Ayla and the Mad Scientist, the 9th Phase novel by Diane Castle, Chapter 22 – Les Trois Mousquetaires
Ayla and the Mad Scientist
CHAPTER 22 – Les Trois Mousquetaires
a Whateley novel
by Diane Castle
Could I accomplish everything in three minutes? I had to at least try. I ran across the room and went light, diving through the walls so I could cut down to the tunnels. I was pretty sure I lost some parts of the cloak in the process, but I was in a hurry.
As soon as I landed in the tunnel I wanted, I leapt down the straightaway and pulled out my bPhone. “Larry?”
“Yello! That you, Phase?”
“Yes, and I’m running late. Please go get the door open for me and prep the guard so I can get through pretty fast.”
I hung up on him and called Goldie. “Goldie. It’s Phase. I’m running late. Please take the stuff down to the women’s locker room. I’ll be there in seconds.”
Then I had to go heavy to stop at an intersection and change my direction. I still made it to the door into the holo sims in another ten seconds.
I swung the door open, to find Larry arguing with the security guard there.
The guard was saying, “…and we can’t just open the door and… Oh, hi.”
I stepped through the security system and said, “I’m late for a match in two minutes.”
Larry said, “You’re on hallway two with your team.”
I leapt down the hall, cut to the left, and dove into the women’s changing area. <(Phase) Finally here.>
<(Chaka) No way that li’l suit’s gonna fit you now, homegirl.>
<(Fey) And don’t ask me to magic it to fit you.>
I stood in front of my locker and went light so I could simply step out of the slightly-damaged cloak, the supertop, the supershorts, and the sandals. I lobbed all of them into my locker and slammed it closed.
<(Phase) I won’t.>
<(Tennyo) Not like we don’t know who we’re facing this time.>
I took the stuff from Goldie, starting with the piece that was like spandex shorts for boys, but with a specific place set inside it for the boyparts to sit. It had Velcro straps at the top and bottom, along with large high-bandwidth connectors on the legs and sides and waist. I hastily stepped into it, pulled it up, and adjusted my package inside it.
Okay, not having my balls hanging in the way facilitated matters. But I wasn’t going to say so to Jobe.
<(Lancer) We can always use Phase’s talents. And holdouts. And logistics.>
There were two ‘stockings’ with clearly-defined feet at the ends. Goldie held them out and helped me slide them up my legs. The ‘feet’ felt really weird, and gripped my toes in a way that made me want to scratch the soles of my feet.
<(Chaka) And secret weapons.>
<(Generator) And secretly being… NO FUN GUY!>
I pulled the Exemplar-girl torso on over my head, slipping my arms through the short sleeves and adjusting the thing until my boobs fit properly in the molded cups. While I did that, Goldie used the Velcro straps to secure the legs to the shorts, and then clicked together the electrical connectors. Then I pulled on the shoulder-length gloves, while Goldie velcro’ed and connected the pants to the torso. I tugged the headpiece on and let Goldie tug the Velcro into places for the sleeves and head. Then I hooked the torso connectors to the headpiece, while she took care of the connectors for the gloves.
She grinned, “Good to go.”
I looked at the clock on the wall. I still had thirty seconds. I dove through the wall into the corridor, went heavy, and leapt down the corridor to get to the door into the cubicle hallways. I phased through the door, leapt down the hall, and cut down hallway two, past the doors that were labeled already for my teammates. I saw that Lancer didn’t have a cubicle, but it was possible he had one on the Grunts’ hallway.
There was an open door that had ‘PHASE’ on a placard beside it. Thanks, guys.
<(Phase) I’m here.>
<(Chaka) ‘Bout time.>
<(Lancer) Signing off for the sim. I’m not on the other team either, just in case you wanted to know.>
<(Fey) We already knew.>
<(Chaka) Your ki totally gave it away.>
I ran in and sat down in the seat. Okay, the connection system was a lot more annoying with a velcro’ed, slapped-together suit. And sitting on a horde of cables and connectors was even less fun than it sounds. I was not going to do this again if I could avoid it. I was sure that the system would work, but comfort was clearly not a part of the design concept.
<(Generator) And you told us so on the way over!>
<(Tennyo) It’s not like Lancer’s never ever fibbed to us before.>
The speaker blared in Bardue’s dulcet tones. “TEAM KIMBA! Since you just got a new playmate in her chair, let me remind you. This is ‘Capture the Flag’! You will have a flag to defend. The enemy will have a flag for you to capture. Proceed!”
Wilson’s voice said, “Close headgear now, and starting sim in five… four… three… two… one.”
I closed my headgear on three, instead of closing it immediately. And yet I was still popped into the sim.
<(Phase) They’ll have Mule guarding their flag.>
<(Chaka) And we don’t have Lancer? What a gyp.>
<(Tennyo) Not a problem.>
<(Generator) Assuming you don’t get blown to pieces this time!>
<(Fey) Shh! I’m concentrating!>
<(Phase) Move back into the building so we’re out of sight from above.>
<(Shroud) Where’s our flag?>
* * * * * *
Bunker was looking forward to the sim. She was still really pissed off that those stupid Kimboids went guerilla and killed Slap. And she was pretty pissed off that they tried garroting her. Slapdash said he thought that it was nanowire, which made whatever controlled it a devise, and Generator was to blame.
Bunker was going to hit those bitches with her Fog Of War technique, and then blast the snot out of them up close and personal, like at a hundred yards with a grenade launcher. And if there was anything left after that, she was calling in an airstrike. Bomber would enjoy that.
She summoned up the Esper part of her PDP power and prepared to unleash it in a psychic storm that would have everyone except her team vomiting and faling over with vertigo. She…
She hit a wall like a psychic mountain. Her last thought was that she couldn’t believe that girly little mage could put up a protective barrier that fast…
* * * * * *
Deadeye tapped the button on his earjack. “Shot to Put. Still no sign of them.”
Bomber came back, “Flight to Put. I’m taking out all four target buildings.”
“Put to Flight. Negative on that. Repeat, negative. That will cost us the flag.”
Bomber said, “Flight to Put. You want Tennyo in your face? Fine. Not me. I’m going in now.”
“Shot to Put. What does Punch say?”
“Put to all. Punch is down. Her eyes rolled up in her head and she just keeled over.”
“Flight to Put. That does it. I’m on final.”
* * * * * *
<(Fey) Bunker down.>
<(Chaka) Wizards rule, Psis drool!>
<(Shroud) Mutant energy coming in, high up, really fast.>
<(Phase) Okay, time for the Fastball Special.>
<(Chaka) Did you buy Marvel just so you could say that?>
<(Phase) Says the girl who has the codephrase to activate her gloves.>
<(Chaka) Heh. Maybe I can use that.>
<(Generator) Oh please? I can’t wait to see Bardue’s face afterward.>
Tennyo knew what to do. She grabbed Phase around the waist and jetted upward, aiming to cut off Bomber. Not that she had much of a chance, when he flew at nearly three times her speed. But he didn’t have much maneuverability at that speed, and that was all part of Phase’s plan.
