Wednesday, October 10th, 2007,
The Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Marie 'Flashbang' Schultz brought a spare cup of technical mocha – an unholy mix of instant cocoa stirred into devisor-brewed coffee with a Skilcraft pen – with her when she sat down next to her friend Madelyn 'Hydroflux' Wicker. "Penny for your thoughts, Chief Engineer?"
"You aren't going to hold that over me all year, are you?"
"I'd hold a torch for you if it would cause Eruption to have a heart attack, choke, and die."
"Please. Don't tell me about whatever he's done until I'm more awake. Other than that, what's on your mind?"
"What are the odds of essential services for the school being taken out by a freak accident hours before a bomb cyclone hits us, with a metric buttload of essence mixed in for the hell of it?"
"I expect that Kodiak and Company will be using it any day now as an excuse to start noodging for advanced comms gear, transport, and weapons that they can't pay for. If they get what they want, then right after that everyone else is going to want a piece of the action. You know that some of those folks won't take 'no' for an answer without causing trouble. I don't think we can afford to wait until January to tap the incoming freshmen."
"Yeah. I've already been hearing complaints from sophomores being pressured into joining off-the-books training teams, some of whom are using off-the-books training venues."
"To think that Corporal Mahren thought Mandy and I were reckless..." Marie didn't really miss the Marine at all, but she hadn't wanted him dead either, and ... yeah. "So, what do we do?"
"Looks like we're going to need an updated list of incoming gadgeteers and devisors. While we're at it, let's think about finding some sophomores and juniors who're willing to be a big brother or sister for a handful of freshies who aren't up to speed on how things are supposed to run. They'll have a better bargaining position if there's someone they can run to when things go sour."
Leper Colony (Secure Biohazard Labs), The Workshop
"I do appreciate the misguided concern for my 'feelings', but I'm ill-suited to coddling a pack of wet-behind-the-ears novices when I do have more important work to do. However, if by some ungodly arrangement of the stars the alternative is Bel-fahrvergmcnuggets-and-fries, Glitch, or Delta Spike – I presume the goal is survival as well as education and 'bonding'? – then Belphoebe and I would be delighted to assist."
"I can't ditch the feeling that we just struck a deal with Maleficent back there."
"Let's not give the Crown Princess ideas."
Joe 'Jericho' Turner was intrigued by the pitch. "You'd like me to break loose some time to help expose our latest crop of Initiate Engineers to the Customs and Traditions of the Workshop, and set their tender feet upon the path to the bright futures that lie ahead? Why, ladies, I would be delighted. I'll be at the meeting with bells on!"
"... and that was what we were afraid of."
"Oh, sorry, Jericho. We were going down our list of people to talk to. Some are more congenial than others."
"I know the feeling."
"Remember to identify a few we don't mind losing."
Tuesday, October 16th, 2007,
The Workshop, Whateley Academy
"We have folks in Hawthorne? As in, more than one? How does that happen?"
"Compiler still has those motor control issues. Eldritch is living there as an RA. Then there's Roulette; she's the devisor with a burnout problem and Dial H-for-Hero powers."
"Metro's a gadgeteer. Not sure what his problem is, but he's on the special kids' meals program and getting headshrinking twice a week."
"Yay, Diedrick's. At least we don't have to worry about ending up with UltraViolents on the roster."
"What have you been smoking, and why don't you share? Generator, Eldritch, and Metro are all UVies."
"On second thought, drickers aren't so bad after all. Has anyone checked Compiler for a WIZ trait? It sure looks like combining tech and magic leaves you loopy"
"Why not ask Nephandus about that?"
"Four out of five? The exception supports the rule."
"Let's volunteer Techno-Devil to roust out the Thornies. There's a chance he won't say or do anything too stupid."
