A Little R&R 3 part 1

Friday morning, Oct 26th, 2007
Ribbon:

Back when I’d been going to high school the first time, math had been my least favorite class. In fact, I’d down right hated it. Now, as I ran down my algebra test, I realized that some things hadn’t changed.

Of course, there were some differences too. Back then, math hadn’t really made a lot of sense to me. Once you got past addition and subtraction, the numbers started to get confusing, and trying to solve for X only resulted in my getting frustrated. There was a reason I dropped out of school rather than graduating.

However, as ironic as it was, math now frustrated me for an entirely different reason. It was too damn easy. The numbers made sense now, and they fell into place with an ease that still surprised me. Now, solving for X, Y, and Z, was about as easy as adding one plus one.

I quickly finished my test, pretty sure that I’d gotten a perfect score. Thanks to being an exemplar, it was like I had a calculator built right into my head, along with a clock, a constantly running camera that I could replay at will, and who knew how much else.

There were times, when I no longer even recognized myself and the person I’d become, and not just physically. Sure, it was still weird as hell looking into the mirror and seeing a cute little girl staring back, or looking up at everyone around me, since I was usually the shortest person in the room now. However, as weird as that was, it was nothing compared to realizing that I was a lot smarter than I used to be, and that I no longer even thought the same way I had as Big Al.

“Things change,” I whispered, staring down at my tiny girlish hands. They were a lot different than the big, grease stained hands that I was so used to seeing. I’d never see those old hands again, any more than I’d see my old face. “No use crying over spilled milk. This is the way things are now.”

Most of the time, I didn’t bother worrying about my changes and what they meant, since I knew quite well that I’d gained a hell of a lot more than I’d lost. I was young and could start over. I was strong, healthy, and powerful. Hell, I was even smarter than before. And most importantly, I was now in a position, where one day, I might be able to help Rachael and others like her.

But still, every once in awhile, it hit all hit me particularly hard, and unfortunately, today was one of those days. Taking this math test and acing it like this, really made me think about how much I’d changed. And it made me worry that I’d changed too much, and that I was losing too much of what had made me the person I was.

“I’m turning into a damn stranger,” I grumbled to myself.

I’d never been one for a lot of self-pity, especially when things weren’t as bad as all that. So, I mentally pulled up my big girl panties, then took my test up to the front of the class. I had better things to do than wasting time by feeling sorry for myself.

Once all the tests were turned in, the girl beside me asked, “How did you do?”

Erin Carrew, or Cauldron as most people called her, was a pretty and slender redhead, who liked wearing bracelets with ‘Wiccan’ symbols. Or at least, that was what she’d said they were when one of our other classmates had asked about them.

“I think I did pretty good,” I told her wryly.

Erin gave me a flat look. “You’re an exemplar, so you probably got every question right…”

I just shrugged at that, not wanting to come off as bragging. “Maybe.”

“It’s not fair,” Erin grumbled. “You exemplars get it so easy…”

“Life isn’t fair,” I pointed out with a raised eyebrow. “If it was, I wouldn’t be stuck looking like I was in grade school.”

Erin had the grace to look a little embarrassed about her comment, though I could see where she was coming from. For the most part, exemplars did tend to get a lot of advantages over most other people, and not just in one area. When it came to athletics, academics, and usually even in looks, it was hard for normal people to compete with us.

With a sigh, I rubbed my temples, wishing for a good stiff drink. Being an exemplar was great in many ways, but the old me would never be able to compete with who I was now. This all made it too easy to forget where I came from, and I didn’t want that.

“Well, I still wish I was an exemplar,” Erin grumbled. “Maybe I can make a potion or something…” Her eyes seemed to gleam with excitement as she was obviously imagining what it would be like to be an exemplar, and probably one that looked like a supermodel.

“Probably not a good idea,” I commented. I’d heard a few stories of devisors who’d tried turning themselves into exemplars, usually with less than pleasant results. Then again, there had also been some successes, which would only encourage more people to keep trying.

When class ended, Erin said, “Maybe one day, I can come up with a potion that will help you look older…”

Erin reached out to put a comforting hand on my shoulder, but I quickly pulled away. That obviously hurt her feelings a little, though she tried not to show it.

As Erin’s codename of Cauldron might suggest, she was a low level mage who specialized in making potions, though as I understood it, a lot of this was just infusing spells into the potions. However, Erin was also an esper. Specifically, she was a psychometrist, so I was careful not to touch her, because I didn’t want to risk her somehow reading that I used to be a fifty year old man. It would be a lot better for me if that little fact never got spread around campus.

“That’s really nice of you to offer,” I told Erin with a smile. “But with my BIT, even if you did find a way to make me look older, I’d just snap back.”

“Oh,” Erin responded with a sigh. “I guess I didn’t think about that…”

“Thanks for thinking of me anyway,” I told her, as I picked up my bag and started for my next class.

My next class was Power Theory with Dr. Quintain, who literally wrote the book on the subject. He wrote the book we used in class, did a lot of the power testing around school, and was apparently one of the top experts on the subject in the world. However, he was also the most boring teacher I’d ever encountered, and could even put a hyperactive kid, loaded up on devisor coffee, to sleep with one of his lectures.

I took my seat next to Amy, who was not only my former roommate, but also my closest friend at this school. In fact, she was the only one here that I’d trusted with my secret, that I was really damn near old enough to be her grandpa.

Amy was a good kid, but she’d been given a pretty shitty hand at life. Like me, she used to be a guy, but where my changes gave me a second chance at life, hers were likely to kill her eventually. Still, she never lets that slow her down, and usually doesn’t bother feeling sorry for herself.

“Hey,” I greeted Amy with a nod. Then I looked to Sapphire, who sat on the other side of her and gave that girl a friendly nod as well. “How are you two doing?”

“Not too bad,” Amy responded with a smile. “Last night, I finished modifying a couple of my devises, so tomorrow, I’ll be able to show them off to my mom…”

I chuckled at that. “Parents Day is going to be interesting,” I agreed, wondering what my daughter Melanie would think of the school. My son Rich had already been here a couple times, and last month, Rachael had even been here for a couple days, but Melanie had never seen the place.

“Yes,” Sapphire agreed with a faint sigh. “Interesting will be right.”

“Do you have family coming?” I asked, curiously.

Sapphire nodded. “Yeah.” She smiled a little. “I’m looking forward to seeing them, but it might be a little…awkward.”

With that, Sapphire pulled her cloak tightly around herself, which was something she did whenever she was feeling self-conscious or nervous. The cloak was actually made of blue scales, which had come from her. Apparently, Sapphire was born with GSD, which she’d inherited from her mom, but when she’d manifested as an exemplar, she changed a great deal, losing her GSD and becoming what she called a ‘pretty’.

Suddenly, a voice called out, “Woo hoo…”

I looked over and saw Mischief, who’d suddenly appeared at her desk…literally. Knowing her, she’d probably teleported straight from the classroom door to her desk.

“You seem like you’re in a good mood today,” Amy said to the hyperactive blonde girl.

Mischief just grinned broadly. “Imp is back to normal.”

I blinked at that, but before I could say anything, another student asked, “Is Ms. Imp EVER normal?”

Mischief responded by sticking her tongue out at the speaker. She looked like she was about to say something more, but Dr. Quintain called for everyone’s attention, then immediately went into his lecture.

“Well,” I mused to myself. “If nothing else, this should calm Mischief down for a bit…and put her to sleep…along with everyone else.”

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

Crystal Hall, Friday late morning, Oct 26th, 2007
Roulette:

Lunch. It was one of my three favorite meals of the day, though usually less for the food in the Crystal Hall cafeteria, than because of the company.

At the moment, I was sitting at my usual table with Alyss, my former roommate in Poe, and Sapphire, who lived down the hall from me in Hawthorne. These girls were my two closest friends at Whateley.

“You said earlier, that you upgraded some of your devises,” Alyss said, taking a bite of her lunch. “What did you mean?”

I brushed my long purple hair back out of my face, grinning as I did so. Then, I reached for my belt and unclipped a small devise that was currently connected to it. A moment later, I set the devise onto the table in front of me. It was a gold metal disk, about half an inch thick and four inches across.

“What’s that?” Sapphire asked, giving my devise a curious look.

“It’s a battery,” I explained rather proudly.

“A battery?” Alyss asked, giving my devise a skeptical look. “It doesn’t look like any battery I’ve ever seen.”

“Because I made it,” I reminded her. “When I’m in energizer mode, like I am today, I can charge it up. Then, I can use this to power some of my other devises…”

“That sounds like a good idea,” Alyss told me, staring at my disk with a thoughtful expression. “But it doesn’t look like it would fit anywhere in your other devises…”

“It won’t,” I admitted with a sigh. “Well, not most of them.” Then I grinned at her again. “But this plugs right into a recharging station that I finished yesterday, along with a few other batteries I made. Then, all I have to do is plug my devises into the recharging station, and I can recharge them.”

Alyss picked up the battery and looked it over. “Good way to make use of your energizer power, when you don’t even have it anymore.”

“I thought so,” I agreed. “Now, I need to figure out how to redesign my batteries and future devises, so I can just plug the batteries straight into them, without a recharge station.” I shrugged at that. “One step at a time.”

“I imagine your mom will be impressed when she sees your batteries and recharge station,” Alyss told me.

“Probably not,” I admitted with a sigh.

My mom was a high level devisor, and could build stuff like this with barely any effort. I was only a part time devisor, and then, not even an especially high one. When it came to making devises, I couldn’t really compete.

Alyss reached over and put a tiny hand on my shoulder. “Trust me,” she told me with a knowing smile. “Your mom will be proud.”

At that moment, I was suddenly reminded that Alyss was a lot older than she looked. Not only was she a parent, but also a grandparent. Since she only looked like she was about nine or ten years old, that was easy to forget.

Sapphire nodded at that and said, “I hope so…” However, I had a feeling that at the moment, she was referring more to herself and her own mother than to me and mine.

Once we finished eating, the three of us got up so we could head to our next class together, BMA. I just hoped that I didn’t have to spar against either of them today, because not only did I hate having to fight with my friends, but my record against both of them was pretty bad.

We were just starting to leave our table, when Sapphire ran into another girl. “Watch where you’re going,” the other girl exclaimed, glaring at Sapphire with a look of contempt.

“You walked into me,” Sapphire responded with a scowl.

I looked at the girl who’d collided with Sapphire. She was tall, absolutely gorgeous, with emerald green eyes, and long black hair. One look was enough to know that she was an exemplar.

“Exquisite,” I said, not only describing the girl but also naming her.

