Masks 13: Part 3

Masks Thirteen: Chapter Five


Rodford Edmiston

"Now that you're feeling better, your Mother and I have been discussing your punishement."

"Punishement," said Vic, blankly.

Her parents had called her down to the family room and sat her on one side of the coffee table, while they sat on the other. Vic was baffled, and even after hearing her father say this was still confused.

"For drinking and going to a strip club."

Vic was stunned.

"I thought it was legal! I also lost three friends and turned into a girl. Isn't that punishement enough?"

"That was misfortune, not discipline."

Vic scowled, but held her tongue.

Arnold put his hand on Alissa's arm and gave Vic a stern look.

"We have decided... that you will stay home for the next week."

"Wait, what?!" said Vic suspiciously. She glared back and forth between them. "You both know very well I don't feel ready to go to school or out with friends."

"Again, that's misfortune, not discipline," said her father, innocently.

Vic suddenly started laughing. She jumped up, moved around the coffee table and hugged both of them.

"I love you two so much..."

* * *

The week actually passed quickly. Various of Vic's friends came by with school assignments, and to visit. By the next weekend, Vic was feeling much more confident, and looking forward to the "punishment" ending. Next Monday, Alissa dropped Vic off at school on her way to work.

Vic looked up at the entrance as her Mother drove away, sighed, and walked up the front steps. Several of her friends were at the doors, waving her on.

Alissa had been at work less than an hour when she got a call from her son-turned-daughter to come pick her up.

"What happened?!"

"They said I wasn't a student there. Told me to go home."

"I'll be right there!"

She considerably exceeded several speed limits, arriving a very short time later. Vic was standing outside the front of the school, looking forlorn, still holding her cell phone, book bag on the walk beside her.

"You get in the car and wait..."

"Mom, please," said Vic, holding up a hand. "Just... take me home. You can get Medieval on them later."

"All right, dear," said Alissa, her anger evaporating. "Let's go home."

* * *

"Maybe when your license gets in..." Joline offered hopefully.

"Damn powers," said Vic, in a loud mutter, from where she lay on her bed. "You'd think I'd get something fire-based, given family history, but noooo. We still don't know for sure exactly what I can do."

"They saved your life," said Joline, deciding to accept the change in subject. "With either regeneration or rapid healing you'll be healthy and fit for the rest of it, too."

"Why do I look different?" said Vic, throwing her arms wide across the covers. "My roots are even coming in darker!"

"Genotype vs. phenotype?" said Joline, frowning. "Epigenetics is a funny field. So many things are determined by non-genetic factors. Even identical twins - essentially clones of each other - have different finger prints."

"So... My different appearance could be my body resetting to a base state? Unaffected by environmental factors?"

"I really don't know enough about biology to even know what terms to use," said Joline, in an uncomfortable confession. "Or what to search for."

"Wow," said Vic, shuddering and rubbing her arms. "I could have completely lost my memory... Everything!"

"Normal healing doesn't erase memories," said Joline, firmly. "Why should super healing?"

"Good point," said Vic. "Since it didn't happen yet, I'm guessing it's not going to happen, either."

"So... what are your plans?"

"Dad has already spoken with the family attorney," said Vic. "He says we've got solid grounds for a discrimination suit. All we have to do is prove I'm Victor Peltior. That may take a while, but even without the new driver's license it shouldn't be all the difficult."

* * *

At supper that night they deliberately avoided any discussion of why Vic wasn't back in school yet. However, they did discuss how she would catch up, and whether she might need to repeat all or part of her senior year.

"That shouldn't be too hard," said Joline. "Vic would likely do better, the second time around. Not just because the material would be familiar, either."

"Oh?" said Arnold, puzzled.

"Thanks to Joline evaluating me for her paper, I've learned that I'm smarter than before," said Vic. "My IQ is up by about fifteen points. My memory is better, too."

"At a guess, all this comes from the healing," said Joline, repeating for their parents what she had speculated about with Vic earlier. "All the little damages we accumulate, from conception on, are corrected."

"Speaking of missing classes, how much longer are you staying?" said Arnold.

"Just until the end of the week," said Joline, with a sigh. She knuckled her sister's head. "Sorry, Bro."

