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Ayla and the Mad Scientist: (Chap 8)

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Ayla and the Mad Scientist, Chapter 8 – Pantagruel, by Diane Castle

Ayla and the Mad Scientist

CHAPTER 8 – Pantagruel

a Whateley novel

by Diane Castle

 

Tuesday, March 6, 2007, 8:56 pm
holographic simulation

<(Lancer) Fey, cut her comms.  Then find her.>

<(Chaka) Before she finds us.>

<(Phase) Hey Chaka.  Here.  Catch.>  I tossed her a plastic handgun about the size of a .25 caliber pistol.

<(Fey) Comms clear.>

<(Shroud) I can see a big flare of mutant energy off to our right.>

Chaka snapped the barrel forward and looked into the breech.  <(Chaka) This what I think it is?>

<(Phase) Yup.>

She closed the handgun and tucked it into her gi-like costume.

<(Generator) I wanna try to calm her down.  I mean, I know she’s going all Dark Phoenix, but I have to try.>

<(Lancer) We can try to get you close enough, but it’s likely to end badly, no matter how you and Tennyo are doing in real life.>

<(Generator) Please?  I have to try.>

I looked at Chaka, who gave me a tiny nod.  <(Phase) Let’s give her a shot.>

<(Chaka) Yeah.>

BOOM!  A sound like a massive explosion came our way.  Chaka instantly targeted it.  Off to our right, just like Shroud’s ‘flare of mutant energy’.  Given the J-Team’s attachment to Tennyo, I was willing to disregard all intel from Generator and Shroud if I needed to.  But if Chaka was corroborating…

<(Fey) There’s a huge disruption in the ley lines off to our right.  I think it’s due to that blast.>

<(Lancer) Then let’s prepare for incoming from our three.>

BOOM!  BOOM!  BOOM!

BOOM!!

The two story building off to our right suddenly exploded.

I don’t mean that some windows blew out of the top story.  I don’t mean that the building dropped in a nice, controlled detonation.  I mean that the entire building erupted like a building-sized grenade.

<(Chaka) Think we found her.>

Chunks of debris flew everywhere.  I was already light and floating ten feet above the street, so I didn’t have to dodge.  Bricks, concrete, rebar, scraps of wood, you name it, they all flew through my intangible form.  Unfortunately, Tennyo knew all about my vulnerabilities when I was light.  I knew I had to go heavy before she had a chance to hurl some plasma through me and turn me into Phase flambé.

Fey already had her palms up and a green shield of force erected, well before chunks of brickwork and slabs of concrete began smashing the surrounding area into rubble.  Lancer dove in front of Generator, while Chaka dodged several flying chunks of lethality on her way around the corner of the next building.  Shroud changed her shape to a narrow spear that pointed at the blast, so nearly everything missed her.  What did hit her didn’t hurt her.

Lancer did the Superboy schtick and took flying concrete and brick off his body, while Jade tried to curl up into a ball behind him.

A chunk of roof and wall the size of a dumptruck arced overhead and went searing past me to turn the building behind me into an urban renewal project.  The edge that went through me would have turned me into a splotch on the sidewalk, if the sidewalks were still left intact.  Man, sometimes the complete intangibility is a great trick.

Something angry came screaming through the dust and debris.  I went heavy and dropped to the ground.  A ball of blue plasma went sizzling through the space I had been occupying and did a lot more damage to that poor building behind me.  Maybe Billie had something against that savings and loan.

As soon as I hit the ground, I Phase-leapt off to the side and forward, putting me slightly behind Tennyo.  A ball of plasma destroyed the spot where I crashed to the ground, and another ball seared through the air where I would have been if I had leapt straight up to confront her directly.  Ouch.

A massive blast of energy crashed into the spot where Lancer had been, but he was long gone.  He had grabbed Generator and flown a quick zigzag path to somewhere I couldn’t see.

Tennyo turned her attention to Fey, cupping her hands about an invisible basketball.  A shimmering sphere of blue-white energy came into being, and she prepared to launch it right at Fey’s forcefield.

A chunk of concrete the size of a motorcycle came flying through the air, courtesy of Lancer, and crashed into Tennyo’s warp field.  The field sizzled and flared in a weird reddish color, but nothing got through.  It didn’t distract Tennyo, either.  I tried a fire egg, just in case there were electromagnetic effects that I could disrupt.  The fire erupted in a shell around half of her warp field, but didn’t have any noticeable effects.

Tennyo ignored our efforts and launched the sphere at Fey.  Fey just stayed there, hovering thirty feet above the wreckage of the street.  There was no point in yelling at her.  She could see what was coming her way.

Fey said something I couldn’t hear from where I was, and flicked her right hand in a circular motion.  The blue-white Sphere O’ Death looped around her like a comet slingshotting its way around a sun, and it flew back at Tennyo, only now it was going about five times faster.

When it hit Tennyo’s warp field, there was an explosion that made the exploding building look like a firecracker.

I ducked back around the corner of the building I was using for cover.  Not that it did any good.  The entire building collapsed.

I went light as I dove away from the blast.  The building fell on me and through me as I flew a hundred yards out.  I couldn’t see through the dust that was everywhere.  I was glad I had a facemask.  I just hoped Lancer’s PK field was protecting him.

<(Phase) Chaka?  G?  Everyone okay?>

<(Generator) Okay.  Lancer hauled me out of there before the boom.  I think he took something too big off his back, though.>

<(Chaka) I think my left arm’s broken and my right foot’s busted up.  I couldn’t dodge everything.>

<(Shroud) Okay.  I can’t see through the dust.  But there’s fighting noises, so Fey’s still at it.>

<(Lancer) I gotta stop trying the Superman bit.  That chunk of wall really hurt.  But I don’t think I have any broken bones.  And…  Oh shit.>

I looked back toward ground zero, and I realized all the dust was hurtling inward toward a spot about thirty feet above the rubble.  I took a chance and flew back, just behind the wall of dust that was still contracting.  I was light, so at first I didn’t really get what was happening.  But then I saw heavier objects – rocks and concrete shards and bits of wood – leaping off the ground and heading in toward a central point, along with the dust.

I got within a hundred feet of the center of the struggle before the dust vanished into nothingness.  Tennyo and Fey were both thirty feet up, facing each other forty feet apart, and straining furiously.  In between them was…

Oh crap.  They were fighting over a black hole.  Tennyo had unleashed it, but couldn’t stop Fey from pushing it back magically.  They weren’t moving.  But they were both pushing with some manner of force.  They were doing everything they could do drive that black hole into their opponent.  Whoever blinked was going to be ripped apart into their constituent atoms.

<(Phase) Lancer, carry G in.  Right now.  This may be our best chance to pull this off.  And whatever you do, don’t let go of her.  I can’t judge the forces here, but we’ve got some sort of black hole in play here, and it’s sucking rocks and concrete up from the rubble thirty feet down.>

<(Lancer) How big is it?>

<(Phase) I’m not sure that’s a meaningful question.  What I’m seeing is objects flying in and disintegrating when they’re a couple inches out from a central point.  But a black hole the size of an ant would still weigh an unimaginable amount.>

<(Chaka) Now’s not a good time for a science lecture, professor.>

<(Phase) My point is: don’t let go of G.  I don’t know if she’d get sucked right in.>

<(Generator) That could be sorta bad.>

<(Shroud) I’m on the other side from Phase, and I can feel it.  I’ve got a couple cables holding me in place, but I don’t think we can resist that kind of pull if I got closer.>

<(Phase) Pronouns, please?>

<(Chaka) Let’s do it.>

Lancer came flying in toward the force-battle, with Generator cradled in his right arm.  I moved closer, staying off to the other side.  Tennyo was glowing with fury and pushing as hard as she could, her palms out and her teeth clenched.  Fey was glittering with so much magic that it was sparkling off her, and she was shoving back as hard as she could.  Her arms were nearly fully extended, and her hands were splayed wide.  Her face was a mask of concentration, her eyes shut tightly, her lips pressed together, and her nostrils flaring.