Thursday, October 18th, 2007,
It would have had to be this year that the Order would change its induction procedures. The past couple of years they'd called everyone in at once, then bored them to a stupor with introductions and presentations. As a predictable result, each meeting had been good for one to two hours of the entire Engineering track looking the other way while he checked up on projects he'd farmed out to jealous inventors who'd choose drinking hemlock over comparing notes like professionals. Now? Maybe an hour.
Clearly, he would need to arrange more of a distraction for the attendees. Nimbus smiled at fond memories of decades-past schoolboy tricks. His closest minion might not enjoy the effects, but that added to the attraction.
Friday evening, October 19, 2007,
First sub-basement of terraria, Hawthorne Cottage, Whateley Academy
"Dispatch, this is Shortstop, over."
"Shortstop, Dispatch, roger, over."
"Dispatch, Shortstop is going black for the next two hours. Monitoring this channel. Over."
"Shortstop, wait, out."
"Shortstop, Dispatch. Permission granted, out."
"Marvin, mark the time, set a reminder in a hundred and ten minutes."
"Oh, very well. It isn't as if there were any other tedious minutiae over which to waste cycles that could have been put to productive use."
"What can I say? It's a low-res world."
The waiting sophomore was willing to give the skit a 5.9 from the Bulgarian Judge, if only because the aquarium in this guy's room was huge and its plumbing was seriously custom. "Dude. The police procedural routine was amusing, but leave the bad boy badge here. The last thing we need is to have Security run into this meeting looking for a UV who's gone off the reservation."
"Did anyone mention that the towering spire of Apocalyptic Evil behind you is attached to Security?"
"Let's just say my escort requirements are met or exceeded. By the way, Mal? Paige Donner – the blood-rager down the hall – is Medawhila. You might want to consider being more chill with comments about the Rez."
The Order had waited until January to tap candidates because the Winter Term course selections were usually a better indicator of student interests than Powers Testing results. Thanks to certain myopic advisors, many tech-track students didn't have a Workshop class of any kind until then, anyway. The bare handful that had their own assigned bays or even labs, like Smithy and 'Shine, didn't count. They were dead-certain to qualify. Whether they'd advance very far was another matter, for the review boards to decide.
After introductions, greetings, and the mood-breaking dad joke, Hydroflux was ready to cut to the chase. This was an engineering club, not a soft sciences hug and tug.
"In the past, the Order tapped candidates at the start of Winter Term. However, last year, one of our own was beaten and nearly killed because... because... no one was willing to stand up for him. I've heard both sides of it, from the sources, and that's the best I can tell you. There have been enough other problems and events that we decided to move things up a bit. So! Here we all are today: the devisors and the gadgeteers of Whateley Academy. Take a good look around because these are the folks you'll be turning to for advice, spare parts, trades, and challenges. For the existing members, I'll adjourn and then you can have your mixer back in a few minutes. For the newcomers, we'll be breaking you all into small groups and handing you off to an Initiate who'll give you the low-down. That way if it takes you all night to get a clue, you won't be keeping everyone else away from their projects. Meeting adjourned."
Midway through the organized chaos that followed, the school's Least Well-Dressed sophomore stood up on a chair. Given the risk that his kilt was being worn 'regimental', nearly everyone shut up for the sake of getting the wardrobe horror over with. "For those who don't know, I'm Jericho. For those who do know, I'm still Jericho. Metro, Roulette, 'Shine, Smithy. Gather round, my little chickadees, you're with me."
Amy 'Roulette' Maguire leaned over to ask her fellow Thornie, Mads 'Metro' Jensen, "Didn't you say that Smithy is your lab partner in chemistry?"
"Yeah. Figuring the fix is in?"
"They would have to be stupid to group people who hate each other, and we're the two freshmen most likely to need a medtech."
"Smithy and I have Dr. Tenent for an advisor. Jericho's likely to have a pocket breathalyzer in his kit, so that covers 'Shine."
"We're all too young to drink."
