Call the Thunder: Chapter 3

A Whateley Academy Story

Call The Thunder

By Joe Gunnarson and the Whateley Crew

Chapter 3:  All’s Fair in Fun and Chaos

 

Tuesday, December 12th, 2006

Caitlin walked softly across the lawn, stalking her prey before sunrise.  The two NSA recruiters were oblivious to the slow-moving form creeping up behind them.  She knew these two well over the past three years.  Sometimes she got them, sometimes they slipped past her.  Unfortunately they were being lazy.  They must have heard that Mahren, the bastard that he was, was no longer at Whateley to terrorize them.  This was true; however Erik’s legacy lived on in her new form, grinning like a maniac as she slipped behind Hawthorne to intercept them.  From their idle chatter they were here to talk to Compiler if they could isolate her, something about the nanites she’d used to make herself into an Exemplar.  The thought was highly amusing, as Babs’ little devises almost invariably had something go horribly wrong, hence her incarceration at Hawthorne Correctional.

Caitlin heard a snap behind her and froze.  She must’ve missed their backup, so she slowly creeped sideways at an angle away from her targets, watching behind her, and wincing as tiny flashes flickered along her body.  Each flicker of energy had the potential to give her position to the enemy, so she had to be very careful.  The thought of turning these two losers over to Delarose wasn’t that satisfying, and she technically wasn’t on-duty with the Security Auxiliaries, yet.  Sucked to be them, it was humiliation time.

She almost lost her cool when she turned back to look at the two and found a petite blonde girl in a security uniform and a ghilly suit less than four inches away, staring her in the eyes.  The young woman’s face held an amused expression and she slowly shook her head at Caitlin, waving a finger back and forth, slowly.  Caitlin glared at Whateley’s prettiest security officer and nodded.  Delarose never let her have any fun when he could help it.

Sam slowly nodded her head and pointed at her eyes with two fingers, then pointed to a small tree with good brush cover about twenty yards from the two. Caitlin followed and nodded.  It was the spot she’d intended to ambush the two recruiters originally.  Sam nodded and handed Caitlin a pair of cuffs and pumped her fist once, then slid into the bushes away from the metal-haired girl.

Caitlin just chuckled silently and slid over, continuing her creep to her chosen spot.  Five minutes later she realized that she couldn’t see Sam anywhere.  She focused on the currents and noted the two men barely caused a ripple in the flows.  Hawthorne, just beyond appeared to be a hurricane of energy, whipping and sliding in mad patterns and vortices.  The feel of the currents sliding across her skin increased as she concentrated, then froze, perfectly still.  She couldn’t see Sam visually, or in the currents.  That meant Sam was either Miss Slick Shit, or she was shielded.  All mutants interacted with the flows, just as baseline humans did, though the flavor of that interaction was distinct and unique to the mutant in question.  She just hadn’t figured out how to differentiate between them by their signatures that way, or how to spot them from the normal background static without looking directly at them.

Sam revealed her position by pointing her rifle-mounted flashlight at the two men who for a moment sat stunned like a pair of deer in an oncoming headlight.  “Whateley Security!  Place your hands on your heads and get on your knees!”

Caitlin watched the two men raise their hands slowly.  She saw the one slightly further from Sam slide something out of his sleeve and click a button.  It took her all of two seconds to get behind him and snatch the object, shoving him roughly into the dirt as his partner hit the ground with his hands on his head.  She had the handcuffs on the offender’s wrists as the flash-strobe went off, making her dizzy and filling her vision with spots.  The sudden panic of shock caused her aura to erupt, sending streaks of yellowish lightning into the plants nearby, and the two men.

The cooperative one screamed as the bush he was next to uprooted itself and proceeded to wrap him in tentacle-like branches with leaves acting like little suction-cups.  The man with the strobe-pen started giggling uncontrollably as Sam came in close, cuffing the other and dragging the two away from the suddenly lively underbrush.  Caitlin found her leg wrapped in a tree root that was snaking its way up past her knee when her vision and confusion cleared enough that she could see again.  Sam didn’t even seem to have been affected by any of it.

Sam looked mildly amused as she read the men their Miranda rights and Caitlin stood up.  The root kept crawling up her leg until she kicked, snapping it off from the tree.  A few moments later the brush settled down, somewhat, then went quiescent as she blinked away the last of the stars in her vision.  The one agent was still giggling madly, but slowing down somewhat.

“Having fun?”  Sam gave her a somewhat stern, and disappointed look.

Caitlin shook her head a bit.  “Well I was until somebody interrupted my progress practicing my creep.”

“Ahhh, so that’s what you call it?  I’d call it akin to a child trying to sneak up on a dog while sneezing.”

“Hey, if I don’t practice, I’ll never learn now will I?  Want me to check these two for more fun goodies?”

“Already have.  Lucky for them, that strobe thing’s all they got.”

Caitlin sighed.  So much for my early-morning mayhem.  “So we take these idiots to Delarose?”

“Who do you think you’re talking to young lady?”  One of the agents, whom now that Caitlin was paying attention, was Blonde with dark roots as opposed to his normal coloration.

“Shut up, Masterson, if I want your opinion I’ll give it to you.”

Sam raised an eye.  “Masterson, huh?  You know these two?”

Caitlin about answered, but then shook her head.  “Nah, I memorized the pictures of the recruiters with frequent offender miles here.  The brown-haired guy here’s new though.  We haven’t got his photo yet.”

Sam nodded sagely.  “Well it’s a good thing we found you boys.  Of late we’ve had a student decide to play a little rough.  She seems to think zip-tying recruiters to the flagpole after running their skivvies up as the flag is fun stuff.”

Caitlin inwardly groaned.  She was not looking forward to another of Delarose’s talks about assaulting federal officials, even if they were trespassing and breaking the accords.

“Well, now that you have them in custody, officer Everhart was it?  I’ll just mosey on back to my cottage until breakfast.”

Sam shook her head.  “You wish.  You come with me too.  Since you’re up at this ungodly hour we may as well put you to work.  Might keep you out of trouble.”

Caitlin got a sour look, but nodded in agreement.  “So how’d you manage to sneak up on me like that?”

“Please.  I’m the master of the creep.  Maybe someday I’ll teach you how to do it right.”

“Wonderful, I’m being stalked by Delarose’s personal ninja.  Lead the way, officer.  I’d volunteer to drag one, but I don’t want to risk injuring someone who’s already in custody.”

Sam smiled.  “Love to.  All right you two up and move.  If you give me any trouble I’ll let my girl here duct-tape your heads inside a toilet bowl and leave you there.”

Caitlin grinned evilly.  “Oh no, by all means, please.  Make trouble.”

“I hate this school.”  Masterson’s voice was barely audible.

Sam smiled sweetly.  “It’s not so fond of you, either.”

 

Jericho walked around the homes of Weretown, sipping from a large mug of coffee he’d scrounged up.  He hadn’t gotten much sleep, but he’d gotten enough to get by through the day.  Most of the residents of the area were out cleaning up the mess from the night before or trying to pretend all was well enough to go to work.  Eloise was out and about with Ben, checking to make sure that everyone was still accounted for.  The voodoo-wolves had been trying to drag off several of the community residents.  They hadn’t been there to kill, but to capture.

