Sunday, 10 February 2013 13:38

Anecdotal Antidote Apocalypse

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Anecdotal Antidote Apocalypse - Part 1

A Whateley story

by Branwen

Kane Hall, December 1, 2006

Chief Delarose took another deep sigh as Jobe threw himself into another rant.

“See? SEE?!? This diagram clearly shows that the arrangement of spinnerets in the periproct of the Monoworm is remarkably similar to that of my Razorspinner design. Even a layman can see the infringement of my copyright plain as day!”

Sara shook her head, ever her patience slipping. “Jobe, the Razorspinner generates a core thread around a double helix,” she explained patiently, “my Monoworms produce a triple helix weave. Both designs have their strengths and weaknesses for different applications.”

“Weaknesses? WEAKNESSES?!?”

“Jobe! That’s enough!” Delarose snapped, managing to command more attention with a well spoken word than all of Jobe’s whining. “I appreciate that Sara has come up with a very similar design to one of your patients. However, the approach she’s taken is entirely different to yours. They’re not even based on the same genome! Granted, they both produce a similar end product but the two different monomolecular silks have entirely different chemical compositions. Besides, the Razorspinner is designated as a security and construction tool while the Monoworm is for...”

“Research into industrial lubricants,” Sara supplied when Delarose couldn’t find the right page.

“Thank you, Sara. Jobe, you and Sara aren’t in competition by any but the most superficial standards, there’s no need for these theatrics. I’m sorry but I can’t veto her patent application based on the evidence you’ve presented.”

Looking like he was sucking on a lemon, Jobe snatched up his paperwork and glared at Sara. “I know you stole my design,” Jobe accused, waving the paper in Sara’s face. “You know it and I know it and one day I’ll be able to prove it. Until then, keep one eye behind you because one day I’ll be there, driving the freight train bearing down on you.”

With that, the chinless wonder turned on his heel with a twirl of his lab coat and stormed out of the office, slamming the door behind him. Rubbing his eyes, Delarose grabbed his glass of water and wordlessly drained the whole glass. “Tell me the truth, Sara, before this gets out of hand. Did you steal any of Jobe’s research?”

Sara shook her head. “Nope, hardly even heard of him before he turned up at my table ranting about patent infringement.”

“Well, at least do the whole school a favor and don’t antagonize him,” the Chief ordered. “This has the potential to blow up into another Halloween. I’d rather not go through that again, so please do an old man right and make sure not to let things escalate. Am I understood?”

Sara winced at the mention of Halloween but nodded stoically.

“Good, now run along, Ms. Carson’s expecting you.”

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a short time later, Jobe and Oak’s dorm room

Pacing across the squishy floor, Jobe wrung his hands like he was squeezing the life out of a small animal. Oak was just glad the mad bio-devisor was containing himself to a quiet, slow-burning, rage rather than a full blown Diedrick’s episode. Not that Jobe suffered from Diedrick’s, he was just so arrogant that his spats fit the symptoms. Oak calmly flipped through his gardening magazine, trying to ignore him.

“Green porn, Oak?” Jobe asked bitterly, looking for a target to take his anger out on.

Mourning the loss of his quiet time with a sigh, Oak gave him the one-fingered salute. “It’s got an interesting article on fertilizers. They’re giving me manure at the cafeteria at the moment, I keep telling them that blood and bone tastes better…”

“Yeah, remind me not to sit at your table,” Jobe winced at the image of a great, steaming turd being delivered to his roomie on a plastic tray. Naturally, the image of him rubbing his fingers through it followed, which was simply disgusting.

“All right,” Oak grumbled, snapping his magazine shut and tossing it to one side, “what’s wrong?”

“She STOLE my RESEARCH!” the words burst out of Jobe’s mouth. “I don’t know how or why but even a moron can put two and two together on this one. My notes on the razorspinner go missing, a week later Carmilla is filing a patient for a ‘Monoworm’ and she hasn’t EVER shown the SLIGHTEST aptitude for bio-devising before? Far too coincidental. How the hell did you people take a shot at her like that and MISS?”