Well, one of Phase’s plans. Generator was right. Phase needed to dial it down some, because sometimes she was way too much like The Mad Thinker. And she could use that line on Ayla, because of the whole Marvel thing.
She could see that Bomber was already preparing two handfuls of plasma to hurl, and she was not going to intercept him in time. No, she was going to miss him completely, because he was zooming across the sky at maybe four hundred miles an hour.
But that was the whole point of carrying Phase. Without slowing down, she hurled Phase right at where Bomber would be in a second or so.
* * * * * *
Phase managed not to vomit into his headmask when Tennyo hurled him into Bomber’s path. Tennyo was already flying at about one hundred fifty miles an hour, and Phase had already prepped three attacks. Then Tennyo chucked Phase skyward, and when Phase went from heavy to light, that increased that speed by about a factor of ten. He was suddenly rocketing upward at an unmanageable speed.
And he was going to miss intercepting Bomber by at least two hundred feet.
That didn’t begin to deal with the large caliber sniper round that passed right through the center of his chest.
* * * * * *
Deadeye couldn’t believe the speed Phase was going after Tennyo through her at Bomber. He still didn’t miss, but it was a really tough shot. He shifted slightly so he could put two rounds through Tennyo.
Or rather, one round through her, and one that disintegrated before it hit her.
* * * * * *
Tennyo was furious. She no sooner heaved Phase at Bomber, and some jerk shot her! Right in the sternum! That did not feel good. And it wrecked her uniform. Could she get through one stupid sim without damaging her uniform? Just one!
Maybe Phase was right, and she needed a much more expensive uniform.
Her Warp shield was up before the second bullet hit, and the round disintegrated with a splash of energy. But that told her the direction to look for her sniper. She glanced up to see if Phase needed help.
* * * * * *
Bomber was already past the rising girl. He saw she was moving upward pretty fucking fast. She was way above him now, which meant he could ignore her. He had two big balls of plasma, and he was going to nuke two of the buildings that were their possibles. Then he’d swing around in a big arc and wipe out the other two, unless Deadeye had already sniped Tennyo and Fey. Those were the two he wanted out of the way first. The rest? Sidekicks.
* * * * * *
Phase didn’t have time to curse. He was rocketing upward at maybe half a mile a second, thanks to Tennyo, and he had let that sniper shot distract him when he needed not to be distracted. Bomber was already well out of reach with anything ordinary.
So he yanked out the combat maser he had already warmed up, and he shot Bomber in the back of the head.
By the time the maser was out of power, Bomber was falling like a rock, the plasma balls already exploding in mid-air alongside him. And Phase himself was maybe six miles up. Six miles up and still jetting upward. Which put him completely out of the rest of the sim unless he did something drastic.
* * * * * *
Fey did a simple barrier spell around the building, because she was fairly sure the Grunts would be attacking their location as soon as they could tell Bomber had failed. She still hadn’t found their ‘flag’ though. She did a small locator spell, but that just told her she was surrounded by a huge amount of cloth. Not helpful.
Chaka came running back with a big grin. What she insisted was a ‘leopard grin’, even if Fey would have described it a little differently back when she was a boy.
Chaka said in a sing-song tone, “Found it!” <(Chaka) Found our flag.>
<(Fey) G and Shroud? Outposts. They’ll be hunting down our flag now that Bomber’s out of the picture.>
<(Shroud) Tennyo’s really mad. I think I better go help her.>
<(Chaka) Come on, she doesn’t need help. You just wanna watch her rip those guys up.>
<(Shroud) Well duh!>
<(Fey) Let me use our flag to find theirs. Go make sure Tennyo doesn’t blow up all the target buildings before we can get their flag away from them.>
<(Shroud) Now you’re talking!>
* * * * * *
Deadeye got off three more sniper rounds into Tennyo’s mass. But she had some sort of high-end forcefield up, and it was taking care of everything he had. “Shot to Put. Shot to Put. Tennyo’s field is sniper-resistant, and she’s moving this way.”
“Put to Shot. Wait until she closes on your position, then when she’s too close to dodge, use Head’s anti-brick rocket launcher.”
“Head to Put. Bomber down and his attacks are wasted. I’m trying to hack street and building cams for surveil. No trace of… Wait, Shroud moving at maybe thirty alongside buildings, aiming toward us.”
“Shot to Head. No visible on Shroud yet.”
“Put to Shot. Ignore Shroud. Repeat, ignore Shroud. Intel suggests sniper rounds will have minimal effect, but she has low offensive threat potential. Focus on Tennyo, and find Fey if possible.”
“Mass to Put. Have found our flag, taking defensive position now.”
“Put to Mass. Roger that.”
* * * * * *
Tennyo was pretty sure Deadeye had to be on top of that twenty-story glass building in front of her. He took a couple more shots at her, not that she was worried as long as she had her Warp field up.
<(Shroud) Tennyo! Deadeye’s on the roof of the building dead ahead of you, and he’s got something that I can see through his camo. It’s solid purple, so it’s gotta be a big devise.>
<(Chaka) Don’t let that hit you, we don’t know what it’ll do.>
<(Tennyo) Roger that.>
She dove abruptly, darted to the side, and plunged through a tenth story window before Deadeye could do anything to stop her. She had an idea.
* * * * * *
“Put to Head. Put to Head. Tennyo just dove into the middle of Building Baker. We need cams now!”
“Shot to Head. I think Shroud may have followed Tennyo. Either that, or a funny-shaped cloud just went overhead at high speed and left a weird shadow underneath.”
“Head to Shot. Got building cams now, cycling through all security cams, and… Oh shit.” There was an audible gulp. “Tenth floor atrium. She’s floating above the floor and building some sort of glowing sphere between her hands. And she’s looking up. And Shroud’s just floating there, watching.”
“Put to Head. Got sound?”
“Head to Put. Roger that. Here we go…”
Shroud was chanting loudly as the sphere between Tennyo’s hands grew brighter and larger. Slapdash managed to find a sound source and cut it in. It sounded like…
“KA-ME… KA-ME… KA-ME!”
“Put to Head. Is this some kind of joke?”
“Head to Put. I wish. Shot? Get out of there right now, even if you have to jump off a twenty-story building. I don’t think they’re kidding.”
“KA-ME! KA-ME!” Shroud turned and pointed at the live camera and yelled, “KURAE YAGARE!”
Tennyo released the blast upward, and darted like a hummingbird off to the side, grabbing Shroud as she jetted past.
* * * * * *
Slapdash watched the camera as Tennyo unleashed whatever the hell that ball-shaped thing was. A cone of blue-white energy erupted upward, blasting everything in its path. And it didn’t stop at the ceiling.