He wandered for a bit when he spotted Sara sitting on the roof of Elois’ cabin.  God only knew why she and Ben had separate homes, given that both of them loved each other dearly.  Either it was just the nature of the beast, or something was holding them back.  Who knows?  Perhaps he was reading too much into it and they were family.

Four minutes after that bit of reflection, one emptied mug and a lot of grunting and cursing later, he pulled himself up and sat down next to the demon-girl.  He let his feet hang off the roof rather like hers were and pretended to watch the sun rise.

“Penny for your thoughts?”  Jericho didn’t really know how to talk to the girl, as they’d only spoken briefly, and in cursory fashion.  Most of the others were extremely antsy around her.  Jericho was cautious, but he wasn’t going to live in fear of what she might do to him.  Were he of that mind he’d never have made friends with Jack, who was still sleeping off his rage and meal in Ben’s kitchen.

Sara turned and gave him a halfhearted smile.  “They’re not worth a penny.  Sleep well?”

“Yeah, once the shaking stopped, but yeah I did.”

“I’m sorry if last night I was a little...”  Sara paused, trying to think of the proper words.  She wasn’t accustomed to being flustered or unable to find the right words.

Jericho simply turned towards her and raised an eyebrow.

“You know, I can’t think of the word in English?  Unfazed seems a bit cold.”

“Analytical, perhaps?”

“Maybe inappropriately flippant.”  Sara looked a mite chagrined as she said it.

“You?  Flippant?  NAAAAAAAW!”  Jericho smirked as she realized that even when he was dog-tired and just waking up, the boy sitting next to her couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be an ass.  “However, I do believe the word you’re looking for is blasé.”

“Yes, that’s it.  Blasé.”  She shrugged.  “It’s the little things that hit you, you know?  Not being...  Human.”

“I wouldn’t know, I just turned into a tech-geek.  We all have our ways of coping.  You blow it off; I scream profanity and make sarcastic remarks.  Our ways work for us.  At least you’re not so much of a worry-wart.”

Sara shook her head.  “That’s the point; it’s not that I’m blowing it off. I just don’t have that... reaction. I don’t get tired. I don’t get the shakes being covered in ash. And I don’t notice the lack until I turn around and talk to someone going through it.”

Jericho stopped for a moment, then began speaking cautiously.  “I think I understand.  Gimmie a minute to gather my thoughts.”

“Gather away, I’ve had all night.”

Jericho began speaking slowly, then slowly picked up the pace.  “All right, so it’s not a normal reaction.  It’s a bit unnerving, I’ll admit, but I have seen similar things.  Razor’s flip-out urges about top the list for the things that bug me since I know he can’t shut it off.  Then you’ve got Diamondback, who reacts to things in a manner akin to a snake as often as not, which is a profound change from before she became what she is.  She doesn’t notice it, but the cues are all there even if it’s subtle.”

He continued, albeit somewhat unsurely, like the pieces of the puzzle were falling into place bit by bit.  “And then Caitlin, whom I’ve just gotten to know, moves, acts and talks like she’s ready for a fight, or expecting to get jumped.  All the time, even on those rare occasions that she’s totally relaxed, it’s like she’s primed to kill something.  I don’t think most people even notice these things except Razor’s temper, and I’m not sure it is a temper problem.  I don’t know if those comparisons make any sense to you.”

Sara actually gave him a smile.  “So you’re saying we’ve all got our quirks?”

“Yeah.  We all do.  It may not always be the human reaction, but tell me, how many people do you actually know who show all of the standard-issue ‘human’ reactions to things?”

“None, but don’t worry, I’m not down about it.  How long has Caitlin been part of your group?  I don’t think we’ve met yet.”

“Oh, ‘bout two weeks now, give or take.  She’s kind of hard to miss, tall, exemplar, ancestry impossible to trace by looking at her, metal hair and these freaky-ass, runed metal eyes.  She’s a bit cagey around the magicky types I’ve noticed.  And reality starts coming uncorked when she touches shit.  That flashy aura’s a bit fucked up.”

Sara looked suddenly thoughtful.  “Two weeks...  and Razor’s been on edge for one?”

“About that, but it’s not constant either, it comes and goes.”

“Do you all dorm nearby?”

Jericho shook his head.  “No.  Me’n Razor are both in Twain, Diamond’s in Whitman, and Cait just moved into Hawthorne yesterday.  They had her bunking out in the utility sheds because of that aura.  It’s apparently a nightmare to contain.  She has to wear wards sewn into her clothing to keep from going nuclear.”

Sara nodded. “I just can’t help thinking that the Outcasts are connected to this in a way you know nothing about.  Razor’s reaction hints at a spiritual connection to these things somehow.  As if he’s a soldier in a war he can’t remember.”

“Yeah, it’s weird.  Plus he rips through them like he’s been doing it his whole life.  And then there’s the grove.  That place doesn’t like me.  Don’t ask me how I know, but I do.  It sounds crazy but it’s the feel I get.  It’s like I’m distinctly unwelcome.  Razor though...  Just the opposite.  He goes in and it’s like he’s walking through the front door after work.”

Jericho continued, slowly nodding to himself as though he was getting the thoughts straight.  “He just...  Relaxes.”

Sara turned directly towards him.  “Did you say The Grove?”

Jericho looked over and nodded.  “Yeah, big, spooky wooded area, frequent cause for injury among idiots.  It’s how we get here on foot so fast.”

“So that’s how Fey got you involved.”

“No, Razor got me involved.  I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him.”

“Exactly.”

“I thought Nikki filled you in on how all that occurred.”

“Nikki was a bit overly focused on the Voodoo-wolves.  She missed a few details that she probably figured were obvious, but then she’s not always in the human mindset herself.”

Jericho quirked an eyebrow while nodding about Nikki’s tendency towards bizarre thought patterns, puzzling through the steps.  “How he got involved, he says he was running around in there, like he does on occasion, and he caught a hint of these fuckers creeping around there.  Turns out they were setting up an ambush for the elfy one.”  He paused and considered.  “These Voodoo-Wolves make me ill when I think of what they’re about, but Razor...  He does not like them.  On a level I can’t even understand.  Suggest hunting them and he’s chomping at the bit to go.”

Jericho looked directly at Sara, for once.  “Come to think of it, he had to fight the urge to assault, kill and eat you in music class too, but he got over it.  That was back in what, late September, early October?”

“You think it was coincidence that Razor just happened to be walking out at night when Fey was attacked?”

“Maybe.  Maybe not.  She’d just gone out to talk to the weres.  And Razor does the whole disappear into the woods thing about once or twice a month.”

“Add up what we know. One, Razor can sense these things and knows how to kill them. Two, the Grove, a place of magic not known for it’s kindness to strangers, welcomes him with open arms. Three, he suddenly comes upon the Queen of the West right when she needs a knight to protect her. I’d say it’s pretty conclusive, Razor’s one of the fae.”  Sara semi-smirked at her own reasoning.

Jericho shook his head.  “Doesn’t wash.  I’ve done research into the fae since I got dragged into this clusterfuck.  No allergy to iron, no weird mystic prohibitions, and he doesn’t kowtow to Fey, which he should if he’s one of them since she’s theoretically some kind of noble or something.  The weres, on the other hand, act as though she was their natural-born leader, ordained by God and all that.”