"There isn't a chance in Hell he's not carrying samples. But you're forgetting that the pocket jobs work by flagging ketones and aldehydes, making them a dual-use tool."
"Looks like an algorithm, gigos like an algorithm, just might be an algorithm."
Jericho bustled the four freshies off to the side so he could speak and be heard. Whether he could hear them without a shotgun mic? Roulette and Metro were already having a low-pitched conversation he'd need an amp for. Conversely, if her lungs ran proportionate to her height and size, being heard wouldn't be a problem for Abelyn 'Smithy' Elliott. The same couldn't be said for Bobby Earl "'Shine" Fields: between a Southern drawl and mountain twang, his voice didn't carry none unless someone got him good and riled up. Riled, not angered. Cross a line with one of those old-school Southern boys, and you'd never hear him coming. Ah, showtime!
"Boys and girls, your good pal Uncle Joe is here to lay some wisdom down on you! After that, we've got a scavenger hunt set up to make things interesting. It may seem childish now, but it's one thing to know where the Temporal Physics Labs are, another thing to find out for yourself when they keep their ice cream bars. You'll thank me later."
Roulette spoke up, "Jericho? Have you considered that a quieter location might work better for this?"
"I'd love to, but my lab's set up for the vision-impaired. Freshmen usually don't have much in the way of allocated space down here, so that's a non-starter."
"Why don't ya read your roster again?"
"Ah think she's pointing out that Ah've got a secure lab assigned to me. The trouble bein' you're all under-age."
"Ain't nobody 'underaged' for a blacksmith's shop, Tex."
"Ah'll have you know I'm from East Tennessee, not no Texas."
"Here I was, giving you the benefit of a doubt, and you just had to go and ruin it!"
"No fighting, kids. That's for after we're through here. You've got a blacksmith's shop set up?" Jericho paused to let his brain catch back up. "Smithy. Right. Of course you do."
Amy said, "If it's no difference to the rest of you, I'd like to see the shop."
Smithy's forge, Fabricators' Row, The Workshop
Jericho gave the group a few minutes to gawk or, in one case, to panic over the Other People Touching Their Stuff. "If everyone could please gather round a workbench and give me your attention?" That had always worked for his schoolteachers back in Texas, hadn't it? Oh, wait. It hadn't. Not with Crazy Joe Turner and the Carter Twins involved. "Do I need to break out the paisley cape that just came in? It's got metallics!" That got their attention. "No? Good. Now, where were we?
In the spring of 1969, the original Chief Engineer was but a freshman here. Guy named Gizmatic, and Princess Jobe won't let you forget it. He was on his way to a class when he happened to run across two 'flashy' mutants extorting labor from a brother Devisor. Who among you has not had the fruits of their genius cheated from them by those who thought we were the designated victims of this school?
For you freshmen, that should be a rhetorical question, but "Never again!" is the response phrase."
Metro piped up, "By the way, who're you calling 'flashy' with that Loud Clan MacLeod thing on?"
Right. I've got the Thornies. Oops. Out loud, he said, "Aside from the lovely ladies of Wondercute, that would be the folks around the school you can point to and say 'Look who won the genetic lottery.'"
Smithy said, "That would be us."
Jericho removed his sunglasses. "In case you hadn't noticed, I'm blind."
The lack of iris or pupil in either eye would do that, but he did get around well enough.
"Some of you have seen my friends Diamondback and Razorback around campus, right? Officially, they have severe Gross Structural Dystrophy. Unlike Metro here, they've never had a nurse run out of their room crying, or an UltraViolent kid piss himself when he walks into the room."
"Why does everybody think ... Maybe Rottie has a bad prostate? Did anyone consider that?"
"Razor has a keen sense of smell. Rottie was having no problems holding it before you BTFO'd him and he hasn't been quite the same since."
"Then there's Roulette, who would qualify as flashy on her exemplar days as long as she doesn't have another burnout. Next, we have 'Shine, who'd be with the Underdogs if his work with distilleries wasn't so lucrative."
