Imp 6: A Very Imp-ortant Date part 2

Whateley Academy, Monday morning, Oct 22nd, 2007

School, the final frontier. These are the adventures of the teacher Imp. Her daily mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new amusements, to boldly go where no Imp has gone before.

I was in my classroom, standing next to my desk and leaning against it for support. My eyes slowly scanned the room, as I took in all the students, marveling yet again how strange and alien some of them were.

“Only a real alien would wear an outfit like that,” I mused at one girl, who’d chosen to wear some brightly colored socks and a bow, which clashed horribly with her school uniform. “Or maybe Jericho. I wonder if she might be his protégé…” Of course, that same girl frequently liked to dress a little quirky, but she’d never come close to Jericho territory before now, so I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

A moment later, I let out a loud yawn, then took another sip of my devisor coffee. It was about the only thing strong enough to get past my regeneration, and to give me some benefit of the caffeine. Since I didn’t sleep a wink last night, I could use the caffeine.

Yesterday, I’d been ambushed by the Imp Revenge Squad…the IRS, and they’d messed me up pretty good. Still, I’d managed to slip away with my usual skill and brilliance, and had ended up knocking on Ryan’s door, then collapsing right into his arms. That had been a little embarrassing.

Ryan knew that I was a regenerator, so he hadn’t bothered taking me to the hospital. Instead, he’d patched up most of my injuries, put me to bed, and watched over me while I slept for half the day. The fact that he’d done all this for me, filled me with mixed emotions. While it was embarrassing, it had also been kind of sweet and romantic.

Though that rest gave my regeneration a chance to heal a lot of my injuries, it hadn’t been enough to fix everything. Ryan wanted me to stay longer, until I was fully recovered, but I couldn’t do that. As strange an idea as it was, I had responsibilities to take care of. I had students to teach. Because of that, I’d left to catch a red-eye flight, and had arrived back at Whateley only a few hours ago.

I closed my eyes, thinking about the look on Ryan’s face. He’d asked…nearly demanded to know who’d done this to me, but I hadn’t told him. Those idiots were my problem, and I didn’t want to drag him into the mess.

Of course, there was another reason too. Jack Ass had been one of my attackers, and Ryan had just as much of a grudge against him as me, if not more. After all, it was his daughter whom Jack Ass had previously kidnapped and mind controlled. If Ryan went after Jack Ass in revenge, I feared that he might do something that he’d never forgive himself for.

Class started a minute later, so I took another sip of my coffee before turning my full attention to the students. “Good morning and a happy Monday to everyone.”

“Boooooo,” one of the students called out.

I walked away from my desk, though my steps were a little slow and awkward, partly due to the remaining ache in my ribs and backside, and partly due to the fact that my tail usually helped with my balance. I could have just spent the entire class sitting behind my desk, but not only was that not my style, sitting for any length of time was also uncomfortable at the moment.

“Okay,” I announced in a cheerful tone. “We’re going to work a little more with watercolors today…”

Suddenly, I heard a gasp of surprise, and Monkeywrench demanded, “What happened to your tail?”

I turned to look down at my tail, which had regrown a little since yesterday, though it was only a foot long. It was small, and not nearly long enough to qualify as a decent tail.

“Shrinkage,” I answered with a forced smile. “You know about shrinkage, don’t you?”

There were some laughs at that, including from Monkeywrench. “Not personally,” he responded with a grin. “But I’ve heard of it.”

But in spite of the joking, Monkeywrench was still giving me a worried look, probably thinking about how he’d feel if his furry tail suddenly got a lot smaller. At the same time, a few of the other students were giving me similar looks of curiosity and concern.

“Imp,” Melissa called out, looking really worried. Her eyes were wide.

I gave Melissa a reassuring smile, then announced, “Melissa, come on down. You’re the next contestant on the Imp is right.” Then I grinned and said, “I need you to start handing out supplies…”

Melissa teleported to me and reached for the supplies on my desk, though she still looked worried. “What happened?” she asked quietly.

“I took a bath, and it shrunk in the wash,” I told her, though for some reason, it didn’t look like she believed me.

There was no way that I was going to tell Melissa that Little Bunny Foo Foo was back. That prick had done some nasty stuff to her, made even worse by the fact that he called himself a superhero. She still had some nightmares over what he’d done, and I wasn’t about to do anything to make her afraid that he might come after her again.

“But,” Melissa started.

“Yes, I do have a rather nice butt,” I responded with grin, reaching over for the stack of papers and handing it to Melissa. “Don’t worry about it. I’m fine. Now, get these handed out to everyone.”

After this, class continued pretty much as usual, though a number of the students kept giving me odd looks. I could feel them staring at my tail and wondering what had happened to it.

A couple hours later, I was sitting in the faculty cafeteria, wishing I had a cushion to sit on. This wasn’t the first time I’d lost my tail, but something like that wasn’t something you just shrugged off.

“Christine,” someone called my name.

I looked over, already knowing who I’d see. “Maria,” I responded with a smile, greeting my neighbor in the village. “What’s up?” Then I glanced to the young woman walking beside Maria. This was Donna, Maria’s roommate. “Hey, Donna.”

“Hello,” Donna responded. She gave me a faint smile.

Though she’d never said anything, I knew that I made her a little uncomfortable. Whether it was my criminal background or my GSD, I had no idea. Then again, maybe she was just overwhelmed by my sheer awesomeness.

“Are you okay?” Maria asked, sitting down at my table with her own lunch. Donna immediately sat beside her. “I heard something about you walking with a limp, and having a…shrunken tail.” She gave me a curious look, obviously wondering how much truth there were to the stories.

“Yeah,” I admitted with a wry smile. “I lost my tail…” At her look of horror, I added, “I was going to check lost and found after lunch.”

“What?” Maria gasped, looking stunned. “What happened?”

I hesitated a moment, then admitted, “Yesterday, I was in New York, taking care of some business, and I got ambushed by some people with a grudge. They cut off my tail.”

“No,” Donna gasped. “Are you okay?”

I shrugged, trying to act like this was no big deal. The truth was, losing my tail was not only painful, but humiliating. Fortunately, it wasn’t as painful as when someone pulled it really hard, which was kind of ironic when you thought about it.

“I’ll be fine,” I assured them. “It’s already growing back, and will probably be back to normal tomorrow.”

“It sounds like yesterday was a very bad day for you,” Donna said sympathetically. “I’m really sorry to hear it.”

With another shrug, I told her, “I’ve had worse.”

That reminded me that a certain anniversary was coming up, and getting far too close for comfort. I scowled at that, wondering if I could call in sick on Thursday, and spend the whole thing in bed.

“You can’t keep a good Imp down,” I announced. “Or do I qualify more as a bad Imp.” I grinned, standing up and doing my best impersonation of Glinda. “Am I a good Imp, or a bad Imp?”

“You’re a crazy Imp,” someone else exclaimed from another table, earning a few laughs from those nearby.

“Thank you,” I responded with a bad Elvis impersonation and doing a bow. “Thank you very much.”

“Who are these people?” Maria asked me a few seconds later. “Why would they attack you?”

“They’re the IRS,” I explained. “And they wanted to do an audit. I’m lucky that they only took my tail, because they wanted to charge me an arm and a leg…”

Maria rolled her eyes at that. “Of course, I shouldn’t have expected you to give me a straight answer.”

“What fun would that be?” I asked cheerfully.

For the rest of lunch, Maria tried to get me to tell her more about what had happened, but I was actually too focused on my food to give her much information, even if I’d been inclined to do so. Healing from a lot of damage tended to burn calorizes like crazy, and since I had to grow a whole new tail as well, my food intake was currently through the roof. I figured, that this was what it must be like being an energizer.

When lunch was over, I hurried to my fourth period class, Art 2. I always enjoyed teaching this class, because I could go into more advanced techniques than with my Art 1 class. Of course, it also didn’t hurt that Dino was one of my students in this class, and he was one of the most amusing kids in the entire school.

A lot of my students looked tired, and suffered from the after lunch nods. I decided that I’d have to wake them up a bit. It was just too bad that I couldn’t use the air horn, but that just wouldn’t be a good idea with Dino in class. His sensitive hearing didn’t do so well with that kind of noise.

“Happy Monday to you,” I began to sing, to the tune of ‘happy birthday’. “Happy Monday to you. Happy Monday dear students, happy Monday to you…” As expected there were groans and even a snicker or two. I just smiled and pointed out, “Imagine how much more imp-ressive that would have been, first thing in the morning.”

“Your singing sucks,” someone called out from the back.

I flashed the class my best innocent look. “Are you saying I need to imp-rove?”

“Your puns suck even worse,” someone else exclaimed.

My response was just to grin. “Imp-ossible. My puns are totally awesome, just like me.”

There were more snickers at that, and Dino began laughing in that weird chirping way that dinosaurs do. Then he paused and began to stare at me, sniffing the air the way he sometimes did. Suddenly, he began to chirp and growl frantically, though I didn’t speak dinosaur, so wasn’t sure what he was saying. At least not until he pointed at my tail, which was now about a foot and a half long.

“Oh, that,” I said wryly. “I lost my tail in a poker game…” Dino clearly didn’t believe me, and made a few more barking chirps. “I thought I had a winning hand, but came up a little short…”

I was pretty sure that Dino didn’t believe that. There were a few other students around the room who were giving me curious looks too. However, I wasn’t about to tell them what really happened.