Oak gave him a perplexed look, though his bark-like flesh made it hard to tell what expression he was giving at any time. “What do you mean?”

Jobe snarled. “Don’t play dumb, everyone knows you Goobers have a bug up your ass over Carmilla.”

“The Goobers?” Oak scoffed with what he hoped was convincing incredulity. “Don’t look at me, I joined the Goobers for the easy course credit. I mean, ghost hunting in this day and age? What do people think superheroes do anyway?”

Grumbling, Jobe went back to his hard pacing. “She wants to make a patsy out of me? Nobody makes a patsy out of Jobe Wilkins, mark my words, Oak. Mark my words.”

“Consider your words marked,” Oak muttered, picking his magazine back up, shaking his head.

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meanwhile in Headmistress Carson’s office

“I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” Sara asked, though she’d heard it perfectly well the first time.

“I’m removing you from the class schedule,” Carson repeated. “The Executive and Whateley Alumni have reviewed your case and are in agreement. I vetoed their motion to deport you to ARC but we had to reach a compromise. This is the only compromise they would accept.”

Slumping in her chair, Sara shook her head. “Well, that’s a shock, particularly after all the pains of getting me integrated late in the first place. Why not deport me?”

Carson rapped her fingers on her desk for a moment before answering. “Truthfully? It’s because of the Lovecraft room.”

Sara blinked. “I see. Could you elaborate?”

Shifting in her seat, Carson took a deep breath. “Frankly, humanity doesn’t have the arts to contain one of your kind indefinitely. We’re not even precisely sure we can kill Class X entities permanently, at least not without taking the most extreme measures. Containment is our best option but you’ve put the cat amongst the pigeons by being reasonable and relatable. When I was briefed on your existence, I saw an opportunity and arranged with ARC for your transfer to Whateley. How much do you know about Whateley’s history?”

“I know it’s named after Wilbur Whateley or at least someone in the same family and that you have nightgaunts guarding the front gates like common gargoyles,” Sara observed.

Carson nodded slowly. “And a room that acts as a doorway to a strange dimension which also moves about the school, possibly possessing intelligence of its own. Let me come clean with you, Sara, I had you brought here in the hope that you would counter certain problems with the grounds we are currently sitting in. Sorcery of the foulest sort was performed on this land by the Whateleys, it’s one of the reasons the school was founded here. Mutants needed somewhere their children could go to study but which state was going to acquiesce to that sort of responsibility? Mutants were only just starting to gain acceptance on the coattails of the movement for racial equality, so they dumped the school on land that nobody wanted. I’m ashamed to say I did the same thing to you; I dumped you in the Lovecraft Room as a guardian against whatever might be lurking inside and insurance against whatever might remain undiscovered in the sewer system... and some of the things that are already discovered. Of course, the other option was Black Complex but nobody believed that locking you away was in anyone’s best interest.”

Sara smiled. “I see, I’m your tame GOO. No, no, don’t get me wrong, I’m not angry, this is a better alternative to be sure. So you had me brought here but nobody quite knew what they were signing up for when they agreed to the plan, now they want out.”

“In our defense, you have to admit that what you are doesn’t make it easy,” Carson sighed. “You claim to be on our side and yet we have cases on our hands like Gypsy. On the other hand we have the great strides you’ve taken with Merry and Hippolyta.”

“I... honestly didn’t expect you to praise me for those two,” Sara admitted.

Carson shrugged. “I go with what works. Hell, if I punished all the sex that goes on in this school half of the student body would be mopping the floors in Hawthorne every week. Plus, I believe that Fey has been a good influence on you as well. Setting aside a millennia old grudge couldn’t have been easy and it speaks louder than words that you’re trying to adapt, even if England’s too blind to see it.”

