Imp 5: Head Over Tail part 3

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Arena 99, Friday, Oct 5th, 2007

Normally at this time of day, I’d been in the cafeteria, just finishing up my lunch. However, today was different. Today, a couple students had challenged me, and I wasn’t one to simply ignore this kind of challenge.

I climbed out of the sim crèche, grinning from ear to ear. Then, while still chuckling gleefully to myself, I stripped out of my sim suit and quickly changed back into my working clothes. After all, this was still the middle of the school day, and I had a class to teach.

When I came out of the room a couple minutes later, I was surprised to find Tabby standing there. “I watched your sim match,” she said without preamble. “It was…interesting.”

“That’s one way of putting it,” I responded with a grin.

“I’ve never seen so much glitter and ribbons in my life,” she admitted wryly. “Wondercute certainly did a number on you. My daughter told me about them, but to see them in action like that…” She shook her head. “Insane.”

“They were, weren’t they?” I responded cheerfully.

Tabby gave me a curious look. “Why are you so happy? You lost.”

“Yep,” I replied with a chuckle. “But I had a blast. Sure, they beat me in the rematch. But it was a fun rematch, and those girls are a lot more entertaining to fight than most of your kind. I mean, this is the first time I’ve ever been attacked by a cute and cuddly teddy bear, who wanted to bear hug me to death. And the glitter…”

“Is that why you threw the fight?” Tabby asked. “Because you were having fun?”

I gave her a look of mock offense. “Me throw a fight? Why in the world would I do something like that?”

“I don’t know,” she told me with an amused look. “Maybe so you have an excuse to challenge them to another match.”

“You know,” I said with a broad grin. “That’s not a bad idea… In fact, that should be a lot of fun.”

Tabby made a show of rolling her eyes at that. “However, after watching your little game, I’m thinking that I might need to set you up with my daughter and her friends…and a couple students I’ve been tutoring.”

“Oh?” I asked.

This time, it was Tabby who gave me an almost evil smile. “I think they might learn a thing or two from dealing with someone of your…talents.”

“Why, thank you,” I said, matching her grin. “That definitely sounds like fun.”

After this, I went in and stuck my head in to listen to Wondercute’s debriefing for a few minutes, chuckling as I did so. Those girls had a lot of potential, at least when it came to my favorite tactics of distraction and misdirection.

“It does an Imp proud,” I mused.

Then, I finally took off, heading back to my classroom. After all, I still had a class to teach, and it wouldn’t do for the teacher to be late.

The class was Art 2, which was offered mostly to Juniors and Seniors. I enjoyed teaching this one, because I could go into somewhat more advanced techniques than I could in my Art 1 class, and the students in this one often took it a little more seriously.

“Ironic,” I mused with a chuckle, “that I of all people would ever consider being serious as a good thing.”

When class began a minute later, I looked around and my eyes settled on Razorback, or Dino as I preferred to call him. The kid had GSD that made mine look like nothing more than a small birthmark in comparison. But on the plus side, he looked like some kind of velociraptor, which was pretty damn cool.

Dino was sitting in his usual spot, but he was knawing on a bone that looked like it could have come straight out of the Flintstones. It was three feet long, and it looked like he was thoroughly enjoying it.

“Dino,” I said with a tone of disapproval, though it was all I could do not to burst out laughing. “How many times have I told you, that if you’re gonna bring food into my classroom, you’d better bring enough for everyone…”

As soon as I said this, Dino paused and gave a chagrinned look, or at least as much of one as could be expressed on a dinosaur’s face. Then, he held out the bone to the students near him, as though offering them a bite. Almost as one, they all pulled back with looks of disgust. I burst out laughing.

Since no one was taking Dino up on his generous offer, he began saying something in that usual dinosaur chirping thing he did. I couldn’t understand a word of what he said, since velociraptor wasn’t an option I’d ever been given for a foreign language class, but I nodded along as though I understood anyway.

“That’s a good point,” I said. “Very interesting. You’re absolutely right.” Dino continued to chirp, and I could tell that he was having fun playing along with me. “But why would Mister Williams borrow one of Jericho’s dresses?”

There were some good chuckles by that last bit, because Roland Williams was disliked by nearly everyone who knew him. I would have called him Barney, like I usually did, but I actually wanted the students to get the reference.

But as amusing as this exchange was, this was still a class and I still had to teach it. Since I’d gotten some of the silliness out of the way, I turned my attention to my actual job of teaching.

However, even as I taught the class, I couldn’t wait for it to end. Not because I disliked teaching this class, but because after this class was my free period, and I already had some plans for how to use that time. The Teletubbies were going to hate me.

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Friday afternoon, Oct 5th, 2007

The final bell of the school day rang, announcing that the weekend had officially begun. However, Ace didn’t have time to appreciate this fact. As soon as his last class was over, he hurried to the Cadet’s clubhouse, because as soon as they all regrouped as planned, they’d be able to plan their next move against the Imp.

Ace arrived at the clubhouse a short time later, and was surprised to find A-Plus and Holdout standing outside of it, looking frustrated and angry. As he watched, Holdout kicked the door.

“What’s going on?” Ace demanded.

“The door won’t open,” Holdout answered with a scowl. “The combination doesn’t work.”

“It isn’t just the combination,” A-Plus said, pointing to the door. “The whole combo lock has changed. Someone changed the lock on us.”

“I wonder who that could be,” Rez said as she arrived and looked at the lock. “It looks like the Imp decided to hit us in our home.”

The other Cadets soon arrived, and each of them attempted to open the door, but the lock remained sealed. Interface could connect to the system, but couldn’t open the door. Rez’ technopathy was just as ineffective. And then, Kew attempted to hack the lock with a devise, but it had no effect either.

“I’m sure I can get it,” Kew said. “I just need time to modify my devise.”

Then Geist arrived and everyone turned to glare at her. “Jeez, Carrie,” Rez exclaimed. “Go take a shower. You stink.”

A-Plus smirked. “The next time Miasma asks you to pull his finger… Don’t.”

“I did take a shower,” Geist spat out bitterly. “Several of them. It’s all Mischief’s fault…”

“Just…stand over there a little,” Ace suggested.

“A lot over there,” A-Plus added.

“I can’t believe this,” A-Plus exclaimed. “The Imp broke into our clubhouse and changed the lock on us…”

“How did she even do that?” Holdout asked. “I mean, we have a great security system…”

“Um…world famous thief,” Rez pointed out.

Kew groaned in defeat. “Can this get any worse?”

“Yes it can,” Reach said as she finally arrived. “Because, while you were all here, trying to break into our own clubhouse, Imp was pulling her job.”

“WHAT?” nearly everyone gasped at once.

Reach stood there with a deep scowl on her face. “While I was on my way here, I saw the Imp running away from the Homer Gallery with a large painting. I tried following her, but she had too large a head start, and I lost her.”

“A painting?” Geist asked in surprise. “I thought she was after the gold.”

“The painting of Lord Paramount,” Ace exclaimed in realization. “She was after the painting of Lord Paramount.”

“Why would she want some ugly painting?” Geist asked.

“Extortion,” Ace answered, his mind racing. “Lord Paramount donates an enormous amount of money to the school, on the condition that all the new students are shown that painting. If the school can’t show the painting…”

“Then Paramount won’t give the money,” A-Plus finished.

“I bet the Imp will try selling the painting back to the school,” Ace explained. “Paying the Imp will probably cost less in the long run, and it may save the school some embarrassment.”

“She’s an art thief,” Holdout reminded them. “We should have guessed that she’d go after the art.”

“So, what now?” Kew asked.

“Simple,” Ace answered. “We find where the Imp has the painting, then turn both it and her over to security. Our reputations…maybe even the future of the Cadets, depends on doing this right. Let’s go, Cadets.”