Just then, my classroom door opened, but instead of a student arriving late, it was a girl who wasn’t in any of my classes. More than likely, she was a student runner, coming to deliver a message from admin. I wondered if one of my students had gotten into trouble, or just had some kind of appointment

“Ms. Imp,” the girl said nervously. “I have a message for you…”

“Is it a singing telegram?” I asked with a grin, just to tease the girl. “I love singing telegrams…”

“Um…no,” she responded awkwardly, earning a few chuckles from the classroom.

I took the message and looked it over, frowning slightly as I did so. This message didn’t concern any of my students, but me. It was from Chief Delarose, who wanted to see me in Kane Hall as soon as convenient, so I could fill out a report on what happened yesterday. I let out a sigh of annoyance, realizing that I should have expected this. Whenever students got in trouble off campus, they had to report in with security. Why should teachers be any different?

“Thank you,” I told the girl, then sent her on her way. With that, I turned my attention back to my students and rubbed my hands gleefully. “Now, for today’s lesson…”

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The Village, Tuesday late afternoon, Oct 23rd, 2007

Classes were over for the day, and like the students, I was taking advantage of that fact to relax and unwind a little. I was sitting on a stool in the Flying Blue Squirrel, sipping on a glass of beer.

My tail slowly swished back and forth behind me. It was still an inch or two shorter than normal, but that last little bit would be corrected before long. There was no doubt, that the last physical signs of my injuries the other day, would be healed before I went to bed tonight.

“Regen is definitely the best power ever,” I announced. Then, I looked at my beer, remembering the small fact that it wasn’t nearly strong enough to give me a buzz, much less get me drunk. “Sometimes.”

After finishing off my beer, I turned my attention to the small stack of papers that were sitting in front of me. One of my professional contacts had given me these reports, a couple days earlier than I expected as well. This here, was everything that they could find out about Danny Boy’s investors. In addition, I also had a report on the superhero who’d been snooping around his gallery as well, though there was a lot less information in that.

As far as my contact was concerned, I was simply investigating another gallery, in preparation for a job…just as I’d done countless times before. No one except Danny Boy and me knew that this particular job was more on the personal side of things than the professional. And if Danny Boy kept his part of the agreement, no one else would ever find out.

The investors didn’t appear to have any superhuman working for them, were not connected to the Syndicate, and didn’t seem to be part of any large crime family. That all simplified things a great deal, since I wouldn’t need to worry about doing negotiations through the Syndicate, or facing off against the entire mob. However, they were laundering money for a fairly-small time gangster, who could still be problematic.

As for the hero, I was going to have to do a little more research on him. So far, about the only thing I had on him, was his codename. The Asterisk. Somehow, I didn’t think I had much to fear from a superhero named after a button on my keyboard, but it was a good idea to find out more anyway.

What really concerned me at the moment, wasn’t Danny Boy’s problem, but my own. It would be nice to have a set of files like this on the IRS, but for the moment at least, I’d have to go with my own knowledge and experience with them. Fortunately, that gave me a bit to work with.

Crash Test Dummy wasn’t especially powerful or bright. He made a living acting as a guinea pig for mad scientists, testing high tech weapons for gadgeteers and devisors under field conditions, and using them to commit crimes for further profit. Since he often got to keep the prototype weapons as his payment, and he had a lot of professional contacts, there was no telling what kind of weapons he might bring to the fight.

The human lab rat hated me because I’d changed his codename to Crash Test Dummy, which was probably a lot more accurate than his previous codename, whatever it had been. For some reason, he took that rather personally. And of course, I’d also cut off his hand. That had been self-defense though, since he’d forced me to disarm him in order to keep him from killing me.

Since Crash Test Dummy had both hands again, during that fight on Sunday, he’d either had it reattached, had some devisor grow him a new one, or he was using a prosthetic. Considering how many gadgeteers and devisors he knew, it could have been any of those.

Jack Rabbit, AKA Jack Ass, AKA Little Bunny Foo Foo, had been a hero, or at least he’d claimed to be one. Since he had a history of making criminals disappear, not to mention brainwashing kids and turning them into cannon fodder, I would hardly call him a hero. The two of us fought a couple times over the fact that he’d kidnapped Melissa. However, the last time I saw him, he’d lost all the power gems that gave him his abilities, and I’d cut off his foot. Rabbit feet were supposed to be lucky, but that didn’t seem to be the case.

As with Crash Test Dummy, Jack Ass somehow had his foot back. It is entirely possible that Crash Test Dummy hooked Jack Ass up with whatever method that he himself had used to get his hand back, and it’s also possible that he was the one who provided the weapons that Jack Ass had been using. Then again, it’s also possible that he was using weapons that he ‘confiscated’ from one or two of those missing criminals. That glowing gauntlet sounded like something the Green Gauntlet, one of those missing criminals, might have used.

The Crimson Kid is another one who had a personal grudge against me, and was someone I’d never expected to see again. I hadn’t cut off any of his body parts, but after he’d framed Monster Max, and got him executed, I’d decided to return the favor. I’d framed the kid for a couple crimes, in both of his identities, and then I’d spilled his real identity to a few other villains, who also had issues with his framing Max. The kid had gone on the run, and into hiding, eventually becoming a homeless drunk. But now, he was back.

Then there was Hexagoner 2.0. I had no idea if she was using Hexagon’s old codename, or if she had one of her own. What I did know, was that she seemed to be a magic user with similar tricks to his. However, that was no surprise though, since she’d said he was her mentor.

Hexagoner, the first one, had worked out of California, and he’d had some kind of organization there. Apparently, his apprentice had betrayed him, took over his organization, and chased him out of the state. I wondered if Hexagoner 2.0 was that same apprentice. If so, then her coming after me for revenge was even more screwed up and hypocritical than I’d first thought. Then again, Crash Test Dummy had something about her needing to avenge his death, in order to inherit anything, so her motivations might be purely mercenary rather than personal.

“Not that it changes much,” I mused.

The last member of the Imp Revenge Squad, or at least, the last that I’d seen, was that blonde, Heaven. Blondie was the biggest mystery of the entire group, since I had absolutely no idea who she was, or what she had against me. However, it certainly seemed to be personal.

“Now, if I only knew what her powers were,” I thought aloud, remembering that she hadn’t actually demonstrated any abilities at all during the fight. “That might help me figure out how to deal with her.”

For a few seconds, I wondered if I should ask Amelia Hartford to dig up anything she could on Heaven and Hexagoner 2.0. If there were any computer records out there on those two, then Hindmost would probably be able to find them for me. However, I wasn’t sure that this information would be worth the favor I’d owe her in return. That was something I’d need to think about some more.

Just then, a voice asked, “A penny for your thoughts?”

I looked up and saw Louis Geintz sitting across from me. He was holding up a shiny penny. Of course, the penny wasn’t real. It was a psychic projection, just like he was. The real Louis was bobbing along in a fish tank beneath Hawthorne.

“Can’t you just take them for free?” I asked him.

“I could,” Louis admitted with a shrug. “But I try not to do that kind of thing. It’s frowned upon. Professional ethics and all.”

I nodded at that, since I could definitely understand professional ethics. Regardless of what your profession was, there were certain rules and guidelines that you had to follow in order to be considered a professional. Even art thieves and supervillains had their own code of professional ethics.

“How are you feeling?” Louis asked me, looking concerned.

“Isn’t that something Dr. Scratchensniff should be asking?” I responded. “I mean, it’s such a shrink question…”

Louis chuckled at that. “I’m sure that Alfred would ask you that, if you were one of his patients.” Then he gave me a serious look. “But I’m asking as a friend.”

There was no need to ask what Louis was referring to, since I’d already talked to Carson and Delarose about the attack on Sunday. I’d told both of them the same thing that I’d told Ryan, that a group of old enemies had attacked me, and that I’d take care of it. Neither of them seemed happy about that response, any more than Ryan had been.

“It was a busy weekend,” I admitted with a sigh. I gestured to the bartender. “I’ll have a scotch on the rocks.”

“So I’ve heard,” Louis said.

Once I had my drink in hand, I took a long sip, then said, “I ran into my brother.”

“What?” he responded, giving me a look of surprise. “I didn’t know you had a brother.”

I gave Louis a skeptical look at that. I was pretty sure that he knew quite a bit more about me than he let on. In fact, suspected that he’d been involved in the vetting process with Carson and Delarose, about whether or not to hire me. There was little doubt in my mind, that he already knew my original name, even if it hadn’t been from reading my thoughts.

“I hadn’t seen him in thirty years,” I admitted with a sigh. “It was…rough.”

Louis nodded at that. “I can imagine. I know that you don’t talk about your family very much...”

“My family cut me off,” I explained with a shrug. “I learned a long time ago, that I don’t have a family anymore… I haven’t had one for a very long time. Then BAM, there he is. My brother, who called me… Well, who was less than enthusiastic about my being a mutant, comes begging me for help.”

“That must have been…strange,” Louis said. He had a beer in his hand, which he took a long drink of. Of course, it wasn’t a real beer, but another part of his psychic projection.

“Yep,” I agreed, swishing my tail back and forth, giving him a wry smile. “Pretty damn strange.”

“And of course, you agreed to help him,” Louis commented.

“How do you know that?” I asked, about to call him on reading my mind, in spite of the professional ethics he’d claimed.