Exquisite was another freshman, though we didn’t actually have any classes together. I didn’t know much about her, other than that she was supposedly a spoiled rich girl, who lived in Melville, and that she was a mid-level exemplar. What little I did know, came from the flow of gossip, which seemed to be the lifeblood of the high school social scene for girls.

The other girl smirked, as though pleased that I knew who she was. However, her eyes swept over all three of us, settling on Alyss for several seconds longer than Sapphire or me. That seemed just a little odd, since I was the one who spoke, and Sapphire was the one she’d collided with. Then again, Alyss tended to stand out, not only due to her youthful looks, but also for her gothic lolita fashion.

“Keep out of my way,” Exquisite said in a snobbish tone, giving Sapphire a look of contempt, which she then shared with the rest of us too. After a moment, she walked away.

“She was pleasant,” I commented wryly.

“About as pleasant as shedding your skin,” Sapphire responded with a shudder. “That’s the one thing I don’t miss about my old body.”

“I’d imagine,” I responded a little awkwardly.

Alyss looked in the direction that Exquisite had gone, scowling a little as she did so. “I’ve seen her hanging around with that brat, Starbright, so I shouldn’t be surprised by the attitude.”

“That does explain a few things,” I agreed with a sigh.

Starbright was a classic ‘mean girl’, who’d taken a dislike to Alyss, and had bullied her quite a bit, until Alyss figured out how to fight back. Over the last month, Starbright had continued insulting and badmouthing Alyss, though she hadn’t been nearly as bad as she used to be, mostly because she was afraid of my tiny friend’s humiliating retaliation.

After this, the three of us went to our next class, where we promptly changed and took our places on the mats. I was actually halfway looking forward to BMA today, because I was in energizer mode, which meant, that I had a power that was useful for fighting.

When class began a few minutes later, Ito called out, a couple names, and immediately afterwards, Tolman called out, “Roulette and Aegis.”

I stood up and looked at Aegis, who was pretty decent when it came to sparring in class. Of course, I’d also seen him in a real fight, where ironically, he did much worse. Apparently, being in a real fight made him forget everything he’d learned in class.

“At least today, I should be able to hold my own,” I quietly mused.

However, a moment later, Tolman said, “Aegis, you may use your powers. Roulette, you may not.”

I groaned at that, though I shouldn’t have been surprised. Since my powers were so changeable and unreliable, Ito and Tolman had been teaching me to rely more on my skills than my powers. And unfortunately, that meant having me spar a bit more, without using my powers.

Aegis gave me an apologetic look. “Sorry, I’d prefer a fair fight, but…” He looked to Tolman and shrugged.

“This is NOT going to be fun,” I muttered, looking at Aegis, who was bigger, stronger, and tougher than me, and that was without his even using his powers. With them, there was no way I could beat him. “Might as well get this over with.”

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

Poe Cottage, Friday afternoon, Oct 26th, 2007
Ribbon:

I was sitting in the Poe common room, with a small stack of books piled up beside me. I’d stopped by the campus library after my last class of the day, and I figured that I’d be able to drop them back off when I was done with dinner.

“Another cookbook down,” I said, setting an Italian cookbook down into the ‘just read’ pile.

I didn’t do a lot of cooking myself, but I have helped Amy in the kitchen a few times, and if nothing else, this will give me something else to talk with her about. That girl loved to cook.

Before reading my final book from the stack, I glanced around me, taking in my surroundings. I wasn’t alone in the common room, but I’d been a little too distracted to notice anyone else until now.

Team Kimba had been in here earlier, but after a brief talk with Gwen, the green haired Sidhe girl who could make people hallucinate, they all left. However, two other people had come in, without my even noticing until now.

Dana, the tall and statuesque redhead, was sitting next to Jinx, who was her former roommate and current girlfriend. I didn’t know Dana all that well, since she’d arrived at Whateley a bit later than everyone else, but I got along with her pretty well.

When Dana had manifested, her power somehow turned her into a younger copy of a supervillain, who had then adopted her as a sister. There were a few people who gave Dana a hard time because her ‘big sister’ was a supervillain, though I certainly wasn’t one of them. If anyone could sympathize, it was me.

“Hey, Dana,” I said, getting her attention.

“Yeah?” Dana responded, giving me a curious look.

“Is Pinball going to be here tomorrow?” I asked. If it had been anyone else asking that, Dana might have thought they were messing with her, but she knew better from me.

“No,” Dana responded with a shrug. “Jackie’s laying low for a bit, and doesn’t want to risk showing up here so soon…”

“My parents are coming though,” Jinx offered excitedly. “I can’t wait to introduce them to Dana.” Dana blushed at that.

“How about you?” Dana asked me. “Do you have any family coming tomorrow?” Though she didn’t specifically mention it, she was obviously referring to my daughter Rachael, who was better known by her codename of Lady Havoc.

“I do have a few people coming,” I admitted. “But unfortunately, they don’t let people out of prison just to visit…”

“Your mom was here last month,” Jinx pointed out, making me fight back a chuckle at the fact that everyone seemed to think that my daughter, was actually my mom. Of course, correcting that misunderstanding would mean revealing the truth, which would be even more awkward.

“Carson pulled some strings to get Rachael here,” I responded with a sigh. “And somehow, I’m pretty sure she won’t be willing to do it again, just so we could visit.”

“Probably not,” Dana agreed.

However, Jinx just grinned. “You never know.”

I gave the two of them a nod, while picking up the last book from my pile. This one was a book of poetry, the Collected Works of Robert Frost. I wasn’t very interested in poetry, which I’d always thought of as a bunch of fancy nonsense, but I was trying to expand my horizons a bit.

Once I was finished with my book, I closed my eyes and mentally went over what I’d just read. This was a trick I’d picked up in order to help organize and understand what I learn. After all, what good was a photographic memory, if everything was too mixed up and confused in your head to find it easily.

“Well, I’ve got to get going,” I said, grabbing my stack of books. “Time for dinner.”

“Say hi to Amy for me,” Jinx said.

“Will do,” I responded.

“And tell her to send more of her cookies,” Jinx added with a grin.

“Definitely,” Dana agreed, grinning even more broadly. “Or those espresso brownies she made…”

I chuckled at that. “Sure, I’ll let her know.”

Then with a brief wave, I left Poe, slinging a pack full of books over my shoulder. Instead of heading straight to Crystal Hall, I began walking towards Hawthorne, so I could meet up with my friends.

I was about halfway to Hawthorne when my entire body suddenly exploded into searing agony. I screamed and collapsed to the ground, unable to move, as it felt like every inch of my body was on fire at once, both inside and out. Then, just as quickly as the pain started, it stopped.

“What the hell was that?” I gasped, remaining on the ground since my body felt like a limp noodle.

“Are you okay?” someone asked. Looking up, I saw Exquisite was walking towards me, looking rather smug. “I saw you trip and fall…”

“Just peachy,” I responded with a grimace, as I slowly got back to my feet.

“Oh, I’m glad you’re all right,” Exquisite replied in a tone that implied otherwise. Then, she turned and started to walk away again, pausing just long enough to say, “Oh, by the way… Starbright says hi.”

My body still felt weak and wobbly from that sudden attack of pain, otherwise I might have gone after Exquisite to demand she explain what she meant. Instead, I remained where I was, glaring at her back, certain that she had more than just a little to do with what had just happened to me.

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

The Quad, Friday afternoon, Oct 26th, 2007

Naomi Pryce found an empty table in the Quad and took a seat, her every movement being graceful and feminine. She was absolutely gorgeous and knew it, so positioned herself to show off that beauty to anyone who happened to look her way.

A minute later, a girl called out, “Exquisite.”

With a well-practiced smile, Naomi looked up at Starbright and said, “My friends call me Naomi.”

“My real name is Traci,” Starbright said in response. “Traci Hoffman.”

“That’s a beautiful name,” Naomi said, trying to sound sincere.

Starbright smiled at that. “Thank you. And thank you for what you did to that little brat, Ribbon…” Then, she smirked, admitting, “It was fun to watch.”

“It was nothing,” Naomi told the other girl with a dismissive wave. “Friends help each other. Maybe next time, you’ll be able to help me.”

“Of course,” Starbright responded with a smile of her own.

Naomi watched her new ‘friend’, knowing that if she was going to achieve her goal of becoming the queen of this school, like she’d been at her old one, then she’d need to gather more ‘friends’ like Starbright. Between her beauty, wealth, and family connections, it wouldn’t take much to gather just the right people, to help her achieve her goal.

As Naomi had long ago learned, the best way to ensure the loyalty of her people, was a combination of the carrot and the stick. Do them a few favors and make them think that she was their very best friend, and at the same time, let them know what she’d do to those who crossed her.

Naomi had been working on Starbright for the last couple weeks, and had finally hooked her. Now, she’d done a favor for the other girl, by hurting one of her enemies. And in the process, Naomi had also demonstrated her own power, which was now hanging in the air as an unspoken threat of what would happen, should Starbright ever anger her.

“Well, thank you again,” Starbright said. “That was the best entertainment I’ve had in a long time.”

“Of course,” Naomi responded with a predatory smirk. “What are friends for?”

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

Saturday morning, Oct 27th, 2007
Roulette:

Parents Day. Parents Day was the one day of the school year, where Whateley’s gates were flung open, and visitors were invited within en masse. It was the one day a year where parents and other family members could come and see where we went to school, and what all the tuition was spent on.

Today, my mom was coming to Whateley, and it had been two months since the last time I’d seen her. This was the longest I’ve ever gone without seeing her in my life, which includes that month she spent as a statue, back when I was nine, due to a stasis beam accident.

I was excited about seeing my mom again, as well as nervous. I wasn’t sure what she’d think of me, and what progress I’d made so far at Whateley. After all, my powers were so erratic, that it was difficult making any real progress with them.

Mom had called me about half an hour ago, letting me know that she was on the bus to Whateley. Now, I was hanging out near the parking lot, waiting for her to arrive. I wasn’t the only one with this plan, as a number of students were gathered nearby, waiting on the bus with their family members.

I didn’t have to wait much longer before my mom arrived, though to my surprise, she wasn’t alone. Right beside her was another woman, who was 6 foot 4, with an amazonian physique. I shouldn’t have been surprised, because Beth was not only Mom’s best friend, but had been her roommate back when they’d both been students here at Whateley.

Then, I saw one more person, who’d been hidden behind Beth. “Kara,” I cried out in surprise.

Kara was an attractive brunette, who usually played down her looks, as she was doing now. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail, as usual, and today, she was wearing a Star Wars t-shirt.

Not only was Kara my best friend outside of Whateley, and my oldest friend, she was also my girlfriend. And as with my mom, I hadn’t seen her in two months.

“Amy,” Kara exclaimed, waving to me.

