Monday, 29 January 2018 13:00

The Evil That Men Do (Part 1)

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A Whateley Academy Story

The Evil That Men Do

by

E. E. Nalley

 

They say, when you gain a lover
You begin to lose a friend;
That the end of the beginning's
The beginning of the end.
They say the moment that you're born
Is when you start to die...

Roger Whittaker, The First Hello, The Last Goodbye

 

Prologue

 

October 8th, 2007
Action Tactical, Inc. headquarters, Blue Ridge Mountains

“Good morning, Gentlemen,” Mr Lewis greeted as he entered the room, pausing to place his cellphone in the lockout box by the door as he did so. It was standard procedure for working with the black bag team; any electronics were put into the shielded locker which acted as a Faraday box. Any notes needed were taken on paper and destroyed with strict attention to detail, but mostly these employees depended on their memories to prioritize what was needed.

It made things much harder to prosecute at a later date that way.


The room itself was a drab affair, windowless, deep in the main headquarters building, carefully shielded against prying eyes and ears. It was occupied by a small handful of specialists, competent men who Mr. Lewis trusted thoroughly. A Computer Specialist who would do most of the leg work on this particular operation, a Combat Veteran to provide security and, somewhat incongruously, a Public Relations Expert who would do most of the fabrication work. They each sat at a fairly normal conference table, unopened manilla envelopes before them, waiting for their employer to join them.

“This project will be classified as Olympus Seven only those in this room now have such clearance. In the envelopes before you you will, as usual, find a brief on our Target who is codenamed Oedipus.” There was a brief clutter of sound as the envelopes were opened and the specialists began to examine the contents.

“Our client has directed us to see to it that 'Greek Tragedy' levels of misfortune occur to Oedipus and this will occur in three stages. Stage one will be distance electronic surveillance, acquiring the targets schedule, personal electronics habits and any information that will assist us in our project for the client. Stage Two will be a brief evaluation period of recovered intel and modification of our over all plan if needed, then in Stage Three the appropriate incriminating files will be planted and federal agencies alerted through anonymous tip. Questions?”

“Sir, what is our payment schedule for this op?” the Computer Specialist asked.

Lewis smiled. “Our client is one of our top customers and particularly well-heeled. Olympus Seven will carry Threat I Alpha pay scale as well as bonus schedule Theta.” A low whistle sounded through the room as the men looked at the photographs in front of them.

The Combat Veteran was impressed. “Jesus, who did this guy piss off?”

“Need to know,” Mr. Lewis assured them. “Read over my outline for the goals, then lets get busy on Stage One.”

“Are we going to manufacture a victim? Crime scene cover up?” Public Relations wanted to know.

Lewis shook his head. “That's not the instruction I have from our client. They want Oedipus to suffer, but no one else. So, we need to compartmentalize our operation to avoid splash damage and we certainly don't want collateral damage.”

The computer expert looked up from flipping through the dossier. “How are we supposed to do that? This guy has a wife and three kids?”

“Whatever we do will be useful to the wife in a divorce proceeding, that is part of our goal set,” Mr. Lewis replied. “Oedipus attempted to ruin a family, his own is now forfeit. We want to be sure his wife is not implicated and can get everything in the divorce, house, both cars, everything. Oedipus gets to keep the clothes on his back and a toothbrush.”

Combat Veteran chuckled from reading the outline. “I almost feel sorry for this one. Almost...!”

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Part One

 

October 8th, 2007
Administrative Offices, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy

“Doctor Hartford? Mr. West is holding for you on line one.”

Amelia Hartford stared at her phone for a moment, wondering how he did it. She had varied her arrival times and activities, shaken her schedule up to no avail. Somehow that wily lizard knew when she had just enough time to arrive, shed her coat, get her first cup off coffee, boot her laptop and be ready to face the start of the day and or week. That's when he would call, always catching her without any excuse she could beg out of it. With a sigh of long suffering, she picked up the phone and connected to the correct line. “Good Morning, Mr. West, what can I do for our favorite Trustee?”

It was not the voice of the kindly old double of the chicken merchant on the phone, but the deeper, somehow more disturbing real voice of the Trustee who called himself Tyrone West. “Doctor Hartford, so good of you to take my call. And, while I appreciate the sentiment, I cannot imagine I rate higher on your personal list than your strapping fiancee. My congratulations.”

Hartford took a sip of her coffee and launched her email client. “Thank you, I'll be sure you're invited to the wedding, whenever Frederick and I settle on a date.”

“That's very gracious,” he purred, and there was a certain slurring of 's' sounds from the shape of his muzzle dominated face. “I wonder if I could put upon you to indulge me a favor?”

“That depends on the favor,” the Assistant Head Mistress replied evenly. In all the times Amelia had been around this particular Trustee, she had only seen him as he 'really' was once. It had been enough to create a very lasting impression.

“Nothing terribly out of the ordinary,” the basso voice assured her. “I would like you to create a training team for me, and run them through a series of somewhat specific scenarios.”

Her laptop chirped out a short series of beeps from R2-D2 which was her email client telling her she had new mail. “How do you do that?” she demanded.

“That would be telling,” Mr West replied in an oily tone. “Here is what I have in mind...”

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October 8th, 2007
General Classroom 214, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy

Danny was more than a little lost in thought as he followed the crowd into the class and picked a desk towards the middle with a good view of one of the south facing windows. It had a splendid view of the little valley that was formed between O Henry Hill and the Plateau Schuster Hall sat on, and beyond it the glass edifice of Doyle Medical Center. As Danny watched, he saw an ambulance backing into the special area for it next to the emergency room and wondered if that was why today was a red flag day.

“Settle down, everyone!” The voice of an adult brought Danny's attention back to where he was and he looked to see Mrs. Bell entering the room, pausing to shut the door. Mrs Bell never ceased to amaze Danny, despite having been in her class several weeks now, primarily because there didn't seem to be anything special about her at all. She even looked like a normal high school math teacher. “Now, today we're going to start our study of one of the more interesting math theorems, Hallowell's Proof. For those of you intending to continue your studies with me in game theory later in your careers here at Whateley, you will want to take note of this particular theorem as it is considered one of the more important statistical bases of Game Theory and Probability Mathematics.”