Man, was she hot like that.  I was going to have so much trouble not ogling her when they threw Dark Fey at us.  Yeah, I said ‘when’ and not ‘if’, because I didn’t think this battle was going to make Bardue happy with us.

The gravitational disaster – whether it was a black hole or not – continued to wobble in between our two big guns.  It would drift a few inches toward one of them, but then pretty soon it would swing back the other way.

Lancer hung onto Generator, who was floating slowly toward the black hole instead of Tennyo.

Generator cried out, “Tennyo!  It’s me!  I have to talk to you!”

“GO AWAYNOW!”  Tennyo’s normal buzzsaw-like yell had metamorphosed into something that would make drill sergeants wet themselves.

“I can’t!” Generator said plaintively.  “You’re here!  I need you to calm down and tell me… why.  Why are you doing this?  Why are you hurting our friends?”

“You couldn’t possibly understand,” the Star Stalker growled.  “This is… necessary.”

But Generator was distracting Tennyo, and the Happy Fun Gravity Ball was slowly sliding away from Fey.  Not by a lot, but I could spot it from my position.  I prepared.

Generator concentrated for a second, and suddenly moved toward Tennyo instead of the gravity well.  I wondered if she had just cast all her remaining selves into her body, so she’d have enough PK to resist the pull of gravity.  “Tennyo?  Please listen to me.  I need you to stop and talk to me.  I need you to be my friend.  My onee-sama.”

She opened up her arms and swooped in to give Tennyo a hug.  I didn’t see how she thought she could get away with it, but she had a relationship with Tennyo that was unlike any relationship I had at the moment.

Tennyo hesitated.  The gravity sphere stopped moving.  Her warp field stopped sizzling across her skin.  But her eyes were still a flaring red.

Generator went for it.  She tried to grab onto Tennyo.  For a split second, I thought that maybe she was right and I was completely wrong.

Tennyo growled, and Generator disintegrated in a burst of plasma.

I went for my gun.  Chaka came cartwheeling out from behind a pile of rubble, and she was moving faster than I was.  She had figured out how to cartwheel along on just her good arm and her good leg, which sounded impossible to me, but she was doing it.

She spun up a slope of rubble and leapt into the air.  She did a somersault and pulled out the double-barreled dart gun I had given her earlier.  And she fired both darts right at Tennyo’s butt.

I was moving slower than Chaka, and I wasn’t as sure of my aim.  I went heavy, and as I dropped, I fired both of my darts at Tennyo’s back.  Tennyo realized what we were doing just a fraction of a second too late to stop us, and-

The darts froze in mid-air as the whole simulation went black.

And suddenly I was back in the sim chair, in the darkness of the sim helmet, with Bardue yelling into the intercom.  “WHAT THE HELL IS THAT SUPPOSED TO BE!?!  REPORT TO ROOM 1 ON THE DOUBLE!”

Damn.  How many times were we going to get a chance to beat someone like Tennyo with a cheap trick like that?

Okay, now that I had wasted the tranq dart sneak attack, Tennyo wasn’t going to let her guard down, and there was no way Fey or Chaka or Lancer was going to fall for it in a future sim.  Darn it.

I flipped the annoying sim helmet off and stood up, disconnecting my butt from the chair’s connectors.  Surely someone could have figured out a better way to handle that part of the system.  I stepped out of the cubicle into the hallway.  Tennyo was at the beginning of the hallway, slumped over unhappily.  Lancer and Fey were already patting her on the back and telling her she did a good job.

Generator and Shroud both flew past me to wrap Tennyo up in hugs.

“It’s okay!”

“We know you didn’t mean it!”

“We dropped a whole monster on you yesterday, this is nothing!”

Tennyo just hugged them right back and sniffled a little.

Chaka sashayed past me and said, “Yeah, T.  You did great.  None a’ this ‘you need to try harder’ junk from Oscar now.”

We ushered Tennyo down to Room 1 and filed in.  Bardue was standing there looking at a PDA and glaring like he was trying to melt it with anger-vision.  Wilson was leaning against the whiteboard with his arms crossed.  Larry the sim jockey was poring over lines of notes on a portable data tablet.

He waited until we all sat down.  Then he snarled, “THIS was your big plan?  A hug?”

Lancer spoke up first.  “It was our Plan A.  Generator was fully aware of the consequences if it failed, but she needed to try.  You heard what she said in the sim.  They’re closer than just roommates.  They’re more like sisters.”

I cut in, “And I estimated there was a twenty-five percent probability it would work.”  Okay, that was a lie.  There was no fancy likelihood computation involved.  We just knew there was some chance it would work.  “And it worked well enough to give us access for Plan B.  Tennyo dropped her warp shield.  Chaka and I both would have hit her with tranquilizer darts if you hadn’t aborted the sim right in the middle of our tactic.”

“And how likely was your tranq dart going to do the job?” he fumed.

“A heck of a lot more likely than a machine gun,” Generator pointed out.  “Tennyo healed up from a Vulcan cannon before enemy cyborgs could take advantage of the injury, back in October.  So you can forget conventional weaponry.”

I said, “Tennyo has shown susceptibility to drugs before.  We just needed to use one she hadn’t been exposed to, so there wouldn’t be any chance of regenerative protection.”

Fey said, “And we didn’t even need to slow her down this time.  If she had just been distracted enough, I could have taken her out with that black hole she threw at me.”

I decided to rub it in a little.  “So your lack of confidence in our mode of operations meant that you cost us our Plan B and our Plan C.”

“I find your lack of faith disturbing,” Generator said in the deepest voice she could manage.  Shroud even added a Darth Vader inhale-exhale noise.

Everyone in the room cracked up to some extent, except Bardue.  Larry went into hysterics.  I failed to keep a straight face, but my snickering was lost beneath the belly laughs from Wilson and Lancer.

Bardue gave us The Great Stone Face and snapped, “Fine, wise guys.  How many days do you need to come up with a Plan D, Phase?”

I stared right back at him.  “We already have one.  We can try it as soon as you let us get back in the chairs.”

That finally stopped him for a second.

Tennyo whined, “You mean I have to do this again?  Wasn’t once enough?”

Generator encouraged her, “Hey, you were great as a supervillain!”

“Really not helping here,” Tennyo pouted.

Wilson finally said something.  “So… how many plans do you have for Lancer?”

The entire room looked at me.  I admitted, “Seven.  But if we can bring in one or two team auxiliaries from the rest of the student body, I have a total of thirty-three on the table.”

Larry grinned, “That’s awesome!  All I need is a list of your auxiliaries, and I can see if they have holo training, and then-”

“CAN IT!” Bardue bellowed.  “We’re not doing thirty-three Dark Lancer sims!”

“Do we have to do more Dark Tennyo sims?” Tennyo asked with just a slight whimper in her voice.  It might not have been obvious to the sim staff, but I was sure every one of Team Kimba picked it up.

Perhaps Bardue picked it up too.  He sounded a lot gentler as he said, “Yes Tennyo, we’re going to try this again.  Right now.  Just do what you were doing before.”

Larry asked, “Do you want to reset the sim to an earlier point?”

Bardue nodded.  “We’ll reset to the middle of the black hole battle.  Generator’s still alive, and Lancer has her.  Chaka’s still around the corner of a downed building.”

Generator piped up, “Okay, and Tennyo has to pretend she doesn’t know where Chaka is!”

Bardue grimaced.  “Just… go get in your chairs.”

Generator gave Shroud and Tennyo one of those evil little ‘look what I got away with’ grins of hers.

We hustled back to our sim chairs and got settled.  I reluctantly sat down in mine, letting the connections from my sim suit attach to the chair.  At my butt.  Okay, I know it’s minor, but it really bugged me.