“Because,” Louis said, giving me an amused look. “In spite of your previous career, you are generally a good person.” Then he quickly added, “Of course, I can imagine you robbing him blind, or just humiliating him, but I have a hard time seeing you turn down someone who genuinely needed your help.”

I let out a snort at that. “You really don’t know me very well then.”

“Maybe not,” Louis responded, though he still seemed confident in himself. “And what about these people who attacked you?”

“I’ll deal with them when the time comes,” I answered, giving him an evil grin. “After all, vengeance is mine, sayeth the Imp.”

“Then I’ll leave you to it,” Louis told me. He got up and started to leave, which was purely for show since he wasn’t actually there. Then he paused and gave me an odd look. “You know, you don’t have to project annoying songs when we talk, just to keep me from reading your thoughts. Getting them stuck in my head is rather…annoying.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I lied, giving him my best innocent look while swishing my tail back and forth.

Louis shook his head, then walked out of the Flying Blue Squirrel, quietly singing, “Don’t tell my heart, my achey breaky heart…”

Once Louis was gone, I burst out laughing, wondering what other ear worms I might be able to use in the future. However, I had more important things to deal with at the moment, so took a sip of my scotch, then turned my attention back to the files in front of me.

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Whateley Academy, Thursday morning, Oct 25th, 2007

My first period art class was usually one of the highlights of my day. This was Art 1, where I could introduce my students to new types of art and expression that they’d never experimented with before. There was a certain delight to seeing the excitement in their eyes, when they discovered a new talent, or realized that they loved drawing, painting, or sculpting.

This class also contained some of my favorite students. Melissa was not only my apprentice, but in some ways, I thought of her as the daughter I’d never had. She wasn’t particularly passionate about art, but she always approached it with energy and enthusiasm, just as she did everything else.

Alicia Thacker was my very first art student, whom I’d begun teaching months before I ever came to Whateley as a teacher. She’d taken a strong interest in painting, and it filled my heart with joy and pride to see the passion in her eyes, and to watch her progress.

And then there was Monkeywrench, who was silly, good-natured, and as much fun as a barrel full of monkeys. Life had given him a rough hand, with GSD that made him look like a monkey, and a future that would not be easy. I knew first-hand, how the world treated those with GSD. But in spite of that, he never let it get him down, and he took great pride in those things that made him different.

I walked through my classroom, looking over the watercolor paintings that the students were working on. Suddenly, there was a loud fart sound, coming from Monkeywrench, and the air was immediately filled with the scent of bananas. It only took a moment to realize that he’d used a whoopee cushion, and some banana scented oil to get that effect.

“Sorry,” Monkeywrench said with a laugh. “I need to cut down on the bananas…”

I didn’t bother responding to his joke, in spite of the fact that Melissa and several other students were laughing. At the moment, I just didn’t feel like laughing. In fact, I didn’t feel like teaching either. If I hadn’t been responsible for teaching these kids, I probably would have just stayed in bed all day. All I wanted, was for this day to end as fast as possible.

“Are you okay?” Melissa asked, giving me a worried look.

“I’m fine,” I answered, without much energy. I looked over her painting and said, “That’s very…colorful.”

“Thanks,” Melissa responded with a broad grin. “I like it too…”

I continued walking around the classroom, looking at the paintings and offering suggestions and advice. I didn’t have as much energy in me as usual, and I was pretty sure the students noticed. Unfortunately, I didn’t really have it in me to care too much at the moment.

When the class ended, almost the moment that the bell rang, Monkeywrench leapt out of his seat and exclaimed, “Reach for the sky.” He was pointing a banana at Mischief as though it was a gun.

“Oh no you don’t,” Melissa responded, blowing Monekwrench a raspberry.

The furry boy fired his banana, somehow launching the fruit at Melissa, while keeping the peel in his hand. She easily dodged the banana, so Monkeywrench let out a sigh if disappointment and casually dropped the banana peel to the floor.

“Oh well,” Monkeywrench said. “The idea had a certain a-peel, but didn’t work out.”

“My turn,” Melissa announced, teleporting behind Monkeywrench, and moving to give him a wedgie until she slipped on the banana peel and fell onto her butt. “Ouch.”

“Well, what do you think of my new banana gun?” Monekywrench asked me with a broad grin. “Is it imp-ressive? Is there anything I can imp-rove…”

“Very nice,” I responded with a forced smile.

Melissa jumped back to her feet and exclaimed, “She didn’t laugh…”

“She didn’t pun,” Monkeywrench gasped. Then as one, both of them pointed at me and blurted out, “Imp-oster…!”

“Your skit was pretty funny,” I assured them, since I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. “I’m just not feeling well today…”

Melissa and Monkeywrench shared a worried look. “Is it because of what happened last weekend?” Melissa asked. “Is it because of your tail…?” she looked at my tail. “It looks normal again…”

“It’s not my tail, and it isn’t about what happened to me,” I said, getting a little impatient. “Now shooo. You two have classes you need to get to.”

As the two of them turned to join the rest of their classmates, who’d already left, I heard Monkeywrench whisper to Melissa, “I think there’s something wrong with Ms. Imp…”

“Yeah,” Melissa quietly agreed, giving me another worried look before leaving the room. “Definitely.”

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Whateley Academy, Thursday early afternoon, Oct 25th, 2007

Lunch was over, not that I’d eaten today. In fact, I’d avoided the cafeteria completely, and had remained in my classroom, grading quizzes for my art appreciation class. But now, the lunch period was over, and my fourth period Art 2 class was in full swing.

Dino was up to his usual antics, or perhaps, it would be more accurate to say he was up to some more unusual antics. Today, he had some kind of puppet or ventriloquist dummy, that looked like a skeleton dinosaur with a towel wrapped around its head, and it was sitting on his desk, where he kept having conversations with it. Of course, both he and the puppet kept growling, snarling, and chirping to each other. The rest of the students kept looking at him as though he was insane. Normally, I would have gotten a huge kick out of this and played along, but today was not a normal day.

Today, I didn’t have the energy or motivation to give a good lecture, and especially not to entertain the students. So instead, I had everyone working on their class projects, while I walked around and answered questions.

“Ms. Imp,” Jadis Diabolik called out to get my attention.

“Yes,” I responded, giving the girl a curious look.

“Can you ask Razorback to please stop hoarding all the supplies?” Jadis asked politely.

I glanced over to Dino, who did have a small pile of supplies, stacked up on his desk. “Dino,” I said, raising an eyebrow. “What are you doing?”

“It’s not me,” Dino said, using that digital vocoder thing that he carried with him. It was a flat, electric, monotone voice, but it was a little more understandable than his usual chirps. He gestured to his puppet and continued, “Ahmed the Dead Dinosaur says he’s going to blow them all up.”

“I see,” I responded, wishing that he would have tried this yesterday, or even tomorrow. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t appreciate it today.

“Silence,” Dino said with the electronic voice, though he moved the puppet’s mouth to show that it was supposed to be the one talking. “I chomp you!”

“Share the supplies,” I told Dino with a sigh.

Dino stared at me for a moment, then began chirping and growling frantically. Then, after a minute, he switched back to the vocoder. “Help,” he said. “Someone stole the Imp’s sense of humor.”

“Maybe you just aren’t funny,” someone responded with a snicker.

“Impossible,” Dino responded.

“Back to work,” I told them all, before going back to my desk to sit down. I rubbed my temples, wishing that this day would just end already.

I remained at my desk for the rest of the class, only getting up once to check on everyone’s work. Dino continued watching me, as well as playing with his puppet. When I didn’t respond, he gave me odd looks. Then, when I got close, he sniffed me and made some frantic chirps. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but he seemed worried.

As soon as class ended, Dino came up to my desk, sniffed at me again, then plopped his head right down on my desk and watched me. I might not understand his dinosaur language, but I could guess a lot from his body language.

“I’m fine,” I told the velociraptor, giving a forced smile. “Now go on, you’ve got a class to get to.”

Dino gave me a skeptical look, but he turned to leave. Still, he passed at the door, long enough to speak to another student using his vocoder. “Someone broke the Imp,” he said, somehow managing to sound worried, even though the digital voice was flat and emotionless. “Do you know where I can find Imp glue?”

Once everyone was gone, I leaned back in my chair and let out a long sigh. Now, I had my free period, so I could spend a little time brooding in private.

Just then, a familiar voice asked, “Penny for your thoughts?”

“They aren’t worth that much at the moment,” I answered grimly.

I looked up and saw Louis standing in the middle of my classroom. He stared at me for a few seconds before carefully saying, “You aren’t acting like your usual self, and several people are starting to get worried.”

“I’m fine,” I said, getting annoyed at having to keep telling people that. Maybe if I said it enough times, I’d believe it myself.

“Christine,” Louis said in a gentle tone. “I’m not reading your mind, but you’re radiating so much depression, that any psychic near you is going to pick it up. A couple students noticed this and have expressed some concern.”

“Everyone has a bad day now and then,” I responded grimly. “Even us fabulous Imps.”

“It’s obviously more than that,” Louis told me. “I imagine that having your tail cut off would be difficult…”

I snorted at that. “This has nothing to do with that.”

“Then what?” Louis asked, looking concerned. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“If you really want to help,” I stated with a snarl, “you can keep Barney away from me, and well out of my sight.”

Louis blinked at that. “Are you and Roland fighting again? I thought you had a truce…”

I just met Louis’ gaze, and told him, “If that asshole comes after me today of all days, I’m likely to forget myself and skin him alive.”