He tried to switch to cameras on higher floors, but none of them were working anymore. He ducked outside and took a peek at the building, which was just across a parking lot from the building where they had their ‘flag’.
It was impossible. The building was erupting in a cone-shaped blast, like there was a volcano of pure plasma. And the cone took off the entire top of the building.
“Head to all! Head to all! Get indoors NOW! Building 3-C just went. The top quarter of it is gonna be raining down all over the surrounding streets!”
“Put to Head. Is that possible?”
“Head to Put. Just look out a fucking WINDOW! WHAT THE HELL DID THAT BITCH DO?!?”
* * * * * *
<(Shroud) Heads up! Tennyo just took care of their sniper. And his building.>
<(Chaka) Now that’s what I call a science fair volcano.>
<(Fey) Was that really necessary? The ley lines all over the place are reacting to that.>
<(Tennyo) He shot me! I mean, there’s a huge hole right through my uniform, and it hurt!>
<(Shroud) And he had something big and deviser-y too.>
<(Chaka) Like what?>
<(Shroud) Umm, I dunno. I just saw the color, and it was in some kind of big tube, so it had to be a devise. Or something that fired a devise.>
<(Tennyo) For all we know, it was something that interacted with Warper powers. In a really bad way.>
<(Fey) I just think you could have taken care of things without destroying all of downtown Whatsitville.>
* * * * * *
Breaker dashed down two flights of stairs, carrying Bunker as he went. He ran into a basement area that had an old ‘bomb shelter’ sign on the wall. It sounded like chunks of building were raining down on top of the building he was using as his base site, but it also sounded like the building was holding up. So far.
Maybe they were more pissed off than Lancer realized about that whole ‘nuke ‘em from orbit’ tactic Bomber used in their first sim. Still, if Kimbas vs. Grunts battles were going to turn into city-destroying nightmares of plasma blasts and whatever the hell that thing was, then Bardue was going to eat the Grunts alive. Maybe Breaker could ask for a sim that was without Tennyo and Bomber.
Then he’d still have Bunker duking it out with Fey. He looked down at the small body lying limply in his arms. Maybe that wouldn’t end so well, either.
The fact was that the Kimbas were one of the few teams on campus who would really give the Grunts a workout. Tennyo by herself could do that in a sim where she got to control the terrain. Or Fey. Bardue had shown him the Dark Tennyo and Dark Fey scenarios, and he wasn’t sure the Grunts could have stopped either, if the Dark Phoenix got enough time to prepare for Bomber. Dark Phase would be a bitch and a half: if you had no idea whether your intel was right, or whether you needed to listen to your opponent, you were paralyzed in the middle of your op while you were standing in a killzone.
He wasn’t going to say so, but listening to Bardue complaining about the Dark Generator scenario was the funniest thing so far this month. Generator really had a knack for getting under Bardue’s skin, and it wasn’t like Bardue was thin-skinned. The old buzzard could shrug off pretty much anything. Just not Generator. Breaker had thought he would burst out laughing when Bardue got going on Generator’s supervillain costume, and Generator’s attempt to turn her thirty ton golems into pink Hello Kitty monsters, and Generator’s pout when Bardue nixed her ‘evil laugh and supervillain gloating’ moment. No wonder the kid was in Poe.
He tried not to wince at the sound of thousands of small building fragments raining down on top of his site. “Put to all. ID, please.”
“Mass to Put. Still in position. No sign of opponents.”
“Head to Put. Still in position. Outdoor cams in a four block radius of Building 3-C are out. Interior cams in adjacent buildings are out. Power is out in a two block radius of the blast. All my tac sensors around Mass’s building are out. Shit is still raining down like a goddamn volcano went off up there. This is worse than dealing with Bomber!”
“Put to Mass and Head. It’s just us now. Punch is still out cold. Head, do your box breathing techniques. We can’t afford to have you ‘drick out when we’ve lost half our team already.”
“Mass to Put. They can’t get past me.”
“Put to Mass. Right. You stay on guard. Head, meet me at coordinate 6-F once it’s safe to move outside. We’ll move to enemy territory and go on offense.”
“Head to Put. Roger that. Have they lost anyone yet?”
“Put to Head. Dunno. Maybe Phase got fried in that energy cone. Maybe we took ‘em too lightly after we got in the first shot in sim one.”
“More like cheap shot, if you ask me.”
“Put to Mass. I didn’t ask.”
* * * * * *
Chaka grinned wickedly as she watched out the window. She was glad she wasn’t any closer to Deadeye’s building. Destroyed building chunks had finally stopped raining down all over the enemy’s turf. Since that blast cone had pretty much turned most of the upper building to dust, what came down was like Cajun blackened chicken: red-hot little cinder-like chunks she didn’t want to eat.
She snorted to herself.
Fey stepped up on one side of her. “What’s so funny?”
She said, “I was just thinkin’ about Ayles. ‘Litotes.’ She is so freak.”
Generator floated through the air on Chaka’s other side. “Sometimes I feel like I need a Phase-to-English dictionary.”
Fey said, “It would be a computer tablet and on the front it would say ‘Don’t Panic’.”
Chaka gave a little snort of laughter. “See? This is so much more fun than that Dark Phoenix garbage.”
Generator insisted, “Hey! I had a ton of fun in my Dark Me sim. Even if Bardue wouldn’t let me make my golems into big pink Hello Kitties. And I learned something important. Never ask him if you can do a supervillain laugh. Go do it, and then say ‘oh, you didn’t say not to’. That totally worked on my supervillainess costume. Did you see his face when he fussed about it?”
Fey said, “I’m gonna have to work on my Healing, so when you give that poor man a heart attack, I can save him.”
Chaka reminded her friend, “You sure didn’t have fun in the Dark Tennyo sim. Not at the end.”
Generator scowled, “Okay, I totally over-reacted for a sim. But that was dirty pool.”
Fey said, “I wouldn’t have had to do it if Bardue hadn’t discounted Plan A and ruined Plan B and threw a hissy over Plan C.”
Chaka grinned, “Or was that Plan H and Plan T? It’s hard to tell with Phase.”
Fey smirked, “Did you see all the plans she had for taking down Lancer?”
Generator snickered, “That would’ve been awesome. He flies in, and… BAM! Then Bardue makes us back up, and… BAM! And then Lancer blinks, and… BAM! Lancer would’ve so lost his temper by the tenth time.”
Chaka said, “It’s just a good thing Phase isn’t one of the bad guys. That would suck royally.”
Generator giggled until her two teammates turned and looked at her. “What? Phase? Royally? Weren’t you making a joke?”
Chaka admitted, “That girl is pretty much made for the royal ‘we’. When the teacher did that bit with the royal ‘we’ and the editorial ‘we’ in class and asked for examples, I put my hand up and just said, ‘Ayla Goodkind.’ Brought the house down.”