I put the helmet on and waited for Bardue to start his countdown before I took a breath and closed the front half over my face.

And suddenly I was back in the middle of the battle.  Dropping right into the middle of it was a hell of a shock.  I hadn’t realized how loud and destructive it was.  Dust was still streaming past me and heading for a quick self-immolation in the Sphere O’ Gravity.  Tennyo and Fey were still trying to shove the sphere into each other’s chests.  Lancer was flying toward the battle with Generator under one arm, and Shroud was coming up fast on my right.  Chaka was still out of sight – and probably still seriously injured according to the sim.

Lancer threw Generator right at Tennyo.  Generator stopped abruptly about fifty feet out, and pulled out… that stupid Raising Heart toy.  She spun it in her hand, pointed the jeweled end at Tennyo and yelled, “STARLIGHT… BREAKAAAAA!”

A beam of pink light shot out, and suddenly a storm of pink glitter disintegrated all over the front of Tennyo’s warp shield, completely obscuring her view.

Tennyo jetted straight up, and the gravity sphere sped straight down.

<(Lancer) Look out!>

<(Phase) CLEAR!>

Fey zoomed to the side and grabbed Generator in her arms before pulling up her force field all around her.  Lancer spun around and tried to reach one of the still-standing buildings on one of the distant blocks.  I took a breath and dove into the ground.  I had no idea what Chaka was doing, or if she even had a chance of getting far enough away.

The sphere hit the ground.  It didn’t start pulling in more matter.  It exploded like a miniature nuke.

I felt the blast, even though I was fully light.  And I ‘heard’ it as sound waves trampled through the ground like little earthquakes in training.  I gave it a five count and flew back out of the ground.

There was nothing left.  The intersection that had been our battlezone was gone.  The buildings that had been getting pummeled around us were smashed like they had been swatted by Godzilla’s tail.  The buildings on the surrounding blocks were damaged, smoking ruins.  Farther out than that, fires were starting to break out.

<(Phase) Is anybody on?>

<(Fey) Here.  With G.>

<(Lancer) Made it through a couple buildings before I got hammered by the blast.  I don’t think anything’s broken.>

<(Shroud) Most of me.  I made it to the top of Fey’s bubble, but that was a big boom.>

<(Chaka) *cough*  Could use some help.  Made it two blocks out, but I got most of a building on toppa me.>

<(Lancer) We have to find Tennyo first.>

I looked straight up, which was the direction she had gone.  <(Phase) Up.  And incoming.>

<(Chaka) Shoot.  I’m no help for right now.  Go get ‘em.>

Tennyo came straight down at maybe a hundred eighty miles an hour.  It looked like she was falling headfirst, instead of flying at her normal speed.

Fey made a gesture with both hands, and her bubble shimmered.  What was left of Shroud flew off to the side as fast as she could manage.

<(Lancer) Fey!  She’s aiming right for you!>

<(Fey) Yeah.>

Tennyo plunged down fast enough that her warp field started to shimmer around her as it forced the air out of her way.  She extended her arms so she was ‘flying’ straight down in the classic Superman pose.  And she hit Fey’s bubble.

Which wasn’t there anymore.  Tennyo tore through the illusion and hit the ground before she had a chance to adjust.  The illusion surprised me, but the crash didn’t.  If she was going a hundred eighty miles an hour, she was moving at 264 feet per second.  At forty feet above the bottom of that crater Fey had hovered over, she would only have about 0.15 seconds to react.  And Tennyo was no Exemplar-6.

The math flashed through my head before Tennyo pulled herself out of the ground and tried another attack.

Generator flew in at her and pointed Raising Heart once more.  “STARLIGHT… BREAKAAAAA!”  The same beam of light was followed by the same spray of glitter.  Tennyo dropped her warp shield for a split second to avoid being blinded by disintegrating pink glitter.

And I Phase-leapt forward.  I dove right into her, trying to match her upright stance and the position of her limbs.  Because I was going for the move I consciously avoided most of the time.  I knew what passing through Tennyo would do to me when she was like this, but there was a flipside to the interaction.

As soon as I started to pass through her, I went heavy.  Her energies seared through me, but my going heavy disintegrated everything I touched.

And the world went white.

Then everything was jet black.  I was back in the sim chair.  I didn’t even have the chance to get the helmet open before Bardue was yelling at us again.  “TEAM KIMBA!  ROOM 1!  MOVE IT!”

I stepped out of my cubicle and Lancer was waiting for me.  “You okay?”

I nodded.  “Hurt a little more than I expected, but I’m guessing something went wrong.”

He nodded.  “It took me out too, so I think the blast was bigger than we planned.”

Fey stepped over.  “It took me out too, and I was still inside the force field.”

Tennyo said, “Well, you got me.  Hurt, too.”

“Sorry,” I said.

She gave me a hug.  “You did good.  I know you hate being able to do stuff like that, but you need to learn you can do it if you absolutely have to.”

Chaka walked over and said, “Whatever it was, it got me too.”

“Us too!” said Generator and Shroud virtually simultaneously.

We walked down to Room 1, where once again Bardue and Wilson were waiting for us with Larry.  Larry was muttering, “This was awesome.  We never get to run these sequences!”  He glared at Bardue’s back like it was all his fault.

Bardue waited until we sat down.  Then he said, “Guess what, Team Kimba?  Your density warper went heavy inside your reality warper.  Which triggered a 4.4-gigaton anti-matter explosion that none of you survived.  It devastated the eastern seaboard and caused a worldwide two-year nuclear winter.  Good work.  You just beat your opponent BY DESTROYING THE ENTIRE FUCKING PLANET!”

Generator looked at him and said, “Oops?”

<(Phase) I hate it when one of us says oops.  Never a good thing.>

Bardue glared at Generator.  Then he turned and glared at me.  “Maybe you need to come up with a Plan E, Phase!”

I stood my ground.  “We already have one.”

“You… what?”

Wow, I didn’t really expect to catch Bardue off-guard.  So I pushed, “We knew there was the chance of an anti-matter explosion, but we had no way to estimate how big, or how likely.  And I think your computer may be cheating on this one and throwing us the worst case scenario.”

Bardue said, “Phase, even if there wasn’t any explosion at all, you’d be dead from that move.  And you’d still be looking at a thirty-six block area that’s totaled.”

<(Tennyo) Yeah, but a Dark Me could destroy the entire solar system.  Or worse.  It was worth it.>

<(Lancer) That wasn’t you.>

<(Generator) Yeah, you’d never do a bad thing like that!>

<(Tennyo) I keep telling myself that.>

I pretended I wasn’t listening to the discussion over the comms, and I replied to Bardue, “We are talking about someone who has a Section 33 when she’s not ‘dark’.  Of course there’s extensive destruction.  That’s why we’re trying to stop her in a sim.”

<(Tennyo) See?  OF COURSE there’s lots of destruction.>

<(Phase) I said ‘extensive’.>

<(Chaka) Thank you, Captain Pedantic.>

<(Lancer) Not in front of Bardue, please.>

<(Phase) Fine.  When it’s Fey’s turn, she can blow up sixty-four blocks.  Will that make you feel better?>

<(Tennyo) No.>

<(Generator OF COURSE.  Not!>

Bardue frowned, “Then let’s see you stop her.  Without destroying the entire planet.  You re-start just after Tennyo zipped through the illusion of Fey and crashed into the crater.”

I nodded, “Plan E, coming up.”

Lancer said, “Let’s go, team.  Last one in their chair has to-”

“Eat the poison salad!” grinned Chaka.

“Let Phase stare at ‘em in the bathroom,” smirked Fey.

“Tell Belle and Thorn you think they’re a really cute couple!” laughed Generator.

We left the room in a hurry.  Bardue looked like he had a throbbing headache.