“Oh,” Louis responded quietly. “I think I understand.” He bowed his head to me and added, “I’ll give you some privacy.”

A couple seconds later, Louis just vanished, as though he’d never been there. I just lowered my head and rested it on my desk, fighting back the tears that wanted to come.

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

Whateley Academy, Thursday late afternoon, Oct 25th, 2007

“Come on,” Melissa called out as she ran across the courtyard. “Keep up…”

“Why don’t you slow down?” Monkeywrench called back as he ran after her. “I can’t teleport or run through obstacles, you know.”

Melissa was about to respond, then saw the person she was looking for. Without even glancing back at Monkeywrench, she teleported ahead, appearing right in front of Darqueheart.

“Hey, Darqueheart,” Melissa exclaimed.

Darqueheart jumped back, startled from the other girl’s sudden appearance. “Watch it, pretty,” she snapped. Then she gave Melissa a suspicious look and demanded, “What do you want?”

“It’s Imp,” Melissa blurted out. “There’s something wrong with her. I mean, something really really wrong with her…”

That was enough to make Darqueheart pause. “What do you mean?” she asked, the hostility dropping from her voice. “What’s wrong with the Imp? Is she hurt again?” She began to sound worried.

“I don’t think she’s hurt,” Monkeywrench said as he caught up. “But she’s acting…all wrong. Totally not like the Imp.”

“Yeah,” Melissa gushed out. “She was acting like a total pod person this morning. I think she might be some kind of imposter… Like maybe a robot, or one of those clones, or something…”

“Are you on drugs?” Darqueheart demanded, with the hostility starting to return.

Monkeywrench put a hand on Melissa’s shoulder to stop her, then explained, “This morning, Imp was acting completely different. I mean, no jokes, no puns, and like, no sense of humor at all…”

Melissa nodded emphatically. “It’s like a fun vampire sucked all the fun right out of her. I’ve talked to a bunch of other people, and they all say that she’s been like that all day… There’s something really wrong…”

“Imp didn’t even stop joking when she lost her tail,” Monkeywrench pointed out. “But now, it’s like… Well, she’s not acting anything like normal.”

“Is she all right?” Darqueheart demanded, now looking worried.

“I know you like the Imp,” Melissa told her. “And she likes you, and that you’d want to help her too.”

Darqueheart blinked at that. “But how? We don’t even know what’s wrong…”

“I know,” Melissa exclaimed, nearly bouncing in place. “We go to her apartment and keep knocking on the door until she tells us what’s going on. Then, we figure out how to cheer her up…”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Monkeywrench said. “Maybe we can bring something… I know… We can bring her pie…”

“Pie?” Darqueheart asked in surprise, as well as a little confusion.

“Banana cream, of course,” Monkeywrench responded with a grin, earning a giggle from Melissa and an eye roll from Darqueheart.

The three of them started walking towards the Village, the area of the campus where all the teachers lived. Normally, students weren’t allowed to go there without a teacher escorting them, but they figured that this was an emergency, so it wouldn’t be a problem.

However, as they approached the Village, a beautiful woman with black hair, stopped them. “Where do you kids think you’re going?”

“We’re gonna go see Imp,” Melissa insisted. “There’s something really really wrong with her today, and we want to make her feel better.”

“While I appreciate the sentiment,” the woman told them in a gentle tone. “You kids don’t belong over here…”

“But we’ve gotta talk to the Imp,” Melissa protested, giving her best puppy dog eyes.

The woman smiled. “That doesn’t work when my daughter does it, so it won’t work for you.” Then she paused to stare at Melissa for a moment. “You’re Imp’s apprentice, aren’t you? You’re Mischief.”

“Yeah,” Melissa responded. “You’ve heard of me?”

With a laugh, the woman admitted, “Imp told me a little about you.”

“I’m Darqueheart,” the devilish looking girl offered, giving the beautiful woman a look of envy and distrust.

“I’m Monkeywrench,” the boy said. “I’m just worried about her…”

For several long seconds, the woman just looked at the three students. “I can’t let you just walk into the Village,” she said. “But I’ll tell you what. I’ll go check on the Imp and see if she’s okay. If you’re still worried about her after seeing her tomorrow, you can talk to her then.”

“But,” Monkeywrench started.

Suddenly, the woman turned to Melissa. “No, you are not going to teleport past me. If the Imp is having a bad day, then she probably wants a little peace and quiet right now. Now, go on back to your dorms, and I’ll make sure Imp is all right.” She fixed them with a firm look. “Now shoo…”

Melissa pouted as she reluctantly turned around and began walking back towards the main campus area. Monkeywrench and Darqueheart went with her, though neither of them looked any happier about this than she was.

“Let’s go get dinner,” Monkeywrench suggested.

Melissa brightened up a little at that, then turned to Darquheart. “Do you wanna eat with us today?”

Darqueheart looked surprised at that, and heisted for several seconds before cautiously nodding. “Sure.”

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

The Village, Thursday late afternoon, Oct 25th, 2007

I was in the Flying Blue Squirrel, sitting at the table in the far back corner, as far away from everyone else as possible. Though I wasn’t in any mood for company or socialization, I still wanted to have a strong drink or two.

Two empty glasses were spread out on the table in front of me, along with one full glass. I took a long sip of scotch and sighed. This was one of the few times when it sucked to be a regenerator. Sure, I could heal from severe injuries, without a scar, and even grow back my tail. However, I simply couldn’t get drunk. Not with normal booze, at any rate.

With that, I reached into my pocket and pulled out a flask, which contained some devisor booze, made by a uniquely talented student on campus. Then, I poured the contents into one of my empty glasses. Now this stuff could actually have an effect on me.

A few seconds later, a familiar face stepped into the bar and looked around, as though searching for something specific. Tabby saw me, and immediately began to walk towards my table.

“Is this seat open?” Tabby asked, sitting down in the chair across from me without even waiting for an answer.

“I’m not in the mood for company,” I said a bit gruffly.

Tabby raised an eyebrow before commenting. “So I’ve heard.” She gestured for the bartender’s attention, and when he came over, she ordered her own drink. It wasn’t until she had her drink in hand and had taken a sip, that she told me, “I ran into a group of your students, while they were trying to sneak into the Village to see you…”

“Oh?” I said, a little surprised by that.

“One of them was Mischief,” Tabby continued with an amused smile. “She seems like a nice girl.”

“She is,” I agreed, then I smiled faintly. “The first time I met her, was after she robbed an art gallery and framed me for it…”

Tabby’s eyes widened at that, then she burst out laughing. “Now this sounds like a story I want to hear.”

“Maybe later,” I said, taking a sip of my drink.

“Those kids are worried about you,” Tabby said, giving me a concerned look. And though she didn’t say it aloud, there was an unspoken, “And I am too.”

“I’m fine,” I said with a scowl.

Tabby gave me a skeptical look, then carefully said, “Your injuries last weekend… I can’t imagine what it must have been like, having your tail cut off…”

I gave a sharp, bitter laugh. “This isn’t about that… Sure, it was painful and humiliating, but it isn’t anything that I haven’t dealt with before. Hell, there’s one teacher at this school, who injured me far worse than that…”

“Really?” Tabby asked in surprise. Then her eyes narrowed and she asked, “Williams?”

I merely nodded at that, not trusting myself to actually say anything. Tears started to form in my eyes, though I tried to ignore them.

“No wonder you don’t like him,” Tabby said.

“You have no idea,” I responded with a snarl. “You have no idea that that bastard cost me.”

Tabby gave me another look of surprise, though there was calculation in her eyes as well. That reminded me that Tabby wasn’t just a part-time teacher and a new friend, she was also an active hero. You couldn’t survive in that business as long as she had, without being either very powerful, or very sharp. With her, it was definitely the latter.

“Today is an anniversary,” I quietly stated, focusing on my drink rather than on her. “October twenty-fifth is always rough on me.”

Tabby stared at me with a sympathetic expression, and quietly asked, “The anniversary of what?”

“The biggest regret of my life,” I answered, downing the rest of my drink.

I emptied the rest of my flask into the glass, then ordered another drink from the bartender. Tabby and I drank in silence for some time, with neither of us speaking. At the moment, I preferred it this way. And while we drank, I kept glancing at Tabby, feeling a stirring of envy as I did so. I wasn’t jealous of her exemplar looks, since my devilish good looks were more than impressive enough. No, it was something else she had, which stirred these emotions.

Finally, the words slipped out of my mouth, almost without my realizing. “What’s it like?”

“What’s what like?” Tabby asked, looking a little confused.

I took a deep breath, not able to look her in the eyes as I quietly asked, “What’s it like…being a mother?”

Tabby looked a little surprised by my question, though she quickly recovered. “Well,” she answered carefully, “It’s a little hard to explain…” For several seconds, she sat there with a thoughtful look on her face. “It’s time consuming and frustrating. It’s ridiculously expensive, and sometimes a bit heartbreaking.”

“Oh,” I started.

However, Tabby continued, smiling faintly. “But it’s also…incredible. It’s rewarding, and joyful, and heartwarming…” She shook her head at that and gave me a wry smile, before admitting, “At one time in my life, I couldn’t even imagine that I would ever be a mother. If someone had suggested such a thing, I would have laughed at the sheer absurdity of that idea…or shuddered in horror. But now, I can’t imagine what it would be like to not be one.”