Danny accepted the sign in sheet, signed next to his own name and handed it back to the blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl sitting behind him. She was lovely, but not in the 15 going on 25 way that most of the exemplar girls were, she actually looked like she might be younger than he was. She was pretty in a way Danny was a bit more comfortable being around. Her shy smile made him blush and turn back to face Mrs Bell. “First off, does anyone already know Hallowell's Proof?”

She paused for a moment, noting the lack of ready answers, then sighed and began to write on the white board. “Alright, open your texts to the start of Chapter Three. Hallowell's Proof states that in any series of known numbers the statistical likelihood of a specific set of numbers can be predicted by the elimination of known combinations of the set. Or if x is a two digit combination derived from a which is a sequence of rational whole numbers 1 through 5 and b is the known numbers 2 and 3 from a then x can only be 14, 15, 41, 45, 51, or 54.”

“Oh, I'm sure that will be useful in the real world,” someone quipped.

Mrs Bell actually chuckled. “If you ever go to Vegas you might want to know it,” she replied, with a smile. “Among his many careers, James Hallowell was something of a card shark. You may find looking him up interesting reading. Now, using this prediction, we can also determine that b is most likely less than any given value of x as it can only be 23 or 32, giving it only allows two combinations below the possible likelihood of b. Knowing that allows us to...”

Danny yawned and looked out the window again. He wondered what was going to be for lunch, what the scenario would be in powers practice. The bell for class end took him by surprise and he realized he had been day dreaming for nearly an hour. Oh well, he thought to himself. Kayda can catch me up.

He gathered his belongings and followed the crowd out of the room and into the hallway. He found himself behind the blonde girl and he couldn't help his eyes traveling down to admire her posterior. And in so doing, he saw a boot clad foot snake out and deliberately trip her, causing her to fall to her knees with a squeal of surprise and pain. “Oh, so sorry,” drawled a nasal voice with a thick Boston lower class accent. “Or are you just that eager to prove you love me?”

Danny's vision went red and Wihinape strained to lash out, but he kept his head, dug a new purchase out of his pocket and purposefully tripped over his own feet. He fell into Dump Truck, who had cut off the sleeves of his uniform jacket and had his biker gang vest over the remnants of the suit jacket, but that left his arms bare. The prongs of the TASER pressed firmly into his flesh by Danny's weight, he triggered it.

Dump Truck's signature girlish squeal of pain was Danny's reward as he rode the stiff as a board young man down to the floor. That he had managed to shock the bully on the arm that Tansy had broken was just gravy. “Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't see you!” Danny lied as his spirit let him flow to his feet and he bent to help the blonde up.

“You son of a bitch!” shouted Dump Truck as he scrambled to his feet, but further action was stopped by the Voice of Supreme Authority Mrs Carson used to quell all noise in an instant.

Mister Thatcher!” The press of students parted like the Red Sea before Moses as the Headmistress walked coolly over. “Where did you acquire the notion that kind of language was acceptable in this institution?”

Before Dump Truck could begin to try and defer the blame, her hand was around his elbow and was leading him in the direction of her office. “I see you and I need to have a long conversation concerning appropriate language and wardrobe!”

“But...!”

“Not another word!” she ordered as they rounded the corner out of sight. Danny looked back at the young girl he had helped up and noted he still had her hand.

“Oh, sorry,” he said, blushing. “I saw him trip you and...uh...I'm Danny...”

The blonde smiled. “I know; we have Math together. I'm Peggy.”

“What iz thiz?” demanded a heavily accented voice. Amelie swooped in possessively and used the arm she grabbed of Danny to steer him away. “I have a surprise for you, mon ami!” she enthused, picking up her pace a bit. Danny allowed himself to be led off and chocked things up as the weirdness that was Whateley.

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October 8th, 2007
General Classroom 202, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy

Down the hall, and oblivious to her brothers interesting morning, Kayda and Elaine arrived at the classroom Mrs Carson had been using to teach them about spirits. The conversation of the two girls was muted as it was a Monday and Mondays were always a question mark when it came to Mrs Carsons teaching style. Some Mondays were just lectures on the types of spirits, the Pact of Solomon or Spirit Motivations. Some Mondays were show and tell adventures as the accomplished Sorceress summoned varies entities of the spirit world as de facto guest lecturers, but some times, Mondays meant field trips.

Field Trips in a class about the other dimensions near Earth were always arduous.

This particular Monday was living up to its reputation as the girls arrived at the classroom to find Tansy also arriving. “Tansy,” Kayda echoed Elaine, trying desperately not to be jealous of the jeans and polo shirt Tansy got to wear as a Senior instead of the school's uniform.

“What are you doing here?” asked Lanie with genuine puzzlement. The blonde shrugged and shook her head.

“I don't know,” she replied as the girls let themselves into the deserted class room and sat down in the three front desks to be comfortable. “I got a note in my Principles of Covert Surveillance class not to go to Topics of Current Geo-Political Situations, but come here instead.”

“That's right,” the voice of Ms. Hartford interrupted from the door. The girls watched her walk in and lay a leather satchel on the desk.

“Ms. Hartford?” asked Elaine. “What...?”

“Miss Franks, shut the door, please,” Hartford instructed as the Lakota girl was closest. As she rose to comply with the request, Kayda watched Ms. Hartford erase the white board and pick up a black marker and begin to sketch out a series of boxes. “Mrs Carson is pleased with the progress both you and Miss Nalley have made, Miss Franks and has decided to mark both of your transcripts as completing her class with an 'A'. Miss Walcutt, likewise, you will have a test in Geo-Political Topics, so pay attention to the news sources, but we expect it should not affect your grade; especially not for an exemplar of your level.”

Tansy shared a confused glance with the other girls. “Uh, yes ma'am...”

“So, if we have passed Mrs Carson's spirit realms class, then why...?” Lanie started, but ground to a halt when Ms Hartford walked over to the three girls.

“Idle hands are the Devil's Workshop, Miss Nalley,” the Assistant Headmistress replied with a smile that sent shivers down the three girls spines. “So, the three of you are now a training team. Team Pleiades to be exact...”