“The exact nature of the Fae is greatly clouded by history. Once, they Elder Races and their Gods were as diverse and life on this planet is now. Historians just lump them all together and call them ‘Fae’.  If Razor’s not of the Fae but welcome, he’s certainly some sort of ally.  That much, I’m pretty sure of.”

“Eh.  Not so sure there.  Razor...   Fey, and these weres, scream ‘magic’ at me.  Razor doesn’t.  If any word were to apply to him it’d be Primal.  But I’ll keep looking.  You could be right.”  Jericho didn’t look happy with the line of thought, but he was considering it carefully.

“Be careful what you read. Books about that era in Earth’s history are scarce and dangerous.”

“I haven’t exactly been poking at the restricted section of the library just yet.  But I did look at all the old legends, and none of them have anything that matches my boy there, not even by a close margin.  The dragon legends are closer, but still.  Nothing seems to add up.”

“Except for the dinosaurs,” Sara said with a wry smile.

Jericho nodded.  “Yeah.  Who knows?  Razor just might have picked up a genetic throwback set of genes for all I know.  Maybe the dinosaurs hunted shit like what we’re fighting today.  It’d make a kind of sense, considering the buggers don’t exactly leave much evidence of their passing once they start rotting”“

“Or maybe someone created the dinosaurs for that purpose.”

“Yeah, now we’re delving into ‘Is there a God?’ territory.”

“I know of at least one, myself.”

Jericho shrugged, mildly.  “The Jury’s still out on that one in my book.  I’m not sure I accept any of the classical depictions, descriptions or whatever about God.”

“I guess that depends on your definition of a God or one God.”

“I’ll stick to agnosticism.  It’s a bit cleaner here.  More clutter, but cleaner.”

Sara tilted her head.  “Then I can only suggest that you don’t worry too much about Razor’s origin. The things you might discover in the process don’t fit well into the agnostic’s world view.”

“Agnosticism is another word for ‘haven’t made up my mind yet.”

Sara looked at him seriously.  “I know, but like it or not it’s still a philosophy of life just as much as Christianity.  An agnostic needs convincing over something that can never be quantified.  If I were to show you a miracle, would you recognize it for what it was and admit you’re wrong?  If I made the sky rain blood, would you believe it to be the work of a Goddess or the power of a mutant?”

Jericho shrugged again.  “Maybe The origins of things don’t matter so much to me as the here and now.  I don’t know.  And honestly?  I couldn’t tell you for sure what I’d think till it happens.  Maybe God is a concept that can only be fully understood by one who worships, or is being worshipped.”

Sara smiled, “Of course.  I’m sorry if I sounded rude, I was only speaking hypothetically.”

“Eh, it happens.  Gotta understand, I’m used to it.  I had a pontificating fuck of a preacher I had to listen to every Sunday back home.  He was just less friendly about it than you are, hence why he’s a fucker.”

“Don’t get me started on religion; we’ll be here all day.”

“Yeah, believe me, It’s not a topic around me or Diamond either.  Once we get going...”  Jericho’s voice trailed off as he watched a certain spined, black-mottled, Mini-Saurus Rex come stalking around sniffing the air, and generally looking reassuringly normal.  “Ahh, shit.  Razor’s up.  We need to get back to Whateley before the arena opens for business.  We still don’t know when Razor’s up on the block.  I got my notice for Friday, but not what time.”

Sara hopped to her feet.  “I’m on Friday too.”

Jericho chuckled to himself.  “Well, when the time comes I wish you luck.”

“Ditto.”

Jericho stood up and stopped just before he reached the safe spot to climb down.  “You know, Sara.  Some days I think that each of us worships our creator ultimately by being whom, and what we are, living life as we are meant to with no fear, and no regrets.”

Sara looked thoughtful.  “So how do you know who or what you’re meant to be?”

Jericho shrugged.  “That’s the bitch about free will.  You have to make your choices and live with the consequences.  Maybe that’s the whole point of the exercise, becoming what, and who you choose to be, a reflection of the whole.”  He chuckled.  “Maybe I’m not as Agnostic as I thought.”

Sara smiled.  “Well, it gives me something to think about.”

“See you around campus, Sara.”

Jericho slid down off the roof and started collecting his gear while Razorback nattered at him, wordlessly in that oddly birdlike voice of his, hissing, barking and chirping at the blind boy until he was situated.  Then the pair turned and began making a beeline towards the Grove again.  She tracked them and noted that when they reached the edge of the Grove, Razor walked right in, while Jericho paused, nervously, like he was praying for a sign that he wouldn’t have to go that way.  After a moment, he followed his friend.

Sara smirked to herself.  “Hell, Joe, you’ve given me a lot to think about.  Thanks.”

 

Caitlin exited Kane Hall after helping Sam book the two recruiter fools, and completing her share of the paperwork.  Having been taken by the strobe-flasher was embarrassing, to say the least.  Having gotten snuck up on by the petite blonde walking from Kane Hall with her was just... aggravating.  Even on her worst day she should never have been able to get that close.  Hell, Deadeye never could and he was a chameleon!

“Problem, Miss Bardue?”  Sam semi-smirked at her as they began a patrol route that would keep both of them occupied until the Crystal Hall opened for breakfast.  Delarose had decided that perhaps Caitlin’s maniacal energies could be put to better use than terrorizing the recruiters, so she got to follow Sam and learn the basics of Security patrols.  Unfortunately, this was yet another thing Caitlin was grossly familiar with.

“Just irritated.  That asshole never should have gotten me with the strobe, and no offense, but you should not have been able to get that close to me without me spotting you.”  Her voice carried quite a bit more rancor than she’d intended.

“Don’t sweat it too much.  I’ve been doing this since before you were out of grade school.”

“My ass, you can’t be older than eighteen.”

Sam smirked as they passed the route back up to Range Four.  “Appearances can be deceiving, can’t they, Corporal?”

Caitlin stopped dead in her tracks and just stared at Sam.

Sam stopped as well and looked at Caitlin evenly.  “Look, you’re not the only one who’s had something like this happen to you.  Granted, it’s rare, and almost invariably painful, but unfortunately you need to recognize a few things you’ve been blind to and screwing up.”

“Who are you?  How do you know me?  And much do you know about me?”

“I know enough that I can’t talk about most of it in an unsecured area without Delarose being legally obligated to arrest me and turn me over to N.I.S.”

Caitlin glowered, more at the situation than at Sam.  “Fine.  Let’s get to the bunker, so you can check your codes.  The cage is bug-proof, for the most part.”

Sam nodded.  “I do have to ask you about the cage security system.  I’ve shouldn’t have been locked out like that.”

“Powers over electronic machinery?”

“Yes.”

“Fair enough.  The whole system’s pure Devisor, and based off electrophysics and design parameters that don’t really mesh well with reality.  We kept it because I was actually able to make the thing operate without malfunctioning most of the time.  To this day I still can’t understand the logic behind how it operates, but it’s something about a trinary system, with a fuzzy logic circuit.  It’s actually about as intelligent as a newborn kitten, so it follows its instincts.”

Sam pondered as Hive began extrapolating the nightmare that that setup might envision.  “So it’s an AI?”

