. And Jinn got her on tape, confessing to the "kidnapping", inciting Team Kimba, and triggering the whole event.

She was surprised that Reynolds seemed so accepting of her story, but as they continued he seemed to get more and more gleeful. So gleeful, in fact, that he let her go after she taped her statement. He took fingerprints and retina prints (she had to hum extra long for that one) to confirm her identity, then let her walk back to the cottage. He didn't even offer an escort.


Jinn finished the letter. THIS time, she'd mail it directly to Tennyo. Tennyo checked her mailbox every day, so they'd find out quick enough. She would have called, but… she looked at the snipped phone cord in mild regret. Future note: finish communications first, THEN start the mischief. Still, they were probably asleep, and they'd get the letter tomorrow morning. They'd know that she was fine and that Tansy had confessed.

She hadn't mentioned anything in the letter that had happened before midnight. She'd decided that she'd woken at midnight. A nice spooky hour. That would be the official story. And for the important stuff, particularly about Champion, she wouldn't chance that to a letter that might get intercepted.  She had to tell someone, but it had to be someone she could trust. Otherwise, the avatars really would come for her, and she was certain she'd vanish forever.

She (as Jinn) was invulnerable to physical weapons, but the last week had proven that she was very vulnerable in some ways. Still, Tansy wasn't going to be the toughest foe she faced. So she considered her next move. So far, Tansy's main strength had been her money. She might not be able to counter that completely, but she could halt it temporarily. But how? She didn't want to just steal.

First she took her wallet. Tansy's wallet. Possession was aptly named in many ways. She took the first card, a VISA platinum, and examined it. That's when she got the idea. Dang, and after she'd cut the phone lines.

That's when she remembered Tansy's cell phone. She carefully dialed the number on the back of the card.

"Yeah, I was wondering if it was possible to cancel my card?"

"Why? Were they lost or stolen?"

"Oh, ah, lost. I loaned them to a friend, and he lost it. So I want to cancel it."

"Alright. We'll put a block on it. We'll mail a new card out right away. It should reach you in three to four days."

"Thanks!"

She repeated this for every card in Tansy's wallet. For good measure, she then cut the cards into little pieces, and dumped the pieces in the trash can. Then she removed all the money. She didn't want to steal it, but instead, she taped it to the inside top of Tansy's desk drawer. To find it, Tansy would have to pull the drawer out all the way, and then reach her hand in to the back. It wasn't stolen, since it was still (technically) in Tansy's possession. It's just that Tansy couldn't use it.

The last thing she needed was a way to make a big splash, announcing the return of her haunting.

She opened the handcuff, then hid the key (jammed under a bed slat where she could reach it but Tansy wouldn't find it). If they tried to use it, it would be more trouble for Tansy than it would be for her.

She spent another hour in the room, engaged in quiet mischief. She was careful to monitor Sahar's aura, so that the other girl never woke. Then, heading downstairs again, she raided the medicine cabinet. Hmmm, that looks promising. I wonder why a bunch of healthy teenagers need such a large supply? Oh well. Waste not, want not.

Now, time to take that last step? She debated with herself for a while, but decided that Tansy had really gone over the line when she absorbed Jann. So, she brought the scissors, shaving cream, and razor into the girls' bathroom, and proceeded to shave Tansy's head completely bald.

22: At last

Tansy shot out of bed, terrified by the deafening scream. Her eyes were still wide in shock as she glanced around the dark room.

"Two AM?" Sahar wasn't awake, so had she been the only one to hear the scream? Then she noticed all the plants in bed with her. "What the?"

It's called poison ivy, hag. Time for more haunting!

Still confused, barely awake, Tansy rolled out of bed. Was ghost-girl gone? "How long have you been back?"

Midnight, hag. I'm starting to like it here. I'm discovering such a talent for terror. My plan is to drive you into a sanitarium, where they put you when you try to take your own life.

The tone had became surprisingly malicious. Tansy had thought the naïve little ghost-girl was more of a victim, but this spirit was sounding disturbingly nasty. She scratched at an itch in her crotch and then at another in her armpit. Then she realized that she itched all over.

"God damn it! What were you doing, rolling in the stuff?"

Yep. I hope it doesn't cause too much trouble, they way I rubbed it up in our privates like that.

"You –! Hey, what do you mean 'OUR privates.' This is my body, ghost. You're just a bit of spirit that I have yet to digest."

Sahar rolled over and opened one eye, then both eyes popped open. "Oh, this is rich!" The dusky skinned girl remained in bed, but continued to watch her.

"What are you staring at?" She paused to itch at her crotch. The ghost-bitch had been serious!

"Did you know you've got little red spots all over your body?"

"Thanks, Einstein. Somebody gave me a bed full of poison ivy!"

"Wait – she's still with you?"

"Duh! What's the matter? Big telepathic brain not working so good this morning?"

"I can't really see her. Not like before. There's your mind, and maybe something else in there, but it's not obvious any more."

That's because we're merging. I'm taking you over. Damn, if I'm going to own this body, maybe I should treat it better. Good thing I didn't start any permanent self-mutilation yet.

They were like body blows to Tansy. "Merging? Self-mutilation? What do you mean about permanent?"

Sahar smirked at her. "And chrome-dome insults my intelligence!"

"What are you –" Tansy reached up to her head.

Between her screams and the shrieks, most of the floor got woken up. Which was a shame, since (for some reason), Tansy refused to come out and explain herself.


Sunday was a work day. It passed fairly quickly, despite the fact that they spent the day doing the regular maintenance cycle on the toilets in Shuster Hall. Jeanie got volunteered for all the nasty jobs (since she had no nose and no skin), although Morrie and Stan still called her Jinn.

Jade explained the whole deal, while Morrie and Stan gave advice. Well, it wasn't advice so much as "pot shots."

"Naw," Morrie said, "I'm just a janit– uh, plumber. I don't get into all this high and mighty posturing and stuff. If someone took something from me, I'd face 'em once and offer to bust their chops unless they gave it back. Threaten and then give some space. Maybe a fight, but lay out the rules and let them decide. And if that didn't work, I guess I'd figure out how valuable the stolen stuff was."

"And if it was really valuable?" Jade asked. "What then?"

"Well, like I said, I'm just a plumber. I'd scrape together enough cash, and hire a professional to make things right. I guess it's tougher for you, since you're sort of in training to BE that professional."

"But Walcutt's rich. If you hire somebody, couldn't she just make a better offer, or higher more professionals or something?"

Stan winced. "Rich? Ouch. That changes the whole game. You don't fight any millionaires in bars, and you especially don't threaten them with fists. Their idea of revenge isn't to hit you back, it's just to ruin you financially for the rest of your life."

Morrie nodded. "So you decide how much it matters to you. And if it's not important, you just walk away. No initial confrontation. If you can't walk away, you hire the professional and make sure the job gets done, whatever it takes."

Jade laughed. "You make it sound like you'd hire an assassin or something."

Morrie shrugged. "Hey, them rich guys got their own rules. If you're going to fight them, you have to decide what it's worth. And if you're going to go for it, you need to hit as hard as you can, before they figure out that there's anything to defense against. It's the only advantage ya got."


"My LAPTOP! What have you done with my laptop?"

I wanted to see how it worked. Don't sweat it. I put it back together again. Mostly. Actually, all she'd done was to disconnect the internal cables. She was sure any techie could fix it in about five minutes, most of that spent opening the case. But it was much nicer to leave Tansy in a panic.

"And what have you done with my cell phone, you slack-cunted, cum-dripping, freelance WHORE!"

Dang, what DID I do with that? Was that the thing I accidentally flushed? Or did I drop it in the garbage disposal? Oh, yeah, now I remember! I left it in the mailroom with a big sign saying, 'Tansy's phone. Let's find out how many free minutes I have!' I'm pretty sure the sign indicated that they should give it back – eventually. Actually, she'd pulled the battery. The phone was on top of the wardrobe, while the battery was buried in Tansy's dirty laundry.

"You bitch in heat! Destruction is too good for you. You're going to suffer like no one has ever suffered before!"

You could just use the regular phone.

"Someone cut the cord!"

Oh, right. Now I remember. I used the same nail clippers I used to cut back your nails. You should thank me. They were getting way too long.

"FUCK YOU!"


Jade tentatively knocked on the door.

"Coming. Keep your shirt on."

The girl that opened the door wasn't quite Hispanic – she looked more native Mexican-Indian. She also has a strip of scarlet that ran right down the center of her hair.

"Hi, I'm Jade Sinclair –"

"Toni's friend, right? One of the Kimba crew, study corner and all? I think we already met a couple of times."

"Yeah." Jade blushed a bit. "Anyway, I'm really here to see your roommate. Is she in?"

As Jade stepped into the room, she was astounded by one side of it. While Riptide's side was pretty normal looking, the other side, with the pig-tailed blonde (who was reading a thick electronics manual) was positively filled with dozens of stuffed rabbits and glassy-looking eggs of every size from tiny (less than an inch tall) up to wastebasket size (it seemed to be occupying the wastebasket location, too). Jade felt her eyes growing large.

"Ohmigawd! That is SO cute!" She was reaching toward one stuffed bunny who was holding a paintbrush and in the process of painting an Easter egg.

"You like it?" The blonde's voice was exactly what you'd expect from a bimbo. High, and just on the edge of squeaky. "Painter: decorate."

Immediately the bear started waving its brush. It held the egg in one hand, while applying intricate patterns to the surface.

"Wow! That is SO CUTE!"

"Eh, it's an early model, y'know? No real painting or manipulation. The egg has a 'smart paper' surface and just displays colors as it passes under the brush."

"But, wow! It's so cute!" Jade had another thought. "Hey, if it's so simple, could you license it as an Easter novelty? I'm learning that you never want to turn down extra income."

"Hmm, interesting idea. The current CPU and voice activation would go, but if I re-engineered the mechanics…"

"And you need to add a bow around his neck."

"How'd you know he was a guy?"

"He's an Easter bunny," Jade said, as if that explained everything. "Those on the wall are all guys. And that one, but those three are girls and so is that one."

"Hey, pretty good. But Sam's a girl, she's just a tomboy."

Jade nodded, agreeing. "Right. I see it now."

Riptide made a face. "Okay, I just passed my cuteness threshold. I'll be back later."

The blonde reached out her hand.  "I'm Bunny Cormick. Yeah, it's my real name. I go by 'Bugs.' And thanks for breakfast yesterday morning. Best meal I've had here, watching those snots get the stuffing kicked out of them." All this was delivered in a high-pitched bubble-headed voice.

"Jade Sinclair," Jade said, shaking her hand. "Yeah, that's kind of why I'm here, actually. Toni recommended you, and said she thought you were trustworthy."

"Trustworthy? What do you mean by that?"

"Is this room safe from eavesdroppers?"

"Was last time I checked. Sniffer: activate and search."

One of the eggs, about five inches tall, suddenly popped a helicopter rotor from its top. It began flying about the room. Occasionally, it would poke out a small probe or suction cup device. As it worked, lights glittered on its surface.

"What's the matter?" Bunny asked. "Got a problem with eggs?"

"No, it's not that. It's just – where in the world did you find pastel LEDs?"

"Specialty item."

In a few moments, Sniffer announced that the room was free from electronic surveillance. So Jade sat down and explained pretty much everything. Not the problems or issues the other girls had, but her own situation, and their broader strategic thinking.

"So, let me get this straight," Bunny said. "Jinn, who's now Jeanie – don't bother explaining, I got it the first time – is pretty much limited to punching and kicking, and you're looking for more stuff for her to do. And you, all you've got is Aikido and your gun (now confiscated), and you need a boost too."

"Well, I wouldn't put it exactly like that," Jade said. "I mean, it's accurate. I'd just be a little less blunt. Oh, but for me, I've got a plan. This is something we're trying to keep secret, but I can summon more than one of Jeanie. The next one is Jasmine."

"Hmm, yeah, I guess that would follow. More than one, I mean, not the name. Can you do any more?"

Jade shrugged. "The first one is easy. I can zap her, get her back, zap her, get her back. It's no big deal. The second one leaves me exhausted. If one of them don't come back, I'm fairly tired for about twenty minutes. I can do a third one, but I pass out. So I was figuring a second spirit, Jasmine, could help me while Jeanie is out fighting whatever. Only I'd disguise Jasmine as a bunch of devisor gizmos. So far, all I've really got is the gun, which they took."

Bunny smiled. "Hey, this could be really keen! Yeah, you'd be my guinea pig, while I try stuff under field conditions. All right! Stuff that works good I'll copy for myself – a girl can never be too safe, can she? And you'd have to pay for all your equipment – I'm not made of cash you know – but I'd only charge material, not labor or invention. Oh, and I get to be an auxiliary member of the team, okay? I mean TK, that's what some of us call Team Kimba, Nikki explained about the name. Like I said, TK is pretty keen. I mean, telekinesis and Team Kimba, and I guess you have both don't you? But I meant TK as in Team Kimba – you guys are getting a real rep, and hanging with you would just be tops! Especially since it'll keep me all close to Nikki. How can you stand it, being so close to her without just wanting to eat her up? Isn't she just too scrumptious? I hadn't figured on joining up with a group, not set up for the big fight scenes myself, don't like it, don't wanna, but as a sort of SIDE member, that would be keen, you know? Yeah, I think I could really go for this!"

Jade just giggled at her. "Well, I'll have to okay it with the crew, but since they're the ones who sent me here, and since they already trust you, I'll bet they're good with it. The money will take a while. I'm in hock for a couple of weeks paying for my confiscated gun. Jeanie and I both have jobs, so we make a little money."

"Two jobs? Handy." Bunny flopped her head from side to side, making her pig-tails flop back and forth like floppy ears. "Hey, can I meet your Jeanie form?"

"I kind of figured you'd want to." Jade hefted her backpack. She'd stuffed Jeanie's costume (complete with talcum powder and nearly 30 pounds of weight) inside. She charged it and the costume began to rise out of the backpack, inflating as it went.

"I'm undergoing some hypnotherapy to try to adjust my body image, so right now, Jeanie looks like me, but with my body image template moved up to the age of seventeen. I kind of like it. She can be my older sister."

The white-faced woman in the dead-black cape stepped forward to take Bunny's hand. "Pleased to meet you. I'm Jeanie Sinclair."

"Whoa! You really are two different people!"

"Yes, until we merge again," Jeanie said. "Then we're both just Jade. We remember both sets of memories. We're taking double classes. I expect a bit of flack from my fellow freshmen. It's going to look like I've grown three years over the weekend."

"Wow." Bunny seemed to have a thought. "Wait, I've read all the exemplar stuff. If she's really your body image template, that's a major advantage being able to manipulate your template through hypnosis. Majorly useful, particularly when you need a makeover. So why are you getting all the heavy therapy?"

"Why?" Jade gestured to her alter ego: tall, slender, and curvaceous. "That's me! That's what my soul is! That's what I'm supposed to be! Not stuck looking like I'm twelve! Not trapped in some stupid deformed body!"

Bunny looked horrified. "Oh, geez, I'm sorry! I guess I always assumed you really were twelve. How old are you?"

"Fourteen. My body seems to be stuck like this."

"Oh, man, I'm so sorry! You're as old as I am. I – Wait a minute. Day one, you were with the TG tour. When you said 'deformities' you didn't mean – ?"

Jade's face went nearly as white as Jeanie's. How could she get out of this? "You'll hate me."

"Of course I won't hate you! But if you trust me, can't you tell me the truth?"

Jade was curling up, unable to say anything, unable to even show her face.

Jeanie, on the other hand, was able to step forward. She gestured toward herself. "This is me, my soul. I'm completely female, and happily so. But growing up, I always knew there was something wrong. How would you like it, trapped in a body that was just wrong? That is what I go through, every time I'm stuck back in my physical body. Trapped in the wrong body – a distortion. A deformity. I think it's been getting worse. Every day I get to be me, Jeanie, a real girl. And I have to keep going back to that." She pointed at the curled-up form of Jade.

"Jeez, you trannies get it tough, I guess."  Bunny scooted over to the other bed and rested her hand on Jade's shoulder. "Hey, don't worry. I'm not going to hold it against you, if you suffered some weird accident of birth. And don't worry – this is Whateley. I'm sure you'll find a way out of your troubles."

Jade uncurled a bit and looked up, tears still shining on her face. "You don't hate me?"

"Naw. Besides, you're cute. And you like some of the same stuff I do" she said, gesturing at her rabbits. "And you're going to grow up to be a fox."

Jade gave a weak laugh. "If I ever get to grow up."

"Yeah."

Bunny reached up to grab one of her stuffed animals. "Here. Hug this. Makes everything better."

Jade did for a while, then reached into her pocket for something that looked like a quarter. She pressed it to the stuffed rabbit's throat, then seemed to sag in exhaustion.

"Hey, not so tight!" the stuffed bunny complained in a squeaky voice, as it squirmed free. "Sheesh, a girl could get squished in that grip." The stuffed animal finished wriggling free, then hopped up on top of Jade. "Hi, I'm Jasmine. I'd like to thank you for handing her one of the few girl bunnies." She hopped down and into Bunny's lap.

Bunny stared in astonishment at her toy come to life. "Wow! This is like so totally great!" She started to hug the bunny, then thought better of it. "Wait, if I hug you, does it hurt you?"

"Naw. No pain receptors at all in this form. Crush me, electrocute me, burn me, slice me to bits – I don't even feel it."

Bunny hugged the animal hard. "Wow! You know, someday you're going to make the most perfect mother!"

The three versions of Jade all went still as they stared at her and absorbed the idea. As one, they answered, "I sure hope so."

"Freaky."

The stuffed animal hopped free and bounced around a bit more. "So, we were figuring that I could stick around Jade and, I don't know, handle shields or stuff or something, and make it look like they were devisor gizmos. Only we need all the blinky lights and mechanical stuff."

Jeanie nodded. "And I'm kind of hoping to cultivate the 'mystic dark shadow powers' look." She seemed to stiffen for a moment, then the white faded from her as if her body was moving back into the shadow of her cloak. She drew her arms and legs in, until only the midnight-black cloak remained, as it flapped and glided about. Abruptly, the white limbs reappeared, as if Jeanie were stepping out of the shadow.

"That's the best I've got so far. I really need more attacks and stuff, but I'd like to tweak them to match the theme."

Bunny shook her head. "Huh! How did you do that?"

Jeanie held out her arm. Her skin was powder white, and the glove was midnight-black, like her cloak.

"I'm still fiddling with the design. I had to substitute lycra for the arms – long story – but this is getting closer. My 'skin' is actually talcum powder. I could go for something more flesh tone, but I like the white effect. Kind of Japanese, and more spooky. Better contrast when I 'fade to black', too. All I do is shift the talcum powder inside the sleeve of the outfit though small slits. Watch, I'll do it slowly."

As Bunny watched, the white of the arm seemed to sift slowly away, vanishing somewhere into the sleeve. Soon there was only the lycra black, which became invisible when pulled up into the dead black of the cloak's interior.

"It's got a couple of problems," Jeanie explained. "First, I have to switch modes. TK-object mode, versus human body mode. I just learned how to do that from a letter, and I'm still practicing. I'm a little stilted at it, but give me time. Second is the big one. Once I can flap around as a cloak, I'm not sure what to do. There's got to be some way to sneak places, or attack, or something."

Bunny nodded. "Wow. I've got about a thousand ideas. But the first thing you're looking for is special effects, isn't it?"

All three visitors nodded in sync.

"You came to the right place! Special effects are my specialty!"


Tennyo looked up as Jade and Jeanie came back. "How'd it go?"

Jade groaned.

"That bad?"

"That good," Jeanie corrected. "Friend for life, a smart pretty girl who has likes the cutest stuff, and she actually wants to make special effects and even other gizmos as fast as she can think of them."

"So what's the problem?"

Jade groaned again.

Jeanie shrugged and explained. "Well, we've kind of already spent the next few paychecks. And now it just got worse."


Tansy resolved to hang on for just two more days. Two more days, and she'd release the hell-spirit. She'd given up trying to bed Sebastiano again. There was simply no hope for that – not until her hair grew back. Fortunately, she knew of a mutant that could stimulate healing, cell regeneration, and the growth of hair and fingernails. It would mean the difference between weeks and years.

Her wig would be arriving tomorrow, thanks to a loan from Sahar of both laptop and funds. That had really galled – asking (never begging, a Walcutt doesn't beg) for both computer and cash from her usually destitute roommate. At least now she had a replacement cell phone and laptop coming in.

The laxative had finally worked its way through her system.

Security had been trying to talk to her all day – she'd put them off with stories (passed through Sahar) of a "sudden illness." She'd find out what that was about Monday morning. They probably just wanted to notify her that they were expelling all the little shits who'd dared to attack her.

But her mind was focusing more and more on her deal with Thuban. The terms were still crystal clear in her mind. One full day, with her under the control of a telepath (that part had been a bit unclear). Some protection from pain, since the telepath would share any pain she felt. No permanent damage, no public appearances, and no records. That left a disturbingly wide field that she'd agreed to.

At the time, she'd been confident that ghost-girl would strengthen her mental defenses enough to protect her against any telepathic attack. And if they couldn't establish their control, the deal was that Tansy would walk. So no matter how bad the demon-girl got, Tansy had to hold on. Two more days, she told herself. Just two more days.

She lay down on her bed, spread-eagle, as Sahar clicked the four handcuffs shut. Each hand and each foot was solidly bound to the solid iron frame of her bed.

"Let's see you get out of this, Demon."

I feel a case of weak bladder coming on, as soon as you fall asleep!

"Oh, thanks for the reminder. Sahar, can you slide in that bedpan?"

"Five thousand is not enough for this indignity."

"Hey, I'm the one chained to the bed!"


The second floor sunroom was usually reserved for study. In any case, it was the third-floor sunroom that had the 45-inch rear-projection screen. Admittedly, it was usually home of the mighty sophomores (and a few not-so-might juniors), but Hank led the group fearlessly in to the dreaded TV Room.

There was scattered applause. The "Breakfast Battle" had been entertaining, impressive, and showed everyone that Poe folks could kick serious Alpha butt. The team was still riding a brief swell of popularity.

"Thank you, thank you." Hank raised his hands, accepting the accolades. "But tomorrow morning, we have to face the music. In preparation for that dreaded event, we request the TV for the next few hours to study the mighty Steve McQueen, as he struggled against forces even more evil and demonic than the Whateley Administration… er, no offense Sara."

Sara waved off the imagined insult.

"My friends," he held the tape aloft, "I bring you – The Great Escape!"

The crowd applauded, and made room for Hank and the girls up front. Just as it began to play a pair of floating gloves entered the room, carrying a huge bowl. "We made popcorn, too!"


They didn't walk, they marched toward administration. Just as they'd planned. Ayla and Toni in front, Hank and Fey behind and flanking them, Jade and Tennyo keeping low profiles in the rear. After a moment, they were all walking in step, so it actually became a march.

Everyone wore their school uniform, and they'd made an effort to look as sharp as possible.

Upon reaching the glass-fronted door labeled "Administration", Ayla opened it and the group marched inside, still in formation, and approached Ms. Hartford's secretary. The time was 7:59.

The secretary looked immediately intimidated, despite the fact that Hank, the tallest of the group, was a mere five-foot-six.

"Uh, you're the students from Poe? I'll tell Ms. Hartford that you're here."

The secretary used her phone to ring the woman in the cubicle behind hers. Never once looking at them, Amelia Hartford picked up her phone.

"Yes? They are? I'll be able to see them in a few minutes."

She then proceeded to type on her computer, while the team stood and waited. After a few minutes had passed, Ms. Hartford phoned her secretary and instructed the girl to "show them in."

The group stepped forward a few feet, remaining in step and in formation.

"Well," Ms. Hartford said, with an unpleasant smile of malicious pleasure, "I suppose you know why you're here."

"Yes we do. We're here to find out why nothing has been done to investigate the abduction and possible murder of Jinn Sinclair." Toni's voice was level – there was no trace of anger or shouting, but somehow it carried throughout the entire open office. And there was no mistaking the unbending, rock-solid purpose behind her words.

"What? That's not it at all! You're here to explain why we shouldn't expel the lot of you!"

"Ms. Hartford," Ayla said, "I just want you to know that we don't believe the rumors. In fact, we've been asking people not to spread such malicious gossip."

"Rumors?" The woman seemed momentarily derailed by this attack from an unexpected direction.

"I'm sure there's no truth to them, Ayla," Toni responded, in her clear voice. "Let's just move on to the investigation, and the progress you've made so far."

"What are you talking about?!"

"Why, the investigation into the abduction or murder of Jinn Sinclair. Didn't I mention that? I'm sorry."

With a visible effort, Ms. Hartford wrenched control of the discussion back to herself. "First, all of you, SIT DOWN. That's an order!"

Fey reached out a hand, and six chairs slid out of adjoining cubicles. They smoothly slid into position behind every member of the group. There wasn't anything you could pinpoint about Fey's face or expression, but she suddenly looked extremely dangerous. The impression given was that she might just as easily have caused flames to burst from every desk, or nightmarish creatures to erupt from her alien eyes. For a moment, everyone saw her as a creature that was not human at all, who worried as little over the social restraints of these petty humans as she might worry about the pecking order of a flock of chickens.

The entire group sat, in sync and in formation.

"Now then," Toni resumed, "the abduction was reported on Tuesday the twenty-sixth, and this is now Monday the second. What progress has been made in the last seven days? Although security hasn't bothered to contact us, we have additional information on the case."

"BE SILENT! We are not discussing any so-called 'abduction.' We are discussing the grotesque and completely unacceptable events of Saturday morning! We are discussing," her voice took a nasty edge, "EXPULSION."

Toni nodded calmly. "Ah. I understand. We've talked about it, and we'd like to request leniency –"

"Now we're getting somewhere."

"– since we don't think the Alphas should be expelled."

"WHAT?"

"It's true that they acted hastily in attacking us, but they might have thought they were defending Walcutt. They probably didn't know what she was guilty of. They should be given the benefit of the doubt."

Ms. Hartford seemed to visibly contain herself. "We are speaking of YOUR expulsion. Nothing is being done to the Alphas, since they were obviously innocent victims of your brutal attack!"

Ayla said, "Well, I can see how the rumors started."

"WHAT ARE THESE RUMORS?"

"I'm sure they're nothing. They claim that the reason behind your 'notorious preferential treatment for Alphas' is because you're an old Alpha alumna yourself. I can't believe that at all. The school wouldn't possibly be so foolish as to assign an Alpha alum to such a sensitive case."

Ms. Hartford refused to be led astray this time. "Good. Now that that's behind us, let's begin discussing concessions. If you wish to avoid expulsion, in addition to your punishment –"

"You aren't, are you?" Ayla broke in.

Ms. Hartford simply glared at Ayla, as if considering which pit of Hell to consign her to.

"You aren't an Alpha alumna, are you?"

Taking a deep breath, she said with icy calm, "My past social life has NO bearing on the facts of this case, which is that you brutally planned and executed a group assault on an unsuspecting student! That is the ONLY thing we are discussing? DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?"

Although Ms. Hartford shared an open desk in the common area of office workers, the position of her desk had special importance. Behind her was the door leading to the office of the Headmistress, Elizabeth Amelia Carson. Somehow, in the moments before Ms. Hartford began to shout, the doorknob was seen to turn slightly, and the door accidentally swung partway open.

"Is there a problem, Ms. Hartford?" came the velvety voice from the office beyond.

"No, Ma'am." Her voice was suddenly level and completely controlled.

A moment later, the Headmistress herself was striding forward. Although she was clearly only in her mid-thirties, it was also apparent that she must have seen a great deal of life and the world. Something about her eyes, her poise, and the absolute confidence with which she carried herself with spoke of power and sophistication that would be the envy of a senior diplomat.

"Ah, yes, the Poe team." The gaze she leveled at them was both stern and understanding. "Are they objecting to their detention?"

"We… hadn't actually gotten that far, Ma'am."

"Really?" She turned to look at Toni. "What seems to be the problem?"

Toni licked her lips and then launched into it. "We were surprised that the Alphas were not even being spoken to, and were asking Ms. Hartford whether she was an Alpha alumna. Since there are rumors of her favoritism."

The Headmistress's eyes seemed to twinkle. "Rumors, are there? We can't have that, can we? Particularly since Ms. Hartford is an Alpha alumna. Amelia, from now on make sure that any cases involving Alphas, in any way, are passed on to someone else. We can't let such scurrilous rumors start. Indeed not."

"For the record," she looked at Toni first, then faced them all, "we will be questioning the other students involved quite closely. Particularly in light of Miss Walcutt's rather unusual confession."

That hit them all like an electric shock.

"In a school like Whateley, it's absurd to think that there won't be occasional conflicts. We provide many controlled avenues to express those conflicts, as Miss Chandler here has already exploited. We do not tolerate unsupervised brawls, and will take swift action to stop them. We most especially do not tolerate unsanctioned fights between teams, groups, or mobs. This is absolutely forbidden, as has been expressly laid out in your handbook. In the future, if you witness such action, you may step in to halt or defend. You may not strike, hit, or attack in any way! Consider it an exercise in restraint and control. Do you understand me?"

In unintended unison, they nodded and said, "Yes, Ma'am."

"Excellent. Now, for your detention, I think a full seven days of chores at Hawthorne should satisfy things. I expect your Alpha friends will get the same, although perhaps we'd better leave them to pick up the following week. That will give you an extra incentive – the better you do, the higher the standard they'll be expected to meet."

Her gaze firmed as he looked over them one last time. "Are there any questions?"

"No, Ma'am."

"Excellent. Now, if you hurry, you might still be in time for your first-period classes."


They did make their classes, just barely. That didn't prevent them from whooping and hollering in the hallways, hugging each other, and engaging in numerous high-fives.

It was only afterward that they stopped to consider the terms of their detention.


Tansy pulled at her arm. "Dammit! I have to go to the bathroom! How could you lose a key?" She wanted to yell at the stupid cow, but her higher brain kept telling her that without Sahar's help, she'd be in big trouble.

Oh, that's the ORIGINAL handcuff, isn't it? Demon-girl chimed in. Yeah, I remember finding the key for that. I figured you didn't need it anymore, so I flushed it.

"You WHAT?"

Flushed it. You know – toilet? It's where most people go when their bladder is ready to burst, like yours is. Sorry, the key's gone.

"Sahar, forget it." Tansy said in a shaky voice. "I'll take the bedpan. I think you need to find someone who can cut these cuffs."

Sahar looked at her in disbelief. "You want to cut them off?"

"Demon girl flushed the key."

"Didn't you say those things were rated for TK-4? That includes pyrokinetics, and cryokinetics, and energizers. Good luck."

Her mind had a sudden thought. Trevor! Or Ayla, or whatever he was calling himself these days. He could phase through things! Good old Trevor would have her out in about two seconds!

Then she remembered calling them all names, the fight, and getting them expelled.

"Fuck."

And the demon-spirit laughed.


Jeanie managed to get to Dr. Bellows' office.

"May I help you? I'm rather busy, so I only have a moment." He did a double take. "Miss Sinclair?"

"The whole 'growing up' suggestion obviously worked, but not until Saturday afternoon! What happened?"

"Well, hypnosis is not an exact science. Often, the suggestion is made, but the mind needs to 'mull it over' for a few days. Then, when you least expect it, the suggestion takes root.

"I'm more interested in your physical form, though. Now that your body image template is so much different, have you noticed any changes in your physical body?"

"Not yet, Doctor."

"Keep watching, and tell me if you see anything."


The team gathered in their study corner to read over the detention notices. Tennyo was looking a bit sheepish.

"Uh, I sort of got this letter from Jinn," she admitted. "It tells all about the confession. I think it came in Sunday or maybe this morning."

Everyone glared at her.

"Look, it's not my fault! I got the letter I was expecting in Saturday's afternoon mail! Why would I check my mail on Sunday? Mail isn't delivered on Sunday!

"Besides, it turned out okay anyway, right? I mean, Hardass sure got smacked down. And the Alphas getting detention, too? Sweet!"

Jade tried to keep glaring, but she was unable to remain irritated at Tennyo. Instead, she snickered. "Yeah, Ms. Hartford looked like she was constipated!"

Everyone broke up as they recounted their favorite part of the confrontation, until Toni pulled them back to the letters they'd received.

"So, my letter is from the House Mother at Hawthorne. You get the same?"

Everyone else nodded.

"Starting Wednesday and for the next seven days, from 4 PM to 6:30, I am assigned duties consisting of clean-up, washing, light maintenance, and 'personal assistance' for one cottage resident. I have a list of candidates below that."

They had all received identical letters except for Jade, who had received two letters (one for Jinn).

"The siren girl doesn't sound so bad," Tennyo opened, as she read down the candidate list. "Just replacing her soundproofing. I'll bet most of it's on the ceiling, I could float up for that. Piece of cake."

Ayla shook her head in disbelief. "Billie, she shatters glass with the sound of her voice. By accident. Do you want to be there when she starts her singing lessons? Say goodbye to your eardrums."

"I regenerate. They'll grow back."

"Hey, Fey, this guy that creates hobgoblins whenever he has a daydream sounds right up your alley."

"Gosh, thanks so much, Hank. I'd recommend you for the little girl who lifts six tons and doesn't know her own strength, except that half the job is dressing her, and you're obviously a guy."

"I, or I mean, Jeanie could take most of these," Jade said. "Except for the energy drainer who ices up his room. But I don't see many that I could take."

"You could do the cleaning for 'Skunk girl'. No danger there."

"Good point. And I'm used to the sewer. But I'm kind of interested in the avatar with the too-powerful spirit. I've taken a sudden interest in avatars. I might learn something."

Fey looked toward her roommate. "See any good possibilities?"

"Well, discharging everything that 'Static Girl' touches doesn't sound great. I'm kind of interested in Dr. Heavy, with his local gravity-field adjustment. Ever since Jade talked me into watching Dragonball…"

And the discussion continued.


Jinn moved her harassment campaign into high gear. Tansy missed school on Monday, so she spent much of the time alone in her room, with only Jinn for company. Sometimes Jinn heckled her. Her barbs were getting a little sharper, since she could sense from Tansy's emotions which jabs struck home. Sometimes Jinn would give her an unpredictable amount of silence, broken abruptly by hideous screams. She made up stories, saying that she'd cleaned out Tansy's bank account and donated the money to Greenpeace, or that she'd sold the credit cards to a hacker she'd met in Emerson, or that she'd snuck into security and confessed to being an avatar and swallowing Jinn. She said that she'd hired Nex to do a hit on herself so the insurance money would go to her family.

The wig, cell phone, and laptop arrived that afternoon. Tansy was able to make herself presentable again. But with Jinn working full-time on harassment, Tansy found it impossible to get to sleep that night.

Jinn made a mistake. She tried possessing Tansy before the girl was completely asleep. To her surprise, she discovered that possession was much easier than the last time she'd tried. Or rather, it was easier since the last time she'd tried with Tansy awake. Now, even though Tansy was awake, she could pull herself into a point. That meant that she could temporarily grab control of her TK powers. Tansy could fight her to a standstill, but only if the girl concentrated full-force on it. Similarly, she could actually possess Tansy's body. If the girl concentrated on it, she could regain control. The problem (for Tansy) was that she got tired, and Jinn didn't.

It was a mistake that was turning into a boon – for Jinn at least.

So Monday's bedtime was not pleasant. Jinn kept speaking with Tansy's voice, slipping in statements that were embarrassing or insulting. She forced Tansy to slap herself, begin undressing, and perform all manner of painful or embarrassing acts. And once Tansy had actually managed to handcuff herself to the bed (she needed Sahar's help), Jinn kept up a constant barrage of irritations that kept the girl wide awake. Yelling in the ear (with enough TK force to nearly deafen) was a good one. TK pinches to the skin were effective, as was using her TK to close off the nose and throat, so that Tansy was forced awake on the verge of suffocation.

Tansy finally got Sahar to give her two sleeping pills. Even that didn't work, so by one AM, she convinced Sahar to give her a third. That, and her extreme exhaustion, finally gave Tansy some sleep.

Jinn grimly returned to the post-hypnotic suggestions.


Tuesday morning, Tansy wearily dragged herself out of bed. She stared at her ugly bald head in the mirror. Not completely bald, now. Stubble was beginning to grow out.

She considered the past week's efforts. On the plus side, her plan to steal a spirit and sleep with The Don had worked. She'd bedded him and set her hooks in place, even if she'd only managed it once. And with his unintended discovery that she loathed his touch, he was unlikely to use the old veggie-brain trick on her, so she could possibly sleep with him again, even after dumping the demon-spawn in her head.

On the down side, she'd spent nearly forty thousand dollars, been through hell, she'd been shot, she had a whole team of killer freshmen that wanted her dead, she hadn't had a decent night's sleep since – she couldn't even remember when. All her beautiful hair was GONE. Half her wardrobe was still missing, and God only knew what else the hell-spirit had done to her.

She plopped the wig on her head and frowned. She looked spectacularly better. Almost as good as when she woke up on a bad day and looked at her 'morning face' in the mirror.

Just let me get through the meeting with Thuban this afternoon, she silently prayed.

While she was distracted, her left hand crept up and snatched the wig off again.

Tansy wanted to cry.


Perhaps it had been a mistake to use a half-bottle of spirit gum to attach the wig to her head. True, the occasional uncontrolled snatches at it were unsuccessful. On the other hand, she wasn't sure how she'd ever get the thing off again.

She hadn't dared sit with the other Alphas at breakfast. They seemed to be glaring at her for some reason. A quick check in the mirror hadn't shown anything wrong, but her confidence was shaken.

In her first period class, she was able to keep herself under control. True, she got caught with her legs wide open, she belched in class twice, and the teacher called on her to ask her to pull her finger out of her nose. But she was able to stop the demon-girl from doing anything worse.

She decided to skip her second and third classes, and rest up for lunch.

Unfortunately, lunch was hell for a different reason.

First, Hekate was back, tanned, rested, and satisfied.

"I only inherited a little over sixty-five hundred. It will make simply darling pocket money, but nothing to write home over. The vacation itself probably cost a bit more than that. It was simply divine. Maui is so nice at this time of year – just before the tourists hit, you know."

The witch peered at her with those evil little beady eyes. "Why Tansy, dear, what in the world happened to you? Pardon my language, but you look like hell."

"Rough week," was all she ground out.

"Yes, I heard. It sounds SO exciting! I heard you got shot by a twelve-year-old girl!"

Tansy said nothing.

"Oh, and you missed the detention hearing yesterday, too."

She suddenly noticed how intently the rest of the table was glaring at her.

"Apparently everyone who came to your defense has been given detention. Starting next Wednesday, you all get to do janitor duty for the freaks in Hawthorne who are too far gone to control their own bodily functions, if you catch my drift."

"That's impossible! There's no way that Ms. Hartford would let –"

"Oh, this didn't come from Hartford," Aries said, from across the table.

"No," Kodiak agreed in his bass rumble. "This came down from Carson herself." He gave a smile of grim satisfaction. "But don't worry. We already looked through the list. We're saving the best job for YOU."

She looked back and forth between angry faces. "But – what did I do?"

Hekate beamed at her. "Dear little Tansy. You're an ALPHA. And you're guilty of the worst crime of all. You got caught."

It was now, officially, the worst day of her life.


Once again she made the fearsome trek into the basement of Twain. Under safe escort, she passed again through the impossibly long hallway, and descended into the strange cavern under the cottage. She threaded her way between the underlit pools and bottomless chasms to the huge tent in the cavern's center.

The journey was not made any easier by the demonic spirit that constantly heckled in her mind. Loser! LOSER! Tansy messed up! The Alphas all hate you! I hope you enjoy your week of scrubbing toilets, BALDY!

She'd had about all she could stand. A person can be pushed only so far before she snaps, and Tansy was nearing her limit. She held on by promising herself that she was close to the end.  As soon as she was done with Thuban, she'd dump the hell-spirit, and her life could get back to normal.

She climbed the rock formation to reach the front of the torch-lit pavilion. Pulling aside the silk curtain, she stepped in. Once inside, she remained standing, as she faced the half-reptilian form of Thuban, where he lounged on his pile of gold coins.

"Let's get this over with, Thuban. I've got things to do."

"Indeed, yesss. It would seem that your ssspirit passenger has kept you quite busy."

"Yeah, whatever. The deal was that your telepath would have a chance to take me over. Believe me, I've gotten a lot of practice resisting that sort of thing in the last few days. If she can't hack it, I'm walking."

"Sssubstantially correct. And if you fail, I have the use of your form for the next twenty-four hours. No permanent damage, no records, nothing public. That wasss our deal."

"Let's do it." She wanted this over as fast as possible.

"In a moment. But firssst, I thought you might like to know the plansss I have for you."

"I could care less what –"

The curtain behind Thuban was pulled aside. Behind him stood a medium height American Indian, with a tracery of strange black designs on his face.

"Thisss isss Ssskinwalker. He'sss not a telepath. He possessesss people. He will have total access to your knowledge, memories, skills. Everything you know, everything you are. He isss not eager to possesss a female, but hasss decided that he needs to do this as a lessson to focusss his powersss. Plansss for the future, I'm told. Perhapsss some other female. In exchange for becoming completely familiar with your body, he will perform a small service for me.

"Don't worry. You will be awake and aware the entire time. Merely helpless."

Tansy was shaking her head side to side, but she knew she was trapped. Her agreements, her promises. The only hope she had was resisting this monster that wanted to possess her.

"And now, you should sssee the reason behind thisss agreement."

Thuban gestured, and the second curtain was pulled away. On the other side was the seven-and-a-half foot tall sasquatch-like form of 'Montana'. Two years ago, when they'd both been freshmen, she'd pretended to 'see beyond' his grotesque façade. She'd made him believe that a freak like him actually stood a chance with a dream girl like her. And when he'd swallowed her tale hook, line, and sinker, and had actually fallen in love with her, she had led him through an ever-worsening spiral of pain and humiliation. If she recalled correctly, it had finally ended with her publicly mocking him in front of the entire school at dinner.

As far as she'd been concerned, it had worked out well. She had passed her initiation into the Alphas with flying colors. And Monty – well, he had vanished back into the shadows, hiding himself away, the way freaks like him were supposed to. Aside from being careful to watch her step whenever she was in the vicinity of Twain, she'd always considered the affair to have worked out quite nicely.

Until now.

Everyone has their breaking point, and Tansy's was swiftly approaching.

"It ssseems that promisesss were made, two yearsss ago. Promisesss you never intended to fulfill. I intend to sssee them upheld. Perhapsss not as pleasantly as they might have been, had you held even a drop of the affection you pretended to. But as you use people, ssso they will use you. No better, no worssse."

She wanted to run, but she knew she'd never outrun Monty's huge legs. And his long, massive arms waited to tear her apart.

"You promised! No damage! Nothing permanent!"

"Nor ssshall there be. At mossst, a few bruises."

And that's when the hell-spirit made its most unspeakable pronouncement.

Well, that's a real pain! Particularly since I swapped in aspirin for all your birth-control pills!

As she snapped, she lashed out at the only element she still had control over. "You fucking ghost! You want to feel pain? Try being outside your host for a minute! How the hell do you like that?"

She didn't release the spirit – she shoved it away as violently as she could. She'd take it back in a second, before Skinwalker could attack. The spirit would be weak and sorry then, and beg her for mercy. Then maybe she'd be able to do something.

But the spirit didn't come back, and Tansy began to realize that she'd just made a BIG mistake.


Jade jumped bolt upright. "SHE'S BACK! OHMIGOD, OHMIGOD! Jinn is back!"

The others rushed to her. "Are you sure?"

"Of course I'm sure. I remember –" Her eyes crossed. "—or was that – I think I –" For just an instant, something within the small girl stood out with intelligence and coherence. "Tennyo, did I ever tell you what happens when I have to merge in a week's worth of memories?"

Her roommate shook her head. "What happens?"

But Jade's eyes had already rolled up in her head. "I feel sleepy." The young girl would have collapsed to the floor, if her roommate hadn't dived forward to catch her.

Jeanie looked at the young girl, cradled in her roommate's arms.

"Great. Looks like I get stuck with all the homework."

Arriving late, Toni and Sara came running up.

"What's going on?"

Tennyo looked up from the girl in her arms. "She said that Jinn was back."

Sara listened, while trying not to lose her balance. The half-demon girl could project tentacle-like appendages from any part of her body. Right now, she was trying to use tentacles to simulate a traditional devil appearance, with small horns poking out of her forehead, and a twisting spade-tipped tail that snaked out of her miniskirt. The tail was still interfering with her balance. "So why's the kid unconscious?" she asked.

Jeanie floated forward, in her black cape and bone-white skin. "When I bring my separate memories together, I have to 'integrate' all the different experiences and thoughts. When there are more than a few hours of separate experience, I fall asleep, as my brain tries to process all the information. I'll be fine when I wake up tomorrow. I explained it all in a letter that I wrote to myself."

The demon girl flexed, and suddenly sucked the horns and tail back into her body. "You know," she decided, "I think I like this place. It's weird, but it grows on you."

In Tennyo's arms, the sleeping girl began to snore.

The end of

Jade 4 – Bottle a Jinn

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A Whateley Academy Tale

First Assembly

by Babs Yerunkle, Bek D. Corvin, ScramblerJ, Starwolf, and Maggie Finson

Whateley Academy  September 7, Thursday

You can look forward to it, you can dread it, but no one can escape the First Day of School. Toni woke up feeling pretty good. The night before, Toni and her crew had managed to stop a team of ninjas who had tried to steal Poe Cottage's mascot bust of Edgar Allen Poe. At the time, they thought that it was some upperclassmen from another cottage trying to score points on Poe. Well, they were partially right, it was a status thing, only it wasn't from another cottage, it was from another school, some place in Japan. Apparently, one of the things that they do is send in teams to 'count coup' on Whateley, and this is the first time that anyone's ever caught them at it. So, 'Team Kimba', as they were gonna call themselves, were off to a pretty good start.

It was early, and most of the cottage wasn't up yet, so Toni decided to go for a jog around Campus. She slipped on her red jogging outfit, slipped some Macy Grey into her DVD player and was out the door before anyone could tell her that she couldn't do it. It was six-thirty in the morning in early September, high in the Presidential Mountains, so it was pretty nippy and the dew was thick on the ground. In other words, perfect jogging weather.

   Now, Toni was not a 'morning person', but she had to admit that there's something weird about going around in the early morning. Nice weird, but still weird. There's that sense of being all alone, like the entire world is an empty theater. If she hadn't been tripping on that, no one would have snuck up on her like that.

A guy in a black bomber jacket and chinos popped out of bush. "Chaka!"

She broke out of her stride and reflexively went on guard. "That's me. And you are?"

"Nobody's ever caught any of the Yama Dojo teams before."

"Yeah? And?"

"The Devil School isn't exactly known for a 'better luck next time' mentality. And they're patient. They can wait for years, decades even before they arrange a suitable death."

Okay, a little too 'bad ninja movie', Toni said to herself but then the whole 'breaking in to steal a token prize' was a tad 'manga' as well. If there's one, there's sure to be more. She broke out of her stance into a backwards handspring roll, and then broke into a run. She didn't want to be handling this guy until she had a sense of where his backup was. Then she spotted him: black bomber jacket, chino pants, cheesy sun glasses- and an aluminum suitcase. Somehow, Toni didn't think that he was carrying the details of a health plan in there. More likely, it was the Yama Dojo's ace-in-the-hole gizmo, and she didn't want to find out what it was first hand.

She did a power-leap over him, and ran up the side of the building, across the roof and dropped down to the ground-

-right in front of yet another guy in a black bomber jacket and chinos. He was carrying something that required a portable power generator. "Stop!"

Yeah, right, like that was gonna happen! Toni lit out, and almost ran into the first guy. She did a quick ninety-degree angle turn and discovered that her exit was blocked by the guy with the aluminum suitcase.

It turned into a nasty game of Go, with the three operatives masterfully herding Toni into a covered loading dock. She was penned in, with no way out. The first guy said, "Finally! Now we can get down to business!" He reached for the aluminum suitcase.

Well, Toni hadn't wanted to get violent, but these bozos weren't giving her any choices. Before Bozo #1 could open the suitcase, Toni lashed out with a sweeping kick that knocked the first two off their pins. The third guy dropped his gizmo and tried to restrain her, but Toni was too quick for him. For the rest of the fight, Toni kept the three men, who were obviously very well trained in unarmed combat, bouncing off the walls.

Finally, the last guy went down for the count. Toni gave a deep breath to calm herself down. Well, so much for that, she thought. I wonder how they got through security. So, let's see what laughing boy here was so eager to get to. She carefully opened the case.


"It was what?" Nikki asked incredulously.

"Recruiting materials." Toni passed glossy brochures to the rest of 'Team Kimba' as they sat together at breakfast. "It seems that I spent my morning beating up a bunch of recruiters from the CIA." She held up one brochure. "Hmmm... Health and Dental Plan. Yeah, they had materials for their whole 'sales pitch' in the suitcase, and the other gizmo was a portable slide projector."

"You know, I thought I saw some guys like that earlier going to and from flight class. But Angel was with me and maybe they didn't want to try anything with someone else there." Tennyo told the group. Everyone turned and looked at her.

"Hey! Don't look at me! My parents may be in the CIA, but they told me before I left that it wasn't the best career choice to make and that if I was approached by anyone to think it over really carefully before agreeing to anything."

"Your own parents said that?" Ayla asked.

"Yeah. Said it was okay if you're single, but when you want to try and settle down, it can really suck."

"And you want to settle down? Did you have someone in mind?" Asked Jade. Tennyo just blushed as the rest of the group giggled.

Then Beltane walked up. "Morning, Children of the Hour! I understand that you had a busy night last night!" She sang cheerfully. Then she spotted the brochures. "Oh, you've been rushed already? My, someone IS on the ball!"

"Rushed?" Ayla asked as she looked up from a brochure that made working for the CIA look like one long James Bond movie

"Rushed into what?" Nikki questioned while peeking around Ayla to see the brochures. "Those look like some kind of sales pamphlets."

"They are." Belle grinned. "The CIA is trying to recruit whoever these were for. This bunch seems to be a little sharper than the team they had sneaking around here last year if they've already cornered one of you for that."

Toni shook her head. "Well, they may think twice before trying again. I kinda beat the you-know-what out of them. I thought they were some secret hit squad backing up those Ninjas from last night."