Bobby Earl took that in stride. "Aside from gettin' picked on all the time, they're just people like anyone else. Hell, I'd be happy enough making moonshine back home, mutation or not."
"Now that that's settled, let's get back to our good ole pal Joe Wilkins. He intervened on behalf of his brother in creation. For his trouble, he was beaten within an inch of his life, spent two months in the hospital, and then was forced to repeat his freshman year on account of the classwork missed. The perpetrators of this lynching only received a week of detention each after leaving him for dead! The message sent was that anyone could beat up a devisor and no one would care!
Therefore, the first Chief Engineer swore each Devisor and Gadgeteer to this fellowship. Any of us can invoke the call of the Worn Wrench when they are threatened and all will heed the call. For if they fuck with one of us..."
"Leave their lives a smoking ruin?"
"Er, while poetic, that is a bit more overkill than we're going for here. The response we're looking for is 'They fuck with all of us!'. Think of it more along the lines of 'counting coup' but with more cool."
While they were still orbiting the subject of the Order, Amy asked, "The Chief Engineer – right? – said something about one of our own nearly dying last year. What was that about?"
"Someone let a pissed-off Tansy Walcutt assume that Peeper and Greasy installed a video camera in the Venus, Inc. changing room. No-one stopped her from tracking them down. Peeper didn't even have the chance to blame Greasy before she knocked him out. Still, no one felt like calming her down, so she took her rage out on Adam. I was allowed to test out some equipment towards his healing, but it's a miracle he survived. Exemplars can pack a hell of a punch. Long story short, Queen Bitch was shown in front of the whole school how easily she could be brought down to eat a slice of humble pie by us little people.
Now, if you end up getting hurt by some brick in the MA and self-defense classes, that's all on you. You three in 4th period BMA should know that by now."
Roulette shuddered at some of the injuries she'd seen, then remembered something more amusing. The light in Amy's eyes danced with mischief. "Yeah. The bonfire and the flood were quite the eye-openers, right Mister Yensen?"
"It was an accident, mostly. Whatever happened to 'What happens on the mat, stays on the mat'?"
"It helps to still have the mat left afterwards."
"Now, now, kids! Let's move on to the fun part! Hazing!"
"Is this thing going to be competitive?"
"What do you think?"
"In that case, a bit of pest control is in order." Metro pulled out a small device, put a finger to his lips and smiled.
The manual de-bugging went fast because, having been raised by a devisor, Roulette knew a thing or ten about basic security and what to look for. Once an uncomfortable number of miniaturized transmitters were collected in a small dish, Metro mentally asked Valravn to drop in. Seeing Metro wrap his UV band in aluminum foil gave Jericho and Roulette the necessary seconds to protect their own gadgets against the EMP generated by lightning bolts bounced hand-to-hand by Valravn.
'Shine said, "Y'know, I don't think I've ever seen you do that in BMA class."
Valravn said to Metro, in his usual deadpan manner, "Shouldn't you be in your tank instead of terrorizing the normie?"
"Amy's not a normie. She's taking Magic for N00bs too."
"Our section has more people transferring in than out, unlike sixth period, I can't imagine why," the purple-haired Thornie drawled. "For what it's worth, Mads and I both could have signed out lab space in Kirby."
"I was referring to Mr. 'Grand Ole Opry' here."
"What's so wrong about the Opry?"
"Nothing, if you have a malignant hankering for jug bands and mandolin. "
Smithy rolled her eyes. Boys. Can't live with them, can't stuff them in a barrel until they're eighteen and useful for something. "Now that hardly anybody's listening, would someone like to fill me in as to why some of you thought Jericho here must've drawn the short straw?"
"And on that happy note, I'm out." Valravn disappeared before Bobbie Earl could respond to his comment.