“Oh,” I said again, not sure what I could possibly say to that. My heart clenched up in my chest and tears started to form again.

“Why do you ask?” Tabby asked me gently.

For half a minute, I remained silent, and then, I finally answered. “I could have been a mother,” I whispered, my voice cracking a little. “But I lost my chance. Fifteen years ago…today.”

“Oh my…,” Tabby gasped, her eyes going wide. “I’m so sorry…”

“It’s for the best,” I responded with a bitter smile. “Can you imagine ME as a mother? No kid of mine would have ever had a chance.”

“Christine,” Tabby whispered, now staring at me with a look of pity. I hated it when people looked at me like that. It was even worse than when they were afraid of me.

With that, I downed the rest of my drink and stood up. “I’ve got to go…”

Tabby got up and threw her arms around me in a firm hug. “I’m here if you want to talk…”

“Thank you,” I said, giving her a forced smile. “But don’t worry about me. I’m fine.”

A few seconds later, I made my way out of the bar, pausing just long enough to slap a couple bills down for the bartender, to pay my tab. Then, I made the short trek to my apartment, where I promptly locked myself inside. Once this was done, and I was completely alone, I collapsed into my recliner and let the tears flow freely, as I cried over what could have been.

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

Whateley Academy, Friday morning, Oct 26th, 2007

“Welcome,” I cheerfully announced, holding my arms out wide as I welcomed my first period students into the classroom. “Entry freely and of your own will. Come on, I won’t bite…much.”

My students came into the classroom, looking around warily. Some easels were set up, and I had a few more supplies out than usual. I also had some other equipment scattered around the room, which was obviously stirring some curiosity.

Melissa came in and stared at me for a moment, before she broke into a broad grin. “Imp,” she exclaimed in excitement. “You have your humor back…”

“I found it behind the couch,” I told her with a grin.

Suddenly, Melissa teleported to me and wrapped her arms around me in a hug. “Are you okay?” she blurted. “Are you feeling better now?”

“Yes, I’m feeling better,” I responded, feeling touched at her concern.

It was probably against the rules for me to be hugging a student in class, but the hell with it. Since when have I ever cared about rules or propriety? I hugged Melissa back, smiling gently as I did so.

“Thank goodness,” Monkeywrench said. “I was afraid we’d be stuck with Ben Stein teaching us or something…”

I looked around the room at my other students and announced, “I sincerely apologize for the lack of energy yesterday. You all deserve a much more interesting learning experience than that. I have no excuse for that except…it was an imp-oster. Someone was imp-ersonating me…and badly at that.”

There were some giggles and laughs around the room. “Well, ah’m glad to have you back, Ms. Imp,” Alicia said.

“And I’m glad to be back,” I replied. “Now, I imagine that you’re all wondering what’s going on…”

“You can say that again,” Melissa said, her eyes twinkling with mischief as she was obviously setting up a gag for me.

“Now, I imagine that you’re all wondering what’s going on,” I repeated, earning some more laughs.

One student raised his hand and called out, “Are you building a dungeon for anyone with bad grades?”

“Oh no,” I responded with a grin. “I’ve already got one of those in my other classroom…”

Most of the students went silent at that. The existence of my other classroom, was fairly well known among the students by now. After all, I’d hired a few students to clean it up for me, and the Teletubbies hadn’t exactly been keeping its location a secret. And on top of that, I’d also held a two hour seminar on lock picking there, with a small group of students who were interested in the subject.

“As you are all undoubtedly aware,” I explained cheerfully, “tomorrow is Parents Day. In fact, many of you even have family members who are going to be here, so I thought that we’d try to make a good imp-ression with them. We’ll hang up some of your best work so far, to show off, and if you aren’t satisfied with what you’ve already done, well, there are supplies out, so you can imp-rove upon your portfolios.”

Once everyone had been put to work, I began to wander around again, checking on their progress. My thoughts began wandering, and I found myself thinking about Dino’s little act yesterday, with the puppet. Though I hadn’t been in the right mindset to appreciate it at the time, that had been pretty funny.

“I wonder,” I mused, as an idea began to form.

I suddenly began to wonder, if there was anywhere on campus, where I could get a custom puppet made on short notice. I could just imagine the look on Dino’s scaly face, as well as everyone else’s, if I had my own Imp puppet to teach the class for me today. With that in mind, I began to grin mischieviously.

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

Whateley Academy, Saturday late morning, Oct 27th, 2007

“Begone foul demon,” the tiny woman commanded, holding out a small crucifix as though I should be afraid of it. The woman was barely five feet tall, but she glared at me with as much fierceness as any hero I’d met.

“Really?” I asked wryly. “Again? This is the second time this morning…”

A teenage girl stood beside the woman, looking absolutely humiliated. “Mom,” my student pleaded with the tiny woman. “Please… Ms. Imp is my art teacher, not a demon…”

“Go back to the pit whence you came from,” the woman continued.

“You know,” I commented, “I do believe she just told me to go to hell…” Then I looked the woman in the eyes and smirked. “Sorry, but I’m from New York, not Jersey…”

The woman seemed confused by the fact that I wasn’t backing away from the cross in fear, or vanishing in a puff of smoke. Unfortunately, I’d had the same reaction from another parent, earlier this morning. However, that one had been pretty rude. He’d used a lot of profanity, including a few phrases that I’d never heard before. Of course, I’d stopped his rant and asked him to repeat them, so I could write them down. For some reason, he hadn’t appreciated that.

“Come on, Mom,” the girl said, practically dragging her mother out of my classroom. She looked back at me, looking absolutely mortified. “I’m sorry about that…”

“Don’t worry,” I responded with a dismissive wave. “It’s not your fault.”

Once the woman was gone, I let out a sigh of relief. I’d thought that Whateley would be different, that I wouldn’t have to deal with that kind of reaction anymore. Unfortunately, it seemed that even a school for mutants wasn’t immune from that kind of behavior.

“The problem with Parents Day,” I thought aloud, “is the parents.”

“I hope that doesn’t go for all the parents,” a familiar voice said from the doorway.

“Ryan,” I responded with a broad grin and a swish of my tail.

“Hello, Christine,” Ryan said, smiling back at me. However, it dimmed a little and he asked, “Are you okay?”

I continued to smile as I answered, “Fine and dandy, dandy and fine.”

“I mean, how are you feeling?” he asked giving me a concerned look.

“I’m all healed up,” I assured him, waving my tail around to prove it. “See. Good as new.”

Ryan looked relieved at that. “I’m glad to hear it…”

For several seconds, Ryan and I just stood there watching each other. I had to resist the urge to run up and give him a nice long kiss, because Melissa was standing a short distance away, and she didn’t know that her dad and I were sort-of dating now. Neither of us was quite sure how to tell her either.

“Welcome again to my classroom,” I announced with a dramatic sweep of my arm, more to break the awkward silence than anything. “Over here, we have a nice example of Melissa’s work…”

“I made a watercolor painting,” Melissa bragged, running over to the spot where her painting was hanging on the wall.

“Oh, that’s beautiful,” Ryan told his daughter, who beamed at the praise. I just watched the two of them with a smile, swishing my tail back and forth as I did so. “Do, do you have any other art to show me?”

While Melissa was showing Ryan her portfolio, several other students came wandering into my classroom with their families. There were parents, of course, but also a couple younger siblings, who hid behind their parents when they caught sight of me.

One stocky man came straight up to me, and didn’t even hesitate before holding out his hand and announcing, “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Donald Pryce.” He gestured to one of my students, a boy with minor GSD named Grit. “My son Hugh said that you’re his favorite teacher.”

“Really?” I said, brightening up. “I try to keep classes interesting.”

Grit blushed, though it was hard to make out since he had greyish skin, that was gritty like rough sandpaper. “She’s really funny,” he told his dad.

I blew on my nails, then buffed them against my shirt. “It’s nice to be appreciated…”

Donald chuckled at that. “Unfortunately, my wife couldn’t be here, but I think she would have appreciated this opportunity to meet Hugh’s teachers.”

I chatted with Donald for a few minutes, telling him about how Grit was doing in class. Then, I showed him some of Hugh’s work, which seemed to please him. Grit wasn’t a very talented artist, but I guess that kind of thing didn’t really matter to a parent.

After Donald wandered off with his son, I briefly chatted with a couple of the other parents, though they all seemed a little nervous. I didn’t know if it was my GSD, or the whole supervillain thing, but I was obviously making them uncomfortable.

Then, I saw Alicia coming towards me, with a couple who I assumed were her parents. It wasn’t until that moment, that I remembered a small but important detail. I’d broken into their hotel room last spring.

The woman, who I assumed was Alicia’s mother because of the resemblance, came right up to me and looked me straight in the eyes, before abruptly announcing, “My daughter says that you’re the supervillain who saved her life…”

“Mama,” Alicia started.

“That would be me,” I cheerfully agreed. Then with a sweeping bow, I announced, “I’m the fabulous Imp…”

Before I could say another word, the woman suddenly grabbed me in a hug. I was surprised as well as a bit confused by this. Thankfully, she let go before things started to get really awkward.

“Thank you,” the woman exclaimed. “Thank you for savin her life. You’re a hero…”

I recoiled in horror while Ryan burst out laughing and Melissa began to giggle. “Please don’t say that,” I pleaded. “If the supervillain union hears that, I’d never hear the end of it…”

“Ah’m not sure ah like the idea of a supervillain teachin mah daughter,” Alicia’s dad said, giving me a suspicious look.