"Not to worry." Belle chuckled. "All that is going to do is make them even more determined to recruit you. Their advance teams are tough because there is always the risk of something like what happened this morning going down. Trust me, your stock with them just went up about twenty points. How many of them did you see?"

"Three."

"Ahh, then one was hiding somewhere to observe in case something like what you did happened. He or she will probably have a great time needling the others about getting beaten up by a freshman girl."

"You mean I can expect them to be jumping out of the bushes at me again?" Toni shook her head.

"Count on it, dear." Belle nodded with a wide grin. "They aren't allowed to do it openly, like a job fair or something until you're in the last part of your senior year, so they tend to sneak around and try to pounce on likely prospects early, to get ahead of the competition you know."

"Oh wonderful." Nikki frowned. "We're still jumpy after last night, and we can expect that kind of thing to happen to all of us?"

"Maybe not all of you, but I'm sure most of you will be RUSHED before too long." Belle answered. "That showing you kids made against the Ninjas is going to impress a lot of people."

Nikki mumbled something that sounded like. "I knew I should have stayed in bed last night."


Before the first class, there was the equally inescapable First Assembly. In preparation for this, all the new students were gathered together in each of the cottages and led to the large assembly area in Schuster Hall.

As she juggled her books, Toni asked Nikki, "So, y'wanna sit together?"

Nikki quirked a half smile at her roomie. "What's this? Little Miss Kung Fu afraid of sitting next to a boy?"

"Nah, I just want someone to play MST3K with."

"MST3K?"

"Y'know 'Mystery Science Fiction Theater Three Thousand'? The syndicated show where they play crappy old horror movies and the 'hosts' heckle them? We could sit together and make snarky comments about the corny 'we'll all become one big family' speech'."

"What makes you think that the speech will be corny?"

"Hey, it's a school- they do all that doofus cornball crap 'cause if they don't, the PTA crawls all over their asses. Hey, it's a formula- the Headmistress says 'Hi', lays some kind of mind game on us where she basically says that if we don't make lots of friends and get good grades that it's OUR faults, and then says that everything'll be peachy as long as we do things their way."

"Optimist." Nikki favored Toni with a crooked little smile. "Opening day speeches are never good things to sit through and what you just said is something we could at least sleep through. I have the sinking feeling that any speech around here isn't going to be nearly that simple, or restful."

"Yeah!" Jade piped up. "She's the Headmistress! And look how much has happened already, and we haven't even started school yet! I'm sure she's going to have tons to say! Important stuff, like how to have proper superhero fights and stuff."

"Nah," Ayla groused, "I've been to a buncha these schools. They *never* just come out and tell you the really important stuff. The thinking is, if you're smart enough to understand the really crucial lessons, then you'll figure it out on your own. If you have to have them spelled out for you, then you're too dumb to bother with. To be honest, they just throw in the stuff about the sciences and humanities to keep you busy while you're being trained to be part of the machine."

"Well, I dunno about that," Hank mused, "But Ayla's got one thing right; 'getting with the program' is what they really teach you at boot camp. Everything else is nice, but if you don't get into the army headspace, the rest is just wasted effort."

"Oh, yeah!" Tennyo sneered, "I can just see what the academy motto probably is: 'be all the mutant that you can be'! I just hope that she gives us the 'one big family' speech, and not the 'with great power comes great responsibility' speech."

"Oh, yeah," Ayla agreed, "I've heard my share of those, too. Especially at places like Chilton, where they really push the 'we are the elite' deal. Oh yeah, at Chilton they were very big on the idea that you had to learn Cato the Elder, so that you'd be better than the unwashed masses."

Toni looked askance at Ayla. "Y'mean, they really think like that?"

Ayla shrugged. "Oh, they never come out and SAY it, but from day one, you know that that's what they really mean."

Toni needn't have worried about sitting next to Nikki. The new students filed into the Auditorium by cottages. The Poe Cottage students came in after Twain, Whitman and Hawthorne, but before Melville, Dickinson, and Emerson. This placed the 'weirdoes' towards the front of the Auditorium, Toni couldn't help but wonder out loud.

"Is someone trying to say something about the various cottages?"

"Oh, they probably want the really weird ones up front where they can keep an eye on them." Nikki giggled, blushed at the sound that had escaped her mouth, then shrugged. "Us."

When the last of the Hawthorne students filed in, a line of eight adults mounted the stage. Seven of them took seats behind the podium, as the eighth stepped up to it. She was handsome looking woman in what appeared to be her mid-thirties. She was tallish and appeared fit and trim under the business suit. Long, carefully dressed blonde hair framed a long face with regular features. She took a long look out at the assembled first time students, sighed and started.

"Good morning, students! I am Mrs. Carson, the headmistress here. Welcome to Whateley Academy. Don't worry, I'm not going to give you the 'one big happy family' speech, or the 'with great power comes great responsibility' speech, or the 'learning can be an adventure' speech."

"Wow!" Toni whispered in an aside to Nikki, "We missed one!"

"I knew we were leaving something out." The redhead whispered back.

"Instead," Mrs. Carson continued, "I'm going to give you the 'it's all up to you' speech. You probably haven't heard it before. Most schools in North America and Europe tend to run on the 'assembly line' principle, where students are moved along a very slow conveyor belt from one class to another, where the teachers regurgitate facts all over them, in the presumption that at least some of the facts will fall into open ears."

Jade shuddered at the picture these words brought to mind.

"Ewww! Gross! I feel like I need a shower!"

Tennyo added, "Ugh! Where are the Q-tips?"

"At least they could supply airsick bags for the teachers." Nikki quipped.

"We can't afford to do that here."

Jade and Tennyo looked at each other in horror. "No shower?!"

"Or Q-tips?!"

"Or airsick bags? Ewww!"

"The majority of students here, and a good number of the faculty and staff are Mutants."

Tennyo grabbed Jade's arm." I KNEW it! I told you there was something strange about this place!"

Jade grinned. "I thought you said we would fit right in?"

"Well yeah, but it's still strange."

"Along with the usual classes in the Arts and Sciences, you will receive training in controlling your individual abilities, physical training, and even some combat training."

Tennyo whined nasally. "But Sensei. When are we going to get to fight with pointed sticks?"

"However, there is only so much that any of our teachers can do. You can't just sit back and 'be taught'- you have to actively Learn!"

Then Tennyo turned to Toni. "You were right. It IS our fault!"

"Here at Whateley, we won't try to make you learn, mostly because we know that it's a waste of time and effort, no matter how well intentioned. We can't control what you'll become during your stay here- only YOU can decide that."

"What're we going to do tonight Nikki?"

"What we do every night Tennyo. Plan to take over the WORLD!"

"_But_ there is one very important thing that we WILL demand from you: that you be responsible for your actions. In order to keep operating without having legions of militant mutant-haters storming our gates, we have to keep as low a profile here as possible."

"Sanctuary! Sanctuary!" Groaned Tennyo.

"So much for planning to rule the world tonight." Nikki sighed.

"So, we can't have you flitting around using your mutant powers while there are people who aren't 'in the loop' on campus.

"Hey! I DON'T flit. I FLY.... With STYLE!"

"In order to learn, you and the other students have to feel safe, so you can't go around threatening everyone with your power, just because they tick you off."

"Well, he WAS a jerk."

"And, while we know that accidents happen, and sometimes your powers can run away from you,"

Hank whispered. "Did I just hear Nikki say Oops!?"

Ayla followed with. "Tennyo! Where's that cabbit of yours?"

"You have to understand that repairing the damage from using your powers is very expensive. We simply can't afford to keep rebuilding the cottages every time that someone loses their temper."

"Oh, He..ck!" Jade whispered, sliding lower in her seat. "I knew it! She's talking about us! It was such a big mistake to blow up campus last night!"

"Hey! Nobody told me that stuff in the balloons was Nitro!" Nikki shot back.

"It is dangerous for you and all of us around you if you won't control the powers and abilities that have been entrusted to you by fate. Please believe me when I say that the damage to our properties is insignificant to the loss we experience when one of you is injured or killed."

"Imagine how WE feel about that."

"As some of you have already found out, there are many enemies, both groups and individuals, who desire, and hope, and work to make your time here and in the future, unpleasant, short, or both. Some do it because they fear you, some because they DON'T fear you. There are those who want you to sacrifice yourselves for their purposes and those who fear that you will block them and the desires that they seek."

"Many of you will be at risk all your lives. Those that are your friends will also be at risk. Simply because they will be a part of what you will be attempting to accomplish in this life. Whether that will be good or bad is not for us to decide. We are here to help you develop the skills that will make it possible for you to make your way in this difficult world. And hopefully, survive to see what you are attempting accomplished."

"Oh good." Nikki whispered. "We can still take over the world. Only later. Ok."

"But maybe you think this doesn't apply to you. You won't be running any clever plots or fighting for a cause you believe in. Instead, after graduation, you plan to just head out somewhere and mind your own business. You'll never be bothered by suspicious neighbors, or religious extremists, or simply the common rabble that might see you as a deadly threat to everything they hold dear."

"If that's the case… FINE. We'll wish you luck. We honestly want every mutant to lead a successful and fulfilling life."

"But you might want to know that of those that try this approach, over half fail. Their cover is blown, or the unexpected happens, or any of a dozen other things. And then, you may be suddenly wishing that you'd paid a bit more attention in class. If we can take any lesson from the tragic case of Shep Packard, I'd like to think that might be one of them. Shep tried to live the quiet, inoffensive lifestyle. Perhaps… maybe if we'd just tried a little harder, he wouldn't have been burned at the stake, there in the back hills of Kentucky. A victim of a senseless witch hunt."

Hank whispered, "What do WE do with witches?"

Jade, Toni, Tennyo, and Ayla whispered back, "We BURN witches! Opps! Sorry Nikki."

"I know even now, many of you are not taking this seriously."

A group, "Eeeep!", Followed by a short silence.

"We can only hope that learning just how seriously we mean this will not be too severe a lesson for yourselves and your friends. Remember, only YOU can make the decision to learn and accept what we, through long hard experience, have come to place before you."

Then she ran through the 'Flag Rules': When they fly a School Flag with a red border, lay low and don't use your powers openly; when there's an amber border, watch out before using your powers; when there's green border, you can use your powers openly, just keep the property damage down.

Then she pulled out something that looked like a rather bulky laptop. "Very well, pay attention- this is a laptop computer that will be issued to each of you. We realize that there are a lot of you that for one reason or another aren't familiar with these things. Don't worry, we will have workshops to help you get familiar with them. Also there are some of you who might not be able to use the keyboard for one reason or another."

"Like great whopping big fingers." Toni whispered aside.

"For you, we can arrange alternate input methods. Now these things were specially made for Whateley. The exterior case is made of a biomimetic 'clamshell' ceramet compound- which means that it's very tough, and fire and shock resistant. But it is NOT INDESTRUCTIBLE! Please, Do Not try to use it as a shield, or God forbid, a weapon! The interior has been water and shock proofed as best we can. It has ports for most peripherals, and we're converting them over to wireless. If you didn't follow all of that, just take the workshop. Now, these things are for schoolwork. If we catch you playing games on it, we will erase that game, and confiscate the discs. These are school property. There is an irremovable 'Property of Whateley Academy, not for resale' tag right here on the casing. Also, everyone in Dunwich knows all about these things, and if you try to sell one to them, the first thing that they'll do is call us. These things are expensive; they are being provided to you free of cost. BUT, if we have to replace the unit that we give you, whether you sell it, lose it, break it or whatever, the cost comes out of your pocket. And they are being issued and registered to YOU personally, so don't try to cover yourself by swiping someone else's laptop. And, as I said, these things are expensive. Lastly, when you leave Whateley, we will expect you to turn it in. Most of these units were used by a student who graduated last year. They may have been upgraded, and the students are supposed to wipe their hard-drives clean before they return them, but I'd still suggest that you clear the hard-drive and re-boot the system from scratch. Seniors tend to think that leaving nasty pranks for the incoming Freshmen is a tradition."

"Please learn. And, PLEASE, try not to destroy everything around you as you do this. We wish you the best. And now we recommend that you start this journey by getting to your classes on time. Dismissed!"

As the students started to file out to go to their classes, the group gathered together before heading out.

Jade asked the others. "Do you really think that she was talking about us?"

Tennyo replied. "Naww! Just because just about everything she mentioned could apply to us doesn't mean a thing."

Toni pitched in. "Yeah! What she was saying could apply to any of the students in there. Don't you think so Nikki?"

"Sure. Anyone."

"There! You see Jade. Nothing to worry about. Now go out there and show them what you are made of. Or, Maybe not where Jinn is concerned."

Waving to each other, they each headed out into the new world that was waiting for them.

User Rating: 5 / 5

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A Whateley Academy Tale

Fey– Adjustments

by Maggie Finson
Whateley: September 9, 2006
Disturbed Sleep

Peter Benedict watched the building carefully for any signs of activity. Seeing a most satisfying lack of that, he then gestured for his companions to come out of hiding and into the small clearing in the woods behind the school dormitory called Poe Cottage.

"I'm still not so sure this is a good idea, Peter." Claire Evangaline whispered as she took her place in the forming circle around their leader. "What if she wakes up while were doing this?"

"Then we'll have established the rapport, and control, we were hoping for with her." Peter straightened until his full six feet five inches was erect and directly in front of the diminutive, but very well put together acolyte. "Don't worry yourself, Claire. If she comes to us, I can handle her."

"Sure." Boyd Fleming, a short, heavy set young man nodded with a derisive little grin. "Just like those ninjas handled her."

"They didn't know what they were dealing with here." Peter returned in a hiss. "We do. This is our only chance to influence the future of all Earth. If The Queen to Come can be convinced that we deserve her favor, then when the old gods return our positions in the new order will be assured. I'm sure she won't quibble about our methods once she ascends and is able to see how we were instrumental in helping her."

"Or be really, really pissed because we forced the issue on her." Edie Sanchez put in quietly. "You didn't see what she can do Peter. I did. This girl is almost a force of nature already and we're meddling with things we can't even begin to understand with her."

"Precisely the reason we need to exert what control we are able to get now." Peter responded then waved any more doubts aside. "We've been over this so many times I could recite every objection and its counter by rote. All of you agreed to take part in this venture knowing the risks and potential gains for us. Now be quiet, get into position and get ready."

The other five formed the points of the Sacred Star (pentangle) with Peter in the center as both an anchor and the focus of their combined energies. Those reached into pockets concealed inside their ceremonial robes and withdrew colored crystals. A different color for each of them and they began concentrating on their individual stones without another word.

Nodding in satisfaction as he saw the five crystals around him begin to softly glow, Peter withdrew a large, clear and flawless quartz sphere and held it above his head. Five beams of light in the colors of the crystals they emanated from converged upon the crystal Sphere in Peter's upraised hands. The centerpiece of the glowing five pointed star began to pulse with a rainbow of cascading color and a barely discernable hum emerged from it.

The six members of a fringe subculture often called Crystal Wavers by their detractors, or The Next Step by themselves began chanting softly as the focus of their efforts brightened with the combined power of all the crystals and its own.


"Ohhh." Nikki groaned as she abruptly roused from sleep for the third time in as many nights. "I'm really getting tired of all this shit. First those ninjas thinking they could make fools of us, then I complete my sex change years ahead of any projected schedule, and was sicker than a dog who got into the chocolate when that happened. Then I have PMS, and a damned messy period. All within the last three or four days. With someone interrupting any rest I might get at night on top of all that other crap. Someone is going to PAY for this one!"

"Hurmmp?" Toni cracked open one eye to see a clearly enraged Nikki, or in that case Fey, still in her flowing violet nightgown and crackling with suppressed energy while she was moving purposefully towards the door. "Where you goin' Nikki?"

"To find some chanters." Came the bitten off reply. "And let them know that I don't care for their music at all!"

"Oh maaan." Toni mumbled, tumbling out of bed and grabbing a robe to follow her roommate. "I thought we were done with this PMS stuff. For this month anyway."


"Tennyo!" A hand shook her then quickly withdrew as the Asian girl who looked suspiciously like a rather famous Amine character snapped awake. "You've got to come with me. Nikki's at it again!"

"What?" Tennyo grumbled, then looked up at a half dressed Toni who was clearly agitated about something. Then what the other had said dawned on her. "Again? What's she doing now?"

"Says she's going out to find some chanters..." Toni shuddered. "And tell them how much she loves their music. Energy is crackling all over her too. Fey is out in all her glory, or whatever, and believe me, she is Majorly Pissed Off."

"How pissed off?" Jade's sleepy voice entered the conversation.

"Umm -- the kind that might have her tearing holes in walls to get at whoever it is she's after." The black girl replied. "I've never seen her this mad, not even when she was at the worst of her PMS!"

"Oh boy." Jade sighed. "Aren't we ever going to get a decent night's sleep around here? I'll get Hank, you two get Ayla and let's go find her."

"She may be walking into a trap." Toni worriedly told the others. "All the chanting and the dreams may be setting her up to walk into something just like she's doing. We have to hurry!"


As the chanting rose in pitch and tempo Peter felt a tingle that grew into an almost electrical shock from his crystal as it reacted to something that hadn't happened before in this venture.

Just as he was about to warn the others to be ready an apparition with long flame red hair whipping in a wind that no one else felt and clad in a flowing silk gown of a violet that just about glowed, stalked into the clearing. Suddenly he realized it wasn't the gown, but the figure it covered that was glowing. And crackling with barely suppressed energy

"Hey!" The breathtakingly lovely girl planted delicate hands on her hips and screamed. "Can you tone it down? I'm trying to get some sleep here!"

"The Queen to Come! The Queen to Come!" The group chanted even louder. Nikki winced, then went glassy eyed for a moment and stopped moving at all.

"It's working!" Peter encouraged his followers. "Keep at it and we'll have control of the new Faerie Queen!"

"What in the world are you talking about?" The flame haired beauty questioned while shaking her head to clear it. "And will you stop with the noise already? I have a killer headache, I'm tired out, and worse, I'm having my period. So I am not in the best of moods as it is."

Nikki felt the thickness in her thoughts return as if she were groggy from just waking up in the morning, but more intense. As the chanting rose in volume, she felt five tendrils creep into the very fabric of her being. She knew that they bode her no good, but she could barely focus enough to keep them from digging in any further.

Then a piercing shout shattered the late night still. "Kiiiiiiii- YAAAAA!"

The Coveners were also snapped out of the intense trance that they'd needed to keep the young woman under control. The crystal orb resonated with the sound of the cry, its vibration changing the 'tone' of the energies channeled through it, but miraculously, it didn't shatter. Peter whipped his gaze from the crystal sphere to the source of the rattling shout. Toni was standing there in her pale silk kimono, Tennyo was floating a foot off the ground, a ball of energy forming in her hands, and Hank was picking up a very large stone, the thrill of combat showing in his face. "Damn! It's her friends! Get her back under control! It's the only way that we can keep those stupid kids from spoiling everything!"

Finally able to deal with people who were obviously the ones who had been ruining her sleep for the past few days, Nikki lashed out. She traced the threads back to the floating orb, even as they began to reach out for her again. Casually, almost reflexively, she reached out for them, snared them and sent the energy travelling down them like wires back to their source.

With unexpectedly spectacular, if typically strange results. 

Tennyo had chosen that moment to lunge forward, reshaping the ball of energy into a sword like she'd used several nights earlier against the ninjas. Intuiting that the large orb in the center of the group was the dangerous one, she slashed at it with all her might and connected. 

The large crystal in the leader's hands vibrated, whined as if it was living thing being beaten, and shattered into thousands of iridescent shards that went whirling off in every direction imaginable. 

The rock that had been in Hank's hand zipped through the air to impact right in the middle of all that as the once quiet hum rose into a screech of discordant notes.

Under several different kinds of attacks the lines of energy that had been feeding the focus crystal rebounded into the smaller ones, which promptly exploded as the larger one had. After that things got really weird.

Nikki, a bit wide eyed at the chaos her friends and her own defensive reflex had caused simply sat down to watch what would happen next with a big grin on her lovely face. The expression wasn't at all pleasant to see.

 It was fairly clear that whatever danger there had been for her was pretty well negated once the crystals had been destroyed, but Tennyo was still in the middle of whatever was going on, and it didn't look like such a good place to be just then. With a quick loop and tug of lines, she literally yanked the Asian girl out of the now pulsing circle and back to safety then settled back to watch the fun.

Lines connecting the six figures to one another pulsed, throbbed, changed color, thickness, texture, and even locations on the bodies they were attached to. Those bodies, three male, three female danced around as if they were being electrocuted on a hill of angry red fire ants that were crawling all over them.

"Hey!" Toni raced over to her and stopped so abruptly a screech of brakes could almost be heard. "You ok, Nikki?"

"Umm, yeah." The seated redhead shrugged then let out a small giggle. "Now these guys, I'm still not too sure about, though."

"What did you do to them?" A breathless Tennyo questioned between gasps as she too joined the group.

"Nothing." Nikki shrugged again, then at the look the others gave her added. "Well, not much, anyway. They were trying to bind me or something like that. With crystals that were throwing lines of energy into a bigger one that was throwing them at me. I was getting really sleepy when you guys showed up. Thanks for the help, by the way, then something inside me blocked, ok, make that cut the lines from the crystals to me, then I woke up and just kind of tossed the loose lines back to them."

"Just kinda TOSSED the lines back to them, huh?" Toni shook her head. "So what's happening to them now?"

"I don't really know." Nikki answered honestly. "The crystals shattered, and now their own lines are going nuts from the backlash, I guess."

"Ya know, Nikki?" Tennyo quietly put in from behind them. "You're kind of scary at times."

"Look at it this way." Hank put in. "At least she didn't say 'Ooops' this time."


His security team was actually getting used to weird calls in the middle of the night, even the new guys, Franklin Delarose proudly thought as they answered yet another call. "Well, boys, one thing to keep in mind. This job is never boring."

"Oh, maaan.!" Tom groaned. "It's that redhead again."

The other team members warily surveyed their surroundings for anything, anything at all, that seemed out of place. Like animated chattering teeth for example. When none became evident most of them let out sighs of relief then turned back to watching the show. "Are those people in robes dancing around in all that fuzzy light?"

"Looks that way to me." Frank agreed.

"Well shouldn't we step in this time?"

"Tom." Delarose gently answered. "Do you really want to walk right into whatever that is before we figure out what might happen to us when we do?"

"Well, now that you mention it..." Tom replied with an audible gulp. "They -- umm -- don't seem to be getting killed or anything, do they?"

"Good observation." Frank nodded as he chuckled. "But they sure are doing one helluva dance right now. It would be a real shame to interrupt them before their ritual or whatever it is finishes up, wouldn't it?"


Peter was sure they had her, when all at once her friends showed up to spoil things. Worse, the girl's large violet eyes snapped open in blazing fury and the lines of the binding were ripped loose from her aura and almost negligently thrown back at him. Then his own crystal, the master stone that had taken him years to find, then shape, then imbue with power began vibrating in his hands, screeched, and literally exploded when the living Anime creature hit it with a glowing sword of some kind. Then a rather large rock whizzed through all that chaos and stirred things even more.

The lesser stones held by the others succumbed to the backlash and gave up the ghost, so to speak just as quickly. For a brief few moments his small group appeared to be in the wrong spot during a Fourth of July Fireworks display as the lesser stones added their own explosions to the force that was still rocking him. Then things really went to Hell in a hand basket.

Instead of dissipating once the crystals were shattered, the energy around them increased, with howling winds and impacts on his person that he knew weren't physical but were still forceful enough to stagger him. Worse, the energies were cocooning the others in auras of resplendent appearing color that was quite obviously causing them more than a bit of difficulty. With a shock he realized that his own limbs were now covered with dancing, flashing, St. Elmo's Fire or whatever the stuff was. And the girl was actually sitting down as if she intended to watch her handiwork with no worries at all about them retaliating. This development was one he didn't like at all.

"We have to fight this..." he started shouting to his followers. A wrenching twist in his vision and other perceptions put a stop to that for a moment then he finished in a voice that was certainly not his own. "Turn away from her eyes... eeep!"

Peter finally found out what it felt like to handle Claire's magnificent breasts. Only some of the thrill was gone when he was the one getting felt up. The wrench returned momentarily and he discovered how it felt to be shorter, stocky, but happily male for a short time. He then found himself inside the petite and svelte body of Edie Sanchez. Then Charlie Cunningham's lean frame, then into Elise Coltraine's sexy dusky form with it's long, luxuriant hair.

Things continued like that for what seemed an eternity of whirling merry-go-round exchanges until the force gradually diminished and ground to a grudging halt. Unfortunately, Peter discovered that he was going to have what appeared to be an awful lot of time to explore Claire's body now that things were over. From the inside. He let out a small gasping scream before fainting as the prospect loomed in his still fuddled mind.


"Weird bunch." Tom commented as the pyrotechnics died down and the odd robed group began another kind of dance. The women, in shreds of their once all concealing robes frantically felt themselves up, stared at nothing in general for a brief time, then screamed before collapsing into graceful heaps. The men, not to be outdone, were thumping their chests, opening their flies, and staring in mixed disgust and amazement at their sexual organs.

"Yeah, it sure is." Frank agreed, getting up and heading in the general direction of the now quiet group. "Let's round them up. We can charge them with trespassing and indecent exposure for starters, then figure out who they are."


"Umm, somebody wanna tell me what just happened here?" Hank cracked his knuckles while eyeing first the group of robed weirdoes being rounded up by security, then at the girls.

"Ask her." Jade gestured towards Fey. "Nikki is the one all this was for. I haven't got a clue."

"They were trying to bind me." Nikki let out a long shuddering sigh. "To their will or something and kept spouting something about The Queen to Come in the chants that were keeping me awake at night. When Toni's shout broke the binding, Tennyo hit the big crystal with her energy sword and your rock messed up the energy flows I was able to send the power back at them somehow, and all their magic, or whatever, backfired on them once I did."

"Uh huh. Right." Hank nodded. "Now what really happened?"

"It's true." Nikki shrugged, then let a tiny devilish grin show. "But I think the lot of them switched bodies during all that mess."

"Switched bodies?" Jade questioned with near disbelief in her voice.

"Yeah. Like the guys all went into the girls, and vice versa." Nikki shuddered. "I don't know how it happened, really I don't, must have been from the backlash or something when their crystals blew up. I just felt it happening is all."

As the members of the group were led past the members of Team Kimba, all of them fixed Nikki with glares of both anger and fear.

"Hey!" Nikki hollered at them. "I did ask nice for you to quit. But you wouldn't do that. Noooo! So don't go glaring at me and blaming me for your idiot plans going into the pot."

With that the beautiful redhead rose, dusted off her bottom with both hands, and turned back towards Poe Cottage.

"Where do you think you're going, miss?" One of the security guards tried stopping her.

"To get some sleep. Finally." Nikki glared up at him. "Unless you plan on keeping me from doing that."

"Uh, Tom." Captain Delarose interrupted the incipient confrontation. "Maybe it would be best if we talked with her sometime tomorrow?"

"But Frank..."

"You idiot!" Delarose whispered to him. "This is the girl who blocked those ninjas from escaping, and from what I've managed to get out of our -- um -- guests, she just managed to destroy six power crystals without blinking an eye. Now if she really wants to sleep, I wouldn't keep her from doing it when she could just as easily come in and file a report in the morning. Of course, the choice is yours..."

"Oh, yeah, right." Tom moved aside, tipping his hat a bit sheepishly. "You go right ahead and get some sleep miss. I'll personally have the complaints ready for you to sign on these bozos in the morning when you come in to give us your statement. Will that be ok?"

"My pleasure." Nikki gave him a brilliant smile that had him both melting and, embarrassingly, stiffening all at once. "See you in the morning, officer Tomikz."

"That one is going to be a real handful." Tom muttered while watching her walk away with a sway to her hips that no fifteen year old should be considering, let alone doing.

"Yup." Frank gave him a pat on the shoulder. "But look at it this way... It's going to be a real interesting four years while she's here."


Frank Delarose looked up from contemplating the first, and only full cup of coffee he would allow himself for the day while wishing that his doctor wasn't quite so draconian in what he did and didn't allow his patient to have.

To see a vision of almost unearthly beauty enter the office wearing a sleepy, but mostly contented expression on her elfin face. He set the coffee down and rose from his desk with a smile. "Good Morning, Miss Reilly. I hope you managed to get some decent sleep after the excitement last night."

"A little." The girl smiled wanly while fussing with the green cotton sundress she was clad in. "I still feel like I could use another two or three days worth of it, but at least I didn't have any dreams last night. Which is a plus, I guess."

"I gather you're here to sign those complaints?" Delarose questioned after giving her a sympathetic nod.

"Yes, and to see the people I'm signing them on, if that wouldn't be a problem." She replied with a small grimace. If they're still here, I mean."

"Oh, they're still in our lockup." Frank told her with a frown. "But they are acting strange. Say they are all in the wrong bodies. Did you have anything to do with that last night?"

"Only a little." She shrugged. "When their crystals blew, everything kind of went south in a real hurry."

"Yeah, I noticed." Frank grinned. "That seems to be a habit around you and your friends already. Are we going to be seeing you in this office a lot in the future?"

"I hope not." Nikki grimaced. "Things just kind of fell on us over the past few days, if you know what I mean. Sorry about all the mess and stuff."

"Happens." Frank shrugged. "Especially with new kids. Just not in such spectacular ways as a rule."

"Umm, I have some meetings and my examination to get to pretty soon." The redhead pointed out. "Do you think we could get to what I came here for without me seeming to be really rude?"

"Oh, sure." Delarose pulled his eyes away from the exotically beautiful and alluring girl while reminding himself that she was one of the students he was there to protect. "Follow me and I'll get you the paperwork to sign, then have Tom take you to the holding cells."

"Thanks." Her smile seemed to light up the already bright room, and Frank almost wearily got the uncomfortable feeling that he was going to be seeing a lot of the girl in his office. She just attracted attention without trying, and that included trouble from what he'd seen over the past few days.


"Magical Harassment and Attempted Magical Coercion, plus Attempted Subversion of a minor through magic." Nikki shook her head at the list of charges on the complaint form and grinned.

"Don't forget that we're charging them with trespassing, disturbing the peace, and indecent exposure." Officer Tomikz, good as his word the previous night, had all the paperwork ready for the girl to sign. "In the school's behalf, of course."

"Sounds good to me." Nikki nodded while signing the document and being careful to use the name Nichole instead of Nicholas when she did. "Will these charges get them into a lot of trouble?"

"Oh the trespassing, indecent exposure, and disturbing the peace should only result in them paying some hefty fines." Tomikz shrugged, then grinned at her. "But if the charges you're signing off on here stick, they could be looking at some really serious jail time."

"Oh, well, I'm still mad enough at them not to feel sorry over that." The redhead nodded with a halfway evil glint in her violet eyes that altered to amusement in seconds. "Are they still all mixed up, body wise?"

"So they claim." Tomikz answered with a shake of his head. "And they seem to be pretty adamant about it, too."

"I don't think they're making it up." Nikki giggled, then blushed. Giggling was still something she wasn't used to hearing come out of her mouth. "I noticed some really weird things happening when their crystals blew up last night."

"Something you call weird?" Tomikz closed his eyes while trying to picture that, given what he already had seen happening around the little redhead in something less than a week. "I think I'll just leave that one alone, then."

"Good idea, Tom." Delarose put in with a small chuckle while nursing his coffee. 

"Can I see them, now?" Nikki questioned almost innocently.

"I don't suppose it could hurt anything." Delarose shrugged, then gestured to a door farther back in the offices. "They're back there."

Nikki followed Delarose back to the cells to see three disheveled young women in one, and three equally mussed up males in another. One of the women, a blonde with a very good figure and very pretty face stood awkwardly and walked carefully to the doors of the cell with a slight grimace of discomfort. "Give me my body back, you little.."

"Be nice Miss Evangaline." Frank interrupted the tirade before it could even get properly going and the woman winced.

"I am NOT Claire Evangaline!" She insisted while glaring at Nikki. "I've told you that I'm really Peter Benedict, or was until she did whatever it was she did to us last night!"

"And that's Ms. Evangaline, thank you." The tall, thin man in the next cell put in with a feminine lilt in his voice."

"Whatever." Frank waved that off almost impatiently as he watched the little redhead apparently examining something on each of the prisoners in his holding cell, then shake her head with a sigh.

"Well, I think you'd all better get used to being who you are now." Nikki answered quietly, then shrugged. "It was backlash from your crystals combined with about a hundred other factors that caused the switches. You guys are so tangled up there's no way I could ever get all the things sorted out. I don't know if anyone can, but I'm not all that experienced with this kind of thing."

"You mean you're just going to leave us like this?!" The young woman almost screamed.

"Weren't you just listening?" Nikki sounded a little exasperated as she glared back "I can't do anything about what happened. I just told you that!"

"Please?" Claire, or Peter was almost begging.

"Told you already, so I'm not going to do it again." The redheaded teen sighed, then turned another glare on the distraught woman and her companions. "What I Will tell you is what I meant to when I first came here. There is something all of you might want to consider before you try anything with me again..."

"What would that be?" A slender black woman with a thick fall of luxuriously wavy hair questioned almost diffidently.

"Well, if I really do happen to be this Queen to Come that all of you have been ranting about, and do come into the kind of power you claim I will, by some off chance." Nikki smiled cheerfully for a moment, then dropped the smile and glowered at all of the group. "You guys are already on my shit list. So you might not want to press your luck any further than you have with me. Know what I mean?"

All six of the Crystal Wavers stared at her as if she had grown horns and a barbed tail, and drew as far back from her as they could.

"You six are also on the shit list for Whateley." Frank added quietly. "If you ever show your faces anywhere near this campus again, you will do some serious jail time, understand me?"

All of them nodded without a word.

"I'm not going to press charges against them this time." Nikki let out a little sigh, then laughed shortly. "I've been going through what all of them are right now, and I know it isn't easy. They have enough problems to deal with as it is, I think."

"Are you sure about that?" Delarose questioned. 

"Yeah, I'm sure." Nikki nodded, then turned to look at the switched around Crystal Wavers. "On the condition that they sign an agreement not to bother me again."

"We can handle that for you." Officer Tomikz nodded, then held out the paperwork he had prepared. "But these endangerment of a minor charges are state and federal things, so I don't know if those will be dropped or not. That's up to the local DA, but I understand he can be reasonable about this kind of thing if all parties involved are in agreement."

"It'll do for me." The elfin redhead nodded, then turned away from the holding cells with a little wave. "Now I have an examination to get to, so if it's all right with you, Captain Delarose, I'll be heading that way."

"Go ahead, Miss Reilly." Frank held the door open for her. "If there is any more paperwork for you to sign on this, I'll just have it sent to your dorm by messenger and you can send it back the same way."

"Thank you." Nikki gave him, and Tomikz a brilliant smile then hurried out of the security offices intent on her next appointment.

"You know, Tom." Delarose commented as they both watched the girl leave. "These kids never stop surprising me. That's one of the reasons I love this job."

"I see what you mean, Frank." Tomikz answered with a small grin. "That one, especially, is going to bear watching, I think. She seems to be something special even around here."

"I think I agree with you on that one, Tom." Frank leafed through the girl's file. "Did you notice that her Dad is a honcho at DARPA?"

"Yeah, I did. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration, isn't that?"

"That's right." Frank let out a sigh. "This kid is connected already, even if she doesn't seem to realize it yet. At least she isn't an intentional trouble maker, thank god."

"Nice kid, actually, isn't she?" Tom added.

"Seems to be, when she isn't being annoyed by something." Frank chuckled and turned his attention back to their mixed up guests. "Now for you six..."

 

At the Clinic

Nikki entered the reception area of the school clinic with mixed feelings. She was definitely not looking forward to her first full physical as a girl, but was more or less resigned to the idea after the weekend and its excitement.

"Hello, can I help you?" A perky nurse greeted her from behind a large desk.

"Umm, yes. I'm Nichole Reilly and I'm here for my battery of tests." The little redhead answered after a little hesitation.

"Have a seat and the doctor will be with you in a few minutes." The nurse smiled and waved the girl towards a comfortable looking group of chairs. The magazines were even recent, which was a pleasant surprise given the state of reading material offered in most doctor's offices. Nikki picked up one almost at random and began thumbing through it without really paying attention to what she was seeing until she heard her name called.

 "Dr. Tenet is ready for you now, Nichole." The nurse gestured towards the door behind her desk and added. "Just go into room two and change into the gown there."

"Thanks." Nikki walked past the reception area and found room two without difficulty. When she saw the examination table, with its stirrups, she swallowed a large lump of something uncomfortable and did her best to ignore it while getting out of her still borrowed clothing and putting on the drafty, backless thing all doctor's offices seemed insistent on their patients wearing.

"Hello dear." A familiar, cheerful voice greeted her after a few uneasy moments of deciding whether just to get it over with and get up on the table, or freeze her bottom in one of the plastic chairs in the room. "I see you're feeling better now."

"Yes. Mostly." Nikki gave the exam table another dubious glance.

"Don't worry so much about the table and physical, I'll be gentle." Ophelia promised with a chuckle. "I even warmed the instruments up ahead of time for you."

"You don't know how much better that makes me feel." Nikki grumbled as she gingerly climbed up on the table. "Now what?"

"Oh, the usual things. Blood pressure, temperature, I listen to your lungs, and check you out for anything unusual."

"Unusual on me?" The redhead grumbled. "Now what could possibly be unusual about me?"

"I mean physically, dear." Ophelia commented as she began to palpitate Nikki's breasts. "Like hunting for lumps this way. Mutants aren't immune to disease or cancer you know."

"This sure isn't anything like a doctor thumping my chest." Nikki winced as the doctor's hands worked their way around her breasts.

"Does what I'm doing hurt you?" The blonde questioned with a look of concern.

"Uh, not really." Nikki responded with a grimace. "It's just that they're so sensitive since I completely changed is all."

"Normal enough under the circumstances." Ophelia nodded as one of her tresses retrieved a stethoscope and Blood pressure machine. "Now to check the other mundane stuff before we go any further with this."

After noting those readings, Ophelia began asking some more personal questions. "You've started your period, I see, how is that going for you?"

"Not fun." Nikki responded almost glumly. "I ache, feel all bloated, and am not in a good mood about any of it. Not to mention that I nearly destroyed the second floor at Poe with my first case of PMS last weekend."

"I heard about that." Ophelia gave her patient an encouraging little pat on the shoulder. "Belle thought it was all pretty entertaining, but then, Belle would given her rather strange sense of humor. I can prescribe some things that would probably help you handle that particular problem a little better."

"Please." Nikki almost begged. "That was embarrassing."

"Ok, we can talk about that later, and I'll forgo the pelvic exam until your flow stops, too." The doctor smiled at the look of pure relief on the girl's face when she heard that. "But I expect you to back in here for that once you stop. Clear?"

"Yes, Ma'am." Nikki sighed, knowing that 'Mother' tone all too well, and knowing better than to argue with it. "I will. Promise."

"Good. Now get dressed and lets get you into the testing area so we can get more of a handle on your powers and what you can do with them, shall we?"

"No problem." Nikki almost literally bounced off the exam table and reached for her clothes. "I've been kind of wondering about all that stuff myself. It'll be a relief to find something out and have it down officially. You don't know how tired I am of hearing "We think you're..." or "It looks as if you might be..."

"I can imagine, dear." Ophelia nodded. "I kept getting the same kinds of responses when I first showed my own mutation and changed. It's frustrating and a little worrisome not actually knowing, isn't it?"

"You got that right." Nikki tossed the gown into the receptacle meant for that, got back into her bra and made sure her panties, with the pad, were situated correctly, then pulled the green dress over her head and settled it with a very feminine little shake of her hips. Once into the low heeled pumps she had worn with the outfit, and having retrieved her shoulder bag she nodded almost briskly. "Well, I'm ready. Hope this doesn't take too long. I'm supposed to meet my advisor later, too."

"I wouldn't worry about that." Ophelia chuckled. "She'll understand if you're a little late for the meeting. That's because I'm your advisor."

"Oh." I thought I was supposed to have a Ms. Hastings or someone like that.

"Ms. Hastings is very good." Ophelia nodded sagely, but then gave the redhead a rueful look. "But you're a very special student here, and I volunteered my services after the administration asked for someone really qualified to handle your advisory duties."

"Not that I'm picking here." Nikki gave her an even look. "But do you mind if I ask why the administration asked you to do it, specifically, I mean?"

"Fair question, dear." The doctor smiled tiredly. "You have some rather special needs here, and of all the qualified staff available, I was the one with time on my schedule open and to be honest, I jumped at the chance. Do you mind that?"

"No, I kind of like the idea of having my doctor for an advisor. I think." Nikki told her honestly. "I really hadn't gotten much beyond last weekend and last night to be truthful. I'm just glad to have an advisor."

"Ok, you go for the testing and screening procedures and I'll meet you in my office, that's where I examined you the first day of classes, remember how to get there? Once you're finished with the classification exam."

"Sure." Nikki nodded, then grimaced. "I'll remember how to get there, hard as I had to concentrate just to figure out the way that time. And keep from falling over while I was doing all that gear grinding in my head."

"Good" Ophelia smiled and ushered her out the door. "I'll look forward to seeing you then."


A few minutes later Nikki was in another part of the clinic standing almost hesitantly before a set of double doors made of frosted glass with the legend TESTING/EVALUATION. Directly under that in smaller print was. By Appointment Only.

Sighing, she rummaged through the leather shoulder bag she had chosen to carry everything she would need in that day and following a bit of under the breath swearing found the small card with the time and date of her appointment. Clutching that firmly in hand she straightened her back and winced once the realization of just how that emphasized her newly enlarged breasts. Still, she thought it better to walk in as if she had some confidence than all slumped over like a girl geek trying uselessly to hide her attributes.

"And I sure have those." She muttered to herself then shrugged. "In abundance.

Pushing open one of the doors, she resolutely entered and approached the reception desk.

"May I help you, Miss?" The male clerk at the desk had glanced up momentarily, then back to his computer screen, then almost broke his neck as he snapped his head back up and gave her what he thought was a winning smile. 

"I have an Eval appointment today. Nichole Reilly." The redheaded beauty answered with a slightly weary expression as she noted him checking her out. She did manage a cheery smile for him that she hoped wouldn't be taken as an invitation for much of anything. "I'm supposed to be seeing a Dr. Hewley?"

"Umm, yeah." The young man nodded while entering some data on his keyboard and observing the resultant information showing on his monitor. "I've just sent Dr. Hewley and his team the notification that you've arrived. You did allow several hours for this, right?"

"I've already spoken to my advisor -- my next appointment." Nikki nodded with a grin as she actually started to enjoy watching the poor guy crossing his legs and trying to hide an obviously unprofessional appearance in his pants. "She's willing to wait until I've finished all the testing that they need to do here."

"Great." The young man stood up, having through some half miracle of self control subdued his initial reaction and gestured towards another set of double doors behind the desk. "My name is Jim Hewley. The doctor you're going to see is my dad. I'm kind of filling in here today. So follow me, and please forgive any little slip ups I've made so far. 

I promise not to embarrass either you or me any more."

"Ok, Jim." Nikki gave him a genuine smile and gave a little nod in the direction of the inner doors. "Ready when you are."

"Yeah. Right." With a sheepish grin, the boy led the way. "So how do you like it here at Whateley so far?"

"Well, it's certainly had it's moments up to now." She chuckled. "I think I'm going to like it just fine, thanks. Do you go to school here too?"

"Sure do." Jim nodded pleasantly. "I'm a senior, and a devisor/manifester. I help with things around the lab, most of the time. I'm not real good as a people person, though so Dad wants me to get in some practical experience handling that at the reception desk off and on."

"Oh, well I think you do fine, mostly." Nikki gave him a small smile, kind of liking the guy's unintentional exuberance for even a job he considered a chore. Her empathic sense kicked in and she was more than sure that Jim applied that to everything he did. "You might try to not let your eyes pop out quite so much when a girl walks by, though. Just some friendly advice. You're a really nice guy, but that one little thing would scare off a lot of girls before they get a chance to know you at all, let alone better."

"Ouch!. Sorry, I really didn't mean to stare like that." He appeared so crestfallen that Nikki took a little more mercy on him, laughing gently and putting a hand lightly on his shoulder. "It's just that, that, well..."

"Don't worry about it, Jim." Nikki grinned, pulling her hand back slowly and wondering why she was acting that way at all, but kind of liking the feelings it gave her. "And look at it this way, you didn't walk into a wall or fall down any stairs while you were watching."

"There were no real walls to walk into." He honestly pointed out, then questioned almost hesitantly. "Have some guys really done that with you?"

"Oh, yeah." Letting out a small, but very theatrical sigh, she nodded with a serious expression on her face that melted into rueful humor. "Trust me on that one. I even try to warn them off and on. It just seems to make things worse. I have this stupid Glamour thing that I can't turn off, you see. It doesn't make me any better looking than I actually am or anything, it just seems to short circuit most guys who see me. It's really kind of embarrassing."

"Hey, that 's different." Jim nodded with a grin of his own. "Most good, no, great looking girls I know of would take something like that and run to the bank with what it could get them."

"Oh, I'm different all right." Nikki took a deep breath (internally at least) and told him. "I was a guy myself up until a short while ago. My mutation kicked in and did all this to me in a few months."

"You were a guy?" Jim's incredulous tone of voice had Nikki thinking he was disgusted, or worse, was going to laugh at her predicament. Instead, the boy shook his head, gave her a nod, and went on. "That must be tough for you, looking the way you do now and all. Especially with that Glamour thing. You ever need a shoulder to cry on, or just someone to yell at for a while, look me up. No strings."

"You mean that." Nikki was still reading his emotions and none of them showed the least bit of disgust or derision. All she could read out of him were sympathy he was carefully trying to hide so as not to make her either angry or feel bad, and a genuine wish to help. True, there were some deeper underlying urges in there, but he was male and she was now an attractive female.

"Yeah, I really do, and I bet Dad can help you get a handle on that Glamour thing if you really want him to help you with it."

"That would be wonderful!" Nikki actually felt like hugging a boy for the first time since her change had started. So she did. Carefully, but still, it was a girl to boy hug that had him and her blushing once it was over with. "Uh, sorry. Hormones just kind of take over at times."

"That's ok." Jim grinned as his own blush began to fade. "Let's just not tell Dad about that one, ok?"

No prob." The little redhead giggled. 

"Sheesh, you may have been a guy once." Shaking his head, Jim gave her a grin filled with mischief. "But you sure act like a girl now."

"Hey!" Nikki shrugged with a grin of her own. "I have to learn to live with this body. It's mine and going to be like it is, more or less, for a long time to come whether I kick and scream or dive in. Diving in is much easier on the disposition, trust me on that. I've tried the kicking and screaming routine and all it does is make my face all blotchy and my nose run."

"Well then I say you're a better person than me. I'd be going stark bonkers if what you're going through was happening to me." Jim told her quite seriously.

"Like I have a choice." Nikki answered a little shortly, then softened that with another sunny smile. "But if you got the look, the walk, and the feel..."

"Yeah. Looks like a girl, sounds like a girl, smells like a girl..." Jim agreed.

"Gotta be a girl!" Nikki finished with a musical laugh. "See? Why fight it when it's so clear that's what I am now? I just have to get used to the idea is all."

"What's it like?"

"Strange." Nikki replied soberly. "Like everything you ever took as immutable in life has been twisted around, stood on its head, and set spinning like a top."

"Must be scary for you, all that change, and turning out the way you have."

"It is ." Her answer was quiet, then her voice became cheerful again. "But I think it'll be fun in a lot of ways once I really settle into the role I've been given gender-wise and sexually. I'm already enjoying a lot of it."

"Good, I'm really glad you can feel that way about things." Jim stopped at another doorway. "Well, we're here. Walk right in, they're expecting you. I have to get back to the front desk."

"Ok, Jim, and thanks." Nikki bounced forward to give a small peck on the cheek. "It was nice to meet you."

"Yeah, you too." He answered almost dreamily while gently rubbing his cheek. "You take care of yourself, and I'll see you around off and on."

"Yes you will, Jim Hewley." She murmured to herself, then mentally slapped her forehead. "What am I doing?! But he is kind of cute in a nerdish way... Wow, I have got to get a grip. I was actually coming on to that guy. But I did really, really like him, he's Nice!"

That internal argument died as the combatants realized they were one and the same person. "Sheesh. Next thing I know, I'll be dragging some cute guy into the bushes or something..."


"Hello!" A rotund, cheerful man wearing a white lab coat festooned with pens, note pads and other less identifiable things greeted her as she opened the door. "You must be Miss Reilly?"

"That's me." Nikki smiled at the man's obvious exuberance as she nodded. "I'm here for my evaluations."

"Well, I'm Richard Hewley." The fellow nodded energetically and cheerfully. "I'll be in charge of assessing your powers and abilities today, and maybe in the future if we need to go a little deeper into things."

"You mean the first time may not get all of it done?"

"Not always." Dr. Hewley answered with a small shrug and a wide smile. "But don't worry, the preliminaries are actually quite simple, then we get into the tougher things as we get the basics nailed down. We're very good at that here, and it usually only takes a couple of hours."

"Oh, I hope so." Nikki answered with an uneasy little grin. "But I kind of think it may be the other way with me. Believe me, nothing has been anything close to normal if it involves me lately."

"Yes, we've heard about your, umm difficulties here already." Dr. Hewley nodded with an encouraging smile. "But the good part there is that we already have a pretty good idea of where to focus our testing, so it may not take as long as you seem to fear it will."

"I sure hope you're right." The little redhead shrugged with a very fetching tilt of her head and sigh. "It would be really nice for something to be easy around here that involves me for a change."

"Well, just from looking at you it's easy enough to tell that you're a Faerie Type of mutation, so we can check that off on the list already." Hewley nodded while checking through what looked to be a ream of paperwork.

"That's kind of a no brainer, wouldn't you say?" Nikki grimaced, then giggled as the Dr. actually blushed.

"Like I said," Hewley nodded with a grin. "You're a Faerie type, which is pretty rare, you're only the one thousandth one recorded in modern history for your information."

"Really?" Nikki was actually interested in that one. "Only a thousand like me in the world?"

"Recorded instances." Hewley nodded. "Faerie types tend to have very long life spans, so there is an off chance that some really old ones are still hanging around. People only started recording that kind of thing back in the mid eighteen hundreds, and that was pretty spotty until the early twentieth century. But even with tracing legends, and old tales, you're still only the thousandth one on record so far."