Sara nodded. “All right, what do I do then? Sit around in the Lovecraft room? Join forces with Stan and Morrie? What?”

“First, I’m going to acquiesce to the Magic Department’s request for you to be assigned to them as an Assistant Teacher,” Carson explained, “meanwhile, you’re officially on self-directed study. Unofficially... I’d take it as a personal favor if you’d investigate the grounds for Class X influence when you can.”

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late that night in a dorm room somewhere on campus

The room was as empty as the day its sole occupant had moved in. Where most teenagers covered the walls of their dorm rooms with posters of teen heartthrobs, the latest bands and anime or movie stars, Gore’s room was devoid of the usual signs of life. Where the chest of drawers would usually be buried under a mountain of music disks, the plain untreated pinewood object sat alone in the corner of the room. His bed, usually a highly personal adornment to any bedroom, was immaculately made and yet looked as if no-one had ever occupied it. Underneath, where most young men would leave their skin magazines easy to hand but out of sight, dust bunnies not only gathered but seemed poised on forming their own miniature civilization. The bedside table was also barren, where other teenagers usually placed pictures of family or perhaps a religious ornament.

The only piece of furniture that had been added to the room by its current occupant was a simple upholstered armchair set facing the window. It would seem a strange, even insane, affectation since one couldn’t possibly see the view outside from so low down unless the mutant who owned it could stretch their neck to obscene lengths. Gore couldn’t do that, he just liked facing the window, sometimes staring up at the stars without really seeing them.

An onlooker could be forgiven for believing that Gore had intentionally made his room blank and thus allowed some insight into his personality. A more through observer would realize, however, that the soulless room wasn’t a product of work but rather neglect. The room still had a history, the remnants of other occupants left behind. The last occupant in particular had left her mark: the walls were painted a bright purple/pink marred only by the tape that had once affixed the aforementioned posters to the walls.

Gore simply didn’t care about his room. He didn’t have hobbies, favorite bands, religion or family (or at least none that he cared for). He viewed the years of his life that he would serve at Whateley as transient, in fact he considered any time between jobs as transient. Gore lived for his work; it was his hobby, religion, education and employment. He counted himself as one of the happiest boys on campus, sitting in his armchair as he stared at the stars.

Others might have thought Gore dim or retarded, though they would have been mistaken as well. He was studying to become a doctor and was confident of his eventual success. He was anal-retentive, however, and compartmentalized his life. His room was a place to wait, the library was his place of study and the cafeteria was where he ate. Work, of course, took him further afield. His method had a purpose in managing others’ perceptions of him. Nothing in his room gave any clue as to his methods, personality or motives. He borrowed no library books so there was no electronic trail of what he studied. He bought nothing but the most basic necessities of civilized existence for similar reasons, though his clothes were of the finest make befitting someone with the largesse of his bank account.

He habitually stayed up past curfew in his room where the authorities wouldn’t disturb him, figuring that he was asleep. Gore preferred a nocturnal schedule. He liked the dark, leaving the lights off, partly so he could see the celestial bodies and partly to improve his night vision. His acquaintances often commented that he ate a lot of carrots but that quirk had paid off in the end. He also did most of his work in the night by both preference and necessity. Staying up late during his downtime also kept his sleep patterns under control.

Over time he’d learnt to change into his pajamas while in his room at night so the Twain house mother wouldn’t become concerned over his sleeping habits and start asking questions again. Even so, he still wore the red armband as per school regulations, twenty four hours a day. It had come to the point where he felt naked without it, though he despised the thing for marking him as different. Marking him for what he really was and broadcasting it to the world. Fooling Security into believing otherwise, that he was mastering his impulses, consumed his entire being for the moment.