"You were here when I needed you," said Vic, softly.

"So, you gonna let your hair grow out, or keep it short and go butch?"

"Joline!" said Arnold.

"I think I'll just skip haircuts until I decide it's long enough."

* * *

Vic missed the rest of the school year, and graduation. That is, she did not graduate. She did attend - with her parents - sitting in the audience and cheering her friends on. Only her friends seemed to recognize her. If anyone else wondered who she was, the excitement and confusion of the event prevented them from pursuing the matter.

* * *

"Come on, celebrate!" said Julian. "You get to go back to school!"

"While the rest of you go to college or work," said Vic, with a sigh.

She shook her head, then pushed her hair behind her shoulders, and looked around the burger joint. Not just at her nearly dozen friends but the others there as well. The courts had finally come through, less than a week before the new school year began. Most of those here were having one last fling before the start of high school. Vic knew some of them, and would soon be in class with a few of them.

"Hey, I never heard," said Ted. "What was the decision?"

"The judge ruled that I must be treated the same as any other female student my age," said Vic, sourly. "I have really mixed feelings about that."

"I heard you have to take the whole year over, though," said Jillian, patting her hand.

"Yeah. It was a negotiated settlement. Which means nobody is satisfied. I think the school board deliberately stalled long enough that I couldn't make up what I missed during the Summer."

"Speaking of going back to school," said Linda, "did you ever go back to karate class?"

"No. I... there's just too many memories, there. I did stop by and see Dr. Thom, after classes one day. He said he understood. I think he was relieved I wouldn't be coming back."

"Why?" said Julian, startled.

"I think he didn't want to have a super in class with unpowered folks."

"Yeah," said Ted, nodding. "Too many liability problems."

"I've been practicing on my own, but there's only so much you can do by yourself."

"You'll be able to get some sports practice once school starts," said Ted.

"I'm dreading gym," said Vic, shuddering. "Some of the girls have already said they won't let me in the locker room."

"From what I've heard about boys' gym, you shouldn't have any serious problems with the girls' side if you did fine there," said Linda. "Besides, I'll be there, and a few other girls you know."

"Yeah, and we'll be seeing each other naked."

For some reason she and most of the other females found that funny.

It took some work, but the group managed to improve Vic's mood by the time they were ready to leave. She was actually feeling pretty good as they headed out. Naturally, someone just had to come along to ruin the fragile mood.

As they walked through the parking lot towards their cars a group of husky young men approached from the right. Vic and her friends were instantly on the alert, through years of sometimes painful experience. Not just because of what the newcomers were, but because they looked like they meant business. Someone was going to get hurt that night; they were going to make certain of that. The group reflexively veered to the right, but that only caught them against a wall when the jocks altered course to head them off.

The jocks moved between the others and Vic, backing her against the wall while moving her friends away. Some of those held back protested, but were shoved and threatened by the jocks. Several began dialing 911 on their cell phones. The jocks quickly grabbed those and smashed them. Tim Horton threw a punch, and was quickly knocked to the ground and kicked unconscious.

The situation was very serious. Vic took a defense position, more worried about her friends than herself. The leader - Chad Bremerton, who was the chief football player now that Donald Sonders had gone pro - approached Vic. He scowled unpleasantly, while repeatedly smacking his fist into his palm.

"There's no way you're showering with my girl!" said Chad.

He abruptly swung. Big, roundhouse punch, a haymaker. Vic simply pivoted out of the way. Chad overshot and nearly fell. What stopped him was his fist hitting the brick wall.

Vic took advantage of that distraction by delivering a left hook punch to Chad's solar plexus. He dropped. There was a moment of stunned silence. Then the mob was on her, nearly all the attackers trying to dogpile her, ignoring her friends. Which was fine with Vic.

Vic felt oddly calm, though she was also angry. Very angry. In spite of this she held back. She deliberately avoided lethal strikes, and only used a few moves which broke bones or dislocated joints. After several frantic seconds, she stood alone, surround by a pile of moaning jocks. She had the beginning of a black eye, and was bleeding from the nose and mouth, and her clothes were torn, but she was obviously very much the victor. The few jocks still herding her friends stared for a moment, then ran. They would later claim this was due to hearing sirens approaching.