Generator said, “Techno-Devil says Phase used to be worse. A lot worse.”
Chaka said, “Man, I feel sorry for their maids.”
Fey said, “I looked that up. Maybe Traduce and her family treat their people like crap, but looks like the Goodkinds are kind of intense on not doing that. They pay their maids better than most small businesses pay the boss. And they bring in a personal doctor if the maid gets sick, they don’t make ‘em go through an HMO and all that. And they have huge pensions for them.”
Chaka said, “Well, Ayles was pretty bent outta shape about the slavery thing. Maybe they decided back then they were gonna be the complete opposite.”
Generator said, “Here’s what I don’t get. They were big on anti-slavery. They they were big on rights for black people after the Civil War. They were big on rights for immigrants, even the ones who weren’t popular. They were big on women’s rights, too. And they were big on civil rights in the Sixties. So why are they so down on mutants?”
Fey said, “Some day, we ought to tickle that answer out of her.”
Chaka said, “Just get Vox to ask her.”
Generator said, “I think it must’ve been mutant attacks on ‘em. Like way before Phase’s mom’s thing, which was pretty eww when Phase told us about it.”
Fey said, “Yeah, I don’t like the whole ‘kill all mutants’ attitude they’ve got going, but what happened to Phase’s mom? I wouldn’t wish that on Majestic. I wouldn’t even wish it on The Don.”
Chaka admitted, “Okay, that was pretty freakomatic. So what happened to the Goodkinds that was so bad they all hate mutants, but was so small it never made the news?”
Fey just looked at her for several seconds before she said, “That’s a really good question, pardner.”
Chaka watched the ruined building. One side of it, maybe floors eleven up to ‘disintegrated’, just ripped backward and fell over like the last part of the peel on your banana after you pull down the first segments. “That girl’s got some anger management issues.”
<(Generator) Hey Tennyo, feeling better now?>
<(Tennyo) Umm, yeah. Still got a huge hole in my new uniform. Maybe Phase is right.>
<(Chaka) Don’t say that on the comms! She already thinks she’s never wrong.>
<(Generator) I can’t get any new adamantium for your uniform. And there isn’t much else that’ll stand up to stuff you can pretty much ignore.>
<(Shroud) Superman never has this problem.>
<(Fey) Oh come on, that whole ‘unwove the Kryptonian baby blanket to make the uniform’ thing is so completely bogus it makes me sick. Have you ever tried to undo something like a baby blanket? And knots tied with Kryptonian strength? No way Ma Kent could ever get those untied. And weaving thread into cloth? There’s no way to make something like a supersuit without being able to cut all that thread hundreds of times. And it’s super-strong! You’d slice your fingers to pieces working with it!>
<(Chaka) Someone’s been trying to learn to knit from Bunny.>
<(Fey) Hush, you. You couldn’t weave cloth if your life depended on it.>
<(Generator) Just dare her to figure out how to use her ki to do it.>
<(Fey) No thank you. I like my fabrics in my room just the way they are.>
<(Tennyo) Hey! I got Breaker spotted. He’s moving out, sorta toward us and sorta off to the side.>
<(Shroud) Ooh, I got Slap spotted. Is Breaker going toward that building with the weird bent antenna thingies on top?>
<(Chaka) Probably weren’t so weird and bent before someone volcano’ed a skyscraper.>
<(Tennyo) I said I was sorry.>
<(Fey) Okay, I’ve got a barrier around our flag, and one around the room the flag is in, and one around this building. No way they’re getting inside with what they’ve got left, unless Slapdash is hauling around a big anti-magic raygun in his back pocket. And I used our flag and a little sympathetic magic to find their flag.>
<(Chaka) So Slap and Break are sneakin’ over to meet up for their big attack. They got Mule to guard their flag. Sounds like it’s time ta put Operation Daikon Baybee into action.>
<(Generator) And also Operation Two By Four!>
<(Tennyo) We would be so messed up if Phase hadn’t spoilered the sim for us.>
<(Chaka) Well, that’s what an intelligence officer is for. All the intel and the downlow and the sneakiness.>
<(Fey) Anyone thought about what a sim against the Bad Seeds would be like? They’re like secret evil intel twenty-four seven.>
<(Chaka) And there’s no way Phase would lay the smackdown on his li’l Jadis.>
<(Generator) Yeah. For somebody who’s built worse than me and has a face like a pickax, she’s sure got Phase all wrapped around her pinkie finger.>
<(Chaka) Come on, let’s move out before Snacky Chan gets his support on.>
* * * * * *
Breaker reached the meeting zone ahead of his schedule. He had expected the streets to be impassable in places, but it looked like all the debris from the eruption had rained down in pieces the size of his fist, or smaller. Some of it looked like dust and ash that was still drifting down. If he wasn’t in a sim, he would have already gone for his MOPP unit, just in case.
He made a mental note that if Bomber ever decided to tackle Tennyo for real, he wanted to be as far away as possible.
He hefted his weapon and moved forward. Since he was an Exemplar-5, he wasn’t restricted to the standard loadouts. He was carrying a heavy machine gun, instead of something like an SAW. He had a nice little M2HB Browning on a sling, so he could fire it from the hip. It only weighed about 85 pounds, which would have overburdened an ordinary soldier. It didn’t bother him. In fact, in addition to the weapon, he had two hundred pounds of belt-feed ammo in a loading box strapped to his other hip.
He cautiously stepped around the corner…
“YO! Breaker! BAY-BEE! Didja miss me?”
He pointed his M2HB at her mid-section and said, “I seldom miss.” He knew she was fast, but he had Exemplar-5 reactions. And an M2HB. He pulled the trigger. Maybe she could dodge a bullet, but there was no way she could dodge six hundred bullets a minute.
Nothing happened, except that she stood there and cocked one hip at him. He pulled the trigger twice more, with the same lack of results. Then he hastily went through a fast jam-clearing maneuver.
Chaka gave him a big cat-that-ate-the-canary grin and purred, “Whatsa matter, honey? Havin’ a little misfire? I hear it happens to guys sooner or later. They have medications for that nowadays…”
He grabbed his sidearm and fired at her. It jammed as well. He went for the hideout gun at his ankle. It jammed too! This was impossible, unless Bardue was deliberately cheating on the sim, or else…
Fey strolled out from around the corner with Shroud. The two of them just stood there, waiting for something.
Chaka grinned, “Oh yeah, a little magical firearm impotence. I figured you’d be all trigger-happy. So. You wanna win this sim? You gotta go through me. Mano a mano. Or in this case, mano a mujer. Maybe, mano a mujer muy atractiva, if ya wanna be specific. So… let’s get ready to RRUUUMMMBBBLLLEE!!”
Shroud asked, “You couldn’t just ask him to spar?”
Fey said, “There’s no popcorn around, either.”
