Atalanta's Story Continued: Reaching Home Chapter 17-18

These two chapters represents the end of part 1: Winter Solstice. Part 2 Spring Fling follows and it is still up in the air whether this book is a two-parter or if it is in three parts. It all depends on how much trouble our hellion gets into and wiggles out from under. Speaking of which I have jumped back and forth in the timeline and Ashleigh has edited 49 more pages but I've written 7 pages in between that is not yet edited. She hasn't been feeling well and I may post them unedited revising that chapter when she is doing better. An editor is worth her or his weight in gold especially in my case when I don't all the time know what Atalanta will do next. Or when. So Ashleigh if you're reading this thank you again.

I added an additional image that I hope illustrates a point. Let me know if you like an occasional image ot if this one helped or hurt.

We find out what plan Atalanta has or indeed if she has a plan at all and instead is making it up on the fly. Harvard puts in an appearance after all why not it is an institute of higher learning but he is a very special bird and he can...no that would be telling! I hope you enjoy.

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Chapter 17

The presentation was just starting as the doors closed behind us. The room was shaped like a pie piece with two aisles dividing seating into three sections and converging on a raised dais. The stage was located catty-cornered on the right hand side with a side door that probably led to its counterpart in the adjoining meeting room. Midways and on the opposite wall a double set of doors led outside. Behind me and 10 foot higher was a small balcony for the…elite I guess. About midway an 18 inch wide handrail protruded about a foot lower than the guard rails.

I hoped it was a fire ladder.

“Have a seat Atalanta,” Manny invited.

“I’d like to stand for a bit after sitting all day.”

He nodded finding a seat while I moved to the center of the balcony and waited. The theater lights dimmed for the presentation casting shadows that danced about the room like flickering firelight. I calculated the distance above me to the lower rung and when the slides changed I moved quickly silently scampering to the balcony.

I waited to see if I had been discovered before calling my servitor. After the incident involving my nightshirt I had been working at developing a servitor which was a thought construct. Unlike Jade’s counterpart mine was created with a narrowly defined set of responsibilities. Alan’s was observation, recording, and alerting.

Preparation in place I walked to the back finding the staircase and ascended before finding a door that was locked from the inside. I silently opened it and peered out into the foyer that opened into the alcove that housed the two meeting rooms. Testing the doorknob revealed it locked automatically when closed.

Damn!

Reaching behind my neck I removed the lanyard that held my ID card wedging in the door leaving it cracked ever so slightly. I frowned looking at it.

Screw it!

My shoulder blades itched as I walked briskly across the floor, my peripheral vision on the door to my left that I had minutes earlier entered through. Turning the door knob I entered the room the girl I had befriended had earlier entered. The metallic click of the locking mechanism engaging echoed briefly. Hers was one of the first people to swivel around and notice me. A stir moved up and down the room.

The security detail she mentioned was holding up the wall near the exit double doors. The speaker’s dais was to their left; seated were I assumed the invited speakers and farther back the MC was standing behind a pulpit fidgeting with a microphone. An assorted group of mixed blood was seated on the edge of the platform. Pacing across the front of the stage was a large black man holding a microphone like a weapon in his hand. Beside him and mirroring his manner was a stout brown girl bouncing with nervous energy.

I knew the Catholic schoolgirl clothing I wore and the image it portrayed was apt to be misinterpreted.

“Come back little girl when you’ve grown up and can appreciate a real man,” he gestured suggestively across his lower body.

Good he was following a script. Nothing personal!

“That reminds me,” I acknowledged his role, “of a story my grandmother told me about the old country…” and left the rest unsaid. His brows knitted as he tried to follow my logic.

The brown girl presented a different problem; she was operating from a more primitive basic level indicated by her constant physical movement. Drawing closer to the stage but stopping outside her personal zone I addressed who I assumed was the paid speaker seated lazily, his chair off to one side.

“Is this your show?”

“It was supposed to be,” he replied each word clipped and decidedly British.

“Mind if I come aboard,” I asked him pleasantly.

“Sure you want to,” he returned in the same monotone as if asking me for tea. I sensed the rising tide of the sit-ins’ around the platform and them fanning out.

“Why not, I don’t have anything else to do at the moment.” He gestured at me with his hand.

“Hey remember me,” the tall black man growled frowning, “it’s my stage now.”