I hurried towards them and Mom immediately grabbed me in a hug. As soon as she released me, Beth and Kara grabbed me too. I wanted to kiss Kara, which would have been a little awkward in front of Mom and Beth, but I wasn’t out of the closet here in Whateley. It was hard enough being a Thornie at times, and I’d seen the way some students treated those who were openly gay.

“So, this is your new school,” Kara said with a grin, looking around with a look of eagerness. “I could go here…”

“You’d have to manifest first,” Beth pointed out with a grin.

“How are you doing?” Mom asked me.

“I’m doing all right,” I assured her with a smile. “I haven’t had a burnout in a week.” Then, I gave her a thoughtful look and asked, “How about you? Have you been taking care of yourself?”

Mom looked a little self-conscious at that. “Don’t worry about me…”

I gave Beth a curious look, since I trusted her to tell me the truth. Mom was a high level devisor, and when she got into her groove, she tended to block out everything else, including such things as eating, sleeping, and showering. For most of my life, I’d taken care of Mom, but with me away, that responsibility fell to Beth.

“I’ve been looking after her,” Beth assured me with an amused look.

“Good,” I said.

“You know,” Mom pointed out wryly, “I am an adult woman, and am perfectly capable to taking care of myself…”

Beth and I shared a look. But before I could say anything, Beth commented, “Tell that to someone who doesn’t know you. Once you start working on one of your devises, everything else goes out the window until you’re done.”

It was obvious that Mom wanted to argue with that, but she didn’t. Instead, she changed the subject. “So, Amy, have you made any interesting devises?”

“A few,” I responded self-consciously. Then, I reached for the holster on my belt and pulled out the only devise I currently had on me. “I have this…my needle gun.”

Mom accepted the weapon and looked it with a gleam of interest in her eyes. “A miniaturized coil induction gun,” Mom mused, ejecting the clip and adding, “firing flechettes.”

“Small and non-lethal, so I can carry it around school,” I explained. Then I saw Mom looking at one of the flechette’s and quickly told her, “Don’t touch the tips. They’re all coated with a poison that a friend makes…”

“Poison?” Mom asked in surprise, quickly pulling her hands away.

“A paralyzing agent,” I quickly added.

Mom nodded at that as she slapped the clip back in. “I wouldn’t imagine something of this size would have much range or accuracy…”

I grinned at that, puffing up a little with pride. “I cheated…”

“I thought that being a devisor was all about cheating,” Beth pointed out.

“Yeah,” Kara agreed. “They’re always breaking the laws of physics…”

“True,” I agreed. “But I used magic.”

“Magic?” Mom asked in surprise.

“I put a spell on my needle gun,” I explained. “It’s an old spell, that was designed to go on bows and crossbows, to increase the range, accuracy, and penetration. Apparently, that spell doesn’t work on regular firearms, because it’s the gunpowder in the bullets that causes them to shoot, rather than the gun itself, but it works great on this thing.”

Mom just stared at me as if she couldn’t believe that. “You can’t put magic spells on a devise… That’s just…cheating.”

“Amy already said she was cheating,” Kara pointed out with a laugh.

“It works though,” I said.

I wasn’t an especially powerful devisor or mage, but unlike most mages or devisors, I could actually work with both…just not at the same time. If I could use magic to compensate for the weaknesses of a devise, then why shouldn’t I?

“Why don’t you show us around?” Beth asked me. “I want to see how the old school has changed since the last time I was here.”

“Yeah, show us around,” Kara added.

I gave a wry smile and mused, “I wonder if I can get campus job credit by playing tour guide…”

Since there were a lot of things to show them, I decided to start off by showing them my dorm room. It wasn’t very impressive, but I had absolutely no doubt that Mom would demand to see it sooner or later.

We hadn’t gone very far, before Mom pointed to a section of lawn and commented, “Look… You can’t even tell that the crater was ever here…”

“You’re just lucky they didn’t make you fill it in by hand,” Beth replied.

Kara and I shared a look, then burst out laughing. There was obviously a story behind that, and we were going to have to nag Mom and Beth until they told it to us.

As we approached Hawthorne, I saw that we weren’t the only ones arriving. There was a large creature, or at least, that was my first impression. My second thought was the realization that she was a mutant with severe GSD.

From the waist up, she was mostly human in shape, though she was larger in proportion than a normal woman. If she was shaped like a normal woman, then judging by her top half, she would have been about seven feet tall. As it was, her top half was covered with black scales, including a lot of long thin ones that came from the top of her head and seemed to simulate hair. In addition, there were noticeably clawed fingers, and slitted-yellow eyes.

Then, from the waist down, her body was that of a massive black scaled snake. Her tail swept back and forth like a sine wave as she slithered along, making it difficult to tell exactly how long it was, but I guessed it was about thirty feet long.

“Wow,” Kara whispered from beside me as she stared at this snake woman. “She’s…extreme.”

“Ebon Scale,” I said in realization. I’d seen pictures of this woman before, and knew exactly who she was here to see.

A moment later, I heard a loud cry of, “MAMA,” as Sapphire ran out of Hawthorne and threw herself at the snake woman. They grabbed each other in a firm hug.

“My little Sapphire,” Ebon Scale said, looking absolutely delighted to see her daughter.

“Sapphire is one of my friends,” I said, to explain why I’d stopped at this scene. Since Sapphire was one of my closest friends, I wanted to introduce her to my family.

Suddenly, several voices began chanting in a sing-song tone, “Sapphire has no tail. Sapphire has no scales…”

Sapphire stepped back, looking a little hurt at that. It took me a moment longer before I could see three more snake girls, all of who looked just like Ebon scale, but much smaller and with different colored scales. From their top halves, they looked like scaly little girls of about seven or eight. These were obviously Sapphire’s little sisters, who she’d mentioned a time or two.

“Leave your sister alone,” their mother chided them in a sharp tone. “It’s not her fault that she lost her scales or tail.”

“But she turned into a pretty,” the green scaled snake girl grumbled. She pronounced ‘pretty’ as if it was an insult or dirty word.

I really didn’t like seeing Sapphire being teased, even by her own little sisters, so I decided that it was time to interrupt. I hurried towards them, while Mom, Beth, and Kara followed close behind.

“Sapphire,” I called out to get her attention.

My blue-haired friend turned and gave me a look of relief. “Amy.” She puffed up a little, looking proud as she gestured to her mother. “This is my Mama…”

“And this is my mom,” I said, gesturing to her. “And this is Beth and my best friend Kara, from back home.”

“Hello,” Sapphire greeted my family, while I gave my own polite greeting to her mom.

“So, you are Amy,” Ebon Scale said, giving me a curious look, which was also more than a little intimidating. “My daughter has told me of you…”

“It’s nice to meet you,” I said politely.

“And these are my sisters,” Sapphire added, glaring at the three girls. “Emerald, Ruby, and Opal.” Since one had green scales, one had crimson, and one had white, it was pretty easy to guess which was which.

“You have pretty hair,” Opal told me. When he sisters glared at her, she exclaimed, “Well, it is pretty…”

“Um…thanks,” I responded while Kara giggled.

We all chatted for a couple minutes, but it was polite small-talk. Then, Sapphire and her family left, so she could show them around the school.

“Your friend has an interesting family,” Mom said once they were gone.

“Definitely,” Kara added. Then, she gave me a suspicious look, asking, “So, just how close of friends are you two?”

I blinked at that. “Um… I mean…”

Kara burst out laughing. “Gotcha.”

“Well,” I responded after a moment. “If SOMEONE would manifest and come to school here, then she could keep an eye on me herself…”

Kara’s response was to stick her tongue out at me. “Now, show me where you live…”

“Hawthorne,” Mom said, giving Beth a look. “This cottage had a bit of a reputation back when we were students here.”

“It still does,” I said in a casual tone, as I started for the door.

A few minutes later, we were in my dorm room, which had been set up for my unique needs. My bed was connected to a bunch of sensors, which kept track of all my vital statistics and notified some on call medical people if I went into a burnout in the middle of the night.

Of course, there were a few other modifications to my room, most notably, a fine chain mail curtain that slid out around my bed. This had only been added a couple weeks ago, and acted as a faraday cage to protect my room if I happened to turn into energizer mode in the middle of the night, and lost control. It had happened once, and only once. This same curtain would also protect me if I happened to lose control of my telekinesis while I was asleep too.

“Do you really need all this?” Kara gasped in horror at the sight of my bed, and the setup around it.

I shrugged at that. “It’s mostly a just in case thing,” I assured her. However, Mom still looked worried. “There are on call doctors, if I need them.”

“And what do you have over here?” Beth asked, pointing to the other side of my room, where I had a small work table set up, along with a few other odds and ends.

My eyes went over my belongings, and I felt nervous and eager to show off at the same time. I glanced to Mom, then shrugged. With that, I pulled out my rail gun, which was a much more powerful weapon than my needle gun, but a lot more awkward to carry around.

“A rail gun,” Mom said with a smile, as she began to examine it with a professional look. Mom made a lot of rail guns, so she was a bit of an expert in them. “Very nice.”

I looked over at several metal spheres that were sitting out on my work bench, but decided not to show them off. After all, these were just upgraded version of the first devise I’d ever made, and all three of them had seen it.

“What’s this?” Kara asked, pointing to a pillar that was two feet tall, with four gold metal disks plugged into the side of the pillar. There were spots for several more disks to go, once I made them.

“This is my recharging station,” I explained proudly. “I can use it to recharge my devises.” Then I pulled out one of the disks and added, “And this is a battery that I can charge up with my energizer power, so I can use that to recharge my other devises, indirectly.”

“That sounds practical,” Mom said. “Do you have any more devises?”

“Not really,” I admitted self-consciously. “I don’t have a lot of time in devisor mode, but I do have a few ideas that I’m working on.”

“And what’s this?” Kara asked, pointing to what appeared to be a large crystal ball, though it was made out of some kind of marble or granite. I wasn’t sure what it was made out of actually.

“That’s another battery,” I explained. “For essence.”

“So, this is a magic battery,” Beth said, giving the object a curious look. “I know mages who used things like that…”

“Witchling sent it to me,” I admitted. “Whenever I switch powers, I lose any essence that I’ve built up, so she gave me this.”

Since I was currently in my wizard mode, and had been gathering essence since before I woke up this morning, I decided that this was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate. I put my hands onto the stone sphere and pushed my essence into it. Now, even if I went into a burnout, the essence would be safe for later use, instead of lost for good.

“I don’t build up enough essence to do any big spells,” I admitted, “but this lets me save up what I do get, so I’m starting to learn a few tricks.”

“That’s good to hear,” Beth told me.