“Yes and no.  It’s more of a reactive computer.  It is weird, and I’ve had to disassemble the whole goddamned thing and rebuild it three times now.  I’d normally get it replaced, but thus far the damned thing has locked out every single unauthorized break-in attempt.  It’s a system that’s a pain in the ass, but it works.”

The conversation continued as Caitlin allowed Sam to open the locks on the bunker and back cage, testing her newfound access.

“Good Lord, this system’s a giant cluster.”  Sam was somewhat distracted while Hive tried to run a full analysis and continually came to the conclusion that the whole setup should not, under any circumstances, work.

Caitlin nodded.  “It’s like a Devisor fusion reactor.  It works, but not on any principle recognized by science, or even sanity.  Hence why you can’t just replicate it and use it like you could if, say, a gadgeteer was doing the work.  Hell, even the gadgeteers can’t make heads or tails of most devisor crap.”

Sam nodded and re-sealed the cage behind them manually.  “This school is going to take some getting used to.  Every time I think I have a handle on it, something new crops up to throw my perceptions.”

“That’s what happens.  Every time you think you’ve seen it all, someone hits you with something born on the far side of Flemdar.  This school’s not for those with severe problems coping with changes.”

“As you have found out.”

Caitlin got a dark look.  “Yeah, so I’m assuming Delarose clued you in?”

“Sort of.  Most of the clues, you gave me.  You really suck at hiding who you are to anyone with the right frame of reference.”

“Wonderful.  So you know me, you know my buddies, which means you’re probably clued into some of the knee-deep shit we were usually slogging through in the Corps.”

Sam nodded.  “Hence why I say you suck at hiding things.”

“Wonderful.  Then there’s you.  You don’t look familiar, you don’t act like any of the mixed bag of hood-rats and god’s honest girlfriends who hung out around the M-SOC barracks, but you do know entirely too much.  How?”

Sam nodded and leaned against the energy weapon racks and started talking.  “Well, like you, I’m a lot older than I look.  Unlike you I never worked for Colonel MacPhearson.”

“God, you had to mention that fucking bitch.”

“I’d appreciate it if you’d at least show some respect for rank.”

“Fuck no.”  Caitlin got a bit heated.  “That bitch did everything she could to make our lives hell.  Bad recruits, delays on processing leave blocks, denials of same.  She made sure that each of us was processed out of the Corps with a re-enlistment code that ensured we would never wear any uniform in the states again, and convinced the med-board to refuse all seven of us anything resembling medical disability pay, even though Prison Bitch started developing a degenerative nerve problem from an energy blast he survived, and Me, Worm, Heckel and Jeckel all left with some severe fucking mental problems, all of which require continuous medication.  Fuck her.  Fuck her rank.  The only respect I’ll give her is for the fact that she’s damned good in a fight.  That’s it.”

Sam wasn’t expecting that.  Her opinions aside, she was staring at one of the few people who could even match a quarter of her decorations.  She knew, as Hive drew up Erik Mahren’s old military record, that he was the recipient of two Navy Crosses, three Silver stars, four Bronze Stars, and a host of other awards, including two purple hearts.  All of them classified, except for the fact that she’d been the one to recommend the medals for the team on at least three occasions, even if they were a pack of unruly psychos who’s presence in an operating theater virtually guaranteed a severe SNAFU for any other operations in the area.

Caitlin closed her eyes and took several deep breaths.  “Sorry.  I didn’t mean to yell at you.  It’s not your fault.  I just don’t like talking about anything I did after I left Gunny Bardue’s company.”

“Feel better?”

“No.  I still have nightmares and flashbacks from that time period, and the medication stopped working on me about a week ago, something about a severe change in physiological makeup.  Basically the docs saying they don’t know what the fuck is up.  Hell, I can’t even use beer to drown the nightmares out anymore.  Not for lack of trying.”

Sam nodded.  “Why did MacPhearson hate you so much?”

“Because we were the only seven ‘baseline’ riflemen who could hang with the mutants there, partially.  Partially because she convinced herself, and good portions of her command that we were a buncha Humans First! militants in uniform.”  Caitlin looked up.  “Hell, getting the job here was a fight and a half.  MacPhearson had some choice words with Carson about me after she found out I was under consideration for a job.  Basically took all my bad traits and magnified them, trying to convince Carson that I’d be a danger and a liability to the students and staff.”

“You told Carson your side didn’t you?”

“Had to.  By the time I’d gotten to that point, it was really a choice between shooting myself because, unlike my buddies, I couldn’t hold down any kind of job that would pay enough to keep me fed, housed and medicated, or taking the Syndicate up on an employment offer to train Sabretooths.  I think I’d rather starve to death than do the latter.  Dropping the truth to Carson, and Gunny Bardue backing me up all the way were the only reasons I got hired, and even then she watched me like a hawk for two years.”

Sam frowned.  On one hand, she could understand why Caitlin had leaked the classified information on what she’d done to Carson, but she’d violated a host of laws and regulations in doing so.

Caitlin recognized the look on Sam’s face.  “Yeah, I violated security.  Fortunately for you, there’s nothing you have to do about it.  Erik Mahren’s dead, or as good as.  He’s been officially dumped into the deepest hole in ARC forever, and my prospects aren’t very good either.  Odds are I’m fucked within the next two or three years.  My life-expectancy isn’t what one would call high right now.”

“I don’t like it.”

“Neither do I.  But I can’t really say I had much choice at that point.  I was on the verge of robbing a bank, letting it go bad, and getting caught so I could have three hots and a cot for the rest of my life.”

Sam winced.  She’d heard of things like that, but never had to face someone who’d been forced into that point.  “And you managed to hold onto the job here?”

“Yeah, turns out I was good at it.  I had my rocky bits at first, as apparently it’s not kosher to shoot flyers that hover for too long with rock salt to illustrate tactical stupidity.”

“Ok that sounds more like the you I knew.”

“Speaking of which, spill.  How the hell do you know me?  I’m pretty sure I’d recognize a hot blonde in a security uniform.”

Sam smirked.  “I’m Rear Admiral Samantha Everhart, formerly of the U.S. Navy SEALs.”

Caitlin looked at her skeptically.  “Sorry, but the only SEAL I ever heard with that name was a crusty old fart of a captain who...”  Her eyes widened as comprehension dawned.

“You have got to be kidding me.”

“Hah.  I wish.  This body is a replica of my daughter’s before she died in a car wreck.”

“Oh, fuck, I’m sorry.”

 ”Listen, Cait, I can see it in you.  I saw it in the service when we worked together and it’s still there.  You’re carrying a chip around on your shoulder the size of Rhode Island and you provoke people to knock it off.”

“Yeah, and?”

“You’re not that cocky son of a bitch anymore.  You’re a 14 year old girl.  It’s breaking up your camo.”

Caitlin looked exasperated.  “Sixteen, and I don’t know how to act like a sixteen-year-old-girl, hell I don’t even know how to act like a sixteen-year-old guy!”

“A little louder please, I don’t think Fubar heard you in the Hawthorne.”  Sam sighed.  “Okay, left field time.  Have you checked out your body privately?”

Caitlin raised an eyebrow.  “Kinda private, don’t you think?”

“Well, after quite a few years of marriage I know that women are emotional creatures and it is a form of release.  Who knows it might help.”