"Idiots," she said, spitting blood onto a couple of the fallen jocks. "Even if you'd beaten me, some of those calls went through. Having a 911 call interrupted just means they put a higher priority on it."

Chapter Six

"Well, I made the paper," said Vic, with a sigh her sister clearly heard over the phone connection.

"I saw it on the local morning news as I was getting ready for class, then found more online. It was even - barely - in the paper. None of it was exactly in your favor, but nothing was overly critical. Of anyone, unfortunately."

"I'm just glad there were so many witnesses besides those in our group," said Vic. "Some of them even managed to record part of what happened. Including the jocks destroying my friends' phones when they called for help or tried to record things, themselves."

"I can't believe some of their attorneys claimed you started it."

"In their minds, I did," said Vic, anger in her voice. "I turned into a girl and killed Thomas, Carl and George. Oh, and then I had the nerve to insist the school actually treat me fairly."

"Well, I'm glad you weren't seriously hurt."

"Wouldn't matter," said Vic, with more than a touch of fatalism. "I was completely healed in a couple of hours. Another reason that some folks recording the fight is a good thing. The defense attorneys could point to them in casts and bandages and me in perfect condition and make up some wild story about how I was never in danger and injured them without justification."

"Ow," said Joline. "Never thought regeneration could have that sort of a disadvantage."

They chatted for a while longer, then Vic got a notice she had another call.

"Well, I guess that's all for now," said her sister. "Love ya!"


Vic picked up the call, but at first there was no response. She was about to disconnect when a breathy, obviously disguised voice started talking.

"You go back to school, you little pervert freak, and you'll leave in a body bag."

There was a click, ending the call before Vic could respond.

* * *

"I checked the caller ID," said Vic, after alerting her parents. "I recognized the number. It's a pay phone outside that burger joint. I've used it before, when I forgot my cell phone. Even talked to friends there when they forgot theirs."

"You recognized the number?" said Arnold.

"Perfect memory, remember?"

"Not funny," said Arnold, and Vic winced as she realized what she'd said. "I don't think you or Joline ever mentioned it."

"We didn't? Okay, yeah, we talked about how my IQ was now 135, and how school would be easier for me. I'm pretty sure we also mentioned my improved memory."

"You'd think you would have remembered to mention it," said her Mother, dryly.

"Well, it's not a perfect memory, actually. I'm a lot better at rote things, especially things I'm exposed to several times, like that phone number. My - What was it Joline called it? My housekeeping memory is only a little improved."

"I was already thinking of buying an answering machine, to screen our calls," said her Father, thoughtfully. "I'm definitely going to do that, now. Let it pick up, unless we recognize the caller ID as friendly."

"Good idea," said Vic. "If they're stupid enough to leave a message, even if they do call from a pay phone that could be enough for the police to find them."

They brainstormed for a few minutes, both about phone matters and some general security upgrades. However, they were interrupted by a loud, emphatic knocking on the front door.

"I swear, I'm going to paint that doorbell button fluorescent puce so people can find it," Arnold muttered, as he rose from his recliner.

The man at the door was large and very angry. Vic quickly moved close in behind her father, in case the stranger became violent. Fortunately, he seemed more a yeller than a hitter.

"You will take those videos down right now or I will have the law on you!"

"Excuse me," said Arnold, trying to be icy but too confused to be convincing. "Who are you?"

"Oscar Bremerton!"

"Chad's father," said Vic, now seeing the resemblance.

He now noticed Vic.

"You! You will take those offensive videos off the Internets or I will have the law on you!"

"What videos?" said Arnold.

"You know very well what videos! Those... photoshopped ones showing my son throwing the first punch!"

"This is the first I've heard of them," said Arnold.

"There were several people using their cell phones to record the attack," said Vic. "One or more of them must have posted them on YouTube or something."

"Yes! You're making my son look like a villain! You will take them off or face the consequences!"

"I didn't put them there!" said Vic. "I didn't record them, either. I was too busy fighting for my life."

"How dare you say my son was trying to kill you!"

"The assistant DA said that's exactly what it seemed like he meant to do," said Vic, hotly. "That's why he was originally charged with attempted murder."