I cheated and leapt through a couple walls to get into my seat first.  There was no way I was going to invite Beltane and Thorn to use me as a testbed for new ectoplasmic tortures.

Generator ran by my cubicle, opened the door, and said, “Poopyhead!” before slamming the door and running down the hall to her chair.

<(Lancer) Is Tennyo locked out of our comms yet?>

<(Tennyo) Nope.  Don’t we need to wait for the sim?>

<(Fey) On it now…  Got it.  She’s locked out.>

<(Lancer) Okay Phase, so we even HAVE a Plan E?>

<(Generator) Of course she has a Plan E.  She probably has Plans F through Q too.>

<(Fey) Phase already set it up with me.  I’ll need between thirty seconds and a minute, and everyone else is going to need to distract her so I can concentrate.>

<(Lancer) Is this something you could do for real, or is it one of those spells?>

<(Fey) It is definitely one of those spells.  Never ask me to do this for real.>

<(Lancer) Operation Distract-a-Dark-Phoenix coming up.>

“Team Kimba!  Going live again in five… four… three…”  I took a breath and closed the front of my sim helmet.  “Two… one… GO.”

And I was back in the same spot, watching Tennyo pick herself out of the miniature impact crater in the middle of the blast crater.  I immediately hit her in the back with an ice egg.

The ice egg exploded across her back before she had her warp field up.  Ice covered her from her hair down to her knees.  But she was too cranked up to let something like that slow her down.  She fired off two blasts of plasma in my direction with her right hand, while she unleashed something bluish with her left hand.  The ice exploded all over the place.

I dodged the plasma blasts coming my way.  I had assumed she wasn’t going to be stopped by a lousy little devise, so I was already leaping across the battlezone behind her.  The plasma blasts exploded around the area I had been, but by then I was no longer on her five.  I was now on her seven.

A cloud of rubble flew at Tennyo’s face, and Tennyo whipped her right hand forward to launch a couple more plasma balls.  The rubble dodged one blast and split down the middle to avoid the second blast.  Tennyo pulled up her warp field, and the rubble disintegrated against it.

A massive slab of brick wall that had to weigh over four tons dropped from the sky.  It would have smashed anyone else flat.  It exploded when it hit the warp field, filling the blast crater with brickdust.

Generator flew in again, wielding Raising Heart while the Hello Kitty compact and Spinner whirred about her.  Tennyo threw two plasma blasts right at her.  There was nothing I could do from where I was, and I couldn’t tell if Lancer was in position to do anything.

Spinner swooped in and turned sideways, taking the plasma blast.  The Hello Kitty compact tried to block the second plasma blast, but wasn’t large enough to screen more than a tiny fraction of it.

“Chaka Chaka Bang Bang!”  A wavering pulse sliced through the air and knocked the plasma blast off to the side.

Generator pointed her ‘weapon’ once more and didn’t bother to shout the name of her attack.  We all knew what she was going to do.  And the storm of pink glitter disintegrated all over Tennyo’s warp field, effectively blinding her completely.  Generator flew straight up, easily dodging the three plasma balls that Tennyo hurled without looking.

I glanced over and saw Chaka was lying on top of what was left of the building behind me.  She was covered in dust, and she was bleeding from a dozen cuts that I could see.  She looked like she had dug her way out of a collapsed building.  Knowing her, it was probably a lot cooler than that.  Maybe she used the lines of Ki going through the rubble to make the building burp her up.  Who knew?  At any rate, she was still alive, and still in the fight.

I made sure Tennyo didn’t regain any visibility in the next few seconds.  I lobbed all of my fire eggs, one after the other, about three seconds apart.  Every one of them exploded on top of the warp field, so that cascading sheets of flame blocked her view.

Tennyo retaliated by hurling a row of plasma bolts my way.  I dodged to my right, then Phase-leapt straight up so she wouldn’t know where I was.

That turned out to be fortuitous, because Tennyo unloaded one of her Black Holes O’ Doom in the direction she thought I was lurking.  It hit a pile of rubble off to my right and started sucking in all the debris within several yards of it.  If that had hit me, even when I was heavy, I would have been in big trouble.  And I had no idea what would happen if I was completely light.  Would it pass harmlessly through me, since I was essentially massless?  Would it disrupt my structure and rend me into my constituent subatomic particles?  I didn’t want to have to find out.  Even worse, what the computer guessed would happen wasn’t necessarily what would really happen if I had to do this in real life, and there was no safe way to test it for real.

As I leapt upward, Lancer was descending.  He flew down and divebombed Tennyo with a chunk of concrete the size of a car.  Chaka hit Tennyo in the back with another Chaka Chaka Bang Bang, and the warp field flickered just long enough for half the concrete to get through.

The impact would have killed most supers.  It smashed Tennyo back down into her impact crater, but she only needed a second to hurl a plasma blast that blew the concrete into dust.  The dust went straight up, so it was a good thing Lancer had veered off parallel to the ground.

I hurled my last ice eggs into the crater, hoping I could get Tennyo before her warp field went up again.  Chaka fired off another one of her Dragonball-esque blasts.  Shroud attacked directly, diving in and getting part of herself in close before the warp field disintegrated the rest.

Tennyo grabbed the intact bits of Shroud and blasted the pieces, killing Shroud’s PK field.  One of the ice eggs nailed Tennyo in the side, slowing her down for a couple seconds.  And Chaka’s blast caught Tennyo in the back, doing virtually nothing.

Tennyo flexed and did something with her hands.  The ice on her body shattered.  She tried to fire off a dozen plasma blasts as Lancer flew across in front and scooped Generator out of the air.  Lancer zigged and zagged, and managed to dodge all of them as he dove past a hill of rubble and ducked out of sight.

Tennyo wheeled around.  I knew Chaka was going to be an easy target if Tennyo spotted her.  So I threw both of my cannonballs.  Both disintegrated against the warp field, but I got Tennyo’s attention.  Not that doing so was a good thing.

She threw four plasma blasts in my direction.  One each to my left and right to box me in, one over my head to keep me from flying upward and escaping, and one right at my chest.

I dove into the ground in front of me.  I hated doing it.  Having a power like mine and also having claustrophobia was just plain humiliating.  Did Anna have sciurophobia?  Did Gloriana have photophobia?  No.  I was a complete wimp when it came to superheroing.

I used the little compass on the Heads Up Display of my facemask, and I turned to my left to move in Chaka’s direction.  Then I stayed underground for another several seconds before I came up for air.

By the time I came up and took a deep breath, Chaka was firing off blast after blast of Ki at Tennyo, while Lancer lobbed car-sized chunks of building onto Tennyo’s position.  But Tennyo was zeroing in on Chaka, and Chaka had limited mobility.

I Phase-leapt over to Chaka’s position, went heavy, and scooped her up.  Then I sprinted through the rubble to a safer position, while Tennyo bombed Chaka’s position with plasma blasts and Chaka shot a couple of the blasts out of the air with Ki attacks.  The ones she didn’t shoot hit the rubble where she had been lurking, and turned most of a wrecked building into dust.

Suddenly there was a sound that refused to enter my head through my ears.  The air wavered in a way that reminded me of flashbacks in cartoons.  A shimmering blue light surrounded Tennyo.

There was a bright flash that centered on Tennyo’s position, and she was gone.  A sphere about fifteen feet in diameter, with Tennyo at its center, was just gone.

<(Fey) Whew.  That was harder than I thought.>

<(Generator) Where is she?>

<(Fey) Gone.  I linked to a pocket dimension and dumped her there.>

<(Generator) NOOOOOOOO!>

Generator leapt through the air and came down in the hole where Tennyo had been only seconds ago.  She sobbed, “No, not that!  You didn’t say that!  She hates being trapped like that, it’s what they did to her before, you can’t!”

She knelt there, weeping piteously, until the sim ended several seconds later.