Kara grinned, and in her best Hagrid voice, said, “Yer a wizard Amy.”

“Only part time,” I responded with a grin. “But it’s pretty hard to get the hang of. I’m used to being around devises, so those tend to come a lot easier.”

Mom smiled at that, looking rather proud. “I look forward to seeing whatever you make next.”

Since I was done showing them my room, we began to leave so I could take them to the next stop on this nickel tour. However, I didn’t miss the worried look that Mom gave towards my bed.

After stepping out of my room, I saw Caitlin walking down the hallway. “Caitlin,” I called out to get her attention. As soon as I had it, I said, “I’d like you to meet my mom…” Then, to my mom, I said, “This is Caitlin, my RA.”

“Nice to meet you,” Caitlin told my mom politely.

“And this is Beth and Kara,” I added, “close family friends.”

Caitlin nodded at that, though her eyes went to Kara for a moment before she smirked. Caitlin knew that I used to be a boy, and that I still liked girls, and even had a girlfriend back home. It didn’t take much for her to figure out what Kara really was to me.

“And nice to meet you too,” Caitlin said, before turning her attention back to my mom. “So, you’re the one who makes those singularity grenades…”

“I do make singularity bombs,” Mom said, giving Caitlin a curious look.

“I gave her a demonstration with that singularity bomb you sent me,” I told mom. “And as much as I loved having that thing, it probably isn’t a good idea to send that kind of thing through the mail.”

“You mailed Amy a bomb?” Kara gasped in surprise.

“Why are you surprised?” Beth asked with a chuckle. “This is Liz we’re talking about.”

“Well, those things are impressive,” Caitlin told mom.

Mom beamed proudly. “Thank you.”

After talking with Caitlin for a couple minutes, we left Hawthorne, and I suggested, “How about getting lunch?” Then I grinned at Kara, “You’re gonna love Crystal Hall.”

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

Poe Cottage, Saturday morning, Oct 27th, 2007
Ribbon:

I was just outside the front entrance of Poe, leaning against the wall and wishing I had a cigar with me. Unfortunately, I’d left all my cigars up in my room, and even if I did have one, I certainly wouldn’t smoke it right here.

Since I didn’t have a cigar to smoke, I occupied myself by playing with a long strand of ribbon that I’d manifested. Since I could make ribbons like this anytime I wanted, this had become something that I tended to do whenever I was bored, or just wanted to occupy my hands.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait much longer before a portal suddenly appeared in the air, a short distance away. I stood up straight and began to smile. A moment later, a young man stepped through the portal.

“Rich,” I said, greeting my youngest child and only son.

Like Rachael and myself, Rich was a mutant, and he had the power to teleport over long distances by creating these portals in the air. In fact, that was why he had the codename of Shortcut, though he was smart enough not to have gotten involved in either the hero or villain lifestyles.

“Alyss,” Rich waved to me, flashing a grin as he did so.

A second figure stepped out of the portal. This was an attractive Asian woman, who wore a pair of sunglasses, which helped to hide her glowing green eyes.

“Min,” I greeted the woman.

Though she was dressed in civilian clothes, Min Hinaka was a superhero known as Mystery Woman, and she happened to be dating my son. I figured that the reason she’d come along with Rich, was because she was a Whateley graduate.

Then, two more people came through the portal, right before it closed. One of them was Melanie, my daughter and eldest child. And with her, was my granddaughter Kaylie.

Kaylie was a cute girl, just shy of thirteen years old. She was also going through a goth phase, so was wearing mostly black clothes. In fact, Kaylie was the one who’d introduced me to the gothic lolita fashion style that had become my trademark here at Whateley.

“Alyss,” Melanie exclaimed, running over and giving me a hug. “It’s good to see you again…” Then, she paused and admitted, “I almost forgot how small you are now.”

“Tell me about it,” I responded with a snort. “I have to use a step-stool, just to get to the top shelf in my damn closet.” Then I paused, remembering who I was talking to. “Pardon my French…”

Kaylie giggled at that. “Some things never change.”

Since Kaylie wasn’t coming over to give me a hug, I went over to her instead. “You’ve grown,” I announced, annoyed by the fact that my granddaughter was not only taller than me, but getting even more so. “You need to start drinking coffee, to stunt your growth, so I won’t have to keep looking up at you…”

Kaylie laughed again, while Rich said, “A little too late for that.” Then he grinned mischieviously and said, “That sure is a nice dress.”

“You like it?” I asked, twirling around like my daughters used to do when they were little girls. “If you want, I can make one for you…”

“Um…no thanks,” Rich said, taking a nervous step backwards while I just grinned evilly.

“How about a nice ribbon for your hair?” I asked. “Pink?”

“Stop teasing Rich,” Melanie told me, though she couldn’t hold back her laugher.

I looked to Melanie. “So, Kimberly didn’t come…”

I was disappointed at that, since I’d been looking forward to seeing my younger granddaughter. Kimberly was just seven, and still young enough that she loved wearing princess dresses, which is something that Kaylie had grown out of. I had been planning to surprise her with a new dress to wear around the school.

“She wanted to come,” Melanie told me, almost apologetically, “but Mark and I decided that it would be best to leave her behind for today. We thought that this place might be a bit too much for her at the moment, so she’s spending a day at the zoo with her father instead.”

“I can always bring you home to visit her later,” Rich assured me.

With a nod, and a smile to hide my disappointment, I said, “Well, come on in and I’ll give you the nickel tour.”

A couple seconds later, I led my family to the front entrance of Poe, where Mrs. Horton was waiting. I gave some polite introductions, then we went inside and to my dorm room.

“This is where I hang my hat,” I said, gesturing around the room.

“You have a roommate,” Kaylie said, noticing the second bed.

“Yeah,” I responded with a chuckle. “Martina is a good egg, but her previous roommate had an issue with her, so she moved in here with me…”

“What kind of issue?” Rich asked curiously.

I gave him a wry look. “Her mom is a supervillain.”

“Cool,” Kaylie exclaimed.

“Well, she probably won’t find many people more sympathetic to that than you,” Melanie said.

I nodded at that. “There are a few villain kids around the school,” I explained with a shrug. “Hell, there are a couple others just in this building.”

Melanie looked a little concerned at that, perhaps worried that that these kids might be a bad influence on me. I snorted at that. As if someone like Martina or Dana could ever be a bad influence on me. If anything, it’s their parents who should be concerned about me. For some reason, that thought made me want to grab a beer and a cigar.

I kept the tour of Poe Cottage pretty short, partly because I didn’t want to interrupt anyone else’s privacy by tromping past their rooms, and partly, because I didn’t want to explain any of the ‘unique’ features of the building, like the ones in the women’s showers, not that I’d ever been able to make use of them. That was one of the many downsides of being prepubescent.

Once we were done with the tour of Poe, I decided to show everyone the rest of campus. Kaylie was amazed at the sight of Crystal Hall in the distance, and gasped in amazement.

“What is THAT?” Kaylie demanded.

Min smirked, but didn’t say anything. Instead, she glanced to me, letting me explain.

“Oh that,” I responded with a smirk. “That’s just our cafeteria.” She gave me a look of disbelief, so I had to rub in it. “They’ve got waterfalls inside…”

“I’ve been to this school a few times,” Rich said, looking impressed as well. “But this is the first chance I’ve actually had to look around…”

“It’s…impressive,” Melanie said.

I nodded agreement. “Hell, you’re only seeing the surface…literally. There’s a crap ton of stuff hidden underground…” I paused, remembering that my granddaughter was there and apologized for my language, “Pardon my French.”

Then, I let out a sigh, thinking about Rachael, and how different things might have turned out for her if we’d known about Whateley. If she’d come here, they might have taught her how to control her diedricks, or at least found a solution so that she didn’t end up going on killing sprees. This certainly wasn’t the first time I’d had these thoughts.

“I wish things had been different,” I quietly mused to myself. “But if wishes were horses, we’d all be wearing hip waders.”

When we reached the Quad, there were a lot of people gathered around. Students were bringing their families to see the Crystal Hall, along with the other buildings that held the classrooms.

While we were looking around, I noticed Dana and Jinx sitting at a table in the Quad, along with an older couple. Well, older is relative, since they both looked about ten years younger than my real age. Still, the woman resembled Jinx enough, that I guessed they were her parents.

“Those girls live down the hall from me,” I said to my family as I made my way over.

“Alyss,” Dana greeted me with a grin. Her eyes went to Rich and Melanie, and she asked, “Are these your parents?” Rich, Melanie, and Kaylie all burst out laughing at that.

“Not exactly,” I answered.

Dana stared at me for a moment before giving a knowing nod, though she was clearly making the wrong assumption. The story going around school was that Rachael was my mom, which made me the daughter of Lady Havoc. It wasn’t true, of course, but that was a lot more believable than the truth.

“This is Rich, Melanie, and Kaylie,” I said, introducing them. “And Min, who actually went here.”

“This is Dana and Jinx,” I said, using Jinx’s codename on habit, since almost nobody actually called her Amanda.

“And this is my mom and dad,” Jinx added proudly, gesturing to the couple with them.

“Aren’t you a little young for high school?” Jinx’s mom asked me, giving me a curious look. Kaylie began snickering, while my kids just smirked.

“I’m a little older than I look,” I explained, deciding not to mention just how much older. “Part of my powers makes me look younger than I actually am.”

I got a look of sympathy at that. “Oh, you poor thing. I know how difficult that can be for girls your age…” Kaylie snickered again.

Then, Dana suddenly froze, and was staring off to the side with a grim expression. I followed her gaze and saw Starbright, the little bitch who’d caused me a lot of problems during my first month or so at Whateley.

Starbright was walking beside a woman, who was gorgeous, blonde, and busty. From her looks, she was probably an exemplar, and though she looked a little young to be Starbright’s mother, you couldn’t always tell with exemplars.

“You having problems with Starbright too?” I asked Dana.

“No,” Dana responded with a shake of her head. “That woman she’s with… I heard Starbright was bragging about her sister coming to see her, but I didn’t know her sister was Super Star…”

“Super Star?” Kaylie asked in confusion. “Is she a hero?”

“Technically,” Dana responded with a snort. “More of a pain in the butt than anything.”

I nodded at that, having heard the story of how Dana came to Whateley, and got on the wrong side of the MCO and a group of heroes. I imagined that Starbright’s sister must have been one of them.

Min gave Super Star a curious look, obviously curious about the woman who shared the same profession as her. However, she made no move to go and introduce herself.

Suddenly, someone nearby called out, “Hey, is that Boob Job?”

My eyes went to the speaker, a woman about Melanie’s age, then I looked to where she was staring, but all I saw was Amy, who was walking past with two women and a girl. I wanted to introduce Amy to my family, but she was just a little too far away.