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Whitman Cottage, Saturday morning, Oct 6th, 2007

Melissa sat cross-legged on her bed, staring at the small collection of items that were spread out in front of her, trying to get some inspiration. There was her whoopie cushion, the lock picks, the super glue, the duct tape, and of course, the stink bombs that she’d got from Trixie.

“What are you doing?” Maxine asked from the other side of the room, where she was doing her homework. “Are you planning something else for Geist?”

“Naw,” Melissa responded with a grin. “Trixie. Yesterday, she tied my shoelaces together, and then when she threw a water balloon at me, and I tried to chase her, I fell flat on my face.”

Maxine gave her a wry look. “First question is, why didn’t you just teleport out of the way or turn intangible? Second question is, how did she tie your shoelaces without you even noticing?”

“I got distracted,” Melissa grumbled defensively.

“Of course you did,” Maxine responded with a faint smile.

“Maybe I’ll superglue her shoes to the floor,” Melissa said, her eyes gleaming with mischief. “Or I can dump a bunch of glitter on her, and it will be all over, and it will take forever to get rid of…”

“Are you sure you didn’t have coffee with breakfast?” Maxine asked.

Melissa gave her a curious look. “Why are you asking that?”

Just then, there was a knocking on their door, followed by Mrs. Savage’s voice asking, “Melissa, can you come out here?” Melissa opened the door and saw the housemother, Mrs. Savage, standing there with an amused expression.

“Is something wrong?” Melissa asked, feeling just a little worried. “Am I in trouble again?”

“Did you do something that you should be in trouble for?” Mrs. Savage asked.

After a moment of hesitation, Melissa lied. “No…”

“Get your shoes on and come on out front,” Mrs. Savage told her. “You have a visitor.”

“A visitor?” Mischief asked. “Who? Is it Imp?”

“Come on out and see for yourself,” Mrs. Savage told her, before walking away.

Melissa quickly put on her shoes and ran down the hallway to the entrance of Whitman Cottage. When she got there, instead of seeing the Imp, like she’d expected, there was another familiar person instead.

“DAD!” Melissa exclaimed, teleporting right to her dad and grabbing him in a hug.

“Heya, Pumpkin,” he greeted her with a broad smile and a firm hug. “It’s good to see you again…”

“But why are you here?” Melissa finally asked her dad, once she broke away from the hug. “Is something wrong? Are you gonna take me away?”

“Everything is fine,” he quickly assured her. “I was just in Boston yesterday for business, and since I was already this close, I figured that I could drive on over and say hi…”

“Ohmygod,” Melissa let out a squeal of delight. “I missed you…”

“And I missed you too,” her father assured her. “The apartment has been too quiet without you.” Then he teased, “I’ve been able to hear myself think, and I don’t know what to do with that…”

Melissa giggled. “And you really came here, just to visit me?”

“Of course,” he responded with a chuckle. “Why else would I be here?” Then he added, “Well, I thought this would be a good chance to see where you’re going to school, and maybe meet some of your friends and teachers….”

Melissa burst into giggles again. “Oh yeah. You’ve gotta meet my teachers, especially my art teacher. She’s awesome…”

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Dunn Hall, Saturday morning, Oct 6th, 2007

“One potato, two potato, three potato, more,” I sang out to the students in my Saturday morning open classroom. “Time to get your hineys, out my classroom door.”

My classroom had been open for two hours, and ten students had been there to take advantage of it this morning. However, the open classroom period had ended, so it was time to clear out the students so I could clean up and lock up.

I walked over to Darqueheart and examined the watercolor painting that she’d been working on this morning. “Good use of color,” I told her, definitely noting an improvement from last week. “You’re really starting to get the hang of this.”

“Thank you,” Darqueheart told me, looking a little self-conscious.

Putting a comforting hand on her shoulder, I told her, “You’ve got some talent there, and I’d be happy to keep working with you on it.”

Darqueheart left my classroom half a minute later, with a smile on her face. From what I knew of the girl, that was an expression she didn’t show much, and I was happy with my part in bringing it out.

Once all the students had cleared out, I began the process of cleaning up. The first step of that, was to pull out my bug detector and go over the classroom. As I expected, someone had slipped in a listening device. I was pretty sure that I knew who it had been, since the girl was a friend of one of the Teletubbies.

I took care of the bug, then went about cleaning the rest of the room. Before long, everything was clean, organized, and ready for classes on Monday.

I was just about to finish up, when I heard voices from my open classroom door. “This is where I have my art class,” Melissa said. “And my art teacher is always here on Saturday mornings… See, the doors open…”

For a moment, I looked up with a grin, ready to greet Melissa. However, a second later, I heard the other voice and froze.

“Abandon all hope, ye who enter,” a familiar voice said, reading the sign on my classroom door. He chuckled at that while I gulped.

“No,” I whispered, feeling my heart race. “Not him…”

By the time Melissa stepped into my classroom a second later, with her dad right behind her, I was already hidden. I was hidden, but watching, staring at the handsome blonde man I’d known for years, but didn’t know nearly as well as I wanted.

“Chickenhawk,” I whispered to myself, unable to take my eyes off Melissa’s father, the superhero who’d been my enemy for a long time. “Ryan…”

“It looks like there’s nobody here,” Ryan Chambers said as his eyes swept my classroom, passing right over me.

“I know you’re here,” Melissa called out with an annoyed expression.

“That’s all right,” Ryan told his daughter. “You can show me the rest of the campus, and then we can come back and try again if you like…”

They turned and began to leave, but just as Ryan was about to step through the door, I announced, “Hello…Chickenhawk.”

Ryan froze at the sound of my voice. “Imp,” he finally said, before slowly turning around. I’d dropped my chameleon field, and now sat on the edge of my desk.

For a brief moment, Ryan began to smile, and he actually looked happy to see me. However, he obviously remembered that I was a professional criminal, and one that he’d been chasing for years. The smile faded and his expression became more guarded.

“You know, Chickenhawk,” I said cheerfully. “I’m not sure what I should call you. I mean, you aren’t in costume, so should I still call you Chickenhawk, or should I use Ben…or Ryan.”

Ryan’s eyes narrowed in into guarded suspicion. “I thought you said, that you didn’t track down heroes’ real identities.”

“Unless they give me reason,” I pointed out, reminding him that there was a difference.

Then he glanced to his daughter, probably thinking that she must have told me. That could have been an easy assumption to make, but it wasn’t accurate.

“I didn’t track down your identity,” I assured him with a smirk. “And Melissa didn’t tell me. You did. Or at least, you might as well have.”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“I was at an art exhibit last June,” I explained, “taking a look at the new pieces...when Ryan Chambers showed up, and began introducing Melissa to everyone as his daughter. It didn’t take much to add two plus two.”

Ryan grimaced a little at that. “And what are you going to do with my name?”

“Use it?” I asked with a grin. “Unless you’d prefer I keep calling you Chickenhawk, this is.”

“Ryan will do fine,” he said.

“And don’t worry,” I told him. “I haven’t told anyone else, nor do I plan to.”

Ryan looked relieved at that, and I was surprised to realize, that he took me at my word. He really believed that I’d keep his identity to myself.

“What are you doing here?” Ryan asked. It sounded a lot less accusatory than I was used to from him.

“I’m here on a job,” I answered with a grin.

“You’re doing a job at Whateley?” Ryan responded. I could see him tensing up, preparing to fight me again.

I let out a sigh, suddenly having a sense of deja-vu. So far, this conversation was starting to sound like the one I’d had with Pinball.

“She’s my art teacher,” Melissa exclaimed, nearly bouncing with excitement.

“What?” Ryan gasped, now looking confused.

With a smirk and a chuckle, I said, “It looks like Melissa is living up to her codename. It seems that she never warned you about me.”