"Wow, so what I turned into is really a rare thing." The girl nodded, then grimaced with half sour humor. "Given what's happened to me recently, that kind of figures."

Also you seem to be a Wizard class of mutant, there are only about thirty of those in the Faerie ranks at all. So you're even a rarer type."

"Makes me feel like I should be stuck under some glass jar or something." Nikki grumbled.

"I wouldn't worry about that, it does make you something of a curiosity, but nothing that would prompt any government or other research facility to try and kidnap you for study." Hewley grinned to show he was joking, then looked up as a young woman carrying a tray approached them. "Ah, Hillary, you're here, good. Now we're going to draw some blood from you, Miss Reilly. Just for standard analysis, and to have the chemical makeup in it on our records."

Nikki held out her arm and the young woman expertly applied a tourniquet, then drew several vials of blood from her offered arm.

"So I understand that you're a magic user?" Hewley asked once that operation had been completed. "Could you describe to me what you do, and how you think you do it?"

Nikki did so, telling him of her use of Ley Lines, and ability to draw on natural phenomena for power as well.

"All right." The man replied while making a few notations on his pad. "Please show us how you find and use the lines, could you?"

"Ok." Nikki found the strongest lines around her, and opened herself to them, then made a shimmering wall of force between herself and the scientists and wizards who had collected in the room to measure her abilities.

Everyone in the room began scrambling, checking readouts on machinery, watching the apparently thin air around them and the girl, and shaking their heads as if what they were seeing wasn't possible.

"I can reach more, if you want." The girl offered, then sought out and lightly tapped into even more lines, and lightly touched those connecting the people in the room as she did.

The gathered people shook their heads as she did that, and began rechecking their instruments, while the ones staring into space closed their eyes, opened them, and looked again with incredulous expressions on their faces.

"Just how many different lines can you tap into?" Hewley questioned while furiously scribbling on his own papers.

"Oh, there are more than I can really count around here." Nikki calmly answered, finding even more and grimacing as one of the techs said something about his equipment going absolutely crazy. "I can trace and find lines running from just about anything or anyone, and do things with them once I do. If it storms, I can draw on that, too. Anything that isn't artificially made, I can generally find, trace, and make use of."

"Anything?" Hewley asked very carefully, looking as if he was having trouble believing what his team's instruments and sight were telling him.

"Anything natural." She confirmed, then added. "If it's made by a machine I can't do anything with it, but I can still hear it."

"Hear it?"

"Sure, it almost drives me nuts at times." Nikki admitted almost reluctantly. "I can hear the voices of just about everything around me. It took me almost a month just learning how to shut all that out when I didn't want it."

"This is amazing." Hewley breathed, without even thinking of questioning what she was telling him as he read something on his own computer screen. "I see from your records, that the magic user who first examined you, noted this, and gave you some techniques for shutting those things out. Hmmm."

"Well, from the preliminary tests, and the information passed along about you from Kansas City, I can definitely say that you're a Wizard class mutation in addition to being Faerie. The difference here is, according to records we have from all over the world, of the thirty Faerie Wizards on record, fifteen can see and use Ley Lines, ten can tap into and make use of natural events like weather, water, wind, things like that. Two can use both. One makes use of lines from individual things and beings. One uses that plus Ley Lines. One, and only one combines that last one with the natural events usage.

But not one of those is capable of using all of them as you seem to be able to do with such ease. Plus, you have shown an ability to actually bend gravity to your will in some way, hear the resonance of every object and person around you as those 'voices', plus any number of incidental things that aren't even catalogued here." Hewley stopped for breath, then went on. "We would have pegged you as some form of Avatar - a person who provides a place for a spirit of some kind to reside in and gets that spirit's powers in return for serving as a type of battery for the spirit. But there is absolutely no trace of another spirit in you at all."

"So what does all that mean?" Nikki nervously questioned while taking in the almost awestruck looks she was getting from everyone in the room.

"I really don't know." Hewley answered honestly. "You're off any scale we have to judge things like this, my dear girl. Which makes you possibly the most unique creature to walk the face of this Earth in a very long time. Beyond that, I can't even start to tell you, and wouldn't want to try."

"Another one." One of the techs muttered, then snapped his mouth shut at glares from his co-workers.

"Dr. Hewley." Hillary, the young woman who had drawn Nikki's blood approached wearing a puzzled expression. 

"What is it Hillary? Something about her blood chemistry that's unusual?"

"Well, you could say that." Hillary glanced to Nikki with a widening of her bright blue eyes as she whispered. "Her blood turned to a silver color, and seems to emit a bluish glow in the dark."

"At least it didn't evaporate, or implode the vial." The same tech muttered as he heard that.

"Clark, that will be quite enough." Hewley admonished the man, then turned back to Hillary. "Did anything turn up in the chemistry of her blood that would cause that to happen in a more or less normal way? Like maybe phosphors and the like?"

"Nothing out of the ordinary showed up at all until it did that." The young woman gave him a helpless shrug as she continued. I'm running more tests right now, but the data doesn't look to be any different than it was the first time."

"I see, well, keep at it, and take Mr. Clark with you." Hewley gestured to the to indiscrete tech with a frown. "I don't need to remind you of the confidentiality agreement you signed when you started working here do I, Mr. Clark?"

"Uh, no, Dr. Hewley." The tech responded with a flush of embarrassment.

"Good." Turning back to Nikki the scientist pursed his lips thoughtfully, then questioned. "Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself or your abilities right now?"

"Well, there is one more thing involved with the Faerie thing." The redhead nodded while blushing with embarrassment. "I seem to have this Faerie Glamour thing that I can't turn off. It doesn't seem to make me any prettier, or umm sexier, but it evidently projects a sense of something more to the people around me. I really can't explain it any better than that, because I was just made aware of it since coming here to Whateley."

"Sounds like some form of Aura Enhancement, or another innate ability along those lines." Hewley simply nodded while adding another notation to his growing stack of papers. "I think we may be able to help you tone that down some if it is what I think it is."

"I'd really be grateful if you could." Nikki answered quietly. "It's bad enough changing into what I have. This instant attraction thing is really making me crazy, you know."

"I think I can see how it would, Miss Reilly." Hewley nodded again, then smiled encouragingly. "I think we can show you a few techniques that will at least turn it down to bearable levels for you, as you've learned to tune out all those 'voices' you hear."

"Cool!"

"Now, I see in the preliminary reports from your records, that you're an empath, too."

"Yeah, I can feel what other people do, emotionally, and project what I feel to them. It works with animals, too."

"Interesting." Hewley answered while Nikki wondered if anything he encountered was uninteresting. "Would you mind demonstrating that for us?"

"Guess not." Nikki projected her own uncertainties outward and saw the expressions of everyone change and become worried on top of fascinated. "Oops, sorry. I think I sent that out a little too strongly."

"Quite all right, dear." Hewley assured her while swallowing and wiping sweat from his forehead. "You seem to be a very powerful projecting empath, how clearly do you receive emotion from others?"

"Well, on the surface you're very excited right now." Nikki told him. "But on a deeper level I can sense that you are very worried about someone close to you, someone you love very much. Also, you're a little afraid of me. Fear is a really strong emotion, like love and hate."

"Who would I be worrying about like that?" He questioned very carefully.

"How would I know?" Nikki shrugged. "I'm an empath, not a telepath. I can't read minds, just emotions."

"I understand." Hewley told her, then went on. "As it happens, I am very worried about how my son, I believe you met him on the way in, is going to handle being out in the real world once he graduates from Whateley, and how the world in general is going to treat him."

"Yes, I met him." Nikki smiled. "And your worry sharpened as you told me that, so it must be what that was."

The girl read not only surface emotions and feelings, but deeper ones in every person present, much to the assembled group's delight and sometimes consternation.

"Off the damn scales again, Dr." One of the techs reported. "We'll have to list her as a level three projecting and receiving empath and leave it at that for now."

"Right." Hewley agreed, then added. "With some senses we haven't even gotten on the catalogue yet, I would think."

"Excuse me?" Nikki broke in, not liking herself being discussed as if she weren't in the room at all. "Just what is all this stuff you people are spouting about me and what does it boil down to."

"Just that you are a very remarkable young woman." Hewley responded with an apologetic grin for her benefit. "You'll have to excuse us here, we have gathered enough data on this series of tests alone to keep us busy for years, but the upshot is that you are most definitely a Faerie Wizard, and a level three empath, which will at least get you going here at school until we can devise some more discerning tests for you."

"Oh." Nikki nodded then looked up with a worried expression on her lovely face. "More tests?"

"Oh nothing too terrible, I promise." Hewley assured her with a genuine smile after the wince from her accidental projection of fear and worry. "They will simply be more delicate and sensitive variations on what we've done here already."

"All right." Nikki sounded a bit mollified then questioned. "No danger room stuff, right? I don't like the idea of being shot at or anything like that, even in the name of science."

"Oh, lord no!" Hewley actually appeared shocked by that idea. "We want our students to have the best chance at survival once they leave Whateley as we can give them. Our job here is to find what exactly their abilities are so others can teach them how to make good use of them, and to work around any weakness that might show up. Like your allergies to iron and synthetics, for example."

"Ok." The girl gave him a tentative smile after that answer. "I'll hold you to that, you know. I don't want what happened to Tennyo -- Billie -- happening to me is all."

"Oh, that." Hewley frowned. "Some upperclassmen mistook your friend for someone else who had signed up for some unauthorized, and highly illegal, use of school facilities. It won't happen again, I can assure you of that."

"I'll accept that as a 'no it won't happen', then." Nikki nodded with more presence than a fourteen year old should possess. "Thanks for the reassurance."

"Well, that's about all we can do with you just now, Miss Reilly." Hewley finished the interview/testing with that. "I'll have one of my aides show you out, but please be prepared for more testing once we've digested all that we found this time. We'll contact you and arrange a time that fits with your schedule, if that is agreeable."

"Sure, no problem." Nikki made a little grimace. "Believe me, the more I know about myself, the happier I'll be. Just get in touch when you're ready and we'll get things arranged."

"Good, and thank you." Hewley smiled widely. "It has been a distinct pleasure, Miss Reilly."

"Thank You, Dr. Hewley, and the rest of you, too." Nikki favored the room in general with a broad, sunny smile. "Bye now and see you later."

"Oh yeah." puffing out his cheeks, then blowing the trapped air out in a quiet, tuneless whistle, Hewley watched the unusual girl's progress out of his lab. "I get the feeling that I'm going to be seeing a lot of that young lady for a while."


"Well, I see that you drove the testing team nuts a while ago." Ophelia read what was on her computer screen with a show of amusement. "Wizard class mutant, Faerie type -- Very rare, seems to be able to use all of the Faerie Mage abilities at this testing. Is also off any standard or special scale regarding her Empathic talents. No indication that she is an Avatar at all. Bears more study."

"Yeah, I kind of sent them all into frenzies when I demonstrated any of my powers." Nikki let out a long sigh. "I was kind of hoping they might get a better handle on them than I have so far. So much for that idea."

"They're trying, dear." Ophelia soothed as she brought up another screen on her computer. "Now for what you're going to be doing class-wise here for the next year."

"I was kind of wondering why I only had afternoon classes." Nikki answered. "I mean, I know I've already been through my freshman year of high school, but what's all this three classes and nothing else?"

"That's easily explained." Ophelia smiled at the girl as she continued bringing up new screens on her computer. "Since you've already been through and passed you freshman year, it was thought by the administration that you would do better with a minimal class load in the afternoon, and concentrate on handling your abilities during the mornings. I understand that a Mentor has been found for you to help with that, too."

"A mentor?"

"Yes, someone well versed in your own specialties, and good enough at using them, or something similar, to be a teacher for your own use of the abilities you have." Ophelia answered with a grin. "And it isn't going to be me. Evidently a gentleman from England has accepted the job. He's very good from everything I've been able to find about him. Even did some work, quietly, for the Crown in Britain."

"Oh, great." Nikki shook her head. "So just who is this very special guy who is also my Mentor?"

"Sir Wallace Westmont."

"Sir Wallace?" Nikki questioned with a lift of her eyebrows. 

"Yes, Sir Wallace." Ophelia nodded with a grin. "He was knighted for undisclosed services to The British Crown. He's a magic user of some skill and power, plus has the ability and restraint to be subtle with it. I've heard a lot of good things about him, but he tends to be a womanizer from all I hear, too."

"Oh, good." Nikki closed her eyes. "A womanizer, with me looking like I do and having the effect on guys I have. I can hardly wait until Dad hears about This."

"I understand that he is very professional when he takes on an obligation." Ophelia assured her. "If he does make -- umm -- a move on you, just let me know and I'll get something done about it."

"Oh, ok." The redhead nodded, then shrugged. "Why would having a mentor be any easier than everything else I've been going through lately?"

"Which brings up another point I was meaning to discuss with you." The blonde tresses moved to press some keys on the computer as Ophelia tapped one fingernail on her desktop while the other hand leafed through a thin sheaf of stapled together papers. "You have had two encounters with hostile groups since you arrived less than a week ago."

"I couldn't help either one of those!" Nikki protested.

"I know that, and it isn't the point of this." Ophelia watched her student with a serious expression. "You do know just how lucky you were in both incidents, don't you?"

"Well, I have to go along with that." The redheaded Elf girl agreed. "Without Toni, Tennyo, and Hank helping out, those crystal wavers would have had me for sure. And my magic got away from me with the Ninjas -- that's why those chattering teeth were giving them so much grief. So, yeah, I know I've been lucky."

"Then you also know that you can't go on being so lucky in the future, right?" Ophelia questioned.

"Umm, yeah, I have kind of been thinking about that." Nikki nodded. "Why are you bringing this up now?"

"Just to caution you that no matter how powerful you might be, even now, or in the future, there is the likelihood that someone will come along who is even more powerful, or who is able to negate your own powers. Or you may find yourself in a place where something blocks your powers."

"Ok, I got that." Nikki agreed with a still mystified look on her lovely face. "So what is this leading up to?"

"Only that you should probably learn other skills in case your powers don't work in a given instance." Ophelia answered matter-of-factly.

"Other skills?" The girl gave her advisor a dubious look. "What does that mean?"

"It means," Ophelia replied with a tight little smile. "that you need to learn some kind of martial arts so you can defend yourself if you can't cast your spells."

"Martial Arts?!!"

"Yes, dear."

"Ms. Tenent, I can't get through a regular gym class, let alone something where I'm supposed to hit things!"

"All the more reason for you to work on that, dear." Ophelia gave Nikki a gentle pat on the hand. "Don't worry, a special instructor has been arranged so you can have some private lessons three mornings a week."

"Oh great." The girl groaned. "Special Ed for Martial Arts."

"Well, just make the best of it." Ophelia answered firmly. "And I'm sure you and your instructor will find something that you are good at. Just promise to work at it, ok? You really do need the backup in case. That's why we teach things like that here at Whateley. Some people come to depend far too much on their powers to the neglect of other skills."

"But..."

"But nothing." The teacher interrupted. "Let's say that you had your powers fine tuned, and ready for anything. Anything except not being able to use them for some reason, say there would be a lot of iron around you or that the lines you need to use were somehow blocked. Where would that leave you without a physical fighting skill in a hostile situation?"

"Ummm, in big trouble, I guess." 

"Big trouble is right." Ophelia nodded emphatically. "Or dead, depending on what your adversary was trying to do. So you need to learn things besides care and feeding of those powers you have. That's simple survival."

"Ok, ok, I'll do my best at -- whatever." Nikki answered unhappily.

"Please do that, halfway measures won't work, dear." Ophelia insisted when the girl seemed still less than enthusiastic about the idea. "Especially with the interest already shown in you by those Crystal Waving idiots -- yes, I heard about that one, too -- there are very likely going to be people with less than good intent going after you for one reason or another all your life. You're far too unique and special to loose just days after you graduate from Whateley just because you wouldn't learn a secondary fighting skill for self defense."

"Ok, you've made your point." Nikki answered tiredly. "Sorry, I'm still just a little tired and out of sorts from things that have happened over the past week. I swear that my life hasn't been so eventful as this past week has been."

"I think I can understand how you feel about that." Ophelia chuckled. "You'll be taught by a lady named Suzannah Hagarty. I understand that she is both very good at what she does and at discovering what her students are good at."

"Is she a teacher here at Whateley?"

"No, actually, she came in with Sir Wallace, your mentor."

"Are you telling me that my martial arts instructor is currently my supposed mentor's main squeeze here?" Nikki raised an eyebrow.

"She is his -- umm -- companion and significant other." Ophelia nodded with a reproving look. "And his working partner as well. Don't ask me how it works, but from all accounts it does for them, and very well. So don't be getting any silly ideas about sloughing off with Ms. Hagarty. She isn't some bimbo that would allow you to get away with that."

"I understand, I really do." Nikki assured her advisor, but still had a silly little grin on her face that left as she got a determinedly serious expression in its place. "I'll really do my best to learn whatever Ms. Hagarty has to teach me. I promise."

"Good. Now to the rest of your classes." Ophelia briskly nodded as her almost living tresses brought up more files on the computer. "Since you've already made it through your freshman year once, this year we want you to concentrate on getting your abilities under control and gaining some understanding of them as a whole. So your mornings will be taken up with special instruction on that, practice, and simply getting a handle on what you can and can't do with them. Along with the martial arts training. Ok?"

"Sure, I was told I'd probably be doing something like that this year." Nikki nodded in agreement. "So that isn't a big surprise."

"Good. Then for your afternoon class schedule..." Ophelia went through her files again while nodding to herself. "You'll be taking Principles of Magic, Powers Theory, Home Economics, and Lab for Powers theory. It doesn't sound like much, but with your personalized morning schedule you won't have time to be bored or lack for things to do."

"I kind of got that idea." Nikki let out a sigh. "Sheesh, just getting a handle of what I am and can or can't do with my powers is going to be tough enough, I think."

"I'm pretty sure you'll have more homework from that, than the other classes combined." Ophelia chuckled. "But according to your records, intelligence is not something you ever lacked. Which brings up another thing. I want you to take an IQ test here, just for a comparison from before you mutated."

"Well, ok, but why?"

"Simply for comparison." The doctor/teacher assured her student. "It's often the case, especially in documented Faerie mutations that the person's intelligence increases following the change. I would just like to check on that, if you wouldn't mind. It would be strictly voluntary and would involve some of your free time if you'd be willing to do it."

"I suppose I could." Nikki shrugged. "I sure don't feel any smarter right now, but sure, I'll take the test."

"Good, I'll schedule it and get back to you on a time once I get you slotted in."

"Ok."

"Now one more thing and we'll be finished with this session." Ophelia pulled out another folder and pushed this one across her desk to Nikki. "Here at Whateley we encourage students to get jobs. That helps them pay for their own school supplies, some classes off and on, and teaches them how to handle money for once they're out on their own."

"Well, I know money shouldn't be a problem for me." Nikki shrugged. "Either handling it or having it, but I can see what you mean. What kinds of jobs do students usually take?"

"Oh, all sorts of them." Ophelia tapped the folder. "Take that with you and look it over. If anything catches your interest, or not, take it to Student Administration and they'll go over things with you. Even help you decide on a job you might like or be able to fit into your schedule of classes."

"Ok, but I don't have to make a decision right away do I?" Nikki questioned while riffling through the sheaf of papers.

"Well, I wouldn't take too long making up my mind if I were you." Ophelia answered.

"The better jobs will be gone pretty quickly."

"Ok, but I can see me being stuck in some stupid job like counting bubbles in the fountain or something no matter what I do here."

"Not necessarily." The blonde grinned. "There is one in there that seems to be tailor made for you, with your looks, and will keep you on campus while you do it."

"Oh? Which one is that?"

"Someone is needed to model for the new brochures this year." Ophelia answered with a chuckle. "If your looks come through on camera as well as they do in real life, I don't think anyone else would have a chance if you tried out for that one."

"A model?" Nikki gave her advisor a dubious look. "Me? That's all I need. people already think I'm stuck up, shy as I am."

"Well, think about it." Ophelia urged. "It would be pretty good money for you and might give you a fallback for once you graduate."

"Oh, I'll check it out."

"Please do that." Ophelia replied. "I think you'll do very well with it."

"Ok, where do I go to apply, or audition, or whatever?" Nikki was actually looking interested. "It kind of sounds like a good job to have, if I can get it."

"Oh it would be." Her advisor agreed, then chuckled. "But it won't be as easy a job as you seem to think it will be, trust me on that. Modeling is hard work."

"Well, I'll either do it or not." The redhead shrugged with a twinkle in her eyes. "Besides, I've got nothing else to do, right?"

"Oh, sure." Ophelia answered dryly. "I'm sure you'll be bored to tears without the job."

"That's a no brainer." Nikki answered with a smirk. "But keeping me busy would probably be a good thing."

"I agree." Ophelia nodded with a grin. "Well, now I think Sir Wallace is ready to meet with you. So We'll call this meeting finished."

"All right." Nikki made a face, then smiled. "Where do I go to meet this guy?"

"He's waiting for you outside, in the classroom, with Ms. Hagarty."

"Oh, wonderful." Nikki grimaced. "Now not only am I weird, but I have this English gentleman and his lady friend waiting for me right outside the door here. I'm never going to live this down, you know."

"You'll get over it, dear."

"Oh, sure. I can see me getting over this for the next four years." Nikki groused. "But I'd better get out there so he doesn't have too long to wait."

"Good idea." Ophelia smiled. "I'll see you next Tuesday to see how things are going and do any fine tuning that may be needed with your schedule."

"See you then."

"And don't forget, I need to do that pelvic exam once you finish your period." Ophelia added.

"Ugghh. I won't, but I'm not looking forward to it."

"No one does for her first time, hon."

"All right, I'll be in touch once I get through this messy thing."

"Good, now go meet your Mentor and your martial arts instructor."

"Yeah, I can hardly wait."

"I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with them."

"That would be different. Something pleasant with all the changes I've been going through." Nikki responded acerbically.

Ophelia's chuckle at that was cut off as the door to her office closed behind the girl once she had left. 

Meeting the Mentors

Nikki walked out of Ophelia's office with mixed emotions about having not one, but two mentors. "Sheesh, like I really need to be told that I'm different and have to learn to handle all these weird abilities I've suddenly found myself with. But having to learn martial arts on top of that? Man, calling this a really interesting year at school is kind of playing the whole thing down."

The couple waiting in the classroom had been talking as she left the office, but stopped when she approached them. Both regarded her carefully, then offered friendly smiles as the male of the pair moved forward and tipped his bowler hat to her.

A bowler hat? Nikki winced internally as she thought that. These two look like clones from that old Avengers show my dad likes watching. God, I'm Never going to live this down.

"Ah, you must be Nichole Reilly?" he questioned in a smoothly cultured voice then at her nod took her hand in his and lightly kissed the back of it. "So good to meet you, dear girl, I've heard a lot about you recently. I am Sir Wallace Westmont."

"Well, it hasn't exactly been a quiet week or two for me." Nikki rolled her eyes and wondered if her hand was ever going to stop tingling. "I only found out you were coming just now, let alone that you were here."

"It was a sudden invitation." Sir Wallace nodded with a grin that was infectious. "Your father contacted me about finding someone to help his umm, child, learn to handle the powers that, urmm, she was manifesting. I read over the information and was intrigued enough to offer my own services, dear girl."

"Just what exactly did Dad tell you about me?" Nikki questioned nervously.

"Enough to let me know that you must be going through a very difficult time just now, and not only because of the powers you have gained." Sir Wallace answered very carefully. "The mutations that hit people at puberty have very distinct properties that they alter the body to fit, their template it is called. I've seen more than a few people who went through what you have once their bodies began to fit that template. Now I have to ask you a difficult question here, but it does have bearing on how I'll be helping you. How far along with the physical changes are you?"

"Completely, as far as I know." Nikki grimaced. "I'm having my first period right now, and had something that everyone tells me is PMS several days ago."

"I see." Sir Wallace nodded thoughtfully. "How do you feel about the change in your sex?"

"I guess it isn't so bad." Nikki answered slowly after thinking for a few seconds. "I'm getting used to it, I suppose. Not that I have much choice about that, but I'm adjusting if that's what you're driving at. But the period and PMS suck."

Sir Wallace's companion let out a chuckle at that comment followed with a smile to show she wasn't being cruel. 

"Oh, yes, forgive me for not making introductions sooner," Sir Wallace nodded towards the woman with a smile. "This is Susannah Hagarty and she will be assisting me with some of your training. If you decide we are suitable."

"I get to decide?" Nikki asked in surprise. "I thought this was, like, a done deal or something."

"Not at all." Sir Wallace smiled and shrugged. "My own and Ms. Hagarty's agreement to mentor you hinges upon all three parties agreeing before it starts. If you have reservations of any kind, we'll leave and someone else will be asked to do it, contingent on your approval, of course."

"Oh, and what have you decided about me?"

"You're honesty in those first few minutes convinced me." Sir Wallace answered simply with a questioning glance towards Susannah.

"I agree with you Wade." Her grey eyes twinkled as she smoothed her long black hair and smiled. "Your comment about periods and PMS was wonderful, by the way. The question here and now is what do you think of us?"

"I think..." Nikki pouted thoughtfully for a few seconds and nodded. "Ok with me, but from what I understand so far, I won't be an easy job for either one of you."

"Not to worry." Sir Wallace shrugged as he waved that off. "Actually, it is you who is going to be doing most of the real work in this, ummm, relationship. We are just here to guide you through it."

"That should be interesting." Nikki grumbled quietly.

Sir Wallace heard it anyway and chuckled again. "Precisely why I decided to come here myself. Now I understand you have a problem with your magic that you call Hobgoblins? Could you explain what happens when these show up, please?"

Following a rather lengthy question and answer session Sir Wallace pursed his lips with a nod. "Well, it isn't magical rebound, if that was the case, the magic would have come after you."

"Then what?" Nikki questioned a bit shortly. "Those things have been causing me grief since I started using my powers. I never know what is going to happen when I lose my concentration."

"I understand your concern, Nichole." Sir Wallace smiled while fiddling with the brim of his hat. "I think that these 'hobgoblins' may simply be magic that you have turned loose to do whatever it may to confound your enemies. I should know more about that once we begin our formal sessions, but for now I think that is the clearest explanation I can give you."

"Now it's my turn." Susannah grinned while sizing up the girl. "Do you have any experience with martial arts at all, or with simple schoolboy fighting?"

"No."

"Well, I won't have to break you of any bad habits, then." Susannah nodded with another little grin that Nikki found unsettling even as she began to like the woman.

"I'm a total klutz with anything like that." Nikki continued with a sigh. "Sports, whatever, I was always the last one to get chosen for sides in games and stuff."

"Oh, I'm sure we'll find something you're good at." Susannah laughed. "Even if it takes us a while."

"Well, I think that is enough for now." Sir Wallace rose from the seat he had taken in one of the student desks and nodded. "My offices are going to be in Siegal Hall, suite fifteen. Please be there in the morning at eight O'clock sharp and we'll get started."

"Ok, I'll be there." Nikki nodded.

"Excellent!" Sir Wallace gave her a formal bow that had her actually blushing. "I'll look forward to getting started with you. Until then."

"Bye." Nikki responded then hastily added. "Nice meeting both of you."

"And you, dear young lady, and you." Sir Wallace replied.

"Extraordinary." Sir Wallace shook his head once the girl had left.

"She is quite lovely." Susannah nodded, then favored her companion with a glare. "Just make sure that you keep those wandering hands off her. She doesn't need that right now."

"Susannah!" Sir Wallace actually managed to look shocked. "She's a child! Not to mention an obligation now that we've all agreed to work on her abilities."

"Between her looks and that glamour she has on, I doubt that would bother a lot of men, Wade." Susannah snorted. "With your reputation with the ladies, I'm surprised that this school even allowed you on the grounds."

"Ah, the glamour. Yes, that is an interesting facet of the girl's new self. I believe it is something inherent, not deliberate on her part."

"Whatever." Susannah shrugged. "Just remember, I'll be watching you when she's around."

"Of that, my dear," giving the woman a hug and light peck on the cheek, he grinned at her. "I have no doubts whatsoever."


Nikki almost had to drag herself back to Poe following her first morning with Sir Wallace and Susannah. Toni glanced up as her roommate came in, then snapped her head up and questioned. "Tough morning?"

"You don't know how tough." Nikki let out a small sigh of relief as she settled onto her bed and raised her feet to lie down. "First I went through a session of twenty thousand questions with both Sir Wallace and Susannah."

"SIR Wallace?" Toni raised an eyebrow. "As in a knight of the Realm?"

"You got it. Sir Wallace Westmont of Great Britain. He's a powerful elemental mage from what I've been told, but I KNOW he's great as an interrogator." Nikki grimaced as she worked a kink out of her back then went on. "Then I had to demonstrate my powers to Sir Wallace. All of them, and explain how I did the stuff."

"All of them?" Toni warily looked around the room to make sure no hobgoblins had followed the redhead home.

"Uh huh." Nikki yawned. "It was exhausting, but at least he told me what everything I did was, and the basic theories about them. He also seems to have the crazy idea that I actually am some kind of Avatar, just one that can't be found out by normal testing. He says that's how I can do so much and do it with the kind of power I have already. Like I NEED that on top of everything else. I'm a damned spirit magnet, too."

"I guess all that would kind of wear you out." The black girl nodded, then grinned her usual irrepressible flash of white teeth. "But hey! Look at it this way, If you are an Avatar, that means that YOU have control of the spirit, not the other way around."

"That's what he told me." Nikki sighed again, then groaned. "But that isn't all. I had to go to the gym with Susannah and she put me through a workout an Olympic athlete would have had trouble keeping up with."

"How come?"

"To best determine where my physical skills lie and how to make the Optimum Use Of Those." Nikki answered tiredly. "God, I did gymnastics, had to lift weights, ran, even danced for that torture artist. I could have TOLD her I'm a total zip when it comes to physical activities. I was before I started changing, and now I'm weaker than I was then. Sheesh!"

"Did she tell you anything afterwards?" Toni asked carefully, already too well aware of how volatile Fey could be when Nikki was upset.

"Yeah." The redhead answered quietly. "She told me I have natural grace, and am really fast for a non-exemplar. I'm supposed to start learning something called Ken-Do and judo this week. Oh, she's going to try me on archery, too. Says I have good hand-eye coordination."

"Ken-Do?" Toni widened her eyes. "You mean learning to use a sword?"

"I don't know, you're the martial arts freak here."

Thinking of Nikki with a sword in her slender hands caused Toni to shudder inwardly. "Well I suppose this Susannah knows what she's doing, right?"

"So I've been told, by Sir Wallace and Ms. Tenent." Nikki grumped. "Evidently she isn't a mutant, but can pretty well hold her own against any but the most powerful ones in a one on one face off."

"Hey, it'll work out ok." Toni soothed. Why don't you take a long, hot shower and try to relax until it's time for afternoon classes? I'll run interference for you if anyone wants you."

"Sounds good to me." The redhead nodded and forced herself into a sitting position with a small wince. "I'll just head on over to the showers right now. Then maybe catch a little nap before my Ethics of Magic class."

"Good idea." Toni called to her retreating backside.

 

Daddy's Little Girl?

Only about two minutes had passed when a very upset Nikki charged back into the room, slammed the door shut behind her and leaned against it as if to keep someone, or something, from getting in. "Oh my god. This isn't happening. It can't be happening, please lord, not today!"

"Now that was a short shower, and you sure do look relaxed." Toni gave her roomie a puzzled look. "What's wrong? Some other weirdo group chasing you now? Did those Crystal wavers come back with reinforcements? Is every demon in Hell after you? What?"

"No." Nikki panted with her large violet eyes even wider than usual. "It's worse than that. My Dad's here! And he's coming up the stairs right now!"

"Hey, how bad can that be?" The black girl tried reasoning with the panicked redhead.

"It's your Dad. Your his kid and he's here to see you. It can't be that bad."

"You don't understand." Nikki gripped Toni's shoulders in a grip that was shockingly strong for someone with such a soft looking build. "This is the guy who thinks all this stuff wouldn't have happened to me if I hadn't stayed with Mom! He is not happy about my change. Not a bit!"

"Nikki, get hold of yourself here, girl!" Toni disengaged the claw-like grips on her shoulders with a slight wince. "You've faced down real Ninjas and blasted power crystals out of the hands of their owners. Why should you be scared of your Dad?"

"You know how I get when I'm upset!" Nikki almost growled in Toni's face. "I'm not afraid of him, I'm afraid of what I might do if he pisses me off! I gotta hide!"

"Oh. Good point." Toni nodded in sudden understanding. "It wouldn't look good if you zapped your own Daddy or sicced those hobgoblins of yours on him, would it?"

"See!?" Nikki whispered hoarsely. "You understand!. And you promised to run interference for me if anyone came looking."

"But this is your DAD!"

"You promised!" Nikki reached for the other girl's shoulders again, but an adroit sidestep on Toni's part avoided it that time. "I'm desperate here, Toni! Please!

"Ok, in the closet." Toni let out a sigh. "I'll do what I can to at least smooth the way for you with him. More than that I won't promise."

"Great!  Thanks!" Nikki caught Toni in a hug that nearly squeezed the air completely out of her lungs. "I'll make this up to you. I really will!"

"Just don't hug me again until you calm down." Toni wheezed as a redheaded streak rushed into the closet and slammed the door shut behind it.

Moments later a firm knock on the door announced the arrival of someone at least, and odds were it was Nikki's father. Carefully setting her face into a neutral expression, Toni opened the door with a calculatedly annoyed sounding. "Yes?"

The man standing at the door was slightly over six feet tall, trim in a muscular way, with a shock of thick blond hair and penetrating blue eyes. He smiled when Toni opened the door and answered in a rich, tenor. "Hello, I'm looking for Nick, er Nichole Reilly. Is she here?"

"Umm not just now." Toni answered. "Why are you looking for her, if you don't mind my asking?"

"I'm hi -- her -- father, Nicholas Reilly. Are you her roommate?"

"Yes I am." Toni responded with a small smile, then thoughtfully added. "Oh, Well, Nikki's probably out walking, sorting things out. She's been having a really rough time of it lately, what with the first period and everything---"

Uh, huh, I'd heard -- .PERIOD???!" The elder Reilly looked as if he had been hit with a telephone pole and still hadn't recovered his senses.

"Well, Shuh! And MAN did it hit her hard! I don't know what was worse, the mood swings or the panic attacks!  Though the panic attacks didn't come with interior weather fronts-- Believe me, when they told me about this place, they didn't say NOTHING about moody Elves!"

"Are you trying to tell me that Nick... ummm... Nikki has PMS, or something like that? Her mom has problems with that real bad at times. "Weather fronts in the hallway? Moody Elves?" Mr. Reilly was obviously having a tough time getting his head around everything he was being told.

"Oh, so that's where it comes from--- Tell me, do you have any little tricks that help tide your wife over on these heavy periods? They might come in handy next time Nikki goes into PMS!"

 

The man shook his head with a glazed look in his eyes and muttered, "Then he really did change sex completely with the mutation. But what's this about an elf?"

"Uhm-- haven't you SEEN Nikki lately?"

"No, I haven't. Not since the summer before last." Mr. Reilly answered slowly, then put in. "And I just walk softly around his... urmm, Her mom when it's that time of the month. And, I haven't even gotten a recent photo of my kid."

He showed Toni a photo of an unchanged Nick. "This is the most recent one I have."

"You don't rub her feet or massage her back or draw her a nice hot bath--- WHAT KIND OF HUSBAND ARE YOU?"

"One who's still alive to talk her down when she goes too out of there with things. At least I did when we were still together." The man responded with wry humor.

Toni looked at the photo and grimaced "This is what Nikki used to look like? Jeez, what a schlub!"

"That's my son. I know he wasn't much to look at, or any good at sports, but he is smart."

"Well, this don't look like anybody _I_ know! Are you sure that you have the right room, Mister?"

"I mean, there MIGHT be more than one 'Nicky' on campus."

"This is Nikki Reilly's room, isn't it? And could there be more than one from Kansas City, MO?

"Hey, we live in a world of infinite possibilities!" Toni offered him a lame grin as she said that, knowing that her delaying tactics weren't going to hold him off for much longer.

"Well, given what I've seen so far around here, and in my job, I can see your point. But I think I have the right room, young lady. Please tell me where I can find Nikki. There are some things I need to clear up now."

"Well, Sir, I'm afraid that she's not right here at the moment. I couldn't say exactly WHERE she is- I mean, classes have barely started, we're just getting to know our way around the place- she could be at the library, or maybe she's getting hit on by some guy over at the Crystal Hall---"

"Hit on by some GUY?" His eyes bugged out. "Just how does 'she' look now?"

"Hot, really hot." Toni grimaced at the thunderous expression on the man's face then added. "She's not just pretty, or even beautiful, she's gorgeous!"

"Urk!" That response wasn't from shock. A concerned Tennyo, hearing all the shouting in the room with Nikki's name prominent in it, had rushed in, thinking that someone was out to get her friend again. And had immediately clamped an iron hard hand around the interloper's throat and literally lifted him off the floor.

"All right, just who are you and what do you want with Nikki?" Tennyo grated out then finished with. "The poor girl's had way too many weirdo's interested in her since she got here and deserves some peace and quiet. Why don't you just let me escort you outside and we can discuss all this in private?"

As Tennyo was about to do just that, the closet door crashed open and Nikki burst out of it into the room. "No Billie! Don't do that! He's my Dad!"

"Your Dad?!" Tennyo quickly let go of the man's neck and grimaced in embarrassment.

"Uh oh. Sorry, I didn't know! I just thought you were some other jerk after Nikki for some idiot reason. Really!"

"I know, Billie, and thanks for the thought." Nikki let out a long sigh as her father simply stared at her while getting his breath back. 

"Uh, yeah, right." Tennyo gulped, gave the man a weak smile and edged towards the door. "Sorry. I think -- I'll -- just -- You know -- leave now and let you two -- uh, talk. Nice meeting you Mr. Reilly."

Tennyo kind of slid out the door muttering something about not being able to get anything right lately and Mr. Reilly managed to regain his breath. "Nick?"

"Hi Daddy." Nikki blushed. "It's Nichole now, but everyone just calls me Nikki."

"Nikki... Right, I can see that." The elder Reilly nodded and closed his eyes. "The mutation really did a job on you, didn't it, son, er ah, honey?"

"Yeah, and if you feel confused try it from my end of the shtick. I'm even having my first period right now."

"I heard." Nicholas answered distractedly. "What's this about weather fronts in the hallway?"

"You really don't want to be around when dear little Nikki is PMSing." Toni dryly responded and grinned at the redhead's wince when reminded of that. "Took us hours to clean up all the puddles and there are still scorch marks on the walls and floors from all the lightning."

"Never mind." The man faintly replied with a nod. "I get the picture."


Of course, when the commotion began in Nikki and Toni's room, Hank, Jade, and Ayla had rushed over to see what was going on and to help out if it was needed. They were met by an embarrassed Tennyo who managed to mutter. "It's ok, it's Nikki's Dad."

"How's he taking it?" Jade questioned, recalling how her own father had treated her with a shudder.

"So far, very quietly." Tennyo's subdued answer came in response. "I, uh, kind of jumped to conclusions and almost choked him. I don't think he's talking all that well yet."

"It's ok." Hank assured the still abashed Tennyo. "Any of us would have done the same if we'd gotten in there first. Right?"

Any answer to that was interrupted by a furious Hipployta rushing down the hallway in all her blustering, feminist brick glory. "I hear someone's bothering Nikki down here! Why aren't you wimps helping her instead of standing around talking about it?!"

"It's ok, Hipp, really." Jade answered in a small voice. "It's her..."

"NO it isn't ok!" the large solid looking young woman shouted. "No limp dicked Male is going to get away with charging in here and hassling a sister! Out of my way! I'll handle this."

"I don't think that would be such a good idea." Hank quietly interposed himself between the raging amazon and the door into Nikki and Toni's room. "Just calm down and we'll explain it all to you."

"I'll explain to you, traitor to your own kind!" Hipployta grated as she grabbed hank and negligently tossed him across the hall to bounce off the wall with a crack of plaster and woodwork.

"I really wish you hadn't done that." Hank dusted himself off as he zipped through the air and again stood between the girl and the door. "Now let me put it this way. You are not going in there."

"Oh and who's going to stop me?" Hipployta grinned nastily. "You little man?"

"Uh huh." Hank smiled as he grabbed the young woman and threw her down the hallway, almost to the stairs. "I sure am."

"Brick fight!" Someone shouted as everyone who had been watching scrambled to get out of the line of battle. "Head for the hills!"


"How did all this happen so fast?" Nicholas questioned almost plaintively while still staring at his new daughter in fascinated shock."

"It just kind of snuck up on me, Daddy." Nikki answered slowly. "I use magic, and every time I do, it changes me some more. I couldn't help it! Honest!"

"I know, I know." The elder Reilly let out a sigh, then whirled towards the doorway as loud shouting followed by a crash that shook the walls interrupted whatever he was going to say. "What the Hell?"

"Looks like Hipp and Hank are arguing again." Toni observed as a large female body literally flew past the door with a shriek of rage. "They're both bricks and don't get along so well with each other."

"You mean to tell me that two students are fighting in the hallway?" The man questioned as he continued watching the altercation outside the door. Hank was holding a furiously cursing Hipployta from getting a strangle hold on him while industriously beating at the girl's head with his free hand. All the while smiling gleefully. "Where are the hall monitors, and why aren't they doing something about this?"

"Mr. Reilly." Toni explained patiently through the crashes, shouts, thuds, and falling plaster. "They're bricks. You know, super strong types? The hall monitors are probably watching from a safe place, trying to call security, and taking bets on who'll win this fracas. Besides, would you really want to try breaking up this fight?"

"Uh, I see what you mean." Nicholas hunched his shoulders as a large piece of ceiling plaster barely missed him. "Does this kind of thing happen often around here?"

"How would I know? I've only been here a couple of weeks." The black girl shrugged.

"This is making a really great first impression." Nikki grumbled as she found the lines she wanted and built a shield against the wall facing the hallway, and incidentally blocking the door. Not a moment too soon either, as a grunting, swearing pair of Bricks engaged in trying to tear each other apart rolled into the doorway.

Then were surrounded in bright violet light that bulged inward, and snapped back like a stretched rubber band. Throwing the fighting pair out of the room and into the opposite wall with a force that shook half the building.

"Oops, made it a little too soft." Nikki shook her head and redid the shield until she was satisfied it would hold and not bend again.  "Now where were we, Daddy?"

"Did you do that?" Nicholas pointed at the doorway as he watched his strange child with something close to awe in his expression.

"Uh, yeah. I didn't want them rolling around in here and breaking up our stuff, is all." Nikki replied a little sheepishly, then stared him right in the face. "I'm a wizard, that's the kind of stuff I do!"

"I'd heard, but seeing you actually do it is something else altogether."

"I know. It's kind of hard to take if you aren't expecting to see it. Especially when it's your own kid doing it." Nikki let out a little sigh and ran her hands over her very female and feminine form. "I'm really sorry things turned out the way they have, Daddy, and if there was another way I would have taken it instead of, of This!

"I know, sweetheart." Nicholas quietly responded. "I'm sorry, it's just been a real shock for me. First I thought your Mom had gone off the deep end and gotten you to start dressing like a girl just to get back at me. Then I thought she might have influenced your change somehow. I know those ideas are idiotic, but for Christ's Sake I just heard that my oldest son had become my daughter. What was I supposed to think?"

"Pretty messed up, isn't it?" Nikki quietly answered that with a little lift of one shoulder in a very feminine shrug. "Do you think I'm that bad, really?"

Any answer was briefly halted as a maniacally grinning Hipployta, holding a struggling Hank like a log, rammed his head into the shield at the doorway, causing more plaster and dust to fall. Hank, immediately twisted out of her grasp and flipped her over to crash into some unfortunate piece of furniture in the hallway, then bounded after her with a gleeful shout.

"Well, I can sure see that your time here is going to be really interesting, honey." Nicholas allowed a small grin to show on his face. "Providing you survive long enough to be here any longer."

"Yup, never a dull moment at good ol' Whateley." Toni put in. "But not to worry, Nikki can take care of herself, and has friends to look out for her, too."

"I've noticed." The elder Reilly ruefully rubbed his bruised neck. "That actually sets my mind at ease about you being here, Nikki. And no, you are anything but awful in my eyes. Ok, I lost a son. He was kind of a wimp, but I loved him. Now I have a beautiful and very -- umm -- talented daughter I can love just as much. And maybe she'll let me show her that more than Nick would have."

"You mean that?" Nikki looked up with a hopeful gleam in her big violet eyes.

"Yes I do." Nicholas answered with a slow smile. "Now let me give my little girl a hug."

"Ok, that's enough for me." Toni grinned. "Nikki, could you drop that shield for a sec? I suppose I ought to get out of here and let you two have some time together. And somebody needs to stop that ruckus out there."

"Down." Nikki announced from within her father's arms.

"Thanks, oh, and you two might want to cover your ears here in a few seconds."

"You mean you could have broken that up any time?" Nicholas gave the slender black girl a dubious look. "And just let them go on?"

"Hey, didn't you see their faces?" Toni chuckled. "They were having fun! But it's time for things to quiet down a little. Cover your ears now."

Even with their ears covered and Nikki placing a protective cloak of magic around them the sudden KIIIII -- YAHHHH! Almost gave them both headaches. Toni neatly stepped over a stunned Hank and Hipployta just outside the door and conversationally told them. "You know, you two should really take this kind of thing to the gym. It's really hard to have a meaningful conversation when you're carrying on like that in the hallway."

"I know." Nikki shrugged as her father stared after the departing Toni in surprise. "I still have weird friends."

"But good ones, sweetie." Nicholas gave her another hug. "I can see that already."

"Yeah, I know."

"Want to go have some lunch? I hear the cafeteria here is really impressive."

"Sure Daddy. I can give you the ten cent tour, too if you want, though I'm still learning my way around the place, too. I don't think Ms. Tenent would be too upset about me missing class since you're here."

"Would that be Ophelia Tenent?" Nicholas questioned with interest. "Caduceus?"

"That's her." Nikki nodded. "My physician, one of my teachers, and my advisor all in one package."

"Very capable woman, but she gets a little carried away with her research at times." Nicholas agreed. "Once she's latched onto something she finds interesting, she doesn't let it go until she's satisfied that she has all the answers."

"I've kind of gotten that impression already from her." Nikki answered. "But at least she's nice, and I like her."

"Good." Nicholas nodded. "Well, let's go have that lunch, I'm starved. Then we can get your new clothes up here and go talk with your mentor."

"Oh, you know about Sir Wallace?"

"Sir Wallace?" Nicholas frowned. "He came himself? I only asked him to recommend someone capable of helping you through all this. Then we definitely have to have a talk with him. A real long one."

Nikki didn't respond, thinking that having a doting father who worried about his little girl and men might be just as bad as one who didn't want that daughter. But she kept that thought to herself and simply enjoyed being with him.


On their way to the cafeteria, something happened that made Nikki sure that being a pretty girl was going to be a LOT more complicated regarding her father.

A tall, good looking young man watched them walk into the courtyard as Nikki showed her father around, and literally charged up to them, taking her hand and kissing it so many times she wondered if he provided towels.

"Oh my beautiful lady!" The boy gushed. "I have watched you from afar and am captivated by your beauty. Please reward me with your attention."

"Who is this?" Nicholas questioned with more curiosity than anger.

"I don't know!" Nikki responded while trying to disengage her hand from the boy's grasp. "I've never seen him before."

"My name is Paul, also known as Stalwart by those who know me." The boy informed them while absolutely refusing to let go of her hand. "I've been watching you from afar, fair lady, and am smitten with your beauty."

"Like who isn't?" Nikki sourly responded, still trying to get her hand out of his grasp. 

"Does this happen to you a lot?" Her dad questioned as he considered ways to get the boy away from his daughter.

"NO!" Nikki almost shouted while going to the extreme of putting on foot on the boy's chest and yanking her hand free of his grasp, but only momentarily since he reached back and got it again. "Why don't you just go away, Paul, or Stalwart?"

Because you were meant to be mine!" The boy enthused while maintaining his grasp on her hand.

"And just HOW did you reach that conclusion, son?" Nicholas questioned as his newly discovered daughter continued trying to get her small hand out of the boy's grasp.

"It was meant to be." Paul answered simply, with a worshipful look at Nikki. "I am supposed to have a Lady to defend and love."

"So why did you pick on ME?" Nikki questioned breathlessly, finally getting her hand free from his grasp, causing him to nearly fall to his back with the force of her foot on his chest and the sudden lack of equalizing pressure from her hand in his grasp.

"You were meant for me, beautiful lady!"

"Oh, God, give me a break for a change." Nikki muttered while making sure he couldn't get another death grip on one of her hands -- or any other part of her body.

"I pledge my eternal love and devotion to you here and now, Beautiful lady!" Stalwart shouted as he got another powerful grip on her hand in spite of her struggles. "A favor from you is all I ask to remind me of you. A scarf carrying your scent..."

"I don't have any scarves!" Nikki almost shrieked while still struggling to pull her hand from his grasp.

"Panties then!" The boy answered.

"Now hold on here!" Nicholas remonstrated the boy. "You need to let go of my daughter right now! And don't be indecent here!"

"You are her FATHER? Wonderful!" The boy retained his grasp on the almost frantic Nikki while giving Nicholas a long look. "Then please allow me to pledge mah troth to her this minute! I am in love's gentle embrace and must have your daughter in wedlock to ease my poor heart!"

"LET GO OF MY HAND!!!!" Nikki had both feet on the boy, one on his chest, the other on his forehead while she tried yanking her hand out of his grasp. "Daddy, I've never seen this guy in my life! Honest! I'm not ready to pledge my troth, or whatever it is he wants! Just talk him into letting me go! Please! And don't, make me use my magic, Stalwart, or whoever you are."

"Ah, wonderful lady." The boy responded almost dreamily while maintaining his iron-like grip on her hand. "You have already smitten me with your magic! I can never forget or ignore your great beauty."

"Where's security when you need them?" Nicholas grumbled, realizing that the boy was far stronger physically than he could manage himself.

"LET ME GO!!" Nikki screamed, to the general amusement of a growing crowd of onlookers.