Before I was out of my sim chair, I could hear the J-Team running down the hall and checking to make sure Tennyo was okay.  Even though it was just a simulation.  I wondered if the J-Team could do it for real if we ever needed to.  I wondered just how attached to Tennyo she really was.  And I wondered if I really wanted to find out.

“Team Kimba, Room 1 on the double.”  That was Wilson, sounding polite instead of strident.  I wondered if our last battle had freaked out Bardue.

I checked, “You okay?”

Tennyo turned her head, since her body was sort of buried under J-Team components.  Generator was hanging on her right side, while Shroud was hanging on her left.  Tennyo said, “Oh sure.  When Fey did that spell, I just ended up in the sim chair.  That was really good work, you guys.”

“Good work?!” Generator growled.  “They banished you!  Right out of our dimension!”

Tennyo hugged her and said, “Good.  I really kind of need to know that someone could do that, just in case… you know what.”

Fey grimaced, “I’m not sure I really could.  I might have to totally wreck a bunch of neighboring ecosystems to get enough Essence.”

“Even if we’re near the Grove?” Lancer checked.

“Even then,” Fey said.  “That would’ve collapsed the Grove like… like a boot on an anthill.  It was a big spell.”

We walked into Room 1, to find Bardue holding a PDA, Wilson leaning against the whiteboard in his usual pose, and Larry the sim jockey eagerly conferring with one of his partners.  I didn’t know the guy, but he looked like a stereotypical computer geek, down to the paunch and the lame attempt at a Kevin Smith beard.

Bardue looked over at Wilson, who straightened up and strolled toward us.  “I have to admit it, I was impressed.  Good strategy, good tactics, good teamwork, and good protection on your partners.  The destruction was massive, but you were already in a warzone, so it wasn’t like there was much left to lose.  But what exactly did you do to the threat?”

Bardue grumbled, “I’d like to know that too.”

Generator angrily piped up, “She banished Tennyo to a pocket dimension.  Forever!”

Bardue looked at Fey and asked, “Is that why the simulated power usage readings went bananas?  The theoretical power drain was immense.”  Fey just nodded unhappily.  “Could you really do that spell for real?  Assuming your teammates bought you the time, like they did tonight?”

Fey said, “Only under the worst case scenarios.  You understand about ley lines?”

Bardue shrugged and said, “A little.  I’m just a dumb grunt, but the mages like to make sure we sim jocks understand something about the powers you kids are wielding in the sims.  And we learned a lot more about them watching your combat final against Mule.”

Fey grimaced at the memory.  She straightened up and said, “I would have to pull in so much Essence that it could destroy pretty much everything at the other ends of the ley lines, mainly by destroying fundamental energies of the ecosystems.  If I tried it here on campus, it would destroy the Grove, wipe out forests for miles around, and cause forest blights as far away as New York and Maine.  The long-term consequences could be worse.”

Bardue made an effort not to wince.  Larry and his fellow sim jock actually cringed.

Fey stared hard at Bardue.  “But if you need us to stop Tennyo, and we have to do it over and over, with new approaches every time, we’re going to have to keep coming up with more and more dangerous approaches.  We’re already up past ‘ordinary tactical nuke’ with our last two.”

Wilson asked, “Do you kids have a Plan F?”

Everyone looked at me, so I nodded.  “Yes.  We do.  And it’s going to be even more destructive than what you’ve seen so far.  I have a different group of plans that assume we have plenty of time to acquire additional teammates or additional hardware, but there’s nothing nice and simple when we’re trying to stop someone like Dark Tennyo.  It’s not like you can take her out with a sniper round, or even with surface-to-air missiles if she already knows you might try it and she has her warp field up.”

Bardue blew out a breath.  “Okay, I don’t want to see Plan F.  Go home.  But Team Kimba is on tomorrow night, right after the gun safety meeting.”

We walked out of the room and headed for the lockers.

Billie looked at me and just shook her head.  “I can’t believe you had all those things figured out to take me down.”

I told her, “I had about four times as many worked out to take a PK brick out.”

Hank said, “And she already gave me a list of ways to take her out.  And it’s…”

“Massive?” Jade guessed.

“Ridiculously ginormous?” tried Toni.

“Completely paranoid?” asked Nikki.

“I was going to say ‘extensive’, but I think everyone else is right too,” he said.

I shrugged.  “I feel better knowing that you guys could stop me quickly if I went all Mujer Fuerte on you.”

“Completely paranoid, just like I said,” teased Nikki.

We changed out of our sim suits in the women’s locker room.  But Generator was still complaining.  “That was so not fair!  Tennyo doesn’t deserve to get shut away in some cruddy little pocket dimension where she’s stuck and she doesn’t have any food, and she’s all alone…”

Tennyo just gave her a hug and said, “Shush.”

It seemed like we had been in battles to the death for hours, but it still wasn’t even nine thirty.  As I thought back over everything since we sat down in the sim chairs, I realized we had been in three pitched battles, none of which had lasted more than a minute or two.  We had probably spent more time sitting in Room 1 with Bardue growling at us.  It was hard to believe, even when I stopped and thought about it.  A massive, pitched battle that destroyed dozens of city blocks… and it had taken seconds.

A voice in the back of my head – which emerged in my father’s tones – said, “Mutants are powerful and innately dangerous.”

A voice in the back of my head – which emerged in my mother’s tones – said, “Mutants are frightening and a threat to all of us.”

Another voice, which sounded very much like my big brother, reminded me, “Goodkinds don’t hate mutants; we hate the horrors that many mutants will visit upon us if given the chance.”

The part that really bothered me was that I had just proved them all right.  A group of high school students could wipe a small town off the map just by trying to save people.  Even worse, a group of high school students could end up saving the world by wrecking ecosystems for miles and miles.  Or by destroying the eastern seaboard and plunging the planet into a nuclear winter.

I was dangerous, and I was the very thing my family was fighting to stop.  Even worse, I didn’t know where to apply the very powers with which I was stuck.  Was Carmilla a heroine I should support, or could Reverend England be right?  Was Tennyo a potential world-ending threat?  Or Fey?  People tended to look at Sara and think ‘demon’, but wasn’t it just as likely that a Faerie Queen could be just as big a threat to humanity?  And I didn’t have any right to speculate about them, when I was the worst thing around: a Goodkind who was also a mutant.

“Phase?  Phase?  Hey Ayla!” Jade gave me a poke in the side.

“Yeah?”  Man, I was so quick on the uptake, too.

“You okay?  You seemed really… distracted there,” she asked.  “You were all sad, and worried, and upset, and… more stuff.”

“I was worrying about Dark Phase.  I don’t want to do it,” I lied.  Okay, I really didn’t want to play Dark Phase.  But I figured we were likely to get Dark Fey and Dark Lancer before they worked their way down the team to me and Toni.  So I was actually hoping they would stop throwing these stupid Dark Phoenix scenarios at us before I had to play supervillain.

Jade insisted, “No!  Getting to be Dark Generator was tons of fun!  Just don’t take it so serious!”

Billie pouted, “It wasn’t exactly fun, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was gonna be.  But that was mostly because you guys were all awesome.”

Jade grinned, “And I told you my Raising Heart was going to be great!”

Toni said, “It was pretty freaking cool.  I never thought about messin’ with that warp field by hittin’ it all over with glitter.”

Jade said, “Well, I get to see it more than you do, so I had a pretty good idea I couldn’t knock it out, but I could make it so Tennyo couldn’t see anything or know what we were up to.”

Nikki said, “You were so good with it she never noticed I wasn’t in the middle of the fight.”

I couldn’t resist saying, “I keep telling you that you’re terrific as a nuisance, and you never listen to me.”

Jade giggled and then stuck her tongue out at me.  We walked out of the locker room and waited for Hank.  While we stood around – or floated aimlessly, in the case of some people, Jade said, “Now I need to build some more cool stuff into Raising Heart and then go freak people out with it.”