Ryan gave me another suspicious look. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m retired,” I answered. “I got tired of being a brilliant criminal mastermind, so I decided to retire and try a different career.” I gave him a wry smile and gestured around the classroom. “I’m an art teacher now.”

Ryan stared at me in stunned disbelief, while Melissa exclaimed, “Its true… Imp is a teacher now. An awesome one.”

For a moment, Ryan seemed to be froze, confused by the whole situation. I could imagine how shocking this whole thing must be for him, and I was tempted to burst out laughing. I might have, if I still thought of him as the lame hero Chickenhawk, rather than as someone much more important.

“I know this is hard to believe,” I commented. Then I paused to take a deep breath. “If it helps,” I said carefully. “You can call me Christine.”

“Christine,” Ryan repeated my name. “Is that your real name?”

“It’s the only other name that I truly claim as my own,” I answered.

Ryan nodded his understanding. “And you really did retire?”

“Yes,” I responded with an amused smile. “I really am retired from my old business. I have been for a couple months now.”

I didn’t mention that I’d retired immediately after our encounter with Paradigm. I didn’t want him to realize that he may actually have influenced that decision, more than I even wanted to admit to myself.

“But how in the world did you end up here?” Ryan asked me, looking more curious than anything else.

I shrugged at that. “A couple weeks after I retired, Lady Astarte showed up at my Imp Lair and offered me a job.”

Ryan blinked at that. “Why would Lady Astarte offer you a job at a school?”

Before I could answer, Melissa began giggling. “Because Lady Astarte is Mrs. Carson… She’s our headmistress…”

I nodded my confirmation at that. “It turns out, that Alicia…the girl Hexagoner kidnapped last spring, is a student here. I gave her a few painting lessons while she was a guest in my Imp Lair, and apparently, she told Carson all about it. The next thing I know, Carson decides that I’d make a good art teacher…”

“That is…amazing,” Ryan said, staring at me for a moment with an odd expression. “So, you actually work for Lady Astarte…”

“Ironic, I know,” I admitted with a chuckle.

Then Ryan began to smile. “Congratulations.”

“Thank you,” I said, still feeling a bit self-conscious. I wasn’t used to feeling like this, or to having my heart racing over a man. “But the downside is, I’m out of the game, so you’ll have to find a new playmate.”

“I’m sure I’ll survive,” he assured me with an amused look. Then, he gave me a thoughtful look and added, “I just have a hard time believing that you’ll be satisfied, working as a teacher. I imagine that compared to what you were doing, it would be…boring.”

That made me burst out laughing. “Melissa and Alicia are two of my students,” I told him with a grin. “I have a dinosaur, Doctor Diabolik’s daughter, and even a Goodkind in some of my classes. My coworkers include Lady Astarte, Circe, and chibi Cthulhu. Hell, I even have a group of students, who graciously volunteered to keep me amused. Trust me, this school is anything but boring.”

Ryan chuckled at that. “I’m glad to hear that, then.”

“Imp is the best teacher on campus,” Melissa offered, reminding me that she was there. I’d been so focused on Ryan, that I’d nearly forgotten my apprentice. “Her class is really fun…”

“How can I argue with that?” Ryan asked wryly. Then he stared at me for several seconds with a strange expression. “Since we are no longer…professional competitors, would you be interested in meeting for coffee sometime to talk?”

“I’d like that,” I admitted, feeling a little startled by the invitation, but in a pleasant way. “It should be interesting, to just be able to talk, without any of our…professional disagreements…or other things, getting in the way.”

“Today then?” he asked, looking just a little eager.

I let out a sigh of disappointment. “Unfortunately, today probably isn’t good. There are a group of students I need to…teach, and I expect to be busy with that all day.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Ryan said, looking as disappointed as I felt. “A rain check then.”

“Of course,” I said. “And I am looking forward to it.”

We talked for a couple more minutes before Ryan and Melissa left my classroom, to continue their tour around campus. I felt an ache in my heart that I couldn’t go along with them, though there was also a strange warmth there as well. Still, regardless of whether Ryan was on campus or not, I still had to deal with the Teletubbies.

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Saturday morning, Oct 6th, 2007

Ace stifled a yawn, trying not to show how tired he felt. He wasn’t the only Cadet who hadn’t gotten any sleep last night, and unfortunately, they couldn’t afford to rest just yet.

Most of the Cadets were present, gathered together in a classroom that they’d commandeered for this purpose. Their regular clubhouse and headquarters was still unavailable, but hopefully, that situation would soon change.

“Alright Cadets,” Ace announced. “Let’s review our status. Kew, you first.”

“I still haven’t been able to bypass the lock and get into our clubhouse,” Kew admitted in frustration. “I’m pretty sure now, that the new access panel that Imp installed, isn’t even connected to the lock. The whole thing is a decoy…”

“Another red herring,” Reach pointed out wryly, earning a glare from both Kew and Ace. “Sorry.”

“The next step is to just cut through the door,” Kew said with a deep scowl. “And then replace the whole thing.”

“Do it,” Ace told her. “Reach”

“Last night,” Reach said, “we went to the Homer Gallery to collect evidence, and see what else was stolen, since it seems unlikely that our suspect would only have taken the painting. The Gallery was locked and we were unable to gain access. I checked again this morning, and it’s still locked tight.”

“A-Plus?” Ace asked.

A-Plus nodded. “Last night, we searched the Imp’s hideout again. When we arrived, she’d changed the lock, and it took over an hour to bypass it and get inside. Unfortunately, the only thing we found inside was a sign that congratulated us for getting inside. She knew that would be the first place we’d look.”

“And for my part,” Ace began. “I led a search team to try locating the missing painting, but didn’t find any leads. Then this morning, after the Imp began her open classroom, I searched her apartment in the Village.” There were some gasps of surprise at that.

“That seems a little…risky,” Reach pointed out carefully. “If you’d been caught breaking into a teacher’s private residence…”

“It was a risk,” Ace admitted. “But a necessary one. Can you think of a better place for her to hide the painting?”

“But I assume, it wasn’t actually there,” Rez pointed out. “Otherwise, you would have said something.”

“You’re right,” he agreed with a look of frustration. “I didn’t find anything except for a room full of paintings and painting supplies.”

Ace looked around the room, to see if anyone else had something to add. For a moment, his eyes settled on Geist, who currently smelled like she’d dumped a whole bottle of perfume over her head. It was potent, but still better than the lingering odor that she was trying to cover up.

Finally, Ace picked up the radio and asked, “Interface. Do you have anything to report?”

“Yes,” Interface answered from the radio. “I’ve been keeping watch on the suspect’s location. She just met with Mischief and an unidentified man. Mischief and the man left the classroom a minute ago. Now, the Imp has emerged and is going in a different direction. Instructions?”

Ace considered for a moment. “Follow the Imp, but don’t let her see you. She still might lead us to the painting.” Then he looked over to Reach and added, “Reach, I need you to see if you can find out who this man is, and why he was meeting with the Imp.”

“No problem,” Reach stated.

“Why don’t we take this to security?” Rez abruptly asked. “I mean, I’m pretty sure that they’d want to know about this robbery…”

“Because the Imp still has something on Carson,” A-Plus reminded Rez and everyone else. “And Carson told security to back off of the Imp…”

“She’s right,” Ace announced. “Security won’t listen to us on this, until we give them enough evidence that they have no choice but to do so. That means finding the painting, then turning both it and the Imp over to them at the same time.” The he paused. “And in addition, we need to make this bust ourselves. Our reputation depends on it.”

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Saturday morning, Oct 6th, 2007

I was being followed. That was no surprise though, as those meddling kids, the Teletubbies, had been following me off and on for several weeks. However, I just wished that they wouldn’t be so obvious about it. After all, an Imp of my skill and reputation deserved a much better class of opponent than these amateurs.

“They should be honored that I even agreed to play with them,” I mused with a smirk.