Gore loved his rage, he even considered himself addicted to the clarity it imbued to his thoughts. A long time ago he’d found that his life was becoming centered around his rages; if he wasn’t angry he was waiting to be angry again, looking for excuses to be angry. He considered his addiction to rage as his greatest strength and a weakness if an opponent could somehow learn to use it against him. His years at Whateley were focused, secretly, in honing his anger into a pure weapon that lacked any weakness. His mentor called it ‘Hate Therapy’ but she had a dark sense of humor. He had to control his laughter constantly at the anger management classes, though a few of their exercises were helpful in masking it under a layer of falsehood.

He knew in part that he hadn’t just left the room pink because he couldn’t be bothered repainting it. Deep down, he’d left the room pink in the hope that someone would use it to give him an excuse. Maybe not the first time, no, he could use that to show how well the anger management classes were taking. Probably the second time, losing it on the third insult would look too much like he was ‘backsliding into his old ways’, the second time looked like he was ‘improving but there is still a long way to go’. He liked to plan his ‘lapses’, it gave him a sense of power and control that was almost as good as the anger itself.

The beep of his mobile phone brought him out of his reverie. Curious, he checked the display before pressing the receive button. “Solange? This better not be a booty call… No need to get all het up, dear, it was just a little joke. I’m always interested in more work, you know that. The client wants it messy, does he?”

Gore’s hand strayed under his pants.

“Sounds fun, who’s the target? Carmilla? Oh, Solange, you have no idea how happy you make me.”

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Kimba Corner, nearly a week later

“Oh, come on Sara,” Jade rubbed her eyes as she slumped into her seat in the Poe common room, “all I want to do is get back to bed...”

Grinning, Sara remained undeterred and more than a little animated. “Don’t worry; this will be better than a hot cup of black coffee. I’ve been working on this for over a month now, but I think I’ve cracked it.”

Groaning slightly, the rest of Team Kimba settled into their usual seats around the table, the whole troop awakened by Sara’s arrival at Jade and Tennyo’s door. “Make it quick, all right?” Nikki grumbled.

“Ok, Jade, tell me, have you ever tried charging Jinn into water or air?” Sara questioned earnestly.

Jade furrowed her brow. “Uh, well no. I mean… I guess I never thought of air, I mean what the heck could I do with it?”

Toni headbutted the table in despair. “Never tried… haven’t you ever heard of pneumatics, girl?”

“Well, yeah, but… but… besides,” she quickly changed the subject, “I’m not sure I really want to be able to charge water. I mean, sure, I could drown people but do I really want to do that? I could really hurt someone like that.”

“You could do that with your powder,” Sara sighed, “but yes, you’re right, damage to the lungs to that extent is far too lethal and debilitating in the long term. Besides, I rather doubt that your ability will work on either air or water… but let’s test it out.” The demon princess fetched a bowl of water she’d brought with her especially for the demonstration. “Ok, now try.”

Jade sighed, reached out, and touched the water. After a moment, she frowned. “Nope. I can’t seem to ‘grab’ it right.”

“Hang on,” Fey’s cocked her head to one side curiously, “she can charge the powder, what’s so different here?”

“Structure and mass, I believe,” Sara answered. “If you’ve looked at the telekinetic classifications, there’s a subcategory that’s loosely defined as ‘dexterity’. At the clumsy end, a telekinetic can shift and move objects the size of a breadbox or larger but fine control eludes them. The dexterity rankings go down through the near-human equivalents to fine embroidery, microscopic control, chemical control and even (theoretically) atomic level control.”

Fey blinked. “Atomic level control? Tell me you’re not serious.”

Toni remembered something, though. “There’s a kid over in Twain who can control chemical reactions.”

Billie remembered too. “Oh, yeah! They thought he was a weird devisor for a while.”

“That’s the one.”

Sara continued. “Atomic control, in theory, might allow you to split or fuse atoms. I don’t think they’ve ever seen one of those, but there are electrokinetics who can get pretty close. And, according to the theory papers, a pyrokinetic with atomic-level control could directly control transmutation of matter, literally creating gold from lead, even if it was only on a couple atoms at a time.”