“Can we go sit down for a bit?” Kaylie asked. “I don’t feel very good…”

“You can have my seat,” Jinx offered, immediately getting up.

“Thanks,” Kaylie responded a little awkwardly.

Suddenly, Kaylie let out a loud gasp as glowing green mist began to emerge from her skin and hair. She staggered back in fear and confusion, while everyone else jumped back away from her. Everyone except me that was.

“Kaylie,” I said, carefully moving closer.

“What’s happening to me?” Kaylie cried out, staring down at herself with a look of wide-eyed terror, as the glowing mist started to swirl around her body.

“Honey,” Melanie started, taking a step towards her daughter, though I gestured for her to stay back.

I stared at the swirling green gas, not sure if it was dangerous or not. Since I was the most durable of anyone there, it was a lot safer for me to check it out than it was for anyone else.

“I think you’re just manifesting your powers,” I told Kaylie, trying to calm her down.

“That’s what it looks like to me too,” Min commented with a reassuring smile.

That made my granddaughter gape at me a moment, though having an explanation for what was going on, seemed to calm her down. Rich and Melanie still looked concerned, but they relaxed a little too, especially since Kaylie didn’t seem to be hurt, just confused.

None of us were really surprised by the idea that Kaylie could be a mutant, because we’d been expecting it. A couple months ago, a psycho villain called the Marquis, had told us that Kaylie was a mutant who had yet to manifest. Since a part of his powers was to sense other mutants, we’d taken that notice seriously. And since there were already three mutants in the family, including myself, we didn’t think it was quite as big a deal, as we once would have.

“You’re gonna be fine,” I said, now close enough to touch Kaylie. I reached out and took her hand. When nothing happened, I gave her a hug to calm her down. While I did this, the glowing mist faded away. “See… Everything is just fine…”

When Kaylie pulled away from me a few seconds later, she stared down at herself and whispered, “I’m a mutant?” She seemed both excited and nervous at the same time. It was no surprise, because she’d seen how impressive mutant powers could be, but she’d also seen what Rachael’s power had done to her.

“Um…congratulations,” Dana offered awkwardly.

“Welcome to the club,” Min said, trying to be positive about the situation.

“Oh, honey,” Melanie cried out, grabbing her daughter in a firm hug.

Rich stood back, watching Kaylie with a worried expression, probably thinking the same things that I was. After all this waiting, Kaylie had finally manifested, but we had absolutely no idea of what her powers entailed, or what problems they might cause.

“What are the chances?” Rich asked me. “While we’re visiting a school for mutants, Kaylie manifests as one…”

My eyes went to Jinx, who looked a little self-conscious. “Probably a lot better than you’d think.”

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

Crystal Hall, Sunday late morning, Oct 28th, 2007
Roulette:

Normally, Sunday lunch was a quiet affair, as everyone was relaxed from the weekend, but today was different. Yesterday had been Parents Day, and though the parents had departed the campus, most students were still excited from seeing their families again, even if they might not want to admit it.

“It was nice seeing Mama again,” Sapphire said as she took a bite of her pizza. “But I could have done without seeing my sisters.”

I chuckled at that. “They seem like they’d probably be a bit of a handful…”

“It was easier to deal with them before,” Sapphire grumbled, adjusting the blue scaled cloak that she nearly always wore. “Now, they don’t respect me anymore…and they keep teasing me.”

With a sympathetic nod, I said, “I’m an only child, so I’ve never had to deal with siblings.”

“They can be…trying,” Sapphire said wryly.

“All kids can be trying,” Alyss commented with a chuckle.

“So,” I asked curiously. “They’re triplets?”

Sapphire nodded. “Yes, they came from the same clutch of eggs. Only one of their clutch failed to hatch, while I’m the only one in mine that did…”

Alyss and I shared a look, while we considered how strange it was for Sapphire to have been hatched from an egg. Even here at Whateley, that was a bit odd. However, neither of us said anything about that to Sapphire.

While Sapphire excitedly talked about the news she’d heard from back home, I thought about my own family visit. It had been great to see Mom and Beth again, and especially, Kara. The only real problem was, that we didn’t have much privacy. Still, the two of us had managed to find a little before the day was done, enough for us to do a little kissing.

“How is your mother doing? Sapphire asked me, making me blink as it took several seconds to realize that she’d changed topics.

“She’s doing all right,” I answered wryly.

Yesterday afternoon, Mom ran into one of her old classmates, from when she’d been a student at Whateley. The man had insisted on calling her Boob Job, which was a variation of her actual codename of Boom Job, and it had pissed her off. When my mom gets mad, the often went into a diedricks episode, and yesterday was no exception. She’d screamed at the man, threatened to turn him into a pile of ash, and then ran to the devisor labs to build a new incinerator gun, while her would-be target ran off.

By the time Mom finished with her new devise, she’d been exhausted, so Beth had literally flung her over a shoulder, and carried her to the bus. It had been quite a sight, but nothing unusual, since I’d grown up with my mom doing things like this all the time.

“At least I get a new incinerator gun from the deal,” I commented wryly. “Too bad it will probably stop working before I can find a use for it, but at least it will give me some parts to work with.”

“At least your mom’s episodes don’t actually turn violent,” Alyss pointed out, obviously thinking about her daughter, Lady Havoc. I nodded agreement, knowing that my mom’s situation could easily be even worse.

“So,” I asked. “How is your…cousin doing?” I knew that Kaylie was actually Alyss’ granddaughter, but Sapphire didn’t know, and it wasn’t the kind of thing that Alyss wanted spread around the school.

Alyss gave me an appreciative look. “Kaylie is doing all right, though she’s still a little freaked out over manifesting…”

“I imagine,” I told her, feeling sorry for the girl, because I could definitely relate. “Manifesting can be a little…confusing.”

Sapphire nodded emphatically. “Definitely.”

“We still don’t really know what her powers are,” Alyss explained, “but they don’t seem to be dangerous.”

Sapphire gave Alyss a curious look. “Is your cousin going to be coming to Whateley?”

Alyss shrugged at that. “I don’t know yet. She only showed her powers for the first time yesterday, so no one has really had time to discuss it yet.” Then she paused for a moment before admitting, “And I don’t know how we’ll afford her and I both. If worse comes to worse, I’ll leave so she can come…”

“I’m sure it won’t come to that,” I quickly assured Alyss.

I know that she was really an adult, or at least, that she had been, but she still needed school just as much as everyone else. From what she’d told me, she’d dropped out of high school the first time around, and it would be a horrible shame if she had to do that again. Especially when there were so many things she needed to learn. And more importantly, she was my best friend at this school, and I couldn’t imagine being here without her.

Just as we were finishing up with lunch, someone called out, “Hey, can we sit here with you?”

Looking up, I saw that Breakdown was the one who’d spoken, and that Voodude and Downpour were with her. My eyes immediately swept the table to make sure that I didn’t have any devises out. Though I liked Breakdown, and generally got along with her pretty well, she did have a bad habit of taking apart any devise or gadget she got her hands on.

“Sure,” I responded, gesturing for them to join us.

“The more the merrier,” Alyss added.

If Sapphire had any problems with sharing a table with four poesies, and a former poesie, she didn’t show it. She merely nodded agreement.

“So,’ I asked, looking at the newcomers. “Did your parents show up yesterday?”

“Yeah,” Breakdown responded with a grin. “It was awesome. They were really impressed by the school, and my brother was totally trying to mack on Sharisha, but she wasn’t having none of that.”

All of us poesies and former poesies chuckled at that, leaving Sapphire as the only one who wasn’t in on the joke. Sharisha was one of the sophomore girls in Poe, and was a strict lesbian. Breakdown’s brother never would have stood a chance with her, and his even trying, probably pissed her off.

“And he was totally drooling over Fey too,” Breakdown added. Then she paused for a moment before admitting, “Dad did his own share of staring too, yesterday, so Mom had to smack him upside the head.”

“My mom came,” Downpour offered in a quiet voice, though she didn’t found very enthusiastic about that.

“What did she think of Whateley?” Alyss asked. Downpour merely shrugged. I glanced up to make sure that no rainclouds were forming overhead. With Downpour, that was always a risk.

“My folks couldn’t make it,” Voodude said, looking a little disappointed. “So, I hung out with my buddy Chris, and his family, all day instead.” He grinned at that. “His mom brought some awesome cookies.”

“Cookies are good,” I offered.

“You make great cookies too,” Breakdown told me with a grin, obviously hoping for more.

Alyss gave me an amused look. “Speaking of which…”

“Sorry, but no cookies tonight,” I said, getting a vaguely disappointed look from Sapphire. “I plan on making a big batch of clam chowder tonight.” That seemed to get Sapphire’s attention again. Then, I added, “I need to bribe my cottage mates to put up with me.”

“She does,” Sapphire added with a grin and a wink. “We still haven’t forgiven her for what happened when she let Team Awesome steal those devisor brownies…”

“I didn’t ‘let’ them do anything,” I pointed out, only to earn some laughs from around the table.

Alyss gave me an amused look. “Good luck trying to keep those kids out of your kitchen while you’re cooking. As for me, I’ve got some work to take care of this afternoon in the garage.”

Breakdown suddenly blurted out, “Hey, did you guys hear that one of the teachers got jumped yesterday?”

“What? I asked in surprise. “What happened?”

“I didn’t see it,” Breakdown said, “but Cindy was there, and she told me about it this morning. Apparently, one of the parents attacked the Imp… You know, that crazy supervillain art teacher…”

“Again?” Voodude asked. “I heard that she got into some kind of major fight last weekend, and came back to school on Monday, all busted up.”

This signaled a change in topic, and we began sharing some of the various gossip and rumors we’d heard about the Imp, who was well known around campus as one of the most eccentric teachers around, if not the most. I didn’t have any of her classes, but I’d still heard a few stories, though I had absolutely no idea of how much of them were true. Somehow, I suspected that there was more than a little exaggeration involved, because I couldn’t imagine any teacher launching a prank war against campus security, and getting away with it.

It was another half hour before I was able to finally get up and leave Crystal Hall, but it was with a grin on my face. Whether they were true or not, some of those stories had been pretty funny.

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

Sunday afternoon, Oct 28th, 2007
Ribbon:

Spending Sunday afternoon in the garage, with my head under the hood of a car, was almost like old times. In fact, between that and the grease all over my hands, I almost felt like I was still ‘Big Al’, the best damn mechanic in Pittsburgh. Of course, as soon as I looked to anyone else, and had to look up to meet their eyes, that illusion was broken.