Shroud said, “It would taste icky anyway, with all this stuff in the air.”
Breaker gritted his teeth. Were the Kimbas really taking not taking this simulation seriously at all? Or were they putting up a front to distract him? Fine, they could disarm him, but all he had to do was stall Chaka until Slapdash could move into position and launch a counterstrike. He slipped the sling off his shoulder and lowered his M2HB Browning to the ground. He pulled the quick release and dropped the ammo box. He didn’t take off his tac vest, with its built-in body armor.
He strode forward. Chaka was a very able martial artist, but she wasn’t an Exemplar-5, and she didn’t have his Energizer ability either. No matter how quick she was, she couldn’t dodge that.
Chaka bounced on the balls of her feet and did an odd little movement that looked almost like she was shivering. He had no idea what that was, since she was clearly not afraid of him. It looked as if her teammates weren’t too worried about her getting pummeled, either. Both of them were casually floating in the air like they were resting in invisible lounge chairs.
If he ever treated a sim this lightly, Bardue and Wilson would skewer him. Not that he ever treated sims lightly, holographic or not. It just wasn’t in his nature.
He instantly moved to Exemplar speed to catch Chaka by surprise. He went with one of his favorite combinations. A full-speed backspin kick, a forward step with a double punch, a front kick, and a side kick.
Chaka casually slid under the backspin kick, dodged both punches like she was hardly trying, moved to the side to avoid the front kick, and…
What the hell? She untied his shoe on his side kick! How was that possible? And why would she bother, except to taunt him?
He had heard she was faster than a low-level Exemplar should be, and she already had a variety of ki skills, but he was frankly surprised at how good she was. It was almost like fighting Sensei Ito.
It was time to get serious. She gave him the ‘come and get some’ gesture from a thousand bad kung fu movies, and she waited for his next move. He kicked at her knee, and as she dodged, he unleashed his Energizer power that was the basis for his codename. He blasted a sphere of force that could crack a concrete wall. He couldn’t control it any better than that. It didn’t discriminate between friend and foe. But he had no friends in this arena.
It erupted all around him.
But somehow, Chaka sensed it was coming, and tumbled gracefully backward, rolling with the blast like she was bodysurfing a rough wave. She ended up twelve yards farther away, and looking somewhat ruffled for a change. Her friends were untouched. There had to be some sort of magical barrier protecting them.
Chaka pointed at him and happily yelled, “All right! Now THAT’S what I’m talkin’ about!”
* * * * * *
Slapdash carefully stepped around the corner when he heard the noise. Uh-oh. Fey and Shroud were floating in mid-air, watching… Chaka sparring with Breaker? What happened to all of Breaker’s weaponry?
Stupid question, Slap. Fey was floating in mid-air there. He quietly holstered his Ruger and pulled out two deviser pistols, one for each of the ‘spectators’.
Then he softly stepped closer until it would be impossible to miss.
* * * * * *
<(Fey) I know.>
<(Shroud) Just thought I’d mention it.>
<(Fey) It’s covered.>
<(Shroud) What are you gonna… Oh. I see.>
* * * * * *
Slapdash stealthily stepped over the debris that might reveal his position. Then he took careful aim…
He never got off a shot. But then, he wasn’t expecting a ton of frustrated mutant to land on top of him at over a hundred miles an hour.
* * * * * *
Breaker heard the crash from around the corner. It sounded like another chunk of building had fallen out of the sky and landed in the street. He noticed that no one else bothered to look. Chaka didn’t even react. She just focused on him with a big grin.
Maybe these Kimbas really were crazy.
Or maybe they were over-confident.
He feinted with a kick at her knee and unleashed another Energizer blast. She somersaulted backward before he even released it, and she proceeded to do two back somersaults to put her out of the blast radius, followed by a tricky spinning gymnastics move that left her standing facing him in a perfect Tae Kwan Do stance.
Damn. Maybe these Kimbas were just that good.
* * * * * *
Mule heard the clatter outside the room, and watched as Generator came bouncing in. She gave him a big wave and a smile. “Hi! I’m here to steal the flag. You won’t mind, will you? I mean, it’s nothing personal.”
It was like being attacked by Hello Kitty. Maybe it was even less threatening than being attacked by Hello Kitty.
But it was probably a trick. As far as he knew, she had Fey and Tennyo and Phase ready to pounce, and none of them were pushovers.
But Generator wasn’t the pushover she appeared. She had fought Electrode in a combat final and nearly won. She had done something that had the Ultraviolents avoiding her like the plague. She had nearly destroyed the campus with those stupid shoulder angels, which Slappy said were a lot more sophisticated than they looked. And Bardue had let Generator lead off as the first Dark Phoenix scenario for the Kimbas, which said something dramatic about her.
Still, she looked… well, harmless. He knew Bunker looked harmless, when she wasn’t carrying her usual two hundred pounds of weaponry and she didn’t have that look in her eye. Bugs looked harmless, but had apparently built enough devises and gadgets to get her into the Order of the Worn Wrench in her first week on campus, which Slappy said was usually reserved for the big-name dangerous inventors, like Jobe and Knick-Knack.
Mule had been expecting to get Tennyo, who might be able to blast a hole in most forcefields. Or Fey, who he really wanted a rematch with, because that combat final had been deliberately skewed to handicap her before she even started. Or even Phase, who was apparently collecting as many holdouts as Slappy carried, but had an interesting array of powers too.
But… Generator? He made sure he was between her and the flag, which was really just a heavy triangle of canvas about the size of a dinner plate. How was she planning on getting past him?
* * * * * *
Breaker moved carefully, maintaining a proper stance as he changed positions. Chaka had yet to do much in the way of offensive maneuvers, but she might just have been learning what he could do.
She finally changed to a more offensive stance. She slammed her fists together, knuckles to knuckles, and yelled, “IT’S CLOBBERIN’ TIME!”
What was that supposed to mean? Yelling a line from a comic book was meaningless, unless she was just grandstanding for her friends. He had noticed that Phase had joined Fey and Shroud, and Slapdash had failed to show up. Breaker had to assume that was a bad sign.
Chaka slid sideways and launched a triple kick he had to backpedal to avoid. She had done something so she was at least as fast as he was. He knew Sensei Ito could do something like that with his ki, but Chaka was only fourteen or fifteen, wasn’t she? Wasn’t a ki technique like that supposed to take decades to develop?
She moved like lightning as he threw a combination at her, and somehow she just slid past every kick and punch in his arsenal. What was she doing?
He summoned up his Energizer power once more and let her have it.
She just stood there, pointing her hand forward like she was pretending it was a gun. She yelled, “Chaka Chaka Bang Bang!”
And some sort of energy burst erupted out of her hand, smashing into his sphere of force. She didn’t go flying backward. She wasn’t knocked unconscious. She dove through the opening her blast had created, rolled to her feet, and punched him in the jaw.