Billie sighed, “Team Wondercute already thinks it’s the cutest deadly weapon ever.  When she showed them, every one of them had to hold it and talk to it.”

“Talk to it?” I checked.

Jade asked, “Oh, didn’t I show you that part?”

“What part?” Hank asked as he walked out of the boys’ locker room.

She pulled out Raising Heart from her purse.  It looked just like Nanoha’s Raising Heart from the anime, not that I was ever going to admit that I could recognize it.  It was a staff that looked like it was made from a golden metal, with a large red sphere in the middle of a complex shape.  She announced, “Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Generator!”

The staff sparkled.  The red ‘jewel’ glinted.  And the staff spoke in a robotic, female voice.  “Raising Heart is ready for combat, Generator.  May I befriend Phase now?”

Toni and Nikki snickered into their hands, while Hank just shook his head in disbelief.

I said, “No befriending.  Or something else might start showing up regularly in your mailbox.”

“Eww, no!” Jade groaned.  “That stupid dragon fighter magazine is bad enough.  And Flux found out I get ‘em, and he bugs me all the time for new issues!”

I said, “This is a great start, but you really need to build a real weapon into the system.  Or else I could get you something like a combat maser you could take apart and set up inside it, so you’d have a real threat there.”

Nikki immediately called me on it.  “A combat maser?  Aren’t they just insanely expensive?  And huge?”

Billie said, “The ones Jade was looking at on the Syn d’Rome website cost about a jillion bucks, and you need fully-powered combat armor with a connection system, or you can’t power ‘em, and they have the worst warrantee ever.  So they probably break down all the time.”

Toni said, “I think Dyna-Man’s got one, but he’s got that big ol’ suit to power it, and he only got like one shot off against the Lamplighter.”

I said, “Okay, they do cost a lot more than, say, a Gizmatic Lightning Launcher™.  And they have a massive power requirement, plus a lousy reliability record as a field weapon, which is why the Goodkind Defense Industries combat maser series are all nothing more than optional mounts on tanks and weapons platforms.  Plus, there’s a host of issues with their construction.  Wavelength selection, spectrum resolution, wavelength phasing for better power transmission, and a list of problems.”

“Why wavelength selection?” Hank asked.

“Good question,” I replied.  “Depending on the wavelength your weapon uses, your combat maser can have more or less penetrating power.  Depending on how the maser handles things like harmonics, and wide-spectrum firing, you can get slightly different effects.  So if you went and found ten different combat masers, you’d probably find ten different effects if you shot a robot, and a man in power armor, and also a man inside a forcefield.  Some of the differences would be really subtle, but some could be significant.  Like the difference between penetrating the power armor, or not.  Or the difference between penetrating the forcefield, distorting the forcefield, or failing to affect the forcefield at all.”

“So why are you suggesting it?”

I glanced around to see if we had any eavesdroppers.  Then I went to the Spots, just in case.  <(Phase) Because G has resources most people don’t.  Like a boyfriend who could take a couple hundred pounds of bulky hardware and store it all in a little coinpurse of holding that she could hide in her weapon.  Or a cute blonde friend who might be able to build a real combat maser without the usual drawbacks.>

Toni rolled her eyes.  “Ayles, I don’t know why we keep sayin’ Jade’s the crazy one.  You are wack.”

“What do you mean you keep saying I’m the crazy one?” someone short protested grumpily.

Billie patted Jade on the head and said, “Because you’re crazier than No Fun Guy.  Remember?”

“Oh yeah.  I sorta forgot,” Jade agreed.  She put her hands on her hips, spread her feet slightly wider than her hips in an imitation of Skyhawk, and floated up into the air.  A cape slid out of her purse and hooked itself to the sides of her collarbones before it began blowing dramatically in a wind that wasn’t really there.  “Giggle Girl!  Standing for not being a stick in the mud, getting out more, and the stand-up comedy way!”

Toni snorted in amusement.  Hank said, “I think I missed this one.”

Giggle Girl promptly pointed at me.  “It’s all the fault of… No Fun Guy!”

And so we ended up explaining all about how we ended up inventing No Fun Guy and Giggle Girl back in January, even though Jade hadn’t done anything insane with the concepts since then.  Yet.

“Did she really say her secret supervillain weapon was the Federal Tax Code Emulsifier?” asked Hank.

Toni rolled her eyes.  “Oh c’mon, Hulkster.  This is Ayles we’re talkin’ about.  Of course her secret supervillain weapon of mass destruction would be a Federal Tax Code Emulsifier.  Or else a bomb that only destroyed fast food places and one-star restaurants.”

Hank pretended to look worried.  “No more Burger Kings?  Jeez, I guess we better stop Dark Ayla pronto.”

Nikki said, “Yeah.  That bomb’ll probably wipe out the snack food sections in grocery stores.  And all Icee machines within a twenty mile radius.”

Billie grinned at me.  “Icee machines?  You fiend!  This is madness!  You must be stopped!”

Jade floated around so she faced Billie.  “Have no fear, damsel in distress!  Giggle Girl always wins over the forces of boredom and sitting around studying and brushing your teeth before bed and that stuff!”

I added, “And revolts against snack foods that are oxymoronic.”

Billie pointed at me and said, “See?  No Fun Guy.  In the flesh.”

I pointed at Jade and tried my best supervillain voice.  You may have thwarted my evil plans this time, Giggle Girl, but wait until you see… your next term courseload!  Mwa-hah-ha-hah!”

Jade froze in mid-air and clapped her hands to her cheeks in the ‘Home Alone’ face.

Nikki said, “Okay, that’s pretty funny.”

Toni nodded, “Especially if you two can sneak it into a sim when Bardue doesn’t know it’s comin’.”

Hank asked, “Can you imagine the look on his face?”

We all could.  Which was why some of us were still giggling when we got to the cutoff for Poe.  I had a feeling that if Bardue asked for another round of Dark Generator, he was really going to regret it.

And I had to wonder whether other sim teams did things like this.  Were other teams even close enough outside the training that they could joke around like we did?  Could other teams be this lighthearted?  What I knew of other major training teams indicated that the answers were primarily ‘no’, unless the answer was ‘hell no’.  Outcast Corner had Jericho, and they were probably closest to a ‘yes’, but they were trying to integrate Eldritch into their team, and a lot of the time she was about as much fun as a five-day mission statement development workshop.

In my personal opinion, if you’re a CEO and you can’t instantly write down what your company’s mission is in forty words or less, you don’t know what the hell your company is doing or where it’s going.  You need to be fired and replaced by someone with an IQ above room temperature.

At any rate, most of the training teams were put together by the sim guys, or slapped together by someone who thought they knew what they were doing as The Official Team Leader, or else patched together from parts of old teams.  Electrode’s team, Stormwolf’s team, and Kismet’s team were good examples of the three most common cases.  None of the three situations were conducive to a lighthearted camaraderie that would permit the kind of silliness Team Kimba lapsed into on a regular basis.  Or the kind of teasing we did.  Or the tough evaluations we had done.

Oh, sure, there were teams which had ‘tough guys’ who were fully capable of hitting the rest of the members with brutally honest reviews of their performance.  But that usually led to a complete collapse in team functionality, and an abrupt dismantling of the team.  I figured Kismet was going to be looking for new team members around about late May, when it was time for the annual training team ‘swap meets’ to begin.  That was a period at the end of the school year when teams could look for new blood to patch up weaknesses in their lineups.  But it was also a time when students could bail out of their training team.  Jumping ship like that was fraught with peril, according to my sources.  If you looked like you weren’t a team player, or you looked like you were incompetent, or you just looked like you were more trouble than you were worth, then you might end up without a team, which could mean that you then got crammed into a potentially-crappy training team come fall term.