The brown girl was humming, rocking on her toes.

Keeping her in my peripheral I turned slightly and facing him; balanced on my feet, my arms hanging loose, and knees slightly bent.
“How did it get to be yours,” I asked mildly.

Raising his hand he indicated his group around the stage.

“By force then?”

“Yeah,” He replied grinning down at me from his height, “You could say that, I take what I want.”

“You’ve made your point,” I begin, “but how much pain do you want to keep it?”

“And you’re going to bring the pain?”, he asked sneering his voice rising.

The brown girl moved quickly launching herself at me.

Predictable! Dumbass tag-team tactics!

I moved slightly catching her hand brushing it past my shoulder and using a combination of pressure points and wrestling moves stretched her arm back popping the shoulder out of socket. Off balance her feet tangled up with my firmly planted ones and she hit the floor with a loud thud crying out in pain.

The tall man took a step forward but stopped short when he saw that I hadn’t turned but was still watching him; the girl seemingly forgotten.
“You have about two seconds,” the words slow coming from deep in my body and sounding like a low throated growl, “before you feel the pain.”

He stepped around me directing his followers to help the girl—Angela up. Mutterings and glares from the group followed but they complied helping her to her feet and following their leader outside passing security.

Meanwhile I walked over to the British gentleman who straightened up as I approached.

“I guess they’re through demonstrating and you have your stage back.”

He remained silent studying me before getting to his feet offering his hand, “I think you’re crazy,” he smiled.

“You might be right.”

“Will you stay and listen to my off-the-wall speech?”

“I do have some place to be.”

“Here,” he replied pressing a business card into my hand, “I can use someone like you but not now,” he hastened to add at the ‘no’ forming on my lips. “In a couple of years; or if you need me for anything I can help with.”

“Thanks,” I replied slipping the card into the pocket of my skirt, “I won’t forget.”

Turning I stepped off the stage my face stoic and walked the auditorium’s length with measured steps. Passing by the distraught girl I met in the bathroom I allowed a brief smile and sent a conspiratorial wink her way.

Outside I walked quickly to the adjoining balcony steps retrieved my ID and lanyard placing it around my neck as I ascended the staircase. My servitor was in place dutifully recording the lecture. Peering carefully over the rail I saw that all eyes were on the podium and not looking around. I hadn’t been missed.

Moving quickly I performed my version of the “Vulcan-mind-meld” transferring to memory what had transpired in my absence. Finishing I dismissed my creation with a whispered “thanks” and silently crawled over the railing dropping silently to the floor and finding a seat. I breathed out a soft sigh glad that my technique worked.

I settled in a seat at the lecture that was boring and seemed to stretch beyond its hour allotment. Thankfully the lights came on and the speaker asked for any questions of which there weren’t many and soon we were filing out stopping for a bathroom break before boarding the van for the return trip.

Chapter 18

My daddy’s oft repeated warning of not volunteering; that he learned in the Army the hard way, almost always led me to not being at the head of any line. My distaste of having my personal space invaded then lent to me always being at or near back of the line and it was no different today as we filed back over the brick lined walk.

A commotion was occurring in the parking area near where our vans were parked. A smattering of uniforms ringed a group of young mostly male agitators that was heckling two young men attempting to enter their car.

One of the men was the young Brit appearing as unperturbed as he had on the stage earlier and just as sardonic. Our eyes met and I grinned at his twisted humor. His would be tormentor also turned and our eyes interlocked.

“You,” he shouted taking a step forward.

“Whoa there partner,” Manny warned.

Our line stopped moving. The leftists tightened their formation. The “Lit” group might not be the badasses of Whateley but they were all mutants and more than a match for the trouble makers. To say nothing of the skills Manny and Sam possessed none of which would help explain away the aftermath of such a confrontation. This had the potential to go “south” in a hurry.

I stepped on to the grass the same mocking grin on my face, “Yeah.”

“You’re the one that hurt Angela,” he shouted pointing at me.

“Who's Angela,” I inquired mildly.

Security began slowly moving our students along. Manny and Sam remained in place. Attention was on me and the black male who fancied himself a revolutionary social justice fighter for the cause of the weak.

“You know who she is,” he growled.