He went flying backward into a wall, and everything went black.
* * * * * *
Mule watched as Generator just bounced on the balls of her feet. She finally grinned, “You do know I’m just the distraction, right?”
He whirled around to see something absolutely impossible. Pixies were stealing the flag. Pretty little Fey images, in sexy short red minidresses, were carrying the flag off toward a now-open air vent at the back of the room.
They looked at him and yelled in tiny, high-pitched voices, “Pixie power!”
And with a whoosh they darted into the air vent and were gone. He whirled around, and Generator was flying away up the stairs faster than he could run.
How was he going to explain this to Bardue?
* * * * * *
“GRUNTS! FRONT AND CENTER!”
Bunker popped her headpiece off and clambered out of her chair. She hated losing, and it was all her fault those stupid Kimbas had asked for a rematch. She knew Fey was really powerful, but who knew she was that fast? She was used to Wizards like Diamondback or Kismet, who couldn’t just fire off a major spell with no prep time. But it looked like Fey could fire off something major as fast as she could blink.
She stomped down to Room 1 with the rest of the team. The Kimbas filed in behind her. She was expecting lots of high-fiving and celebrating, but they just sat down like they did this sort of thing every day. It was… It was humiliating. It was like what the Grunts normally did after a victory.
And then she had to sit through a series of pretty brutal video clips that the sim jockeys had cut together for Gunny. Fey knocking her on her ass. Phase sniping Bomber from above with an energy weapon. Tennyo ignoring a sniper round through the chest and then turning Deadeye’s whole building into Mount Saint Helens. Breaker losing a fistfight to Chaka, who showed off some moves that looked more like ‘Street Fighter’ and ‘Dragonball Z’ than normal martial arts. Slapdash moving carefully up into an ambush position… and getting ambushed in turn with Phase crushing him like a bug. And then Generator beating Mule. With a handful of fucking robot pixies.
The Kimbas were just as crazy as everyone said. What no one had said was that made them a lot more dangerous.
Then Slap couldn’t stop staring at the image of the three Fey pixies on the screen, and she had to slap him across the back of the head. Hard.
* * * * * *
I watched Bardue yell at the Grunts for ten solid minutes, pointing out everything he didn’t like about their strategy, their tactics, their maneuvers, and maybe even their toothpaste. He was getting pretty picky there at the end.
And then he turned to our actions, just as I knew he would. The first thing he said was, “Tennyo! How many innocent bystanders would have died if this was in a real city?”
She came back with, “How come you care about that now, and you didn’t care that Bomber blew up more than an entire city block?”
<(Lancer) Please don’t do this here.>
She said, “I didn’t want to! And it’s not fair they got away with it and didn’t get yelled at or anything!”
Bardue snapped his head to the side. “Breaker!”
Breaker sighed and said, “Not only did he yell at us for about half an hour straight, after you girls left, but he had us out running without using powers and carrying full backpacks at oh dark thirty the next morning.”
“Well. Okay then,” Tennyo said much more quietly.
Generator chipped in, using a high-pitched voice, “That’s very different!”
I gritted my teeth so I wouldn’t laugh out loud.
Bardue snapped, “Generator! Can the seven!”
Billie ducked her head and said, “Sorry. I figured after the first sim, it didn’t matter how much damage we did as long as we won. And I didn’t want to get shot again.”
Bardue growled, “You will not treat my sims as an excuse to blow the shit out of everything living thing you see! This is a training tool, not Legacy of Kain!”
“Sorry?” Billie whimpered, while Jinn and Jade both gave her hugs.
<(Chaka) Legacy of Kain? Boy, someone’s dating themselves.>
Bardue turned slightly and glared at Jinn. “SHROUD! What the hell did you think you were doing with those chants in that building?”
Jinn shrugged. “Well, I saw the camera up on the wall move and look our way, so I knew they hijacked it and were watching.”
“And that last thing you shouted?”
Jinn said, “I got it out of anime. It means pretty much ‘eat this!’. Maybe more like ‘bite me’ in English. But ‘kurae yagare’ just sounds so much cooler than ‘kiss my grits, Mel’.”
“And then you just stood around while Slapdash had the chance to sneak up on you?”
“Oh no, I wasn’t standing. I was floating,” Jinn replied. Before Bardue could explode, she said, “I was watching him move up on us, and I was tracking Phase when she was incoming, and Fey had a barrier up between us and Slapdash so he couldn’t hurt us.”
He turned and faced Chaka. “It’s clobberin’ time? Who do you think you are?”
She gave him a big grin. “Oh, it’s the gloves. They got a magic activation phrase, and it ain’t ‘Shazam!’ So I have to say it. Out loud.”
Jade volunteered, “She picked the phrase herself.”
Toni glared at her, “Ratfink.”
But Bardue wasn’t done. “So in the middle of a tactical simulation, you decided to go play ‘Street Fighter’ instead of doing your job.”
She shrugged, “Sorta. Fey had our flag all wrapped up in a bunch of magical shields, and we knew Bunker and Bomber and Deadeye were out. We were really sure Mule would be guarding their flag. So we just had to take out Breaker and Slapdash. I’ve been wantin’ to spar with him because of that ‘blast radius’ thing he does, and I figured a holographic sim was the best place to do it until I knew how much hurt he’d put on me. And it wasn’t like you’d have let me do it in a sim on my own.”
Bardue looked like he wanted to slap his forehead. Or maybe pound his head against the wall. He finally growled, “You kids have to take these things seriously! How can you prepare for real-world battles if you don’t?”
I figured I might as well attempt damage control, before Jade or Jinn said something that would set Bardue off. Or rather, would set Bardue off again. “We are taking these sims seriously. It may not always seem like it, but we do. But just because we take a threat seriously, that doesn’t mean we have to act like Nacht impersonators.” Someone snorted with laughter. “We still have faced more real threats than sim threats. And this is the way we’ve learned to cope. We will always smart off at villains, or make funny comments to each other. We’ve done it even when we were seriously injured in battles. Real battles against major supervillains. We’ve done it even when we were worried about one of us getting killed. There is no point in complaining about what is a viable tactic for us, because we’re going to keep doing it anyway. You’ll just miss out on the teachable moments. We’re here for strategy and tactics. We want to learn. But we also want to keep using what works for us.”
Bardue looked like he was going to explode like Billie’s building. But Wilson stepped up and tapped him on the shoulder. Bardue gritted his teeth, nodded his head, and stepped off to the side until his blood pressure could drop down below a thousand. Systolic.