I still expected Kismet to be looking at some gaping holes in her lineup, because I couldn’t see Lemure sticking around one second longer than she had to.  And I was fairly sure that Sizemax would go where Lemure went, rather than endure Kismet any longer.  Then Dynamaxx and Donner weren’t happy with Kismet, even though they would have to endure her displeasure at their jumping ship at every subsequent Beret Mafia meeting.  That would be a tough call for them.  And Captain Canada was trying to pull together an All-Canadian training team, even if word was that the Canadians who were interested in their very own ‘Alpha Flight’ team didn’t want to have to put up with Alvin on their team.  I foresaw Kismet ending up with a partial training team of one to three people.  And if she was a training team of one, no one else was going to want to join.

Then there were the teams like Monster Squad and Pan-Asia, which more or less defined their own membership by their team name.  No one except people like Slab and Montana even considered joining Monster Squad, and Pan-Asia didn’t let anyone other than Asians join.

The training teams like Team Baker Four or Team Delta Niner were just stuck together by the staff, and had no innate loyalty to each other.  They had to work to get any cohesiveness, and any argument or attempt to take over might wreck the fragile dynamic of the team.  According to Electrode, Unicorn was really frustrated by the performance of some of the other members of their training team, but every time she said something about it, she was deluged with AEGIS and Power Woman cracks.  And God forbid Electrode said anything out of line.  “Ooh, Lady Lightning wants to take over!”

Team Kimba was an anomaly.  We were a team, and we were close friends, and we were united by a lot more than being shoehorned into a training team.  On top of that, we were a really effective team, with most of the major bases covered.  I personally would love to grab a PDP with a high-end Supergirl trait plus some serious precog.  But so would everyone else on the planet.  Other than our lack of any danger sense or precognitive warnings, we were well-rounded.  Plus, we had some real powerhouses.  Most of the training teams on campus had one powerhouse at most.  Even the top teams seldom had more than two.  The Wild Pack had three; people tended to underestimate Mindbird because she let Stormwolf do the heavy lifting, but she could do the Supergirl routine on top of having high-level Psi powers.  Team Kimba was classified in the school listings as having five powerhouses.  And people were still underestimating Jade, even after she nearly beat Electrode in the combat finals.  As long as she kept acting like a wacky ten-year-old girl who invented weird stuff, people tended to forget that most of the Ultraviolents were scared shitless of her.

In the vernacular of The Grunts, teams could be broken down into Blasters, Brains, Bricks, Movers, and Wild Cards.  Blasters were mutant artillery.  Brains were the mental powers, ranging from mages and espers to inventors and schemers.  Bricks were the mutant equivalent of fortresses or siege weapons.  Movers were the ones who could run, fly, teleport, or jump from point A to point B faster than any baseline.  And Wild Cards were the ones who had more than one of the previous traits.  Team Kimba was comprised of seven Wild Cards, which made us a miserable match-up for a lot of opponents.

I had a feeling that Bardue and Wilson were planning on slamming us head-first into every team they thought could drive a little humility into us.  Not that I thought that was fair, or even necessary.  We all had enough real-world experience to know we had major weaknesses.  Exploitable weaknesses.

But as far as most people were concerned, we were just cocky froshes who were running around with all the common sense of the founders of eSocks.com.  So they thought they needed to teach us valuable life lessons before we went out and got our heads blown off, or even worse, someone else’s heads.  There were certainly enough students who thought that way that I could see their point.  Ceecee was a perfect example.  So was Misty, from what Jadis had said.  Frankly, I would classify both Mega-Girl and Delta Spike in that category, along with plenty of upperclassers.

All right, perhaps Toni and Jade were a little overconfident.  But they had proven themselves in a series of real-world battles against some serious muscle.  Toni had faced Lycanthros and the Lamplighter.  Who else did she need to fight before she could be considered to have sufficient experience to go superheroing when she chose?  And Jade could top that, even if she had been partnering Tennyo or Fey during some of her most memorable battles.

I was fairly certain that I wasn’t overconfident.  At least, not when it came to fighting.  I avoided battles whenever I could… except in the cases where my mouth got the better of me.  It absolutely wasn’t my fault that I had needed to face Sparkler, or Fat Bastard The Ninja Version, or Fireball, or Skybolt, or a zombie army, or Matterhorn, or a real Tier 3 demon, or a superjail breakout.  Perhaps I was just the unluckiest person ever to have been inside the Goodkind estates.

Maybe I was cursed.  Given the state of my BIT, and the fact that I couldn’t possibly have the meta-gene complex in the first place, I couldn’t ignore that possibility either.  How else could I hide from the MCO in the one place that a major demon was using to break through into this reality?  How else could I end up stuck with Vamp for a roommate?

Given that I knew The Kellith and The Queen To Come and The Star Stalker and the Handmaid of the Tao, I had to consider that I had been cursed to live in interesting times.  Or that I had been really cursed, in some very deadly way.

“Why so glum?” Toni jostled my arm as we walked up the stairs to our floor.

“Nothing,” I lied.  “Just wondering what else they’re going to hit us with in the sims this week.  I do have homework and other commitments.”

She gave me one of her leopard grins.  “You suck at lying.”  Then she guessed, “Come on, playing Dark Phase won’t be so awful.  You can finally make me and Jade shut up at the same time!”

“That’s well known to be an impossibility,” I asserted.

“Are you averring or avowing there?” she smirked.

“I hate you for giving her that stupid magazine subscription,” Nikki mentioned.  “She actually read the entire ‘Fun With Collective Nouns’ thing out loud.  I thought Koehnes was going to scream.”

Toni grinned wickedly.  “That wasn’t the one that got her screamin’.  It was the one on ‘Word Power with Adverbs’.  I’m gonna read that one out loud again, maybe.”

“Don’t you dare,” Nikki fussed.  “Poor little Koehnes!”

Toni smirked mischievously, “How’d you think she’d feel about prepositions?”

“How about the royal ‘we’?” I wondered aloud.

Nikki pointed a finger at me and said, “Oh no, I am not letting Koehnes find out about that.  I have enough trouble with the whole ‘royal highness’ bit.”

Toni started singing ‘I Just Can’t Wait to be King’ behind her, but Nikki heard her.  “Stop it!”

Unfortunately for Fey, Jade showed up right then.  And suddenly, the entire J-Team was joining in.  Jade and Jinn and the Hello Kitty compact, which probably had Jann in it, and whoever was in the little sphere with the fake antennae.  Somehow, they were keeping contact with each other so that they were all singing the same slightly-different set of lyrics.

“This girl is teaching faeries how to preen!
Oh she just can’t wait to be queen!”

“OOH!”  Nikki stomped her foot and stormed off into her room.  The door slammed shut in our faces without her touching it.

Toni finally stopped giggling, and she said, “That was fun, but I gotta get some studyin’ done.  Those verbs aren’t gonna conjugate all by themselves.”

I said, “Of course they will.  They’re verbs.  They do things.”

She grinned, “I gotta try that one out on the TA tomorrow.”  She reached out, and found the door wouldn’t open.  “Oh come on, Nikki!”  She put her first two fingers to the doorknob and concentrated.  The door still didn’t open.  She put her palms on the door above and below the doorknob, and she concentrated some more.  The door still refused to budge.

Toni stopped doing whatever she was attempting with her Ki, and crossed her arms.  Then, in a slightly raised voice, she said, “I will now quote my favorite article… from memory!  Word Power with Adverbs, by guest writer Herbert J. Glass.  While many people try to add flair to their writing with strings of adjectives, all too often these same writers forget-”

The door whipped open.  Koehnes stuck her head out and whimpered, “No!  No no no no no!  Please stop!”  She even began sobbing.

Toni sighed, “Maybe I went too far.”  She scooped up Koehnes in her arms and said, “It’s okay, munchkin.  I wasn’t really gonna recite the whole thing.  Come on, I’ll even read you your favorite story.”