Nā hiku o Makali‘i,” whispered Tansy, drawing the attention of all three women. Blushing, she said, “That's the name of the Pleiades in Hawaiian. Makali was the Way-finder, or I guess you could say the Navigator of Hawai‘iloa the Voyager Demigod who found and settled Hawaii. The constellation is called the Eyes of the Chief's Wayfinder or just the Eyes there. They guided him to Hawaii.”

“Yeah,” Lanie remarked, turning back to Ms Hartford. “But there were seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione, and only three of us.”

Tansy laid a hand on Elaine's shoulder. “All three of us have spirits, so that's kind of like there are six of us. And you also have Laneth so that could be seven.”

“Well, yeah, but, we're friends and all, and Ah think of Kayda as mah sister, but you, um, well...”

“We could be the Three Friends...?” suggested Kayda, wincing as even to her ear the name sounded flat and uninteresting. “Oh, jeez, never mind! Yuck!”

“I kind of like the Greek,” Tansy replied. “ Foreign Languages sound better in names and...”

“Enough!” Ms Hartford declared. With a glare at the three girls she nodded, her authority restored. “You don't want to be sisters? Fine, we'll call you...” she trailed off and an evil smile spread on her face. “The Tres Amegias.

Walcutt rolled her eyes. “Olé,” she deadpanned.

“So,” continued Ms Hartford as though she hadn't been interrupted. “You will all be working with me until the end of the semester and your combat final. Ace it, and you'll be exempted from any other team or single combat final.” The girls looked at each other and perked up. The threat of multiple, grueling matches had weighed heavily on all of them, and this was certainly a prize worth having. “So, for starters we’ll try a simple little hostage rescue. The Sinaloa cartel has kidnapped the daughter of the Ambassador of the United States to Mexico. They demand one hundred million dollars and the release of certain key members of the Cartel currently under arrest in Mexico and the United States for her release and safe return, or they will execute her. You have learned she is likely being held in this compound in the jungle. This is a fifteen-foot stone wall topped with angled barbed wire and coiled razor wire. There are four towers, one in each corner and a gate here. This building seems to be the troop bunk house, showers and toilets here, a main building, and two smaller buildings here and here.”

“Does one of the smaller buildings have additional fencing around it?” Kayda asked suddenly, drawing the gazes of the other women. Ms Hartford seemed pleased.

“Yes, this one,” she said, pointing.

“Then that's where she is,” started Elaine, but Kayda shook her head.

“No, that's the armory,” she corrected. “The other small building is the stockade.”

“How do you know that?” demanded Tansy curiously.

Kayda grinned. “My grandpa was in Vietnam, in the corps of engineers. He has all kinds of neat stuff he'd show me when I went to visit. This is a Vietnam Strategic Hamlet lifted clean and the armory has the additional fencing to serve as the redoubt. Makes sense that where your weapons are is the place you run to if your parameter is breached, right? Gramps must have built dozens of these, all to the same pattern. The girl is in the other building, if she's there at all.”

The grin that Ms Hartford tried so desperately to suppress looked rather humorous worming its way onto her face. “Interesting supposition,” was all she would allow, then became commanding again. “Off to the lockers and suit up! I'll expect you in the arena briefing room in fifteen minutes. Sim suits!” she amended, both telling the girls which arena and what gear.

“Ah feel a migraine coming on,” moaned Elaine as the three girls all got up and began to walk towards the nearest elevator down to the tunnels.

“Not yet you don't,” Tansy quipped as they filed into the elevator car. More alone now that they were the only ones in the car, Elaine and Tansy hugged and kissed briefly.

Kayda mock punched Tansy in the arm. “Aren't you all comfy with kissy kissy stuff now!”

For the first time in Elaine's memory, Tansy blushed. “Well,” she drawled. “I've been doing a lot of growing up, lately.” The car stopped and opened, spilling out the girls on Dr Alexander Way. “Does anyone else get nauseous in those damned sims?”

“My neck is always sore,” Kayda groused as they walked. “Right where that pick up collar rests that keeps me from really casting magic.”

“Just head aches,” Elaine added. “Ah wish we could use the full motion sims instead.”

“Oh, I'm sure we will,” Tansy told her.

“Ah wonder if Mrs Carson got bored or somebody is pulling strings?”

“Carson doesn't get bored,” Tansy shot back. “She's too much of a perfectionist. Though, I have been noticing her, Hartford and Lord Paramount talking on campus a lot of late.” She shared a gaze with her two friends. “I have been wondering what they've been up to.”

“Surely Lord Paramount has better things to do than plan inane scenarios for us?” Kayda demanded.

Tansy rubbed her chin, her mind far away. “I wonder...”

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October 8th, 2007
The Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy

Marty sighed as she watched the water cascade down the waterfall on its way to the pool around the obelisk in the precise center of the hall. The massive, fake stone edifice took up the side that would look out onto the fixer's patio and was louder than the previous glass slab waterfall, but in a way, it was nicer. It made eavesdropping much harder, and the white noise was pleasant to listen to.

Having bathrooms in the Crystal Hall as opposed to having to go to the set in Schuster Hall was worth the price of admission.

She sighed again and tried to concentrate on the text of the History of Western Civilization that was supposed to be the subject of this study hall, but she just couldn't. This weekend had been the best of her life. She kept playing over and over in her mind her time with Stephen; the gentle cuddling, the feeling of being, for the first time in her life, safe in his arms.

I love your soul.

A wonderful thrill raced down her body as she remembered the intense look in his eyes as he professed his love to her. Her! Not her shell, not the fantasy she so desperately wanted to be; her! Oh, sure, he hadn't minded the shell, and soon enough there would be no difference, but now every time her mind whispered she wasn't good enough she could smugly tell it to shut up and make it stick. She had her man!

Now you just have to keep him.

Dread like ice water flowed down her back and snapped her out of her day dream. They were both going to be super heroes and there would always be competition for his eye and Marty would only get older. No matter what she tried with diet, or exercise or make up, there would come a time when she was forty, or fifty, and there would always be some catty little slut that was barely legal who would love to poach her man.