My current tail, the annoying one, rather than the beautiful and fabulous one which sprouted from my backside, was Interface. Interface himself, wasn’t much of a threat. In this game we were playing, he was just a small piece on the board. Of course, at this stage of the game, he could still be a useful piece.

“Hi diddle dee dee, a villain’s life for me,” I quietly sang to myself, while I walked between campus buildings.

Interface was still following, and I made sure not to look directly at him, because it was too soon to give the game away. A few seconds later, I made my way to the nearest entrance to the tunnels, then I paused to glanced around in exaggerated manner, one that would practically scream out ‘suspicious’. Once I was sure I’d made my point, I went on down into the tunnels. As expected, Interface continued to follow me, which brought an evil grin to my face.

A minute later, I found a nice spot that was out of Interface’s sight, and used my chameleon field to blend into the background. I didn’t have to wait long at all before Interface reached my hiding spot, still trying to follow me. Normally, I would have just let him go past, then I would have turned around and went in the other direction. However, this time, I had something else in mind.

“BOO!” I exclaimed as I suddenly leapt out at Interface. He let out a shriek of shock, then collapsed to the ground, courtesy of the knockout mist that I’d sprayed into his face while surprising him. I bent down, checked his pulse, and grinned evilly. “As easy as taking candy from a baby…” Not that I’d ever actually tried that. There were some lines that even the infamous and fabulous Imp wouldn’t cross.

It took me nearly twenty minutes to drag Interface’s unconscious body to where I wanted him, a large room that I’d prepared ahead of time. This was one of a countless number of rooms which had been hidden all through the Whateley tunnel complex. From what I’d been told, it had previously been used as a clubhouse for a long defunct club, a research area for a devisor, and even a love shack for some horny teenage boys. But for now, it would serve my purposes.

“And this place is worth every penny,” I mused, thinking of the money I’d paid Jadis Diabolik. Fortunately, she’d given me a nice discount on the rental, once she learned that I planned to use this space to humiliate the Teletubbies. In fact, I was pretty sure that she would have given me the room for free, if it hadn’t been for the principle of the thing.

By the time Interface woke up, everything was in place and ready to go. I’d even changed into my working outfit. My old working outfit, which was a black and red catsuit. When playing a game like this, it helped to set up the right sense of drama.

“Where am I?” Interfaced demanded in confusion, only realize that he was tied-up and helpless. “What’s going on…?” Then, he saw me and his eyes went wide. “The Imp…”

I immediately recognized my que, so with an evil grin, I held up a sign so that he could read it. ‘IMP-IS MISCH-IEV-IOUS’. An arrow pointed down at me.

Interface stared at me with an expression that seemed to flicker between fear and confusion. Then he looked around and his eyes went wide. He’d finally noticed the large contraption set up around him, and the big bold letters on the side that said ‘ACME’. And then, he looked up and noticed the large vat, with skulls painted on the side, along with the word ‘ACID’.

“WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?” Interface screamed, as he frantically struggled to get out of his bindings.

Without saying a word, I held up a second sign. ‘DEATH-IC-US TRAP-IOUS’. I gave Interface another evil grin, then held up my last sign, and pointed straight at him. ‘TEL-E-TUBBY BAIT-I-OUS’.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Interface cried out. “This is real life…NOT some cartoon… You can’t do this to me…”

I just grinned in response, swishing my tail back and forth. Then, I gave my prisoner a wink, dropped the sign, and turned to leave the room.

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Saturday late morning, Oct 6th, 2007

“I almost have it,” Kew announced, staring at the door to their clubhouse.

“Good,” Ace responded grimly. He hated having to cut open their door, since that would severely damage their security until they could replace it. Unfortunately, that seemed to be the only way to get back inside. “Damn that Imp.”

Ace and several of the others had been searching through the tunnels, trying to find any sign of the Imp or the painting, until Kew had called them over the radio and reported that she was nearly back inside. Ace had come back right away, along with A-Plus. Once they regained access, they’d have to secure their headquarters, just to make sure that none of their enemies took advantage of this opportunity. There was absolutely no way that he was going to allow the Bad Seeds or the Masterminds to step a single foot inside.

“I’ve got it,” Kew exclaimed triumphantly.

“It took long enough,” A-Plus grumbled.

“Enough of that,” Ace said. “We’re back in, and that’s the important thing.”

Ace stepped into the clubhouse, then immediately froze in horror. Not only had the Imp locked them out of their own headquarters, she’s also vandalized the inside. Everywhere he looked, there were Teletubby posters and decorations.

“It almost looks like Wondercute got in here,” Kew exclaimed.

“Not enough pink or glitter,” A-Plus responded with a grim look.

“I am really starting to hate the Imp,” Ace stated bitterly.

A-Plus nodded agreement. “You aren’t the only one.”

After taking a minute to calm down, Ace called out to the rest of the Cadets on the radio. “We’ve regained access to HQ, and are in the process of securing it. Does anyone have anything to report?”

Reach was the first to respond. “I’ve identified my target as Mischief’s father. It seems that he’s only here to visit her, but I haven’t been able to completely confirm this.”

“Keep tailing him then,” Ace said. “Anyone else?” When nobody else had anything to report, he called out, “Interface. Please respond.”

Interface had been out of contact for too long. That wasn’t surprising, because his last communications was to say that he was following the Imp into the tunnels. And as he well knew, any radio communications in the tunnels were extremely unreliable, especially the deeper they went. There were even areas, where no radio communications worked at all, even between two radios that were ten feet apart from each other.

Suddenly, Imp’s voice came over the radio. “Interface isn’t in right now, but if you leave a name and number, he’ll call you back as soon as he’s available.”

Ace gasped, then demanded, “What did you do with Interface?”

“He’s a little tied-up right now,” Imp responded in a cheerful tone. “But you might want to find him before… Well, I’ve gotta go. Bye bye.”

“She has interface,” Ace exclaimed, much to the shock and horror of Kew and A-Plus.

“We have to save him,” Kew said.

Ace nodded agreement. “Agreed. Let’s secure the clubhouse, then go look for him…”

Kew smirked faintly. “Then we may need this…” She held up a devise about the size of a cell phone, looking rather pleased with herself. “Our radios have tracking devices in them, just for this kind of situation… This will lead us straight to Interface’s radio…”

“And the Imp,” Ace finished for her with a cold smile.

--------------------

Beck Library, Saturday early afternoon, Oct 6th, 2007

I was on the roof of the library, crouched down and peering over the edge. At the moment, I was pretending that I was a gargoyle. I would have made an awesome gargoyle, if I wasn’t so darn cute and cuddly.

I’d been waiting there for a bit longer than expected, but my patience finally paid off. Three of the Teletubbies appeared down below, and I watched with some amusement, as they each snuck towards the target, coming from different directions. The target, was a brightly wrapped present, which I’d left in front of the library. After a couple minutes of sneaking, the three kids stood in front of the box.

“Here it is,” Kew said. “Interface’s radio is on the box…”

A-Plus carefully looked over the box before announcing, “It’s probably booby trapped.”

They began to carefully look over the box, without actually touching it, proving that they were a little smarter than I gave them credit for. A little. Then with a grin, I pulled out a remote control that I’d brought with me, and pushed the big red button.

Suddenly, the entire present exploded into confetti and glitter, making a nice mess all over the Teletubbies. That glitter got everywhere, and would be a pain to clean up. I’d gotten the idea from Wondercute, during our last sim match.

“What the Hell,” A-Plus demanded as she frantically tried wiping off the glitter.

I burst out laughing, and gave myself away. All three of those meddling kids stared up at me with dark looks. I just waved back, enjoying the looks on their faces.

“Well, if it isn’t Deuce, C-Minus, and Kewpie Doll,” I said in greeting. “I was expecting you kids half an hour ago…”

“Imp,” Ace spat out angrily. “Where is Interface?”