Caitlin shook her head in the negative.  “No.  I haven’t been able to bring myself to anything resembling that in about a month and a half.”

“You might want to.  It is something to be experienced.”

“Can’t.”

“Why?”

“It’s too soon ok?  I don’t think I’m ready for that.”

Sam looked at her skeptically.  “You’ve been female for how long now?”

“Two weeks, give or take.  Maybe three.  I haven’t been paying much attention to that.”

Sam shook her head.  “Well, maybe it was three weeks before it happened to me...  Then there was that girl...  Not that my history matters, you need to find a vent other than picking on recruiters.  You keep making it hard on them they may start showing up armed with more than a flash-bang, and if they do, it will put the neutrality of the school in jeopardy.”

“Been doing that for years, just for a way to unwind, and being female’s the least of my problems.  If it were that simple I’d be fucking thrilled.”

“It took me changing into my daughter to wake up to my problems and that took a long time.”

“It’s too soon, ok...  Wait.  How long have you been working here?”  Caitlin’s exasperated melted to thoughtful after a moment.

“Since the week of Thanksgiving.”  Sam got curious for a moment, but continued, “even then I wasn’t officially on the clock.”

“That explains it.  I was still cooped up in the sheds when you got here.  You familiar with what happened on Halloween?”

Sam shook her head slightly.  “Other than some deep stuff happened I’ve not looked too closely at the files, I’ve had other things on my plate.”

Cait sighed and started talking.  “I was on duty that night with my Fiancée, Cat McQuiston.  Me and her went off the clock and decided to be out here when the school got hit and we got the distress call.”

Hive helpfully brought up the Whateley personnel file on Cat McQuiston, and Sam read quickly.  She simultaneously wanted to sympathize and slap the shit out of the moping girl as she read on.  Sympathy because she knew what it was like to lose loved ones and have the pain still be raw.  Slapping the shit out of the girl was pretty high on the list because Sam knew exactly who she was dealing with, even if not everyone on Whateley was aware of it.  A split-second later, she went for the second option without waiting for the rest of the story.

Caitlin reeled and hit a gun rack as Sam’s backhand rocked her back.  Sam just started yelling.  “You think you’re the only one who’s lost?  You lost one!  I lost hundreds.  Men, women, children!  You are such a whiner.”  Sam steeled herself for the windup, as if she was right, this might hurt.  If she was wrong, Caitlin might just fold up and break.  “Every serviceman under my command who went out and died under my orders was my responsiblity.  Every soldier I trained to be a sniper who ended up dying.  My responsibility!  You have problems.  Get a grip, You got it easy.  If you ever had to send a man on a mission that you knew he’d not be coming back from and you couldn’t help it. Then I might believe it.  Till then Tie a knot in and stop whining ‘my pussy hurts!”

She was right.  Caitlin’s return right hook and left cross missed Sam by about a centimeter each time as the ex-SEAL got some distance from the suddenly angry “teenager.”  Weirdest thing was the oddball runed eyes were glowing, not the whole things, but the runes were rapidly reddening, and filling in like they were containers for molten metal with an angry orange glow.

Like Hell!”  Caitlin could scream like a banshee, Sam noted idly, watching the reaction.  “You think you’re the one who had the big fucking burden?  Fifty-two Marines, most of them barely out of fucking High School broken and dead, bleeding out because we weren’t able to train him the right way!  Men, women and children caught in grazing fire because we had to bag the target or fucking die!  Don’t you dare fucking lecture me about losses!  You commanded it, I got to fucking live it!”

“Yeah, yeah I read the reports Princess, boo-hoo.  I was there for a few of those, remember?”  Sam smiled inside slightly.  So there was still a fire burning in there after all.  It was time to stoke the flames.  “Panama, one shot ricochet and I personally killed 150 inocent men, women and children.  Because I missed.  They had done nothing other than build their village too close to a drug dealer.”

Caitlin snapped back instantly, “Samin villiage.  One shot, 134 kills when the target fucking exploded!”  She wasn’t aware of the subtle shifts as the old memories she’d been blocking out of her mind had been slipping in, mingling with old memories, and making details fuzzy.  She wouldn’t realize till much later that the Samin villiage died eight-hundred years prior.

Sam blinked at that.  She’d never even heard of a Samin Villiage.  Maybe, sounded somehow familiar.  This wasn’t working, and she’d forgotten that Caitlin as Mahren had, in her own special way, ridden into and out of hell more times than most people ever would.  Not nearly as many times as Sam had, but scars were scars.  She needed a way through to the damned fool, not a going-nowhere screaming match. 

She stalked forward, and hit Caitlin again.  A scuffle broke out, and both wound up slamming each other into gun racks a few times while Caitlin screamed at her in a language Hive couldn’t even guess at the origin of.  A few shocks, some hypothermia and one insane handgun turning into something resembling modern art from Caitlin’s aura later, and Sam held her immobilized against the cage door.  As strong and brutal as she could be, Caitlin still kind of sucked in hand-to-hand compared to the real pros.

“Listen!”  Sam hissed in her ear.  “There was one mission I got roped into I didn’t act as a sniper.  I entered a villa and snapped a little girls neck in her own bedroom.  I found that I liked the killing!  If I hadn’t had the Navy and my family to remind me of the shame of what I had just done, I’d have kept going.  If you keep going like this, you’re going to prove her right.  You’re going to prove MacPhearson right!  You’re going to become the creature MacPhearson says you, and your buddies are because you can’t get yourself under control!  You can’t even hold it together enough to speak English!”

Caitlin stopped moving.  She barely breathed as the words sank in.  She stopped resisting and let Sam slip away, slumped against the wall she had been pinned against.

Sam let the final nail slam home.  “What would Cat think?”

Caitlin started shivering, trying to get her breathing under control as her thoughts coalesced.  Cat dying, her blacking out on Halloween and waking up in an infirmary room, bandaged up and shaking off the sedatives.  She could just picture Cat’s disapproving stare in her mind’s eye, almost as if she was still there.

Sam looked at the silent girl against the wall.  “Take the day, off from security.  I’ll sign you out.”  She turned and walked out of the room, tracking her path back to Kane hall, leaving Caitlin alone with her thoughts, yet again.

Sam knocked on Delarose’s door and waited when she arrived.  After a few seconds she heard the muffled “Enter.” and went inside, shutting the door behind her.  Delarose looked up at her face, which had a large shiner developing and healing rapidly.  “I take it you and Caitlin are done on patrol?”

“Yeah.  I’ll be signing her out.  I hope to Christ I got through to her, because she’s about on the verge.”

“Wonderful.  So I take it she’ll be sporting matching bruises then?”

Sam shook her head.  “No, she’ll have a few more than that.  But we might want to keep an eye on her.  I’m not sure if the wake-up call I threw into her face will take or if she’ll snap.”

Delarose leaned back in his chair.  “What’s your gut tell you?”

“My gut tells me she’s going to get mad.”

 

Hank was the first one up of the Kimbas, and Toni found him checking the schedule again for his name in the Combat Finals on the common-room board.  Unlike most of the other residents of Poe, he shared one thing in common with Fey, Chou, Tennyo in that none of them seemed to be scheduled for Combat Finals.  Chaka’s had seemed like a last-minute thing, and that little run had been insane!