Amy said, "No offense meant, but moonshining and blacksmithing are seen by most folks as low-tech specializations. That's you and 'Shine. Mads has a Gadgeteer rating mostly because he can't stop fiddling with his gear. Me? I'm only a devisor one day in five."
"From what I gather, that one day in five tops half the Shop. Anyway, y'all might want to hand the scavenger hunt instructions to someone other than me and Metro."
"Huh? Why? I can be good with directions."
"I can admit that I don't strictly follow directions. Mr. ADHD here supposedly pays attention to safety, but anything else in Chem lab is a struggle."
Bobby Earl asked, "Y'all think they pulled the 'sign your name at the top of the page and turn it in' trick?" Before Abbie could get a free shot in, he added, "We do have schools back where I'm from."
Smithy made a maybe-kind-of-sorta gesture. "You've also got to watch out for creative uses of logic operators in the wording. That goes double for used car salesmen, balloon mortgages, and mages."
"I'll have you know I've never engaged in balloon mortgages!"
Smithy just favored the three normal students with an arched eyebrow See what I have to put up with? look, and thanked heaven that Valravn hadn't stuck around to volunteer information about the illegal, immoral, or fattening things that Metro has actually engaged in. She didn't want to know about the first two, and actively disbelieved that third option.
At this rate, the four freshmen would be wasting the next several minutes getting to know each other's red buttons, and Joe's bladder was feeling his caffeine habit kick in.
"Let's take five," Jericho said, "I've got to go visit the little boys' room. Back in a few."
Metro stared at Jericho's back until he was well out of sight. Then he turned to the rest of the group.
"Which one of you spiked his coffee?"
'Shine shook his head. "If I did it, he wouldn't be walking all that straight. I can't imagine he'd handle corn liquor well."
"You didn't see me bringing any brownies, or you'd've already gotten into them."
"I should be so lucky."
"Guys?" Smithy asked, "Whose to-go cup is this? Anyone? Bueller? Mads, you and Tex check on Jericho. Me and Amy will carry this on up to Doyle in case they end up needing it." Seeing the light slowly dawn on some faces, she said. "Who else got into the free coffee they set out?"
"Between maintaining my equipment, and catching back up on my classes after that whole thing with Alexis and Heather, or between them – I don't rightly know – I've been running on fumes. Maybe if they'd done this at a reasonable hour... If it's just something to make you piss a lot it can't be that bad, can it?"
"Have you turned exemplar on us?" asked Mads.
Bobby Earl shook his head. "No. Why?"
"Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can make a person very ill, but it takes time. Let me see your hand."
"I've got two."
Mads made a show of examining the calluses and fingernails of Bobby Earl's left hand. Bobby Earl almost yanked his hand back when it started tingling. No matter. By then it would have been about as useful as shutting a barn door after all the cows had gotten out. He looked Mads in the (bloodshot) eye.
"What the hell was that spell? I don't recommend it for BMA, whatever it was."
"The instructional materials called it Detox. Very useful when one of your team members goes on a bender. It's not very specific, and some toxins are a bitch to beat. If someone shot you up with an insulin overdose, well ... insulin is supposed to be in your blood. So, oops."
"Amy? Abbie? Where should we meet up with y'all?"
Amy said, "How about the hospital cafeteria? It's open all night, and usually empty."
Mads said, "Recommend looking for oddball laxatives like sodium phosphate while they're at it, would you?"
Once the girls were down the passageway and out of sight, 'Shine said, "I know enough from class that that wasn't meant to be cast from hit points. What gives?"
"Had a rough day. Like you said, catching up on classes takes it out of a person. In place of business, it's that Dr. Tenent doesn't like my bloodwork and Dr. Bellows wants me to go digging up past traumas. Knock on wood." He knocked on his head.
"We're not on the brink, but I can see it from here?"
"It's not that bad."
"So it's just a coincidence that we're split up with an esper, magician, and brick in each group?"
"But we got the UVie!"
"You are the UVie."