“But Ms. Imp’s a great teacher,” Alicia protested.

“I’m retired from my old profession,” I pointed out. “Now, I’m just a humble art teacher…”

“You’re anything but humble,” Ryan pointed out with a smirk. I shot him a glare.

“Well, you did save her life,” Alicia’s dad mused with a thoughtful look. I noticed that his accent seemed to have softened a little. “And Alicia has gotten interested in paintin, thanks to you.”

“Well, as utterly fascinating as I am, I don’t think you came here to talk about me.” I flashed a grin and gestured to Alicia. “Alicia’s a good student, and pretty motivated. She’s always eager to try out the new techniques I teach, and she usually comes in for my Saturday morning open classroom, for a little more practice…”

“Only when mah training team isn’t busy,” Alicia added.

I gestured towards the wall, and said, “If you come over here, you can see some of Alicia’s works. We haven’t covered any oil painting in my regular class, but she’s been working on these during my open classroom…”

Before long, Alicia and her parents left, with them complimenting her on her art. Ryan just stood back, watching me with a strange expression on his face.

“What?” I asked.

“You seem to be pretty good at teaching,” he told me.

“She’s the best,” Melissa exclaimed, nearly bouncing in place.

Ryan smiled at that. “However, I’ve heard that you have another classroom…”

“Oh really?” I responded, looking at Mischief, who was trying to do an innocent look but not really succeeding. “I wonder where you heard that from.”

“If you don’t mind,” Ryan said. “I’d like to see that one too…”

With a shrug, I responded, “Sure. Why not?”

I put a sign on my classroom door that said, ‘THE IMP IS OUT TO LUNCH AND WILL BE BACK SHORTLY.’

A minute later, I led Ryan down into the basement of Dunn Hall, and then to the tunnels that connected to it. My second classroom was right off one of the main tunnels, and was immediately recognizable as mine, due to the fact that my logo was now painted on the door. It was a black circle, with little devil horns and a squiggly devil tail on the bottom. And then, to my own surprise, I saw that someone had recently added a sign to the door that said “LARCENY 101’.

“Larceny one oh one?” Ryan asked, giving me an odd look.

Instead of admitting that the sign was new, and probably someone’s idea of a joke, I just shrugged and went with it. “Welcome to the local Imp Lair branch office.”

I opened the door and stepped inside, letting Ryan get a good look. The classroom was nice and spacious, with my desk in one corner while shelves and materials were organized against the walls. My logo was also painted on the walls, making it clear to anyone who looked, that this was my space.

“Isn’t this awesome?” Melissa exclaimed, nearly bouncing with excitement. “Over here is where Imp was teaching me to pick pockets, and there’s a safe, that she says she’s gonna teach me how to open one day…”

Ryan gave me a flat look. “Really now? And the school is fine with you teaching kids this kind of thing?”

“Oh, Carson does more than just look the other way,” I told Ryan with an evil grin. “She actually encourages it…”

“What?” he asked in surprise. “Really?”

I nodded at that. “Did you know that Melissa is taking a survival course as one of her classes?”

“I saw it on her schedule,” Ryan said, giving me a curious look.

“Do you know what that class entails?” I asked. Then, before Ryan could really answer, I explained, “It teaches students how to survive a wide variety of threats. How to run away, how to hide, and how to deal with various situations they may run into. This includes learning to do things like pick locks, pick pockets, and play dirty. What I’m doing here,” I gestured around the classroom, “is just a more in-depth look at some of that material. I can help the kids by going into the subject in more detail, and there are also a lot of kids who don’t take survival, but who could still get a lot of use from these skills…”

“It sounds like survival would be a natural class for you to teach,” Ryan pointed out.

“She’s really good at it,” Melissa added.

I just gave Ryan a wry smile. “I sometimes sub for that class.”

Ran nodded and looked around. “So, you’re not teaching kids how to pull a heist?”

“Not yet,” I responded cheerfully. “But that’s going to be a winter semester class that I’ll be teaching…”

Ryan stared at me for a moment, then said, “I don’t know what it says, when I have no idea if you’re joking about that or not…”

“Oh, I’m not joking this time,” I grinned evilly, swishing my tail back and forth behind me. “That class is going to be awesome to teach…”

Melissa giggled at that. “I’m gonna sign up for that one.”

Ryan gave me a worried look, so I decided to take pity on him. “I’ve been giving Melissa a lot of personal lessons too, but I assure you, I’m not trying to turn her into a criminal. In fact, I already made her promise me that if she ever does decide to go that path, she won’t do it until she’s at least eighteen.”

“Then why teach her these things?” Ryan asked me. “Picking locks and breaking into safes, aren’t the kind of things you need to know unless you’re a criminal.”

“Humanity First,” I said, holding up one fighter. “The MCO.” A second finger. “Jack Rabbit.” A third finger. And then I held up a fourth. “Paradigm.” I looked Ryan in the eyes and explained, “The world can be a pretty hostile and dangerous place, especially for mutants. I just want to give her all the tools I can, so she’ll be prepared to deal with it. If someone locks her up, I want her to be able to slip the cuffs, get out of her cell, and get away. And besides,” I grinned at him, “I really enjoy teaching her.”

“How can I argue with that logic?” Ryan asked wryly. Then he stared at Melissa with a thoughtful expression before saying, “I can’t think of anyone more qualified to teach her how to get away from people who are after her…”

“I’ll do my best,” I promised him.

“And how is Melissa doing?” Ryan asked, giving me a serious look. “How well is she learning this stuff?”

“Well,” I said, looking at Melissa, who was now on the other side of the room, playing with a set of handcuffs. “She has the attention span of a goldfish. She’s reckless, jumping into dangerous situations without even thinking about it. And she has absolutely no patience at all.”

“I see,” Ryan responded with a scowl, not looking happy about that.

“I was exactly the same at that age,” I told him with a chuckle. “But she’s also very creative, a lot sharper than most people give her credit for, and doesn’t hesitate to help her friends. Melissa has a lot of potential, and she’ll eventually grow out of her bad habits, with a little time and experience. I can help with that.”

Ryan just stood there, staring at his daughter with a look of parental pride. It warmed my heart to see that expression on his face, though it also made my heart ache a little at the same time, as I remembered my own lost opportunities for that kind of thing.

Once I was done giving Ryan the nickel tour, I locked up the classroom and started back up to the surface. As useful as the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the school was, that wasn’t the kind of thing you really wanted to show the parents. For one thing, the tunnels were long and confusing, and for another, they might start to worry about a minotaur.

“Thank you for showing me both your classrooms,” Ryan told me. “Now, I guess I have to go see Melissa’s next class…”

“And my friends,” Melissa added excitedly. “I can’t wait to introduce you to my roommate Maxine…”

Ryan just chuckled at that. “I had the general tour around campus a couple weeks ago, but this time, I’ll actually have the opportunity to talk with Melissa’s other teachers.”

“Well, good luck with that,” I told him with a grin.

“I’m afraid that I’m going to need it,” he admitted wryly. “I know that my daughter can sometimes be a handful, and I’m afraid that I’m going to hear all about that…”

“Undoubtedly,” I agreed cheerfully.

Ryan hesitated a moment, then glanced towards Melissa, who’d already gone on ahead. “Maybe we can have dinner again this evening…”

“That sounds good to me,” I responded with a grin, once again wishing that I could just kiss him and get it over with. “Whenever you’re done, you can probably find me in my classroom… My first one.”

“I’ll see you then,” Ryan said with a smile, before he hurried off to catch up with Melissa.

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

Whateley Academy, Saturday afternoon, Oct 27th, 2007

Crystal Hall was absolutely packed. The student cafeteria was always a busy place, but today, parents and other family members were eating with the students, so the building was nearly overflowing.

Normally, I ate at the faculty cafeteria, which was less crowded, and where the food was even better. However, today was a little different. I’d seen Ryan and Melissa walking towards Crystal Hall, so I’d followed from a distance. For a minute or two, I’d even thought about inviting myself to eat at their table, but then, I thought better of it. They were having some father/daughter bonding time, and I didn’t want to mess that up for them.

Since there wasn’t really any place to sit, unless I wanted to eat with some random students and their families, I just grabbed some food to go. However, just as I was leaving Crystal Hall, I heard someone call out, “Imp…”

“What?” I asked, turning and looking for the source.

Almost immediately, I noticed the woman walking towards me. She was beautiful, in that blond exemplar way, and only an inch or so taller than I was. This woman was also someone I recognized, since we’d done a job together a few years ago.

“Setup,” I said in greeting.

“I heard a rumor that you’d decided to retire and become a teacher,” Setup told me with an amused look. “But to be honest, I never believed it.”

With an exaggerated roll of my eyes, I asked, “Why is that everyone’s reaction when they find out I’m a teacher?”

Setup gave me a wry look. “Because the last time I saw you, you’d just dumped tar and feathers onto a superhero, and were clucking at him like a chicken…”

“Well, he had it coming,” I pointed out defensively.

The teenage girl who was standing beside Setup, began laughing at that. I turned my attention to her, noticing that she looked exactly like Setup, only younger. The family resemblance was uncanny.

“Have you met my daughter, Martina?” Setup asked.

“No,” I responded, looking the girl over. “She’s not in any of my classes, but I’ve seen her around and noticed the resemblance.”