They would be young, and flawless and...and...

A coffee cup being put on the table preceded the arrival of Mrs Turner, sliding into the chair with a grace and ease that was practically pornographic. She was wearing a black, angora sweater that wasn't tight, but managed to set off her figure perfectly while highlighting her flawless complexion and a Grand Canyon worth of cleavage. Her raven's wing hair was free around her face and her lips were a shocking red against her alabaster complexion and even took your attention away from her gold cat's eyes. “Well, Miss Penn,” she greeted, even her voice having a certain feline quality to it. “How are...oh, now I know why I felt the need to be here. What are you thinking, girl?”

Marty blinked in confusion. “Ma'am?”

Mrs Turner didn't exactly growl, but she still made her disapproval known. “What were you thinking just now? There is worry and fear painted all over your face and my Cat's Luck pulled me here. So, out with it! Did you have a bad weekend...?”

Penn felt her face flush scarlet. “Oh, no, Mrs Turner, my weekend was...um...great!”

The older woman's expression told her she understood Marty's meaning. “Excellent! So, why so worried?”

“Mrs. Turner, um, how do you keep a man once you have him?”

Tabitha's surprised chortle of laughter was quickly suppressed as she took a sip of her coffee and shook her head. “First, as I do not note a ring on your left hand, you don't technically have him yet. That said, you and I both know that men are remarkably simple creatures. Think about your father, does he do things spontaneously and unexpected or...?”

“Dad?” Marty asked in confusion. “The only thing that changes for him is which of his extra jobs he's working. I could set my watch by...” She trailed off as the teacher smiled knowingly.

Exactly. Men are creatures of habit. They love routines. They are rather like dogs that way. Now I can be flowery and obscure or I can give it to you down and dirty, just like my mother told me. What would you like?”

Marty pushed the textbook aside and leaned forward a bit to get the coffee urn on the table and refresh her own. “Mrs Turner, your advice has been a godsend to me. Give it to me how ever you think I need to hear it!”

Tabitha chuckled again and reached over to move the sugar dispenser within the blonde's reach. “Momma...well, she was unique, but one thing she told me has worked wonders is to keep a man, keep his belly full and his nuts empty.”

The clang of the sugar dispenser slipping from Marty's grasp and landing on the table was loud, even over the gurgle of the water from the fountain. “What?” hissed Marty in surprise. “I...you...” Tabitha rolled her eyes and righted the sugar dispenser.

“Oh, grow up, Miss Penn!” the part-time teacher told her. “It may have been a while, but I was seventeen once myself, and I know you two didn't spend this last weekend holding hands like something out of the Andy Griffith Show, so don't play sweet and innocent now. Now, I may not be up on the idiosyncrasies of the Southern breed of American Man, but I can tell you Stephen Nalley is a man of honor. And men with honor prize few things higher than loyalty. They don't stray unless you give them a reason to. Men are simple, they stay with their routines when their needs are being met. Be a living trophy on his arm in public, a loving mother to the children you give him and a shameless whore in his bed and you will go to your grave being Mrs Stephen Nalley.”

Marty frowned, genuinely confused. “Is that all there is to being a woman? I thought...”

Mrs Turner's scowling face caused her to trail off uncertainly. “Don't change the subject,” she ordered peevishly. “We aren't talking about being a woman, we're talking about keeping a man. Being a woman is a subject we could debate until the end of time as to what it really entails. Being a woman is hard, keeping a man is easy. Don't get lazy and let yourself go. You're not an exemplar so keeping your figure won't be handed to you, but with that shell of yours the differences might be moot. Still, better safe than sorry. So you want to be a super heroine? Hit the gym and stay there. You need to be in fighting trim because of the career you want, but if your man likes looking at you he has no reason to look elsewhere, does he?”

Marty blushed as she remembered several times she had caught him looking at her when he hadn't expected it. It was a hungry gaze, but...somehow it wasn't offensive in a way she couldn't really put her finger on. What he wanted was clear in his eyes, and yet, also there was something that made her feel he didn't want to have her and leave, he wanted to have her and own her. There was even a certain amount of possessiveness in his speech patterns; his girlfriend. It made her feel guilty, but she liked the way he looked at her. “But,” she started after licking her lips to try and order her thoughts. “What about, uh, well, feminism?”

Again the older woman frowned. “What about it?” she demanded.

“Shouldn't I insist on being his equal, or...”

Marty hadn't expected Mrs Turner to laugh at her, but she did. “Any woman who wants to be the 'equal',” and she bracketed it in air quotes, “of a man lacks ambition!” Tabitha chuckled again and took a sip of her coffee. “Marty, do yourself a favor and stop reading Gloria Steinem. Unless you want to be single until your sixties, in which case, be my guest. That said, no matter what else we heap upon ourselves, we are still animals. And as animals the drive to procreate is one of the most basic. Don't bust his chops for what he thinks, just what he does or says. Or, as a very wise hooker once opined, 'Looking is free.'” She lean in conspiratorially and added softly, “So, be someone worth looking at, get it?”

Penn sat for a while, stewing in her thoughts, feeling the other woman's eyes on her as she did so. Twice she almost spoke, then closed her lips at the last minute. For a bit she called up memories of her own mother and the absolute acceptance and love Marty had always felt around her. Marty was fairly confident she would be a good mother, she had one of the very best to train under, but the final piece of Mrs. Turner's advice seemed counter to that image and when she would try to protest, some stray memory of her parents would interrupt her.

The overwhelming relief on her Mom's face right before she buried her face into dad's chest the night he'd been shot and the uniform had saved his life. She remembered she'd expected her father to wince, and snap at her for aggravating the bruise, but he had just hugged her back. Dimly remembered kisses of her father and mother under the mistletoe at Christmas, Mom shouting Dad's name after he would goose her in passing, but Mom had never followed through on the threats.

Marty even recalled when once or twice Mom had goosed Dad and the passionate embraces those would lead to them sharing made Marty blush sometimes.