“And where’s that painting?” A-Plus demanded.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I called out in mock innocence. “And if you want to accuse me of something, I certainly hope you have some proof…”

“We have a witness who saw you steal that painting,” Ace stated, looking all smug and self-righteous. “You’re going down. You can choose to do it the easy way, or the hard way…”

I laughed at his bravado, having seen much the same attitude on countless heroes and the like. He was too full of himself to even realize when he was outmatched.

“I’m generally a lazy Imp,” I commented with a smirk. “So I like to do things the easy way…” Ace relaxed a little at that, and began to look even more smug. “And the easiest thing here is…”

I paused to blow a raspberry down at them, then turned and ran along the library roof before leaping off. I focused the energy from my PK aura into my legs, and used this to absorb much of the impact as I landed. Then, I immediately went into a roll, which took care of the rest of the impact.

“Get her,” Ace yelled.

“You can’t catch me,” I called back. “I’m the fasted Imp in all Mexico. Arriba! Arriba! Andale! Andale!

With that, I kicked up the speed and ran straight out across campus. I was in great shape, the physical equivalent of an exemplar 2. I wasn’t sure if this was a side effect of my GSD, or of my regeneration keeping my muscles and physical condition from ever atrophying or backsliding, even without exercise. What I did know, was that I was faster than the average person.

Unfortunately, A-Plus actually was an exemplar, and she had enough extra oomph to not only keep up with me, but to outpace me. Or at least, she would if she knew how to actually run more efficiently. She might be able to beat me in a straight out run, but not when I found obstacles like trees, tables, and benches to put between us. I was damn good at using those to my advantage, while my pursuers only found them to be obstacles.

“Good thing none of them are with the Hooligans,” I told myself with a grin.

Then, I saw Holdout come out into the open on one side of me, while Reach and Rez also appeared. It seemed like the Teletubbies had called ahead and were coordinating with their friends. It wasn’t a bad tactic, and I’d been wondering if they’d be smart enough to do something like that.

While the Teletubbies were trying to box me in, I happened to see a somewhat more friendly face, casually walking across campus. I ran up to Maria, and came to a stop.

“Hey, how’s it going?” I greeted my neighbor.

“Fine,” Maria answered, looking me over and clearly noticing my costume. Then she looked around and asked, “Are you being chased by the Squirrels?”

“Yep,” I responded cheerfully.

Maria gave me a curious look. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t have time to tell you right now,” I said, flashing her a grin. “But it will make a great story over breakfast or drinks…”

She shook her head. “I can’t wait to hear it.”

“And I can’t wait to tell it,” I said with a laugh, right before I snapped around and began running again.

I didn’t go much further before I decided to slow down and let the Teletubbies catch up to me. Once they began to do so, and started to surround me, I grinned.

“We’ve got you now, Imp,” Ace announced. “Surrender. You’re under arrest.”

I looked up. “Funny. I don’t see a rest.” Then I looked around, grinning at the Teletubbies, who were obviously a little confused about why I was doing that, when they had me surrounded. A moment later, I exclaimed, “Ninja vanish,” and threw a smoke bomb at the ground, so I could do my vanishing trick.

“Where’d she go?” Geist gasped.

“She can teleport,” Holdout answered. “Remember, Mister Williams briefed us on her powers…”

While the Teletubbies were standing around, looking frustrated and confused, I slowly crept away, at least far enough that I was outside their little circle. Only then did I drop my chameleon field and become visible again, but none of them saw me quite yet.

“Thuffering thuccotash,” I exclaimed in my best Sylvester voice. “You guyth are thtupid…”

“There she is,” A-Plus yelled, pointing right at me.

“Way to state the obvious, C-Minus,” I called out with a grin, right before I turned and ran straight to the tunnel entrance. I paused just long enough to wave at my pursuers, before going down.

Once in the tunnels, the game changed. Instead of running, this became more a game of hide and seek. I easily blended into my surroundings and let the meddling kids go past. Then, I crept back towards the way we’d come from. At this point, it would be extraordinarily easy to lose them entirely, but if I’d wanted to do that, I could have done so at any time.

“Marco,” I called out.

“IMP,” someone yelled from back in the tunnels.

“No,” I responded. “You’re supposed to yell polo...though what a horse game has to do with hide and seek, I don’t know.”

“She’s around here somewhere,” Ace snapped.

Once again, I blended into my environment and slipped away from them. Once I was far enough, I called out, “You’re getting warmer… Warmer… Oh, now you’re getting colder…”

I slipped further into the tunnels, calling out more taunts and slowly luring the Teletubbies to where I wanted them. However, there were still a lot of them, and my plans would work a little better if I thinned the ranks.

While crouched down and hidden, I watched Geist coming down the tunnel alone. Of course, the real Geist was closer than she appeared. I could actually hear her footsteps, and as soon as those passed by, I sprayed the invisible girl with my knockout mist. She collapsed to the ground, immediately becoming visible again. For a moment, I was tempted to really mess with her, but from the smell, she was still dealing with Melissa’s revenge. I actually felt kind of sorry for the girl, so I just left her there and crept away.

A minute later, I found another of the Teletubbies who’d separated from the group. I grinned evilly, then sprayed Holdout the same way I had Geist. Once he was down and out, I pulled out a permanent marker, and drew a mustache and monocle onto his face.

“I actually feel kind of bad about this,” I whispered to the unconscious boy. “It’s almost like picking on a puppy. Then again, sometimes you need to swat a puppy with a rolled up newspaper, so they’ll learn.”

Now that I’d reduced the numbers to somewhat more manageable levels, it was time to move things along. That meant that I needed to get the Teletubbies in position.

“Oh no,” I cried out. “They’re getting too close. I can’t let them find…”

“There she is,” A-Plus yelled.

The Teletubbies came running, and Kew cried out, “She got Holdout…”

“And Geist,” I pointed out cheerfully, before running down the tunnel.

“Don’t let her get away,” Ace commanded.

“I have to get away,” I exclaimed, running down the tunnel and opening the hidden door. I made sure that they saw me enter.

“She went through here,” Kew said.

However, Reach quickly followed that up with, “Careful. This may be a trap…”

In spite of Reach’s warning, they opened the door and rushed inside. Ace, A-Plus, Kew, and Reach all paused to look around the large room, and to take in the various details. The most notable one was the large deathtrap that was set up, with Interface still tied-up beneath the vat.

“Interface,” Reach exclaimed.

A-Plus pointed to the far wall and announced, “The painting…”

“Oh that,” I said, gesturing to the ugly painting of Lord Paramount, which hung on the wall. “That’s just a little something I picked up at a yard sale…”

“HELP,” Interface yelled. “Get me out of here before…”

“He’s right, you know,” I pointed out with an evil grin. “The timer is counting down, and as soon as it reaches zero…” I pointed to the big vat that clearly had ‘ACID’ painted on the side, then to the clock that was counting down from ten seconds.

Almost as one, all four of the free Teletubbies began to move. However, before they’d even moved three steps, the containers I had hidden along the ceiling, opened up and dumped a hundred gallons of liquid marshmallow fluff, right on top of them.

Reach was the only one to react fast enough to avoid getting completely doused, but she still ended up getting splashed all along one leg. The ooey, gooey, sticky marshmallow was everywhere, making it difficult to move quickly or easily.

“Eeeeew,” Kew exclaimed. “Gross…”

But in spite of the obstacle I’d put in their way, Ace continued rushing towards Interface. However, he’d been slowed down enough so that just as he reached his friend, the timer went off and the vat suddenly tipped over and dumped its contents all over Interface, and splashing Ace and A-Plus in the process.

For a moment, they all froze in horror, until Interface blurted out in surprise and relief, “Its chocolate…”

“Chocolate syrup,” A-Plus gasped in disbelief.