Doyle Medical Clinic
As they headed down to the Clinic's cafeteria, Amy asked Abbie, "How long do you think it'll take for them to start believing our story?"
"Long enough for the laxative-laced snacks to kick in. I've heard that that frat boy prank takes some time to start working. "
"Yeah. No one's going to show up here complaining about how they have to go pee-pee right now if they can avoid it."
"I sure hope getting the scavenger loot doesn't end up with us dumpster-diving the recycling bins. Metal scraps aren't the only sharps being melted down."
"Ouch. Want to grab some coffee while we wait for the guys to get here?"
"Unlike Tex, I've got the exemplar thing going on. That takes the fun out of coffee."
Outside a women's restroom, Fabricators' Row, The Workshop
The door to the restroom bore a placard depicting a stick figure in a skirt. 'Shine blocked Metro with an arm out. "Hold up, hoss. Can't go in there."
Metro brushed off the other's concern. "Just being thorough."
"Being thorough while male can get you into a world of trouble..." was as much as 'Shine got out before his jaw dropped in shock. The Issei now standing before him was wearing too much synthetic leather too tight to leave much to the imagination. "... and I'd've thought I'd know about that."
"Then it is fortunate that I am not. Not that a world of trouble should be considered an insurmountable problem."
"Never mind. Be my guest."
There had been way too much traffic in and out of the Workshop's restrooms – himself included – for there not to be a prank in play. Joe Turner didn't mind that so much, but whoever it had been had committed the sacrilege of contaminating the coffee. After his third pitstop, he headed for the cottage least likely to be overrun. Best of all, Mrs. Cantrel and Fubar might be willing to lend a sympathetic ear.
Doyle Medical Clinic Cafeteria
It was a little disappointing that Mads and Bobby Earl hadn't managed to bring Jericho with them. On the bright side, they didn't look like they'd hiked too much of the Workshop. Bobby Earl was surely used to hoofing it through the deep, deep, back in them mountains yonderways, backwoods. Rutro was looking far too good rocking that long black hair and well-curved leather, which meant he probably looked like death warmed over without the illusion.
"Mr. Geintz said he's going to be watching over Hawthorne's ground-floor restrooms for a while. Annoyed, but not too distressed."
"Who said what? When did that happen?"
"Bobby Earl, the head of the Psychic Arts Department lives in the depths of Thornie Town. Makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Jericho's crew has practice space somewhere in the sub-basement levels. It all slowly keeps adding up."
Abbie smiled in anticipation. "Y'all know what this means?"
"We can pack it in and go back to doing something useful?"
"Priorities, Tex. Find some. The last time Mads did something useful, he and Thomas missed a week and a half of school and their chaperon ended up in therapy after being escorted back to campus."
"That doesn't count; telepaths always end up in therapy."
"What Abbie's getting at is: no supervision, adult or otherwise. I'd bet some workbays didn't even get locked up."
"What's the fun in that?"
"Both you boys need professional help."
"No, really. Would you want Jobe Wilkins' lab left open and unattended? What about Delta Spike's? Hang on."
"In other words, we done fu-screwed up in not checking those things out. Now, who're you talking to?"
"Got an incoming call."
"Dispatch, Shortstop. Go ahead, over."
"Dispatch, Location Doyle Medical, with 'Shine, Roulette, and Smithy, over."
"Roger that. En route Labyrinth to look for broken windows and stolen babies. Shortstop out.
"So! looks like Kane Hall's oops meter just pegged. We can always look for the loot while locking up, without getting flagged by Security."
"Do any of them know you as a Japanese girl, and if so, WHY?"
"Huh. That could be a problem." Metro reconfigured his illusory mask, to Bobby Earl's amusement.
"When's hunting season around here?"
"Do these look like they belong on a white-tailed deer? Hell, I've got more meat on my bones than one of those doggies."
"Not even if the bullet-proof vest and boots were edible."