It wasn't that hard imagining his parents as sexual beings, the walls in their little apartment were fairly thin after all. She blushed a bit and looked at her tablemate once more. “I wanted to say the last two contradicted each other, but they don't, do they?”

“You enjoyed this weekend, didn't you?” the other asked archly. Marty felt her cheeks burn with embarrassment, and she started to wonder if you could get 'sunburn' from being embarrassed.

“I have but one regret in my marriage,” Tabitha told her quietly. “And that was that I couldn't give Robert the big family he wanted. That I wanted to give him.” She suddenly became very serious and stern. “If you even think you are pregnant you put The Life on hold, Martine Penn! Nine months is not too much to lay off running with the spandex crowd! That life inside of you will be more important!”

“Yes, ma'am!”

Tabitha nodded, her eyes far away. “Good girl.”

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October 8th, 2007
Arena 99, Whateley Academy Tunnel System

Good Evening, You are in the Mexican State of Campeche; local time is 19:54

The heat of the jungle was intense, wet and sweaty, like the worst dog days of August in Georgia which was something of a comfort. As if from a distance, insects and strange birds began to call to each other and a staccato patter of something striking something else. Suddenly her hair felt wet and damp and there was the sensation of small impacts on her head and shoulders. Elaine opened her eyes to find herself on the edge of a jungle, or perhaps more correctly given the current meteorological events a rain forest. It was an eerie darkening twilight as the sun was behind the mountains behind her, but still high enough above the horizon beyond to cast an odd light over them. There were breaks in the clouds showing gleaming stars, but the rain was one of those constant, soaking types that showed no signs of letting up.

Looking down she found herself in her Wicked personae, the bright red muted into its darker, 'stealth mode' and her bow in her hand. Within her she felt Laneth's pleasure at the weapon. She drew a normal arrow from the quiver, the stainless steel darkened with Cerakote, the wickedly sharp treble bladed head ready to cause massive damage. She laid it over the bow with its nock in the string, ready to be drawn.

From the jungle to her right, Tansy silently slipped, her black armor from last years combat final clinging to every curve as she knelt next to Elaine. Her hair was about her head, not really long enough for a proper pony tail and quickly being plastered to her head by the rain. “Still wishing we were in the full motion sims?” she asked with a smile as she crouched down next to Elaine.

Lanie looked at her lover sidelong “Do you really need a reason to go to the salon?”

“Well, no, but that's not the point...!”

“Aren't we supposed to be tactical?” asked Kayda as she emerged from the jungle next to her friends.

In a dress.

Tansy blinked in surprise. “Are you wearing a dress?” she demanded. Kayda looked down and back up at her friends from the buckskin halter dress and thigh high boots she was wearing.

“What?” Kayda demanded. “You two might have me beat upstairs, but I've got more legs than a bucket of chicken! Besides, it's got plenty of freedom of movement, the bead work is actually armored and...”

“Everybody gets a cheap thrill from the leather panty flashing!” The blonde hid her face in her palm from resignation. “When we get back we are going to rework that uniform! A dress! For the love of God...!”

With an odd expression, Lanie leaned over to Kayda and asked, “Are you wearing panties?”

Cuwe!” Franks chided with mock outrage, then became sultry. “Wouldn't you like to know?”

Can we focus, please?” Tansy demanded. Wicked smiled and winked at her after which Tansy shook her head, but slowly smiled in appreciation of the banter.

Kayda raised her hand to shield her eyes from the downpour and looked out at the camp. It was in a clearing of the jungle, atop a little hill and while from the air it stood out the jungle was thick and someone struggling through the underbrush might even miss it. “Well, of course we're on the wrong side of the camp! That's the main gate, and the building most likely to have our hostage is on the far side, behind the barracks and the main building.

“Ok, so, how do we want to try this?” Lanie asked. “You want to ghost walk in and get the girl while Tan...Solange and Ah create a distraction?”

“Ghost walk?” asked Tansy.

“That invisibility thing she does,” Elaine elaborated.

“Oh, yeah from our final last year. That's what you call it?”

Kayda continued to stare at the compound while the seconds drew out and the rain seemed cold and clammy against their skin, despite the heat. “I don't like this,” she said finally. “Why would a Mexican Drug Cartel have a Vietnam era strategic hamlet in the middle of the jungle? Why keep such a valuable hostage in such a vulnerable position?”

“Those walls look pretty solid to me,” Wicked quipped, but Tansy shook her head.

“No, baby, Ka...Pejuta is on to something. Is this a fort? Sure, but they've made it easy to up the violence pyramid by having it out here away from any collateral damage. Rescue attempts can use choppers, mortars, belt fed machine guns, hell, go full on Rambo and not an innocent bystander to be seen. It makes much more sense for them to be in a safe house in Mexico City somewhere, preferably between an elementary school and a hospital to make the rescuers exercise maximum restraint while they can go full bore.” From her utility belt she took out a pair of foldable binoculars and brought them up to her eyes. “This screams ambush.”

“Maybe they were counting on secrecy...?”

Tansy looked at her sidelong. “If we could find them, anybody could.”

“Wait here,” Kayda commanded as she faded away, grasping a charm. Then, like the Cheshire Cat, her voice hung in the emptiness. “I'm going to go see what's what. Be right back.”

Lanie carefully put down her bow so as not to disturb the nocked arrow and then produced a dull colored micro folding poncho from a pouch on her belt and pulled it on. “How long do you think this will take?” she asked of the blonde who didn't seem bothered by the rain.

“This period only has about thirty five minutes left in it,” she replied while still scanning the facility with her binoculars. “That mag lifter you made for me, how long before it drains that battery pack?”

“Depends on how fast you're going, but probably ten minutes at one hundred miles an hour. It will give a warning at ten percent and at five will fail safe to lower you to the ground.” She looked up at Tansy to find her looking at her. “You like it, Ah'm guessing?”

“I love flying,” Tansy replied. After a moment she brought the binoculars down and asked, “You want to go riding this evening after dinner? Tango could use the run.”

Elaine winced in sympathetic pain. “Ah don't know why between Laneth and you Ah have yet to go riding without needing a cushion the next day, but Ah guess Ah'll keep...”