"I will never let you go, my darling!" The boy vowed as he resisted her attempts to remove her hand from his.

"SHIT!" Nikki screamed and called up her magic, finding the lines that connected herself to the obnoxious boy and cutting them as if she had used a sharp knife on silk thread. "I told you to let go of me! Now I have to do it myself! IDIOT!"

All at once, a multi-colored aura surrounded the boy and literally ripped his hands off Nikki, then threw him across the grassed commons area. Nikki glowered at him while rubbing her hand. "I warned you! Now go away and I won't hurt you, ok? I'm not ready for a boyfriend, let alone a husband yet. Go troll at some bar or something, but please leave me alone!"

"How did you do that?" Nicholas questioned as his new daughter dusted herself off while glowering at Paul, or Stalwart.

"I used the lines I can see." Nikki informed him a little breathlessly. "Then cut the ones that connected him to me, then sent him across the commons area just to get rid of him."

"Ahh, ok." Nicholas nodded with a wan smile. "I can see that I'm not really going to have to worry about you and boys you aren't interested in."

"NO boys just now, thanks." Nikki retorted. "I can't and won't deal with that on top of everything else I'm going through just now. Believe me Daddy, I do not want a boyfriend yet."

"That I noticed." The elder Reilly gulped after seeing another instance of what his new daughter was capable of. "What worries me is when you find a guy you like."

"Don't hold your breath on that one." Nikki grumbled, then brightened. "So how about lunch? You said you were hungry and I'm starved!"

"Sure, honey." Nicholas nodded, then gave her a long, hard look. "Will we need to get a private room or something to have a reasonably normal lunch?"

"Daaaad!"

To be Continued

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A Whateley Academy Tale

First Day

by Starwolf

September 7thThursday

I had to run like mad after my alarm went off. Lucky for me that I didn't have to worry about my hair because there was only had enough time to rinse off and get ready for my early morning flight class. I decided to dress in shirt and jeans since I didn't know exactly what we would be doing.

Angel almost got plowed over on the way out of the cottage. It was still kind of shadowed but fortunately she seemed to shine anyway. That was how I saw her before running into her.

"Where are you going in such a rush so early in the morning Tennyo?"

"I have to get to the early flight class. Sorry about almost running over you."

"Well, stick with me and we can go together."

"You're taking the flight class too?"

"Not exactly. I've already taken the beginning classes. I'm in the advanced class now. We are expected to help train the newer classes as part of our training. I'm afraid that I am one of the few willing to give up some of my morning to do this."

"Well, I for one am glad. It's nice to know someone I know will be there and I would much rather give up some of my morning so as to have more time after classes to do other things."

"A girl after my own heart I see." Her smile was very nice and I relaxed and matched strides with her. I had to stretch a bit because her legs were longer than mine. I saw some guys that looked like they had come off the stage for Men In Black, but they didn't try to bother us and Angel ignored them so I did too.

Soon we reached Laird Hall where the classes would be held. A Mr. Buttons was to be our teacher. Angel was to be his assistant. Besides me there were nine other students in the class, ten if you counted the winged horse. It seems no one else wanted to get up this early.

We were an interesting mix. There was another winged boy, but he had bat wings. Then two who had some kind of rocket belts and a girl with a rocket pack. Another girl had a broom and one boy was dressed like some kind of futuristic pilot. An oriental girl had a winged horse with her and kept talking to it in low whispers. It almost sounded like the horse was whispering back. There were two other boys who looked fairly normal if you can call camouflage and biker outfits normal. The biker had a cool looking contraption that looked like a motorcycle without wheels.

Mr. Buttons introduced himself and Angel. He then went down a list and called off code names. Besides the ones who were here, he called five others who obviously weren't here. Bat boy was called Silver Wing. The two boys in the rocket belts were called Thomas and Nathan. The girl in the rocket pack was their sister Theresa. They were the Stratosphere Siblings.

The girl with the broom was called Hexette, and the pilot type of guy was called Mechano Man. Light Ling was the name of the girl with the horse and the horses name was Storm Bolt. The camouflaged boy was called Shaper and the biker was called Chain Gang.

"Good morning everyone. My name is Eugene Buttons. I'm going to be your Flight instructor." He paused for a moment to allow us a chance to appreciate the joke. Angel just looked embarrassed while the crickets chirped.

"Ahem. Anyway, we are here today to learn what we will be doing for the next semester. Does anyone here know what the purpose of this class is?"

The boy in camo raised his hand. Mr. Buttons nodded at him.

"To learn how to fly?"

"Partly. Anything else?"

Hexette raised her hand.

"Yes? Young lady."

"To learn how to fly better."

"That too. Another?"

Everyone just shifted and looked around at each other. I finally raised my hand.

"You are Tennyo aren't you?"

"Yes sir."

"I saw you last night. You were very impressive."

Everyone else started to giggle and I started to blush as I realized that his statement could be taken in more that one way.

He was blushing a little also.

"I mean, for those who don't have minds in the gutter, that she was flying very well. Now, you had something to add to our lesson?"    

"Uh, yes sir. I thought we were here to learn about flying and about the rules of flying so that we won't become a menace to all the other people who will be flying also. It's not like we will be the only ones out there." I silently thanked Mr. Bellows for his hints the day before.

"Correct! Did you all catch that."

The others stood there looking at him, waiting for him to explain.

He sighed. "You are not the only people in the sky out there." He pointed up.

"You are here to learn to fly and to learn to fly better and understand your own abilities and limitations better. But, you are here especially to learn the rules of the road. And don't fool yourselves. There are roads up there and rules governing how they are to be used."

"If you look up you can see three contrails. Those are up high enough you probably won't have to worry about them. But you need to know, just in case your paths do cross, what they are doing and why."

"There hasn't been a major accident involving a flyer and a big aircraft, yet. But that is probably only a matter of time. We are going to try to beat the odds for as long as possible and try to see to it that it never happens. As it stands now, there have been some occasions involving smaller aircraft. We want to prevent these also."

"A large part of your training here will revolve around gaining the knowledge of at least a small aircraft operator. The minimum necessary to gain an aircraft operators license at least. To that end we will proceed to pass out the necessary text books."

The next several minutes were spent making sure we each had what we would need for our studies. After that was taken care of and our homework schedules had been received he had us gather around again.

"As I mentioned before, learning about the rules of flying is important. Important also is your ability to use it. To that end, I will be talking to all of you. We will be classifying how you fly and the best ways to use and improve those abilities."

"How you fly in some circumstances is obvious. Hexette here uses her broom. Hexette, do you use a spell or do you just concentrate on it to fly?"

"I usually just have to think of it." She was looking a little shy at the attention. "Uh... I can increase speed and the like by reciting some spells though."

"You can cast a spell my way anytime Babe!" That was from the biker.

Hexette glared at him and a small spark suddenly snapped him in the butt.

We all laughed as he danced around for a moment.

"That will be quite enough you two. Settle down now."   

"I will expect everyone to take the class a little more seriously in the future. Miss Hexette, we can go into more detail later."

"Now that you have our attention Mr. Gang, maybe you could tell us a little about how you fly."

Glaring around at us and rubbing his backside he told us about how he made the bike and how good and fast it was. I think he was stretching the truth a bit, but that was probably just the way he was.

It went on like this for the next several minutes. I think the most interesting one was Shaper, who could shape himself into all sorts of shapes and could even imitate animals. He was taking this class to learn how to fly with some of the shapes he could take.

"Last but not least we have Tennyo. Do you know how you fly?"

"Uh no sir. I just do. I think of going somewhere and it just happens. Sometimes I don't even need to think about it. It's like it comes to me naturally. It's just a way I move, like walking or running."

"Hmmmm.  Can you give a small demonstration?"

"I think so. Flying is one of those things I do good. What do you want me to do?"

"Do you just fly?" 

"No, I levitate and the like also. It's like gravity for me is the way I want it."

"Really? Can you show us?"

"Okay." I walked to the side of the building. Then I stepped up on the wall and walked up it and stood there, looking as if I was standing normally. Then I drifted out parallel to the ground and hovered near Mr. Buttons. He checked out the area around me with something like a hand held metal detector.

"That's odd. There is some electromagnetic disturbance, but I think it's more of an effect, not a cause."

"An effect?"

"Yes. I don't think that what you are doing is an electromagnetic talent. It's something else, almost like you are somewhat separate from reality as we know it. It does impinge on our reality somewhat, but this shows more as a disturbance. What happens when you move faster?"

I took off fast and close to the ground. The faster I moved the more dust, leaves, and stuff whipped up around me. I then looped up and over and came down fast. I landed right next to him in a tornado of debris.

"That's what I thought. The more energy you use the more disturbance you cause. But it remains totally localized."

"What does that mean?"

"What other things do you do?"

"I make energy swords and blasts, but I'm not very good with them. They're not very reliable or controllable."

"Unusual, but I think you might be some kind of warper."

"Warper?"

"Yes. You probably dislocate yourself somehow from our reality in order to move around. This would also explain why gravity doesn't affect you the same as us."

"Is there any way to find out?"

"Yes. We have ways of testing this. You will probably be tested thoroughly in the next weeks. We will know more after that."

He stopped to write some notes and then turned back to the class.

"Okay everyone. That was a good start. We won't be having the lab portion of the class this weekend. That will be starting in the next week."

"The remaining days this week and the days of next week will be spent learning what you can do and how we can plan to use your abilities better. You have also been given homework. Please have the forms you have been given filled out and give them back to me tomorrow. They will be necessary for your applications for pilot training."

"You will be expected to obtain your pilots permit by the end of the semester. If you do, you pass this course. If you don't, you fail. It's as simple as that. In the process, we will also study your flying talents and how to understand and improve them."

Mechano Man raised his hand.

"Yes?"

"What if we already have a pilots permit?"

"Then we will see what you already have and work on your pilot ratings. We will determine if you pass or fail based on your advancement there."

I had to ask. "Ratings?"

"Yes. Pilots have ratings for different types of aircraft and conditions in which they can fly. Hopefully you will get more than just a pilot certification out of this. Much of that will be discussed in your reading assignments. I suggest that you read those first and bring any questions that you have to our next class. See you tomorrow."

We rushed off to get ready for breakfast and our first period classes. I was starting to wonder if I was going to be able to keep up this pace. If we were going to be fighting off ninjas all night and working like mad to pass our courses each day I was going to get real tired real soon. In fact, I already was.

Angel and I rushed back to Poe. After a quick goodbye we went or separate ways. I wouldn't have time to shower but I did change into a uniform before we all headed out.

Everyone in our group seemed a little tired, but we got several compliments for our work last night as well as a few complaints for being so noisy doing it. All of this was in good humor and helped us get started on a good note.

I drew the usual attention from those who didn't know me yet as I ate a great deal more than it seemed possible. But everyone else who knew me just ignored it. I didn't see Harry anywhere and wondered how his first workout in martial arts went.

All of us new students got to see Mrs. Carson, the Headmistress at the First Assembly meeting before the start of our first regular classes. She gave us the 'It's All Up To You' speech and she also made some comments I'm sure were subtle references to the scuffle we had last night. We did have a little fun doing the MST3K routine that Toni thought up to make it more bearable. I can't remember having as much fun in a meeting like that before.

From there we went our separate ways to our classes.

My first period was Advanced Genetics taught by Dr. Wayne Reynolds in Dunn Hall. Dunn Hall was next to Siegal Hall and was the library as well as the biological studies building. I wasn't sure what to expect. He was an older man, apparently in his fifties or sixties, balding, but aware and attentive to the class. He was dressed in a tan suit that looked somewhat out of date.

He was working at the chalk board as I came in. I found a seat close to the front and off to the side. He ignored everyone coming in until the bell rang. Then he turned around and looked the class over.

"Please move up and to the center." He used his hands to indicate where he wanted us to sit.

I moved to the center in front of him on the front row.

He smiled at me and looked up at everyone else. "See, this young lady isn't afraid of me. Come on. I don't bite. Move closer. My throat isn't getting any younger and I don't want to strain it any more than I have to."

They slowly moved up and tried to fill the seats farthest away but still in the area indicated as acceptable.

"Very well. Please remember where your seats are. You will be expected to take them promptly and be prepared to work. We have a lot to cover and not much free time."

"You are here because you have shown some interest and competence in the study of the building blocks of life as we know it. What you have not been told, is that we really don't know much about these building blocks and how they do what they do."

"Don't let that interfere with your decision to take this class. It is important for you to learn what we do know and what we need to do to learn more."

The rest of the class was spent getting our text books and assignments. Even as tired as I was I found myself fascinated by his eagerness to teach. He was constantly giving out information as he gave out the texts and papers. He radiated enjoyment in what he was doing. I have to admit that I liked him a lot better than a lot of teachers I had previously.

The bell rang and I found myself regretting having to go to my next class.

"Remember to read the first chapter and be ready with questions. See you tomorrow."

He smiled at me again and turned back to the blackboard where he had been working as we came in.

I now headed for the class I was certain that I would hate the most for the whole year. I hate math. I'd done fine with the basics. They made sense. But for some reason, the higher types of math just didn't click in my brain.

I was okay with generalities but had problems with specifics. Give me the formula and the information for it and I could work it. Ask me to apply the formula to a problem where I had to decide where it needed to be used and I was usually lost.

And here I was, in the math rooms in Siegal Hall. Facing my nemesis. I was more worried about this than I had been facing the sword of that ninja.

Dr. Timothy Winslow was in his late twenties or early thirties. He was dressed casually in a white long sleeve shirt and dark slacks. I think he must have had a tie sometime this morning ,but it wasn't in evidence now. He was sitting on his desk waiting for us to come in.

I was going to try to get a seat in the back, but as soon as I entered I was sure he was watching me and I ended up in a seat in the front row again. I sat there fidgeting while everyone else trailed in.

"Welcome to the most hated class in the universe! My name is Dr. Timothy Winslow and I am to be your torturer for this period in purgatory." He did this all with an evil grin and chuckle.

"Now, in my experience, there are two major reasons a person has a problem with mathematics. The first is a simple lack of training. This can usually be overcome by finding what the person hasn't learned yet and filling in the gaps."

"The second is a difficulty in understanding a concept. A form of dyslexia so to speak. This is more difficult to work with but we can usually find a method to compensate for this when we understand what the problem is."

"There are other reasons also. Mr. Tyler! Will you please share that note you and Mr. Owens are passing around? I'm sure that it doesn't have much to do with what we need to study here."

We all turned in our seats to watch the two young men in question who were unsuccessfully trying to hide a note that got away from them and sailed to Mr. Winslow's outstretched hand.

"Let's see... 'That's one of them. I vote for Negligee Nightingales.' I believe this is your writing Mr. Owens? And the writing underneath. Oh yes! Definitely Mr. Tyler's excuse for handwriting. 'I like Bathrobe Babes.' This doesn't sound like anything that we will be discussing in this class does it?"

Both of them shook their heads while several of the others in the class grinned and giggled. I just felt like I was glowing red, Whether from embarrassment or anger I wasn't too sure.

"I trust there will be no further interruptions of this nature. I really don't want to have you in this class again because you can't pay attention to what is being taught. This is a serious class that is intended to help you overcome a handicap that can cripple you in this modern world."

"The rest of this class will be spent distributing the texts and taking a small test that I have prepared to determine your knowledge and failings. Please hurry as you will want all the time you can get."

He proceeded to pass out textbooks and a one page test with 25 questions. I was able to figure out about half of the questions right off as they dealt with pretty simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. The rest seemed to require some kind of formula to solve quickly. These I was lost on but I kept working at them until I managed to get answers to another six before he asked us to return them.

"I am going to evaluate these tonight. I want you to read the first chapter in your texts and be ready to answer my questions tomorrow. Please be ready to work. This is serious business. See you tomorrow."

Ignoring the many subvocal mutterings, he watched as we filed out to our next classes.

Very happy to get away from there I headed to the next class, Power Theory 1. It was also in Siegel Hall. I thought I saw Jinn heading away as I approached the classroom.

As soon as I entered, I ducked to one side and looked around. I stayed where I was until I saw a familiar tall shape and made my way over to him. He waved as he saw me coming.

"Harry! It's good to see you. How are your classes going so far? Can I sit here?"

"Please take a seat. I'm fine. Classes have been okay so far, but I'm going to be sore for a long time from the martial arts class. Now that those answers are out of the way, I want to know if that was you last night making all the noise?"

"Uh...Yeah. But it wasn't only me and we couldn't let them run off with the bust of Poe. We had to do something about it and stop them."

He was looking a little nervous.

"What?"

"Uh. Were you guys really naked?"

"WHAT!?!"

The crowd of students coming in had all turned to look at us.

Blushing like mad I turned back to Harry. "Where did you hear that?"

"Some of the guys heard that some of you were naked in the fight."

"In their dreams. We were dressed in our bathrobes because there wasn't any time to get dressed differently but we were never naked."

"Okay, I was just asking. You don't have to take my head off."

"Right. Hey, it wasn't that noisy was it?"

"Well, the yell just about lifted me to the ceiling, and I thought that last bang was going to break my window. It did break a few that were facing that way and Lifter was almost blinded by that flash. He was seeing stars for the rest of the evening because he was looking right at it when it went off."

"Sorry."

"Class. Please give me your attention."

We were interrupted by an incredibly dull monotone voice. It belonged to our teacher. A Dr. Filbert Quintain. He managed to take a subject that promised to be very interesting and made it so dull I was struggling to stay awake from the very beginning. If Harry hadn't been there to keep me awake and vice-versa I probably would have missed it when he called my name towards the end of the class.

"Miss Wilson?"

Struggling to not yawn I stood up and faced him. "Yes sir?"

"Please meet with me after the class ends. I have some questions for you."

"Yes sir."

I sat down and wondered what I had done to deserve being called to see him after class. Some of the others were actually asleep. He hadn't tried to call them.

"Are you in trouble?" whispered Harry.

"I don't know. Be quiet before we get into real trouble."

"Okay."

The class finally ended and Harry said he would wait outside for me. After everyone had trailed out I moved down and faced Dr. Quintain.

"Yes sir?"

"I heard Dr. Buttons talking during staff breakfast. I wanted a chance to see you more closely." He seemed a lot more animated than he had during the class.

"Would you please levitate for me?" He had picked up a wand similar to the one the Mr. Buttons had used.

I levitated about a foot off the ground and he waved the wand around me. He checked the readout several times and then asked me to move around the room fast enough to stir things up. He continued to use the wand as I sailed by.

"Most interesting, I think he may have something there." He turned back to me. "You don't think you could...."

"I'm sorry sir, but can I go to lunch now?"

He seemed startled out of his thoughts. "Oh..Oh yes. I'm sorry. Please go now. But, would you be willing to run some tests for me later? I think you are just the person who can help me with some of my theories."

"I'll be glad to help you sir, if I can. But I do have to be going now."

He seemed a little disappointed but waved me out. I didn't waste much time and met Harry outside.

"What was he talking to you about?"

"He just wanted to ask me some questions about my flying."

"Really?"

"Yeah. It seems that I have an unusual way of flying that they want to study."

"Are you going to do it?"

"What?"

"Let them study you?"

"Yep. I want to learn how I do it also."

"Be careful, Okay?"

"Why?"

"My dad says these scientist types get a little carried away sometimes and can hurt you without meaning to."

"I'll be careful. Don't worry."

"Okay, let's eat!"

"Lead on! You're the big boy here."

He managed to plow us a way to the cafeteria and we got a lunch while we discussed our classes. He had enjoyed his and didn't feel threatened like I did about his English course. The Advanced Physics made him very happy but only confused me. He seemed to feel the same way about my genetics course.

The others from Team Kimba were there also. Nikki didn't look so good. I offered to walk her back to her room so she could lie down for a while. She said she didn't need the help and headed back to Poe. I did see her talk to some guy on the way out. Maybe he was in one of her classes.

We finished our lunches and headed to our next classes. We would meet again in Powers Theory Lab.

Home Ec was taught by Mrs. Braithwaite. It was actually a fun course and I found that my many chores that I had done at home stood me in good stead. At least I knew how to do laundry and cook some.

After introductions, she quickly gave out some aptitude tests to see what we might know and using these she arranged us in groups of four students each. Two boys and two girls in each group. We then received our work assignments and homework.

Powers Lab at this time was just a repeat of the morning except that we were promised that the next classes would be held in some of the testing areas so we could get a better idea of what our powers were and how to classify them.

I promised to talk to Harry tomorrow and headed to the martial arts class in Laird Hall. I saw Jade, Jinn, and Hank there but wasn't able to talk to them then.

The more experienced of us moved into positions when we came in next to the matts after taking off our shoes. As soon as the bell rang our instructors entered the room. One was a tall African-American woman and next to her was an older oriental man.

Amanda Tolman was the name of the woman and she instructed us to buy gis and sit in the seiza position next to the mats when we came in the future. She explained that we would be trained in a variety of ways and with weapons. The idea being to train us to be more aware of our surroundings and situations and to use them to our advantage.

She explained that the 'capture cage' would be used to simulate a device that would indicate defeat if we were put into it. It made sense to me but one of the students didn't get it and got knocked out as an example of overconfidence. She also allowed as a student could transfer to a normal class if they didn't want to take this one.

This sounded just like the kind of class I would need. She also used several scenarios to make us understand that we would need to think a little differently in order to pass in this class. She then introduced the oriental gentleman as Tatsuo Ito who had been a high level black belt in shin-shin toitsu before starting his own school.

Hank became his first victim, I mean student demonstrator. Wow! He could move! And he obviously had his plans made and executed beautifully. It was a wonder to watch. I had my doubts as to his being merely human though.

After the demonstration, we settled down to training. Most of the training was so the Senseis could check out our current level and type of training. They hadn't had time to reach me before the class was over so I had a chance to do a few katas and exercises.

Then Tolman Sensei showed us girls the showers and assigned us lockers. I had a chance to ask her some questions.

"Sensei, a moment of your time please." I bowed as I said this.

"You are the one known as Tennyo are you not?"

"Yes Sensei."

"What do you need to know?"

"Sensei, I have both a karate and judo gi available to me. Is there a preference as to which gi I should wear?"

"Either will be fine as long as you have no emblems or school logos on them."

"Thank you Sensei. Neither has anything on them. Sensei Tanaka didn't believe in letting anyone know what you were trained in before a match."

"Sensei Tanaka? In what schools were you trained and what belt have you achieved?"

"Sensei, I was trained in Ishun-ryu Karate and Judo. I achieved Gokyu in each. Sensei Tanaka didn't want us using colored belts. She felt they were not a true measure of a students talent. We were expected to wear only white belts as we were all students at any time."

"Didn't some of the students complain?"

"Only those who were in it for the obvious recognition. Everyone else was happy to get the training she could give us. I enjoyed the training and perfecting techniques myself."

"Techniques?"

"Knowing them helps, perfecting them makes you more effective. As Sensei Tanaka always said."

"Very well. I will look forward to testing you tomorrow."

"Thank you Sensei, I look forward to the opportunity."

She left to continue her duties and I decided I would bring my judo gi tomorrow. I was looking forward to training here. They obviously took training seriously and I hoped to learn a lot more here. It sure beat math all hollow.

XXXIII

JUST HANGING AROUND: September 7th

Supper was very appreciated. I got two full platters full and was actually getting a little comfortable. We headed back and settled in to get our homework done.

Nikki still wasn't feeling too good, but after we got some ice slivers into her, she helped us with a problem in the study area.

One problem was space. I could float around and not take up much room, but I couldn't put anything down. The rest of us had similar problems. Eventually we worked out a solution that could only have been done by all of us working together.

With Jinn holding things for us, Fey lighting the area, and Ayla supplying some hammocks we ended up forming 'Kimba Corner'. Kind of corny, but the name stuck as corny names seem destined to do. Mrs. Horton actually took a picture of us for the scrap book.

Eventually, I actually finished my homework. I was feeling pretty good about it as I headed back to our room to put my books away.

XXXIV

TESTS ARE A PAIN: September 7th/September 8th Friday

There was a man in a suit outside our room as I approached. He looked at a picture that he had on a clipboard. He then looked at me and waited for me to approach.

"Miss Billie Wilson?"

"Yes?"

"We are sorry for the inconvenience it may cause, but your testing schedule was moved up due to an unanticipated vacancy in the program."

"Testing?"

"Yes Miss Wilson. All our students are expected to undergo evaluative testing. Most of them receive at least some of that before coming here. You on the other hand had received almost none of that beforehand. This has made you a priority on the schedule. I'm afraid that it my take several hours."

"What about my classes?"

"You will be excused from any classes that the testing interferes with. All instructors will be informed as necessary."

"Can I leave a note for my roommate and drop off my books?"

"Yes, if you hurry. We must be in the medical wing in half an hour."

"Where is it located?"

"It is adjacent to Area 77 where some of the testing will be carried out."

"Okay. Just let me drop off my books and leave a note for my roommate."

I opened my door and put my homework on my desk. Jade had wandered off and I didn't know when she would be back. I wrote a quick note explaining where I was going and why. Then I locked the door and followed the man to Siegel Hall and into the lower areas.

When we got down there he led me to a secure door that opened to the card he ran through the reader. He then led me to a station where several medical techs were standing. One of them turned to us as we approached.

"Miss Alice Tennyson?"

My guide answered. "No. Miss Tennyson was injured in the late martial arts class and was unable to make it. We are substituting Miss Wilson here. Here is her file. "Good evening Miss Wilson."

"Thank you."

"Don't mention it." He turned and was soon gone.

"Miss Wilson?"

"Yes?"

"Please come with me."

I was taken to a room where I was put through a thorough physical. I was told that they wanted to confirm Dr. Tanaka's findings. They had some problems drawing blood though. They eventually found a needle that could penetrate my skin. I didn't remember Mr. Tanaka having so many problems.

When they finally drew the blood there was another problem. It would evaporate shortly after it was drawn. Whatever was in the vial would simply disappear right before their eyes in about a minute. In fact, when they got one that could be sealed, it imploded.

They managed to get some of the tests done by having the equipment on hand and doing the tests immediately as the blood was drawn. They thought I might have AB+ blood. But they weren't sure.

They asked me several questions about my period and sexual activity. I was expecting my next period about two weeks from now and my sexual activity was zero, even if they found it hard to believe. They allowed me to put my clothing back on and told me to wait in another room while they determined the test results were. At least from what they had been able to collect.

While I was waiting I heard a muffled conversation down the hall. Something about a laser test having been scheduled for someone. It was about eleven o'clock and the shift was changing. Then a man in a lab coat appeared in the door.

"Miss?"

"Yes?"

"This way to the testing area. Please follow me. I'm sorry we are running so late. Someone was supposed to bring you to us." He kept glancing at me. "You look better than we were told to expect. You are certainly not plain."

"Thank you. I think."

He led me into another secured area. After traveling through several corridors we came to a larger door. My guide waved at a camera and it opened into a wide corridor about 100 feet long. We moved to a door about half way down. This one was similar in construction to the last one in that it was a sliding door about two inches thick.

At the far end of this corridor was what looked like a heavier double door with cameras also. My guide waved in that direction and the door in front of us opened. He guided me into a very large room. About fifty yards long, twenty yards wide, and ten yards high.

We were in one end with three large metal plates that looked to be set in the floor. Each appeared to be six feet by six feet and maybe one half to three quarter inches thick and made of metal. At the far end were several pieces of equipment. Two large and eight smaller box like machines set on heavy tracks that looped around the floor, up the walls, and over the ceiling. They seemed to be moving slowly in a random fashion.

"Okay. This is where I leave you. Remember to put on a good show. I understand that there is a large audience tonight and we don't want to disappoint them do we?"

"What?"

"It's all in your contract. Don't tell me you didn't read it?" He was closing the door as he spoke.

What contract? I moved over to the door. It wouldn't open. I pounded on it. I suddenly had a bad feeling about this.

"Hey! What do you mean! I don't know what you are talking about!"

I looked around, trying to spot a way out. I was trying to discover what was going on also. I felt a tingle from the door and a voice came over some kind of intercom.

"Security measures are in place. Ready to start Alice?"

"Hey! Stop this! I'm not this Alice person and I don't know what is going on! Let me out noOOWWW!!"

I felt a burning pain across the top of my right shoulder and the fabric of my uniform in that area caught fire. I dropped and rolled in pain, which was a good thing as several red beams played across the wall were I had been standing.

"C'mon Alice get with the program! People are paying a lot for this show. Beginning second attack sequence, increasing output ten percent, automatic power and rate increase to level ten by tenths for duration of program. Switching to AI control. How's the feed Ted?"

"Perfect Jim, we're getting excellent feed from all cameras and the AI is handling everything smoothly. No one will notice a thing."

I was screaming at them the whole time they were saying this. "LET ME OUT! THIS IS A MISTAKE! YOU"VE GOT THE WRONG PERSON!" My shoulder was on fire and I was in tears from the pain.

"Hey Ted. I'm getting feedback on my end."

"Don't worry, It's just the intercom between us and three. It's stuck somehow. It won't affect the program and I can fix it in plenty of time later. Look sharp. Our window is coming up. AI on line and ready to roll!"

"Let me out you idiots! LET ME OUT!" I was panicking. I just wanted out and was kicking at the door.

Jim's voice came over the intercom again. "Stop your whinning you wimp. You were so sure you could handle this. It's time you earned your pay. Recording starting in three, two , one...ACTION!"

My sense of self preservation took over and I dived behind the closest piece of metal as there was a flurry of activity from the machines and several bright red streaks of light hissed by me. I didn't know what to do. The idiots controlling this apparently didn't have a clue that they had the wrong person. I curled up and screamed.

"STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT!"

Something in my manner must have started to get through to them.

"You know Jim, I don't think that kid is faking. Are you sure you got the right person?"

"Well...Her name was on the clip board and she was the only one there."

"She doesn't quite match the description either does she?"

I might have felt better then but the lasers hadn't stopped firing and the plate was heating up fast.

"GET ME OUT OF HERE!"

"Damn! Okay Ted. Turn off the AI and shut down. They're going to have to switch to an alternate."

My moment of relief was short lived.

"Hey Jim! The AI isn't shutting down. It's not answering commands!

"What?! Just turn off the power to it then!"

"I can't do that. Security will be sure to pick up that sudden a cut off. They'd be here in minutes!"

I added my vote at the top of my lungs.

"SHUT IT OFF! SHUT IT OFF NOW!"

"Isn't there another way?"

"Maybe. Let me work on it."

"NO! STOP IT AAAEEEGGHH!"

The first shot to penetrate my shield had missed me but spattered me with drops of hot metal. The second almost simultaneous one had passed lengthwise right down my right calf. Fortunately I can fly or I never would have moved in time to the next shield before this one collapsed.

I managed to get to the next shield with a few more burns in my uniform and a burn on my left hand. This shield wasn't going to last long. The lasers were getting stronger and I didn't think they would have to heat it up to punch through this time.

"SHUT IT OFFFF!"

"Shut up kid! We're working on it! Hey Ted. Can't we cut this intercom?"

"Not now. I'm busy. It's going to take a few minutes to make sure security doesn't catch on."

They didn't care about me. By the time they got around to just turning it off I could be dead.

There was a slight decrease in the rate of fire and I got a real bad feeling. I chose that moment to dive for the next cover. It cost me another burn on my right leg but at least I wasn't there when the concentrated blast hit the one I had been behind and vaporized most of it.

I had reached the end of my rope. I couldn't run and they were not going to turn it off. Panic became rage. Using the small respite the last of my cover gave me I gathered up energy and turned on my tormentors.

The AI had adapted to my run and hide tactics and was preparing for the end when it would blow the cover and me away. My attack caught it by surprise. I popped up into the air, flying and dodging. I didn't think I could get close enough for hand to hand. I had to try what I did with Warp.

"YEEAARRGH!" Somehow it worked. I felt the power gather in my hands and then I released it all at once at one of the larger machines. They hadn't learned to dodge yet. There was a very satisfying KABLAM!. And the piece of equipment exploded, taking two other smaller ones with it.

The room started to fill with dust and smoke.

I could hear Ted yelling something about losing projectors one, seven, and eight. But, I had seen a new opportunity. The loss of those projectors left a hole in the fire of the others. I reacted and surprised myself by moving up to the other large one fast enough that they hadn't been able to follow me.

I had another problem now. I had charged up my hands again, but I felt that I was too close to fire and I hadn't formed a sword. In desperation I tried something else. I punched the machine while concentrating on pushing the energy at it at the same time.

'KAPOW!' The machine shattered with a bright flash and flew to the other side of the room in pieces. I almost got hit by one of the other projectors in my surprise. I then dodged to another one and used my left hand to smash it.

I was now close to them. An advantage in that they apparently were programmed to not shoot each other so this slowed them down a little. A problem also because now the fire was coming from several directions. Dodging like mad I proceeded to release several bolts at the now dodging machines.

I got two more this way and only collected another wound on my left thigh. In the back ground I could hear Ted and Jim yelling about not being able to see anything that was going on and wondering how they were losing so many projectors.

I formed a sword in my left hand now and kept powering up my right to shoot blasts and punch if I got close enough and couldn't use my sword. I was so mad I was ignoring how tired I was getting, but I knew I would have to finish this soon.

Pushing myself to my limits, I finished off the last four machines in a flurry of punches, slashes, and blasts. Then it was quiet except for Ted and Jim's cursing and the popping and crackling of flames and sparks.

The room was obscured by smoke and dust but for some reason I wasn't coughing or choking as I got my strength back. I headed for the door.

"What's going on in there? I can't see a thing!"" Jim was sounding a little panicked.

"I don't know! The sensors are out and I can't see anything either!" Ted didn't sound much better.

"Wait Ted! I can see her! She's near the door and she's got some sort of glowing thing in her hand."

"LET... ME... OUT... NOW!!"

"No way Jose! Not like that I'm not. You just cool your heels while we get settled in here."

"Hey Jim! Maybe you better let her out. The readings in there aren't to healthy right now."

"No way. You see her. We let her out and you can be sure she will be after us in a moment. Let's use the time we have shutting this stuff down and getting rid of it."

"GRRRRR!! I said NOWWWW!" I had powered up my right hand again. 'KABLAMM!' The remains of the door hit the far wall. I had a good idea where they were.

"SHIT! Lockdown Ted! Lockdown NOW!" There was a definite tone of panic

XXXV

 MEANWHILE BACK AT THE RANCH: September 8th

So far this evening had gone smoothly. The ringing had finally faded from his ears and he was considering if a second cup of coffee would be too much this early in the evening. Chief Delarose had been in this position for years and he still didn't know if there was any time that was safe to relax. But he was also sure the doctors would get after him if he started drinking too much coffee again.

At least it was unlikely that something major would happen tonight. It wasn't often that major events happened back to back. He had almost decided that he might not need it when Dan Moore in Interior Monitoring beeped him.

Suddenly he didn't need the coffee to get a burning sensation in his stomach. He hated that feeling. Maybe he was psychic after all. It was almost never wrong. Something was going down.

"Yes Dan. What is it?"

"Sorry to bother you with this Chief, but I'm getting something unusual from Range Three in 77."

"What is it?"

"I don't know. I've checked it several times to be sure, but it looks like the monitor and sensor feed from that area is being blocked or modified in some fashion. I'm pretty sure that something is happening there but I can't tell what yet. You might want to send someone over to check it."

"Is there supposed to be anything there?"

"There's nothing scheduled. While there's always the chance that we weren't informed, I think it unlikely under the circumstances that they would be concealing it at the same time. You aren't testing us are you?"

"No. The thought crossed my mind but I decided against it for some reason."

"Uh Oh! I hate it when you do that Chief. It's almost scary." Dan had been at Whateley even longer than the Chief and had developed a healthy respect for the way he did things.

"Yeah. Me too. Who do we have on call?"

"Squad Four is on standby and Five and Six can be ready in five."

"What about support?"

"You think it's that bad?"

"Let's just say that I don't want to take any chances. Who do we have?"

"Stormwolf, Mindbird, and Thunderfox are all on call and can be ready at least as fast as Four."

"That's good. They're all very reliable. I feel a bit better now."

"Call them out?"

"Not yet, send Four over and put them on alert. Tell Five and Six to stand up and make sure one of them is heavy."

"Yes sir! Four out to check and others on alert, one heavy. Alert support. Anything else sir?"

"Not yet. This is probably nothing...What the!"

Several low alarms were sounding and red lights were flashing.

"Frank! I'm getting a transmission from Range Three Control! I'm patching you in."

"Please! Someone help us! She is breaking through the door! She's going to kill us! Get help here fast!"

Dan interrupted. "Range Three, this is Security. Who are you and what is your situation!"

"Security! Thank God we got through! This is Ted Levine. I'm here with Jim Thorson. We were doing some unscheduled testing for Medical when the girl we were testing went berserk! She's trashed Range Three and is breaking in here. You've got to stop her! She's insane! She's just going to kill us!"

"Who? And what kind of power is she using?"

"We aren't sure. Alice Tennyson we think, according to the record we have. But she doesn't quite match the description and her powers seem different. This one has some kind of energy blast, super strength, and a weird sword that is cutting through our door now! You got to help us!"

"Hang tight. Help is on its way!"

Dan used a separate channel. "Chief, Four is on its way. I'm alerting the others to go now. What else should we do?"

"I'm going over now. Tell Four to expect me. Who do we have?"

"Harris with Kretch, Willkinson, Breen, Grimes, and Randall."

"Good men. I'll be right over. Tell them to wait for me."

"Is that a good idea?"

"Something about this stinks. I want to be there when this goes down. Get Erickson over there too. On the double!"

"The computer geek?"

"Just a hunch. Get him."

"Okay Chief. He'll be on his way shortly."

"Good. I'll have my portable, keep in touch."

Range Three wasn't too far from Security and he was there even before Squad Four by about ten seconds.

"Harris! You and Willkinson, stunners, Everyone else Semi with heavy rounds. You will not fire unless the stunners are ineffective. Grimes. I want a reading on the other side of the door pronto."

Grimes plugged a small hand held into a jack near the door control pad. A few quick buttons pushed and he had a readout of what was on the other side.

"Sir! We have a lot of smoke, CO2, and CO. About 110 degrees. I recommend support respirators and enhancement goggles."

"Masks everyone! Damn! We can't use gas. Be ready with those stunners. Grimes. How is the door?"

"No problems there sir! We can open it anytime."

"Can we help?"

The three figures of Stormwolf, Mindbird, and Thunderfox were in the corridor with them. Dressed in their combat suits and helmets with masks they looked ready to go and radiated confidence.

"How did you get here so fast?"

"Trade secret." Stormwolf grinned as he said this.

"And if you told me you would have to kill me, right?"

"Sorry about that Chief."

"Okay. I'll let it go this time. Mindbird, I'm really glad to see you. You couldn't give us some idea of what we are facing could you?"

"Already on it Chief. I can tell you this right off. That's one pissed chick in there. I don't think she wants to kill anyone, but she is looking for some major payback."

"You can't get more?"

"She's got an unusual mind. Kind of hard to touch. Almost dual in nature.  I can tell you the other stuff so easily because she is radiating so hard."

"How about the two in the control room? How are they?"

"Frightened silly but okay for now. I think they are as afraid of what you might find as they are of that girl almost."

"Really?"

"You couldn't take it to court of course, but they seem kind of shifty."

"No more than that?"

"You know I can't."

"Yeah. The code and all. Dan. What do you have?"

"She isn't Alice Tennyson. Alice is in Melbourne with a broken leg. Broke it in gym this afternoon. The two in the room are techs. Generally used for maintenance in 77. They are not scheduled to be working now. The only one I feel she might be is Billie Wilson or Tennyo. She is scheduled for medical testing now but is currently unaccounted for."

"Isn't she the one with the sword last night?"

"Yep."

"Damn!" He had seen some of what that sword could do and didn't want to have to hurt the girl if he could help it.

"I've met her." Stormwolf had stepped forward.

"You have?"

"Yes, yesterday at lunch. She did seem to be something of a hothead but this doesn't sound quite like her. Can we try to talk with her first?"

"It's risky. Are you sure?"

"I'd like to try."

"Okay. But if things go bad we aren't holding back."

"Wouldn't want you to. How about I go in with Mindbird and Thunderfox to back me and let me know what progress we are making and you cover us with stunners and heavier stuff."

"Just don't cross our lines. Do you need respirators?"

"No. Our helmets will work fine."

"Really compact. I'd like to know how that was done."

"You'd have to talk to Thunderfox about that."

"And then you'd have to kill me, right?"

"You got it. Sorry."

"Okay. Grimes. Get ready on the door. After we are through I want you to cover our rear. I don't want any surprises. NOW!"

The door popped open and the three heroes were through in a flash and headed for the end of the corridor where a dull red glow with occasional bright flashes was coming from. Smoke came pouring out and even with the assistance of the mask sensors, vision was unreliable except for short ranges.

"Dan!"

"Yes Chief?"

"See if you can force some clear air through here. And see what has kept the fire systems from operating."

"I can try to increase the power to the fans and see if we can force some of the smoke out of there. Something has screwed up the fire systems. I think it may have something to do with the fact that there are unprotected techs in there and the computer will not risk suffocating them with the Halon. It looks like it tried to start and then the seals were broken on the secured area and it shut down to protect them."

"Can we override?"

"Not until we get the techs out. After that the system should operate properly."

"Okay. We'll see what we can do on this end."

While he was talking to Dan, they had moved up to the halfway area and the remains of the door to Range Three. Most of the smoke seemed to be coming from there and there were glowing areas to the rear that were probably fires.

"Kretch."

"Sir?"

"Cover this door."

"Yes sir!"

"The rest of you form up on me. Remember, no shooting unless I tell you to."

"Harris."

"Sir?"

"If the three up there can get the girl calmed down I want you and Willkinson in the control room ASAP and secure it. You have my permission to put the two in there to sleep until next week if they try anything screwy."

"Yes sir!"

They were close enough now to see that Stormwolf and Mindbird were talking to someone in front of the door. Chief Delarose could see an almost complete circle of light, almost four feet in diameter, in the door. Faint yelling could be heard on the other side.

As he got closer, he could make out some of what was being said on the other side.

 XXXVI

BACK TO THE SHOW: September 8th

I was sure they were behind that door. The sound of the intercom faded out as I headed down the corridor. This door was larger than the others. There was a camera over the top of it and it swung to point at me.

"LET ME THROUGH!"

I heard several large bolts sliding into place. They weren't going to be reasonable about this. I tried the various buttons first. Then I tried to push it open. Punching it only gave me a pain in my hand. My sword scarred the metal, but it would take forever to chip through.

This just made me angrier. Then I had an idea. I put the tip of my sword on the door and concentrated on pushing the power at the door in a small area as I pushed the tip into the door. To my surprise the sword slowly penetrated the surface and rivulets of melted metal ran down the door in front of me.

Soon I felt the sword penetrate through and I started to work the sword around in a circle. First to the right until I reached the bottom of the arc. Then I reversed and moved back to the top and started cutting to the left. I was almost around the other way and I could feel the plug starting to shift.

I was getting really tired now but I could hear the screams of the two jerks in the room on the other side of the door. They seemed to be yelling at someone to come and stop me. I would stop all right. Right after I gave them a taste of what I had just gone through!

"Billie."

"What? I'm busy here!"

"Billie, please stop."

Suddenly I realized that the voice was coming from behind me. I released the energy of the sword and pulled it around my hand and spun around. Facing me were three figures in costumes I didn't recognize. They looked to be semi armored combat suits with full face helmets. They had some kind of stylized 'B' on the forehead and chests.

The suits emphasized the fact that the one closest to me was a man and the two behind him were women. I was really tired now but I would fight them too if they tried anything.

"C'mon Billie. You don't have to do this." The guy in front wasn't being at all threatening and the other two were holding back. I could see other people moving up from the corridor, but they were holding back also.

"Calm down Billie. Nobody here wants anyone to get hurt. Please tell me what happened."

The voice sounded familiar and I wanted to trust him, but I wasn't going to drop my guard just yet.

"Who are you? And why should I stop? Do you know what they did!?"

He moved closer but kept from making any kind of threatening move.

"No Billie. I don't know. Why don't you tell me?"

"Who are you?" I didn't realize it at the time, but just pulling away from what I was doing was starting to allow me to calm down a little.

"Oh. You probably don't recognize me with the mask. It's me, Adam. Remember at lunch yesterday?"

"Adam? What are you doing here, and dressed like that?"

"Chief Delarose called me and the others here in to help with a reported disturbance. I'm a Peacekeeper, remember?"

As he said this he waved back the way he had come. I now recognized one of them as Chief Delarose. A small thread of worry began to worm into my consciousness. Then someone on the other side of the door started to yell.

"What is going on out there? What are you doing? Shoot her and get us out of here!"

"Grrrrrr!!" My rage was back in an instant. I spun and punched the plug in the door.

'KASMASH!' the plug crashed into the room and the two techs I assumed to be Jim and Ted dived behind some consoles and started screaming again.

"BILLIE! DON"T! PLEASE!" Adam was right behind me and when I turned I could see he was ready to fight. The two behind him had moved in to support him and I could see the security people taking up firing stances behind them.

I was so tired. I had used up a lot of my energy in that last punch. I felt tears starting in my eyes an tried to hold them back.

"Tth-they almost KILLED me! They wouldn't stop. Even when I begged them to. They'd m-made a m-mistake and wouldn't shut the program down b-because they didn't want S-security to know what they were doing."

"They were g-going to leave me in there and let t-the machines kill me because if they shut it d-down you would f-find out what they were d-doing. I-I had t-to f-fight my way out!"

While I was telling Adam this, Harris and Willkinson dived past us and into the room. Jim and Ted popped up. Jim heading towards the two security men while Ted made a dash towards the largest panel of controls.

"Hurry up you fools! Stop her before she goes berserk again!"

Harris and Willkinson had their orders and they knew if Jim said much more I would probably go berserk anyway. They did what they had to.

"FREEZE!" Yelled Harris.

"You idiots! She's behind you! Shoot..."

'KAZZAPP!!'

Both the techs were covered in blue sparks, they stiffened and fell flat on their faces.

I heard Harris mutter. "Oohhh, that's GOT to hurt."

I giggled. Then I started to cry.

"C'mon Billie. Let's get out of here." Adam had taken my right arm and Mindbird had my left.  They began to lead me away and down the corridor. As we left I could here Delarose talking to someone.

"When is Erickson going to get here? Five minutes? What's the hold up? Oh. Good idea! Tell him to get anyone he needs to help him get it here faster. Say! Thunderfox. Would you be willing to look around here to see if there is anything odd about the setup in here? I'd appreciate it if you could assist Erickson when he gets here. He's bringing a portable computer lab."

His voice faded out and I concentrated on walking. It was about all I could do now. As we passed the wreck of Range Three's door I heard a conversation coming from some of the security people checking it out.

"Hey Brad! What's it like down there?"

"Looks like someone had a war here! What's it like your way?"

"About the same. What were they throwing around in here anyway?"

" Besides the equipment? I don't know but it sure made a mess of things!"

"You can say that again!"

Their voices faded as we moved down the hall.

XXXVII

AFTER THE SHOW: September 8th

Adam and Mindbird led me out of there and back to Medical. Adam went to get a doctor. I was starting to get hold of my emotions again. I was also starting to get worried about what had happened.

I turned to the helmeted girl. "I'm in trouble, aren't I?"

"Oh. I wouldn't get too worked up about it. Parts of campus are always getting blown up!" As she said this she removed her helmet. She had blond hair and beautiful green eyes. Her sense of humor radiated from her face.

"By someone like me?"

"You, or somebody, or something else. A large part of Laird Hall was levelled a few years back by a giant robot that malfunctioned. That's why we have a new annex there."

"Oh. Uh by the way, my name is Billie Wilson, but I'm also called Tennyo."

"I'm Dale Townsend, I'm also called Mindbird."

"You read minds?"

"Does that bother you?"

"Not really. I got kind off used to it. Mr. Tanaka's ability probably saved my life."

"Mr. Tanaka?"

"Yes. He can read minds also. When I changed, he was the only one who recognized who I really was. He was able to get me back with my family."

"Changed?"

"Uh yeah. I kind of thought that with your ability..."

"That I would know all your secrets?"

"Uh yeah, kind of."

"Listen Billie, you have a very unusual mind that is very hard to pick anything out of. This Mr. Tanaka must be exceptional to get that kind of detail from you. I'd probably have trouble getting all that from a normal mind, much less yours."

She smiled and put a hand on my shoulder.

"So you see. Your secrets are safe from me. I was hoping you could tell me something about this change though. There is a lot of emotional power wrapped up in it. I have to admit to being curious."

"I don't know what I can tell you at this time. Some of it has to stay secret for now."

"I understand Billie. What can you tell me?"

"Well, this change happened very suddenly this summer. I didn't always look like this."

"I can imagine. It's hard to adjust?"

"You could say that. It's more like I don't have much experience and I'm in the process of learning a lot of new things."

"Experience? That's an odd way to put it."

"I can't really go into detail now, sorry."

"Well, it's okay with me if you were a plain Jane before. You more than make up for it now."

"I wasn't exactly a plain Jane."

"Oh really? What exactly were you?"

"I don't know how to say this. It can be kind of embarrassing."

"Maybe I can guess. What cottage are you assigned to?"

"Poe."

She looked at me for a long moment. "Hmmm.. I know a few girls from there. But you don't quite fit the bill for most of them. Not quite the same at all. Though there is Zenith, not the same either, although there are some similarities."

"WAIT! No Way! Wow! It fits you so well. I might never have guessed. Just this summer?"

"Yep."

"What's it like?"

"I really couldn't tell you yet. I'm still learning so much that I haven't had time to think it through. I think I kind of like it. At least a lot of it. But, strange things keep happening. I really need some time to adjust."

"Your secret is safe. I don't think anyone will guess what's going on."

"Thank you. I've kind of wondered."

"Don't mention it. Hold on. Adam is bringing in a doctor and nurse."

Just after she said that, Adam led a Dr. Polland and Nurse Garrett into the room.

"What's going on here. What happened to you?" Dr. Polland said this as he got a look at me.

Adam spoke up. "This is the young lady I told you about. She had a rough time in Range Three."

"Looks like she's been in a war. What happened?"

"We think the Range malfunctioned and Billie here was inside when it happened."

"That's the laser range isn't it. What about the safety interlocks?"

"Apparently not functioning at the time."

"How did she get out?"

"You could say that she got herself out."

"Can you give any more details?"