Overload, Workshop Tunnels
Renshaw Millard 'Overload' Egerton was miserable. His guts were churning against the smuggled vodka and whatever else he must have eaten. It was enough to make a person give up on food. Emerson Cottage was closer than Doyle, so that settled his route. The last thing he needed was to see a group of newbies wasting time on their scavenger hunt. That the three had a Security escort was yet another blow to his remaining dignity. He really needed a drink.
Just my luck. 'Shine's right over there, but he can't very well openly pass around that hip flask he carries. Ren's self-pitying groan caught the group's attention. They stared in his direction, figured out who they thought it was, waved and carried on.
Maybe he should grab one of his backup bottles before heading back to the dorm. If he didn't have time left, he could always leave an evening deposit in front of the lab bay Thunderbird used when he was mimicking devisor or gadgeteer powers. Too bad he couldn't leave something more meaningful to the over-muscled boy scout, but it was just as well. He didn't need another hassle in his life or the after-life.
Roulette and Company, Workshop Tunnels
Metro pulled his attention back from his virtual displays. "The coast is clear. Glitch is moving again, with that 'back to the bottle' look to him." Splitting his attention again, he sent a repositioning command to the microdrone.
"Hang on. How is it that he fries this, that, and everything for everyone else, but you can send a toy helicopter after him and it's fine? That can't be fair."
"You saw what Valravn can do earlier. I shield everything I can against the obvious stuff. There's a couple of other things I could do along those lines, but I haven't had the time."
Roulette asked before they moved on, "What was up with the 'act natural' warnings? Glitch is one of the more staggering jokes around here."
"Something about that boy just ain't right, and it ain't jest a'cause of the drinkin'. He gives me an itch between the shoulder blades." The moonshiner who's outfoxed revenuers is spooked. Lovely.
Smithy was already saying, "I wouldn't put him alone in a room with any of you, to be honest. Maybe he's a mean drunk if he gets enough liquid courage in him, maybe not, but I do know his path and the boys' shouldn't be crossing anywhere without witnesses."
"Addicts can be like that. Let's not provoke him tonight when we know he already feels like shit."
"Hey, Reach! How's— Harlan if I knew the answer already, why the fuck would I be calling at this hour?
That's better. Now here's the problem: I'm standing next to an open door that shouldn't be open, wondering since when does Geneviève leave bunsen burners on?
I'm going to shut that down, then, and send before/after pictures to her, cc: you. If it's a non-emergency, it can keep."
"A left-handed spanner? Do they think we're stupid?"
"There's got to be one around here that works left-handed. Like, maybe all of them."
"Tex, here's one for you: MSDS Sheet for Dihydrogen Monoxide."
"Amy, don't you go starting that now!"
"Now, now, kids. It's a trick question, but not the way you think. There are MSDS documents available for water. "
"Then where's the trick?"
"There are separate CAS Numbers and MSDS docs for deuterium oxide and tritium oxide, both of which occur in ordinary water."
"A Cthulhu hand-puppet. Amy, didn't you say your mother makes shrink ray projectors?"
"Where are you planning to stick your hand?"
"Is that even legal in New Hampshire?"
"Not at their ages."
"There is no way I'm going in there."
"Don't look at me! Mom's specialty was weapons, not whatever that is."
"All in favor of closing the door and pretending we were never here?"
"Motion carries. Delta Spike collected it, she can catch the damn thing herself."
The next day, Elaine Fleischer returned to her lab to find the door locked and wedged shut from the outside with wrought iron pitons. The grounded copper cable soldered to the pitons hinted at a third aborted attempt to secure her lab.
Roulette finished ticking off their progress. "Last one! But, I don't know. Where do they expect us to find decaffeinated devisor coffee?"
"Wise man say, 'You don't buy beer or coffee, you just rent it.' We could ask one of the coffee drinkers to pee in a cup."
"Unless I'm mistaken, a fraction of ingested caffeine is metabolized before excretion."