She was interrupted by a slight burst of static in her ear followed by Kayda's voice. “Look alive, guys there is a warding around this fence! I almost missed it, it's so subtle.” Elaine and Tansy shared a worried look as Tansy put a finger to her ear to key on her unit.

“Drug lords aren't going to pay to schlep a mage out to this wilderness unless this is a breathtakingly important part of their organization.”

“Maybe they have one on staff?” asked Elaine.

“There are maybe, maybe seven or eight hundred thousand licensed public mages world wide,” Kayda's voice replied. “Even if there is double or triple that unlicensed the chance these guys could have exclusive use of one is damned small. And coercing a magic user is notoriously bad luck.”

Elaine rubbed her chin, then raised her left arm and pressed a button on the bracer. “Ms. Hartford, Ah need a rules clarification, please.”

After a moment, in her ear she heard the Assistant Headmistress ask, “What is your question?”

“When did the Sinaloa Cartel say they would execute the Ambassadors daughter if their demands weren't met?” The pause drug out longer than any of the girls thought such a simple request should have taken. Again Tansy and Elaine shared a confused glance.

“A person claiming to speak for the Cartel told a reporter for Las Estrellas station XEW-TV the girl would be executed three days from now.”

“Pejuta, come back to our position,” Tansy ordered softly. “Let's set up some surveillance and see if we can find out what is going on here before we charge in like gangbusters. We've got three days, lets use them.” The redhead nodded slowly. “When she gets back, you and I will see if we can set up a camp site up in the canopy where it’s least likely to be seen. And we'll keep an eye on these drug lords.”

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October 8th, 2007
Twain Cottage, Room 308, Whateley Academy

The door opened and Adam found his hopes dashed as his eyes fell on the form of Peeper on his bed. He rolled over from having faced the wall, revealing a gaunt, drawn face that was paler than normal and eyes that were red and wet with tears. “Greasy?”

Adam sighed and steeled himself as he wheeled in the cart that Mr Filbert had loaned him. He stopped it next to his bed as he then opened his wardrobe and began to clean it out. Feeling his roommate's eyes on his back, he relented a bit and said, “I'm sorry, John, I wanted to do this when you were out.”

Peeper's voice became somewhat desperate. “I...I came home sick. What...what are you doing?”

With more force than was strictly needed Adam took his dirty laundry sack that was empty and began to fill it with his socks and underwear. “Kody's cure means I'm not technically GSD any more, so I have to move. It's the cottage rules.”

The sack now full, he tossed it on the cart and began to pull his hangers with his school uniforms down. “But, they...they can make an exception, right? I mean I could talk to Mr. Filbert...”

“Rules are rules,” Lambert told him, a bit sharper than he'd intended. The wardrobe now empty he began to strip the bed.

He heard Peeper get up and walk over. “Every rule has exceptions, right? Isn't that what your friend Loophole says...?” Peeper reached out to put his hand on Greasy's shoulder which caused him to whirl, his face a mask of fury.

“Her name is Elaine!” he shouted, spittle flying with his anger. He brushed Peeper's hand from his shoulder and got into the other boy's face. “Just like my name is Adam, John! Don't you get it? Don't you fucking get it? We're people! People, you sick fuck!”

“Greasy...” It was exactly the wrong thing to say. With a snarl, Adam lashed out and struck John's chest with a two handed shove. John staggered back and fell onto his bed, striking his head on the wall as he fell.

“My name is Adam!” Lambert shouted, but before he could follow up on his attack, a sharp, commanding voice boomed from the doorway.

“Boys!” Mr. Filbert entered the room, a scowl on his face. Staring down both for a moment, he finally ordered, “Adam, go to your new room and wait for me. We obviously need to have a conversation about keeping our tempers.”

With a snarl at John, Adam wrenched the cart around Mr. Filbert and walked out. Mr. Filbert followed him and closed the door before he set his clipboard down and wheeled the chair from the desk over to the bed and sat down. “John, you need your head looked at?” Peeper rubbed his head and shook it, sitting up on the bed at the house father's gesture. “You want to tell me what happened?”

“I...it's nothing,” he muttered, looking away.

“It's not like Adam to shout at nothing, son,” the older man replied. “And it doesn't take a genius to figure out what I walked in on.”

The tears that threatened to over take him again he savagely fought down before he asked, “Why...why are you making Greasy change roommate's?”

“Ah,” Conrad said to himself. “John, you're fifteen, heading into sixteen. This is stuff your parents should have explained to you, but you aren't the first to come through here not knowing what you should. Son, do you have any idea exactly how much of an ass you were last year?”

His ego bruised, John tried desperately to will up some machismo to salve his wounded pride, but none was on offer. His mind filled with his escapades from the previous year but he was far too upset to see them with any kind of clarity. “I...I was picked on a lot,” he started, but Conrad would have none of it.

“Don't be a fool, son. You can lie to everybody with varying degrees of success, but once you start lying to yourself, you're going to find people will write you off as a lost cause. Adam is moving because he asked me to reassign him. This is rock bottom John, and you have two choices; you can stay down here and wallow in it, or you can get yourself squared away. I have to go see to Adam,” he said, standing from the chair and returning it to the desk. “I want you to think on what I've said, and we'll discuss it when I get back.”

Without waiting for an answer, Conrad retrieved his clipboard and left. Alone once more, the dam holding back John's sorrows broke and the tears rolled down his face. He slouched over on his bed, rolled to face the wall and began to cry.

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October 8th, 2007
Cyberspace

“That showed remarkable restraint,” The Old Man opined as he looked over the report of the latest simulation. “Normally teenagers just blunder in guns blazing.” Bony fingers rubbed tired eyes for a moment, then he refocused on the screen out of range of the camera. “Professor, what is your opinion of the stability of these three after their time with you?”

“How do you mean?” the Professor asked a bit warily. The Old Man could be down right sideways in his thinking at times, and at others, painfully straightforward and direct. Of all the Committee she worried the most about him. His goals meshed with the other members, but his methods were some of the most questionable.