Since I was in the garage, safety rules took precedence over fashion, which meant that I’d ditched my trademark frilly dress, in exchange for a mechanic’s overalls. My clothes were a much smaller version of what I used to wear while working, back when I’d been Big Al. This made me look a lot more professional, though the cute skull clip in my hair probably offset that impression a little.

“Hey, Alyss,” Ringo called out to me. “Can you give me a hand here?”

“What do you need?” I asked, going over to where Ringo was working on his car.

“I need to get this bolt tightened,” Ringo explained, pointing down into the engine. “But my hand is too big to fit in there with the wrench…”

I was well familiar with that problem when working on engines, even though it was one I no longer had. As it was, my hands were now tiny little girl hands, which meant that I could easily reach into the tight spaces that I’d never been able to before.

“No problem,” I assured Ringo, before climbing up under the hood.

Once I was finished helping Ringo, I looked over his car and shook my head with a sigh. I definitely needed to get my own project car to work on. As it was, I did a lot of work on the campus vehicles, which was actually my official job, but I also spent a lot of time helping out anyone who needed it. That was fun, but nowhere near as satisfying as working on your own car.

There were a few kids beside Ringo, who were scattered about, working on their own projects. It amazed me that kids this young, could know so much about cars. Hell, some of them knew even more than I did, and I’d been working on cars for nearly four decades. I was pretty damned impressed by some of them, who’d actually designed and built their own cars from the bottom up.

Some of these kids made me feel old and obsolete, since they were working with automotive technology that I’d never even heard of, and were not only designing the next generation, but several generations ahead. Even with my exemplar brain, there was no way I could keep up with some of these gadgeteers and devisors.

Fortunately, I’d come to realize that even in the garage, age and wisdom, with a little added treachery, could trump youth and energy. Most of these kids were so focused on the electronics and newfangled technologies that were packed into newer cars, that they overlooked the old-fashioned basics of troubleshooting and car maintenance. And those happened to be areas that I excelled in.

There was only one person in the garage who seemed to share my appreciation for the basics, and that was a young woman named Donna. Donna was an odd duck, in that, while she wasn’t a student, neither was she faculty. She had a job, helping to maintain the campus vehicle fleet, but there was no need to hire an outsider to do something like that, when there was cheap student labor, like myself.

“Donna,” I greeted the woman, as I approached her and the car she was working on.

A single look was enough to show that she was just checking for tire wear, air pressure, and rotating the tires. This was boring but necessary work, the kind of thing that most of these kids simply didn’t have the patience to deal with.

“Need a hand?” I asked.

“Sure,” Donna responded with a smile.

We didn’t talk much as we worked, at least not this time. However, there had been plenty of occasions where we did talk, and where I actually took Donna under my wing to show her a thing or two. I was pretty sure that my knowledge and experience, combined with my youthful looks, both amused and confused her. The lady had a great understanding of basic car theory and maintenance techniques, but when she first showed up, she’d had an almost complete lack of knowledge about anything newer than 50’s technology. Fortunately, she was sharp and was picking up on things pretty quickly.

Donna had a lot of odd quirks, and things that didn’t make much sense, such as with the unusual way she often phrased things, or with the strange gaps in her knowledge. Thanks to my exemplar memory, I was able to actually remember these little oddities, and they added up. However, I had plenty of my own secrets, and saw no reason to go digging into hers.

Once Donna and I were finished checking and rotating the tires, we did the same for two more vehicles before I decided that I was done for the day. “I’ve got to get going so I can get cleaned up for dinner,” I told her, using a dirty rag to wipe some of the grime from my hands. “I’m a growing girl and can’t afford to miss out on meals.”

“Just don’t go growing too much,” Donna told me with an amused look. “Once you put the weight on, it’s hard to get back off.”

“Not a problem I have to worry about,” I assured her with a wry smile. Being an exemplar, getting fat wasn’t something I’d ever have to worry about, assuming I ever even grew.

“I’m going to stick around a little longer,” Donna told me. “I’ve got a little more work to get done before I can call it a day.”

I gave her a nod of acknowledgement. “Later then.”

After this, I went to the restroom, where I stripped out of my coveralls and tossed them into the garbage, washed my hands and face real good to get off the grease and grime, and then I manifested a new dress. One of the advantages of my powers, was that I never had to worry about getting my clothes dirty.

As I left the garage to start back towards Poe, my thoughts turned to yesterday and the visit with my family. While it had been great to see Rich, Melanie and Kaylie, I’d definitely been disappointed by the absence of my other granddaughter, Kimberly. However, even more importantly, was the fact that Kaylie had finally manifested as a mutant while here. That worried me, because I remembered quite well what had happened with Rachael.

“Please,” I quietly prayed to any deity who’d listen. “Don’t let her have diedricks like Rachael. Don’t do that to my family again. Don’t do that to Kaylie…”

At the moment though, we didn’t know what Kaylie’s powers entailed, other than being able to make some kind of glowing green fog around her body. That might be the only thing she gained from being a mutant, but I had a feeling that this was only a part of it. We’d have to wait to find out more.

Yesterday, after Kaylie’s little display, we’d rushed her over to Doyle for a checkup, and they hadn’t found anything wrong with her. Of course, she’d only just manifested, so there hadn’t been much time for unusual side-effects or symptoms. Those could take a lot longer to show up, if there were any. But on the surface, everything looked good.

Once we were done with Doyle, I’d wanted to take Kaylie to the power testing people, to see if we could get a better idea of what her powers actually were, both those guys were pretty busy. Since it was Parents Day, they were busy dealing with lots of visitors, most of whom had questions about how all the power testing was done. I was just amazed that they hadn’t demanded Amy stay there all day, helping them. After all, her campus job was helping out in the power testing labs, and being their guinea pig. Then again, her family had come to visit, or they might very well have made her work.

“I’d better call Mel when I get back to Poe,” I mused aloud. Maybe they’d learned more about Kaylie’s powers by now. “And I’d better talk to Kaylie too… She’s probably worried to…” Or excited, I silently added. After all, getting powers was the kind of thing that she’d probably be pretty happy about.

Then, I suddenly noticed two girls in the distance, who were both watching me. Starbright and Exquisite. My eyes narrowed at the sight, and I remembered my encounter with Exquisite the other day. Her appearance and behavior, right after that sudden attack of pain, had been pretty damn suspicious, even before she’d mentioned Starbright. It had been pretty obvious to me that she’d somehow been involved with my attack, and I’d only become more certain of it since then.

My right hand went to the thick metal bracelet around my left wrist, which was matched with an identical bracelet on my right wrist. Not only were these bracelets decorative, but they were also weapons. They were made of ebidium, a super-dense metal, which made each of them weigh about thirty pounds. If I threw them, or simply tied them to ribbons and swung them at people, they could do a lot of damage. Admittedly, I’d never use them against those girls, because even if they were nasty little brats, I still didn’t want to hurt them. At least not physically. But still, just having weapons like those on hand, made me feel just a little more confident in my ability to handle threats.

Neither girl made any moves to come towards me, seeming satisfied to watch from a distance. Because of that, I made a show of smoothing out my dress and continuing my walk back to Poe, as though I didn’t have a care in the world.

When I arrived at Poe, I was surprised to find several students in the common room, with fabric, styrofoam, and all sorts of other random materials, all spread out around them. For a moment, I just stood there, taking in the sight and trying to make sense of it all. After several seconds, I realized that this resembled the scene of my costuming classroom, but with much cheaper materials.

“What in the world are you doing?” I asked aloud.

“We’re making Halloween costumes,” Angel offered.

“See what I’ve got,” CeeCee exclaimed as she stood up and showed me what she had so far, which mostly looked like some poorly sewn scraps of cloth. I couldn’t even tell what her costume was supposed to be, so just smiled politely. After raising three kids, I’d long since learned that sometimes, the truth was the last thing you wanted to say.

I looked at CeeCee for a moment, trying hard not to notice the fact that she was way too developed for a girl her age. With a body like that, she could have passed as a stripper, rather than a high school freshman. Hell, instead of Crimson Comet, her codename should have been Jailbait, not that I was going to tell her that. As it was though, she was just one of the exemplars around, that actually made me glad I no longer had a libido. If I did, then Whateley could have been pretty damn dangerous for a dirty old man like what I used to be.

“Hey,” Cindy said, her eyes seeming to gleam with excitement. “You’re just the person we need.”

“I am?” I asked.

“She is?” CeeCee added.

Cindy smirked. “You’re an expert in making clothes, so you’re just the person we need to help us…”

“That’s true,” Angel agreed. My RA turned her attention to me, and I could see the wheels turning. “You’ve been taking those lessons with Cecilia Rogers…”

“She’s only worked with me a couple times,” I protested. “It’s not like she’s teaching me a regular class or anything. She’s more like an occasional tutor…”

Cindy just grinned, pointing out, “That’s a lot more than any of us have spent with her. And besides, your whole power is all about clothes…”

I rolled my eyes at that. “Fine, I’ll try to help you guys.”

“Great,” CeeCee exclaimed, nearly bouncing with excitement.

“Have you seen Danika around?” Cindy abruptly asked. “I’m making her a sexy Cat in the Hat costume, and I want to make sure it fits...”

I blinked at that. “Does Danny know that you’re making a costume for his female half?”

“Of course not,” Cindy responded. “It’s going to be a surprise.”

“Oh, I’m sure Danny will appreciate that then,” I said with a chuckle. In fact, I could imagine Danny taking one look at the costume, and then running the other way as fast as he could, while his sister pulled out a camera and took pictures of the whole thing.

“Hey,” Cindy protested. “It’s a nice and tasteful costume. It’s not like I’m trying to dress her up as some kind of anime catgirl, like what Wondercute wants to do…”

“Because a sexy Cat in the Hat is so different,” I commented wryly.

“So, what do I do with my costume now?” CeeCee abruptly asked, nearly shoving the mess into my face.

After taking another look at it, I let out a sigh and admitted, “It would probably be easier for me to just make an entirely new one for you…”

With that, I held out my hand and manifested a new costume, based loosely off her design, but made to better fit her body, not to mention, look a LOT nicer. CeeCee froze and stared at the costume with a look of amazement, right before she squealed in delight.

“That’s great,” Cindy said, looking impressed.

With a shrug, I responded, “Yeah, but it only lasts for a day, so I’d have to make another one on Halloween…”

“Ohmygod,” CeeCee squealed. “You’re gonna make me a new costume for Halloween? That’s awesome…” Then, before I could say anything, CeeCee yelled out, “Ribbon is making Halloween costumes!”

I face-palmed at that, suddenly feeling like I’d been set up, just like the time when Rachael had quick talked me into letting her keep a kitten she brought home. I had a feeling that by the time I was done here, I’d need to break into my stash of booze.