“Morning Hank!”  Unlike her elfin roommate, Chaka was a morning person.  Hell, she was also an afternoon and evening person.  It seemed that very little could break through her cheerful and happy-go-lucky attitude.

“Morning Toni.”  Hank yawned.  “I still can’t believe you actually used an atomic wedgie as a martial-arts maneuver.”

“Hey!  Nephandus had it coming!”

“Yeah, but that high-pitched whine he let out when you did it was kind of disturbing.”

Toni grinned.  ”Music to my ears.”

Hank chuckled.  “Looks like they still forgot me, Fey, Chou and Tennyo.”

“I doubt that.  You four are impossible to forget, no matter how hard I try!”

“Gee, thanks.”

“No problem, Lancer my good buddy.  After all, if I didn’t pick on ya, who would?”

Hank smirked.  “Well the Grunts are making a good go of it.”

“What, those military wannabes punks giving you shit?”

Hank looked thoughtful.  “Actually, they wanted to recruit me for their sim team.”

Chaka raised an eyebrow.  ““Ohhh, no.  There will be none of that!  You’re ours and those loony gun-monkeys ain’t getting you before we even have a chance to run the sims ourselves!”

“What are you two going on about?”  Tennyo, by contrast to Chaka, was not a morning person.  She was followed closely by the ever-maniacal Jade, who was still in the middle of a yawn.

“Those Gomer-wannabe Grunts are trying to poach our boy here!”

“What?”  Tennyo got a dark look.  “After Breaker came in here like that last night and he wants to run off with Hank?  Oh hell no.”

An angry argument started and Fey walked into the room, bleary-eyed and tired to the suddenly inflammatory conversation.  Ayla and Chou were right behind her.  “Hey, what’s going on?  Who is trying to brainwash Hank?”

“Those ridunkulous Grunt punks are trying to hijack Hank!”  Chaka was half-amused, half outraged as she spoke.

The conversation started again, and Hank finally had to stop it.  “Hey, hey hey!”  The other Kimbas looked at him as he held his hands up for calm.  “Chill.  I dunno if I’m going to take ‘em up on it, but they don’t expect me to quit the Kimbas.  Hell, Breaker said I’d be insane if I did.”

“Yeah, sure, after all I’d want an intelligence source on up-and-coming competition, too.”  Alya had a knack for coming up with Worst-Case scenarios.

“Would you calm down?”  Hank shook his head.  “Look.  They don’t want me to leave the Kimbas, hell Mule, Breaker and Deadeye are wondering if any of you are ‘available’ as they put it.  I told them no.”  He held up a hand to forestall the inevitable protests.  “And for the record, last night Breaker indicated that if I did give info between teams, it’d be a buddy fucker maneuver, and the other five subtly indicated that it’d be best not to share info between teams about Sim tactics.”

“Subtly?  Subtly?”  Chou actually laughed.  “I’ve seen the Grunts’ idea of subtle!  These guys think throwing a rock at your head is a subtle indicator that they don’t like you.  And the stories people tell about the pranks in Melville?  Yeah.  Damn.”

Hank chuckled and nodded.  “Ok, so yeah, they’re about as subtle as a runaway Mack truck.  Thing is, my Dad actually sent a letter requesting they grab me when I got here.  Breaker and Deadeye being who they are, decided keeping an eye out for how I was doing would probably be for the best.  They like what they see.”

Nikki was thoughtful, “Mule and Bunker have been helpful as well.  They’ve been doing some patrols around Weretown for the last week and have apparently ferreted out a few more of the Voodoo-wolves.”  Nikki sighed and shook her head.  “Remind me to hex Jericho.  His irreverent manner of referring to things seems to rub off a little too easily.”

Jade smirked.  “Nah, just take him in hand-to-hand.  I beat him most of the time in Aikido.”

Everyone smirked.  It was a well-known fact that Jericho was still somewhat sub-par in the fisticuffs department, and lacked any real equalizing powers native to his form.  However, that being said, one had to watch out for the gadgets and insanity that he always seemed to have squirreled away for a rainy day.

Hank looked at Fey.  “Yeah the Outcasts are entertaining, and Jericho and Razorback are good against those Voodoo-things.  Good, but we need more backup if we’re gonna win this.  I would strongly suggest you go speak to Breaker or Deadeye about what the deal is.”

“Why, so they can take control of the fight for the greater glory of their stupidity?”  Chaka didn’t think much of the so-called simulator champs.

Hank turned to look at her.  “No, they’re twitching at the trigger to start shooting the Voodoo-bastards.  All right, here’s what happened last night...”

 

Creepy walked into the impromptu early-morning gaming session with the Astral Squad with a sour look on his face.  A.D. and Louis were both there, Louis making one of his rare appearances as the Game Master at their accustomed spot in the Library.  Weaver noted with some annoyance that the source of his irritation sat a few tables away, reading one of the mystic texts and taking notes as though all was well in the world.

“You look like you just chewed on something sour,” Heyoka remarked lightly as Creepy sat down.

“Yeah, well I’m getting tired of playing babysitter to our astral nightmare looking for a place to happen over there.”  He jerked his head at Diamondback.  “Come January she’s going to be loose, no way of getting around it.  It’s already taking two or three sessions a day with the bindings to keep her locked and she’s still not fully stabilized.”

Fubar nodded mildly.  He looked ridiculous in a flowing robe and a blue cone-hat with white stars on it.  He took Gamer Nerd to the extreme when he joined in.  “And add to this she’s actually been harassed by some of the more piddly spirits around Campus of late and we have some issues.  She’s getting too strong to keep locked down.”

A.D. nodded.  “Any advice on how to handle this one?”

Fubar nodded.  “Bind her one last time right before she goes to Australia for Christmas break.  After that it’s all in her hands.  She might get enough of a reprieve to enjoy the holiday right before she comes uncorked.”

Heyoka looked over at the snake-girl musingly.  “Yeah, hey on a similar note, has anyone had a good look at that girl she hangs out with of late, the one with the flashy lightshow aura?”

Valkyrie nodded.  “Yeah, I have.  It’s fucking unnerving.”  She paused while all of the astral kids nodded.  “Her spirit looks like some guy shackled and chained, screaming and cursing like a storm.  I’ve poked, but DAMN.  Whatever’s up with her, it’s tearing up the astral landscape around her something fierce.  Most of the loose spirits run like hell out of her path and she shredded two rune-wards just by walking through them.”

A.D. sighed.  “Yeah, I’ve noticed as well, and there hasn’t been a thing I’ve been able to do with her.  She doesn’t perceive us, and it’s like a reverse-avatar.  A possession or something’s going on.  Me’n Artefact tried to break the spirit loose and eject it, but it’s got her tight.”

Fubar glowered.  “Much as I dislike saying it, she’s off-limits.  No interfering with her, no dirty looks, and no more attempting to exorcize her.  If you succeed it’ll kill her outright.  She’s a fighter, and she might actually beat it.  Heyoka does your Guardian have anything to say about her?”

Jamie considered carefully, weighing the fact that talking about Thunderbird was something s/he didn’t like doing against the odd reactions T-Bird gave at the absolute astral havoc the girl created in her wake.  “I can’t get much out of him.  About the best way I can put it is whenever I ask, or try to do something it’s all guilty looks and shame on his part, like he had something to do with it.  Other’n that he keeps saying that what she wants most is in her power and all she needs to do is look to her past and she’ll find it or something.”