"Could you run that one back, this time in English?"
"People pee caffeine."
"So much for that idea."
"Anyone got a cup of that coffee?"
"Why? That's how the evening, morning now, went sideways in the first place."
"Because there's a spell for that."
"There's a Caffeine Be Gone spell? Oh. Ohhhh. That's ... okay. This time try not to bleed on it."
"I didn't bleed all over Bobby Earl! Maybe a drop or two on the floor when I blew my nose later, but that's all it was."
"I think he was aiming that spray."
Early hours of Saturday, October 20, 2007,
Doyle Medical Clinic
One of the routine chores that fall on club presidents is to arrive well in advance of meetings and events to make sure everything goes smoothly. Early arrival can become the perqs of early access to the fresh coffee, good snacks, and refreshments. This evening, they didn't feel like perqs. Marie 'Flashbang' Schultz and Madelyn 'Hydroflux' Wicker were admitted for overnight observation together, and so they ended up sharing a semi-private room. They also shared getting woken up for checking vitals just as they had gotten to sleep.
This time was the worst yet: they were woken up for freshmen checking in. Jericho ushered his little brood in. Roulette looked exhausted; even her purple hair was drooping. 'Shine's clothes were dirty and wrinkled before he finished off his hidden flask. Smithy smiled like someone who's got dirt to share as soon as she got back to Whitman. Metro must have gone a couple of rounds above his weight class, although he still had all his teeth. There was something behind his back.
Jericho let the shock of the visit sink in. "We come bearing gifts!" He snapped his fingers, "Loyal Minions!"
Smithy stepped up to retrieve items as he announced each entry or variance from the list. Marie and Madelyn lay back and waited for the other foot to fall. Both made mental notes about heavy water vs. ordinary water for future reference. "
What had been on that group's list?
Metro walked up to Madelyn's hospital bed. "Miss President, I present you caffeine-free devisor coffee!" He set a cup on her bedside table, a cup suspiciously similar to the ones put out for the disastrous Order meeting.
She looked into the black brew as if to divine its origin and nature.
It didn't smell different.
If this turns out to be dosed too, revenge will be mine. Ayla owes me more than enough. She drank the concoction. Nothing. The flavor had an odd, clean taste, but lacked something bitter.
Smithy explained, "Rutro was running on empty when he magicked the coffee clean. We had to stop by the lab for a quick screen for toxins before coming up here."
Jericho grinned at the news. Someone was going to be getting an earful later this morning and it wouldn't be him.
"For the final piece of business, may I present our latest four brethren:
'Shine: Cooks and Bottlewashers
What say you, Madame Chief Engineer?"
"Can't I just go back to sleep!"
Saturday morning, October 20, 2007,
Two tech track juniors and one sophomore combat team leader got back together for the real business of the day.
"Joe, what's your honest assessment of the kids in your group? "
"Do you want my honest opinion or something you'll all be happy to hear?"
"All things considered, if it's based on something more useful than bust size or sexuality, we need to hear it."
"I can live with that. Even as a Devisor, Roulette can't afford to rely on one or two good tricks that may or may not work. If she diversifies without spreading herself too thin, she could become the best of the bunch. 'Shine does very well at those things he does tackle. His knack for distilling has already proven itself valuable and takes up most of his time and attention. There won't be a whole lot of projects he can even be judged on for advancement, but that's not what he's working toward. Metro's primarily a finger-wiggler and the sort of person who tackles problems as they come. We'll have to see how or if he grows. Smithy's also specialized, but she's open to trying new things. She's like the cool older sister the boys never had and might push them into improvement. Or she might stampede them over a cliff."
"I did ask for an honest appraisal. Do you want to know who beat you to the finish?"
"Pranking my victims works better when I know who they are."
Madelyn pointed. "You better up your game. They're the four freshmen over there." Amy. Bobby Earl, Abbie, Mads.