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

The Quad, Sunday afternoon, Oct 28th, 2007

Naomi sat at a table in the Quad, the one that she’d claimed as her own. Every queen needed a place to hold court, and this was the one she’d chosen for herself. Or at least, it was the one where she intended to start from, before working to a more exclusive environment.

At her old school, she’d been the social queen, with numerous ‘friends’, whom she’d bought with her money, beauty, or social influence. Naomi intended to claim that same position here, though she was smart enough to know that it would take time and effort. After all, it had taken years to build her previous court, and she was starting over again, as a freshman.

When Naomi had first arrived at Whateley, she’d come with a strategy. She would find the ruling clique, ingratiate herself with them, and become a member. Then, she’d position herself and eventually take over. However, that strategy had failed, once she realized that there was no single ruling clique. Instead, there were various smaller groups and cliques, each with their own court and circle of influence.

For a time, Naomi had examined each of these groups, trying to decide which one might suit her needs the best. From what she’d heard, the Alphas had once been such a group, but things had changed, and they were no longer the exclusive club they’d once been. Instead, they’d become a club of riff-raff, run by some redneck from Alaska. Naomi couldn’t imagine trying to ingratiate herself with someone like that.

The New Olympians had potential, until Naomi looked into them a little more closely. They were close knit and didn’t bring in new members, which would be quite a problem in itself. In addition, there were already a couple of strong personalities in control, and she didn’t see much opportunity to position herself where she needed to be, while Imperious and Majestic were there.

Venus Inc, the school modeling club, had also seemed like a good possibility. However, Naomi didn’t care for the idea of modeling, or debasing herself so that men could drool over her as though she was some cheap steak.

And then, there were the Golden Kids, the club of students with wealthy parents. She nearly drooled at the thought of all the contacts she could make with them, though admittedly, her family’s wealth wasn’t enough to really impress any of them. If she had joined, she’d probably be counted as one of the least wealthy members, which was not the kind of impression she wanted to give.

Finally, Naomi had decided to form her own clique, and build her power base from scratch. It would be a little more challenging than joining an existing group, but much more satisfying in the long run.

To Naomi’s right, sat her first new ‘friend’, Starbright. Naomi had spent a lot of time working on Starbright, and preparing her for this position. And the other day, Naomi had cemented Starbright’s loyalty, by hurting one of her enemies. She’d demonstrated the benefits of her friendship, and had provided a warning of what happened to her enemies at the same time.

“This is a start,” Naomi mused, smirking to herself as she did so.

“It was really awesome to see you teaching that brat a lesson,” Starbright said.

“It was my pleasure,” Naomi told her, not for the first time. “I know that you can’t get close to her, without her suspecting something. Friends do things like this for each other…”

Starbright nodded. “My sister is a superhero, and she says that you have trust your friends to watch your back.”

“Your sister sounds wise,” Naomi said, carefully keeping her voice even and friendly. “Friends are good to have, which is why I’m trying to make a few more.”

Then, almost as if on cue, two boys came into the Quad and walked straight towards her table. Naomi smiled faintly at that, but made sure not to seem too eager or excited.

On the left was Nicolas Boussard, better known around the school by the name of Gravmax. His father was Michael Boussard, the CEO of Paralink, a company that put communication satellites in space, and leased bandwidth on them to different companies. Gravmax wasn’t especially powerful, but his family was wealthy and had a lot of business contacts. Someone like him could be a very useful ‘friend’ to have.

The boy who’d come over with Gravmax, was an athletic and preppy looking boy of African descent. This was Devon Roth, also known as Iron. His family was well-off, but not in the same category as Gravmax or herself.

“Exquisite,” Gravmax said, taking a seat, while Iron sat down a moment later. “Starbright.”

“You’re prompt,” Naomi said. They’d agreed to meet up to talk at a specific time, and Gravmax had arrived exactly when he said that he would. “I can respect that.”

Gravmax had a somewhat smarmy look at first, but his expression turned a little more serious. “My father always says, being punctual is a mark of being professional.”

“A good philosophy,” Iron agreed. “But I don’t think we’re here to discuss philosophy.”

“No,” Naomi agreed with a smile. “We’re here to discuss a possible friendship.”

Gravmax nodded at that. “I heard about what you did to Ribbon, and I have to admit, I have someone else that I’d like to see receive the same treatment.”

“Oh?” Naomi asked, though she already knew who Gravmax had in mind. She’d done her research on him. “This would be Roulette, wouldn’t it?”

“Yes,” Gravmax responded with a deep scowl. “That bi…girl has made a habit of mocking me, and making false accusations.”

“Of course,” Naomi replied, careful not to show her skepticism over the ‘false accusations’ claim.

“The girl is relatively harmless,” Gravmax admitted, “and easy to defeat.”

Starbright burst out laughing. “I heard how she shot you full of needles, and left you paralyzed on the ground.”

Gravmax glared at her, a look of anger flashing on his face. “She got lucky…”

“Of course,” Naomi said. “Everyone gets lucky sometime. And from what I’ve heard, you’ve drawn a little too much attention with your encounters, so you can’t afford to be seen going after her.”

“Precisely,” Gravmax agreed. “And I understand that you can help with this.”

“Yes,” Naomi replied with a smirk. “I can. I’m not above getting my hands dirty in order to help a friend…figuratively speaking. The question is, are we friends? I’d like to be.”

“I’ve found that it’s always good to have friends,” Iron said, looking to Gravmax.

“Yes,” Gravmax responded with a predatory smile. “I think I’d like that too.”

Naomi smirked, pleased to have added a new ‘friend’ or two to her court. Of course, she’d have to work on Gravmax and Iron, to help build their loyalties, but in the end, having them as friends and assets would likely be well worth the effort.

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

Monday morning, Oct 29th, 2007
Roulette:

Shifter class. Shifter class was one of my most interesting and relevant classes, yet also, one of my most frustrating. This was because, unlike my other powers which rotated, I was always a shifter, albeit a power shifter. Unfortunately, it was the one power that I seemed to have absolutely no control over whatsoever.

I’d been taking this class for two months, and while I’d learned a lot about the theory behind how shifter powers worked, it hadn’t done me any good. I still couldn’t control my power shifting any more than I could the first day I’d manifested it. That made this class an exercise in frustration.

Of course, I wasn’t the only one who was frustrated with this class. Iron Rose sat a couple seats away and was scowling intently as she often did. Rose was a somewhat Amazonian Hispanic girl, who happened to be completely bald, due to a side effect of her powers.

While Rose was a shifter, her powers were about turning herself into metal, so she became strong and tough. Other than that, she couldn’t seem to shift into any other forms, which made this class about as useful to her as it was to me.

“Today,” our teacher announced, “we’re going to talk about transmutational shapeshifters. What I mean by that, is shifters who seem to change the very material and nature of what their bodies are made of.” He gestured to Rose. “Iron Rose is a perfect example of this type of shifter…”

“Just great,” Rose grumbled, not happy with the way everyone in class was staring at her.

“You should be happy about that,” Danny offered.

Like Rose, Danny was a poesie, and I’d first met him when I’d been a resident of Poe myself. Danny was an avatar as well as a shifter, and he hosted some kind of cougar spirit. A female one. So not only could Danny turn into a cougar himself, but he could also turn into a hot and sexy cat girl.

“This one should be easy for you,” Danny added, while I nodded agreement.

“Who knows,” I told Rose, “you might learn something new about how your power works.”

Rose rolled her eyes, then ran her hand over her bald head. “Not likely.”

I shrugged at that, then turned my attention back to the lecture, which was just starting up. In spite of the fact that this probably wouldn’t do much good for me and my particular powers, it was still an interesting subject.

Rose was brought up to the front of the class and asked to demonstrate her power. This wasn’t the first time, since all of us had demonstrated our powers in class on multiple occasions, except myself, since I had absolutely no control over when I shifted.

Once Rose was up in front, her entire body seemed to transform into iron, making her look like she was a statue. I didn’t understand how she could be metal and still move around, but I supposed that this was the purpose of the current lecture.

When shifter class ended, I immediately started for another class that was usually pretty frustrating for me. Devisor class was always interesting, because I’d grown up around a devisor, so most of this was old hat for me. However, since I was only in devisor mode once or twice a week, I rarely had the right power to make full use of this class.

“Yo, Amy,” a friendly voice called out to me as soon as I arrived. “You bring any goodies today?”

“Not today,” I told Monkeywrench. I looked at his desk and the materials he had set up in front of him. “I see you’re still working on your banana gun…”

Monkeywrench just grinned at that. Since he had GSD that made him resemble a monkey, including a brown furry body and a long prehensile tail, he liked to play it up for all he could. That meant, half his devises were related to bananas in one way or another.

“I’ve almost got it perfected,” Monkeywrench told me. “Now, can I get you to make some banana bread for me?”

“We’ll see,” I replied with a grin. “But I do have a new batch of devisor brownies ready…”

That got Monkeywrench’s attention, along with that of everyone else within hearing distance. Devisor brownies were just brownies made with espresso and devisor coffee, so they packed a LOT of caffeine. Since devisors on a building binge tended to work non-stop until they were finished, these were a tasty alternative to the devisor coffee that most consumed. My devisor brownies had turned out to be quite a hit among this crowed.

Just then, one of the other devisor girls hesitantly came towards me. Balderdash was petite and plain looking, which was something of a stereotype for the female gadgeteers and devisors. Unfortunately, she was also meek and lacked any real self-confidence, which was an even bigger problem for her.

“Um, Amy,” Balderdash hesitantly asked me. “Can I buy some of your devisor brownies…” Then, before I could answer, she nervously explained why she wanted them. “I need stay up late for a project, and I really don’t like coffee…”

I frequently used my devisor brownies to trade for parts and favors from other kids in the labs. Balderdash didn’t really have anything I needed at the moment, but it would hurt to get a little goodwill.

“Sure,” I told her with a smile. “I don’t have the brownies on me, but I can probably get you some during lunch.”

“Thank you,” Balderdash said.

Once Balderdash went back to her desk, Monkeywrench asked me, “So, what are you working on?”

I grinned in response. “I’ve got enough parts to make three more batteries, and today, I happen to be a devisor again.”

“Time to assemble,” Monkeywrench announced with a grin.

With a nod, replied, “Yep.”

Of course, I also had some vague ideas of other devises that I’d like to build, so tonight, I’d probably sit down and try to come up with a list of parts that I’d need to build them. That way, I’d have a project to work on until the next time I turned devisor.

Today, devisor class was not only interesting, but productive. I finished putting together three more batteries, which would really help the next time I turned energizer. When class finally ended, I was actually disappointed, since it always felt good to make some progress with my powers.