Fubar grew thoughtful.  “All right.  Ladies and gents, I need to run my happy self over to talk to Circe and Chulkris.  It looks like our game is going to have to wait.  Have fun at Combat Finals.”  He paused, and looked at his charges.  “Valk, good work on your final by the way.  I expect that you’ll do better next time, and sometimes losing can teach you a lot more than winning.  Heyoka, nice work.  Mr. Anderson may not have approved, but your victory speech brought a tear to me eye.”

Jamie grinned.  “Hey, Next time I plan to release the robot zombies while I cackle maniacally.”

“You do that.”

 

Breakfast was a fast affair, and Diamondback looked on as her friends began trickling in.  The Fury twins hadn’t shown up, something about intercepting Belphegor and giving him a present for Jobe.  Whatever it was couldn’t be good.  Jericho and Razorback showed up late, and she idly wondered if they’d been up running early.  Jericho had that “just exercised” look to him as he ripped his plate apart with a gusto rivaling her and Razor.

“So.  How did it go?”  She talked as the boys ate.

“How’d what go?”  Jericho was playing dumb, oh joy of joys.

“This big seekrit skwirrel bullshit you two have been about for the last week or so.  And don’t feed me any shit this time because you both smell like blood.  Again, I can taste it on you.”

“That’s just creepy when you do that, you know.”  Jericho sighed as he recognized Diamond’s ‘You will answer me’ posture, punctuated by the crossed arms and glare.  “Fine.  We been helping the Weres that Whateley leases the property from.  They’ve been under siege by some asstick they call ‘The Bastard’ that’s been pulling some straight demonic shit and turning them into real monsters, not just what all the paranoids say they are.”

“And you never asked for my help, why?”

Razorback signed, -Because of what happened to a pair of state troopers who got caught in the crossfire.  They went bugnuts crazy just from looking at the damned things, and the poisons turned them into something straight from a Lovecraft novel.  I’m protected somehow, probably has to do with me being a rager, and Jericho’s blind, so he’s not exactly susceptible.-

“So it’s just you two?”

Jericho sighed.  “No.  We’ve been working with Fey and a few of the Kimbas.  A good bunch of them have protection from it, and Fey seems to know a lot more about the damned things.  Add Mule, Bunker and Sara Waite and you have a party of mayhem looking for a place to happen.  So far we’ve managed to keep the casualties down.”

“Mule and Bunker?  Ok I’m aware that Mule’s probably the most heavily mystically and psychically shielded guy out there but Bunker’s able to fight them without going weirder?  And yet you still didn’t ask me?”

Both boys looked at each other and then at Diamond before they both nodded.

“Ah, and you guys didn’t want my mind damaged, so sweet.  Wake up for a minute and please remember that dear, sweet Bunker of the pageboy-blonde locks and foulness of mouth is a Package-Deal-Psychic.”  She looked at the two boys’ confusion and cursed the teachers of Devisors and Speedsters for not getting them to understand other types of power.  “You twits, she’s shielding!  It’s one of the first things mages and Psychics, and empaths have to learn to protect themselves!  It’s one of the few things outside of healing and illusions that I can do with anything resembling speed and skill.  Hel-lo!  You never wondered why me and Bunker never seem to go anywhere in our fights if one of us doesn’t pull a Johnny-one-shot in the opener?”

Jericho blinked, and blinked again, comprehension dawning as Razorback promptly started banging his head on the table, furious at himself because he knew better!

“Sandra, Jack, I’ll be back in one second.  Bear with me.”  Jericho hopped up and started wandering towards his targets, tapping away with his blind-man’s cane.

All conversation at the Team Kimba table ceased when a horror composed of dreadlocks, plaid golf pants complete with a kilt in Whateley school colors (also plaid) and a T-shirt reading “The man” with an arrow pointing straight up, and “the legend” with an arrow pointing straight down, and tie-dyed over the rest of it plopped unceremoniously next to Jade, who took one look at Jericho’s wardrobe and started giggling.  Tennyo stopped, mid-chewing and smirked.

Chaka looked over and her face screwed up in horror.  “Oh...My...God!  Who dresses you in the morning, the fashion disaster fairy?”

“Nah, she had the day off.  I had to make do on my own.”

“We have so got to get you to Boston and get you some real clothing.”

“What, and ruin my ensemble?”  He turned to Jade.  “I hear you have a line on Hello Kitty gear.  Find me a good mix in my size and I will pay you well.  No skirts.”  He thought or a minute and the horrific ramifications ran through his mind at speeds calculated as ludicrous.  “Ok, maybe one or two.”

Jade grinned evilly, and whispered loudly and conspiratorially.  “Ok, but I can’t give out my sources.  Everyone else is looking to kill my supplier.”

“Gotcha.  I’ll make sure security’s occupied elsewhere so they can’t interfere with the shipment.”

The rest of the Kimbas sat staring with mute horror as the full implications to the nutty devisor’s wardrobe sank in fully.

Jericho looked up and grinned.  “Ok, side business, completed.  I’m actually here to speak to you, Miss Reilly.”  He couldn’t see her so clearly as everyone else but he dearly wished for a camera to capture forever the look of stupefied horror in her features.  Unfortunately Fey, rather like the others, was suffering the full horror of the mental image of Jericho decked out in Hello Kitty splendor.

“Hello!  Earth to Elfy!  Wakey wakey!”

“I think she’s in shock, dude.”  Hank was eyeballing Jericho’s attire like it might eat him.

“I guess I’m just too sexy for words.  However...”  Jericho grimaced as he used his ‘whack the elf back to reality’ tactic.  “We went to visit Weretown last night.  We had voodoos in the bushes.  They tried to run off with some of the local yokels.”

“What?”  That got her attention, and that of all the other Kimbas, too.

“I said...  Weretown.  Voodoos.  Attack.  No Casualties.”

“Why didn’t anyone call me?”  Nikki’s eyes were wide and looked a bit more than upset.

“Didn’t have the time.  It was all over in less than ten and no one was in the clear to get the message out.  Don’t worry, no serious injuries, nothing me and the Were healers couldn’t handle.”

Nikki breathed a sigh of relief.  “Thanks for the information Jericho.”

“No problem.  However, the reason I’m here is I need someone who can teach Diamondback how to shield against the insanity that the voodoos bring.”

“I can do that.”

Jericho nodded.  “Soon, please.  Just bear in mind that Diamond’s really damned smart and don’t try to dumb things down for her and you’ll get along fine.”

Nikki nodded.

Jericho stood up and smirked.  “Just do me a favor.  Don’t screw with her.  I don’t want to have to see her crying again.”  He left without waiting for a reply.

“Geez, unfriendly much?”  Chaka snorted when the blind boy left. 

Nikki shook her head.  “No, just overprotective.  He doesn’t trust many people.”

Jade rolled her eyes.  “We’re the pretties and his best friends are GSD.  Heavy GSD.  There tends to be a pattern of getting burned by the pretty people that seems to run with their type.”

“More Faction Three wisdom?”  Chaka asked.