Wilson stared at me and said, “You’re not the first chatty team. You’re not the first team that thinks they’re Spiderman and Deadpool – and yes, I know who owns Spiderman and Deadpool right now, so don’t say anything. It’s just that we’ve seen this before. A person or a team likes mouthing off to opponents, or trash-talking opponents, or making witty comments to each other. If they’re good enough, it’s fun for them. Right up until they run into That One Threat. The psycho who isn’t going wait for them to get that retort in. The monster that’s fast enough that they don’t have time to chat and fight both. Unlike in Marvel Comics, these people end up dead. We’ve seen it before. We’ll undoubtedly see it again. Some of Gunny’s favorite students have ended up smears on the pavement, partly because of this bullshit. We don’t like it. We don’t want to see it in the sims. This is serious business for us, because if we let shit like this slide… if we don’t do everything we can to prepare people… then kids die. And we have to live with that. Somehow.”
<(Lancer) Told ya.>
<(Chaka) Okay, so we don’t make Oscar cry anymore.>
<(Generator) We just keep it all on the comms!>
<(Fey) We can make it look like we’re serious. After all, we make it look like we’re sane.>
<(Phase) No, we don’t.>
<(Lancer) Everybody thinks we’re nuts. Even a lot of Poesies.>
I said, “Thank you for explaining your viewpoint, Sergeant. We’ll work on it.” Granted, that wasn’t a promise of anything, because even if a couple of us worked on it, a couple of us wouldn’t. And I sucked at keeping my mouth shut in a battle.
And Toni was frankly hilarious.
So Wilson did the wrap-up, and we ended up with at least two days off until our next sim battle. Which would probably be against someone like the Capes or Monster Squad. Or the Capes and Monster Squad.
But, as we walked down to the locker rooms to change out of our sim suits, Toni turned and hollered, “Hey Break! Let’s do this again! You were great out there!”
Bunker, who was stuck walking with us into the women’s locker area, growled, “Can you act normal for just ten minutes?”
Nikki added, “Or at least until we get out of Bardue’s hearing?”
I put as much exhaustion in my voice as I could manage. “Can we wrap now? I have a large list of tasks I still need to accomplish.”
Toni said, “Right. Hard orders to give…”
Nikki said, “Silver to have someone else polish…”
Jade said, “Cooks to boss around…”
I looked at Bunker and asked, “Can I change clothes over on your side of the room?”
* * * * * *
7 pm, kitchen crew bathroom
Belphegor washed his hands again, so he could move on to a new, boring, humiliating kitchen task. At least they let him eat what he wanted, when he wasn’t cooking or cleaning or something else demeaning.
He looked at himself in the mirror. He still hadn’t gotten over it. He sure didn’t think he’d get a punishment like Jobe had given him.
He was completely back to normal – other than some bruises and abrasions that he had picked up before he managed to run from the girls’ bathroom. And he still couldn’t fully get the taste of that soap out of his mouth. Now he knew that in theory you could modulate your PK force so that you could wedge a bar of soap inextricably between someone’s upper and lower jaws without destroying the integrity of the soap bar in the process.
But his acne, which had embarrassed him for several years, had mostly cleared up. He needed a haircut, but he had wanted to get one before. According to his scale, he had lost about six percent of his body fat and was now well below Carson’s demand on his weight loss – even if she was certainly going to hold this minor little indiscretion over his head when he asked for his anti-grav chair back.
And he’d gotten to look in the girls’ bathroom for almost a minute, before things went pear-shaped. He still had a smile on his face about that, even after the business with the bar of soap.
He asked his reflection, “Bloody hell, you think Jobe would let me take a dose of that stuff again?”
* * * * * *
the same time, Crystal Hall
“You’re telling me the fracking Kimbas are now 1-1 against the Grunts? THE GRUNTS? The ‘nobody has beaten us yet’ Grunts?”
“Yeah. The only person I know who isn’t in shock is that goddamn Hazard. You’d think she had inside info or something.”
“You know, I really hate precogs.”
“Well, no one asked you to BET with one, moron.”
“What I wanna know is if it’s true Generator beat Mule.”
“Whoa! Generator? The little pipsqueak who hides behind Tennyo all the time? She beat Mule?”
“What I heard is she did it with little robot pixies.”
“You’re shittin’ me.”
“Unh-uh. Little tiny robot Fey pixies. In naughty red Christmas dresses. Bunker was cussing about it for like two hours straight. And extra pissed because they all looked like Fey in sexy dresses, and Slapdash couldn’t stop starin’ at ‘em.”
“Little tiny Feys in naughty red dresses? Who the hell wouldn’t stare at that? What? Oh crap, my girlfriend’s standing right behind me, isn’t she?”
* * * * * *
the same time, Peeper’s room
Peeper stared at the thing on his desk. He was afraid to touch it, given everything that had happened to him lately. It was probably a trap. An evil, unfair trap that he didn’t deserve. “Greasy! Check that out. Pronto!”
Greasy stepped over and looked at a square of paper on the front of it. “Umm, Peep, it’s a present. For you. From Phase, I guess, even if it doesn’t say. It says ‘you have seen the stick; this is the carrot’.”
Greasy picked the thing up. It looked like a tablet computer, if you had a screen that was over a quarter-inch thick plastered across the top side of it. He gingerly flicked the on switch, and it powered up. “Hey! It’s a WiFi-enabled net tablet. And it’s already synched to the school intranet.”
Peeper groaned, “What good does that do me? I can’t see computer screens anymore. My power. It’s a blessing… but it’s also A CURSE!” He looked up at the ceiling and yelled, “CURSE YOU, EYEBALLS!” He sighed, “What’s it supposed to do that it’s a carrot?” He looked over at the stupid tablet, and choked.
He could see the screen.
HE COULD SEE THE IMAGES ON THE SCREEN!
For the first time in almost a year, he could see a computer screen! He yanked it out of Greasy’s hands and repeatedly kissed the thick screen. “Oh, you wonderful, wonderful carrot!”
He looked at Greasy and gasped, “I can surf the Internet again! I can watch porn again! IT’S A MIRACLE!”
The screen flickered, and words suddenly appeared. If you harass campus girls again, this will stop working. You have been warned.
“No… I…” He clung desperately to the tablet. He could watch porn. Or check out hotties. Porn. Hotties. Porn. Hotties. He couldn’t decide! It was torture!
He turned to Greasy and choked, “I’M IN HELL!”
* * * * * *
the same time, Melville first floor
Majestic was surprised that there was mail in her mailbox. On a Sunday.
All right, she shouldn’t have been surprised, after this morning. An email had arrived from outside the Whateley firewalls, supposedly sent from a library computer at Oxford. It had been a copy of a journal article.
It was a journal article by two classicists, an ethnographer, and a religious historian, published in a reputable journal. And it was a discourse on reasons why the ancient Greek and Roman polytheistic religions were inherently flawed.
She had lost her temper and inadvertently destroyed her laptop, as well as her desk and her window. She had been able to repair the window and wall and desk, but not the laptop. Unfortunately, destroying a school laptop was a Whateley offense. Some house mothers had no idea to whom they were giving punishments. And she was going to have to see Carson again, which she really did not look forward to.