The girl, Martina, gave me a somewhat self-conscious smile and said, “It’s nice to meet you, Ms. Imp. I’ve heard a couple girls in my cottage talking about your classes…”

I grinned at that. “If you’re interested in art, you should sign up for one of my classes next semester. And if you have any interest in going into your mom’s line of work, I have classes for that too…”

“You…,” Setup said with a sigh. “A teacher.” She shook her head and admitted, “I still have a hard time believing it.”

For a moment, I just chuckled at that, then I began to look around, trying to see if I could spot another familiar face. “I was just wondering if Pinball was around,” I explained to Setup. “Her kid sister is a student here…”

“Oh,” Martina said, drawing my attention back to her. “Dana said that her sister couldn’t make it today.” Then, she quickly added, “Dana…Pinball’s sister, lives down the hall from me.”

“So, you’re in Poe,” I said, grinning at the girl. I liked Poesies, since some of the most interesting students on campus lived in that cottage.

Suddenly, a woman nearby, exclaimed, “NO! It can’t be...”

I looked at the woman, who was tall and well-muscled, looking like she could be a fitness model or something. She had short dark hair, and the kind of naturally tan skin that was almost caramel in color. And at that moment, she was staring at me with a look of surprise, which was quickly turning to one of anger.

“YOU!” she snarled, her eyes sparking…literally.

“Do I know you?” I asked, already seeing that this was about to get messy.

The woman pointed at me and announced, “You’re under arrest.”

“Really?” I asked, looking up and smirking. “I don’t see a rest…”

“Three years,” the woman snarled. “I’ve waited three years to get my hands on you…”

“Aunt June,” a boy near her blurted out. “Please don’t…”

I grinned, swishing my tail back and forth. “Wow, that’s a long time to hold a crush. But it’s totally understandable. I mean, I’m the fabulous Imp, so who wouldn’t want a piece of this goodness…”

“This should be interesting,” Setup commented, stepping back and pulling her daughter with her. “Now Martina, watch and learn.”

Sparks of electricity suddenly began to arc around the woman, and then she charged at me. Of course, she telegraphed her attack from a mile away, so I easily dodged and slipped out of her reach. She punched at me several times, but I continued moving back.

“Really?” I asked. “In Crystal Hall…with a bunch of kids watching?”

“You aren’t getting away from me this time,” my attacker stated. Then she came at me again.

I wasn’t about to fight this woman in the middle of Crystal Hall, where people could be hurt. In fact, I didn’t intend to fight her at all. So, after blowing her a raspberry, I turned and ran for the exit. And as I expected, she chased after me.

Once we were out of the cafeteria, I looked for an opportunity to pull my vanishing trick. However, before I could do that, a bolt of electricity came at me from behind. I just barely noticed it in time to leap aside. And while I was doing this, my attacker caught up to me.

“You’re going away for a long time, Imp,” the woman announced in the self-righteous and arrogant tone that was a hallmark of many heroes.

“Well, well, well,” I said with a smirk. “If it isn’t Sparky… It’s been what…three years? Wow, it’s amazing how time flies…”

At this point, I knew exactly who this woman was, even though she wasn’t wearing the costume I was familiar with. Her physique, skin color, and powers were all good clues, and her mention of it having been three years was the final one.

Sureshock was a small time hero from Chicago, who’d been auditioning for a spot on a big league team. Because she was trying to impress them, she tried to show off by coming after me on her own. Needless to say, she’d overestimated her own competence, and I slipped right past her, with my prize in hand. I found out afterwards, that she didn’t pass the audition.

“You won’t get away from me this time,” Sparky insisted.

Sparky was a mid-level exemplar with some kind of electrokinetic aura. Her aura sparked to life, arcing more forcibly than before. I knew better than to touch her now, or to let her touch me. At best, it would be like getting tasered. At worst… Well, I wasn’t about to find out.

“You know, Sparky,” I told her. “Attacking a teacher at Whateley is a bad idea. I mean, not quite on the level of playing hopscotch through a mine field, or hot potato with a hand grenade, but its right up there with letting a blind devisor pick your wardrobe…”

Sparky snarled. “Don’t call me that, you ugly freak…”

With that, Sparky came at me again, trailing a shower of sparks as she moved. Suddenly, her entire aura exploded outward, becoming a short ranged electrical barrage. Fortunately, I’d seen this move before, so I leapt out of range the moment it began. As it was, I caught just enough of it to get a painful zap.

“Neener neener neener,” I responded, blowing the hero a raspberry as I moved back out of range. “Do you want me to find you a barn so you can try hitting its broad side?”

Sparky’s aura began to zap and charge again, while she just glared at me, obviously preparing for another attack. “I’m taking you in…”

I let out an exasperated sigh. “Don’t make me smack you upside the head with a rubber chicken. I don’t have a very high opinion of most heroes to start with, and you’re lowering it with every second…”

Suddenly, a voice yelled out, “Halt! Stop right there…”

Samantha Everhart was running up with an intimidating looking gun in her hands, and she had four more security guys behind her, each of whom was armed. I suddenly hoped that Everhart didn’t hold any hard feelings over that Green Eggs and Ham thing.

“Stop this fight right now,” Everhart commanded.

“This woman is a notorious supervillain,” Sparky stated in a smug tone. “Take her into custody…”

“We’re not going to be doing that,” Everhart said, fixing her gaze on Sparky.

“No, they most certainly are not,” Carson said, from where she was floating in the air a short distance away. She landed on the ground and glared at Sparky. “You just attacked one of my teachers without provocation, and I am NOT going to tolerate that…”

Sparky looked surprised at that. “I don’t think you know who this woman is…”

“I know exactly who the Imp is,” Carson responded with a scowl. “And I am quite familiar with her previous profession. But in spite of that, she is now an art teacher at this school. In fact, she’s one of the best art teachers that Whateley has ever had.”

Now, it was my turn to stare at Carson in surprise. Not only had she taken my side against a superhero, but she’d also praised me at the same time.

“I will not allow visitors to attack my teachers,” Carson continued, looking angry. “And especially not while using potentially lethal force. I’m afraid that you are no longer welcomed on school grounds. Security will escort you out.”

Then as Everhart and her people escorted Sparky away, the boy from earlier ran up to the hero and exclaimed, “I can’t believe you did that, Aunt June… I was gonna take art appreciation next semester…”

For several seconds, I just stood there, feeling a little stunned and trying to absorb what had just happened. This was the first time in my life, that any kind of cop or armed security, had ever come to help me. Obviously, I didn’t need their help, but I still appreciated it nonetheless.

“Well,” I told Carson with a grin. “That was entertaining.”

“You do have a way with people,” Carson commented wryly.

I made a show of blowing on my nails and then buffing them on my shirt. “It’s a talent.”

Carson shook her head, then went to talk to some of the parents and guests, probably to reassure them that everything was all right and that they were never in any danger. Some of the people watching were giving me nervous looks, probably thinking that security should have hauled me off instead.

A moment later, Ryan and Melissa came towards me. “That was…interesting,” Ryan said.

“You saw that?” I asked, not sure how I felt about that.

“It was different,” Ryan admitted, “watching you fight someone else, from the sideline. Let’s just say, it brought back a lot of memories…”

“That was awesome,” Melissa exclaimed, suddenly throwing her arms around me in a hug. “I wanted to come help you, but Dad wouldn’t let me, because he said that you could take care of that zappy lady all by yourself…”

“Really?” I asked, giving Ryan a curious look.

Ryan smiled faintly. “I’ve fought you enough times, to know that you were more than capable of dealing with that woman on your own.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” I told him with a grin, once again fighting back the impulse to give him a hug and kiss. I wasn’t exactly known for my self-control, so this wasn’t exactly easy. “Now, has anyone shown you the arenas? Trust me, they’ll knock your socks off…”

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

The Village, Saturday evening, Oct 27th, 2007

The Flying Blue Squirrel was busy, which was no surprise. It was Parents Day, and I wasn’t the only staff member at the school who wanted to spend a little time socializing with some of the guests afterwards. I’d actually tried getting a seat in the Brown Moose next door, but there were no tables available, and I hadn’t felt like waiting.

“What are you drinking?” Ryan asked, indicating my neon purple cocktail.

“A grape ape,” I answered with a smile. “And before you ask, I have no idea what’s in it.”

Ryan gave my drink a suspicious look. “I’m not sure I want to know.”

With a laugh, I responded, “Probably for the best.”

“About that excitement earlier today,” Ryan said, giving me an odd look. “That woman was reckless… There were a lot of people nearby who could have been hurt.”

I nodded agreement, not bothering to point out that a lot of heroes behaved like that. They wanted to take down the ‘bad guys’ at all costs, with no concern for collateral damage. And most of the time, when they were done, they’d blame the ‘bad guy’ for all the damage they caused. We were easy scapegoats that way.

“That’s why Carson was so pissed at her,” I said instead. “Sparky screwed the pooch this time.”

Ryan chuckled faintly at that. “I saw what you did. You led her out of the cafeteria and away from the bystanders. You could have just pulled your usual vanishing act, and avoided the whole situation, but you didn’t. Instead, you kept her attention focused on you until security could arrive to help…”

“That wasn’t really my intention,” I lied. The truth was, I’d expected security to show up and blame me, but figured that their presence would at least stop Sparky in the process. “I was just having some fun.”