“Actually, Faction Three’s the wrong crowd to get info on that crew.”  Jade shrugged.  “They apparently want little to do with Faction Three, less to do with Thuban, and seem content to ignore your standard social rules.  From what little I hear they tend to either go it by themselves or hang with some of the less actively destructive Ultraviolents and Thornies.”

“Weird.”

“Yeah, that’s a good description.”

 

Caitlin walked towards the Crystal Hall after she burned out most of the temper eruption that followed Little Miss Security Hellion’s ever-so-fun speech.  There was surely a special place in Hell reserved for people like Samantha Everhart.  Caitlin’s face had a bruise big and black enough to indicate that she’d been railed hard on her right cheek, and her jaw hurt.  She felt like her forehead had been banged against a concrete floor, which it had, and like her arm had almost been dislocated.  This was minor, as she’d been hurt worse having fun.

The commentary, however, had been painful and unwelcome.  Hell, Caitlin hadn’t even had a chance to finish explaining how she felt before the bitch had absolutely ripped her up one side and down the other with no respect for her, or Cat.  Never mind she’d acted all high and mighty about everything, treating her like a pissed-off child who’d gotten her toys taken away.  However, this wasn’t the thing that brought Caitlin’s temper well past pissed and into white-hot fury.  What truly, utterly and unequivocally made her rage inside was simple.

The bitch was right.

She’d spent the last month and a half wallowing in self-pity, running on autopilot and not doing anything to move forward.  The realization in itself was far more galling than Sam’s very professional, infantry-style ass-chewing, complete with bruises.  The fact that she’d let her life go to shit while letting herself go back to her old habits of just soaking the pain while doing nothing about it was nothing short of enraging to her.  She was better than that!  She hadn’t taken shit from life or person since she bounced out of her hometown in Alaska and joined the military.

The results of the pure, frustrated rage that had overtaken her had been the total destruction of two punching bags and three practice ANTS in one of the arena 77 warm-up rooms, and about an hour of screaming bloody murder.  Now she wandered into the Crystal Hall after her towering, cathartic, screaming rage had cooled off to a burning desire to hunt down the wayward security officer and eviscerate her.  In other words she was once again safe to approach by most people.

As she entered many people gave her a wide berth, as the burning runes in her eyes gave testament to the fact that she was not happy, and the energy corona that flickered and zapped while she moved was nearly continuous, motion or not.  The few insects surviving the winter in the Crystal hall found themselves attracted to the light, and found their end seconds thereafter as the energy arced to consume them.  Caitlin kept her distance from the other students as she forced herself to calm down, and the empaths in the house stopped giving her such wide-eyed looks.

Once she sat down at the accustomed seat she started collecting her thoughts.  Three things occupied her mind, the first being Cat’s death.  She needed to snake some time to go visit the gravesite and say her good-byes, something she’d been putting off over and over.  Accepting the fact that she was gone might let her move on.  The second was the Artificer dilemma.  Screw this tiptoeing through the tulips bullshit, it was time to face this instead of hide from it and she was going to find a solution, no matter what she had to ransack to get it.  The third was finding dear, sweet little Miss Everhart and thanking her for the wakeup call.

Caitlin kept the option of using a baseball bat spiked with jagged, razor-edged obsidian shards for said thanking open as an option.

The Outcasts were gone, presumably to watch the arena fight.  This suited Caitlin just fine.  She needed to collect her thoughts, eat some food, and make plans.

 

“No, dude!  I’m telling you that girl over there is an Artificer!  She fits the description, the profile, the needing to be locked in wards and everything!”  Nephandus spoke to his reluctant cohort Techno-Devil as the two stared across the gulf.  “My father made me memorize the signs so I could recognize and capture one of them if I ever found one.  She’s the Third, the female Artificer that wasn’t destroyed!”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, Jay-Arm.  Big artificer.”  Techno-Devil was unimpressed.  “So she can make magic items.  So can we.  Whoop-de-fucking-doo.”

Nephandus sighed, and leaned over.  “Look, we don’t build strictly magic items, and you know it.  We just happen to be Devisors who know enough about magic to mesh the two powers.  She can build magic items with the raw power to raise armies, level cities, or just enhance our own work!”

Nephandus was bubbling over with excitement, and Techno-Devil sighed.  “All right Techno-Dweeb, yes, I called you Techno-Dweeb.  First, how are we supposed to capture her?  Second, how the hell do we control her?  Third, she hangs out with Jericho and Razorback, both of whom would feel no mercy in their hearts for either of us on general principle, much less if we screw with their friend.  Fourth, how would we keep little miss hot shit over there from eviscerating you when you put the moves on her?  I mean she’s nice eye-candy but I don’t think she’ll just melt before your charm.”

The overly excited bad joke of Devisor shop considered carefully.  “Remember that hypnosis spell that I put into that focus crystal for Fey?”

“Oh come on Neph!  That thing failed miserably!”

“How was I supposed to know she wouldn’t be affected by a simple glamour?”

“Because she’s actually one of the funky-ass Sidhe elves that dad frequently reminds me and Jadis not to screw with?”

“Ok fine, that’s beside the point.  This Artificer isn’t a Sidhe, hell she isn’t even human.  All the books say she’s a bloody construct, and a docile one to boot.  She’s just stone and magic, without much in the way of free will.  Hell, we could probably just order her to follow us and she’d likely do it.  A little subtle hypnosis can’t hurt.”

Techno nodded.  “Ok, this is starting to sound like something doable.  So how do we beat the Razorback/Jericho angle?  I’m not so much worried about Jericho.  He’s no Slapdash or Mega-Death in the battle-construction department.  But I am worried about Razorback.  That stinking rager’s about as mindlessly destructive as they come, and I don’t want to have to deal with him.”

Nephandus rolled his eyes.  “It’s Razorback.  Duh.  A little sonic lovetap and he’s out of commission.  Besides, chickadee over there doesn’t live near those two, so we can probably just tag her alone on her way to Hawthorne.  After that we disappear while I apply some tattoo magic and we have a nice, obedient servant bound to my will, rather like Cav and Sky to the Don.”

“You will, huh?  What do I get out of this?”

Nephandus smiled.  “Access to probably the best mystic forge-wright in the world.  Add to this Artificers know how to transmute materials, including core magic materials like Mithril and Orichalcum.  I think a couple pounds of each might do wonders for your inventions.”

Techno-Devil turned and looked at Nephandus with a look of pure greed in his eyes.  “All right, Neph, you got yourself a deal.  Let’s do this tonight, before anyone catches wind of it.”

“Agreed.  The faster, the better.  Meet me near the Thorny Freakshow House tonight after the arena stuff is over.  We’ll get set up there.”

“And how do we deal with Fubar?”

Nephandus grinned and pulled out a simple amulet.  “Easy money.  Simple charms that will make him overlook us in the static.”

Techno-Devil nodded and the two boys watched the Artificer girl with some subtlety, staying in the Crystal hall with visions of riches and power dancing in their heads.

Cloaked by invisibility a rather plain-looking girl stood above the two scheming boys as they planned their little kidnapping.  The stupid things her baby brother would agree to...

Jadis, the She-Beast remained cloaked and quiet as the boys detailed their plot, and brainstormed options.  Idly she wondered if the two twits could pull it off.  She needed intel before she decided to interfere in what was surely another of her brother and Neph’s hair-brained schemes.



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