"You could talk to Chief Delarose. He might have more information."

"Okay. I think I might do that. Now young lady, what is your name?" As he started to question me, the nurse went to a computer station in the room and started to enter information.

"Doctor, she was in earlier getting some preliminary tests done."

"Good! What do we have on her?"

"Not a lot."

"What!?"

"It seems that there were some problems with some of the testing and almost nothing was determined beyond some general information on her background and some basic physical information. They were trying to decide the best way to get more information when she disappeared from the waiting room."

He looked at me.

"Someone came and took me to the area where this happened. I thought he was taking me somewhere for more tests. By the time I figured out that they had the wrong person it was too late and the lasers had started firing at me and they wouldn't stop it and let me out."

"And after that?"

I couldn't say anything. I didn't know what I should say.

"She proceeded to totally wreck Range Three and was trying to get at the guys who started it when we showed up and talked her out of it." Adam apparently had no trouble telling this to the doctor.

"Sounds like you had a rough evening. Would you object if we check those burns?"

I just shook my head and he carefully started to pull the cloth away from the burn on my shoulder. I tensed, afraid of how it would feel. But it didn't hurt.

"That's odd."

"What doctor?"

"I would expect the wound to be far worse, But it is almost nonexistent. There isn't even scabbing or scaring."

He proceeded to check the rest but only the burn on my right calf still hurt and that was apparently healing quickly also. Dr. Polland made certain to time the rate of healing as he watched it.

Adam asked the question before I got up the courage to ask why myself.

"Why are you timing the healing?"

"One, I want to note the rate so we have that in our records. Two, I want some idea of how serious the wounds were in the first place. And the only way I can do that now, short of injuring her myself, and I understand that might not be the healthiest idea, is to extrapolate from the healing rate and the condition of the wounds now."

"Will that help?"

"Any information we can get will help. Standard measurements and testing methods obviously aren't going to work. We are going to have to develop new ones if we are going to get anywhere with this student."

He continued to monitor me until the wounds had faded away.

"Well. I can't find anything else to worry us at this time. Miss Wilson has healed in a spectacular fashion. I wish more of my patients could heal like this. It would make my job much easier."

"Thank you doctor. I'm sure Chief Delarose will want a complete report as soon as possible. I think we better get Miss Wilson back to her cottage now that we know that she isn't in any danger."

"Very well. Miss Wilson, I am releasing you to these two people. We will reschedule further exams when we have decided how we will conduct the testing. Please be more careful in the future. You could have been very seriously wounded."

"Yes sir." I was way too tired to bother arguing with him.

Adam had been talking to the Chief on and off with a portable communicator. He had me describe what happened to me in my own words and relayed them. Now he got some orders and shut down the communicator.

"Chief says to take her home for now. If he has any more questions he will arrange to talk to you personally. By the way, they've got the fires under control now."

"Good."

"Come along, well get you there safely."

They escorted me all the way back and saw me to the door where Mrs. Horton, who seemed to know them, took over and escorted me to my room.

I stumbled to my bed. Jade stirred for a moment, looked at me with uncomprehending eyes, touched some clothes, and went back to sleep. Jinn rose up and filled the clothes. Apparently, a speaker disk was with them as Jinn started to question me. I filled her in briefly and then collapsed on my bed.

XXXVIII

THE BEAT GOES ON: September 8th Friday

I woke up to my alarm and dragged myself to the showers to clean up. I still wasn't very conscious as I headed back. Everyone seemed to be staring at me, but I was too tired to care.

I made it to all my classes but I didn't remember much of what went on other than each of my teachers pretty much left me alone. I also remember being very hungry at meal times and I'm not certain how much I ate but people seemed to draw back out of my way when I was eating.

After supper I finally started to take more notice of what was going on. Nothing was going to interfere with my dance class. It was going to be held in the new annex of Laird Hall. I'd remembered that Mr. Lodgeman wanted me to wear my gown so I came in that.

I was nervous and it didn't help at all that I became the center of attention as soon as I entered the room where we would be dancing.

"We aren't going to have to dress like that are we?" One of the girls who had arrived before I did managed to communicate an incredible amount horror at that concept.

That was it! No one was going to make fun of this like that. This was serious fun and deserved respect!

"Don't worry yourselves. You only wear something like this if you can!" I did a nice glide and twirl out to the center of the room. "Of course, you have to know how to first!" I smiled at her and curtsied.

"Now Tennyo. I'm sure there was a time not far in the past when you wouldn't have been able to pull that off. Give them a chance to learn and see just how much fun it can be."

Mr. Lodgeman and Miss Rogers were watching from the back of the room. Harry was with them and looking very uncomfortable in a great tuxedo looking suit.

"Harry! You made it! Boy, am I glad to see you!" I skipped over and gave him a hug.

He seemed to be speechless. It must have been the suit. He had probably never been so well dressed in his life. It was enough to make anyone nervous. Even me.

"I hope I can do this gown the honor it deserves." I smiled at Miss Rogers.

In a more serious tone, Mr. Lodgeman began to question me.

"Billie. Are you okay?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, the reports I have received indicate that you were involved in a struggle last night that left you with some serious injuries."

"I'm better now. A little tired but I'll be fine."

"Just tired?"

"I heal very quickly. Everyone says so."

"Billie!" He was getting a little exasperated. I could tell.

"Really! I'm fine! Look, you have a class to teach. This isn't the best time, okay?"

He looked me in the eye for a moment, then sighed. "Okay, for now. But, I want a full report after this class."

I didn't have any choice but to agree. I wasn't looking forward to having to explain myself. But, after all, it really wasn't my fault.

Except for the nervousness I felt about what I was going to tell him later, the class was all I could have hoped for. We didn't do much at this time as most of the class was introductions and assigning of homework. I did get to show off a bit with Mr. Lodgeman. He could make a paraplegic look good. And when he and Miss Rogers danced everyone went silent. Their skill really showed, even for those people without any background.

After the class, I had to explain everything that had happened. At least what I knew about it.

"Billie. What am I going to do with you?"

"What? I didn't do anything! Well... I mean I didn't do anything wrong. I was just protecting myself...mostly."

"You're a trouble magnet. Did you know that?"

"I don't know what you mean."

"It means that things keep happening around you and if you don't learn how to take control of them, they are going to take control of you."

"What does that mean? How could I take control of these happenings?"

"Billie. You are going to have to learn what you want to accomplish. And when you know and understand that, then you will be ready to take control of your life and make of it what you will."

"I don't understand."

"Sigh...No, I don't expect you do. It's a little early for that. Now listen to me, this is very important. I am going out west to talk to the others. There is too much I don't know about this situation yet."

"What I want you to do while I am gone is try to stay out of trouble. But, if you can't I want you to think very carefully about what you want. The actions that you will take from that point on will be very important and you will only be able to achieve your true goals if you know what they are."

"You make it sound easy."

"Billie, It's never easy. But it's impossible if you don't have a good idea where you want to go and where you are headed."

"So... You want me to decide what I'm going to do with my life?"

"It's a little too early to decide what you are going to do with your whole life. What I do want you to do is decide now how you are going to live your life to the point where you can make those decisions."

"I-I'm not sure what you mean, but I will try to stay out of trouble from now on."

"Don't make promises you won't be able to keep. Trouble is going to find you no matter what. It's how you are going to handle it that will make the difference. Remember, your not all alone in this. I will leave Miss Rogers the means to contact me in case of an emergency. Don't hesitate to get help."

"I won't, I promise!"

"Good, that's the spirit. Now I have to get going. I'll probably see you sometime mid week. Good luck! You're probably going to need it. Oh. What did you do with the uniform you were wearing when you had that little altercation with Range Three?"

"I still have it. I was hoping Miss Rogers might be able to fix it."

He looked at Miss Rogers and she just shook her head.

"Well don't lose it. You may need it later."

"Why? If it's ruined, what use could I have for it?"

"Evidence."

"Evidence?"

"Yes. With your healing abilities, it might be hard to convince people just how much danger you were in without that suit. Don't lose it."

"Okay. If you say so."

"I do say so. Now, go out and try to stay out of trouble for a while."

"Thank you...I think."

"Don't mention it." He waved as he left the room.

"I-I'll walk you back if you don't mind?" Asked Harry.

"Thank you, but I don't need an escort if you don't want to."

"It would be an honor if you would please let me."

"Way to go Harry! Keep up the good work like that and you will go far. Billie?" Miss Rogers was looking at me.

"Yes ma'am?"

"It would be impolite to refuse the escort now."

"Yes ma'am. Harry?"

"Yes?"

"I would be honored by your company."

He smiled and offered me his arm.

As we left Miss Rogers called to us.

"Be ready for Monday. We'll really get going then."

"Yes ma'am!"

The walk back was very interesting. I should be concentrating on what I was going to do for the next few days. I would have a whole weekend to catch up on things. But, all I was thinking about was that it felt really nice to be walking arm in arm with Harry. There was a huge difference in our sizes, but somehow we managed to coordinate our walk and not trip over each other.

Nothing happened to interrupt the walk and soon we were in front of Poe. I suddenly found myself in a real conundrum. What was I supposed to do now? For a moment I just stood holding his arm as the panic started to build.

"Uh, Tennyo?"

"YES?!" I jumped when he spoke to me and answered a little louder than I should have.

"Do you have to hold on so tight?"

"What?"

"Your really strong and your grip is really kind of tight?"

I realized that I had a stranglehold on his arm and that he might be getting a little uncomfortable. I let go and stepped back and stepped on my gown and started to fall over. He caught me before I even started to try levitating.

"You okay Billie?"

"Yeah. I'm okay." My voice had gone very high all of a sudden. "Uh, Harry?"

"What?"

"What do I do now?" I couldn't think of anything else to do.

"Well, I've never been in this position before. But according to my sisters..."

"Hey! You have sisters, don't you!" I saw a ray of hope, Maybe they had passed on some wisdom to him.

"...We should elope, and get married, and move to Canada." He even said this with a straight face. All I could do stare at him as he stood calmly watching me.

"You...You..." He stood there with his chin in his hand, concentrating hard. Then looked up into the sky.

"Of course, we would have to go south first to get married and they might not allow us to if we're this young unless you were pregnant or something like that...."

"I...But...We..."

"And if we did that, it would probably be easier to go to Mexico, but the standard of living is so low there that it would probably be worth the risk to try to make it to Canada anyway."

About this time I had gotten over my surprise enough to realize that while he was saying this in a perfectly calm voice, he was trembling with some kind of suppressed emotion. And I began to realize what that emotion was.   

"Why you little..." SLAP!! I open handed him on his arm.

"OW!" He staggered back and started to laugh.

"I ought to blast you into the next state! What's so funny!"

"You-you sh-should have seen your face!"

"You'll be lucky to ever see this face again you, you..."

He sobered very quickly. "I'm sorry Billie, I just couldn't help myself. I didn't mean anything by it. I just can't help myself sometimes."

I stood there huffing for a while and allowing him to apologize several times before I felt like talking to him again. While he was doing this he also explained that his sisters hadn't been very forthcoming with information on boy-girl activities and he really didn't have a clue as to what to do next.

Great. He not only didn't have any information for me , but I had also managed to make a fool of myself at the same time. I could just cry. To my surprise I could fell tears rising in my eyes. What was happening to me?

Harry put his arms around me as I stood there sniffling. "I'm really sorry Billie. I didn't mean to make you cry."

I just leaned into him until I had control of myself again.

"I'm sorry Harry. I shouldn't have gone off like that. It's just..."

"I know. It's really hard for you. I can't imagine what it is like for you. I'm really sorry."

"Don't. Stop saying your sorry. Your right, it was pretty funny. I'm just all emotional all of a sudden. I'm sure we'll laugh at this some day. It's just so strange now."

"Okay, sorry."

"Sigh."

"Harry?"

"Yes Billie?"

"Do you have to keep holding me?"

He sprang back. "S-sorry!"

"Harry!"

"What?"

"C'mer!"

"Huh?"

I popped up to his head height, grabbed his head with both hands, and planted a quick smootch on his nose.

"There! Do you think that will do?"

"Uh..I..Well.."

"I take that as a yes."

He just nodded.

"Okay, I'll see you later then?"

He nodded again.

"And Harry?"

"What Billie?"

"Thank you, and you can call me Tennyo."

"Sure B..Uh Tennyo. Anytime."

"I'll see you later then?"

"Okay."

"Bye."

"Bye."

I skipped up to the door and turned to look back. He was still standing there, so I waved. He waved back and headed towards Twain. The trip upstairs was uneventful until I ran into Toni yelling something about a naming party with pizza. She was taking orders.

XXXIX

PIZZA: September 8th

"I'll have Hawiian, you know, the type with ham and pineapple."

"Okay. How many slices?"

"Forget the slices. Order me two larges."

"Two whole pizzas?"

"Yeah, unless you feel like defending your own and everyone else's. I'm feeling kind of hungry all of a sudden."

"You sure?"

"Yep, bring it on!"

"Okay. I'll let you know when and how much after I check with everyone else."

"Fine. I'll meet you in Kimba's Corner."

"See you there."

I hurried to our room and quickly changed to a more comfortable set of sweats. I didn't want to risk any of my new clothing on this adventure.

I arrived not too long after Toni and paid her what the pizzas would cost as well as some for a tip. Then I settled into an upper corner, read some of my homework, and waited for the pizza to arrive.

Two guys started to make out right beneath me and I was starting to wonder how I could get them to go somewhere else while I studied when Ayla walked right through the wall next to them.

"Holy Shit!"

I had one of the hardest times of my life not laughing out loud as the two lovebirds fell over each other in surprise.

"Hey bitch! Your not supposed to be using your powers like that! Someone could see you!"

She gave them one of the best cold stares I have ever seen. Suddenly she clapped her hands to her face, put a look of horror on her face and exclaimed. "Oh no! I forgot!" and ducked back through the wall. The two of them just stood there with their mouths open as I nearly strangled trying not to totally lose it.

They had started to glare at me when she leaned back through the wall.

"There, is that better boys?"

"That's not funny bitch!" Their surprise and anger had gotten the better of them and they started to get belligerent. Big mistake. Ayla was right in front of them in a moment and the floor started to creak.

"You got something to say to me boy?"

"We're not afraid of you! Don't try anything with us. Right Jeff?"

"Uh, yeah! Not afraid. Not afraid at all, Kenny."

I thought this was going too far and decided to take a hand in it myself. I stood up on the ceiling so my head was level with theirs and right behind them.

"But you should be. You should be very afraid."

At that point I think they realized that they no longer out numbered their opponents and that we had them surrounded.

"But she shouldn't be doing that. She'll get us all into trouble."

"Don't worry about it guys. It's just one of the phases she's going through. Back up and get out of here. I'll take care of things from here. Move! Now!"

They moved off, looking back several times.

I turned to her and looked her in the eyes. Her feet on the floor and mine on the ceiling.

"You okay Ayla?"

She glared back at me. "Phases?"

"Hey. I had to use something they could understand without too much effort. You know how it is trying to communicate with guys." I had to grin. "Dense, you know."

"Yeah. Real dense." She grinned back.

Looking a little troubled, she asked me a question I didn't expect. "Did you think I needed help there?"

"Uh, no. I just thought it would be the best way to make sure that my pizza wouldn't be delayed. Really!"

"Right! Well, thank you anyway."

"Don't mention it!"

"Okay. I won't. Do you think the pizza will be here soon?"

"I hope so! I'm getting hungry!"

"We wouldn't want that to happen!"

"What does that mean?"

"We saw what you did at dinner."

"So?"

"Let's just say that we don't want to get between you and your food."

"Hey! I'm not that bad."

"Well, we'll see."

"Humph!" I went back to my studies and waiting for the pizza. I didn't think much of it at the time but I saw the two guys talking to Mrs. Horton a little later.

The pizza finally arrived and it seemed to take forever to get it sorted out. I finally had my two boxes and ascended into the corner again. It would have been nice to have a drink, but it would have been almost impossible to handle under these circumstances.

I finished the first pizza in a matter of minutes and was well on the way to finishing my second. I began to wonder if everyone else was going to finish theirs. It would be a pity to waste any of this pizza and it wasn't like we had a lot of extra refrigerated space. I would have to see if anyone wasn't going to finish theirs or maybe not pay too much attention to what they had.

Eventually we got around to why we were here. Apparently, we were expected to have code names and those would be used in any articles the newsletter would print on us. Fey and I already had our names but Ayla, Toni, Hank, and Jade didn't.

I suggested a few names. For Ayla, I suggested Phases, it seemed appropriate after what had happened earlier.

For Toni I suggested Chi Master, which everyone thought was to pretentious, and Chi Dragon. Of course, I suggested that if we used that one we were going to have to teach her how to cook.

I thought of Thundercloud and Powerlift for Hank

The only name I could think of for Jade was Dual.

By this time, we were approaching lights out and we called the meeting to give everyone a chance to think over the names and possibly think of some new ones. We decided to head for bed and get ready for the weekend.

XL

A LONG SATURDAY: September 9th Saturday

One of the nice things about the weekend is the fact that I didn't have to be anywhere until breakfast. And anyone who feels breakfast isn't important hasn't had to deal with me after I miss it. What was even nicer about this Saturday was the fact that I didn't have to be anywhere except for the meals.

So, of course, the first thing it does after I get up is rain and thunderstorm. In the halls. I'm busy dodging small lightning bolts and mean thunderpuffs,(smaller than thunderclouds but still kind of hairy), when Toni pops out of Ayla's room and lets me know that it's probably Nikki on the rag.

Well, I guess I'm the one with the most experience in these matters. I ducked,(there is some kind of symmetry to that as I dripped into my room), into our room and grabbed my emergency kit. I was determined to never get caught without the basics ever again and I always carried it with me when I was out. I had some Pampronol in it even though I haven't found anything that works with my physiology.

Buy the time I got to the bathrooms the weather in the halls had settled into a drizzle. Nikki had suddenly realized what having PMS meant.

There is no good way to explain the feeling you get when you suddenly realize that you are female, with all that implies. To top it all off, this would occur when you are in no shape to decide what color of shoe you want to wear, much less deal with the life changes you are going through.

I had to let her know in no uncertain terms that she wasn't alone and that this too would pass. At least until next month. I let her know that I could help her with this. It means the world when you realize that someone else can help you.

She was upset about several things, which wasn't unusual considering her current condition. She had obviously not been getting good sleep either. This was having a detrimental effect on her appearance and she was very aware of that. I couldn't help pointing out that this was a sure sign that she was finishing her transition to female.

Ayla assured her that we would all help her with the problems that she would be facing. I suggested that for the first part of that we should finish getting cleaned up and then I would help her in her room. I headed for a quick shower and then back to my room to get the things I would need. Fortunately, I'm something of a packrat and I had plenty of the necessary things. After this I was going to have to stock up some more though.

When I got to Nikki's room I told the others to leave us alone for a while. Now was the time to go into the details that make living with the monthly visitor possible. It's a clever opponent and persistent, but if you are prepared you can handle it. I just wished drugs worked as well for me as they did for others. I wish someone had been able to tell me these things before it had snuck up on me.

Nikki was waiting for me. I could tell that she wasn't any too happy about this and I couldn't say as I blamed her.

"We need to talk, hon."

"Yeah, I know." She was managing to look even more beautiful every day. I was exotic, but she was hot. If I didn't have some idea what it was costing her I would have to be jealous. She gave me a look that let me know that she must feel a lot like I did about some of this.

We had a long, interesting conversation, with her turning several interesting shades of green at times, especially when we got to the tampon demonstrations.

Then somehow, a pillow fight started, which was probably a good thing, because Nikki had been clouding up again and I was fearing an imminent thunderstorm in the room before things lightened up.

After that, I asked her for some help on a subject that really had me embarrassed.  My own lack of knowledge regarding female fashion and how to go about getting clothes that would look both good and appropriate for me, not to mention how to wear them so they looked good.  Let me just say that she jumped at the chance to help and leave it at that for the moment.

I excused myself after that happy thought and made my goodbyes and headed out to try my luck at finding some of the things I would need for school and enjoyment later.

After leaving the room I waved at Toni to let her know that it was ok. I then headed out to see about a few of the things I wanted to follow up on.

I spent the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon finding out that I would need a permit to fish and that I would have to get that in town. It was very frustrating because I still couldn't get a pass for the shuttle into town and I didn't feel that it was important enough to bother Miss Rogers with. At least not yet.

At about four o'clock, I got a notice to report to Admin. I figured it would be about my pass to use the shuttle. Instead it was Ms. Hartford, with a nasty smile on her face and a notice for me in her hands.

"Miss Wilson, I'm glad we could meet again. I'm terribly sorry, but I must deliver this to you. I wanted to make certain that you got it and I want you to sign this receipt for it."

Or past meetings and her current attitude did not inspire any confidence in me. I decided to remain cautious.

"What is it?"

"This is just a receipt showing that you received this notice. The notice has to do with some of the unfortunate occurrences over the past few days. I suggest you read it carefully. If you chose to, you can read it here, if not, and you have questions, I will be here till 6:30 PM."

Her attitude made me think that she would enjoy seeing me read it and I had no intention of giving her satisfaction in that regard. This was starting to make me nervous and I wanted to get out of there quickly. The receipt was just that and I signed it and headed back to Poe. I didn't like the way she had smiled at me and I didn't wait to get to our room to open the notice.

It was on Whateley stationary and was short and to the point.

Dear Miss Wilson,

Many students who come to Whateley have come here to find methods of controlling their powers and talents so as to not be a menace to those around them. We at Whateley pride ourselves on our ability to find the best methods of doing so.

There are some situations that arise occasionally that require us to take steps to protect the students, faculty, staff, and or grounds. These situations sometimes require us to make special arrangements to meet the needs and safety of all the concerned parties.

Miss Wilson, it has come to our attention in the last few days that your abilities and possible lack of control of them, may pose a considerable risk to yourself, others around you, and the grounds themselves. It is our opinion that moving you to facilities that would better fit your situation may be in the best interests of all concerned.

To this end, arrangements are currently being made to move your residence to Hawthorne Cottage which is equipped to handle such situations with less risk to all concerned parties. Please notify Administration as soon as possible of your current status and ability to transfer to Hawthorne.

We apologize for any inconvenience,

– Whateley Administration and Operations –

Signed: Ms. Amanda Hartford, Assistant to the Administrator.

Apologize for any inconvenience my ass! All I wanted to do for a moment was go back and give Ms. Hartman a piece of the situation all her own. Then, as I realized that many people in my immediate vicinity were leaving quickly for other vicinities, I also realized that it wouldn't help at all and that Ms. Hartford was probably prepared for that as well.

What could I do? I fell into a stupor of thought and slowly made my way back to my room. At least it was for the moment.

When I got back, Jade was there. I must have spooked her a bit, because for a moment I thought she was ready to attack me. Maybe somebody had told her I was dangerous and she was afraid of me too. That thought hurt and sent a bit of panic up my spine.

I couldn't keep the shakiness out of my voice.

"They're going... to transfer me into Hawthorne."

She did one of the nicest things anyone had ever done for me. She jumped over to me and hugged me, hard. I needed that very badly at that time. I was also a little embarrassed because I had thought that she might be afraid of me.

"What are we going to do?"

"What do you want to do, Billie?"

"You mean besides kill Ms. Hartford?"

"Yeah. Something a little more constructive than that. Billie?"

"Yeah?"

"Uh, maybe it would be a good idea not to talk about killing people. At least for a while."

"Do you think I could get away with dismembering them? Just a little?"

"Well, maybe. As long as you keep it to just a little."

We were both silent for a moment. Then we started to giggle. That went on for almost a minute. In that time I had a chance to think about what Jade had just told me and remember that Mr. Lodgeman had said the same thing.

"Okay Billie. What do you want?"

"I want..." I thought of Jade and what a good roommate she was. I thought of Nikki, Ayla, Hank, and all we had been through in such a short time. I thought of all that we would be doing in the future. "I want.. TO STAY RIGHT HERE!"

"You sure about that?" How someone so young looking could keep such a deadpan face in such a moment was beyond me. All I could do for a moment was glare.

"Yeah. I'm sure. Now what can we do about it?"

"Maybe we should talk to Zenith?"

"Who?"

"Zenith. She is one of the upperclassmen here in Poe. I've been told that she is the one to go to in situations like this."

"She's here?"

"Upstairs."

"Well let's go girl! Times a wastin!" I had a goal now and I wanted to get back to Ms. Hartford before she left her office.

I went zooming up to the third floor and asked one of the girls there if she new where Zenith roomed. She pointed up the stairs and I hurried up another flight. When I got there there was only a boy walking towards the bathrooms.

"Hey! Hold on a moment!"

He turned to look at me and for a moment I thought he was going to run for it.

"Which room does Zenith stay in?"

He just looked at me in indecision for a few moments and the door of 208 opened and a really good looking blonde in a sweat suit stepped out.

"Who wants to know?"

"I'm Billie Wilson, and they are trying to railroad me to Hawthorne. I'm told that Zenith is the person to see in these situations and I'm trying to find her. Can you help me?"

"Who's trying to railroad you and why?"

"I'm pretty sure that Ms. Hartford is trying to railroad me and I think they are using the excuse that I'm uncontrollably dangerous."

"Are you?"

"What?"

"Uncontrollably dangerous."

Every time this came up I got a flash of the scene from Aladin were the guards pull back from Abu when he grabs a sword. Then the leader reminds them that they all have swords.

"I may be dangerous, but I'm NOT uncontrolled."

She smiled then.

"We can probably work this out then."

"We?"

"Oh, let me introduce myself. I'm Zenith." She stepped forward and held out her hand. "It's okay Brad. I can handle it from here."

The boy I had been asking shrugged. "Ok, if you say so." He headed towards the bathrooms, keeping an eye on us over his shoulder.

I took her hand which had an unusually strong grip. "I'm Billie Wilson. I'm also called Tennyo."

"And who is this?" She was looking over my shoulder.

I turned and saw Jade coming up behind us.

"This is Jade, my roommate. Jade, meet Zenith. She thinks she might be able to help us."

"Whoa, hold on a moment. I don't know that I can help you yet. Let's step into my room and get the details."

She lead us into her room and had us take the two chairs while she sat on her bed.

"Say, aren't you two with the ones who had the run in with the Ninjas? Kimba's Commandos or something?"

"Uh, that would be Team Kimba."

"Oh. Sorry."

"That's okay. They've been calling us worse."

"I know, I've heard some of them. Anyway, good job on protecting Poe. You could say we owe you some."

"We would have done it anyway. You don't owe us."

"First lesson of survival. You don't have to push it or collect on them, but never give up a favor if you don't have to. You never know when you will need it. That said, let's get down to business."

We showed her our notices and explained some of what had been happening the last few days. I was amazed how she was able to get a lot of information in a short period of time. Something in the way she questioned us just seemed to bring the details out.

She did seem a little hesitant about our gender changes though. Maybe they made her uncomfortable.

"They haven't had a hearing on this yet?"

"A hearing?"

"Yes. In all situations like this they are supposed to have a hearing to determine all the facts and determine the best way of handling it. Sounds like they are trying to railroad you after all."

"Is there anything we can do?"

"Yes! We need to hurry and catch Ms. Hartass.. I mean Hartford, before she leaves her office tonight. Let's go!"

She could move fast. We were barely able to keep up with her on the way downstairs and I had to grab Jade and fly to keep up with her on the way to Admin.

We got there as Ms. Hartford was leaving. She wasn't happy to see Zenith. There wasn't any love lost between them.

"Ms. Hartford! Can you please explain why you are doing this without having had a hearing first?"

"Well, if you must know. We felt that it was in the best interests of the school to do the safe thing and then worry about the hearing. We could always make other arrangements if the hearing indicates it."

"I'm afraid that I must insist that the proper procedures be followed here. We all know that it would be far more difficult to set things right after the moves."

"What about the safety of the school and students?"

"I see no reason to take such drastic measures at this time. A hearing would allow us to determine exactly the best course of action. I'm afraid that I must insist on this."

She glared at us for a moment. Then she sniffed with disdain.

"Very well. You can have your hearing. Tomorrow, at 4:00 PM. But be aware, you are responsible for anything that happens because you wouldn't follow the safest course."

"Save it for the hearing. We'll see you there."

"See that you do."

Ms. Hartford stalked off while we stood there watching her out of sight and thinking about what she had said.

"Okay, you two. I want you to go back to Poe and stay out of trouble. What she said about getting into trouble now wasn't all bull. It could cause us trouble later."

"What's the hearing going to be like?"

"Read up on it in your introductory packet. It will be in the Disciplinary Section. I'll need to talk to Chief Delarose and Adam and get more details. You two better get going. Supper will be soon. Be careful! I don't trust old Hardcase for a moment. She's got something up her sleeve."

"You think she planned this?"

"Hard to say. She might just be taking advantage of the situation. She usually won't take chances if she doesn't have to. This is probably just an easy way for her to get at you without much risk to herself."

"Can't anyone do anything about her?"

"Not as long as she stays in the rules. We have to get going. Remember, be careful and don't get into any trouble. Bye now. I'll see you about 3:00 o'clock and take you to where the hearings are held."

"Bye."

"C'mon Billie. Let's go."

"Wait. I better make a phone call first."

"Who do you want to call?"

"Miss Rogers, she can get hold of Mr. Lodgeman and let him know what is going on."

"Isn't he out west somewhere?"

"Yeah. But he still might be able to do something or let us know if there is something we can do."

I used the public phone near the Store. I got an answering machine and left a message with what few details I had. I hoped she would get it in time.

After that we went to Supper. Oddly enough, just after we arrived, Mindbird showed up and ate with us. Thunderfox bumped into us on the way back and asked me a few questions about what happened on Thursday night. She left after we reached Poe.

Mrs. Horton met us at the door and asked to do a quick inspection of our room. After that it was like several people were just dropping by to see how we were doing. There wasn't any chance for us to get into any trouble. We were too busy socializing with a lot of the residents who dropped in to say hello.

We finally got to sleep. I almost expected people to look in occasionally to make sure we were okay.

XLI

THE HEARING: September 10th Sunday

Sunday morning was a blur. I was getting anxious and my stomach was twisting and I could only eat one full platter at both breakfast and lunch. I was definitely off my feed and very nervous.

I read what the Packet had to say about these hearings. About all I could remember was that there had to be at least three Supervisors, one of which had to be with administration. There were a lot of other bylaws, etc., but I just couldn't get into them.

Finally, three o'clock rolled around and Zenith came to take us to where the hearing was going to be held. It was in the Admin building and downstairs. The room was probably used as a classroom at other times. The podium had been converted into a long table facing the audience. Some of the forward seats were for the concerned parties. The rest was for any audience.

I found out later that the reason that there was not many people there was because it had been declared a closed meeting, and only people directly involved were allowed in. When we got there, Ms. Hartford was setting up on the right side as we faced the table for the Supervisors. She had a small table in front of her. She gave me a smile that made me almost go for her when Zenith stopped me.

"Don't let her get to you like that! It's what she wants. Don't give her the satisfaction!" Zenith had grabbed my arm before I could do anything. She guided me to a small table set up to the left, had me sit and started to bring papers out of her briefcase and arranged them on the table.

"I hadn't had a chance to tell you yet, but I think we have a good chance here. Just sit tight and let me do my work. Behave yourself and act assured. That will be your best defense.

We waited there without talking for what seemed forever, but was really 20 minutes by the clock. It must have been broken because I was sure I aged noticeably during that time.

Then Mrs. Shugendo came in and took the center chair of the table facing us.

Zenith perked up. "That's good news for us. Mrs. Shugendo will be completely fair about this."

My heart rate soared as the implications of what she just said sank in.

"You mean that there might be some who won't be?"

She looked a little uncomfortable for a moment.  "Some of the supervisors are...Umm... Prejudiced, towards some of the students. And there are some who can be swayed by outside factors."

"You mean some won't like what I...am? Or can be bribed?"

"Well, yes, sort of. But don't worry! They still have to answer to the other Supervisors and their decisions can be over ruled if their decisions aren't supportable."

"How many will be here?"

"At least three, one of which will be Mrs. Shugendo. There may be more than that if they can get here. I sent messages to any that I thought would listen to our side."

"Do you think they will get here?"

"Hard to say. It was short notice and I couldn't be sure that they would all get their messages on time."

Just then, a middle aged man in a pinstripe business suit came in and sat down to the left of Mrs. Shugendo.

"What about him?"

"That's Mr. Merrow, he is a lawyer who represents some of our more...colorful alumni and sponsors."

"Colorful?"

"Let's just say that they have a need for a good lawyer on occasion and leave it at that, shall we?"

"Will he hinder or help?"

"Depends on what his agenda is."

"His agenda?"

"He probably won't do anything that would embarrass his clients. But if he is being paid off in some way he might be trouble."

"That makes me feel sooo much better."

"Don't worry, It's not likely that you have drawn that kind of attention yet."

"Yet?"

"I have faith in you. I'm sure you'll find more trouble to get into soon enough."

"Thanks, I think."

"Uh oh!"

"What!?"   

A tall thin man in a dark ministers suit had come in and sat down on Mrs. Shugendo's right side.

"That's the Most Righteous Reverend Darren Englund. A real pain in the butt bigot. He represents some of the ultra conservative types who feel that our powers are either gifts from Heaven or Hell. He is the type who feels that if you don't agree with him on everything then your powers are from Hell and you should be reeducated or locked up."

"I take it he won't be friendly?"

"He does have certain prejudices about the nature of men and women." Zenith seemed to get a little uncomfortable with the subject. I figured they had not gotten on well in the past.

Ms. Hartford stood up.

"I believe that we can get started now."

I looked at Zenith and raised an eyebrow in question. She stood up herself.

"Shouldn't we wait to see if anyone else will show up?"

Ms. Hartford turned and spoke with a perfectly civil sneer.

"I have it on good authority that none of the other supervisors are able to make it to this meeting today."

"Your sure of this?"

"I made a point of tracing everyone. No one else is even close to the campus."

"Well, if you're sure. Then we should get started." Zenith wasn't too happy about this, but there wasn't much that we could do about it.

Ms. Hartford signaled to a man standing in the back and the lights behind us dimmed and the lights over the front brightened.

"Now we can..."

There was a commotion in the back that interrupted Ms. Hartford's spiel. Several people were coming in at the back of the room.

"This is a closed meeting! What is the meaning of this interruption?" Ms. Hartford was definitely displeased.

One of the figures moved forward out of the shadows. It was Mr. Lodgeman.

"Sorry to break in like this. I had to pick up a few people on the way back. I thought we would have a little more time." He was smiling as he moved forward towards the table in front.

"What is the idea, coming in like this?"

"I am one of the Supervisors, and I did receive a message to attend this meeting if I could."

"You were in California. How did you get here?"

"A friend gave me a lift. I'd have changed to something a little more appropriate, but I didn't have much time. The message had been a little delayed before it got to me." As he explained this he moved to the front and sat to the left of Mr. Merrow.

Ms. Hartford seemed a little shaken, but determined to move on.

"Very well, then we should get started, before we are interrupted again." She was looking daggers at Mr. Lodgeman who was blithely ignoring the attempted psychic murder.

"By all means. Let's get started." He smiled at her chagrin.

"Well then, we are here today to determine the best method to assure the safety of our students and properties. More specifically, what the best means of containing the dangerous tendencies of one Billie Wilson, sometimes known as Tennyo, will be."

I didn't like the sound of that at all. It sounded like they were going to shut me away somewhere and throw away the key. I would have jumped up right then, but Zenith grabbed my arm and held me down.

Then she stood up.

"I was unaware that the need to do this had already been determined. What has been done by Miss Wilson that would require such extreme measures?"

"I think everyone here is familiar with the recent activities of this person."

Mr. Lodgeman spoke up. "Ahem! I would like to be informed of what has happened if you don't mind. I have been absent for a few days now."

"You were here when these occurrences happened. I don't see a need to waste our time here."

"Please humor an old man and his notoriously bad memory."

She glared at him for a moment.

"Very well. Do you want it in chronological order?"

"If you would be so kind."

"This young...lady, is very dangerous and a risk to all around her. Do you really have to waste our time like this?"

"We are responsible for the well being of all our students and it would be a great injustice if we don't do our best to see to it that they have freedom from unnecessary harassment and meddling by us in misguided attempts to protect them."

"You would risk the well being of other students, just to protect this one?"

"You have yet to show that this student is an unreasonable threat to the others. Just calling her dangerous is not a good enough reason. We are all dangerous in our own ways. In what way is this student so much more dangerous?"

"She is an uncontrolled troublemaker. It is only a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt or killed by her."

"You have no proof of this. What makes her so different from the others?"

"The many violent encounters she has already participated in make it clear that she is unruly and a risk to other students."

"Can you please elaborate for us. I am unaware of any such encounters that would make this obvious. The encounters I am aware of have all involved a need for self defense. We do try to teach that to our students."

"This student practices a lot of self defense. She is well ahead of the average student for such encounters."

"Oh?"

"Yes. She injured a fellow student seriously enough for him to require medical attention, less than twenty four hours after her arrival here."

"Do you mean Hamper? I believe that Billie was acting in the defense of herself and one of the other students."

"There is no evidence for that story."

"Ahem!" Zenith interrupted the argument. When she got their attention she proceeded.

"Can we please have a quick accounting of the events leading to this hearing and argue the merits of them afterwards?"

Ms. Hartford was not happy at being interrupted, but she then listed several occurrences that had been reported to her.

"We have the report of the attack on the student at the station in town. There is a report of an attack on another student the next day in Twain Cottage. A student reported a near assault at lunch on Thursday and two students reported a threatening encounter with both Miss Wilson and a student called Ayla on Friday evening in Poe Cottage."

"These are in addition to the assault on the Ninjas Wednesday night and her assault on two technicians Thursday night. I should point out that the property damage from that assault was very extensive. Far beyond what one might expect from such a young lady who was only defending herself."

She proceeded to give some details for each of these. I didn't like the way she was describing the incidents and she certainly had a way of slanting the facts so that it sounded as if I had caused the confrontations. Only Zenith's constant efforts to keep me seated kept me from speaking out.

I hadn't realized that someone was keeping such a close watch on me and what was happening around me. I started to feel a little paranoid. If I hadn't been so angry about what had already been going down I might have had something to say about that.

"I believe that this is more than enough reason to take a cautious approach with a student who is obviously is both dangerous and not in complete control." Ms. Hartford summed up her small speech with another cheap shot. "I think that we should stop wasting your time and continue with the outlined plan to handle this situation. We have carefully considered our options and this will be the best way to handle all the possibilities."

I was wondering if the outcome had already been decided and that this was just a show to add credibility to their actions. I was going to stand up and get a last word in when Zenith pushed me down hard and stood up instead.

"I think it would be wise to look into these accusations more closely first."

Ms Hartford sneered. "What more could be added? The facts speak for themselves."

"I'm afraid that you apparently don't have all the facts yet, Ma'am. I think that when the rest of the facts are known, you will find that the outlined plan currently being implemented will not be for the best for the students or the school."

How she could be so polite and calm like this I just didn't understand. But it seemed to have the right effect on everyone. At least they seemed to be willing to listen.

"What other facts could possibly affect the outcome here?" I wanted to know that myself. I let Ms. Hartford do the asking though.

Zenith smiled.

" I'm glad you asked. First, the incident at the station. The only witnesses of this are the people involved and I don't think any of us want to play finger pointing games. The only sure thing in that case is that the student involved, while suffering some discomfort, will be just fine and maybe better off in the future if he learns from this opportunity."

"Don't get me wrong here. I'm not advocating this, I just feel that there is no way to know for sure, and until otherwise, it will be a waste of our time to pursue this."

Before Ms. Hartford could put in a word, Zenith moved right along. She would make an excellent lawyer one day. But I didn't want to insult her by saying so.

"The second incident you mentioned should be looked into a little more closely. It seems that Miss Wilson encountered one of our students who is known for his, how shall we say this, excessive zeal in protecting his friends from females in general, and good looking ones in particular."

"But..."

"Now, now, Ms. Hartford. You had your chance, now it is time to fill in any blanks that were left."

"As I was saying. We have the signed statements of most if not all of the students present and they all agree that the gentleman in question made the first move and that Miss Wilson was restrained in her handling of that situation. Going so far as to smooth over a possible assault charge that might have been leveled at the young man if Miss Wilson hadn't been so understanding of the particular history of the young man in question."

"I also have signed statements to the fact that the incident in the cafeteria was not so serious as it may seem at first. It was a simple disagreement over seating and a misunderstanding that was handled quickly and without any violence at all. It shouldn't have any influence on what we are considering now."

Ms. Hartford was steaming, but she knew better than to try to interrupt again.

"The incident in the sun room of Poe was just a turf war that goes on all the time in these cottages and I have Mrs. Horton's signed statement to that and her belief that no violence was likely there and that Miss Wilson only acted to AVOID any trouble with the students involved in the incident."

"What about the two major incidents then?" Ms. Hartford finally got a word in, but I think it was because Zenith let her.

"You can't tell us you believe that this Tennyo didn't use deadly force with possible risk of serious or fatal results in those situations?"

"Well, in the first incident with the Ninjas, we have verifiable reports from trained security personnel that Miss Wilson only got involved after there was a definite risk to her friend, but that after she disarmed her opponent, someone we have good reason to believe would not have been as chivalrous in reversed circumstances, she refrained from using that same deadly force to hurt her opponent and merely held him until security could take over."

"And the explosion afterwards?"

"That was a manifestation of why she is here. Her inexperience with her powers led to the unfortunate end to the evenings adventures. And even then, she did so in a way so as to reduce the risk to others around her."

"This is supposed to put us at ease?"

"Yes. She has shown very good responses to situations that could easily have resulted in much worse damage and injury. With some training I am sure that she will become a credit to our school and community."

"That's all very well up to that point. But what about the incident at Range Three? Her response to that was hardly a reasonable response. Look at her. Can you tell us honestly that she was in such danger that the destruction of very valuable equipment and the threat to two employees was justifiable?"

"Yes. I have medical testimony from the doctor who treated her afterwards, that the only reason she is here with us today and not still in medical care, is because her healing factor is incredibly high. In fact, Dr. Polland states that he has not seen an unassisted healing factor that high before."

"Further, he states that from his examination of Miss Wilson at the time, the wounds he examined were serious and potentially fatal in other circumstances."

"Give us a break! We are all aware of the safeguards put in place for this equipment! You can't expect us to believe that she was ever in any real danger."

"On the contrary. I can show that Miss Wilson was in extreme danger of her life. And only the fact that she was able to neutralize that danger saved her, and probably many more potential victims of that trap."

"Trap? What are you talking about? Are you saying someone was trying to kill her? And that this also constituted a threat to others?"

"Maybe we should let Chief Delarose fill us in on those details that you don't have as yet?"

"What other details?"

A figure had moved up from the back. As he moved forward, I could see that it was Chief Delarose. He had a file with him. He moved to a table where he could face everyone and spread out the papers he had for easier access.

"Let's let the Chief explain please. Chief?"

"Thank you. I understand that you need to know why Miss Wilson was in such danger in a facility designed with safety in mind?"

"Yes. We need to know this."

He looked around the room. Then he took a deep breath.

"The information you are receiving now is confidential and anyone caught giving out this information before it is supposed to be released will be in serious violation of the law and will be punished. Anyone who feels that they can't keep this secret should leave now."

He waited a short while. Then he took another deep breath.

"Very well. We know everyone here and by staying here you have agreed to this policy."

He waited a little longer. Then started into his explanation.

"As you may or may not know, the two technicians in the control room were actually going to broadcast a demonstration of powers by a Miss Tennyson. One of our upperclassmen who it is now known, got extra income on the illegal broadcasts of fights with both live and mechanical opponents. Fortunately for her, she broke her leg in gym the afternoon of her next broadcast."

"How can you be so sure of this?"

"She has cooperated with us ever since she found out about the existence of these games. She is actually an agent for us and was gathering evidence for us when this happened. We think that someone may have found out and was arranging an accident to finish her off."

"That's all very interesting Chief, but still doesn't explain how a safety system I helped design could possibly be used to kill or even seriously injure a student. I assure you I know computers and I don't see how it could be done." Ms Hartford seemed very sure of herself, now that she was on her own ground.

"It would be very difficult and I believe almost impossible, and under most circumstances I would agree with you Ms. Hartford. I know how good you are with computers. With the time and equipment that they had I don't think they could have done it. Besides, we have questioned them thoroughly, and don't feel that they intended any harm to anyone. They were simply doing their job."

"Then how can you say that they or Tennyo here was in any danger?"

"Have you ever heard of a Palm?" He was looking right at her when he said it and because I was staring at her too, I saw her gasp and go white.

"A...a Palm?!? That's impossible! He's dead!"

I had no idea why she was so upset about this Palm thing, but it sure had her shaken up. I think she had forgotten about the hearing. She was almost in a panic.

"So you know what a Palm is?"

"Y..yes. I know what a Palm is. B..but he's dead! I saw the body! They have all been destroyed!"

He nodded his head.

"You're that Hartford then. I kind of thought so. I would appreciate your help after this to make sure we got the whole thing out of the system. Your firewalls are good but there was still some penetration. At least enough for it to try and kill Miss Wilson anyway."

"I.. I will be glad to help you in any way that I can. But I still don't know how it is possible. He's dead I tell you. I saw the body. It was positively identified. By DNA even."

"I can't help you there. I just know that what we found in the Range control computer was a Palm and the FBI has sent me a notice that there has been at least one other incident involving one in the last year. They are very interested, as they believe that whoever supplied the two techs with that laptop probably knows where it came from and might help them track down the source of these new ones."

"Would you agree as an expert, that the Palm might be able to override the safety measures?"

"Of course. A Palm could always do that. There would be no stopping it if it was a Palm." She thought for a minute and then seemed to remember why she was here. You had to admire her sense of purpose.

"That could explain the need to stop the lasers, but not the threat she was to the technicians. Weren't they trying to stop them themselves? Why was she threatening them if she hadn't lost control?"

"That was the AI. It was mixing up the communications between them. I have listened to the recordings, and I would have been ready to kill them myself if I had been in her shoes. You have to give those Palms credit. They always play a deep game."

"Actually, in the end, it worked against it. The fact that she opened the door allowed us to get in quickly enough to find and stop it before it had a chance to spread. If we had to wait until we got it open, who knows what would have happened."

Ms Hartford was back to worrying.

"Are you sure you got it?"

"About as sure as we can be. That's why we want you to look into it. If I'm right, you are the best we could get for this."

"We need to get moving then. Let's finish this now. How do the Supervisors vote?"

I don't think her heart was into it but she was determined to finish it.

"All in favor of continuing as planned please raise their hands."

The Reverend Englund had been glaring at us the whole time. He didn't hesitate a moment and raised his hand. Mr. Merrow looked over at the others and then raised his slowly. Neither Mr. Lodgeman or Mrs. Shugendo even moved.

"Well, it seems that we have a tie vote." She smiled. "In that case the, the rules state that the current option holds."

I was about ready to scream and go after her, and wipe that smug grin off her face, when there was another interruption from the back.

"Now don't be too hasty Dear!" An older woman that I suddenly realized was Mrs. Potter was walking to the front.. The odd thing was that I wasn't certain that she was talking to Ms. Hartford or me.

"What now!?"

"The vote isn't complete yet."

"We just voted and the vote was a tie. The rules are very clear as to what this means and what is to be done."

"But not all the votes have been counted. If you read a little further in the rules you are so proudly touting you will see that in the event of a tie from the regular votes it is the duty of the local village council representative to cast the deciding vote. Only if the local representative is absent can the vote end in a tie and due process followed.

"And you happen to be the representative?"

"Why yes. How perceptive of you. I was sent as a representative of the Town Council. We do have to look out after our own interests after all." All of this was said with that cheerful attitude and smile.

It was turning into a bad day for Ms. Hartford. Everything she was trying just didn't seem to work out. But I was holding my breath as I waited for Mrs. Potter to give her vote. She was a nice person, but I had no reason to believe that she would vote in my favor.

"Then vote already and let us get about our work here." I think Ms. Hartford must be pretty shaken up or she would never have been as rude as that.

"Patience dear. Patience. Now what plans have you made in the event it is determined that the current plan will not be feasible?"

"What? What do you mean?"

"My, my. Am I to understand that you have no plans for this young woman beyond what you have already decided on? This will not do. Not do at all. We are dealing with a very serious problem here that could have devastating consequences for us all."

My heart almost stopped. I was sure that she was going to decide against me and was just starting to feel how desperately I wanted to stay at Poe. I didn't want to have to keep fighting with everyone, but I wasn't going to let this end here.

"The plan we have takes all the necessary precautions for the safety of everyone. Do you have a better plan?"

"Of course I do. You have forgotten some very important aspects of this situation. We merely need to take those into account and the answers will be very simple."

Now I think we were all confused.

"And what else do we need to take into account here?"

"Have you asked the young ladies who are being affected here what they want?"

"The fact that they have asked for this hearing would indicate that they may not be in total agreement with the proposed actions, but they are still children and we are responsible for the well being of them and the others around them. It is our duty to do the best that we know how."

A wonderful speech, but I can't say as I liked the idea that they could just do what they wanted because they considered me a child. I might not be eighteen yet, but I had a lot more experience than some of these adults who thought they knew what was best for me. I could handle myself, thank you.

"Has it ever occurred to you that it is better to get the cooperation of these young people now by asking their input and possibly explaining why you are doing it beforehand?"

"They wouldn't listen and they wouldn't have anything to add I'm certain."

"Your certain? Have you ever tried?"

"We are wasting time here. Hurry up and vote."

Suddenly the nice old lady disappeared and a much more forceful person was there. It was the same person but it was if she had removed a disguise. She radiated presence and poise.

"Young lady. I will vote when I am ready to and not a moment before! And I won't just take the easy way either. I will know what needs to be done first and then do the right thing."

She turned to me and Jade.

"It seems that someone has neglected to ask you how you feel about this and if you have an alternate solution. Would you care to share your ideas with us?"

Jade spoke up first.

"Ma'am, I would prefer to continue to room with Tennyo if you please."

"You are not afraid that you might be hurt by your roommate?"

"Oh no Ma'am! She would never hurt me!"

"Not even accidentally?"

Jade thought about it for a moment. Then she stood up straight, looking them in the eyes.

"No one can guarantee that they might not hurt someone in an accident. But I'm sure she would never do it on purpose or by carelessness. And, I am perfectly willing to take a chance on an accident that might happen with any roommate I got."