He looked up from the screen into the camera. “I mean exactly what I said,” he retorted testily. “Your Protege seems taken with The Life, but Our Guest's contribution had to be sent to you kicking and screaming. Are we wasting our time with three silly girls who will just rush off and get married?”

The Professor's lips pulled into a hard line, disdain dripping from her face. “Excuse me, I have the fifties on the other line, they would like their Male Chauvinism back.” The Old Man's thin lips pulled into a tight smile that sent a chill down the Professor's spine, but he remained silent, demanding she answer his question by his complete lack of mirth. “I remind you, sir,” and she sneered to make an insult of the honorific, “that Pejuta is a dedicated lesbian, so rushing out to find herself 'in the family way' is unlikely in the extreme. Wicked is most comfortable as a Maker and so would be most useful in that role, only in the field as needed regardless. And Dague is my pupil in many things, not the least of which is being a ball busting, stone cold bitch. Do you need your balls busted as a demonstration?”

The heavy voice of Our Guest chuckled and even through laptop speakers reverberated ominously. “Now, now, we're all friends here,” he reminded his fellow Committee members. “United in common cause and while the Old Man overstates his concerns, they are valid. Wicked is engaged, how do we...?”

“None of you know these girls as I do,” the Professor interrupted sharply. “Last year, Wicked upset the entire social pecking order of the school on a whim.”

The Old Man leered into the camera. “Ousting your protege in the process.”

“And then seduced both Dague's boyfriend and Dague,” the Professor sneered back. “Her innate sense of right and wrong defined by her inner moral compass force her to act. It is not in her nature to sit on the sidelines and watch. And while her desire for a family is strong, if any of these three can balance a family and a meaningful life, it is Wicked. A situation framed the right way will compel her to action, and having a family will only strengthen that reaction.”

The Old Man chuckled darkly. “Yes, Hell hath no fury like a mother whose children are threatened.” He leaned back into his chair and steepled his bony fingers. “It seems to me that the key to your little trio is not in it at all, but rather this boy Dague and Wicked are sharing. I've read the report on him, and I am intrigued. He seems a natural leader, charismatic, physically perfect, mentally dominating and an imposing power set as well. Why was he not included...?”

“Your age is showing,” chuckled Our Guest. “Kodiak would introduce an unstable element, being in a relationship with two of the three splits his loyalties and Pejuta's issues with males would cause problems too. He is more useful where he is.”

The Old Man sighed and thought for several moments. “Let's have a conversation about Pejuta. Professor, last year you allowed factional politics to enter and become aware of the school. Bad enough we have to operate with the DPA sniffing around our little project, but now we have the agency ever in search of a relevant mission, the Bureau of Indian Affairs not only highlighting the tribal factions, but possibly being handed a lever that could have the Medawihla lose their standing among the First Nations and their reservation revoked!”

The Professor bristled, then noticeably cooled her temper and smiled. It did nothing pleasant to her face. “By bringing the Lakota Chiefs Council to the school and thrusting Pejuta amongst them, having to rub her nose in who she is and who she is becoming, I forced her to begin to think about life beyond her little emotional bubble. Don't forget that her logic of what helps this Committee helps her people is how we have access to her and her considerable talents.”

The nasal voice of The Doctor brought eyes to his somewhat pudgy face. It was rare that he spoke in these meetings and took most by surprise as he did so. “Never the less, the Old Man's worries are not unfounded, Professor. We cannot afford to have more government agencies sniffing around, looking to put their regulatory foot in the door.”

“I'm aware of the risks, not to mention how best to manage them,” the Professor shot back. “These are the same paranoid issues that came up during Pejuta's trial last year and I dealt with them. If something comes up, I will handle it.”

“An ounce of prevention,” quoted the Old Man as he waved off further justifications and sat back, staring intently out of the screen. “I don't have to remind you what kind of trouble we would be dealing with if the Medawihla lose their reservation status. And what of our beloved Headmistress...?”

“Carson is my problem, not yours,” The Professor snapped.

“This was settled some time ago,” added the Captain with just a hint of threat in his tone. “And don't accuse me of thinking with the wrong head in taking the Professor's side,” he warned softly, seeing the expression on the face of the Old Man, showing his canny way of predicting him. “Elizabeth Carson is the only choice for Head of the school and has been scrupulously neutral in her managing of it. None of the Trustees are even remotely unhappy with her performance, so you will have no traction in replacing her. More to the point, I'm led to believe she is more than somewhat sympathetic to our cause. Don't shoot yourself in the foot retreading old ground.”

“She won't live forever,” the Old Man replied testily.

The Captain's smile was evil. “Who will?”

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October 8th, 2007
Action Tactical, Inc. headquarters, Blue Ridge Mountains

The Computer Specialist was bored.

Thanks to cross training the Combat Vet was doing most of the field work, he had flown down to Atlanta that morning. He had several interesting little gadgets that made the grunt work of getting into Oedipus's electronics a basic black box affair that anyone who could push a button was capable of. All he had to do was get close to the target and turn the box on and it did the rest.

The Computer Specialist already had the FCC ID of Oedipus' personal and work phone, the WIFI and Ethernet MAC IDs of his laptop and now the related Ids of his home computers as well. While the Work phone was giving him a bit of trouble, it had been set up by an expert in the employ of the state who was actually good at his job, Oedipus's personal electronics were depressingly simple.

Their target used a common off the shelf security and 'encryption' program that bragged in its advertisements how universally accepted it was. That also meant that its encryption algorithm was also well-known and thus made the package all but useless. He had been listening in to the targets personal phone calls and reading his text messages since lunch. What was worse, despite his collection of premium commercial security products, and a supposed obsession with security, hacking his equipment was proving to be a complete lack of challenge.

For a while, the Computer Specialist had worried this was a honey pot, a tempting lure that was easy to break which would trigger alarms and back tracking, but his extra caution had not been rewarded so far. Oedipus's security predilection aside, he might as well have been using a simple password that was the same across all his profiles. Computer Specialist decided to make a final check before he got started, and began to thank his lucky stars he did.

“Hello, what's this?” he whispered as he sat up a bit straighter and began to dig through the results that had caught his eye. He popped a piece of candy from a dish on his desk into his mouth and began to explore what he had just found.