Hank had been watching silently until that point but, as a powerful telekinetic himself, the subject was more than a little interesting. Now he leaned forward in worry. “A pyrokinetic who could transmute matter? Wouldn’t they be the next best thing to invincible?”

“It turns out the answer is no,” Sara replied, “there seems to be an inverse relationship there; the stronger, the less dexterous and vice versa. The fellow who can control chemical reactions can’t actually lift or move that much. Under ten pounds, I think. Hank is apparently near the strength tradeoff for someone with normal human dexterity.”

Toni jumped in. “I know a girl in Hawthorne who has his same style of force field, but is locked at eight tons of force for every movement she makes.”

“I said near, not at,” Sara corrected, with mild irritation at the interruption. “I believe that Jade has the potential for finer control – she can already do embroidery level, perhaps even microscopic, but of course, her strength is much less than Hank’s.”

Hank narrowed his eyes. “And the reverse is true, isn’t it? Someone with ‘clumsy’ control could be much stronger than me.”

Sara nodded. “You’ve heard of the villain ‘Wrecking Ball’?”

“He’s just a brute,” Toni said. “I mean, he’s strong as all get out, but he just swings stuff around and smashes things.”

Sara smiled. “Exactly.”

Fey poked the bowl of water. “So water is too ‘fine’ for Jade or Hank to hold it, telekinetically?”

“I believe so. You’d need the ability to grab individual molecules. Jinn can manipulate powder, but there’s a world of difference between a speck of powder and a molecule of water. I’m rather glad, I mean, could you imagine a Jinn made out of sulfuric acid? Ouch. Anyway, once I figured out that a liquid wouldn’t work, I began experimenting with more viscous materials and compositions that bridge the gap between the nearly microscopic powder that she can handle and the molecular level, which she can’t. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything that really fit the bill… until I made this.”

Reaching for her other Tupperware bowl, Sara peeled off the lid and upended it over the table. A large tar-black blob of goo splortched onto the tabletop.

“Eww,” Billie winced, wrinkling her nose.

“It’s ok,” Sara smiled, grasping the blob to show that it was viscous but not sticky, “it looks a lot worse than it is. Ladies and gentleman, I present to you a world’s first: liquid cloth. Or, at least, that’s what I’ve called it on the patent. It doesn’t have too many uses at the moment, but I do have one very special use for it in mind.”

Reluctantly, they all reached out to squish the blob between their fingers.

“What is it?” Hank asked, fascinated.

“The combination of several months of hard work under the advisement of Cecilia, the costume department and Bunny. Rather than use a real liquid, the blob is actually a matrix of interwoven near-monomolecular strands, each one as strong as diamond. The matrix is so tightly woven that the holes are invisible to the naked human eye and it feels viscous when it actually isn’t. It’s also marvelously temperature resistant, tear-proof and can be molded and shaped like tar… though keeping it in any shape would usually be impossible. Of course, I have a particular advantage in that one of my close friends can animate practically anything with a bigger-than-molecular structure…”

Jade blinked, staring at Sara. “You mean it’s mine?”

Sara tisked. “On one condition. I have a lot of people who seem to be obsessed with sticking big pointy things in me and it’s starting to get to the point where I need a bodyguard I know I can rely on. If one of your Jinns could follow me around and take bullets for me using this….”

Jade jumped out of her seat to hug the gothic girl tightly. “Of course I will! This is the best present ever! I could squeeze through keyholes or under doors and still pack a punch… we could implant stuff inside it, I mean, like, oh wow!”

“Whoa there,” Sara smiled, scruffing Jade’s hair a little, “you haven’t tested it out first. Besides, I have another idea… but that can wait. Just try charging it.”