I walked out of the classroom with my new batteries in hand, looking forward to testing them out, once I had the correct power. And while I made my way towards my third period, powers theory class, I thought about how I could improve my batteries and recharge station.

Just then, someone bumped into me, which was annoying but nothing unusual. Suddenly, my entire body exploded in a searing agony, which seemed to hit every one of my nerves at the same time. A cry escaped from my lips, even as I collapsed to the floor.

Seconds later, the burning pain was already fading, though other sensations took its place. I was weak, and aching, and…burning up. I let out a gasp of dread as the familiar symptoms of a burnout rushed up on me, and then everything turned dark.

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

Monday afternoon, Oct 29th, 2007
Ribbon:

Back when I’d been in high school the first time, history had been one of the few classes that I’d actually liked. In fact, it had been my second favorite class, right after auto shop. Sure, I hadn’t been able to remember the names and dates worth a crap, but I had liked the stories, and had always found it interesting that those stories were mostly true.

History was my final class of the day, and still one of my favorites. My teacher was Roland Williams, a tall and stocky man in his fifties, with greying red hair and a beard. He was gruff, grumpy, and not well liked by the students because of that, but I could relate to the man. Honestly, he reminded me a bit of my old self, from before the cancer and my rebirth as Alyss.

The school rumor mill said that Williams used to be a superhero, and if that was the case, it would explain his cold attitude towards some of the students, myself included. However, even more interesting, were the rumors that he actually had some kind of feud going on with another teacher, and that Carson was the only thing keeping them from brawling in the Quad. That seemed like a typically sketchy rumor, but it was certainly a more interesting one than most.

In spite of the fact that this was one of my favorite classes, I wasn’t paying attention today. Instead, I kept looking at the clock, even if it was only the mental one that was running in the back of my head. Being an exemplar, with the whole mental package, some part of my subconscious actually kept track of the time, accurate enough that I only had to adjust for a couple seconds of drift, about once every week or so.

At the moment, I was worried about Amy, who’d suffered a severe burnout this morning. I’d gone to visit her in Doyle during lunch, but she’d been unconscious, and they weren’t letting any visitors in. I’d spent the rest of the day worrying about her, though I wouldn’t be able to go and see her again, until this class was over.

As soon as the class ended, I grabbed my book bag and raced out the door, going straight to Doyle. In mere minutes, I’d reached Amy’s hospital room, and was relieved to find the door open. That was a good sign.

“Hello,” I said as I stepped into the room.

I hated hospital rooms, since they reminded me of the time when I’d been confined to one, and when I had never expected to see the outside of a hospital again. However, in spite of that, I was still willing to face the hospital and all the memories it brought back, to see if Amy was all right.

“Alyss,” Amy greeted me from the hospital bed, where she was sitting up. She gave me a wry smile. “Welcome to my humble abode.”

“You are definitely spending too much time here,” I told Amy, while letting out a sigh of relief that she seemed to be doing all right.

“They’re talking about giving me my own reserved bed,” she joked. “I mean, this is my home away from home. Well, actually, that’s my room in Hawthorne, which makes this my home away from home away from home.”

I snorted at that. “Now, you’re just making me dizzy.”

Amy gave me another wry look. “And how do you think I feel?” She let out a sigh and shook her head. “And I went a whole week without a burnout. I knew the streak would have to end sometime.”

“How are you feeling?” I cautiously asked, coming closer.

Amy brushed her purple hair out of her face, letting out a sigh. “Not too bad now. You know how quickly I recover from these…”

I nodded my agreement. Most of the time, when Amy went through her micro-burnouts, she’d shake it off in just a minute or so and be perfectly fine. However, on occasion, her burnouts would be a little more severe, resulting in her being rushed to Doyle. I worried about all of her burnouts, but these ones especially. One day, she probably wouldn’t recover. One day, one of these burnouts could damn well do some serious permanent damage, or even kill her. It was a very real concern, and one she didn’t like to talk about.

“Today, it was…different,” Amy said, staring at the wall with a thoughtful look.

I scowled at that, wishing I had a cigar with me. This was the perfect time to light one up, since taking a few puffs was always a good way to calm down.

“Different, how?” I finally asked.

Amy turned to look back at me, fixing me with her purple eyes, which were a similar color to my own, just a couple shades darker. “Today, it didn’t feel the same way it usually did when it started. I mean, I usually feel it building up for a couple seconds, but today, it was…different.”

“I think we established that,” I replied wryly. I manifested a ribbon in my hands and began running it through my fingers.

“There was no warning at all,” Amy explained carefully, as if trying to decide how best to phrase things. “One moment I was fine, and the next, all I could feel was this horrible pain. It was like I was on fire… No, like someone had injected acid into my veins, then set me on fire. It was only like this for a couple seconds, before it started to fade. And then, I was hit with my usual burnout…”

“Only you would talk about a ‘usual’ burnout,” I said grimly.

While I said this, I was focused on how she’d described that sudden surge of pain. I couldn’t help but remembering my own attack of pain on Friday, since this sounded like the exact same thing.

With narrowed eyes, I asked, “Did you happen to see Exquisite around when this happened?”

Amy paused for a moment, looking thoughtful for several seconds before nodding. “Yeah, I bumped into her, right before this happened.” She turned her attention back to me again, her expression now serious. “Why?”

Sometimes, it was easy to forget that Amy was actually pretty sharp, and that if you give her a couple pieces of the puzzle, she was good at picking out the picture. However, in this case, I only had a couple pieces of the puzzle myself, and didn’t know how to explain what I was seeing.

“On Friday,” I grudgingly explained, “I had a sudden attack of pain, just like what you described. Exquisite was there, and she told me that Starbright said hi.”

Amy’s eyes narrowed at that. “I see.”

“I’m pretty sure Exquisite was behind it,” I admitted. “So it stands to reason that she got you too, probably because we’re friends.”

Amy closed her eyes for several long seconds, then let out a long sigh as she opened them again. “I’m not a very powerful psychic,” she said, “but at the moment, my esper senses are screaming that we have a new enemy…” Then she paused and gave me a wry smile. “Or maybe that’s just my common sense.”

I couldn’t help but bark out laughing, with a very unladylike snort. “You just might be right,” I admitted. “I know that Exquisite has been hanging around Starbright lately, but I’ll see if I can find anything else out about her. I might not be a psychic, but my common sense is pretty damn sharp.”

“So,” Amy asked, abruptly changing the subject. “Anything interesting happen in Power Theory?”

“Not really,” I responded with a chuckle. “Though I heard that Aegis got his ass kicked again during lunch, pardon my French.”

“Again?” Amy asked wryly. “Who was it this time?”

I smirked a little, knowing that I should feel bad for Aegis, but sometimes it was hard. That boy was always picking fights above his weight class, though I had to admit, his heart was usually in the right place. It was just too damn bad that his head wasn’t.

“It’s not who beat him that’s interesting,” I explained with another chuckle. “It’s the fact that he was rescued by your friends in Team Awesome.”

Amy’s eyes widened. “You’re kidding…”

“Yeah,” I continued with a broad grin. “I imagine that getting rescued by a couple little girls, would be even more humiliating than getting your ass beat… Pardon my…”

“You’re pardoned already,” Amy said with a roll of her eyes. “You know, you don’t have to watch your language around me, right? I’m not going to get traumatized from hearing a dirty word or two.”

“Habit,” I responded with a shrug. “Besides,” I paused to glance around, making sure that nobody was close enough to hear, “I grew up with the rule that there are certain things you aren’t supposed to say around women and children, and even though I might be one myself now, that still hasn’t changed…”

Instead of being offended, Amy just looked amused. I knew that I was an odd duck, by damn near everyone’s standards, but Amy accepted that without any problem. Hell, even knowing about my history, and about Rachael, didn’t freak her out in the least. Admittedly, she had a few quirks of her own, but there was a reason we’d become good friends.

I remained, talking with Amy for another half hour before I had to get going. I said my goodbyes and made my way back to Poe, keeping my eyes out the entire time for any glimpse of Starbright or Exquisite. Fortunately, I didn’t see a sign of either of them.

When I reached Poe a short time later, I went into the common room and looked around. There were half a dozen residents, sitting around and doing their thing. Erin, Victory, and Lexi had a couple books open in front of them, and they looked as though they were studying. On the other side of the room, Angel, my RA, was chatting away with Lily.

“Martina,” I said, greeting my roommate, who was the last person in the room. She was sitting by herself, typing away on her laptop.

“Hey, Alyss,” she responded, giving me a nod. “What’s up?”

“Not much,” I told her. “I was just over checking on Amy. She’s in Doyle again.”

“I heard about her burnout this morning,” Martina admitted, looking concerned.

“Is she doing all right?” Angel asked, looking towards me. “I was planning to go see her after dinner.”

“She’s doing all right,” I answered with a sigh. “She said that they’ll probably release her tonight. After all, she has a lot of monitors built into her bed at Hawthorne, so they can still keep an eye on her that way.”

“That girl has it pretty rough,” Lily said with a sympathetic expression. Victory and Lexi both nodded their agreement.

I looked around the room again, scowling slightly as I did so. When I’d come here, it had been to see if I could find Zoe or Ayla. I figure, either of those two would be the most likely to know what I needed, though it wouldn’t hurt to ask those who were here.

“Do any of you know much about Exquisite?” I asked.

“I know she’s not a pleasant person,” Erin offered.

“She’s one of those rich snobs in Melville,” Victory said. “You know, one of those girls who looks down on everyone else.”

“She’s a mid-level exemplar,” Martina offered. “An exemplar four I think, but I’m not certain.”

“And she’s an energizer, I think,” Erin added, suddenly catching my attention. “I saw her zap someone a couple weeks ago.”

“Zap someone?” I asked.

However, it was Martina who explained, “She can hit people with some kind of bio-electrical burst, that sets off all the pain receptors in their nervous systems at once.”

Now, Martina really had my attention. “Really”

Erin continued, “Yeah, that’s about what I saw. Some guy was hitting on her, so she zapped him with this blast, and suddenly he’s on the ground screaming.”

“Thank you,” I said, nodding to Martina and Erin, before I turned and left the room.

I’d been pretty sure that Exquisite was behind those attacks of pain that Amy and I had both suffered, and it was nice to have that confirmed. That meant, she really was gunning for the both of us, though I wasn’t sure if Starbright had put her up to it, or if she had another reason. However, what I did know, was that her attack on Amy, had caused my friend to go into another burnout and end up in Doyle. She could have killed Amy, and I wasn’t about to forgive her for that.



If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
up
118 users have voted.

And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks. 
This story is 18610 words long.