The Brit who moments before was the subject of heckling spoke his words ringing a high nasal tone, “I was on that stage and this is not she. That person was a short fat dwarf wearing a red-striped gnome hat. I’ve already given her description to the ‘school’s finest,’” waving in the direction of the hapless uniformed guards milling about.

I almost chuckled at his audacity.

“I’ve been in a lecture for the last hour and I don’t appreciate being accused of something I couldn’t have done unless you know of a way I can be in two places at the same time. However,” I looked at the Brit who had gotten in his vehicle but still had his air of amusement locked in place and at Manny balanced on the balls of his feet, “if you feel the need to I’ll accommodate you.”

“Atalanta,” Manny warned.

“Atalanta, what kind of name is that,” he sneered.

“Atalanta is the name of the Greek goddess,” a voice called out in a decidedly nasal British clip.

“You’re going to turn me into a statue of stone,” he jabbed followed quickly by shouts of derision by his minions.

Suddenly he was covered by a shadow followed by the war cry of the Great Owl that swooped from the bright sky dived at him from right angles before banking 180 degrees to land gently on my shoulder.

“Hello Harvard so good to see you.” Harvard in the manner of owls kept his body pointed directly ahead while turning his head to look directly at me his large eyes glowing. Momentarily I was looking at myself looking at Harvard feeling my eyes grow larger.

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“Caw! Caw!”

Mechanically I raised my left arm and Harvard began to walk its length as a human would and not a bird hop. He carefully placed each leg in front of the other on my arm perfectly balancing his 40 lb body on razor sharp inch long talons that gripped my arm without ripping my flesh.
My arm remained steady despite his weight and despite the increasing leverage as he reached and perched on the back of my hand.

Silence greeted his walk as awe and shock overtook and captured the onlookers.

“What name would you like inscribed,” I called out to the now pale black man.

“What,” he managed to croak from a dry throat, his eyes wide as Harvard’s.

“On the statue—what name do you want on the statue and a postscript too as an epitaph or a warning?”

As if to affirm, Harvard unfurled his magnificent six foot wingspan his wings beating under the afternoon sun sending currents of air swirling fanning my face and tumbling locks of my hair.

“Caw—caw,” he honked scattering the would-be trouble makers to the four winds like chickens scurrying before the hawk.

“Show off,” I muttered.

“Caw—caw,” he agreed lifting off gently his wings moving in slow motion seemingly rising on air currents not normally available at ground level. In stark contrast ‘nary a feather rustled as he rose silently skyward circling a stand of trees populating the front driveway before fading behind a large fir leaving behind a farewell, “Caw.” After a few seconds it became obvious that he had disappeared as effortlessly as he had appeared.

The British gentleman started to open his car door but stopped when I shook my head mouthing a silent “no.”

Manny’s eyes were on me as well as Sam’s, the rest of the security detail, Mrs. Snodgrass, my classmates, and a large contingent of Crest Top students and faculty that had gathered on the front lawn.

Manny waved me over to him, “Great—just great I’ll get blamed for trampling the grass too.”

“What did you say,” Sam asked.

I nodded at the audience in front of the school and at red-lettered “Keep off the Grass” signs prominently displayed. Sam grinning widely retrieved her cell phone and snapped a couple of pictures.

“For my scrapbook,” she teased as we walked over to where Mrs. Snodgrass was waiting.

“Atalanta’s riding back with us. We can get her debriefing done on the ride back,” Sam explained.

“Uh—okay,” she nodded turning to get on her van. As we neared the third van in line Sam detoured us over to where the guy in the sparkling sedan was parked and earlier the center of attention.

“Excuse us,” she began, “but as our resident hellion is at the center of another commotion we could use your statement when we file our report.”

“What do you need to know,” he enunciated in his strong sing song cadence.

“Just give us your version of what happened inside the school,” Sam continued holding her phone to indicate recording the interview.

His name was Hugo Weisz and he was conducting a national college campus speaking tour. His engagements were either sparsely attended or if heavily promoted often interrupted by hecklers.

“Didn’t you find it odd a fat dwarf wearing a tall red gnome hat walked on stage?” Sam queried after Hugo finished his telling.

He smirked, “After a few months visiting American Campus’ I find hardly anything odd anymore.”

Nodding Sam replied, “I guess…that’ll do it then and thank you for your time.”