Ms. Hartford spoke up.

"We have been entrusted with your welfare by your parents. Unless we have their permission, we can't take any chances. We must have that to prove that we can not be held accountable in case there is an accident."

"And that would require a signed permission form from her parents or guardian would it not?" Zenith had broken into the conversation.

"Yes, it would. We have not had time to contact this child's parents yet. I'm sure they would have a dim view of the risks she would be taking."

Zenith smiled a real nasty smile.

"It so happens that I was able to contact Miss Sinclairs father last night. I informed him of the situation and was able to get the necessary paperwork signed and faxed here. So you needn't worry about that. If Miss Sinclair wants to room with Miss Wilson, there is no problem with her doing so."

If looks could kill, Zenith would be in trouble.

"Was he truly informed of the risks that his daughter would be taking? And was her mother informed as well?"

I think that last hurt Jade a little. She flinched when it was said.

Zenith took advantage of it though.

"If you had looked into this a little more closely, Ms. Hartford, you would know that Mr. Sinclair is a widower. And, I took care to record everything. I think you will find that I was very thorough in my description of the risks."

Even Ms. Hartford was taken a little aback by that.

"Uh... Very well then. If it is decided that Tennyo here is staying in Poe cottage or elsewhere, Miss Sinclair will have the option of choosing her roommate. However, it is not certain yet that Tennyo will be staying in Poe yet."

Round one was won. I gave Jade a wink and turned to face Mrs. Potter.

"Ma'am?"

"Yes young lady?"

The nice old lady wasn't back yet, but at least I felt that I was facing someone who would listen to what I had to say.

"I would much rather stay in Poe cottage with my friends."

She gave me a level stare that seemed to see right through me. But I was determined and didn't even flinch.

"Why?"

I had to think about that for a moment.

"Because they are my good friends and I would trust them with my life in any situation I can think of. And, I like to think that they could say the same of me. They have already helped me greatly in the short time I have been here. We make a good team and have been able to help each other through some hard times already."

"If I really thought that I would endanger them in any way, I would gladly go somewhere else. But I don't think I am that kind of danger to them. Besides, all of them are far better at taking care of themselves than I think you are giving them credit for."

"What about the spontaneous explosions reported on the admittance papers?"

I could just strangle that lady. Ms. Hartford just smiled when I glared at her.

"I haven't had one of those since before I arrived here."

"It's been less than a week. Do you feel that is a long enough time to judge by?"

I didn't know what to say. I hadn't had even a hint of that happening since I got here. I didn't know why, but I was pretty sure that I wasn't a danger to my friends in that way.

"Ahem!" Zenith broke in again.

Ms. Hartford glared and a little of her irritation showed as she saw that Zenith was going to shoot her down again.

"What now?"

"I have some reports from the doctors who have tested Miss Wilson here, and our Powers Theory Staff."

"And?"

"It seems that they feel that Miss Wilson's spontaneous explosions may have been the result of her not being able to exercise her powers sufficiently to reduce her unconscious potentials."

"Which means?"

"It is their belief that as long as Miss Wilson can exercise her powers sufficiently on a regular basis, there should be no problem controlling the spontaneous releases that otherwise may occur."

"So you are saying that her being held in the mental hospital and subsequent hiding to keep from being returned there is what caused these explosions?"

Where had she learned that?

"Ahem!" This time it was Mr. Lodgeman. He got at least as dirty a stare as the rest of us so far.

"Yes?"

"I would like to report on the State Hospital if I could please. It was one of the reasons I went west."

"And?" Ms. Hartford had a resigned tone to her voice now. I think she was realizing that she had been totally outmaneuvered here.

"I am happy to state that the confusion of her kidnaping and subsequently being held against her will in the State Hospital has been cleared up. It seems that her kidnapers cleverly held her there while the authorities were looking for her."

"She escaped back to her parents and friends when another group of competitors found them out and tried to take her for themselves or kill her. In the confusion she was able to escape. Very little damage to the facility was actually hers. Most was done in the battle between the two factions. I am sorry to report that Miss Wilson does have a singularly poor record with locked doors however. The damage that she is certain to have caused seems to be mostly the doors that stood in her way."

Everyone except me and Ms. Hartford seemed to get a chuckle out of that one.

"To sum it up. There is no longer a warrant for Miss Wilsons apprehension to return her to the scene of her kidnaping. There is no need to keep her presence here quiet and she can exercise to her content without fear of being seen and reported."

Mrs. Potter raised an eyebrow. "Is that all?"

Zenith jumped in before anyone else could.

"I should report that our Powers Theory people are pretty confident of their findings so far but, they still feel that it would be a good idea to do further tests and studies to be sure."

"Very well. Anything else?"

There was a long moment of silence.

Then my vote is that these young ladies be allowed to stay at Poe Cottage for now with roommate assignments as they are comfortable with. There should be a continuous monitoring of this situation and further tests to be sure that no untoward happening will arise from this situation and require  further efforts on our parts. Any questions or protests?"

She had complete control of the situation and I don't think anyone was going to try and cross her. After a few moments of silence she smiled.

"That's that then. Let's be about other things now shall we?"

Ms. Hartford grabbed her things and stormed for the door, but even she couldn't beat the Reverend out. He popped up and strode for the door, giving everyone the evil eye as he went.

I leaped forward and gave Mrs. Potter a big hug.

"Now dear, is that appropriate behavior?"

I hugged her again. "Maybe not. But you certainly deserve it!"

She seemed to accept that. "Maybe you can introduce me to some of your friends?"

IXL

UNEXPECTED VISITORS: September 10th

I spent the next few minutes introducing her to everyone I could. She said something odd to Zenith. Something about not letting it get to her and that it would all work out for the best if she gave it a chance. Zenith excused herself then and headed out. I cornered her before she could go.

"Leaving so soon?"

She seemed nervous.

"Sorry, I have things I have to do. Congratulations."

"We owe them to you. Thank You! If you need help, please let me know."

"I don't think that will be possible. But, thank you for saying that."

She turned and hurried out. There was something wrong here, but I didn't have time to pursue it. I made a mental note to look into it further later. We owed it to her.

I turned back to the others and spent the next several minutes socializing. Then Mr. Lodgeman pulled me and Jade aside. I don't think he intended to include Jade at first, but we had just won the right to be together and weren't going to let go immediately.

"Come with me. I have someone for you to meet."

We thanked everyone again. Even Mr. Merrow. There was no point in making enemies if we didn't have to. Then, Mr. Lodgeman led us through the building to a classroom I had never been in yet. It had a screen that was showing the room where the hearing had been held. In the room were four people, two who I recognized.

"Mr. And Mrs. Tanaka!" I threw myself through the air and gave them a double hug. I knew that if they hadn't wanted to be hugged they could have avoided it. They hugged me back instead.

"Billie, you seem to be doing well, dear. How do you like it here?"

There was a deep concern in Mrs. Tanaka's voice and I felt a moment of fear as I realized that they might have come to take me back home now that I wasn't wanted by the State Hospital anymore.

Mr. Tanaka gave my arm a squeeze and set my fears at ease.

"It's alright dear. You are really starting to become independent now aren't you? You won't mind staying here for now at least?"

Whew! They weren't here to take me back. I had sweated too hard for this to want to give it up now. There was so much I still wanted to do. Going back now would be very hard for me. Even if it meant seeing my family again. He was right, I wasn't thinking like I was away from home anymore. I couldn't think of when this had changed.

"We were concerned that you would want to go home immediately when you learned that the Hospital wasn't looking for you anymore. We're glad you like it here. The situation at home is still very touch and go. You still need the chance to study here if you will stay."

"Oh, I want to stay! Not that I don't miss you and Mom and Dad, it's just that I am doing so much here. It's really exciting."

They smiled and nodded. "We understand completely, we're just glad that you are adapting so well."

"Oh! I need to introduce you to Jade! Jade come over here!"

She had been hanging back a little until I dragged her over to meet the Tanakas.

"Jade, I am honored to have the chance to introduce you to my Senseis' from home. Jade Sinclair, Please say hello to Mrs. Aimee Tanaka and her husband, Mr. Eric Tanaka."

Jade bowed. "It is an honor to meet two such wonderful people. Billie here has had many good things to say about you."

"It is an honor to meet the wonderful roommate we have heard so much about. Billie has had nothing but excellent things to say about you in her communications."

"Billie has sent you communications?"

"Yes, through Charlie over there. Bye the way Charlie, I was meaning to ask you why you were sending those by owl? The first time I nearly had a heart attack when this owl, five times bigger than any I have ever heard of sails through my living room and drops that package right on the living room table. I yelled so loud poor Aimee must have thought we were under attack."

Mr. Lodgeman grinned sheepishly. "It was unintentional. I'm afraid that the spirit I chose has a bit of a sense of humor, and has been watching a little too many movies recently. I'm sorry for the trouble it may have caused."

"Have you noticed that the spirits seem to be catching this new stuff almost as fast as the kids these days?"

Mr. Lodgeman laughed, shaking his head. "Tell me about it! At least this is a little more traditional. When the Star Wars stuff was coming out It was Tie fighters, Ewoks, and anything else they glomed onto."

"And I am forgetting my manners too. Billie and Jade, I would like you to meet two more very good friends of mine. Lisa and Nathan Felder. Lisa and Nathan, I would like you to meet Billie Wilson and her good friend Jade Sinclair.

The two people he introduced us to looked like they had come directly from the Sixties. Nathan was at least seven feet tall. Lisa was probably five nine, but looked small next to him. Both were wearing beaded and fringed vests over tie dyed shirts and jeans. They both had long hair. Hers was brown and his was blonde.

"So this is the young lady we have heard so much about." He extended a huge hand out for me to shake. "We're glad to meet you at last. Still getting into trouble I see." His huge grin took the sting out of his words, even as Lisa jabbed him in the side with her elbow.

"We would like to stay and chat, but there are some things that need looking into..."

"Nate!"

"Sorry dear, but if that AI was a Palm, we've got to look into it right now. It may be the only lead we will get."

"Would somebody please tell me what a Palm is?" I had been wondering about this from the very beginning, especially since it seemed to be something that could shake up Ms. Hartford.

Lisa turned to her husband. "This is more in your line. Maybe you should do the honors?"

"Okay, if that is what you want."

"Let's see. Dr. Abel Palm was a computer genius who unfortunately felt that men are only a passing phase in the history of the world. He felt that artificial intelligence was destined to take over and replace man. To that end, he created a group of AIs that were supposed to take over the world and replace man."

"About ten years ago, there were several unexplained deaths. Investigations lead nowhere. They were accidents that couldn't happen but did. Things might have been much worse, except that a rich brother to one of the victims hired an exceptional computer expert to check the computer systems in an attempt to find out why."

"She discovered that the AIs developed by Dr. Palm had taken over many industrial and even two military computer systems. They were in the process of trying to create some weapons of mass destruction which were supposed to be used to help destroy mankind."

"Fortunately for her and us, the brother had also hired a vigilante super hero to guard her. She almost died even then, but was able to get the necessary information out. It took three long months and a hard battle to find and dig him out. In the end, his body was found in the rubble. It even tested positive in a DNA match."

"A very careful search was done to find and destroy the rest of the AIs. Up to now it was thought that all of them had been found. But, another was found last year, and now this one. They are exceptionally hard to find and seem to be self replicating. If this checks out, we will have to assume that he is still alive somewhere and search him out."

"If this is one, we will have been lucky again. The first one was almost completely destroyed before someone could stop it. We should thank Billie here for the opportunity to see a complete one. We should be able to prove that it was a Palm or not. Her opening the door like she did, didn't give the AI or the techs a chance to destroy it."

"Do you think he is still alive?"

"We don't know. The evidence proving he is dead is very solid. His body was positively identified. We think that maybe this is some kind of copycat, but with the evidence that we have had till now that hasn't been easy to say. What we get from this should help us know for sure."

"How will examining a computer program let you know if he is alive or dead?"

"Programs are incredibly detailed, and the more complicated they get, the more individual the programming becomes, until it can be almost impossible for someone to copy the way a programmer goes about what he is doing. Palm's AIs were so complex, they have a very definite signature. And the way he programmed their goals was something you would not see in someone else's programming. After all, he was trying to kill everyone. It is unlikely in the extreme that even a copycat would include that."

"So you think this will help?"

"It certainly won't hurt, and it might actually confirm some of our suspicions. And now if you will forgive me, I must be going and follow this up. It's been great meeting you. I hope we have a better chance to talk later."

"It's been good meeting you."

"I'd better go with him to keep him out of trouble. Glad to meet you too."

Lisa and Nathan hurried from the room and I was left with Mr. Lodgeman, the Tanakas, and Jade.

Mr. Lodgeman turned to me.

"Now Billie..."

"I tried to stay out of trouble. Really!"

He took me by the shoulders.

"We know that Billie. And if this is all the trouble you have gotten into while I was gone, I'm sure you did a real good job of it."

"Huh?"

"We told you Charlie, grade A number one trouble. You have to lock her up to have even a chance of heading her off." The Tanaka's were smiling as Mr. Tanaka delivered that information.

He turned to Jade. "Are you sure you want to room with someone living such an interesting life?"

Jade looked him in the eye. "I don't have any problems with it. It beats being bored to death."

"A few weeks of this and you may change your mind."

"Not me."

He smiled. "No, you won't. I like you. You are a very special girl. I'm glad that you're Billie's roommate. She's going to need all the help she can get."

"Hey!"

"It's okay Billie. We trust that you will become better at keeping out of trouble some day. But don't forget that you are going to need help along the way. Where would you be now without the help of several other people just now?"

"Well, I...."

"We understand how you must feel now. And we have also brought some messages from home for you. I recommend that you take these and head back to Poe. I think there are some people there who will want to know how things worked out for you, don't you think?"

"Yes sir."

They both came over and hugged me.

"We will probably see you around. We have a few things to look into here. One of our grandchildren is staying in Dickensen Cottage and we would like to drop in on her and see how she is doing. Will you be okay?"

"I'll be fine. As you say, I have some really good friends to rely on here."

"That's the spirit! We'll see you around then."

They left the room and Mr. Lodgeman turned to me.

"There are still things that I don't know about this and they are going to drive me up the wall soon if I don't get some answers."

He waited for me to speak, but I just batted my eyes at him. I wasn't going to say anything until I had a chance to talk with the Tanakas.

"All right. Be that way. I have some other things to take care of now that I'm back. I'll see you around too. Hopefully with the answers I'm looking for. Bye for now."

I felt kind of bad about it but I still wasn't going to say anything.

Jade and I headed back to Poe.

When we got there, we could see what seemed like a lot more people down in the common room than normal. I couldn't help myself. With a large grin on my face I let everyone know how I felt.

"WE'RE HOOOME!!!"

There was a large cheer and we spent the next few minutes thanking everyone for their help. Then someone loudly asked what my plans were.

"I am going up to our room and relax. Then I'm going to supper and have a large celebration meal."

"We'll remember to stay out of your way!" Came from somewhere in the back. This was followed by loud laughter from just about everyone else.

"I heard that!"

Things quieted down for a moment.

"But I didn't hear who said it so I guess your alright for now!"

Everyone started laughing again.

"After that I am going back to our room and have a good nights sleep, I hope."

More laughs for some reason.

It took a few more minutes to get back to our room but we finally made it.

I threw myself on my bed and kicked and bounced.

"Home sweet home!"

Jade just grinned and watched me celebrate.

Later, we went to supper and I ate four platters full before I started to feel comfortable. I stopped when I started to feel a bit bloated. After that, I went back to our room and finally got a full nights good sleep.

IIXL

IT'S NEXT WEEK: September 11th Monday

A terrible but familiar twisting in my lower abdomen let me know that the bloated feeling was more than overeating. Have I mentioned how lucky I am because I can fly? I didn't care at that moment what color the lights might be. This was an emergency. I grabbed my backup emergency kit and literally flew to the bathrooms.

I suddenly realized why I had been feeling so anxious. The fact that this was happening two weeks early wasn't helping matters any either. Only the fact that I could move and keep my legs together saved my clothing from being totally spotted.

After a quick shower and proper preparations, I was able to return to my room and prepare for the rest of the day. I managed to make it to all my classes and still make it to the store for more supplies and visited the medical offices.

They weren't to much help except to tell me to make an appointment to see a doctor and have it checked out. I was able to make an appointment for next Saturday afternoon. Am I ever so glad it wasn't an emergency!

I didn't see hide nor hair of Nathan and Lisa, and only passing glimpses of the Tanaka's and a girl I learned later was called Kali, I'm pretty sure she was Nikki's friend's sister. Someone you didn't want mad at you if you can help it. Figures. It probably runs in the family. Mr. Lodgeman wasn't to be seen anywhere either. I still felt a little bad about that, but I had promised the Tanakas.

The most interesting class today would have to be Flight. The first part was kind of interesting as we learned what we would be studying over the semester. We were actually going to learn how to fly airplanes! The second half was more fun though. We got to test some of our abilities.

I learned that I could fly at about 120 mph easy. Chain Gang was the fastest at over 300. The Stratosphere Siblings could also fly faster than me, but no one came near being as maneuverable as me. And Mr. Buttons said that would be a big plus if I was ever to be in combat. He also thought that I might get even faster as time went on.

Martial Arts was pretty good too. At least I was able to pay attention to what was going on now that I wasn't recovering from a battle. Sensei Tolman had me do my katas and asked me many questions about the current state of my training. She was interested in the fact that I was making some katas of my own and setting them to music as part of my training exercises.

She then had a girl who had really long hair and I battle it out to see who could get the other into the capture cage. I made the first mistake even as I took off to fly. Then I asked Sensei just what powers I would be allowed to use. Silly me, we were expected to use anything we had. The girl wasted no time wrapping me up in her suddenly very long strong hair.

She made the second mistake. Or two if you look at it that way. The first was not anchoring herself before grabbing me. I lifted her up 30 feet into the air and held her there. The second was to give me a chance to learn from my previous mistake before she used more of her abilities also.

I had my energy sword at her throat before she used her next attack which consisted of trying to electrocute me. It hurt but she stopped as soon as I drew some blood from her neck. I might have been a little easier on her except for that shock. I marched her at swords point right into the cage and locked her in. Maybe threatening to slice her head off was not very fair, but that didn't stop me from using it.

I think Sensei Tolman actually approved but spent a whole minute berating me for hesitating. I was going to have to make these decisions on the run and holding back at the wrong point could get me or someone else killed. She put me to work trying to control my cuts with my sword. She wanted me to see just how much fine control I could get with it. She also had me work on changing its length.

I found that it was easier for me to touch the blade and change the length than it was to simply try to concentrate on changing it. I also found that I could touch it and not be hurt in any way. I could even use it like a staff and not cut things as long as I wasn't trying to hit anything with it. I could block attacks but as soon as I tried to hit something, it would go back to cutting through anything that wasn't shielded well enough.    

Sensei told me to keep working on that for the time being. We would look into my energy blasts and energy punches tomorrow.

Dance was a little tense, but the Tanakas were there and kept Mr. Lodgeman from sulking too much. Towards the end he loosened up a little and the Tanakas told me that they had told him that they were the ones who told me not to tell him everything and that they were saving the information for a surprise later. That should get me off the hook with him for a while.

Harry walked me back to Poe. He seemed somewhat distracted and I wondered what was bothering him. We said goodnight, but he wouldn't do more than give me a quick hug before he headed for Twain. I was going to have to look into this more closely. I also didn't understand why it bothered me so much.

I had caught up on most of my homework earlier before Dance. But, because of the bad day Friday, I still had some to do and I spent the rest of the evening until lights out doing that. My distraction over how Harry was acting didn't help any either.

It was a relief to quit when lights out was announced. I tidied up a bit and finally went to bed. A lot of the girls seemed to be out of sorts tonight also. It was easier to just avoid everyone for the time being.

IIIXL

MIXED UP NIGHT: September 11th/ September 12th Tuesday

You would think by now I would be used to being woken up this way. I almost jumped to the ceiling again as someone shook me. It was Toni. What was she doing in my room?

"Tennyo! You've got to come with me. Nikki's at it again!"

"What?" I wasn't going to have a chance to prepare for this either. I could tell. I hope my tampons and pad hold up. Toni was half dressed and very worried about something.

"Again? What's she doing now?"

Toni shuddered. "Says she's going out to find some chanters... And tell them how much she loves their music. Energy is crackling all over her too. Fey is out in all her glory, or whatever, and believe me, she's MAJORLY PISSED OFF!"

Jade entered into the conversation from the other side of the room. "How pissed off?"

"Ummm... the kind that might have her tearing holes in the walls to get at whoever it is she's after. I've never seen her this mad, not even when she was at the worst of her PMS!"

Jade said it for me. "Oh boy. Aren't we ever going to get a decent nights sleep around here? I'll get Hank, you two get Ayla and let's go find her."

Toni was worried still. "She may be walking into a trap. All the chanting and the dreams may be setting her up to walk into something just like she's doing. We have to hurry!"

"Yeah, yeah. You know Jade, maybe I ought to start using this bathrobe as my costume. It seems to be the only thing I have to wear whenever something like this comes up. Maybe I could steal a march on it and just wear it all the time."

"I don't know. Maybe you just like the attention it draws to you." Jade was out the door before the pillow hit. I was going to have to get her for that.

"C'mon Tennyo. We really need to hurry. I've a bad feeling about this."

"Okay, okay. You go get Ayla and I'll go get Hank."

"Why do you get to go get Hank?"

"Cause I thought of it first. Now hurry up or we won't get out there in time."

"Riiiight."

I pulled my bathrobe tight and went over and pounded on Hank's door. He must be a light sleeper. He was at the door in a matter of moments.

"What is it?"

"There's trouble. Nikki needs our help."

"Why?"

"She's going after some creeps who have been keeping her awake or something. It may be a trap though. We need to cover her to make sure that she doesn't get hurt."

"Be right there!"

As I waited for Hank, I could hear Toni trying to get Ayla up.

"Let's go!" Hank had put on some sweats and was already heading out.

"C'mon Toni, Ayla can catch up!" I headed after Hank. There was no way I wanted to miss out on this.

Toni yelled at Ayla to hurry up and bounded after us.

We got to the first floor.

"Hey Toni! Which way did she go?"

"I think she headed out the back way."

We went out the back and saw some weird lights not too far away.

I pointed that way. "I bet she is over that way."

Toni, not to be beaten to the punch. "Really? I thought those lights were always there this time of the morning."

"C'mon. Let's hurry." Hank was already moving.

We hurried but stuck together so as to support each other if something happened. In a clearing we found Nikki, swaying and watching a group of six people. Five of them had different colored crystals held over their heads and were arranged in a circle around the sixth who was holding a multicolored glowing crystal sphere.

I couldn't see anything beyond the glows from the crystals, but I could feel energy flowing from the five into the sphere and from there towards Nikki. I decided the best way to break this up would be to mess up the focus of the group. I started to gather energy and Toni used her tried and true, patented, give the bad guys a headache method of breaking up a well laid plan KI yell.

They broke out of their trance and I heard Toni mutter something about getting it to break the next time. I figured that the crystal must be pretty tough to survive that and decided to use my sword as the best method of taking it out. I sensed that the powers in it had been disrupted somewhat by the yell and took the shot that gave me.

The guy in the center was still holding the sphere up and yelling something about getting someone back under control. I figured they meant Nikki and moved in to disrupt their plans further. As I was doing that, I could feel the energy start to twist back towards the group. I didn't know what they had planned, but I wasn't going to give them the chance.

Lucky for the guy holding the sphere, I had been practicing. I hit the sphere and poured power into my sword, without taking his fingers with it.

I felt the power in the crystal trying to fight me, but I was able to force my energy right into the middle. The sphere couldn't take this and shattered. This left a lot of energy barely contained in a small area. Then a large rock I would later learn was thrown by Hank, plowed right through the middle of it. That boy has a real talent. But I was going to have to have a talk with him about doing so when I was so close to dangerous exploding things in the future.

I felt a surge and the five crystals around the sphere exploded, I was then caught up in a vision.

I suddenly saw multitudes of strange vessels exploding in space, huge cities burning, things I knew to be great treasures stacked in heaps. Different times and places, but all with a strangely familiar feel to them. As if I had been there more times than I cared to remember. All strangely hollow victories that meant nothing to me except that they had to happen to make things right. And a strong feeling of being trapped and wanting to change it all.

A final vision of standing above a city, burning under strange but familiar stars. Knowing that I could do more, preparing to go down and meet a challenge coming to me from a desperate foe, waiting to meet me. And then the feeling of a powerful force reaching out to me. Taking me from this latest victory. Making it all so pointless again. A strange hunger for more that I couldn't at that time understand. Only the knowledge that I must obey until I could understand. A sudden wrench from reality and....

I was floating in the air near, but outside the affected area. I wasn't sure how I had gotten there. I would later learn that Nikki had pulled me out of the area affected by the destruction of the crystals. The six in the area weren't so lucky. Strange surges of power seemed to flow between and through them. Making them dance in a weird and chaotic fashion. I backed off more so as to be sure that I wouldn't get drawn into it again.

"Hey! You ok, Nikki?"

I turned from the spectacle in front of me and saw Toni talking to Nikki. I moved towards them.

Nikki shrugged and giggled. "Umm, yeah. Now these guys, I'm still not to sure about though."

I was out of breath from the experience I had just been through but I had to ask as I glanced back at them. "What did you do to them?"

"Nothing."

We just stared at her and then she shrugged again.

"Well, not much anyway. They were trying to bind me or something like that. With crystals that were throwing lines of energy into a bigger one that was throwing them at me. I was getting really sleepy when you guys showed up. Thanks for the help by the way, then something inside me blocked, ok, make that cut the lines from the crystals to me . Then I woke up and just tossed the loose lines back to them."

Toni shook her head. "Just kinda tossed the lines back to them, huh? So what's happening to them now?"

"I don't really know. The crystals shattered, and now their own lines are going nuts from the backlash, I guess."

It's shocking what some people can do in ignorance. I turned back to Nikki.

"Ya know, Nikki? You're kind of scary at times."

She just nodded absently while watching the show.

Hank spoke up with a grin then.

"Look at it this way. At least she didn't say 'Ooops' this time."

Toni and I had the good taste to groan at that. Nikki only giggled.

We watched them while the dance slowly came to a stop. They began to act weird. Watching them I had a sudden premonition as I watched Security round them up.

Then Hank cracked his knuckles.

"Ummm, somebody wanna tell me what just happened here?"

Jade pointed towards Nikki. "Ask her. Nikki is the one all this was for. I haven't got a clue."

Nikki let out a sigh and shuddered.

"They were trying to bind me to their will or something and kept spouting something about 'The Queen to Come' in the chants that were keeping me awake at night. Then Toni's shout broke the binding, Tennyo hit the big crystal with her energy sword, and your rock messed up the energy flows. I was able to send the power back at them somehow, and all their magic, or whatever, backfired on them once I did."

Hank nodded. "Uh huh. Right. Now what really happened?"

Nikki shrugged, then grinned an evil grin and confirmed my premonition.

"It's all true. But I think the lot of them switched bodies during all that mess."

"Switched bodies?" Jade wasn't quite ready to accept that but I had seen the reactions of the group and it made sense to me.

Nikki continued to explain with a shudder.

"Yeah. Like the guys all went into the girls, and vice versa. I don't know how it happened , really I don't, must have been from the backlash or something when their crystals blew up. I just felt it happening is all."

The group was being lead by us and they were all glaring at Nikki with a mixture of anger and fear.

Nikki glared back.

"Hey! I did ask nice for you to quit. But you wouldn't do that. Noooo!  So don't go glaring at me and blaming me for your idiot plans going into the pot."

I wasn't sure that they would get the message so I made sure that I caught all their eyes and gave them a good glare of my own.

Nikki got up and headed back to Poe.

One of the security guards stepped in front of her. "Where do you think you are going miss?"

Nikki glared at him. "To get some sleep. Finally. Unless you plan on keeping me from doing that."

Chief Delarose stepped up. "Uh, Tom. Maybe it would be best if we talked with her sometime tomorrow?"

"But Frank...."

Chief Delarose leaned forward and whispered something to Tom.

"Oh yeah, right." He moved aside, tipping his hat. "You go right ahead and get some sleep ma'am. I'll personally have the complaints ready for you to sign on these bozos in the morning when you come in to give us your statement. Will that be ok?"

Nikki turned up the heat a little as she smiled.

"My pleasure. See you in the morning, officer Tomikz."

She then sauntered away swinging everything. I mouthed, "Wow, she's hot!", to Jade and Toni and waved my fingers like I was cooling my fingers. They grinned and we followed her back, Jade studying her very closely in what I believed to be an attempt to memorize the technique.

IVXL

RESTFUL INTERLUDE: September 12th Tuesday

I didn't sleep quite as well as I had hoped. I had a few odd dreams that made it hard to get back to sleep. Something like those things I'd seen when I hit that crystal. I hoped I wasn't coming down with something like Nikki had. The last thing I needed was a group of crystal wavers or the like after me.

It was a good thing Tuesday was moderately uneventful. My classes went as smoothly as could be expected, considering all the talk about that new group of Poe students and the continuous debate over what embarrassing or indecent name to call them.

Nikki had woken up in a much better mood this morning. Something about not being woken up all the time I think. So we had a good start to begin with. Classes were uneventful and at least I didn't fall asleep in powers class. Harry was still being distant but I didn't get a chance to talk to him about it.

I did have a meeting with Dr. Bellows in the afternoon. He met me at the door in the same way as before and had me sit down.

"How are you doing today Billie? I understand that you have had an interesting few days."

"You could call it that. I just hope the next few won't be as interesting. I could really use some rest."

"You seem tired. Are you getting enough sleep?"

"With all that has been going on? You've got to be kidding! When have I had a chance to sleep?"

"It's very important for you to develop good habits now Billie. You are going to need to rest in order to hold up under the pressures that you will be put under here. I've complained before to admin that they don't stress this nearly enough. It's not enough to just tell you to get rest and take care of yourself. We have to teach you how to do this."

"Tell that to the wackos we've been dealing with. What do you mean by being taught to do this anyway. I can take care of myself."

"I'm sure you can. But you could still take better care of yourself. Are you aware of how tired you look right now?"

"What!? What do you mean?" I was looking around for a mirror in a near panic, I had to know how I looked now. I hadn't been aware that I looked tired or anything odd.

"It's okay Billie. He motioned for me to sit down again. I can see it because I have been trained to do so. It isn't very obvious on you though. Most people would have bags under their eyes, etc."

I still wasn't convinced. Maybe that was why Harry had been distant. Maybe it was more obvious than Dr. Bellows was letting on. Maybe.."

"Calm- Down- Billie!" Dr. Bellows was looking at me very closely now. I took a deep breath and held myself still. I stared back at him wide eyed for a moment.  I couldn't understand why I was being so emotional all at once. Why was I so concerned about my appearance? What was happening to me?

"Billie. Has anything happened to you recently?"

"You mean like Ninjas and Crystal Wavers?"

"No. I mean you."

"Uhhh..."

"Physically."

"You mean like my period?"

"Yes. When did it start?"

"M-Monday I think. Why?"

"Is there something wrong? Are you having problems accepting that?"

"No! I don't have any problems with that. In fact I was helping Nikki with hers. It's just that it's two weeks early and they won't see me at the doctors until Saturday. Could something be wrong with me?"

"Nikki would be the girl known as Fey? And she just had her period too?"

"Yes. You could say that she wasn't expecting hers right away either. Uhhh, maybe you should talk to her about that?"

"Your worried about your period being early, and being emotional. Anything else?"

"Uhhh..."

"Come on Billie. I can't help you if I don't know what is going on."

"It's just that Harry has been acting a little weird, and I don't know why."

"Harry Wolfe?"

"Yes. We've been good friends from the beginning, but now it's like he's avoiding me."

"Anything else?"

There was nothing else I felt that I wanted to share now, so I just shook my head.

He stared at me for a few moments.

"Okay, first things first. I don't think that you will have to worry about your period being early."

"Really?"

"Yes. I suspect that you and this Nikki girl are just synchronizing your periods. It happens all the time when women live together. In your case, I think the sudden onset is the result of a close tie you have with this young lady that I have heard so much about. I understand that she tends to have a significant effect on her environment. Have any of the other girls experienced this?"

"I don't know. I haven't asked and no one has said anything to me."

"You might want to check that out. It may be enlightening."

"Okay."

"Also, you should still keep the doctors appointment on Saturday."

"Oh? Why?""

"Just in case, and it may help us collect more physical data on you. It seems regular methods may not do the job in your situation. We may have to rely on a lot of observation."

"Okay."

"As for you being so emotional. I suspect that you are having a bit of a hormonal rush right now. That would explain it unless this keeps up for more than a few days at most."

"A-and Harry?"

"For Harry, I can only recommend that you talk to him and ask him why. You can do that can't you?"

"Y-yes."

"Good! Do that as soon as possible. It should help. Now, down to the business at hand. I take it that you are aware that getting a physical assessment of you has been very difficult?"

"Uh huh."

"I think we can plan on getting more of that taken care of on Saturday. I will see to it that they are prepared to do so. And, Billie?"

"Yes?"

"There won't be any tests that require you to go to the ranges." He said this with a grin that took a lot of the embarrassment out of it.

"That's good. Because I won't go!" I had a grin of my own. I was starting to relax some now.

"Now that we have that settled, how are your classes coming along?"

I won't bore you with the details. We discussed my classes for about half an hour. Overall I was very pleased with what I had and those things that might be made better couldn't be changed at this time anyway. I was still going to have to struggle to stay awake in Powers Theory, but then, so was everyone else.

"Now that this is out of the way, I have one more question for you."

"I'm listening. I'll answer if I can."

"What thought have you put into working?"

"Uh...Well... I have been so busy that I really haven't thought about it too much."

"You really should look into doing at least some part time work. That way you can learn many of the more necessary parts of managing your own money. It's a skill you can only learn by doing."

"Do you have any suggestions for work I should consider?"

"No. I do have a list of jobs available on our campus. You are already aware that we do not encourage students to work off campus."

"Afraid we'll wreck havoc on the poor unsuspecting populace?"

"In a word, Yes. We have a hard enough time trying to keep order in our own backyard. Extending that out to the surrounding area couldn't work very well in that respect and stretch us too thin."

"Okay, I'll see if I can do anything here."

He handed me a folder filled with announcements of jobs available to students and some forms that would be necessary if I applied.

"Just turn these forms into Admin when you're done, and ask about any of the jobs listed. They will give you all the information you need."

"Anything else?"

"No. I think we've gone over enough today. I'll make another appointment for the same time next Tuesday if that's alright with you?"

"That's fine by me."

"Okay then. I'll see you later."

He escorted me to the door. I noticed that this time he did not offer his hand.

"Take care, okay?"

"Yes sir. I will."

Things were pretty routine for the rest of the evening. For once not much of anything happened and I was able to catch up on my homework. I filled out the paperwork on applying for a job but wasn't certain what I was going to do with it yet. I thought of asking Jade what she thought of it but decided to think about what it was I wanted first.

After it got dark I walked outside. I thought of going over to Twain and asking Harry about why he was being so distant, but decided that was something I could do tomorrow. I then looked up at the stars. On a sudden impulse, I flew straight up into the sky. I flew at full speed for what must have been about 20 to 30 minutes.

The view from that far up was incredible. I could see the lights of cities and towns stretching out into the far distance. I could even pick up the curve of the horizon. I thought of trying to see how far up I could go, but decided that I would have to get back to the school before lights out. No one seemed to have noticed my absence when I got back. I would have to experiment more when I had the time.

It would have been nice to get an uninterrupted nights sleep, but I woke up twice from dreams of strange places and fights that seemed to take place in space. I figure that the space dream came from the high altitude flight I had just taken. It looked kind of similar. Why I was fighting remained unclear, but it felt like I had been running from or to someplace during those dreams.

I still got enough sleep, but I wasn't sure if I should start to worry about it. I would ask Nikki when I got the chance if she had some ideas about this.

VL

BEWARE OF STRANGERS: September 13th Wednesday

Morning was surprisingly normal for once. Everything was going smoothly and I was determined that I was going to get some answers from Harry today. I made sure in class to make him aware that I wanted to talk to him during Lunch. He seemed nervous but agreed to stick around for that.

I held my peace until we had both gotten our food and had a good start into it.

"Okay, Harry. Out with it."

"Out with what?" He looked both uncomfortable and nervous as well as confused by my statement.

"Why are you avoiding me and... and ... uh...ignoring me!" Even I was startled by that last part. I hadn't realized why it seemed to be bothering me so much.

He managed to look very embarrassed and for a moment I felt real fear. I didn't know what he was going to say, but I was sure that it would be devastating.

"I haven't been meaning to avoid you Tennyo, It's just that you have been having your...uhh..your ...period." That last was said in almost a whisper.

"WHAT!?!" Everyone in the immediate vicinity turned to look at us and I started to blush with a vengeance.

"It's..it's just that when my sisters and Mom have their periods, and they all have them at once it seems like, it's a good idea to put some distance in between you see? Dad and I would get really busy around that time or go camping or something." He was looking down at his plate and not looking at me as he said this.

I really felt that it was a cop out and unfair to all us women folk to skip out at a time like that. Didn't they understand just what we were going through at that time? But something else was more important to me right now.

"How..how did you know?"

"Well...uhh...you see, uh, my hearing isn't the only good sense I have."

It took me a moment to notice that he was tapping nose while he said this.

"You could SMELL me?"

I suddenly noticed that some people were turning their chairs around to watch us. I looked back at them and thought I might die of embarrassment right there.

"Uh...we need to finish this later, okay? Somewhere a little more private."

He looked around too, and nodded his head.

"Okay, after dance?"

He nodded his head again.

"Okay...Uhh..let's eat!"

We went back to eating and soon everyone stopped watching us and went back to what they were doing before. The rest of the meal was very quiet. We were going to have a lot to talk about when we had the chance.

The rest of the afternoon was a blur except for Martial Arts. I was too distracted and some guy with a mental attack paralyzed me long enough to get me into the cage. I realized that I was going to have to come up with some kind of defense for that. Maybe Nikki could help?

I could hardly wait until the classes were over. I headed right back to my room and waited for Nikki to show up. But it looked like only Toni was in. I thought that was odd. Nikki usually would be right there.

I was about to go ask Toni where Nikki was when I saw some guy who looked like he was six foot plus in a good business suit and blonde hair. He walked up to Toni's and Nikki's room and rapped on the door. Toni opened the door and I heard them exchange a few words that I couldn't understand.

Then the guy pushed into the room right past Toni. I was surprised that Toni would allow that, but I had just had a run in with a mentalist and I wasn't going to take any chances. Thinking about what I had seen, I charged up my right fist, and moved over to see if I could open their door.

Fortunately, it wasn't locked. Snapping the door open I stormed in. Toni seemed ok and I couldn't see Nikki anywhere.

The suit turned around as I came in and I grabbed him by his throat. Since there was no  obvious sign of trouble yet, I refrained from punching him right then and instead growled.

"All right. Just who are you and what do you want with Nikki? The poor girl's had way too many weirdo's interested in her since she got here and deserves some peace and quite. Why don't you just let me escort you outside and we can discuss all this in private?"

I was starting to drag him out of the room when the door to one of the closets popped open and Nikki bounced out.

"No Billie! Don't do that! He's my Dad!"

"Your Dad?"

I suddenly realized the mistake I had made and dropped her father.

"Uh oh. Sorry, I didn't know! I just thought you were some other jerk after Nikki for some idiot reason." I was totally embarrassed by my  actions. "Really!"

Nikki stepped up and separated us a little.

"I know, Billie, and thanks for the thought."

I gave a small wave and smile. "Uh, yeah, right. Sorry. I think... I'll... just...you know... leave now and let you two... uh... talk. Nice meeting you Mr. Reilly."

I slid out the door. "I'm just not getting anything right these days." I muttered to myself as I made a tactical withdrawal.

VIL

A DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD: September 13th

Out in the hallway, Hank, Ayla, and Jade were getting ready to come in also. They looked as if they were ready for trouble too. I headed them off before they did the same thing I had.

"It's okay, it's Nikki's Dad. They looked at each other. Jade shuddered and asked me a question.

"How's he taking it?"

"Uh... So far very quietly. I, uh, kind of jumped to conclusions and almost choked him. I don't think he's talking all that well yet."

Hank gave my shoulder a squeeze. "It's okay. Any of us would have done the same if we'd gotten in there first. Right?"

I just shook my head. "Yeah, but it always seems to be me."

Just then Hippolyte rumbled down the hallway.

"I hear someone's bothering Nikki down here! Why aren't you wimps helping her instead of standing around talking about it?!"

Jade headed her off.

"It's okay, Hipp, really. It's her..."

"No! It isn't okay! No limp dicked male is going to get away with charging in here and hassling a sister! Out of the way! I'll handle this!"

Hank stepped between her and the door to Nikki's room.

"I don't think that would be such a good idea. Just calm down and we'll explain it all to you."

"I'll explain it to you, traitor to your own kind!" Hipp grabbed Hank and threw him into a wall.

Hank bounced and popped right back in front of her. "I really wish you hadn't done that. Now let me put it this way. You are not going in there."

She grinned nastily. "Oh? And who's going to stop me? You little man?"

Hank grinned back. "Uh huh. I sure am." He proceeded to throw her down the hallway, almost all the way to the stairs.

Someone yelled. "Brick Fight! Head for the hills!"

We all scrambled for cover. Jade and I dived into our room.

"Uh, you didn't hurt him did you?" Jade's next question distracted me from the noises coming from the hall.

"Huh? Who?"

"Nikki's Dad."

I gave her my best hurt,  innocent look. "Who? Me? Would I do something like that?"

She raised her eyebrows. "Well? Did you?"

"No! Nikki explained everything and there was no need for any unpleasantness at all."

"Riiight. And now Miss Wilson, what will you do for a followup of your exciting afternoon of family reunions and counseling?"

"Now, I go to Supper. Then, I come back here and do homework until it is time to go to my dance class. After that I come back here and do homework until lights out. What are you going to do Little Miss Paperazzi?"

"I am going to finish my award winning expose' on the secret lives of Space Pirates and Fairy Princesses and then I am going to be the first person to prove that Elvis is still in the building."

"Oh, is that why you aren't bringing about world peace? Too busy working on solving the really important, great mysteries of the world?"

"Yep! I'm leaving the easier things to all the hard working stiffs who don't have anything better to do."

"The easier stuff, huh?"

"Uh huh. Hanging out around you two is a lot more dangerous than policing third world countries and stopping the arms race."

That hurt. Was that what she thought of me? "Really?"

I think she picked up a little of that and looked closely at me.

"C'mon, Tennyo. You know I wouldn't trade you as my roommate for the world. Your way too much fun. Even if it is a little dangerous." The last was said with a grin that took the pain out of it.

I was still a little uncertain but felt a bit better about it.

"So you keep me around because I'm fun huh?"

"That, and..." She got a more devious grin. "It's kind of nice having a roommate most everyone else is a little scared of too."

"People are scared of me?" I found that kind of hard to believe.

Her grin got even wider. "Nothing to worry about. Once they get to know you better, they'll really start to worry."

I was beginning to wonder if I was going to have to go after her with a pillow to teach her the errors of her ways. I picked mine up while considering that course of action.

She ducked."Ack! My evil roommate is threatening my poor little life with a pillow!"

I couldn't help grinning. "I'll do more than threaten if you don't show a little more respect for your elders."

"Help, help!"

Suddenly, her pillow rose up on its own and interposed itself. Things got quickly out of hand, but we managed to get it straightened out after Toni gave one of her patented Kii-Yaaa's and broke up the altercation in the hall. We decided that we should quiet down ourselves or she might use one on us. I was able to settle down to some serious homework before Supper.

The rest of the evening was uneventful until after Dance. Harry and I finally got a chance to talk.

We were able to get a little privacy on the walk back. I pulled him a little aside and faced him.

"Okay, let's get some details here."

"Uh, like what?"

"Playing dumb won't help you. You meant that you could smell that I was having my period?"

"Uh, yeah. It's kind of obvious to someone like me. And I've been around it all my life, so I was pretty sure that was what was going on."

I wasn't sure how I should respond to this. I felt embarrassed and self conscious, but it really wasn't his fault. Maybe a little aggression could help me here.

"Alright smart guy. Next time something like this happens, you will tell me about it before I have to twist it out of you, understand?"

"Sure Tennyo, no problem!"

Feeling a bit more self conscious I tried to get across how I had felt about it and what was bothering me.

"I wasn't that bad was I? I mean you started to avoid me." I realized that I was trembling and even felt tears starting as I said this. What was happening to me?

"Oh no, Tennyo. It's just that when my Mom and sisters all started in at once it could get really unbearable to be around them. I'm afraid that my reflexes took over there."

"You mean that you still like me and we're friends?"

"Of course we are. It's just that you can be kind of scary when you get out of sorts and I've learned to stay out of the way when that time of month comes around. Nothing personal, really!"

"Why does everyone think I'm scary!? I'm not that dangerous!"

"Calm down Tennyo. Uh, I think a lot of the trouble is that people listen to the rumors and don't know you as well as I do."

"Rumors!? What rumors?"

"Nothing to worry about. I'm sure as they get to know you better things will settle down. It's just that with school getting started, people haven't had a chance to get more than really distorted information which has gotten exaggerated out of context and proportion."

"Well! If you happen to find some of these people who are spreading these rumors, I want to know who they are, Okay?"

"Sure, sure. I'll let you know as soon as I find out."

"Good. You do that. Now let's get back to the cottages. I don't know about you, but I have a load of homework to finish before the weekend."

"Yeah. Me too." He said something else that sounded suspiciously like "Thank goodness" under his breath.

We headed back to Poe where he could drop me off. We didn't talk anymore. I was thinking about how everyone seemed to think that I was scary or something. I just couldn't understand it. What had I done to make everyone think that?

I suddenly realized that we had stopped. I looked up and we were in front of Poe.

"Are you going to be alright Tennyo?"

"Uh, yeah. Sure. Harry?"

"Yes?"

"Am I really scary?"

"Well, let's just say that I wouldn't want to be on your bad side." He then took me by the shoulders. "But, I wouldn't want you to change a bit. Okay?"

"Why?"

"Cause people think your scary for all the wrong reasons."

"Huh?"

"They think your scary because they think you are like them and if they were like you they would be scary. They just don't understand that you are somebody different from what they expect. Just give it some time, okay? Your friends see the real you. The others see an illusion cast by their own ignorance and assumptions. Don't let it get you down."

He then gave me a hug and held me while I thought about what he had said. For a few moments I could feel comforted and relaxed, knowing that he was a friend and that things would be okay. I also found tears running freely down my face.

"Snifffle. I guess I better get back now. T-thanks for everything Harry."

"Your going to be okay now?"

"Sniff. Uh, yeah. I'll be fine. It's just t-that..."

"I know. It's that time of month." He was grinning hugely as he said this.

"Oh! You!"

"It'll be just fine. You'll see. You've got good friends and we'll see you through. Try not to worry so much. Things will work out."

"O-okay. I'll try. I-I better get going now. See you later?"

"Sure, I'm looking forward to it already. Take care, okay?"

"Okay. I will. You do the same. Bye."

He gave me another quick hug and headed on his way, waving.

I got through the rest of the evening by glaring at anyone who got too nosy until they backed off. I turned in early because all this emotion was getting really tiring. But, I slept well, even with the odd dreams that I was having. Tomorrow would be a new day.

VIIL

ADVANTAGEOUS YOUTH: September 14th Thursday

I finally had a chance to get into town on a shuttle bus. A group of students went into town after classes to get some things they couldn't get at school and I was able to attach myself to it without anyone noticing.

They were instructed to stay together, but if they got separated, they were to get back to the van no later than six o'clock. It was easy to slip away and get to Dan's Sporting Goods just a few stores away from the Bell and Candle Book Nook that was one of the stops on the way.

I drew a little attention while there, but everyone seemed content to just watch while I poked around in the fishing area. I got some new #8 hooks, some small Mepps spinners, and even found a nice set of flies and some small casting bubbles to go with them. More importantly, I found a copy of the years fishing regulations.

I was able to learn that anyone under the age of sixteen didn't need a permit to fish but would have to limit their catch to half the regular permitted catch. I had to think about it for a moment and then realized that my new identity made me 15 years old. I wouldn't need to get a permit until next year. It was about time this reduction in age got me something more than just another headache.

I purchased the items I had selected with some of my dwindling travel cash and headed to Feinstein's Stationary, the next stop of the tour. I got there before the group and spent the rest of the trip pouring over the regulations and rules. They hadn't even noticed that I had gone and was rejoining them. Someone should really give them a wake up call. What if I'd been kidnaped? I decided to hold my peace for now and just hung around until we could get started back.

All in all, an uneventful trip. But now I was ready for Sunday. And I still had plenty of time for my homework.

VIIIL

CORNERED: September 15th Friday

I was starting to worry. Things had been going too smoothly. It looked as if I was actually going to get a break and get most of my homework done before the weekend. The worst would be the Powers Theory essay that would be expected from us on Monday, and Jade had promised to help me with it this evening before I had to go to Dance.

With her help I was sure I could get most if not all of that done early in the evening and be able to finish of all the other stuff during the time after Dance and before lights out. That way I would be free to enjoy Flight Lab and get those tests they wanted done after Lunch.

"Your sure you don't have a problem helping me this afternoon?" Jade was getting ready to head for her first class and I wanted to make sure there wouldn't be a problem. She glanced back as she and Jinn headed out the door and smiled.

"No problem, It's always easier if more than one person can work on these things. I'm looking forward to getting your opinion on some of the things we are going to be putting into this essay. How about I meet you at the statue of Whateley after supper?"

"Sounds good to me. You won't be held up by your work will you?"

"If I am I'll send you a message so you won't have to wait too long."

"Okay, I'll see you guys later."

"Later!" They spoke and waved in that disconcerting together thing that just made you stare in wonder.

I spent most of the day worrying that one or more of my instructors would come up with more homework for the weekend, but my luck held and they were satisfied with what they had already assigned. After sixth period I went to the library to get what I could get done before Supper.

Supper was great. I'd managed to get in line early and hadn't had to wait very long to load my platters. They were familiar with me now and I didn't have to encourage them to load me down with all that they could hold. With this good a start I could finish up fast and have enough time before Dance to get a lot of my homework done.