Nodding, Jade took a seat and breathed in and out to centre herself. Reaching out, she touched the blob. The effect was immediate and dramatic. The blob began to stretch out as if two invisible hands were trying to divide it. Long before it had a chance to break the ball apart, five stumps budded from the ends; three on one side, two on the other. It wasn’t long before they began to take shape.

Several of the Kimbas took a step back as they watched the glossy substance form into Jinn, the familiar sixteen-year-old form usually etched in talcum powder or chalk now seeming to be form from black flesh. Jade’s eyes bulged as her future body congealed in such exquisite detail as she’d never before seen, right down to belly button, fingers, toes, even nails and a cleft between her long obsidian legs. The face was very pretty even before long strands of hair started to sprout from her scalp, sliding over the table until it had to be long enough to reach her knees.

The new Jinn stared down at her hands in shock with black eyes complete with cornea, tiny veins and long eyelashes. “I-I-I-I’m… human!” Sudden realization that she was speaking without a voice box hit her, hands clasping around her throat.

“Well,” Sara shrugged, “close enough. You once told me that your Jinn forms have internal organs, or would have if they had any material to create them with. The blob, being solid, provides said material. Now, I think you’ll find that if you switch from ‘human form Jinn’ to ‘object Jinn’, the liquid cloth will revert back into the viscous form.”

Nodding, Jinn closed her eyes. Her body melted like candle wax, then reformed into the humanoid. Swirling through the air, Jinn danced around them all. “Oh my God, this feels so good! It’s like real skin! Here, touch it!” She held out her arm to Fey, who probed the fake flesh with one finger cautiously. “It doesn’t feel like skin… but I can feel muscle and bone underneath… it’s like you’re shrink-wrapped. Weird… but good somehow…”

Sara coughed. “Um, that’d be the trace elements of moonsilver.”

They all turned to look at her.

“What? Well, it’s not something I could just cook up in chemistry, is it? I had to resort to alchemy, the weaving would be almost impossible without magic.”

Billie tapped her foot. “Besides all that, has anyone else noticed that she’s naked as a jay bird? In public?”

“I don’t mind,” Riptide quipped, her eyes almost popping out of her head.

Pausing, they all looked at Jinn. Squeaking, the apparent sixteen year old pulled her long hair around over her front to cover herself. She was, indeed, very detailed.

“Uh,” Sara scratched her head, not having considered this problem, “blob form, Jinn?”

“Someone call?” The talcum-powder Jinn slipped into the room just as the blob Jinn melted.

“Can’t call you Jinn,” Jade mused as she considered the blob, caught halfway between their shared one-word language and proper English. “JET!” All three of them suddenly exclaimed at once.

“Ok,” Fey winced, “that’s downright disturbing.”

“Jet will need some clothes,” Jade informed Sara with the earnestness of a ten year old, “and guns. Big guns.”

Sara nodded. “I’ll take her shopping today.”

“I hate to rain on your parade,” Billie interrupted, “but won’t Jade have to recharge Jet every few hours?”

Sara nodded. “That is the weakness, yes. But I’ve been working on some theories for extending the charge, so hopefully….”

“Hey!” Jet interrupted, hopping into the air excitedly. “I just realized! PIE FIGHT!”

With her last howl, she rammed her whole viscously-blobby body into Riptide’s face with a clearly audible SPLAT! Before the girl could do more than shriek, the blob peeled off completely and cleanly before blowing a raspberry and swooping out of the room.

“THAT’S IT!” Riptide tore after it down the hall. “COME BACK HERE YOU LITTLE SNOT!”

“Rip! Come on!” Chaka sighed, chasing after them.

“Here we go again,” Sara groaned as everyone but Jade ran after Jet, “how long until they realize that all they have to do is hold you hostage?”

Jade grinned from ear to ear. “They haven’t yet.”

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Reverent England’s office, real Goober secret HQ

“The real question is: can you trust Nex to be discreet?” England asked as he flipped through the razorspinner file, not understanding a word of what was scribbled in Jobe’s notes.