There was no way they could be this lucky.

He cross referenced the laptop to the personal computer, yes, it was still there. Subtle, far too subtle to be something Oedipus had done. No, this meant skill, a real challenge. The Computer Specialist checked another screen and found he had finally wormed his way into Oedipus's work phone and a bit of discrete checking showed that it had the same thing he had found on the laptop and personal computer. “Ho ho,” he chuckled to himself. “Revenge is always sweetest when the bad guy has it coming!”

Computer Specialist picked up his own phone and made sure the scrambler (which was top of the line) and the anti-trace program that he'd written himself were running. Combat Vet had to be warned. It seemed their safely anonymous client wasn't the only person Oedipus had pissed off.

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October 8th, 2007
The Dream Space of Tansy Walcutt

The soft rhythm of powerful muscles beneath her was intoxicating to Tansy. She had been the first thing Tango had seen when the little filly had opened her eyes for the first time and with the activation of Tansy's power they had only grown closer. Tango was the mind that Tansy knew as well as her own, having discretely practiced her powers with the animal the two were deeply fond of each other.

Tansy had been astonished to learn that once Mustang had showed her how to enter her dream space, that Tango also knew the way there. A discovery she had made after a wonderful night of dreaming where the two were riding and running through a beautiful, endless meadow. The next morning she had gone to see her horse and care for her, only to find in the mental touch they shared that Tango had shared the dream with her, and how much she had enjoyed running in the meadow with her two legged herd sister.

So now, every night Tansy endeavored to spend some of her time riding with Tango. Some nights Elaine joined her, able to ride in the way dreams let you do anything, but tonight she and Wyatt were busy plotting with Kayda, learning and preparing for the coming battle with the Bastard. Tansy took those nights with her horse and just enjoyed the wonderful, perfection of Dream Space.

Tonight they picked a forest road to canter down, a thick, English wood like something from a fairy tale, where one expected Robin Hood to leap from behind every knurled English oak. It was an image that carried on with her wardrobe and she was wearing a magnificent emerald riding dress that allowed her to ride astride Tango with a wide, brown leather belt that highlighted her figure and trailed down the front. The princess theme was carried along with the deep well sleeves, but her hair was free and the leather of the reins supple in her fingers. Even Tango wore a magnificent crimson barding coat trimmed in gold and Tansy made a mental note to herself to buy her horse one based on how much she was enjoying it in the dream.

As was often the case in dreams, it was a perfect day, cool enough for their clothing to be comfortable, sunny with fragrant flowers in bloom and Tansy lost herself in the simple pleasure of feeling her horse run. There was nothing scary about the wood, no fear of highwaymen, nor the worry of any danger. It was a rare kind of perfect that made for the best dreams.

However, nothing lasts forever, and Tango slowed, the image of a cool, flowing brook in her mind. Tansy obliged her and around the next bend the very creek Tango had wanted gurgled across the road without need of a bridge. Nickering happily, Tango pranced over and lowered her head drinking the clear, icy water. As her horse drank, Tansy rubbed her neck in affection while she looked around, enjoying the dream.

“Well met, Princess,” greeted a handsome looking fellow who approached on a horse from the other direction. He wore a leather jerkin over his tunic, both as green as grass and brown leather trousers and boots.

Tansy smiled as he approached, wondering if the dream was giving her a conversation to make it that much more interesting. “Do I know you, sir?” she asked as the man stopped a respectful distance away and watered his own horse.

His smile was perfect and disarming. “Nay, gentle lady, but fortune smiles on me that we make our acquaintance. I am Mica, a simple woodsman and your humble servant.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Tansy replied with a ruffle of Tango's mane. The mare looked up, took note of the stallion the stranger was watering, and angled her rear away from him before returning to drinking. “What brings you to the wood today, Mica? Do you wander dreams all the time?”

“Dreams are the sea we all drift in, lady,” he replied in a lilting, perfect tenor. “And I thought I would float with you for a time, and know the world of men a little better.”

“You're not a man?”

Mica smiled and patted his own horse's neck. “In dreams I have many shapes, Princess. Here, now, I am a man. With your leave, I would know a bit of you. Your path crossed others I track and knowing you helps me know them.”

“Should I be worried for my friends?” Tansy forced herself to ask, though she couldn't bring herself to be worried. This wood was simply too far removed from danger.

“No, lady, not at all,” Mica replied. “My intentions are those of a teacher and I have many lessons to impart. Perhaps I can teach you some of the comfort your own spirit is trying to impart?”

“Mustang has helped me become comfortable with who and what I am,” Tansy replied. “But I appreciate your concern.”

“It is the teacher's job to be concerned, Princess,” he said, taking up the reins of his horse and putting a hand to his ear. “Still, it is the guilty conscience that teaches best. I'm sure your lover will see you had the best of intentions.”

“I beg your pardon?”

The woodsman smile widened. “It is not my pardon you should seek, Princess, for you have paid no evil to me.”

“I have done no evil lately!” Tansy protested. Her conscience pricked her as she recalled all she still had to make good. “Though I am atoning for what I did...”

“Yes, yes, of course,” the other soothed. “You should be lauded for all you have done, and will do. It is the rare flower that knows what is best for everyone.”

Tansy stared into his unreadable, smiling face, trying to parse if he was attempting humor, or if he was being deliberately insulting. His smile gave no clues, so she decided to remain polite herself. “You...you are a very strange man.”

“Of all the curses heaped on me, gentle Lady, yours is the kindest.” He kicked the stallion gently with a heel and began to ride away. “I have enjoyed your company, and look forward to our next meeting.”

Tansy eased her reins and Tango dutifully began to walk in the opposite direction. Over her shoulder she called, “Will we meet again, Mica?”

“Count on it!” the rider called. Tansy smiled and shook her head before she gave Tango the lead and cantered off. Mica watched her depart, his form becoming molten as human and horse gave way to his most comfortable form and he sat primly in the road with his full, bushy tail curled around his paws.

“Count on it,” Coyote repeated.

 

To Be Continued

 

Read 2867 times Last modified on Saturday, 21 August 2021 22:50

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