“Three, two, one,” I called out, and the second set of containers along the ceiling opened up, dumping graham cracker crumbs all over them. The crumbs immediately stuck to the gooey marshmallow and chocolate mess.

“Have you had enough,” I called out gleefully, “or do you want s’more…?”

“It’s over, Imp,” Ace stated, giving me a look of determination. “We found your hiding spot. We have Interface back, we’ve recovered the painting, and we have you.”

“Do you?” I asked with an evil grin.

“Look out,” Reach called out in warning, but it was already too late.

I simply reached over and flipped the light switch. The entire room plunged into darkness, though I had great night vision due to my…unique eyes, and had little problem finding my way to the door.

--------------------

Saturday afternoon, Oct 6th, 2007

Ace looked himself over in the mirror, satisfied with what he saw. It hadn’t been easy to get all that the sticky marshmallow goo out of his hair and other places, but after a long hot shower, with a LOT of scrubbing, he’d finally managed to get clean.

“I’ll never eat a s’more again,” he said, shuddering at the thought of marshmallow, chocolate, and graham crackers. “I’ve had more than enough for a lifetime.”

Then, Ace noticed several specks of glitter on the back of his hand and scowled. He quickly brushed it off, but knew that there was still more. Even with the shower, he hadn’t been able to get rid of all that glitter. It was even harder to get rid of than the marshmallow had been.

After he was done verifying that he was once again presentable, Ace left his dorm and hurried to the Cadet’s clubhouse, where he found the others already cleaned up and waiting. The only visible signs of their ordeal, were a few flecks of glitter on Kew’s cheek, and the marker which hadn’t washed off Holdout’s face.

“All right Cadets,” Ace announced. “We may not have captured the Imp, but we did recover the stolen painting. I think it’s time we go to security with this.”

“About time,” someone muttered.

A couple minutes later, all of the Cadets marched to Kane Hall with the painting. Once they stepped into the security office, Ace stood there, proudly posing with his prize.

“The Imp stole this from the Homer Gallery,” Ace announced.

“Really?” Lt. Forsyth asked, coming over for a closer look.

“Yes, sir,” Ace answered. “The Intelligence Cadet Corps recovered this from the thief, and we would like to provide our evidence and testimony about her crime.”

Forsyth stared at the painting for several long seconds. “And you think she stole this from the Homer Gallery?”

“Of course,” A-Plus responded.

“I saw the Imp leaving the Homer Gallery with it myself,” Reach offered.

Forsyth nodded, then pointed out, “This didn’t come from the Homer Gallery.” He pointed to the bottom left corner, where Ace saw a circle with little horns and a squiggly devil’s tail.

“What’s that?” Kew asked.

“This is the Imp’s signature.” Forsyth answered. He gave the Cadets a wry smile. “The Imp is a notorious art forger.”

“It’s a forgery?” Holdout gasped in surprise.

“Then where’d Imp hide the real panting?” Rez asked.

Ace glared at the painting with a scowl, wondering how he could have missed it. The Imp’s symbol wasn’t even the same color as the rest of the painting, which made it stand out rather noticeably.

“It looks like our investigation isn’t complete,” Ace grudgingly admitted.

Forsyth actually chuckled at that, much to Ace’s surprise. “We’re well aware of your investigation into the Imp’s activities,” he admitted. “The person in charge of handling that investigation is right down that hall, on the third door to the left.”

“Thank you,” Ace told Forsyth, before turning to go in the direction indicated.

However, just as Ace and the other Cadets were about to leave the main security reception room, he glanced back and saw one of the other security offers hand Forsyth some money, saying, “It looks like you won this one.” Then, Ace noticed several other people were giving each other money as well. With a scowl of curiosity and confusion, he shook his head and continued to the office that Forsyth had indicated.

The door was wide open, showing the large desk that was positioned in the middle of the room. There was a large chair on the other side of the desk, but it was facing in the other direction, so that Ace could only see the back of the chair.

“We’re the Intelligence Cadet Corps,” Ace started, “and we’re here to report on our investigation…”

Just then, the chair swiveled around, and Ace let out a loud gasp, and stared in horror. Sitting in the chair behind the desk, with an evil grin on her face, was the Imp.

--------------------

Kane Hall, Saturday afternoon, Oct 6th, 2007

I was leaning forward in the large office chair, grinning evilly, and feeling sure that I presented quite an imp-ressive sight. At the moment, I was wearing my working outfit, my new one rather than the old. It consisted of a black suit and red blouse, what I usually wore when teaching classes. In fact, I was even wearing a pair of glasses, because everyone knew that glasses made you look smarter. Technically, today was my day off, but it paid to project the right image in situations like this.

The Teletubbis all stood on the other side of the desk, staring at me with expressions of shock and confusion. Obviously, they had no idea that I’d be waiting here for them.

“Imp,” Ace spat out angrily.

“Come on in and close the door,” I said. “We have a lot to talk about…”

“We’re bringing you in,” A-Plus exclaimed

“Really?” I asked with a grin. “For what?”

“For stealing that painting, obviously,” Ace said.

I just burst out laughing, which confused the kids. “I haven’t stolen any paintings in months…”

“Reach saw you stealing it,” Kew pointed out.

I looked over to reach. “No, Stretchy here saw me walking away with a painting, but not one I stole. That was just a replica. A replica, which incidentally, you all stole from me. I never touched the original, so as far as I know, it’s still hanging right where it always has…” While they all gaped at me in shock, I just sat there, smirking and swishing my tail back and forth. “However, we do have some criminal activities to discuss.” With that, I slapped a small stack of folders down onto the desk.

“What are those?” Ace demanded suspicious.

“Why, your rap sheets of course,” I answered.

“Our WHAT?” Rez blurted out while the others just stared with their mouths dropping open.

“Dozens of charges of illegal wiretapping and listening devices,” I pointed out cheerfully. “Stalking. Several counts of breaking and entering, including into a teacher’s private residence. Breaking into a safe and stealing the contents. Theft of my painting. And of course, the most serious charge…grand theft candy.” I looked over the group with an evil smile. “You’ve all been pretty busy this last month. Even I don’t usually rack up that many charges.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” A-Plus blurted out.

“Oh, I’m not,” I assured her. “You’ve all broken enough laws, that if I press charges, a couple of you would probably be spending some time in juvie…” There were some more gasps, as well as a few very nervous looks. “But I’ve never been one to give a damn about laws or the court system, so that’s off the table…”

“We’re the good guys,” Ace stated proudly. “We’re law enforcement…”

“No you aren’t,” I pointed out with a smirk. “You have no authority or authorization from any source. You’re just a bunch of kids playing at it, private citizens who decided to ignore any laws and rules you disagreed with, in order to do whatever you want… You’re not law enforcement. You’re criminals.”

The look of shock on their faces was enough to make me laugh. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Holdout said, though I could see from the look in his eyes that he wasn’t certain of that.

“Real law enforcement has oversight, and rules they have to obey, and procedures, and warrants,” I pointed out cheerfully. “If any law enforcement individual tried doing things the way you did, all the evidence would be thrown out, and your victim would be able to sue both you and your agency for a lot of moolah…” I grinned again. “People like you, make things a lot easier for people like me.”

“We did what needed to be done,” Ace argued, glaring at me angrily.

“Oh, that is a great one,” I exclaimed. “A real classic. The ends justify the means. It’s for the greater good. You have to break some eggs if you want to make an omelet. I don’t know how many villains use that one. Doctor Diabolik, Demeter Black, Paradigm… Yep, a true classic.”

“I think it’s time we talk to Delarose,” Ace stated. “Or even Carson.”

“Sure,” I responded with a shrug. “We can bring them in. In fact, the only reason they aren’t here, is for plausible deniability…”

“What are you talking about?” A-Plus demanded.