For some reason, Ryan didn’t look like he believed that. “You know,” he said carefully. “If I hadn’t known better, than I would have thought you were a hero…”

I snorted at that. “Then it’s a good thing you do know better.”

There was a long pause before Ryan abruptly asked me, “Why didn’t you tell me that Jack Rabbit was one of the people who attacked you?”

After a brief pause from surprise, I asked, “How did you find out?”

“I’m not a detective,” Ryan admitted. “But I do have my own contacts. And besides…this Imp Revenge Squad has been making a lot of noise, bragging about how they took you down, and asking where you’re hiding.”

“I’ll bet,” I said with a scowl.

Attacking me in an ambush was one thing, but bragging about it afterwards was another. Now, they were putting me into a situation where my reputation was at stake. A professional, even a retired one, relied on their reputation. There was no way I could just stand back and let them ruin mine. Even if I didn’t have reason enough to go after them before, this alone would have given me no choice.

I turned my full attention back to Ryan, considering his question. I could have dodged the question and made a fun game out of doing so, but I decided not to. “I didn’t want you involved,” I admitted with a sigh. “This is my problem, so I need to deal with it myself.”

Ryan looked a little upset by that. “Didn’t you think that I should know that Jack Rabbit was out of jail and back in town? If he’s coming after you, then he might come after me and Melissa as well…”

“I…didn’t think of that,” I admitted quietly. “You’re right.”

“Seeing you hurt like that,” Ryan said, his voice cracking a little. “I hated seeing you like that. Even if I didn’t have my own issues with Jack Rabbit, I’d still want to help you with this.”

That made me blink in surprise. “What?”

“You…,” Ryan started, staring at me with an odd look. “Trust doesn’t come easy for you, does it? I guess that makes sense, considering your career.”

“Not really,” I admitted with a forced smile.

Ryan continued to stare at me for several long seconds, before carefully saying, “I trust you with my real identity, and even more importantly…my daughter’s safety. You’ve already trusted me, when you didn’t need to do so. You told me things about your power, about your tactics, and about your life, that could have come back and hurt you… You risked all that, to help me save Melissa. Now, let me help you. Please, trust me with that…”

“Sure,” I responded with mock exasperation, because I didn’t know how else to respond to his offer. As it was, I was almost starting to get a little teary-eyed from it. “Be all reasonable and everything…”

“I’ve found out a few things about this Imp Revenge Squad,” Ryan told me. “Why don’t you tell me what you know?”

I let out a sigh, and admitted, “I was hoping to talk about something other than business, but I suppose…”

Ryan seemed amused. “People try killing you, and you call it business?”

“Risks of the profession,” I responded with a shrug. “Sometimes people take things personally and come after you. In fact, I once had a couple hit men following me around for about five years, trying to collect the bounty on my head. This isn’t really much different, except these guys are less competent.”

“I know about Jack Rabbit,” Ryan said, to nudge the conversation back on course.

“He’s lost his powers,” I explained, “and is using tech to compensate. In fact, I think he’s using Green Gauntlet’s old gear.” I shrugged at that. “The other former hero of the group, used to go by the name of the Crimson Kid.”

“The Crimson Kid?” Ryan repeated in surprise. “I’ve heard of him…”

“A reckless punk who went to the dark side,” I said. “He made a mistake, killed someone to cover it up…then got a friend of mine executed for it. I showed him the error of his ways, and never expected to see him again.”

“I heard that Hexagon might be involved,” Ryan said grimly. “I don’t see how, since I saw him die.”

“This one is his apprentice,” I explained. “She doesn’t seem as personally invested in this as the others, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be dangerous. Crash Test Dummy had been working for Hexagoner during that whole thing, and he’s holding a grudge over it.”

“So, Crash Test Dummy and this new Hexagon may both hold grudges against me too,” Ryan pointed out grimly.

“And then there’s Blondie,” I said with a scowl. “The others call her Heaven, and she seems to be the one who put the whole IRS thing together. She seems to have it out for me pretty good, but honestly, I don’t know why.”

We talked about the IRS for a few more minutes, then began to drift to other topics. For the moment, it seemed enough for Ryan, to see that I was willing to share what I knew, and let him help. I honestly had no idea of how he could help me with the IRS, at least at the moment, but I didn’t know what I was going to do about them yet either. That was something that we’d need to work out later.

“So,” Ryan asked me with a smile. “Would you be interested in spending the day with me tomorrow? I’d like to check out Berlin and some of the local area…”

“I wish I could,” I responded, letting out a sigh of disappointment. “But honestly, there’s some business I need to take care of, out of town. I’ll be catching a flight out early in the morning.”

“That’s too bad,” Ryan said, looking disappointed too. “What kind of business?”

Ryan gave me a curious look, and I could imagine what he was thinking. He probably thought that I was going back to my old line of work. Well, what I had planned was more in line with my old career than my current one.

With a wry smile, I said, “I’ve been asked to mediate a dispute.”

“Mediate a dispute?” Ryan asked, looking a little surprised, and perhaps even confused.

“A businessman got caught between a hero and some criminals,” I explained, deciding that in this case, the truth would work. Just not all of the truth. “And he asked me to help him out, in exchange for a favor.” I shrugged at that. “So, I’m going to try negotiating a solution, where he gets to walk away, alive and free.”

“Now you really have me curious,” Ryan said.

“Sorry,” I grinned at him, swishing my tail behind my chair as I did. “I can’t tell you more than that. Professional considerations and all. However, I can promise that I’m not going there to steal anything.”

Ryan laughed. “I’ll trust your word on that.”

For a minute, the two of us just sat there, watching each other in silence. It should have been awkward and uncomfortable, but for some reason, it wasn’t.

“Six months ago,” Ryan said. “If someone had suggested that I would one day be dating the infamous Imp, I would have thought they were insane…”

“That’s fabulous, not infamous,” I corrected him with a smirk.

“My apologies,” he replied with a chuckle.

“Apology accepted,” I said with a grin. “And if someone had told me that I’d be dating Chickenhawk, I’d have thought they were completely and utterly bonkers. Yet here we are.”

“Yes,” Ryan agreed, smiling at me. “Here we are. I just wonder, where do we go from here…”

I hesitated for a moment, then quietly admitted, “I’m not really sure that there’s anywhere we can go…”

“What do you mean?” Ryan asked me.

“I love spending time with you like this,” I told Ryan, feeling a little uncomfortable at revealing my emotions like this. “I get a real kick talking with you about the business, and I absolutely love that I can talk to you about art…and you get it. But…”

Ryan’s expression was guarded now. “But what?”

“But how can we have a real relationship, when we can’t even go out in public together?” I asked quietly. “Sure, it doesn’t matter much here at Whateley…but in Manhattan? You can’t risk being seen with an infamous art thief, without getting a lot of awkward and risky questions.”

“What about a fabulous art thief?” he joked, making me chuckle at that.

“Well then,” I responded. “That’s entirely different.” However, as out of character as it usually was for me, I turned serious again. “The fact of the matter is, it would be great if we could go out to a nice restaurant, without either of us having to wear a disguise…but that just can’t happen. I understand why. It’s just one of those facts of life that I’ve long since gotten used to. But that doesn’t mean I like it.”

Ryan stared at me with a strange expression, then began to say, “Christine, I really enjoy spending time with you…”

“You just think I’m a hot piece of tail,” I joked. This caused Ryan to start choking up with laugher.

“You are certainly…unique,” Ryan said with an amused look. “And regardless of what the future holds for us, I want to continue spending time with you. Would you be interested in doing so next weekend?”

I grinned at that, swishing my tail back and forth. “Well, I’m going to be in New York again next weekend anyway, to deal with the IRS, so that would be absolutely perfect…”

Ryan and I reached out to touch each other’s hands, and it was a nice romantic moment, at least for a couple seconds. Then, someone called out, “Christine…”

“Oh no,” I muttered, looking up and seeing Tabby walking towards me, along with a handsome and athletic man.

“Trouble?” Ryan asked quietly.

“Oh, definitely,” I responded with a smirk. “But the fun kind.”

When Tabby reached us, she smiled. “Hello, Christine.” She gestured to her companion. “This is my husband Robert.”

“Howdy,” I said to Robert. “Nice to meet you.”

Robert gave me a polite nod, though he watched me with a look of narrow-eyed suspicion. Of course, that wasn’t too surprising. If Robert was Tabby’s husband, then that meant he was also the superhero known as Falcon, which also meant that he’d naturally be suspicious of a former criminal like myself. I had a sudden urge to ask him where Dynomutt was, though I somehow managed to squash it…at least for the moment.

Looking to Tabby, I gestured to Ryan and said, “This is Ryan…Melissa’s father. We were just discussing his daughter’s training.” And to Ryan, I said, “This is my friend Tabitha. Her daughter is a student here too…”

“Nice to meet you both,” Ryan said, shaking hands with Robert and Tabby.

“Do you mind if we join you?” Tabby asked us, gesturing to the table. “All the other tables are full.”

I glanced to Ryan, who didn’t seem to have a problem with it, and responded, “Sure. Pull up a chair.”

A few seconds later, I was leaning back in my chair and looking around the table with a faint smirk. Other than me, everyone here was an active superhero, which made this a pretty strange experience for me. And to make it even more amusing, Ryan had no idea that our unexpected companions were heroes, any more than they knew about him. If nothing else, this Parents Day had turned out to be anything but boring.



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