“He’s got a beef with Fey,” Oak said with a shrug, “he thinks he’s striking back going after her blood sister. I figured you’d enjoy the irony.”

England hissed. “Sometimes the best course is turning evil against evil,” he admitted, “but I don’t have to like it. We’re going to have to deal with Nex sooner or later but leave him alone for now. Good work, Oak, you’re an invaluable part of the team.”

Oak nodded in thanks. “How is Nightbane?” he asked, concern plain in his tone.

“Still in isolation,” England sighed, “but at this point I don’t know which is worse, the punishment Security is inflicting on her or the one she’s inflicting on herself. They found her in the old mill with Sara and an orichalcium weapon, it doesn’t look good despite the story we cooked up. On top of that, whenever I talk to her she just babbles something about an ‘Angel’ that I really don’t understand. Medically there’s nothing wrong with her, I’m afraid that thing’s foul aura has had an effect on her sanity.”

“Do we know what happened in the mill yet?” Oak asked. “Has she said anything?”

Gravely, England shook his head, worry creasing his face.

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Crystal Hall, breakfast

“This is SO awesome!” Jet enthused, bouncing in her seat in the shape of a flubbery black basketball with eyes. “I’m, like, my own blob of silly putty!”

“I’m glad you like it,” Sara said with one of her few genuine smiles, watching the girl twist herself into new shapes.

Forming back into her sixteen year old schoolgirl form, she started poking herself and playing with the fake ‘cloth’ of her uniform. “You know, I expected to feel all sticky but it’s really kind of smooth.”

“That’s the surface tension created by the force of your telekinetic power,” Sara explained.

“Oh, I see! Of course!” Jet nodded earnestly.

Chuckling fondly, Sara shook her head. “Remind me to tutor you all in physics and chemistry sometime.”

They were interrupted when Gypsy dropped her tray of food unceremoniously on the table and dropped into her seat. The aura of gloom and doom around her was enough even to kill Jet’s mood as she attacked her food like she’d just watched it kick a puppy.

“Are you... ok, Gypsy?” Sara asked with trepidation.

She glared at me from under her dark forelocks. “Have you figured out how to get that shit off my hand yet?”

Sara groaned. “You know I can’t do that.”

“Then I’m not fucking ok,” Gypsy declared, fingers squeezing the handle of her knife.

“You made a deal,” Sara reminded her, leaning close to whisper and hope the weird acoustics didn’t carry her words to unfriendly ears. “The terms were made clear to you. It’s a bit late for buyer’s remorse.”

“That was before I started seeing shit,” she hissed, looking around to see who might be listening. “My own reflection’s fucking with me, Sara. I’m sitting here because none of my old friends will even say hi to me. Well, that and this is as much my fault as it is yours.”

“Even so, you should try to cheer up,” Sara said, trying to sound caring even though she was getting a little sick of the drama. “I’m going to take care of you, ok?”

“Yes, mistress,” Gypsy snapped, making Sara wince. “You know what? I’m not hungry,” she said, pushing the mostly unfinished plate away as she got up and stormed off, shoving past Hippolyta on the way past.

“Where’s the fire, Gypsy?” the lesbian bodybuilder called after her before sitting down. “What the hell was that about?”

“The usual,” Sara sighed. “Have you seen Feral lately?”

Hippolyta took a deep breath. “Um, yeah, about that...”

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later in the Lovecraft Room

Reclining in bed with Jet snuggled up to her, Sara closed her eyes and thought. Lacking the ability to sleep, she turned instead to meditative techniques which focused her thoughts along specific topics as she reviewed and examined everything that had happened in the last few weeks. Outside, her mind was preoccupied processing the thousands of little details in the world around her; it was only inside the Lovecraft Room that she could truly concentrate.