“You think they don’t know what’s been going on?” I asked with a raised eyebrow. “When you idiots decided to start following me around and spying on me, I got Carson’s permission to turn this into a teaching moment.” Then with another evil grin and a swish of my tail, I reminded them, “I am a teacher after all…”

Reach asked, “What did you mean about deniability?”

I nodded at that, pleased that at least one of them had caught that little detail. “Right now, Carson and Delarose don’t officially know about your rap sheets, or all the little no no’s you did.” I pointed out, touching the folders in front of me. “However, if they did, then they’d have no choice but to act on them.” My expression turned serious, and I was pretty sure that this had more of an impact on the Teletubbies than my ‘evil’ grin did. “As a group, you’ve all violated enough school rules that several of you could be expelled. And if Carson was forgiving enough to avoid that, well, you’re almost guaranteed to have your club charter revoked, and your club disbanded. And that isn’t even saying anything about the serious detention…”

Now, all the Teletubbies were staring at me with severely worried expressions. They knew that I wasn’t bluffing, and that they really had crossed several lines during their investigation. Now, the possible consequences were starting to dawn on them.

“But as bad as that is,” I said with a snarl. “What angers me, is how sloppy you were about it. As a professional, it hurt to see such sloppy lock picking work. The safe should have been opened in half the time, without even scratching any of the metal. Even if I hadn’t been recording everything, I still would have known the moment I saw the outside of the safe. And your tailing work… You all stick out like sore thumbs…”

Rez turned to Holdout and whispered, “Is she lecturing us for not being good crooks?”

“It’s shameful is what it is,” I said with an exaggerated sigh. “And your logic… I’m a professional of thirty years, one of the best in the business. If I was really interested in stealing something from Whateley, I would have snuck in, grabbed it, and then left before anyone realized I’d ever been here. I certainly wouldn’t have faked being a teacher to infiltrate the place.”

“Then why are you here?” Reach asked, fixing me with a flat look.

“Because I’m retired from my previous career,” I answered evenly. “Because I was looking for something else to do, and Carson offered me a job.” Then with another evil grin, I added, “Because I really am a teacher now, which is why I’ve taken time out of my busy schedule to teach you Teletubbies some valuable lessons.”

“And why should we believe you?” Ace asked. His voice was shaking a little, though he tried to keep it under control.

“I don’t care if you do or not,” I answered honestly. “But ask yourself this. Do you really think Carson and Delarose didn’t do their research on me? Do you really think Lady Astarte would have hired me, unless she knew something that you obviously don’t?” The kids nervously glanced back and forth between each other. “But if you want to bring this to Carson or Delarose’s official attention, go right ahead. It’s no skin off my tail.”

“Mister Williams warned us about you,” A-Plus started to say.

“I’m sure he did,” I responded wryly. “Barney…Williams is an asshole of unimaginable proportions. Carson told him to leave me alone, so he talked you into doing his dirty work for him…”

“Mister Williams is a hero,” Geist protested, actually sounding offended.

I snorted at that. “Barney is about as much a hero as I am.”

A couple of the Teletubbies glared at me, though several others looked embarrassed. I knew that it couldn’t be easy for them to realize that they’d been used, or that they were facing some serious trouble because of it. All of them were clearly worried.

“So, what now?” Ace asked grimly, knowing that I held the future of his entire club in my hands. He clearly didn’t like that, not one bit.

I met Ace’s gaze and answered, “Like I said, there’s no need for these to get any official attention.” I grabbed the folders and removed them from the table. “But in the future, just remember, there are some lines that you don’t cross, unless you’re willing to pay the consequences.”

The Teletubbies all gulped and let out sighs of relief, realizing that they’d just dodged a bullet. One that could easily have destroyed their entire club.

However, A-Plus cautiously asked, “Is that it then?”

I considered her question for a moment, then grinned. “You all showed a thorough willingness to ignore any rules that get in your way, and most law enforcement agencies don’t really like that kind of thing. Too much potential for lawsuits and the like. However, I do know of an organization that thoroughly appreciates that kind of initiative…”

With that, I set a small stack of papers on the table and pushed them towards the Teletubbies. A couple of them carefully picked up the papers and looked them over, then gasped.

“These are application forms,” Kew blurted out in disbelief. “For the Syndicate…”

I just grinned at that. The looks on their faces was enough to have made this whole game worth it.

“Personally, I don’t care which direction you go,” I said. “Hero or villain, cop or criminal. You have to make that decision for yourselves. What I do care about, is sloppy tradecraft. If you’re going to be picking locks or cracking safes, then you should at least do it right. I’m going to hold some special classes and workshops, to teach those kinds of skills, and you’re all invited to attend.”

After that, the Teletubbies all took the opportunity to leave the office as quickly as they could. I watched them go with a chuckle, hoping that they at least learned some valuable lessons from this game, and that they would stick. With kids that age, you couldn’t always tell. Of course, the most important lesson, was that they should never mess with the Imp.

As soon as the Teletubbies were gone, I pulled out another small stack of papers and stared at it with a smirk. These papers were the official request, to change their club name from the Intelligence Cadet Corps, to the Teletubbies. I’d even forged the correct signatures, so all I had to do was turn it in to admin, and it would be done.

“I can imagine the looks on their faces when they find out,” I said with a chuckle.

However, after a few seconds of consideration, I dropped the forms into the garbage can. It was one thing to give a puppy a light smack from a rolled up newspaper, in order to help potty train them, but it was quite another to kick him just because. They were just kids, so I could afford to be a kind and merciful Imp, at least for now.

Of course, the Teletubbies weren’t the only other players in this game we’d just played. In fact, they were pawns as much as players, and Barney was the one who’d put them into play. Barney and I were supposed to have a truce, where we left each other alone, but he’d ignored that. He’d come at me anyway, using the Teletubbies as proxies. I never thought Barney would be capable of that kind of sneakiness, but people can change a lot in fifteen years.

“Strike two, Barney,” I said grimly. The first strike was a given. He’d earned that one fifteen years ago, and then some. The fact that I was giving him two more strikes, was an act of generosity worthy of a saint. “That’s me. Saint Imp.” Then with narrowed eyes and an evil smile, I added, “And not even Lady Astarte can help you if you earn a third strike.”

--------------------

Saturday late afternoon, Oct 6th, 2007

“Mister Williams,” Geist called as she approached the stocky teacher, who was on his way to the faculty cafeteria.

“Ms. Porter,” Williams responded with a tight smile. “Do you have an update on the Cadet’s investigation on that villain?”

“Yeah,” she responded awkwardly. “Well, sorta…”

“Well,” he urged her. “Go on.”

Geist took a deep breath, giving the teacher a nervous look before she blurted out, “The Cadets aren’t gonna investigate the Imp anymore…”

Williams blinked in surprise, then glared down at the girl. “And why not?”

“She didn’t actually steal that painting,” Geist quickly tried to explain. “But she made us think she did, then she tricked us into a trap, and covered everyone with marshmallow and chocolate…”

“Yes,” Williams responded with a deep scowl and a stirring of anger. “I remember the Imp’s antics rather well.”

“Well, anyway,” Geist continued, “she made everyone look really stupid, and then, when we went to security, she made us look stupid again…”

Williams nodded, giving Geist a sympathetic look, though he clenched his fists angrily. “That demon bitch is good at that. She’s an expert in humiliating people…in ruining them…”

This time, Geist nodded agreement, though her thoughts were on Mischief, the Imp’s apprentice. Geist still had a lingering odor, because of that horrible stink bomb. Mischief was nothing but trouble, just like the Imp.

“So,” Williams said. “The Imp embarrassed you all, so you quit…”

“Not exactly,” Geist squeaked out. “She…she sorta threatened to have us expelled, and to disband our club…” She took a deep breath, then quickly tried to get the rest out. “Ace doesn’t want to get caught investigating a teacher again, because he’s afraid that we’ll all get in really big trouble. He says that we’re still gonna keep an eye on her, but that we’re gonna do more…passive surveillance.”