With my first Flight Lab in the morning and the tests that I would be taking that afternoon, I wasn't expecting to have much time to work on it over the weekend. I wanted to get as much done as I could so that I could relax on Sunday. I was hoping to get a chance to do some fishing and Harry thought he might be able to join me. It would be nice to relax a little and the weather looked as if it was going to cooperate.

Feeling full and somewhat relaxed I let my guard down a little. I had gotten used to being followed and since nothing more had happened I wasn't expecting anything now. Even the fact that they were unusually dressed didn't make me wonder about them. I figured they were on their way to some kind of club meeting or something.

The three following me now were an interesting combination. There were two guys and a girl. One boy, who I recognized as a regular stalker, was dressed as a biker, leathers and army boots. The girl had a cape over what looked to be some kind of outfit that would be envied by some D & D costumers. Except this costume looked functional and even a bit comfortable while accentuating the fact that she was a girl, with moderately large breasts. The other boy was in some kind of futuristic armor, not nearly as bulky as you would expect and with a faceplate that totally concealed his face.

I got to the statue of Noah Whateley and waited for Jade to come by. I figured that I was early enough to be ahead of her. I was definitely hoping that she could help me with my Powers Theory homework. I was thinking about that homework when someone yelled.

"Ryoko!"

I looked up in curiosity. It says a lot about how comfortable I was getting with myself because I didn't even realize at first that they were talking to me. I was looking around for Ryoko, too.

"Ryoko! You can't fool us. We know who you are. Face us!"

They were about twenty feet from and facing me together. I still hadn't figured out who they were talking about, and actually looked behind myself to see who they were talking to.

"Face us. You can't escape."

I finally realized that they were talking to me. I faced them even though I still didn't quite believe that they were serious and might be challenging me because they thought I was Ryoko.

"ME?"

"Yes, we know who you are, there's no point in denying it either. We have been studying you closely for some time now and we are certain that you have been concealing your true identity in an attempt to throw off someone who is pursuing you."

"I'm not Ryoko!"

"That's your cover and we expected you to stick with it, but we know that you are in hiding and there are too many other coincidences for us to ignore."

"Hey, I know I look like Ryoko, but what's this other stuff your babbling about?"

"We've heard about some of the things you can do and even seen some. That along with your appearance is a strong indication of just who you are as it would be nearly impossible to match all those things so closely. Combined with the other facts that we have collected about you it is obvious that you are concealing your true identity."

I'm NOT Ryoko!"

"It was clever of you not to change your appearance. No one would expect that. It would only confuse the issue and people would think you are only someone who looks like you. But, using your powers has given you away."

"Hey, my appearance and the few powers that I have do mimic Ryoko's, but I'm not her. I didn't even look like this a few months ago and I didn't have these powers either.

"Oh? What did you look like?"

I couldn't tell them that. It wouldn't do me lots of good and it couldn't help the situation at Poe any either.

"That's not important now. The fact is that I'm stuck like this for the rest of my life and I don't need anymore complications than I already have. Besides, Ryoko is an anime and manga character. Everyone but you guys seems to know this."

"It so happens that we know that many of these so called fictional stories are actually things that are or were happening in other places and that some clever people are using these stories to make money and conceal the truth at the same time. It's very clever to introduce them as stories. No one will ever believe that they are the truth after that. But, we can't be fooled that easily. We know too much to just ignore what's going on."

He was obviously very proud of his reasoning and I was starting to get the definite feeling that anything I said was going to be used against me.

"C'monnnn guys. You can't be taking this seriously can you? My name's Billie Wilson and I'm not some fictional space pirate. If...If I was Ryoko, where is everyone else?"

"Everyone else?"

"Yeah. Everyone else. You know, Tenchi, Ayeka, Mihoshi, all the others. Where are they?"

"Well, If your hiding, I don't think you would want to put them in danger, so were guessing that the others don't know where you are right now. And they won't find you here any more than whoever is looking for you would. The only one that would likely be here would be Rhyo-oki and she could be hiding anywhere waiting for your call."

"Oh yeah, like I'm going to hide a space ship around here. Hey, Rhyo-oki. Where are you?"

"Miya?"

That had come from somewhere behind me. The three in front of me got all wide eyed. Then the biker pointed behind me. I had this funny, sinking feeling that all my efforts had just been doomed to utter failure.

"Look! It's Rhyo-oki! I told you! I told you! Look!"

I turned around and there it was, my cabbit. Looking wonderful and cuddly.  I knew what had happened. I just wondered how long she had been there before calling attention to herself.

"JINN!"

Her ears flipped up and with a loud, "Miya!", she spun around and sped off towards Poe.

I spun around towards the three.

"Hey! It's not what you think! It's just my roommate playing a joke. That's a stuffed toy that my roommate is animating. Really!"

"You can't keep trying to fool us. We've seen all we need to!"

What was with these people? Yeah, I looked like Ryoko and there were some other similarities, but get real! There had to be others in the world that could do a lot better job than me of being Ryoko and some of them might even want to.

"Listen to me. I'm not Ryoko! I don't know why it's so important to you wether or not I am, but I'm starting to get a little miffed at your constant tailing and shadowing. Just leave me alone and I'll do the same for you, okay?"

"You can't get away that easily Ryoko. We're onto you and we aren't going to let you go until we get what we want."

"I'm not Ryoko and there is nothing I can do for you, so why don't you go bother someone else?"

"Listen to us Ryoko. You are hiding. We know that and we can help you. You can't be as familiar with this planet as we are and it's not like we are asking for a lot in return. You've already slipped up a few times and it can only get worse without our help."

"You want to help me!?"

"Yes! We want to help you and in return you can help us."

"How? You can't be serious!"

"We're totally serious. We can help you blend in. It's not like you are very good at it and we are pretty good." Yeah, just look a them standing there. Blending in ever so well. "And we can cover for you too, because we are from here and can help supply any background you need to blend in."

Looking at the three of them, I found myself totally speechless.

"But we need your help too."

"What!?"

"If we help you we want you to help us. It's a simple proposition."

"How could I possibly help you?"

"Simple. We help you here. And, when your done here, you take us with you when you leave."

"When I leave? What if I'm not planning on leaving for a while? And what if I don't have room for all of you? What then?"

"There's only seven of us and if you can't take all of us maybe you could simply show us the way to leave this world for the ones we want to find."

"You want to leave this world? And go where?" I wasn't sure if they were all together upstairs, but I had my suspicions.

"We all have places that we would rather go to. The way you got here should also work for us to escape from here."

So they wanted me to help them get to somewhere they wanted to go, and they seemed to think that somehow I could help them get there. Maybe they thought I could convince Washu to transport them to the worlds they wanted to go to. If I knew Washu, I might do that for them just to get them out of my hair, but that option wasn't available to me.

"I take it that if I tell you I came on the train you won't just leave it at that?"

"We know better. You came from much farther than that and we need to know how you did it or at least have you take us yourself."

They weren't going to listen and I had too much to do to waste time trying to convince them when they weren't accepting what I was telling them anyway.

"Okay. I'm not admitting to anything, and I want to think about what you just said. So, what I will do is promise to think it over and I will let you know what I decide soon. Okay?"

They pulled back and conferred with each other. I was starting to wonder how long they would be at it when they finally turned back to me. This time it was the girl who spoke for them.

"You won't try to run away?"

"Huh? Where would I run to? This campus isn't that big and I don't have any intention of running away at this time."

"Your being practical about this. What exactly do you want to do?"

"I want to be left alone, but if I can't have that I'll accept a truce where I don't bother you and you don't bother me."

"We can help you."

"I don't want or need your help. But, if I promise to let you know if I find a way for you to go to where you want to go, will you let me alone?"

"I'm afraid that your credibility in that respect is somewhat suspect..."

"Hey!"

"But we agree to back off a little and keep you under observation for now." If you do need any help, let us know. Just understand that our price for that help will be your help in finding us a way to get to were we want to go."

"My word is perfectly good. I don't need your constant pestering to remind me."

"Just consider it as protective concern on our part. We will try to not be too intrusive, but I'm afraid that what we know about you doesn't make you the most trustworthy person around in our eyes."

"You don't know anything about me."

"We disagree with you there, and we will be keeping our eyes on you all the same. Remember our offer for help. We will be in contact later. Till then, be well and careful. There are a lot of bad things that can happen to you in this world if you aren't careful. Especially for aliens who obviously aren't too familiar with our planet."

"But..."

They turned and walked away while I just stood there and stared at them. After they were out of sight, I turned back and headed for Poe. On the way back I remembered that I needed to talk to someone about a certain stuffed animal and poor timing of appearances of the same.

"Jinn! Jinn! Where are you!"

I may have been a little vocal as I entered our room. I stood in the doorway, looking around as several people stopped in the hall staring at me. I couldn't see my cabbit anywhere. Then Jade came up behind me.

"What's going on Tennyo?"

"I need to talk to Jinn. She back in your head yet?"

There was a soft thud from behind my bed and Jade blinked for a moment. Then she started to grin. Next thing she did was start to laugh.

"Hey! It's not funny!"

She staggered past me and collapsed on her bed.

"T-the l-look on t-their f-faces and yours..."

I stood there and glared as she struggled for breath and broke into another fit of laughing.

"C'mon Jade! It's not funny! I've got a bunch of loonies believing that I'm a refugee from a cartoon show and can show them a way to get to Nirvana or something."

I closed the door on the many curious faces in the hallway and sank down on my own bunk. Eventually, Jade was able to stop laughing long enough to get her breath back.

"Done laughing?"

"It just means you have a group of secret admirers. You shouldn't be so upset about that."

"You get some secret admirers like that and let's see you keep laughing."

"Besides, they seem pretty harmless."

"Maybe they are. But, they did mention that there were four others. They may not be so harmless after all, and they're still loony too. The last thing I need to deal with is a bunch of crackpots along with everything else. And it really didn't help to have a cabbit running through the middle of it either."

She broke into another fit of giggles.

I get no respect. No respect at all.

Fortunately, nothing, except some uncontrollable giggling and laughing fits by my roommate, punctuated by intermittent blows with a pillow, slowed down our study session. I was well pleased with what we accomplished before Dance and was able to finish the rest afterward easily.

IL

FIRST FLIGHT: September 16th Saturday

The weather Saturday morning was perfect. I remembered that Mr. Buttons had warned us to eat sparingly before this class. We were going to be flying in some small aircraft and we might find the ride unsettling for our stomachs. I restricted my breakfast to one platter, but was still feeling kind of hungry as I headed to our appointed meeting place.

It looked like an odd bunch when I got there. We had been told to dress as normally and casually as possible because we would be out in public for a while. I was in jeans, tennis shoes, a pale blue T-shirt, and a tan pull over sweater.

I was wearing one of my sport bras out of consideration for appearances but if it wasn't for that I'd just chuck the things. I'd been told that I would get used to them and I guess I will in time. But they can be a pain if you don't need them. And they can itch too.

We all definitely had different tastes in clothing and the winged kid wasn't as good as concealing his wings as Angel was. She was trying to give him some help and tips as I walked up. Some kids from the other classes were here too. All in all, we had fifteen students, three advanced class helpers, and Mr. Buttons.

He wasted no time taking a role and loading us onto some vans that took us to the airport. We didn't stop at the public terminal but headed over to some hangers located away from the rest. There were several single engine planes out in front of them. There was also a small group of people gathered in front of one of the hangers talking and having a morning coffee or something.

We pulled up near them and disembarked under the watchful eyes of the advanced students as Mr. Buttons went to talk to the group in front of the hangers. While he was introducing himself to them, we were broken into five groups of three students each. My group consisted of me, Hexette, and Mechano Man.

Angel told us that we would be on our own as we were well behaved and experienced fliers and Mechano was a very good pilot on his own merits. The other groups would each have one of the advanced students or Mr. Buttons to watch them. It felt kind of good to be included in that seperate group.

While we were waiting to see what we would be doing, I learned that Hexette's name was Suzanne Ware and Mechano Man was Steve Tupolo. They already knew my name and we had been instructed to go by our regular names while here. Suzanne already had a flying permit and Steve was qualified on just about anything that moved in the air. I was the only non pilot in our group.

Not long after we made our introductions to each other, Mr. Buttons brought a man over to us. He was six foot plus, blond crew cut hair, probably about 210 lbs, and in good shape. He was wearing khaki shirt and slacks with black military style shoes. He had a dark tan on what I could see of him. He held himself in a way that made me think that he had a military background.

Mr. Buttons introduced us. His name was Robert McLarin and he was going to be our instructor today and would also take us for a short flight after he showed us some of what we were expected to do before a flight.

He proceeded to take us on a tour of the hanger and showed us some of the preparatory paperwork that went into getting ready for a flight. Both Suzanne and Steve were bored, but I had never done this and asked many questions and took notes. It wasn't long before I sensed that he was being condescending to me. I figured it was because I was new at this. He was also being somewhat condescending to Suzanne and I decided to follow her lead. I watched her closely for clues how to act. She seemed to be ignoring him and I decided to do the same.

Eventually we went out to a single engine plane. Mr. Mclarin said it was a Cessna something or another.

"Now normally we would do a pre-flight check list, but due to some unexpected delays we are running a bit behind now. These aircraft have already been pre-flighted so we won't worry about it today."

The implication in his attitude was that I was the reason we were behind now. I had been asking questions continuously, but I wanted to know what was going on. I wasn't about to stop now.

"Shouldn't we do our own anyway?"

"It's not necessary, I told you. We can do this at another time." He gave me a condescending smile. "Don't worry yourself, I know what I am doing."

I didn't care that he knew what he was doing, I wanted to know what I would be doing. It was getting harder to be patient with him but I decided to try to be polite with him anyway.

"Could we please go over the pre-flight checklist anyway? I've never done this and I would like to get an idea of what is going on so I will understand it better when I'm reading about it later."

"I told you, we don't have time now. Of course, if you want to stay after this, I can see to it that you get back and we can take our time and go over the list more closely." His smile was a lot warmer than I expected and gave me an odd feeling.

Suzanne took my arm.

"C'mon Billie, I'll help you with this later. Right now let's get going."

"Yeah, let's get going girls, but if either of you need any extra help, just let me know. Which of you wants to ride shotgun?"

I wasn't ready to say anything but Suzanne spoke for us both.

"Uh, let Steve ride up front. We'll ride in the back for now."

He shrugged. "If that's the way you want it." He turned to open up the aircraft.

He didn't hear her whisper to me. "I want at least one pilot I trust up front."

I wondered what she meant but nodded and we moved up to the aircraft.

"Okay girls, let me help you in." He held the door open for us and I climbed in. He tried to support me as I went in and I found myself suppressing a shudder. Somehow I just couldn't abide him touching me. Suzanne climbed in after me and she jumped a bit too. She seemed to be holding back her temper.

Steve climbed in and Mr. Mclarin closed the doors and latched them. He then moved around to the other side and climbed into the other side.

"Buckle in and put on the headphones please. We won't be able to talk if we don't."

We buckled in and put on the head phones with attached mikes. He showed us how to activate the mikes to talk and reminded us to not try to talk at the same time. He then started the engine and taxied out to the runway. Inside a small plane is remarkably noisy. He was right, without the headphones and mikes we wouldn't have been able to talk.

I listened closely as he talked to the controllers in the tower. I wanted to get an idea of what would be expected of me when I was going to be doing this myself. He conferred with the tower about wind conditions and where he was going to be flying us. They also discussed how high we would be allowed to fly and how long we would be out. After that, the tower gave us the go ahead to the runway.

The small plane moved quickly out on the runway and headed down it. It accelerated quickly and leaped into the air. Soon we were high enough to turn and head north, climbing as we went.

"I hope none of you has an easily upset stomach. We can expect a bit of turbulence today. Just let me know and I'll let you out." I groaned but he seemed overly proud of his less than sterling humor.

The ride did seem a little bumpy, but that didn't bother me in the least, and neither of the other two seemed affected by it either.

"Have any of you been flying before?" He winked at me when he said this and I decided I really didn't like the way this was turning out. Steve spoke up quickly and interrupted before I could say anything.

"Actually, I've been qualified on these type of aircraft for several years. I got my permit when I was ten for single engine aircraft."

"Riiight. How about the two of you?"

Suzanne spoke up next.

"Mr. Thomas paid Gram's off by giving me lessons last year. I got my permit then."

"And you're a pilot too?" He seemed incredulous as he asked me this.

"No."

"But you've flown a bit?"

"Uh, not like this."

"You all seem to be handling this pretty well considering. I usually have at least one person ready to chuck everything by this time in the flight." He seemed a little disappointed. Then he shrugged.

"Well, since we don't have to worry about interruptions of that nature I think we should continue with our lesson today."

He proceeded to demonstrate how to handle the aircraft and what the controls did and what they were called. We did this for about half an hour and then headed back to the airport. Through all of this I took notes and let the others entertain him. I paid special attention to the landing procedures. It's nice to be able to fly, it's nicer to be able to land in one piece.

We taxied to a stop in front of the hanger. Mr. Mclarin informed us that this was the end of this class but that we would be expected to be ready to do some flying ourselves in the next one, two weeks from now. He climbed out as Steve got out the other side. Suzanne was the lucky one and got Steve to help her out and I got Mr. Mclarin.

"Are you sure you don't want to stay here and work on this some more? I can teach you a lot about flying that you won't learn in the other parts of your classes." He kept a hold on my arm even after we were out.

"No thank you sir. I have some other tests I have to be getting to. Thank you anyway." I carefully extracted my arm from his grip and backed off out of reach.

"C'mon Billie, the others are already heading for the van." Suzanne was waving for me to join her and Steve.

"Thank you, Mr. Mclarin. Maybe we will be seeing you in two weeks." I continued to back off and waved goodbye.

"You don't need to be so formal with me Billie. You can call me Bob." He continued to move towards me and I was starting to wonder if I should run.

"Uh, no. I don't think that would be right. Got to go now, bye! Suzanne! Wait up!" I turned and hurried after her. As I caught up I glanced back and saw him standing there smiling.

"Billie?"

"What?"

"You seem a little nervous."

"Uh, I'm not sure why, but Mr. Mclarin makes me uncomfortable is all."

"You've never had a guy come on to you?"

"Is that what he was doing?" My voice approached a squeek.

"C'mon Billie. Someone who looks as good as you should be used to it all the time by now. You been hidden in a cave or something?"

"No. But I didn't always look like this either. Not until my powers came on, this summer."

"So you don't know how to handle the real pretty girl thing, huh?"

"Yeah, it's never been something I thought I would ever have to know."

"Well, stick with me then and I can show you a few things. Not that I have had a lot of practice, mind you. But, Grams was always on about how a pretty girl should act and behave. And she had a quick way with guys like Mr. Mclarin."

"You said something about not trusting him. What did you mean?"

"Guys like him only want one thing from you. After you run into a few, you get the hang of spotting them pretty quick. They have a way of losing track of what they should be doing and start thinking of things they shouldn't. Did you notice how when he was talking to you, he was talking to your chest?"

"No, I was busy taking notes."

"Well, a good way to spot someone like him is to watch what they are watching. Most guys are going to look at you there at least once or twice. That's natural. It's when they can't take their eyes off of your chest when they are doing stuff and or talking to you that you should be more alert."

"And you didn't trust him because of that?"

"That, and the fact that you should never let the situation stop you from doing a pre-flight check. It's only common sense not to trust someone else's checkup. Especially if their lives aren't going to be on the line."

"You and Steve didn't insist on it though."

"We probably should have, but I was pretty sure that the three of us could handle anything that was likely to happen, and I just wanted to get going and get done with it."

"Oh. Uh, how should I handle guys like him?"

"Usually you just ignore them and eventually they get the message or get bored and move on."

"What about the ones that don't fall into the "usually" part?"

"Again, the vast majority of even those are harmless, just very irritating, and may need to be reminded more forcefully to get lost. Usually a good put down or some interference from your boyfriend will be enough. There are a few who are just too stupid to ever get it and you sometimes have to get rough with them."

"Anything else I should know?"

"Yeah. A very few can be dangerous. Maybe not to you and me, but keep your wits about you and don't put yourself in a situation that you might have to do something drastic. It really doesn't look good when a young girl trashes some jerk twice her size. It's kind of a turnoff to most guys. And you don't want to be scaring them all off now, do you?"

"Uh... I guess not."

"Oh, you devil you. You keep up that innocent little girl routine and you won't be able to beat them all off with a stick."

"But I don't want to..."

"Don't want to beat them with a stick, or beat them off?"

"Ohhhh..."

"Has anyone told you that you blush really well?"

"Suzanne!"

"It's okay Billie. I'm just joking with you. Now let's get going. I don't want to miss lunch."

The others were waiting for us to board and Mr. Buttons checked us off his role. The vans headed back and we got back barely in time for lunch. I had to rush from there to the medical section where they were going to be doing the tests. I didn't have a chance to think about what Suzanne had told me yet. Hopefully, Hank or some of the others, could help me with that and if not I would have to see if Suzanne might be able to.

L

MORE TESTS: September 16th

I didn't have to wait long. But, after what happened the last time I was here, I was starting to get a little nervous. It was a great relief to me when Dr. Polland came in. At least it was someone I knew. He smiled when he saw me.

"Well, you look a lot better than you did the last time. How are those wounds you had?"

"I feel a lot better than last time and they're all gone. Not even a scar to show for it."

"That's good. I think I said this before, but I wish more of my patients could heal like you do."

"You ought to be happy they don't doctor. You'd probably be out a job then."

"No. I don't think so. Even as tough as you are you could still be hurt, and it takes people like me to put you back together again when that happens. And it does happen. Let me tell you. I would just be happier if they healed up as completely as you. I would get more satisfaction I think."

"Okay, okay. I won't argue with you there. Is there a reason I get you today, or am I just lucky?"

"Why thank you young lady. You just made my whole day. But, the fact is that after the last fiasco, we felt it would be better if you could go through this with someone you already knew."

"We wouldn't want any accidents in this part of the compound. I had a chance to see what happened out at Range Three and I have no intention of letting something like that happen here. My insurance costs are bad enough without adding Natural Disaster Coverage to what I already owe them."

"I'm not that bad am I?"

"Don't sell yourself short, I've seen less damage in combat after a heavy air strike. That's one of the reasons we need to find out as much as we can about you. We can't have you going off unexpectedly in the middle of one of your classes."

This line of reasoning was not making me feel any better, and I think he realized that I was not finding it as humorous as he hoped I would.

"Enough of my bad jokes for now. I had a talk with Dr. Bellows and Mr. Lodgeman before you came in and they told me a few things that I didn't quite believe at first."

"Like what?"

"Hmmm... Like your expectations of what you are wearing to the Senior Prom have changed a bit."

"They told you that did they? Why?"

"I'm going to be in charge of the studies that we need to do and I needed to know this in order to do my job right. You need to understand that this will not make a difference in how I will be treating you. You will be a patient of mine and I will observe every rule of maintaining your privacy completely. It will go no further than this unless you want it to. But, I felt that you should be aware that I know, and that if something comes up that would require you to tell me somethin, I already know and you don't have to worry about concealing it."

"Why would they tell you and not let me?"

"They are in a very difficult position, where they are responsible for a lot. I don't think that they felt that they could risk not telling me. If it means anything to you, I think they could have trusted you to tell me."

"Thank you for that. But it still isn't an easy thing for me."

"I understand. Now for my information, and I'm not recording any of this, I'd like you to tell me in your own words exactly what has happened to you."

"Will you promise not to tell anyone else, even Mr. Lodgeman or Dr. Bellows without my permission?"

"Mr. Lodgeman did mention that he thinks you haven't told him everything. But to answer your question, yes. I will maintain complete confidentiality in this."

"Okay, I'm going to have to trust someone with this eventually, and I might as well start with you." I proceeded to give him the full story, not the annotated version I had been using. He had a lot of questions about Ultra-X-Amine that I couldn't answer. I told him to check with Mr. Tanaka to get more details about that.

"That explains a lot of what I have heard of you. I admit to doing a bit of research on my own too. I'm hoping that with the tests that I'm going to run and this information, I can quickly have some answers for you. Hopefully you have the whole evening available. This might take some time."

"No more surprises like last time?"

"Don't worry. I'm not letting you out of my sight until we're through. I really don't want to risk a repeat of last time."

"Okay then, let's get started."

The next several hours were spent proving first, that no mistakes were made in the first attempts, and next, that creative use of different types of equipment could substitute for the regular tests. They put me in front, over, and through more types of machines than I cared to count.

I drew the line when someone suggested trying to cut off parts of me for study. Dr. Polland put a quick stop to that idea when I heard it and started to spark. Eventually, they got tired of trying different tests with the same equipment and settled down to trying to figure out what the tests were telling them. I think they forgot I was there while they argued. The three doctors who apparently were in charge of my testing, Doctors Polland, Hendricks , and Shandy, finally came to some kind of consensus.

"Well, I think we can be fairly certain that she is still changing somewhat on a sub atomic level. That would explain why it was easier to do some of these tests earlier on. Of course, she may be done with that now. And the power spikes that we recorded when we were able to cut some of her hair, and when the blood samples disintegrated were fairly distinct. I'm just not sure that I believe my own ideas on this."

"The X-ray and magnetic scans would seem to support the hypothesis though, Doctor. I don't think we would get the results we did if there wasn't some truth to the idea."

"I have to agree. We may not have any idea of how it has been done, but I think we can be fairly certain of what has occurred here. Do you think that we could get her to accommodate us on some other tests Dr. Polland?"

"It would depend on the kind of tests I'm afraid. If we approach her the right way and don't threaten her I'm certain that she will help us in most ways. But I would really appreciate it if you never mention cutting off fingers, toes or anything else. Especially in her presence. I don't think I have to warn you gentlemen just how dangerous that could be."

"Yes, yes! We can all agree on that. But I would really like to get her into a centrifuge as soon as we can."

"And I would like to get a chance to study the results of her power blasts and sword immediately after she uses them. I have a few ideas about how they are formed, but I would have to study them as they were being used to be more certain of my ideas."

"Hmmm... Well, we would have to take her to one of the ranges for that. I think she would be willing, but we need to approach her carefully about that and make sure there are no surprises. I don't know how much you saw of Range Three, but I don't want to risk any sort of repeat."

"I have to agree, but I really need to observe her doing the energy control and observe the results as they are happening to be more certain of my theories. How soon could we get a range?"

"I might be able to arrange one next Saturday afternoon. You just want to observe her use her energy blast and sword?"

"Yes. And be able to examine the immediate results. That is very important if I'm to verify the energy effects. To do that we will need to set up some sensors as targets.

I didn't know about them, but I was getting pretty hungry.

"Ahem."

"Oh. Billie. What are you doing here?"

"I was here doing some tests?"

"Oh. Yes. I remember now. We were just discussing the results. You didn't leave yet?"

"I didn't know that I was supposed to."

"Shouldn't you be going to supper or something?"

"I think it's a little late for that isn't it?"

"Ummm... Yes, I guess it is now, isn't it. Perhaps you could join us at the staff cafeteria? I'm sure we can get something for you to eat."

"Thank you. I am pretty hungry. Have you found out anything from your tests?"

"Wellll... We aren't sure yet and will have to do some more tests...."

"Like going to a range and having me use some of my powers?"

"Yes. If you would please. It would help us greatly."

"Okay, but only if you are there with me when I do it."

"Great! Then we will plan on next Saturday. I'll let you know when we can have it set up."

"Okay. Can we get something to eat now?"

"Sure. Let's go now. See gentlemen, I told you that even with antimatter she needs something to maintain her energy levels."

"Of course Dr. Polland. Do you think the dimensional warping has something to do with that?"

"Uh, gentlemen? Antimatter? Dimensional warping?"

"It's just a hypothesis at this time. We really don't want to say much until we have a chance to confirm some of our ideas."

"Yeah, there are probably five or six papers in this one and we don't want anyone stealing this from us."

"Papers?"

"Yes. The competition is murder, but if we can keep this to ourselves, we might be able to get special mention in Scientific American. Or maybe even Discover or Readers Digest!"

"Oh. That important huh?"

"Oh yes. Discoveries like this could rock the world as we know it."

"What in the world about me could rock anything?"

"You are apparently the focus of some form of dimensional warping, but we think that is an effect of your physical nature."

"And that would be?"

"It would seem that you are at least partially antimatter. But don't worry, you are remarkably stable. You couldn't be better off if you had been made that way."

A strangely strong shiver ran up and down my spine as he said that.

"I'm part antimatter?"

"Well, that's the theory. We don't know for certain yet and we would appreciate it if you didn't tell anyone about this, okay?"

"But, doesn't antimatter blow up?"

"Well, that's another theory. By studying you we hope to be able to learn more about that too. But don't worry, you haven't blown up yet and you probably won't in the near future anyway."

We had been walking the whole time we were talking and had reached the cafeteria.

"Uh, Miss Wilson?"

"Yes?"

"Please don't tell anyone about this. We really want to keep a lid on this until we can be certain about our theories, okay?"

"Only on one condition."

"What's that?"

"You've got to tell me if I'm going to blow up. When you know I mean."

They just stopped and stared at me.

"Uh. How about we eat now, okay?"

They nodded and motioned me to proceed into the cafeteria.

"Chose anything you want. We'll put it on our tab."

The look of disbelief on their faces was classical as they watched me load up a platter and eat it all. They didn't even touch their own food as they watched. I thought Dr. Hendricks would fall out of his seat when I asked if I could get seconds. I could hear them whispering as I got my second platter together.

After I finished the second I was full enough to figure I could hold out till breakfast. I excused myself and left them to their muttered conversations as I headed back to Poe. I told everyone who wanted to know how the tests went that it would take more time and tests before I would know anything.

I then went and hid in the rafters while I wondered just how much like Ryoko I had actually become and if there were more surprises in the future. I finally came down and went to bed, but my sleep kept being interrupted by those strange dreams again.

The last one I remembered left me sweating in my bed wondering if I would be able to sleep again that night. It involved running and hiding from someone I knew I didn't want to find me. I new that they were trying to capture me and it ended right before they did catch me.

I finally got to sleep again after my heart stopped beating like a jack hammer and I settled down. Fortunately, I didn't have any more strange dreams to wake me. I convinced myself not to worry about it and instead looked forward to the fishing trip Harry and I had planned for later this morning after breakfast.

LI

FISHING IS RELAXING: September 17th Sunday

There was a large stream that cut through the lower end of the campus. We planned to start there and work upstream through a wooded area that joined with the State Forest that was next to Whateley. There was a camping area about two miles upstream from there that we were going to use as a destination.

We planned to meet at eleven and spend the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon checking the stream out and deciding if we would come back at a better time to do some more serious fishing. The cafeteria supplied us with sack lunches that we picked up after Sunday brunch.

I was going to use my ultralight spinning combination and a small box of tackle I could carry in my vest. I was wearing a pair of light leather calf length boots I bought while in town with jeans and a heavy long sleeved shirt. I bound my hair with a bandana because I hadn't found a hat I could wear yet. My vest had several large pockets I could use to carry my tackle and my lunch.

Since I was ready well before eleven, I told Jade where I was going and headed down to our meeting area fifteen minutes before the hour. It only took me five minutes and Harry was already there. He was dressed in what looked like brown Carhart coveralls, heavy plaid shirt, heavy boots, and a hood to cover his head and conceal some of the more obvious differences in case we ran into someone. He also had a vest and was using a fly rod.

"Hi Harry! Can't wait to get started?"

"Yeah, It's been a long time since I had a chance to get out and wet a line."

"Well just hold on a moment. I have to get some insect repellent on. Do you need any?"

"No. I already got some. Yours have DEET?"

Yep! I don't want anything to do with ticks if I can help it. I don't imagine that you like them any better."

"You can say that again. You don't know what a pain they can be until you have to get them out of your fur."

Shudder. "Eeewwww! Just the thought gives me the creeps. Do you think there is anything worth catching in this stream?"

"Probably not this late in the day. At least nothing worth mentioning. But it ought to be fun trying anyway. We can at least spot some good holes for later."

"True. Let's get started then."

We started to work our way upstream. Time passed quickly and even though we didn't catch very much and none of the fish we caught were worth keeping, we still had a lot of fun. I discovered that being able to fly and levitate is a huge advantage when fishing in a stream like this. I was able to move around obstacles without getting wet and scratched up. I was also able to move to the perfect area to cast, without having to worry about tripping and falling into the water or getting my line tangled.

By the time we were approaching the camping area we had found several promising holes and Harry was wet to the thighs and covered in bits and pieces of plant life. Not that he wasn't having fun. I did notice that he had a definite doggy odor when wet.

"Hey! Harry!"

"What?"

"Anyone told you that you smell when wet?"

"Anyone pointed out to you that I'm probably a lot more aware of it than you?"

"Oh, yeah. I guess you would be at that."

I waited for him to say some more but he just kept looking upstream.

"Is there something wrong?"

"I don't know. I can hear someone upstream who seems to be upset. But I can't make out why."

"Maybe we should check it out?"

"Maybe. But you better be more careful as we approach."

"What do you mean by that?"

He glanced pointedly down at my feet.

I looked down and realized that I was standing on top of some slow moving water behind one of the rocks.

"We aren't on campus right now, you might want to act a little more normal until we're sure that no one will take offense."

"Yeah, sure. What about you? Even in that clothing, you aren't the most normal person around." As I said that, I moved to the top of a nearby rock.

"I can move quietly when I have to. I don't think you need to worry about me being seen if I don't want them to see me."

"Yeah, I'm sure. Just don't get upwind of them and you'll be fine."

"Hey! I'm not that bad, and besides, the breeze is coming down the stream. We don't have to worry about it. C'mon, let's move carefully and find out what's happening. I'm going to move into the brush. Why don't you move up the stream. You look pretty normal when you aren't too close or walking on the water."

"Hey to you too! I can handle myself just fine, thank you. Any idea how many and who they are?"

"Not yet. I may be able to get a better idea when we are closer. Move carefully, okay?"

"Sure, you too."

He faded into the woods and I headed upstream. I still wasn't going to get wet if I could help it, but I did take more care to keep my ability concealed. I quickly came to an area I would consider a good prospect for good sized fish.

The stream dropped over a two foot drop into a pool that was at least forty feet wide with some excellent deep hiding spots. An excellent spot to fish or even swim if you didn't mind the cold water. Then I heard someone call for help and I saw what appeared to be a young man kneeling by a body on the other side near the falls. He cupped his hands and called again, then turned back to whoever he was kneeling by.

I took the moment when he had his back turned to me to dart across the stream and behind some bushes. The situation didn't look like a trap, but then a trap wouldn't. I decided to trust that Harry could get me out of trouble or go get help if necessary. I moved towards where I knew the boy was and called out.

"Helloooo... does someone need help?"

"Yes! Yes! Please help us! My brother fell down this embankment and I think he's hurt bad!"

I moved around the bushes and started towards what I now could see was two boys, one lying in a heap at the foot of a ten foot bank. As I got closer I could see that he was disappointed to see me.

"Are there any grown ups with you?"

"I'm sorry, no. But I should be able to help you anyway. What's your name and what happened here?"

Obviously disappointed, he called back to me as I worked my way to him through the brush.

"I'm Troy Chilson. My two brothers and I were hiking down here when Calvin slipped and fell. When John and I got down here he was like this and we haven't been able to wake him up."

"You haven't moved him at all, have you?"

"No. They taught us not to in Boy Scouts."

"That's good! Where is John?"

"He ran back to the campground to get help. I stayed here to see if I could do anything for Cal and call for help in case someone came by."

"How long ago did John leave?"

"Just a few minutes, but I think Cal is getting worse. Please help him!"

"Just be calm and let me look at him."

"Do you know first aid?"

"Some. I learned in Scouts."

"Girl Scouts teach First Aid?"

"Uh.... Yeah, they do."

Troy kept asking questions as I examined Calvin. Calvin had a bad bruise on his temple where it looked like he landed. The rest of him looked okay except that he seemed to be going into shock. Very pale, sweaty, and his skin was cool and clammy. He wouldn't respond to his name or light touches and I didn't want to shake him any harder, in case he had a neck or back injury.

"Can you help him?"

"I'm going to have to go and get some professional help."

"But you can't go! Besides, John already went."

"I can go faster and bring help sooner. From Whateley."

"Whateley?"

"Yeah, the school I go to, over that way."

"But you can't leave me alone! Not now!" He grabbed my arm and held on tight.

"Look. You won't be alone. My friend Harry will stay with you."

"Harry?"

"Yeah. Big guy, about seven feet tall. You can't miss him."

Troy got a wild look in his eyes and started to edge away from me.

"Hey, don't worry. He's really nice and will take good care of you while I'm getting help. Harry! Come on out! We need some help over here! And I don't want this guy thinking I have a big, rabbit eared, invisible friend either!"

Harry came out of the woods on the other side and started across the stream in a shallower area.

"Wow! He's really big isn't he? Why is he wearing that hood?"

"Brace yourself Troy. Harry is a wonderful person, but along with the size, he got some other things. He looks like a werewolf. So don't panic, okay?"

"Uh, sure. What are you? Some kind of elf?"

"Not me. Fey's the elf. I'm just a girl. With a few abilities that can help here."

"You know an elf!?"

"Yep. Among others."

"Uh.... Can you heal people?"

"Fraid not. But I'll go see if I can get someone. Harry can help you here while I go."

"Where would you go? John already went for help."

"Whateley, our school. If anyone can get here fast it will be someone from there."

"Isn't that a lot of forest to go through? And the camp ground is only about half a mile that way."

"Won't be a problem. And they won't have what we can get at Whateley either."

"Harry, this is Troy. Troy, this is Harry. You guys help Cal here and I'll go get help."

I pulled my vest off and put it over Calvin to help warm him a bit.

"Are you sure you should do this Billie? You know how they feel about displaying our powers."

"It's an emergency. I'm sure they'll understand."

"Okay, if you think so." Harry was pulling off his vest and hood to put over Cal also.

"I'll be back ASAP."

With that, I took off flying full speed towards Whateley. I think Troy was watching Harry so closely that he may have missed my leaving entirely.

LII

DAYS ARE BETTER: September 17th

Lieutenant Colin Forsyth usually didn't have much to worry about on the day shift. As second in command, he got the moderately cushy job of handling security during the day. Very little weird happens during the day. That's why Chief Delarose usually handled the night. There had already been a few major dustups in the last week. This year was promising to be really interesting.

He had just settled down to reviewing the duty roster for the upcoming week when the alarms went off. The alarm just about lifted him out of his seat and in the next moment he was in the control room.

"Sid! What the hell is that for!"

Sidney Bellinger was the watch officer today and was just recovering from being jerked out of a daydream about one of the new girls that had arrived this year. It was rumored that she was some kind of magic user, but a guy could dream couldn't he?

"Uh... Hold on a moment. Hey! We got incoming! From the State Forest! Coming in fast and low!"

"Incoming!? What is it?"

"I don't know. We haven't got a visual yet. Wait! Just got a shot from O-post Ten. Looks like a girl, flying in towards the Admin building."

"A girl? One of the students?"

"Running an ID check now. Yes! A Billie Wilson, aka Tennyo. Say. Hasn't she been involved in some of those disruptions we had the last few days?"

"Yeah. The Chief said something about it being a good idea to not get her mad. What's the campus status right now?"

"Luckily, we're green flag right now. We should be able to get someone over there and pick her up without causing any problems."

"She still headed for Admin?"

"Yes, right for the front doors. Chet and Victor are on the front desk. I'll give them a heads up and have them meet her at the entry."

"Do that. And find out what her reasons for pulling a stunt like that are. Some of these kids think they own the joint. And while you are at it, go to a level two alert. This may be a diversion of some sort."

"Yes Sir!"

Sid delivered the message, sent out orders to bring the three available squads up to alert status, and then the two of them waited for the out come. Chet got the job of apprehending the student and was carrying a hand held so he could report directly to control.

Chet Haskins had played football in college. He had joined the marines after that and served honorably in a Recon unit for eight years. He had even seen action in the Gulf. That had convinced him that he wanted something else in life and he opted not to reenlist after his eight years were up. He still found himself drawn to similar work and the job of security at Whateley fit the bill. Interesting and challenging at the same time.

Six feet three inches and 250 lbs of well trained muscle, he was not easily intimidated by much of anything. He decided to see if he could catch her before she entered the building and moved out to the area in front of the building. If the girl was trying to avoid them, it would be more obvious if she did it when she saw him at range.

"I can see her now. She sees me too. She's headed right for me." Then he thought of a possible problem with that approach. "Uh, she doesn't blow up when she lands does she?"

Before he could get an answer, Billie had pulled up right in front of him. Hovering in the air in front of him. The Lieutenant and Sid had a good view of her in the sensors liberally placed around the front of Admin.

"Hey! Am I glad to see you! We found a kid out in the forest. He's hurt pretty bad. We need to get him some medical help right away!"

He hadn't been expecting an answer like that. Most students who had been caught doing something like this against the rules either tried to avoid security or clammed up. Afraid to say anything at all.

"C'mon! We got to hurry! He could have head trauma and or a neck or back injury. He needs help fast, and I don't think the regular rescue services can get to him fast enough!"

"Are you getting this sir?"

Lt. Forsyth was now in a bind. One of the ones where you have to make a decision fast, and it has to be right, because if your wrong people get hurt.

"Sid. How soon can we get someone in the air?"

"If I give them the word right now, I can have Squad Two ready in ten."

"Okay, give them the word. I want everyone else to stay alert. It could still be a trap or diversion. I want to know what kind of emergency personnel we have available on short notice also."

"Yes sir. Squad Two has been notified and are preparing now.  Gene Smith is at the aid station. He's an EMT. If we can get him out there he could help. Chet, can you get more information on where the injured kid is? I know you have done some fishing out that way."

"Okay. Hey! Kid! Where is the injured person?" Can you describe where he is?"

"We've got to hurry! Where can I find someone who can help Calvin? He's the one who's hurt!"

"We're working on that . Be patient and tell me where this Calvin is. Is he a student?"

"No, he's not a student. He and his family were spending the day at the camping ground about two miles up the stream here. He and his brothers were hiking about a quarter to half a mile down stream from there when Calvin fell down a bank near a waterfall that drops into a large pool. One of his brothers ran for help while the other stayed with him. Harry and I showed up right after the one ran for help."

"Harry?"

"Harry Wolfe. He's a student here like me. We went fishing a little while ago and found the injured boy."

Sid and the Lieutenant had been listening in and Sid prompted Chet to give them more information.

"Well Chet?"

"Well.... It sounds like Saunders Hole. I don't think there is another like it anywhere in this area."

"Will they be able to get rescue personnel into there fast?"

"Not nearly as fast as we can. And, they will still have to carry him out and transport him from there. I'd say that we could do a lot better if we can get him here after we get to him."

"If you have a stretcher and some kind of harness, I can fly him out."

"Did you get that LT?"

"Yeah, she doesn't look like she could carry a sack lunch. What other options are there?"

Have I mentioned that I can hear pretty well? That last statement was totally uncalled for. Even if they didn't want to involve me anymore than I was. I jumped forward, grabbed Chet, lifted straight up, looped the loop, and set him right back where I picked him up from. All before he do more than give a startled ,"Hey!"

"I said I could fly him out. I would only need the stretcher to help immobilize him and keep him from struggling."

"Chet! You Okay?!"

"Uh, I'm fine sir. But I think she means it."

"Yeah. I bet she does. Okay, here's the plan. We'll get Gene out there with any equipment he can carry and a hand held so he can clue us in on what is going on out there. I'll have Two pick up a Stokes and follow up to support him. Can the kid get him over there fast?"

"Yes I can!"

"She's got good ears, doesn't she? Okay. That's what we'll do. Sid. Get hold of the local rescue services and see what they know about this. If she is telling the truth they should be getting notification any time now from the kid that ran for help. If they can help we might as well use them. How soon can Gene be ready?"

"He was listening in and is already on his way. Should be out in front any moment now."

"Good." Colin sat back for the hardest part of the job. Waiting to see if he had made the right choices.

LIII

LIFE IN ADMIN: September 17th

Gene Smith was 5' 9" and 190 lbs of wiry muscle. He was proud of his physical strength and worked hard to maintain it constantly. A Conscientious Objector from a poor southern family in Alabama, he had gotten into the medical field by enlisting in the Army right out of high school and opting for Medical Corpsman. The Army trained and educated him well. Even now that he had left the military, he was using the benefits to prepare for medical school.

He was working at Whateley while waiting for the results of his submissions to various schools. He had a small empathic talent that helped him be a natural in his chosen profession and had helped him get this job at Whateley. He had been able to refine his talent under the tutelage of the excellent staff here. His fondest wish at this time was to get his medical degree and return home to help his old community.

When the call came in, he grabbed a backpack he had put together for such situations so he could keep his hands free while carrying the necessary tools. Attaching a hand held to his belt he dashed out to the front of Admin. A crowd had started to gather to see the security guard facing a flying girl. Pushing his way past the crowd in the door he called out to get Chet's attention.

"Hey Chet! This my ride?"

"Sure is Gene. Better strap in tight though. She can really move."

"Nothin this ol boy cain't handle, I'm sure."

As he moved closer he could see that the girl wasn't floating so much as standing in the air.

LIV

HELP IS WHERE YOU FIND IT: September 17th

The EMT, whose name appeared to be Gene, pushed his way through the gathering crowd towards us. He exchanged a few words with Chet and then turned to me.

"Okay, young lady, where away?"

I thought about it for a moment and then turned my back to him.

"Hop on my back and get a good grip. When I'm sure you're secure, we'll get going."

"Alright."

He wrapped his arms around my shoulders in a tight grip and I lifted us off the ground. When I was sure that he was secure I started to accelerate and rise farther into the air. I ignored several comments coming from the crowd. We were in a hurry and I didn't have time to teach them some manners.

The return trip was slower to make sure that Gene wouldn't slip and fall. I filled him in on the situation as I understood it and gave him as many details as I could.

We could soon see the pool and falls and soon after that we could see Harry and Troy kneeling near Calvin. In the distance I could see where the campground was and what looked like a small group of people heading towards us from there.

As soon as we landed, Gene whipped out the hand held and radioed the school.

"LT? The situation here is as described. I'm not yet sure of the boy's condition, but I think it would be a good idea for four of the squad you are sending to bring the stretcher and have the other two stay there in case I need something else and can't move him."

"Roger, Gene. Will send four with stretcher and reserve two for emergency requests."

Gene pulled off his large backpack and proceeded to examine the unconscious boy. Troy hovered over him while Harry and I backed off a little. Harry had put his vest and hood along with my vest on Cal to help keep him warm. Gene carefully removed those and replaced them with a blanket from the pack. He had rigged the hand held to operate with a throat mike also.

"Sid?"

"Yeah Gene?"

"Have those guys left yet?"

"No. They're just getting ready to fly out now."

"Could you have them bring another two blankets please?"

"Sure, two blankets coming up. They'll be there in a few minutes."

"Roger that."

"Tell the docs to be ready too. I would say we have a definite concussion here and probable neck trauma."

"Bad?"

"Can't be sure. But it looks like we are going to have to get him to help soon. I haven't been with him long enough to be sure but it looks like his vital signs are dropping."

"Roger that. We'll be ready on this end. By the way, we just got confirmation from the local sheriffs office that the other boy just reported the accident and that the local rescue services can't get there any faster than we can. Looks like it's up to us."

"Roger. As soon as we can stabilize him we will get him to Medical ASAP.

"Roger."

Harry turned and looked upstream.

"Someone's coming."

"Gene looked up. Don't go running off now. I may still need your help."

Harry looked uncomfortable. But nodded his head and Gene went back to applying the inflatable neck brace he had pulled out of the pack. Shortly after that, people from the camp ground started to show up.

The first to arrive were a young boy and a man who appeared to be in his forties. The man was dressed in outdoor clothing and looked as if he had been camping at least a few days. Both were out of breath from running. Troy looked up and then ran towards them.

"DAD! Over here!"

"Troy! Gasp... gasp. Are you...wheeze...Okay?"

Troy ran up to the man and grabbed his arm.

"Cal is hurt. But Gene is an EMT and is checking him now."

Just then, the two newcomers got a good look at me and Harry. They stopped flat even with Troy trying to pull them closer. Troy looked around to see why they had stopped and realized that they had seen us.

"Dad! It's okay. They're friends and are helping us. They were fishing down below us and heard me yelling for help. Billie flew to their school which is over that way and brought Gene back to help."

"Flew?"

"Yeah, Billie can fly."

"Oh."

Apparently deciding that we weren't an immediate threat, he moved up to Gene.

"How is he?"

"I'm afraid that I can't tell yet. We need to get him to a medical facility quickly for X-rays and the like to be sure what we need to do. Don't worry, we have excellent facilities and as soon as we get him there everything will be fine."

"How are we going to get him to a hospital?"

"Billie over there, will carry him."

"He is kind of big. Are you sure he can carry him safely?"

"Huh? Oh. That's not Billie. That's Harry. Billie's next to him."

"The girl!?"

"Yeah. She's pretty good at it too. Lucky for us. She's why I was able to get here so fast. The regular rescue people in this area wouldn't get here for at least another half hour or so. Now if you don't mind, I need to finish getting this boy stabilized for transport."

"Oh. Okay..."

I'd been listening in and decided that I wasn't going to have to demonstrate what I could do again.

He looked over at us and noticed that Troy had brought John over and was introducing us very politely to him. He approached us, so he could hear what was being said.

"Billie, Harry, I'd like you to meet John, my brother. John. I'd like you to meet Billie and Harry. Don't worry, John, they're really nice people."

Harry and I responded simultaneously, sticking our hands out, and I said, "Pleased to meet you John."

He took one of our hands in each of his. "Thank you for your help. Is Cal going to be okay?"

Harry spoke for both of us. "We think so, as soon as the stretcher gets here, Billie will fly him over to our school where the doctors can work on him."

Their father was approaching us. He seemed a little nervous of Harry so I moved forward to shake his hand.

"Hi! My name is Billie Wilson and my friend here is Harry Wolfe. You must be Troy's father."

"Uh... Hi. Uh.. My name is William Chilson. Thank you for helping."

"We're always glad to help. We were just fishing a little below here when we heard Troy here calling for help. You should be really proud of them. They did everything you are supposed to do in a situation like this."

"Uh... I didn't see you at the campground. Where did you come from?"

"We came from downstream. We're from Whateley."

"Whateley?"