"Which my lawyers got changed to attempted manslaughter!" said Mr. Bremerton, drawing himself up and giving them a nasty smile.

"You're proud of that?! Your son tried to kill me, and you're proud..."

"You shut up you lying bitch!"

Bremerton tried to lunge past Arnold. Who, though a bit shorter and much leaner, played a lot of racquetball. As well as using the weights in the basement almost as often as Vic. He grabbed the door frame with one hand and shoved Bremerton out of the house with the other.

"Call the police!" he shouted, as he slammed and locked the door.

"I'm already talking to 911!" Alissa shouted back.

* * *

Bremerton was still there, shouting and beating on the door when the patrol car arrived. He then made the mistake of trying to walk casually to his SUV. The officer saw this and deliberately parked to block him leaving. Bremerton tried to bluster his way out, but the officer told him plainly that he had to wait until the complaint had been seen to.

After a bit of discussion, Vic's parents decided not to have Bremerton charged. This time.

"It's your choice," said the officer.

"You're free to make it clear to him that if he comes here again, he'll be arrested for trespassing," said Alissa, icily.

* * *

Vic disagreed with the decision to let Bremerton off, but decided not to confront her parents over it. Instead, she went down to the police station that afternoon. She asked the desk sergeant if she could speak to a detective.

"Now why would you want to do that?" he said, smiling in a patronizing way.

"I have been told - in no uncertain terms - that if I go back to my school I'll be killed," said Vic, angrily. "Anonymous call about four hours ago, someone disguising their voice."

That made him much more serious, and he immediately called in a superior. However, after half an hour speaking with a Detective, Vic was growing increasingly frustrated.

"Listen, this is just people blowing off steam. School politics. I don't know what you did to piss someone off, but it should blow over soon."

"I was attacked last night. The father of one of the attackers came by my parents' house this morning and tried to force his way in. This isn't blowing off steam. This isn't just people making idle threats. This is people trying to hurt - probably kill - me. Worse, they may target my whole family!"

"Wait... Who did you say you are?"

Once he made the connection, the Detective's attitude was much less friendly.

"The troublemakers have already been charged," he said, flatly.

"All of them?" said Vic, pointedly. "I mean, there's bound to be more than just the crew from last night. The phone call and Bremerton's visit prove that."

"We can't do anything until they do something," said the Detective.

"I just told you, I'm getting threats."

"The only people who actually did anything are in jail or the hospital, and have been charged," said the Detective. "Even if someone else attacks you, given that you're a super, and they're unpowered, I don't think you have anything to worry about."

Something in his tone, in the way he looked at Vic, told her the man would have been happy if someone did hurt her, and positively ecstatic if she were killed. No, she wasn't going to get any help from him.

"I thought about talking to someone else," said Vic, sourly, that evening, to Joline, as they spoke on the phone again, "but figured that even if I found someone who didn't hate me because of something that happened before I was born there wasn't much they could do. You know how hard it is to deal with bullies, or even real harassment."

"So what are you going to do?" said Joline, concerned. "School starts next week."

"There's more than one school," said Vic, tone defiant.

"You're going to transfer to Western? Things would be almost as bad, there."

"I was thinking about going farther."


"Still checking, but there's now several colleges and technical schools which handle supers. Maybe they'll be sympathetic enough to take my existing credits and test for the rest and let me in."

"It's possible," said Joline, though she sounded doubtful. "Anyway, I tracked down those videos. They've gone viral. Most comments are in your favor, too, since it's obvious they attacked you and you had a tough fight. Oh, and may I say 'Way to go, Bro!' It was good for my soul to see those guys taught a lesson in pain."

"Yeah, Mom and Dad were impressed."

"You don't sound very pleased."

"You know, I started martial arts because I wanted to learn martial arts. Not because I wanted to hurt people."

"Look at it this way. If you weren't so good, with your strength and speed you might have killed or crippled some of them, while getting hurt a lot worse yourself. So stop beating yourself up over them not beating you up. You did the right thing. Now, I need to get my homework done. Keep me up to date on this super school thing."

"Will do. 'Night, Sis."

"Night, Bro."

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