“Passive surveillance,” Williams said with a snort of disbelief. “So she got to the Cadets…”

“I still want to help stop her,” Geist said with a note of anger creeping into her voice. “And Mischief too.”

“Good,” Williams told her. “At least one of you Cadets isn’t so easily cowed…” He scowled for a moment, then asked, “Did your club learn anything about what the Imp has on Carson?”

“No,” Geist admitted with a sigh. Then she paused for a moment before saying, “But the Imp did say something about Mrs. Carson having something on her…”

“Really?” Williams asked in surprise. He smiled faintly. “That is…interesting.”

“Do you want me to do anything?” Geist asked eagerly.

Williams scratched his beard for a few seconds as he considered his options. “For now, just keep your ears open. And if you and your Cadet friends learn anything about the Imp…or what Carson has on her, I want to know immediately.”

Geist straightened up almost as though she was snapping to attention, and promised, “I won’t let you down.”

--------------------

Saturday late afternoon, Oct 6th, 2007

It had been a busy day, but most of that was done with and I could finally relax. I walked across campus, heading back towards the Village and my Imp Lair, where I planned to kick back with a strong drink or two, before doing a little painting.

My thoughts drifted over the various events, from my open classroom, to that shocking reunion afterwards, and then finally, to all my fun and games with the Teletubbies. I chuckled as I remembered the looks on their faces, when they realized that they’d been played. It was almost as funny as how they looked, dressed up in marshmallow, chocolate, and graham crackers.

However, as amusing as the fun and games had been, the thing that my thoughts kept going back to, and kept repeating over and over, was my reunion with Ryan. I hadn’t expected to see him, any more than he had me. Obviously, Melissa had amused herself by keeping his visit a secret, just to pull off that surprise.

“She definitely lives up to her codename,” I mused with a chuckle.

Suddenly, I saw a shadow from above, and I reacted on instinct. I leapt to the side, pulling out a throwing spike in the process. When I turned to throw it at my attacker, I paused in surprise.

Chickenhawk…Ryan was in the air, slowly coming down for a landing. He had his hands out to show that he was unarmed and not trying anything. Since I was a little jumpy, I appreciated it.

“I didn’t mean to startle you,” Ryan said as he landed in front of me.

“Not a problem,” I responded, slipping my spike back into its pouch.

Then, I glanced around, looking for Melissa, who was bound to be nearby, but I didn’t see any sign of her. Of course, she could be invisible, but I doubted that was the case.

“I was on my way to the parking lot,” Ryan told me, “to take off, when I saw you…”

“You were just leaving?” I asked, surprised to feel disappointed at that.

“I have to get back to New York,” he said with a faint smile. “I had a good visit with Melissa though.”

“Good,” I responded with a faint smile of my own. “I’m sure she appreciated that.”

There was an awkward silent pause as we both just stood there staring at each other. Then, Ryan cautiously said, “I know I asked you to coffee, but would you mind if we talked over dinner instead?”

“I thought you were leaving,” I pointed out.

Ryan smiled at that. “I can wait a little longer.”

“In that case,” I answered with a smile. “I’d be happy to. If you didn’t have any place in mind, I know of a good place to eat, that’s nice and close.”

“That sounds good to me,” Ryan said. “Where are we going?”

“We are going to Moose and Squirrel,” I said in a flawless Pottsylvanian accent, which just happens to sound exactly like a bad Russian accent

Ryan gave me a curious look, but didn’t say anything. Then, with a gesture for him to come along, I continued walking to the Village.

When we arrived in the Village, I saw Barney a short distance away. He saw me as well, and fixed me with a glare, as though he thought he could actually kill me by willpower alone. Fortunately for me, that wasn’t his power.

“I don’t think that man likes you,” Ryan commented in an amused tone.

“Oh, that’s just my ex,” I said in a cheerful tone.

“Your ex?” Barney blurted out in surprise.

“Not my ex-boyfriend,” I explained, losing the pleasant tone. “My ex-archenemy. We were hot and heavy for a couple years, then had a bad breakup.” Then I smiled at Ryan and added, “But don’t worry. That was a few years before you and I met.”

Ryan gave me an odd look, and I could definitely see the curiosity. “I take it that he pulled your tail…”

“And then some,” I responded grimly. Ryan’s eyes widened a little at that. I forced a smile, “But that was a long time ago, and I’d rather not talk about Barney.”

“Fair enough,” Ryan said.

A minute later, we reached the building that had the Flying Blue Squirrel and the Brown Moose, and I saw the flash of understanding in Ryan’s eyes. Without saying a word, I went to the door of the Flying Blue Squirrel and went inside. Ryan followed immediately behind.

“Barkeep,” I called out. “I’ll have a glass of Smurf blood.”

“I’ve never heard of that one,” the bartender responded.

I shook my head in disappointment and let out a sigh. “Fine. I’ll have a beer.”

“I’ll have one too,” Ryan said.

“This part is the tavern,” I explained to Ryan as I led us to a table that was a little out of the way. “The café is next door, and they have some really good food. We can order here, and they’ll bring it to us.”

We settled into our table and made a little small talk until our food had been ordered. Then Ryan said, “So, why did you really retire?”

“I got bored,” I answered, taking a sip of my beer. “I was in the business for a long time, and decided that it was time to do something different.”

“I have a feeling that there’s more to it than that,” Ryan said.

I took another drink. “It was awhile in coming. I took a break for a year to focus on some other things, but I eventually got bored of that.”

Ryan nodded. “I knew you dropped out of sight for awhile.” Then he gave me a curious look. “But you don’t think you’ll be bored as a teacher?”

“Nope,” I responded with a grin. “This place has a lot of things to keep me entertained. And besides, I can actually walk around in the open, without anyone staring at me. Trust me, you don’t know how appealing that is to someone like me.”

“I think I can guess,” he said quietly. After a moment, he said, “Excuse me. I’m going to order another drink.”

Ryan got up and went to the bar, while I remained where I was. When he talked to the bartender, I strained to listen in. What can I say, I’m a nosey Imp.

“When she asks you for a drink you’ve never heard of,” Ryan was telling the bartender, “she’s actually inviting you to be creative.”

“He does understand me,” I mused, feeling inordinately pleased by that.

A minute later, Ryan came back with a Jack and Coke to go along with his beer. It was around this time that our food arrived, a couple plates of spaghetti and meatballs. I always liked food that lent itself to raunchy jokes.

“Ma’am,” the bartender said, coming over a minute later. He held out a drink, which was neon blue in color. “I have that Smurf’s blood that you ordered. The Smurfs were freshly squeezed this morning.”

“Thank you,” I told him with a grin. I took a sip and nodded my approval. “Delicious.”

After this, Ryan and I talked while we ate, and for a good hour or two afterwards. Topics ranged from what it was like being a teacher, to favorite artists. It was nice being able to talk to my old dance partner without any of the usual baggage that came from our roles as hero and criminal.

Eventually, Ryan said, “I’m afraid that I’ve stayed about as long as I can. I really do have to get going soon.”

We left the Flying Blue Squirrel together, then stopped just outside. I stared at Ryan, disappointed to see him leave so soon. It was ironic, that after all those years I’d spent running away from Chickenhawk, that at the moment, I didn’t want him to go.

“I guess this is goodbye then,” I said with a sigh.

“I guess so,” Ryan responded, looking just as disappointed as I felt.

For several seconds, we continued to stand there in an awkward silence. Then as one, we both leaned forward and our lips met in a kiss, the first one that I’d had in years. And in that instant, I suddenly felt a kind of happiness, that I hadn’t felt for a very long time.

THE END



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