Toni stepped into the room and touched the door with the sole of her shoe.  It swung closed.  I pulled it shut and turned around.

Nikki’s voice came shrieking through the closed door.  “No!  Not ‘The Sparkly Fairy Princess’!  I don’t care who it’s by!”

Jade held out her hand palm up, and her Hello Kitty compact settled gracefully onto her hand.  She and Jinn gave each other that sneaky grin they liked when they had just pulled something particularly wacky.  Or evil.  Or ingenious.  Or…  Well, they liked that particular maneuver as a wrap-up.

I asked, “How did you sync all the J-Team when you were changing the lyrics?  Or did you come up with the re-write before you instantiated everyone?”

Jinn looked at Jade.  “No one else says ‘instantiated’.  Phase is sooooo weird.”

Jade looked around to make sure no one was hanging around eavesdropping, like, say, X-O.  She said, “It’s not a big deal.  You know I can keep contact with everyone who’s got a part stuck in me.  So I just cheated!  Everyone was Jinn-sized and just holding Kitty or Shielder, and sticking a finger in my head.  So we were making up the lyrics as a team.  It worked great!”  She looked around again and said, “We just can’t do it if there’s some creepy Avatar lurking around trying to suck us out of our costume or something.”

Jinn said, “Yeah.  I’m pretty sure Anna tumbled to what we do back in martial arts class last term.  Sometimes when we were sparring I’d have a knife out on a cable, or I’d go after her with a chain, and she’d stare at it like she could see me leaking out of the cable.  Or chain.  Or whatever.  But we gotta stop doing Shroud stuff around Avatars.  And maybe some of the Wizards too.”

I asked, “Do you need a list of everyone who’s an Avatar on campus?”

“Yeah!  That would be awesome!” Jade chirped happily.

“Yeah, thanks,” said Jinn.  “Can you even get that for the whole campus?”

I admitted, “I might have to guess on some of them.  I don’t have the full power set for everyone around here.  But we can err on the conservative side.”

“You mean guess they’re an Avatar if they’re a maybe and you don’t know for sure?”

“Yeah,” I acknowledged.  “For example, I don’t have the full power sets for Miyet or Razorback, and they’re both possible Avatars, so you should just assume they are until we know better.”

“What about the Wizards who might be able to tell?” she asked.

I frowned.  “I think we’re going to have to get some expert advice on that one.”

“From the sparkly fairy princess?” she giggled.

I managed not to laugh out loud.  “Exactly.”

Jinn said, “You mean ‘of course’.”  Jade giggled some more.

I walked over to my room.  “Maybe you could refrain from calling her the sparkly fairy princess when you’re trying to get something from her.”

Jade got another mischievous look on her face, and the J-Team scurried back to her room to plan some other sanity-rending event.

Vamp wasn’t around, so I managed to get a serious amount of homework done.  Even though in the middle of working on math problems, I could hear Jade out in the hallway, telling Risk and Flux that Billie was the best Dark Phoenix ever.  Somehow, I just had this image of Risk and Flux standing there in abject terror, with their hair standing on end and the two of them being too scared to make a noise.  I’m sure it wasn’t actually like that, but I certainly entertained myself while I worked on trig review problems.

There was a knock on my doorframe, and I looked up to see Vanessa standing there with her Accounting II textbook in her arms.  “Hi Ayla, you got a second?”

I couldn’t help grinning.  “Of course.  For you, I always have time.”

She slipped into the room and gave me a quick kiss before asking me a question about managerial accounting.  While I was stuck playing superhero in training simulations, Vanessa was making serious progress on her personal study course.  At the rate she was moving, I wouldn’t be surprised if she finished the course by early April.

As she was leaving, I told her, “This is great.  You’re already on chapter four, and you’re really understanding the material.  At the rate you’re going, you’ll ace this course and you’ll have it all done by the end of the month.  Then you can go help Mister Marley with Accounting I and II open sessions.”

She blushed and looked down at her book.  “I couldn’t do that.  You know way more about this stuff than I do.”

I kissed her and said, “But you know this stuff.  And that’s all you need to know for the open sessions.  All that extra material I covered?  That was frankly a waste of their time.  It may come in handy someday in the future, but for now they don’t need it.”

Vanessa pouted prettily.  “But it was the best part of the open sessions.”

So I kissed her again.  And several more times.

Until Vamp squeezed by and said, “You know, other people do need to use the doorway once in a while.”

Vanessa rolled her eyes and gave me a quick peck on the lips.  “I gotta get goin’ anyway, I want to do the chapter test before I go to bed.”

Vamp waited a whole ten seconds before she started bitching at me.  “What’s up with that?  Or should I say ‘wit’ dat’?  You’re the one who made the big effing deal about no sexing up the room without warning the roomie first.”

I fumed, “We were just doing accounting!”

She cocked a hip and smirked, “Oh, is that what the nerdy kids call it these days?”

I just glared at her.  There was no point in actually explaining things to her.  She knew full well that I was TA’ing the accounting courses, and that Vox was taking Accounting II.  She was just yanking my chain.  Once again.

At least she let me go do my nightly ministrations and go to bed.  It wouldn’t have surprised me if she wanted to complain for another hour.  What a drama queen.

          *        *        *        *        *       

VAMP

Alex checked her clock and slipped out of bed.  It was two in the morning, which meant Phase was definitely asleep.  Okay, she was going to be waking someone up, but it was all going to be so worth it.

She slipped out to the sunroom.  The room was dark and empty.  Perfect.  She didn’t need a lot of light, and she had all the privacy she could ask for.  Especially when you never knew when or where Generator and those freaking toys would turn up and bug you.

She dialed the number on her cell phone.  “Yeah honey, it’s me.  No, X-O is off in her room, sleeping the sleep of the just.  So you just got me…”

She listened patiently while he got up and went down the hall so he wouldn’t wake up his roommate.  While he was going, he complained about getting a call from her in the middle of the night.

She said, “Oh come on, you didn’t complain when I snuck in and visited you that time at three a.m…  No, I don’t want to hear about your blueballs just because I snuck in to see you and I didn’t want to play ‘Command and Conquer’…  Yeah, I know that’s not what you call it.”

She hopped up in one of the hammocks.  Phase was a major pain in the ass, but at least she shared some of that Goodkind gelt.  Except for the coffee maker.

Alex sighed to herself.  That really was not her fault.  When she finally got that settlement from Pip’s estate, she was going to buy an espresso machine.  A really fancy one.  And she was going to make a big freaking deal about no Goodkinds touching the valuable equipment and messing it up.

“Yeah honey?  Great.  Well, Phase is finally going into that experimental thing with Jobe…  Yes, Jobe.  So here’s what I need you to pick up.  And I need you to do it in Berlin, so it’s not traceable…  Oh sure, she’ll know it was me once she figures out we punked her, but she won’t be able to prove it.  That’s all I need.”

She listened as he whined about having to drive down to Berlin and how it was so much trouble.  But as an upperclassman, he could have a car.  And she knew he had a really light courseload this term.  And she knew he loved having her order him around.

“Look, stop whining and do it.  Here’s the list of stuff you’re going to have to pick up.  And pay cash.  No credit cards or checks.  Phase has at least one computer hacker on her little payroll, and I don’t want to get rumbled over something that simple to dodge…  No, just don’t use one of your usual looks.  Now are you taking notes?  Good.  First, a plastic tarp at least ten by ten, even twenty by twenty is okay because we don’t have to unfold it all the way.  And I want a minimum of 35 mils thickness so we don’t have to worry about leaks or tears.  Get two, just in case.  Next, there’s a specialty store in downtown Berlin that you’ll need to go to…”

to be continued

Read 4205 times Last modified on Friday, 20 August 2021 01:16

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