“Glad I could help and,” reaching inside his coat retrieved and handed over several business cards, “give one to Mrs. Carson and have her call me if she has any questions.”

“Oh you know her,” Manny interjected.

“Only by reputation; we have an international presence and many sources.”

A honking horn reminded us that we were holding up the caravan, “Thanks again for your time,” Sam replied as we walked away to our vehicle.

This van had the last row of seats removed for cargo storage having a holding capacity of 11 people. Three students occupied the last row available and a single occupant in the next row of seats. I was directed to the middle seat behind the driver with Manny and Sam setting down on either side.

“Call and make sure they have everybody,” Sam directed the last member of security riding shotgun. After accounting for the students we pulled out and then onto the main thoroughfare.

“Okay Atalanta,” Manny began, “let’s hear your side of it.”

“We were just leaving the lecture and I was walking outside—.”

“—that’s not we meant and I think you know it,” Sam interrupted but then sighed, “but we can start there.”

“—when I was picked on by—“

“Poor baby!” Sam teased.

“Hey you guys up there keep your eyes on the road,” I quickly responded and rocked with laughter at shocked looks but was careful to keep my knees together.

But unperturbed by their banter, “—this guy that was obviously on drugs if he couldn’t tell the difference between a short fat dwarf wearing a tall red gnome hat and a tall thin redhead dressed in a schoolgirl uniform.”

“I think the guy was joking.”

“Maybe he was just pointing out the joke that their security was,” I countered, “but I’m sure the guys up front weren’t exactly thrilled with my unsubstantiated accusation either.”

Sam, “Fair enough I get your point. I’m more interested in what happened outside. Why you did what you did and your thinking.”

“I thought it had the potential to turn into mob violence and while I have no doubt we would have kicked their asses, in the end we would have lost the war.” Four individual heads riding in the two front rows nodded in agreement.

“Since this individual had a problem with me I decided to see if I could make it an individual sport.”

“Atalanta that’s your biggest strength and probably your greatest weakness as well,” Manny cautioned. “You have the ability to quickly and accurately size up a situation and act decisively in the moment. Make no mistake about it you did diffuse a potential time bomb but what I worry about is the long range effects. What if,” he smiled to take any sting out, “one time when it doesn’t turn out well and you’re left twisting in the wind by your teammates? That may not necessarily mean they leave you out intentionally; there are instances you can do that to yourself.”

“No doubt you’re right,” I replied somberly, “but that’s a bridge I’ll cross when I it get to it.”

“What I want to know,” Sam spoke up from my left, “is how you’re able to control that big-bird—Harvard and where did he come from?”

“Out of the blue, but Harvard comes and goes as he pleases; at least not that I’m aware of any control I have,” I added at the raised eyebrows.

It never hurts for a girl to have an air of mystery about her. Does it?

“Would he and could he?”

“Would he and could he, what?” I jibed.

“Turn him into stone.”

“I have no idea,” I replied giggling, “but I decided to push the envelope and create some doubt and it worked.”

“You need to take this more seriously,” Sam warned.

My gut tightened, “Two years ago I was an average guy dreaming of growing up to be an average guy doing average guy stuff. What happened,” my voice pitched slightly higher the words pouring out in a torrent, “Now I’m an awesome-awesome girl doing awesome-awesome stuff and meeting awesome-awesome guys.”

Pausing I took a deep breath letting it out slowly continuing in a softer more leisurely pace, “Seriously I never asked for any of this but I have to assume there is a reason; an intelligent design for it to have happened. What that plan is and who exactly is pulling the strings I don’t know. Until I know more I have to act on what I see and poke and prod into any exposed areas in this universe I’m in and not take it too seriously.”

“I’m sorry,” Sam apologized, “I didn’t mean to—.”

“Forget it,” I replied, “I surprised myself. Let’s put it behind us.”

“Okay,” Sam agreed, “but you mind changing places with me.”

“No,” I smiled grateful for the coverage the driver’s seat offered.

“You know,” Sam began when we had reseated, “that Mrs. Carson will want to talk with you about this incident.”

“I know,” I sighed dramatically quipping, “I expect any day now to be moved from Poe into a cot in Mrs. Carson’s office.”

With that exchange I leaned into my seat and turned to the window watching the landscape flash by.

Again I hope you enjoy the chapters and leave any comments and I'll answer them.



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