Even more annoying, whoever sent the email to her was competent. She had ordered Knick-Knack to trace it, and he couldn’t find any evidence that it really hadn’t come from the Philosophy and Theology Faculties Library, which was one of the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford. But there was no one at the whole of Oxford with a username of “D’you Know”. And it didn’t take a genius to realize that ‘d’you know’ sounded remarkably like ‘Juno’. Given that it was not widespread knowledge that she truly was Hera, she had to suspect that this was a twisted little bit of vengeance from Phase.
Majestic very carefully checked her mailbox and the letter for curses, jinxes, geases, and a dozen other types of magical threats. Then she checked for biological threats, since Phase was involved in some way with Jobe these days. She made one of the freshman girls open it, just in case.
The girl opened the letter, unfolded the single sheet of paper, and beamed, “Ooh, it’s a prezzie!”
She snatched the paper out of the girl’s hand. It was an announcement that she was going to be receiving, once a month, a personalized collection of episodes of the television show “Hercules”.
Namely, all the episodes with Hera as the villain.
By the time she stopped screaming in raw fury, the entire mailbox area had been reduced to molten metal.
* * * * * *
the same time, Poe cottage, second floor
I was tired of dealing with everything that was essential if a campus student happened to change form. Unfortunately, growing five inches in a weekend counted. I wondered if Nikki had been saddled with this when she had gone through her ‘maturation’ back in the fall, and if so, how I had missed it. Or perhaps Carson was just forcibly reminding me that I had not gotten off scot free.
Admin had insisted on a new campus ID, along with appropriate corrections to my MID. That had been suitably annoying, even if I didn’t have to deal directly with any MCO officers.
While I was doing that nonsense, I had called Paul and told him I had a ‘growth spurt’, so all the fake IDs he was arranging for me needed to be redone with the correct height and weight.
Then I had called Gracie and given her a heads-up. She was thrilled that I was having another ‘growth spurt’ after I had been at the bottom of the growth charts for so long. She was so happy for me that I couldn’t bring myself to tell her it wasn’t normal teen maturation. She sent me a couple new pictures of her ‘project’ she was doing for me, and let me know the project was even half a week ahead of schedule on the bottlenecks. She might have changed outwardly, but inwardly she was still more Greg Goodkind than she liked to realize.
And after that, I had called Cecilia Rogers to schedule some time in her boutique. Fortunately for me, she had several free hours. I had just needed to persuade at least one person to give me permission to fly into Dunwich for new clothes. Hartford would undoubtedly have been a hardass about it, but I was standing there in bare feet, a supertop and supershorts, and a cloak that had become fairly ragged around the bottom due to a little density-altering disintegration. I had no trouble getting signed permission to go get some clothes.
Before I flew to Dunwich, I had called Jody and asked her to move all my old clothes and shoes into storage, keeping only the few things I might still grow into. She was happy to help me out.
I really needed to teach Jody about not letting people walk all over her, even if it meant that she might say ‘no’ to me in future.
Not that I needed any more people saying ‘no’ to me. I had an entire team full of them already.
I had called the salon that I used every other week, and got a special appointment to handle my sudden ‘hair extension’ problem. Then I had simply run in the direction of Dunwich and gone light. At that speed, I neared Dunwich in no time, and I went heavy before I missed Cecilia’s boutique by about five blocks.
After I had stepped into Cecilia’s measuring machine and been laser-scanned, I put on what clothes I had and walked down the street to get my hair repaired. It took them over an hour to cut it to the short, new wave style I liked and also dye it to the black color I used to have.
Then, when I had returned to Cecilia, she already had four Whateley uniforms, a pair of silk pajamas, two suits, and a new bathrobe ready for me. I had changed into a school uniform while she worked on a sim suit and a new uniform for Phase to wear in battle, and I arranged to have everything driven up to Poe.
While I had been stuck in the chair at the salon, I had worked on getting my testes to drop. Once I finally managed that trick, I worked on retracting and releasing them on command. So when I went back to see Cecilia, she could design my supersuits differently. I no longer needed extensive padding at the crotch, along with padding to hide the bulge down there and make the extra material seem to flow into the natural contours. Cecilia redesigned the padding for my supersuit and for under my gi so that it was little more than a strip of kinetic gel between my legs and coming upward to cover Mister Happy. I wouldn’t even have to have special ‘extra roomy’ Whateley uniforms over my supersuit anymore.
Not that I was ever going to admit to Jobe that I was getting advantages out of the retractable testicles.
And then I had returned in time for early dinner at the cafeteria with the team. That was fortunate, because the chefs had a treat for me. A rich boeuf bourguignon avec chanterelles atop some exquisite homemade egg noodles with truffles combined into the noodle mixture for a rich, sumptuous repast.
And, if that hadn’t been a good enough treat, Vanessa was waiting when I came back to my room, and she wanted to see the ‘new me’.
As we cuddled together, I told her, “You know Nessa, I never ever thought I’d say this, but boy am I glad to have C-cup boobs now.”
She smiled naughtily, “I think they look gorgeous. Let’s see how sensitive they are…”
It turned out that they were very sensitive. Vanessa spent the next couple hours teaching me that lesson.
Okay, lots of things have an upside if you look hard enough for them.
* * * * * *
the same time, somewhere else
Nimbus slipped into his most private work area. Not even the people who worked with him on a day-to-day basis knew about this lab. Not his minions, not even his most loyal lieutenant. Only his lover knew about the lab, because she had helped him design the seals and wards. He made sure that all his magical seals were in place and all of his anti-eavesdropping devises were active, before he got to work.
He carefully checked over the latest information provided by his pawns. It had taken him a considerable amount of indirect effort through those minnows to trick that little cockchafer Belphegor into sabotaging Jobe’s serum, but the results had been well worth it.
After almost half an hour of study, he sat up, his eyes alight with excitement. “Yes!” he crowed. “This is perfect!”
His timeline grew tighter every day – he had not much more than a year at this point – but at last he had the success he had needed for so long. The child Jobe had done it for him. Nimbus detested the arrogant little brat, but – no matter that the boy was so much younger and so much more inexperienced than he was – the child had solved so many of the problems Nimbus had been facing.
Nimbus grinned evilly, “This will give me just what I was hoping for. And I’ll have sufficient time now for the next two steps in my master plan.”
The first trial of his technomantic transforming drug had been an unmitigated failure, even though he had sacrificed twenty-seven souls in a necromantic ritual to power the serum. Granted, she was now a mutant and still alive, but hardly viable. The second trial was only a success in the loosest meaning of the word, despite three times as many sacrificed souls. Three of his seven objectives had not been met, even if the little wretch had successfully been turned into a mutant. But with this new information, he would succeed.
His third trial would be everything he had ever wanted.
And David Goodkind would never be the same again.