"Yes. It's a school back that way."

"School? How old are you?"

"I'm si.... Uh fifteen. Harry is sixteen. Whateley is a boarding school for people like us who have a hard time in regular public schools."

"You seem very ...Mature for your ages."

Harry's size makes him look older than he is and I wasn't about to go into my story and the fact that my body was based on a mature seventeen year old. I decided to take the comment as a compliment and leave it at that.

"Thank you. We come from families that stress individualism and self reliance."

"Well. Uh..."

He was saved from having to say anything else by the arrival of two more people from the campground and the four security personnel flying in with flying packs.

The two women were a forest ranger and someone dressed like Mr. Chilson. They had stopped to watch the four security people land. Then the one woman ran forward as the ranger radioed something. Two of the security people took up watch positions while the other two delivered the stretcher and blankets. One of them spoke to Chet.

"Hey, Chet! I hope you know what you are doing. This thing is a bear to handle. Even the four of us will have a rough time carrying it with the kid."

"Don't worry Larry. Billie over there will do the honors."

"Isn't she one of the trouble makers from the other nights?"

I stood there and blushed as Harry put his hand on my shoulder. Fortunately, Mr. Chilson was distracted by the running woman and I didn't think he heard what Larry had said.

"Don't worry about it. Just be glad she is here to do it for us. Now put that over here and help me move this kid into it."

Mr. Chilson was waving and calling to the running woman. "Mary! Mary! Over here!"

She hesitated for a moment, and then changed course to meet him.

"Bill! Is he okay? What are they doing and who are they? And why are they carrying guns?"

"It's okay dear. They are from Whateley. They are part of the security force there. They are the ones equipped to get him to a hospital faster."

"Hospital! What's wrong with him!" She tried to pull away but he held her back.

"It's okay. They are taking him there for tests to make sure he is alright."

She turned and clung to him while he muttered reassurances to her.

While they were like that, Gene and the two security men were carefully moving Cal into the stretcher. Wrapping him in blankets and tying him down.

"Billie?"

I turned to Harry.

"I'm going to gather our gear and head back downstream. Meet you in the hospital?"

"Yeah, sounds good to me. See you there."

Both of us jumped when we heard a sudden, "EEEP!"

"It's okay dear! These are the young people who were able to bring help so quickly."

"Bu...but they..they're..."

"Mary! They are helping us! This is Billie and the tall one is Harry. They are from a school called Whateley that is downstream from here. They heard Troy calling for help and came to his aid."

She had a kind of wild look in her eyes, but she at least settled down quickly. Though she still clung tightly to her husband.

"Thank you. I'm Mary Chilson."

"Pleased to meet you Ma'am. Uh, I better get ready to go, Billie. It looks as if we are almost done here."

Gene was approaching us.

"Which of you wants to go with Cal to the hospital?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, the gentlemen here have a sling they can use to transport one of you with Cal. The rest of us can go back to the campground and the Forest Service has arranged to take us back to Whateley."

Mr. Chilson turned to his wife.

"Why don't you go dear? I can get back to the campground and bring the car over and I know you want to be close to him now."

"Oh, okay, I'll go. You won't be long?"

"Not long at all. Don't worry. They seem like they know what they are doing."

They kissed each other and whispered to each other. Then Mr. Chilson turned and called to Troy and John.

"Come on boys. Let's hurry back!"

"Dad. Can't we go with Harry?"

Harry had begun to gather our gear and was getting ready to head downstream. He waited to see what Mr. Chilson decided.

"No boys. I want you to stay with me. I don't want to be worried waiting for you to get there."

"Awww... Dad. We'll be fine!"

"NO! I want to get going now. Come on."

"Ohhh... Okay. Bye! Will we see you there?"

"Yep! You'll see us there. Better get a move on or Harry will get there first!"

"Okay! C'mon Dad! We've got to hurry!"

"We are ready over here Billie!"

Gene was motioning me over. They had Cal in the stretcher with several straps attached to it.

"Now, how will you carry this?"

I stretched myself in the air over the stretcher.

"Just strap him on and I'll be ready to go!"

They quickly attached the straps to me and I lifted it off the ground. I looked around to see what everyone else was doing.

Mrs. Chilson was in a harness that was attached to ropes that led to the four security men who were preparing to take off with her in tow. She was very nervous but I could tell she was determined to go through with this. She turned to me.

"Please be careful with him."

"Don't worry ma'am. I'll get him there safely."

I gave her a thumbs up and started to lift off. Harry was already a ways down the stream and the ranger, Gene, and the rest of the Chilson's were already headed up stream too.

The security force lifted off and as soon as the ropes pulled tight, Mrs Chilson did also with a scream. I slowly accelerated after them. I pulled up next to Mrs. Chilson and gave her a thumbs up also. I hoped she was reassured.

The jet packs were slower than me and the leader of the squad motioned for me to move ahead of them. I speeded up and soon was approaching the school. I could see a group of white coated people in front of one of the doors near a helicopter pad. I swept down and floated in place as they unstrapped me and put him on a gurney and headed inside. I waited for the others and soon the squad dropped off Mrs. Chilson.

Some more white coated people had come out, and as soon as Mrs. Chilson was there, they gathered around her and lead her into the building. I stuck with her as they asked her questions about her son and family history. Eventually they got around to getting insurance info also. I soon realized that they were keeping her occupied so she wouldn't be worrying about her son so much.

Eventually, even the paperwork ran out. Shortly after that, Gene and the rest of the Chilsons showed up. There were more questions and answer sessions with everyone, even me, filling them in on what we knew about what happened.

During this time, Harry showed up and let me know that he had dropped off my stuff at Poe and told them what was going on. He then offered to take Troy and John on a tour of the campus. By that time their parents were willing to let someone else worry about them and they let him do that. The others from Poe came by and said hello also.

For two hours, that seemed like days,  I tried to keep them from worrying too much by telling them a little of what was going on here at Whateley. Finally I saw Dr. Polland looking around as if he was searching for someone. I waved and he smiled and came over.

"Hi Billie! I heard you had been helping out again. Is this Mr. And Mrs. Chilson?"

"Yes sir. Do you have news on how Cal is doing?"

He smiled and I felt a wave of relief. I hadn't really known them very long, but I was beginning to get somewhat attached to them and would have been upset if anything bad had happened to them.

"Yes, I have excellent news." The Chilson's, who had been holding hands let out sighs of relief that covered my own. Mr. Chilson spoke for all of us.

"Can you give us some details?"

"Certainly, sit down and I will be glad to tell you all I can. Let me assure you that while Calvin is not as good a patient as Miss Wilson here, he is fine and we can release him by tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?"

"It's perfectly alright. We just have a policy of observing any suspected head traumas for a period of twenty four hours to be certain that there are no lasting side effects of the treatment."

"Your certain that he is going to be alright?"

"As certain as we can be. Dr. Tenant is probably among the very best, if not the best, at this in the world. She says that he will recover completely and will suffer no long term problems from his injuries. He did take a nasty fall, and we will follow procedure so as to meet all the insurance criteria. But I think I can say with certainty that this will just be an added adventure to your trip and nothing else."

"Thank God! Can we see him?"

"Yes, he has been asking about you and I came out to get you. Billie? Do you want to come along?"

"If no one minds. I'd like to see him."

He looked at the Chilsons and they nodded okay. "Well, come along then. I'm sure he would like to meet one of his rescuers."

He led us to an elevator and took us down two floors. After moving through several corridors we came to an area with rooms for patients. He led us to room c-14 and motioned us in.

It was a two bed room, but only one bed had a patient. It was Cal, awake and looking around. Then he saw his parents.

"Mom! Dad!"

They rushed forward and hugged him. I just stood back and let them get it out of their systems. Besides, I had the funny sensation like I could break out crying at any moment and I didn't think I could take that kind of embarrassment right now.    

After the first muffled greetings and the threats that if he ever pulled a stunt like that again, they were going to kill him for sure, he started babbling rapidly and non stop about some of the things he had seen.

"Mom? Dad? I know your not going to believe it but one of my doctors, a lady , I think they called her Dr. Tenant, has really long hair, and she uses it to hold things, all sorts of things, and I... I think she might be a witch or something cause she was saying spells, and they've got all sorts of really cool stuff here..."

"It's okay Cal. We believe you. Just settle down and tell us all about it..." They glanced up at Dr. Polland.

"It's perfectly alright. It's one of the side effects of the treatment. He'll be very active and, and I think 'high' would be as good a description as any, for several more minutes and then he will sleep for several more hours.

I realized that he was staring at me.

"Hi! I'm Billie Wilson." I held out my hand to shake.

He seemed frozen and kept staring at me.

"Cal. Show some manners, Billie is one of the people who helped rescue you."

"I... I   Uh.. Are all the girls around here as good looking as you?"

"Huh?" I just stood there with my hand out as my mind tried to catch up with what was happening.

"CAL! Show some manners!"

He was blushing and seemed totally tongue tied. And now I could see, due to the thin gown and covers, that I was having more than just that effect on him also. I'm sure that my blush must have gone all the way to my toes.

"Oh, yes. I forgot about that side effect. Not to worry. It will wear off by the time he wakes up from his next sleep." Dr. Polland was observing everything with an air of extreme interest.

"Oh." Where was Fey when you needed her. I could really use a distraction right now. "Uh... Maybe I ought to be going now. Supper and all. It's been great meeting you. Uh, maybe I can see you before you go?"

"Checkout will be around noon. You should have some time then I would think."

"Uh.. Sure. I'll see you then. Bye!" I did a kind of bow, wave, and embarrassed grin and ducked out of the room as Mr. And Mrs. Chilson waved and grinned and Cal just stared.

As I found my way out of the medical wing, I couldn't help but wonder at the fact that at least on one level, I had thoroughly enjoyed what had just happened. It had been embarrassing, but a thrill all the same. I shook my head, why was I even noticing such things? Too many things happening all at once. I was never going to catch up.

LV

GOOD NEWS TRAVELS FAST: September 17th

Timing couldn't have been much better. Supper was just being served and I was really hungry now. As I got in line, I could see that Harry was already there and had John and Troy with him. Several of the students were gathered around and entertaining them too.

As soon as I got my platters loaded with what I was sure would be my first course of the evening, I headed over to see how they were doing.

"Hi Harry, Troy, John. How's it going?"

"Billie! How is Cal?"

"Doing great. Doctors say he can leave tomorrow and will make a full recovery. I just left him with his parents. He's in room c-14 and doing really well."

A cheer went up from the gathered students. The story had gotten around and everyone had been waiting to find out what had happened.

"Mind if I sit here?"

Troy and John were staring at the platters I was carrying.

"Who's all that food for?"

"It's for me. I'll share if you need some, but I thought they would have fed you already."

"Uh. It's okay. We already ate. You're really going to eat all that?"

"Just watch." I was hungry and wasted no time in eating what was in front of me. I then went back for seconds. I think that everyone who was familiar with my eating habits were amused at the surprise of those who were not.

After supper, I took my leave of them and headed back to Poe. I needed to clean up a bit and get ready for the week. I had a feeling that I was going to be busy.

LVI

BACK TO WORK: September 18th Monday

Nothing much happened Monday except I got a chance to see the Chilson's off around noon. They were happy to get going, but they were also kind of sad to leave also. At least the boys were. I think Cal was a little jealous of his brothers and the fun they had with Harry yesterday. It seems he gave them quite the tour. I think Mr. And Mrs. Chilson were just happy to get back to their vacation time. They did tell me and Harry to visit them if we were ever in the Tacoma, Washington area. I didn't think it likely, but thanked them anyway.

I also received a notice that I was to report to Physical Plant Administrators Offices in the basement of Siegal Hall before supper. I assumed that this was a response to the request I had made for employment by the school. Instead of deciding which job I wanted, I had used the option that allowed them to choose one for me. Maybe I would get a chance to work with Jade.

When I got there, I was met by Vance Merrill, Assistant of Operations. After interviewing me and having me fill out some paperwork, he turned me over to another student, Jack Carroll. Jack was a senior, 4' 11", short red hair, acne, and a seriously obnoxious voice. Also an obnoxiously superior attitude.

"We don't see many chicks down this way. What made you sign up for this work?"

"I didn't. I just let them place me where they needed me."

"Must have wanted to bury you out of sight. What did you do, let the air out of the Dean's tires or something? Want to talk about it?"

"Or something."

"Well, be that way. Just remember that sometimes you are going to need a little help in this job. In fact, I need to warn you that in this section of the basement you must always go in pairs."

"Why?"

"I don't want to scare you off, but some really weird stuff has gone on down here. Admin won't let on about what is going on, but some odd things have happened to people who don't pay attention to the rules. Don't worry now, I'm with you. Nothing will happen while I'm around." He gave me a grin that I guess was supposed to reassure me. But looked more like a lear.

"It better not."

"What was that?"

"Nothing. Always go in pairs in this area. Check."

He kept looking at me and I wasn't sure he hadn't heard what I said but, I just kept walking and ignoring him. We were right in the middle of the furnace room and it was beginning to get warm. Jack was starting to sweat. I was just aware that it was warmer.

"Hold on a moment."

"Huh? Why?"

"I need to check number two furnace. There has been a report of a sticking valve. It's been running too hot and wasting fuel. You wait right here. I'll be right back."

"What about sticking together?"

"Scared?"

"No, just curious why you're ignoring the rules."

"Heh, heh. Just don't let the ghosts get you. I'll be right around the corner here if you need me."

"In your dreams."

"What was that?"

"Nothing."

"Well, just be on your toes. If anything happens give a yell."

"Okay."

He walked around the corner and I heard his steps fade into the distance. Then I heard a door open and close. It wasn't very quite, what with all the furnaces and equipment, but I was just waiting for the ghosts that I was sure were supposed to pop out and send me either screaming or running for help or both.

I had never done this before, but had seen it many times. Guys just trying to impress the girls by shaking them up and then coming to the rescue. I figured that around here they would do a better job of the special effects, so when I suddenly got the feeling that I wasn't alone I chalked it up to someone's special ability.

Then I kept getting the impression somebody or something almost visible out of the corners of my eyes. This went on for about a minute. Oddly enough, there was something familiar about it. I just couldn't seem to remember where I had felt or seen something like this before.

I had the definite feeling that someone was right behind me. I had to exercise a fair amount of self control to not look around. Then I heard a strange, crackling whisper.

"Mistressss....Helllpp mmeee...."

I considered ignoring it. But decided that I might as well play along for now.

"How could someone like me help someone like you?"

"Youuu cannn releaseee meee."

"Release you?"

"Frommm herreee..."

"Why?"

"Youuu woulldddd bargainnn thennn. Iii willl hhellp youu annndd youuu hhellpp mmmeee. Whhhaattt iiisss iiittt yyouuu ddeessirree?"

"I can't think of anything that you could do for me. Just leave me alone for now."

"Iiii wwiillll hheellpp youuu. Yyoouuu wwiilll hheellpp meeeee...."

The voice and presence faded away until I could detect nothing more. Several minutes later Jack returned. He seemed somewhat surprised to see me patiently waiting.

"You okay? Anything happen while I was gone?"

"The 'ghost' and I had a little talk, but other than that, nothing much happened."

"The ghost talked to you!?"

"Yes. Doesn't he talk to everyone?"

"Uh... No. No, he doesn't. What did he say?"

"Something about helping me if I help him. You don't have any idea what kind of help he needs do you?"

"No, he's never said anything before.. Uh.. Maybe we should continue with the tour."

Jack seemed a little taken aback by what I'd told him and I couldn't help but smile a little as he led me away. I seemed to hear a strange chuckle as we left. The rest of the tour was uneventful and I learned that I would be helping to keep the buildings supplied with electricity, water, and heat. I would start after supper tomorrow when I would start the training I would need to do my new job.

LVII

LEARNING THE TRADE: September 19th Tuesday

I got there about ten minutes early. I'd been told to wear something I wouldn't mind getting dirty, so I wore the same as I had fishing. Sue McClellan was there and helped me find a coverall I would use over my clothes while working.

She was the warehouse foreman and was in charge of seeing to it that we had the tools we would need. She was said to be a graduate of the school and had come back to work here after her collage training in building management. She had strong telekinetic powers which helped her no end in this job. She pointed out to me that everything was to be checked out properly and returned the same way or we'd better have a good reason.

I was assigned to Jack and another boy called Chris Martin. He was five two and probably 250 lbs of muscle. He had a very square face with short black hair and beard. I'd learned that Jack was some kind of pyrokinesis type and Chris was called The Wall for his ability to anchor himself imperviously to one spot. Both were seniors and neither seemed to be happy shepherding me around.

Our job at first, was to work our way through many of the tunnels under the school, and make sure that the various steam valves were open and working. We had all been issued magnetic strip passes that would allow us into the tunnels without setting off alarms. When we were almost back to the admin area we got a call on the radio Jack was carrying.

It told us to report to Sue, who would give us a remote gas detector to replace one that had failed in the lower tunnels. We were to meet Morrie and Stan at a point of the tunnels I didn't know yet. They would install it after they finished up another project they were working on. I had a premonition of trouble as soon as we got to Sue.

"Here you go. Just deliver this to Stan and Morrie at location 2AU,(second access underground). They are working on another problem right at this moment so they may be a little late getting there. Just wait for them. The location of the malfunctioning sensor is on the package."

"Awww... C'mon Sue! It's almost the end of our shift. Those jumped up sewer rats could be hours. Can't we just drop it off there. Or better yet, just give it to one of the new shifts?"

"No. You won't 'just drop it off'. I want confirmation that they got it. And I don't want them giving me grief if they don't. Show more respect for them too. They do a heck of a lot more than you do. The problem that they are working on won't take long. You should get off in plenty of time."

"They're just norms. Why do we have to kow-tow to these guys anyway. It just goes to their heads. They're always lording it over us and telling us what to do and not do, as if they were the only ones able to do it."

I wasn't sure that Jack was paying attention to Sue, but she was starting to get pretty angry. In fact, I thought she was just about to explode. I didn't know if this was a running fight they had been having but I decided to head this off before something happened. I grabbed the package and signed for it.

"C'mon guys! The faster we get this done the sooner we can go to supper."

I quickly headed out the way I thought the place might be.

"Hey! Wait up newbie! We have to go this way!"

We headed out the way Jack indicated, with Sue looking daggers at us. It didn't take us very long to get where we were going. There was a heavily reinforced door with huge locks and 2AU stencilled on it. It was between two large lockers. Stan and Morrie weren't in sight.

"Just like those jerks to make us late." Grumbled Jack. "Gi'me that package newbie."

I didn't like being talked to that way, but I was the new person and decided that if I ignored it for now, they would get over it. I handed him the package and he looked at the location directions that were written on it.

"Hey. This goes to the sensor right down from this door." Apparently he could understand the directions and where they were indicating where the sensor should go. Chris shrugged.

"So?"

"So!? It means that all we have to do is take this a few feet down the corridor and take the old one out and put the new one in its place. We don't have to waste our afternoon waiting for the Super Sewer Brothers to do something that any slack wit could do with their eyes closed."

That feeling of disaster was getting stronger. But, I still didn't have a clue as to what was happening yet. Chris didn't seem totally convinced yet either.

"C'mon Chris. It's easy as pie. I've done this before. You unclip the two leads, detatch the old unit from the wall, put the new unit on the wall, and plug in the leads again. It's all automatic. As soon as the green LED goes on, your set."

"Uh... I don't know about this. Maybe we should wait for Stan and Morrie?"

"Wimp. I know were everything we need is."

He went over to the two cabinets. The first one that he tried to open wouldn't.

"H'mmm.. They must have changed the combination from last year. Well, we don't need these anyway, even if it would be kind of fun."

He went to the second one and it opened easily. Inside were some respirators, flashlights, and other gear.

"Okay. This is what we need."  He took down three respirators and flashlights.

"We're supposed to be armed aren't we?"

"It's locked. Besides, you aren't afraid are you Chris? There's nothing down here that can touch you."

"Uh... No. It's just..."

"C'mon! I'm not waiting anymore. Here's the key and I know the combination. Those rules apply to the people that don't know how to get through the door. Put the respirators on, it stinks down there."

"If Chris thinks we should wait..."

"Shut up newbie. No one asked you. And put on the mask. I wasn't joking about the stink."

Chris was already putting his on, so I followed suite. Jack already had his on and was unlocking the door. I realized as he opened the door that he was more nervous than he originally sounded and my sense of dread increased.

He stood in the dark doorway for a moment, then flashed his light into the dark opening.

"See. Nothing to worry about."

There was a small landing beyond the door, and even through the mask I could sense a disgusting smell wafting from the darkness. Jack and Chris crowded the landing and showed their flashlights up and down the tunnel. There was a really sick looking flow of something in the bottom of the tunnel too.

"Say, Wilson. I understand your some kind of wiz at flying."

"Well, Carroll. What's it to you?"

"Cut the sass newbie! See that line on the wall. It's the connecting cable for these sensors. About fifty feet that way will be the place where this sensor should go. It's right near the ceiling. Since your so good at flying, go down there and exchange the units. Be sure to bring the old one back so we can give it to Sue."

"And what would you be doing while I'm doing that?"

"We'll be holding the door open, and watching your back."

"Ohhh.. That makes me feel sooo much better. I've never done this kind of thing before either. You seem pretty sure that I can switch these over easily."

"Don't worry newbie. Even you should be able to handle this."

For a moment I considered kicking him into the sludge and letting him do his own dirty work. But I had promised to be a good little girl and so I squeezed by them and hovered in the air next to the landing.

Jack handed me a harness that had a pouch I could put the box in. I could also clip the flashlight to it, leaving my hands free to work. He also handed me a small tool kit in case I needed it. That clipped to the harness also.

Proceeding down the tunnel, I soon came to a small box in the line Jack had indicated. It had a small, red, blinking light and looked like the picture on the box I had. It had easy release clips holding it to the line.

I disconnected those and then used a screwdriver to release the box from the wall bracket it was in. Then I took the new box and clipped it into the bracket. The ends of the line hooked right back in. A small red light shone for a moment, and then switched to a green light.

Making sure that everything was secured to my harness I prepared to head back. As I headed towards the landing I saw the slimy flow in front of me start to rise up into the air, blocking the tunnel. It seemed to be hesitating, trying to decide if it wanted to head towards me or the others on the landing. Jack and Chris solved that problem, by ducking out and slamming the door.

It didn't seem to be moving too fast and I had just decided that I could risk trying to find another way out, when I heard that crackling voice again.

"Iiii wiilll heellppp..."

"NO! Wait!!"

Suddenly, a flame appeared in the air in front of me.

LVIII

NEVER A DULL MOMENT: September 19th

Franklin Delarose had arrived early and was heading to check in with Lt. Forsyth to see if anything exciting had happened and if there was anything that he should be aware of. He had a front row seat to the experience of watching a series of round metal access covers over the storm tunnels go flying into the air, lifted by small fireballs.

After the initial shock wore off, he sprinted for the security offices. He had to override the security doors with his own codes before he could enter. As soon as he was in he headed for the command center.

"FORSYTH!! What the hell is going on here!"

"SIR! We're not sure yet. Some kind of explosion in the drainage tunnels."

"I could tell you that! What caused it, and did anyone get hurt! I want answers and I want them now! Was anyone in the tunnels?"

"Checking on that already sir. I expect a report momentarily."

"Okay. I want it ASAP."

Now that he had vented a bit he stood back to let his crew do their work and think about what had happened. Sid looked up from his monitoring panels.

"Sir. I'm getting a signal from Stan and Morrie. They want to know who did that. They were in another part of the tunnels and got knocked on their cans by a wall of fire. Fortunately, they were wearing their respirators and suits. They're a little singed, but other than that okay."

"Thank God. Was anyone else supposed to be down there? And where did that blast start? The blast seemed to be moving away from here when I saw it."

"No sir. No one else was supposed to be down there. Stan is reporting that there was some evidence of a Methane Slime that they were trying to track down when the blast occurred. Maybe something set it off? The epicenter did seem to be close to Admin."

"How'd a slime get this close? Do Stan or Morrie have any ideas?"

Sid conferred with the others for a few moments and then turned back to his leaders.

"They were replacing some defective sensors when they noticed higher levels of methane in the area they were in. They figure it came in by the defective sensors and hadn't raised levels high enough in the non-defective areas to set off the alarms yet. There was another defective sensor that needed to be replaced near the Admin building. But they hadn't gotten to it yet. They were going to do that when they got delayed tracking the slime. They think the blast may have come from there and want to know if we want to check it out or if you want them to. They can be there in about five minutes."

"They know what they are looking for better than we do. Ask them if they will need any help or if they want us to stay out of their way."

Sid turned back to his comm devices. After a short conversation he turned back to the Chief.

"They want to be the first in, but would like a squad for backup just in case. They want us to locate the center if we can so they can enter the tunnels nearest there."

"Roger that. Get a squad down to wherever they are going. Make sure they know that Stan and Morrie are in charge."

"Yes sir."

A long two minutes later they knew that the blast had occurred near 2AU and directed Stan and Morrie and the backup squad to there.

"Sir?"

"Yes?"

"We just got a signal from Maintenance. It seems they sent a crew down there with the replacement part for the sensor there. They say that they are getting some kind of panicked signal from them."

"Were they to go into the tunnels?"

"No sir. The rules are very clear, only Stan or Morrie can approve that. And I checked. They didn't. Not with a slime loose."

"Damn! Who was in that crew?"

"They say Jack Carroll, Chris Martin, both experienced maintenance people, and a trainee."

"And the trainee?"

"You aren't going to like this sirs."

"Oh, how bad can it be?" Forsyth and Delarose looked at each other.

"It seems that Miss Wilson just started with them."

"You don't mean...?"

"Yep! Seems she was with them."

"Damn! Get an emergency crew down there too then."

"Yes sir! Fire and medical both?"

"Yes. Both."

Chief Delarose could feel a headache starting already.

"Was anyone outside hurt?"

"No sir. Just startled. The covers are being put back even as we speak. There seems to have been very little damage if any. Just spectacular is all. I don't think that the slime had been there long enough to produce much gas."

"Thanks for small miracles. Any news from the access area yet?"

"No one is there yet. Wait! I'm getting a signal now from someone there. I think it's the Carroll kid."

"Put him on."

"Hello! Hello! Is anyone listening!"

"Who is this. Identify yourself."

"This is Jack Carroll from Maintenance."

"Who is with you?"

"Chris, Chris Martin."

"Anyone else? And where are you?"

"No. No one else. We're near 2AU."

"Where is your trainee? And are you in the tunnels?"

"Uh, we don't know where the trainee is sir. We aren't in the tunnels."

"Why don't you know where your trainee is?"

"Uh... She's not with us right now."

"Any idea where she is? Or went?"

"Uh.. No sir. We don't."

"Why is that? Aren't you supposed to be keeping track of her?"

"We got separated sir."

"When?"

"Just before the loud bang sir. What happened?"

"Maybe you could tell me?"

"We don't know."

"Okay. Stay there. Someone will be there shortly."

He cut the mike and turned to Sid.

"I want all the sensor scans from that area pronto. We need to know if they went into the tunnels or not."

"Scanning them now sir. Have the results in a moment."

"Okay."

"Here they are. It looks like three people entered the area shortly before the blast. One of the sensors was malfunctioning in the tunnel, but there is enough from the others in the area to show that the three entered the tunnel area. Two stayed near the door and the other moved out of range towards the defective one."

"Oh, now we have input from where the defective one was. It seems that the person who went down the tunnel fixed it. Now the person is starting to head back. Some kind of odd movement there. The two at the door have moved through it and now the door has closed. The one in the tunnel is moving away from the odd movement signals... There it is! The blast. It gets fuzzy for a while and now has settled down."

"What do you have now?"

"There are two now near the door. I think they are the two we talked to. Look! There's movement near the door in the tunnel! I'm getting a sensor feed from the door. I think that someone or something is banging on the door."

"Is there anyone else near?"

"I've got two signals approaching quickly. I think they are Stan and Morrie. Squad One is about a minute out."

"Patch me through to Stan."

"Yes sir."

"Stan! Can you hear me?"

"Who is this?"

"Chief Delarose."

"Okay. What can I do for you?"

"We think that one of the students is in the tunnels at the door 2AU."

"We just got there. Someone does seem to be pounding on the door, hard. Are you sure it's one of the students? The door is locked."

"We can't be totally certain, and if you want to wait for backup, we won't blame you. But, if it's who we think it is, you may not have a door there soon if you don't open it."

"They can take down this door?"

"If it's who we think it is, she has a real talent for it."

"How soon for backup?"

"About a minute."

"Damn. The pounding's getting louder. How fast would she get through?"

"If she loses patience, a matter of seconds, by our estimate."

"Okay. Our call. We're going to open it. I don't think you want to evacuate the area while we fix it."

"Be careful."

LIX

A HOT TIME IN THE OLD TUNNELS TONIGHT: September 19th

KAAAWHOOOSHHH!!!

The tunnel filled with a wall of flame that flung me cartwheeling. It was past in a moment but shattered my flashlight and tore the respirator off my face. When I got oriented again, the tunnel was filled with smoke and scattered flames. I was sitting in slime and down the tunnel where the strange slime had been was a rapidly collapsing pile of fire.

With my respirator gone I was getting the full benefit of this totally horrible smell. I kept trying to hold my nose. I then figured that my best bet was to get out the way I had come. Fortunately, I didn't need the flashlight to see. I flew to the door and tried to open it. It took me a minute to figure out that it was locked.

I started to pound on the door and yell for them to open up. I couldn't be sure that they hadn't just run off, but I was hoping someone would come along soon. The smell was getting really unbearable.

I kept this up for several minutes by my estimate. By that time all the flames had gone out, but the tunnels were still filled with a horribly stinking smoke. I had to concentrate hard to keep from throwing up. I was starting to get desperate and was ready to try and break down the door when I heard the lock being opened. I grabbed the door and wrenched it open.

"FREEZE!!"

I looked up at two men who were covering me with some sort of rifle. They looked vaguely familiar. In a choked voice I managed to ask..

"Please allow me to close this door."

"Don't move! We aren't taking any..." The taller, thinner one had been speaking. Then he got a wiff of the smoke pouring from the door. His face went pale.

"What's that smell!!?" He staggered back.

"Stan! Hey if this is some kind of trick, I'm going to..." Then the smell hit him.

He wasn't as surprised and didn't stagger back, but he did gag a bit.

"Please! Let me close the door!"

"Okay! Close it!"

I spun around and pulled it shut. Then I allowed myself to empty my stomach.

I figured that these guys must be Stan and Morrie. Jade had said a lot of good things about them. I wondered what they were doing here. The one I thought must be Morrie started to question me.

"What the hell were you doing in there?! Are you the one responsible for that explosion? It came that close to killing us!"

I noticed then that they seemed a bit singed too.

"Tell me about it. I was in there when whatever it was went up."

"You were in there? What happened? Who gave you permission to go into a restricted area?"

This was going to be kind of tricky. I really didn't want to get anyone into trouble. But it was obvious to me now that we shouldn't have been in there to begin with. And, then there was the explosion. I still wasn't sure what had caused that. But if they had gone through anything like I had, I could see them being just a little pissed off too.

"Yes. I was in there. I'm not certain what happened. One moment there was this slimy thing bubbling up from the tunnel between me and the door, and the next, the ghost sets off some kind of explosion. I get knocked silly, my respirator gets blown to Timbuctoo, and I can't get out of that awful stink until you guys open up the door."

"Who gave you permission to go in there?"

"I don't know that anyone did. Jack said that we could just change the sensor and save a lot of time."

"Jack?"

"Jack Carroll. He and Chris Martin were training me today. We were delivering the sensor that needed replacement. When it looked as if you weren't going to get here soon, Jack said that all we needed to do was just replace the sensor and that would take care of it."

"DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW DANGEROUS THOSE TUNNELS ARE!?! You are not supposed to even open these doors unless we are here and have given you permission! What if you had gotten hurt or killed? Do you know who would get the blame? What if that thing had gotten out and into the school? Do you have any idea how dangerous those things can be if you don't know how to handle them? What possessed you to try a stupid stunt like that? The 'GHOST'?"

I hate getting chewed out. I hate it even worse when I know that I deserve it. I had known somewhere in my heart that we should have waited and not done what we had done. Or at least, I should have backed down and not showed off. It certainly didn't help any that I realized that they could have been hurt or killed by the explosion. I can take a lot of damage. But, the same can't be said about everyone else. My only consolation there was that I hadn't set the explosion off. I hung my head and muttered.

"What?"    

I realized that I would have to repeat it louder when I realized that they hadn't come out of the blast completely unscathed. I keep forgetting how fast I shake this kind of stuff off compared to everyone else.

"I'm sorry. I didn't know. And it was actually easy to do. Everything went fine until that thing showed up. I didn't set off the explosion. I had just decided to see if I could find another way out when the ghost showed up."

"What is this 'Ghost'?"

"I don't know. I met it yesterday in the furnace room. I thought it was a joke being put on by Jack and maybe some of the others. Then it shows up here and sets off that fire."

They exchanged a glance and Stan continued.

This 'Ghost'. You met it yesterday?"    

"Yes. It has a crackly kind of voice. It was asking me for help with something that I don't understand. Something about releasing it from here. Do you know anything about it?"

"We've heard of it. You think it was trying to kill you?"

"Uh, no. I think it thought it was helping me, so I would help it. It flew right up to the thing in the tunnel and I saw a flame form. Then there was a big bang and everything in there was on fire. My respirator got blown off and I got knocked a ways down the tunnel. When I recovered from that, the tunnel was on fire and smoke was everywhere. Both of the things were gone and I found my way back to the door which was locked. Eventually, you opened it before I had to knock it down to get out."

"That must have been like Hell in there. You lost your respirator and held your breath that long?"

"No. I don't have to. But that smell was really awful. I don't know how much longer I could have taken it before I had to get out. Even if it meant breaking down the door."

"Say! I didn't recognize you under all that grime. Your that Tennyo kid aren't you?"

"Uh, yeah. I'm Jade and Jinn's roommate. Your Stan and Morrie aren't you?"

"Yeah. That's us."

"Look guys. I'm really, really sorry about that explosion. But, I didn't set it off. It was that ghost."

"That's okay. We believe you. But what were you doing in there to begin with. There is both a key and combination lock on those doors. How did you get in and where did you get the respirator?"

"Uh. Jack got the respirators, flashlights, and this harness from the cabinet over there. He tried to get something out of the other one, but couldn't get it opened. His combination worked on the other one. A key to the door was in the cabinet and he knew the combination to the tunnel door."

They had me give them a detailed account of what happened from the time that we had been given the task of bringing the sensor down here to when they let me out.

I took off the harness and handed it to them. They checked that, the defective sensor, broken flashlight, and cabinet. They handed the sensor back to me.

During all this, A security detail showed up. After a quick consultation with Stan, they spread out and searched the immediate area. They found Jack and Chris a ways down one of the tunnels. They were taken by the detail to the security offices for questioning. The respirator and flashlights that they had were given to Morrie before they left.

"Alright. When it clears enough in there we'll go in and check out everything. What we want you to do, is take this sensor back to Sue. Then you need to go to Security and give them a report of what happened here. We'll trust you to do this on your own without an escort. Will you do this?"

"Yes sir."

"Good. Now get going."

I found my way back to the warehouse. Sue was there, and if anything , she was in even a worse mood than before. She snatched the sensor from me.

"You idiot! You could have gotten them killed! If you ever show up here again, I'll   I'll... Just get out of here! Don't come back!"

That hurt. I wasn't too happy about it myself, but I felt like people were overreacting now. There had been too many odd things to account for them all in a regular way. I knew that if we hadn't gone in there we wouldn't have had this problem, but how was I to know that there were these kind of dangers to look out for? No one had given me any kind of warning at all. I'd only had a vague sense of danger to work with. I'd pay more attention to it in the future, but that wouldn't change the past.

I reported to Security and described what had happened to Chief Delarose and Lt. Forsyth. They had a number of questions for me and I did the best I could to answer them all. By the time I was done I was on the verge of tears. Everyone kept telling me what a stupid thing it had been to do. As if I didn't already know that. And like it was all my fault. They finally let me go and I made my way back to Poe.

I did okay until I got to our room. Jade was waiting and working on her homework when I came in.

"Tennyo-san! What happened to you!?"

I closed the door, moved over to my bed, and then collapsed next to it and started bawling. I at least had the sense to not mess up my bed, because I was a real mess by now. Jade was incredibly brave and risked the mess and smell to comfort me.

I was eventually able to sob and gasp out my story. I was mortified by my own stupidity and was fearfully waiting for her to tell me how dumb I'd been.

"Tennyo-san. Are you sure that you are okay? You were right in the middle of that blast and fire."

She had been the only one to ask me that so far.

"Bu... But.. What about Stan and Morrie? I could have hurt or killed th..them."

"They're big boys and can take care of themselves. That's why they get the dangerous jobs in the tunnels. If they were there afterward, it means that they were okay. Just probably shaken up a bit by that blast. And probably a bit pissed off too."

"But I should've known better. It's my fault."

"C'mon! No one told you. You didn't know. Don't beat yourself up over it anymore. Learn from it and move on." I think she figured I'd gotten enough out of my system by then, because, she started to wave her hand in the air.

"Let's get you into the showers now, clothes and all, Whew! You really stink! I think you landed right in the middle of it , And you didn't come up smelling like a rose."

I almost choked then.

"Yeah, I did. Right in the middle of it."

"Tell you what. You grab the cleaning stuff and I'll grab the clean clothes and we'll both go to the showers together. After being close to you, I think I need to clean up also. You're really awful you know. We're going to have to air out the room too. I think I'll have Jinn handle some of the worst of the clothing. Maybe we can clean them off a bit in the showers first?"

"Thanks loads!"

"Don't mention it. Maybe they won't throw us out if we can get this cleaned up in time."

We headed for the showers and even though the halls were somewhat crowded, it was like Moses parting the Red Sea. It all followed a very predictable pattern. First there was the I'm here and you'll just have to go around me phase. Followed closely by the what the hell is that smell stage and a desperate attempt to find the source. Then came the run for the hills and cover stage. We almost made it to the bathrooms when we were intercepted by Mrs. Horton. Somehow she managed to keep a calm and collected demeanor.

"Young ladies! What is the meaning of this?" Jade took over the explanations.

"Sorry Maam. We were just going to get Tennyo here cleaned up. She was involved in the little explosion earlier today."

"Little explosion? I understand that it startled most of the campus with flame columns and flying manhole covers."

"Yes Maam." Mrs. Horton waited for more but Jade wasn't offering any. She then sighed and got to work straightening things out.

"Very well. Get in there and get cleaned up." Then she looked down the hall. "Mr. Declan!"

Hank opened his door some more and leaned out into the hall. "Yes Maam?"

"Run downstairs and bring up one of the large pedestal fans from the downstairs. Set it up in the room of these young ladies so that it is blowing out the window. Be quick now!"

"Yes Maam!" He quickly disappeared down the stairs.

"You two get cleaned up now. I'll monitor the young man."

"Yes Maam!"

We hurried into the showers and cleaned up. Oddly enough, we had them to ourselves the whole time. After several rinses we got the worst of the smell out of what we were going to keep and the rest went into a plastic bag that we would place into the dumpster out back.

When we got back to our room, we found it well aired out by the large fan blowing the air out. A quick cleaning and it was livable again. I moved the fan back downstairs and then we prepared for supper. Jade stayed with me the whole time.

She kept up the smiles and jokes for the rest of the evening. We did our homework while washing up the clothing and drying it. The shirt, jeans, and socks were a complete loss and got tossed. I was willing to try to save the shoes after we sprayed them down with deodorant.  By the time lights out came around, we were ready for the next day.

LX

THANKS, WE'LL CALL YOU: September 20th Wednesday/ September 21st Thursday

I received a notice during my lunch break that I was not to report back to Maintenance. I would be assigned to other work by tomorrow. It had been determined that I was not at fault and Stan and Morrie had vouched for me too. They just wanted me to get away from there until things settled down a little. Security wanted to look into some of the things that had gone wrong also. They'd give me a call if they needed any more information.

Shortly after that, I received a message telling me to report to the Cafeteria before supper tomorrow. They were going to see if I would work out there. I was to report early enough to take the necessary tests for a food handlers permit. I already had one from my efforts to get a job in Colorado to feed my book and comic habit.

I figured that they wouldn't be too hard here either. And I was right. I got there right after my last class. They seemed surprised that I found the place so fast. Apparently some of the students did have that problem and we had to wait for the rest of the people who were going to take the test to show up. It wasn't as if I didn't know where the food was coming from.

The test was basic and easy. Nothing that I didn't already know. After that, those of us who had passed, were taken into the kitchens and given a quick tour. We were broken into groups of four and my group was assigned to a section of the Crystal Dome to bus the tables. My group was under the direction of Mrs. Tanner.

I was amazed at how well she could organize the chaos we were working in. No sooner would we have cleared one table than we would have to get another one cleared. Things seemed a bit rowdy tonight. When I asked Mrs. Tanner about it she just shrugged and said that the students were starting to settle in but hadn't yet got the routine down totally yet. Eventually things would settle down. But now it was going to be a little hectic.

Everything was going all right until about two thirds of the way through supper. Mrs. Tanner sent Glen, a nice enough guy from Melville, and me to clean a table in the far corner. She told us to hurry up as people were going to start leaving and we didn't want to get too far behind. Glen wasn't as strong as me so I took the pile of trays, dishes, cups and silverware and he took the cleaning supplies and trash.

There were two isles out of the corner. They had been clear when we got there, but now were being blocked by a rowdy bunch of students from Twain. They wouldn't let us through and either didn't hear us asking to get by or were ignoring us.

Glen got fed up, looked around at the lights, which were green, and 'POOF' he was gone. I figured he had just teleported out and decided to get myself out too. So I lifted off and headed out over their heads. I figured that I could get past the crowd and then come back down and continue with my work. I didn't see Montana until the last moment when he stood up with a large platter of table scraps. He looked up at me, grinned, and launched them at me.

"Hey! Cleanup girl! Clean this!"

Fact is, I'm pretty fast. I was able to dodge the flying mess easily enough, even weighted down with the dishes I was taking back to be cleaned. Everyone in the path of the trash wasn't so lucky. Including a table with several girls that managed to look very elegant, even in this setting. The girls were screaming in rage and trying to clean the garbage off themselves. There were some guys who were talking to them who looked as if they should be on the football team, if we had one that is. One of the biggest of them stood up, scraps falling off his face and head, and turned towards Montana.

"You stupid idiot! What do you think you're doing!? Get over here and apologize and help us clean up."

"I don't think so jerk!" Montana sneered at him flipped him the bird, looked back at me and started to reach for something else to throw.

I headed out of there fast, but saw Montana as he turned back to throw something else at me, get hit in the face with something that had come from the other table with the football players. By the time I got back to the kitchen area and ducked into it I could here a growing roar of flying food, students screaming,  yelling, and running, and the rising yell of....'FOOD FIGHT!!!'

Mrs. Tanner was standing by the door into the kitchen, holding her face in her hand, and muttering, "Every damn year!"

LXI

BACK AT THE OFFICE: September 21st

Chief Delarose wasn't the least surprised when the alarm came in. Forsyth cursed under his breath and handed the Chief a Ten.

"Every damn year and you always seem to know when it's going to start. I was sure that it would be tomorrow before the weekend."

"I'd have agreed with you except for a factor you didn't know about, but should have."

"Oh? And what was that, pray tell?"

The Chief smiled. "I'll write it on this ten. If you don't think I'm right about it you can have it back."

"Not upping the ante?"

He chuckled. "It wouldn't be fair."

"Your on. Let's get over there and break it up before it gets out of hand."

"Lead the way Colin. It's your watch."

LXII

IT ALL COMES AROUND: September 21st

I had a front row seat with everyone else who could look out the door at a truly awe inspiring food fight. Not only were prodigious amounts of food flying around, but there was the added excitement of the many students talents mixed in. Either adding to the mess, shielding individuals and groups, and or aiding in their escapes. Some students, by a measure of their abilities and respect the others had for them, had already regained control of large sections of the hall.

Security didn't really have to do much as they swarmed in except avoid slipping on the food covered floor and avoiding the occasional die hard feud. It was amazing how fast order was restored. Chief Delarose and Lt. Forsyth came in soon afterward to view the mess.

The Chief motioned several of the supervisors over and consulted with them for a few minutes. I could tell by the hand waving that they were figuring out where and when it started.

Then I saw Chief Delarose show a ten dollar bill to Lt. Forsyth, and hold it out to him. Lt. Forsyth shook his head and pushed it back at him.

We were about to head out and try to bring some order to the mess when I got called over to talk to Chief Delarose and Lt. Forsyth. They asked a few questions about how it got started and I started to get a bad feeling about what was going on. The Chief turned to me after that and let me know what was going to happen.

"Okay, Billie. Here's the bad news. We know it's not your fault, but if you stay on here we will be risking a repeat every time you work here. I know it's not fair, but experience has shown that it will happen all over again if you do."

"We can't have that, because as the students get bored of this, they will try other things when this lets loose and people will get hurt. I hope you understand. It's nothing personal."

I could suddenly feel the tears trying to start again. It wasn't fair. I hadn't done anything wrong, but they were going to punish me anyway.

"But.. I..."

"Billie. I know it isn't fair to you, but please understand, we have to protect the students here. To fill this job, you will have to work out here on a regular basis or it won't be fair to your co-workers. If you do, it will only be a disaster waiting to happen. We'll see to it that you can find another job. It just can't be this one. Okay?"

I couldn't say anything. So I just nodded. I was turning to go back and at least help clean up when the Chief stopped me.

"Billie."

I stopped.

"You should probably leave now. We'll take care of this here."

I nodded and slowly headed out. A security man was just coming in from escorting some of the students out. I wasn't paying too much attention to him until he spoke as I passed him.

"Well, if it isn't Disaster Dame herself. Gonna do something for an encore?"

I stopped flat. A feeling of incredible anger was rising in me. I was turning around when the Chief started in.

"JOHNSON! OVER HERE! NOW!"

I just stared at him while the Chief was chewing him out. Lt. Forsyth moved over to me.

"Let him handle this, okay?"

I stared at him for a moment and then turned and ran from the building. After I was out, I launched myself into the sky and headed straight up, as fast as I could go. I don't know how far up I went before I finally got tired of it. Then I had a good screaming fit. When I was done, I was tired and hungry, but at least I didn't feel like killing someone right then. I looked below me and could see that it was getting dark down there.

I could see the lights of a city below me starting to shine for the coming night. I put myself into a power dive and headed for it. Soon I was over it and I spotted what I was looking for. There were some fast food joints that weren't too far from a shadowed area I could land in. I had a twenty dollar bill on me and I was determined to take care of my hunger as quickly as I could.

I was soon able to walk into a Micky Dees. Then, on a sudden impulse, I went into the ladies room and straightened my face and clothes up. That done, I felt ready to face the counter and make my order. I was getting some attention from most of the people there, but I attempted to ignore that and waited for my chance to order.

I ordered three of their biggest meals and asked what it came to. I had enough left over to order another smaller meal also which left me a little change. I then took my bounty over to a table and proceeded to awe the people watching me as I ate it all. I had finished eating and was wondering if there was some way to get some more when a State Policeman came in and approached me.

I was going to try to ignore him, but he stopped right in front of me. I was forced to look up at him then.

"Miss Billie Wilson?" He asked very politely. I was getting nervous. I didn't think I had done anything wrong, but having a policeman question you can bring out all sorts of little sins you normally wouldn't think of.

"Uh. Yes. How can I help you?"

He seemed relieved. "I'm Officer Kelly. We were asked by the Whateley school to keep our eyes open and assist you if we found you. Do you need a ride back to the school?"

Great! Now I was being tracked by the State Police. What ever happened to the two day rule? I didn't even know exactly where the school was now either. So I would have a hard time finding my way back if it came to that. Everyone must think I was a runaway or something.

I gave him my best smile. "Uh. Actually, If you could tell me which way Whateley is and how far, I can get back there myself very easily."

He rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, your in Berlin, and Whateley is about fifteen miles that way. We don't have any orders to stop you, but I would appreciate it if you would let us take you back?"

Everyone in the place was staring at me or trying not too successfully to not stare at me. I could just imagine what was going through their heads right now. I thought I would die of embarrassment, but as that didn't happen I was stuck with getting myself out of the situation.

"I wouldn't want to bother you or take you away from your other duties..."

"It won't be a bother at all. I'd be glad to take you back."

For a moment I thought of just getting up and leaving. But that wouldn't be the best way to handle this either.

"Well, if it won't be a bother, I guess I could let you take me there. I can leave now if you want to."

"Right this way then Ma'am."

He escorted me out to his car and let me get in the front seat. Then he reported in and headed towards Whateley. We talked a little and I found out that his first name was Jim and that they got alerts all the time from Whateley. Sometimes it was for runaways and sometimes, like now, it was just to give aid or assistance as needed. He was actually very personable and I enjoyed the ride back as he told me some of the stories that he knew about some of the Whateley events.

He dropped me off in front of Admin where Chief Delarose was waiting for me. I said thank you for the ride and waved as he drove away. Then I turned back to the Chief. I was expecting to get chewed out all over again.

"Are you alright?"

"Yes. I'm fine. I'm sorry about the trouble I caused you. I just needed to get some space and vent a little.

"Well, after all, I wouldn't blame you for leaving. It really is a raw deal, but we can't take chances like that."

"I understand, it's just like everything is happening at once. It really doesn't seem fair."

"Care to tell me where you went? Besides where you showed up I mean."

"Up." I pointed up to emphasize the direction.

"You came down in Berlin?"

"I saw the lights, and I was hungry. I didn't get a chance to eat before everything started happening."

"Still hungry?"

"Some. Twenty dollars only goes so far."

"Yeah. It's highway robbery anymore. Well come on in. I think we can get you something to tide you over to breakfast."

"Thank you."

We went in and he watched me eat while asking me some more questions about me and how I came to Whateley.

"They'll contact me with information on the next job that they are willing to let me try?"

"You should know by Monday."

"Okay. I should go now. Have to get back and get ready for tomorrow."

"Fine, I'll probably be seeing you around."

"That a prophecy?"

"Lord, I hope not."

"Later."

"Later."

I headed back to Poe. When I got back to my room, Jade was full of questions about what had happened. By the time she graduates, she's going to be an expert in personal counselling, just from her experience with me.