She realized that she was more upset that Hippolyta and Feral felt they had to go behind her back than the fact that they’d found each other. From the start, Feral’s spirit, the former goddess Diana, had made it clear that she expected Feral to find her own place in the world. Hippolyta was special to Sara but somewhere deep down she’d known that their affair was temporary too. The Amazon couldn’t let go of her hatred of men, even if she’d mellowed somewhat, and it seemed that dislike extended to Merry.

Sara wanted to kick herself, it was so obvious she should have seen it coming. Merry’s relationship with her confused Hippie. Merry could confuse anyone. Up until she came to Whateley, she seemed to be fate’s personal chew toy. Sara had accepted her, been infected by her, in ways that she’d never allowed anyone to before. But now Merry was busy helping upgrade and secure Whateley’s network, which kept her online for most of her free time.

Then there was Gypsy. Gypsy hated her. It didn’t matter that she’d done a deal with Kellith, or that Sara was incapable of removing the mark. The fact that she’d dug herself in far deeper than she ever wanted or intended was making her self destruct. Worse, no matter what angle Sara looked at the problem, there was no real solution. The rules dealing with promises were inviolate, set in stone at the dawn of time to maintain the balance between the dimensions. Changing that would involve radically redefining the laws of magic, an impossible feat.

“Do you always concentrate this hard?” Jet asked, turning over onto her stomach.

“Only when I’m working on impossible problems,” Sara answered, opening her eyes. “I’m sorry, it looks like you got inducted into Sara’s Pack just as it fell apart. Maybe you should go back to Jade.”

Jet sighed and hugged her friend. “You still have me and Merry, right? I’m sure there’s plenty of people at Whateley who’d like to join an up-and-coming team! Right?”

Sara couldn’t help but smile at her enthusiasm. “Actually, I’m not that keen on the team idea anymore. At least not an official team. Carson’s asked me to put a lid on the Class X threats in the school but the people I’d trust for that task on a regular basis comes down to a very short list. Even then, most of those are too busy with other commitments. Besides, anyone involved with me will come under fire from the Goobers.”

Jet nodded, a fierce look on her face. “I can choke them in their sleep if you want,” she offered seriously. Smiling, Sara reached up to pat and scritch the slime-girl’s scalp. “No, dear, thanks for the offer but the tragedy is that the Goobers and I are on the same side. They just can’t see the wood for the trees. I know and respect your philosophy but it would be best for everyone if you reined yourself in a bit.”

Pouting, Jet nodded. “All right. Gawd, pin one homicidal werewolf to a tree with railroad spikes....”

“Forget about it, Bloodwolf’s an asshole.”

Smirking, Jet rolled on top of Sara, momentarily turning into a blob before reforming into girl-form, straddling Sara’s legs. “You know, there’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time,” she admitted, leaning forward to press her lips against Sara’s.

Surprised for a moment, Sara pushed her away. “No, Jet, wait,” the demon pleaded, “I like you... in fact, I love you....”

“Then what’s the problem?” Jet demanded in exasperation. “Refusing Jade I get, her body’s stuck. Shroud and the others don’t really have a body to enjoy anything with. But me? I can do everything they can’t. I want to do everything they can’t. Besides, I’ve kissed girls before, you know.”

Sara blinked. “When?”

“It was during that whole... thing with Tansy,” she admitted. “Tansy was hot, a bunch of the girls and I took the opportunity to experiment. I’m happy to say we found the experience most pleasurable.”

Sara didn’t want to consider the implications of that. “Ok, so you’ve kissed girls before. Something tells me you don’t want to stop at kissing.”

“So what? I really am older than Jade looks, you know; you like me and I like you, what else do you need?”

“It’s not about need, Jet. What happens when you merge with Jade again?”

“I distinctly remember Jade throwing herself at you,” Jet sniffed. “And I still think you’re a big dummy for refusing her.”

Sara rolled her eyes. “Even if I could be sure of curing Jade, trust me Jet, the cure’s worse than the disease.”

Jet’s eyes narrowed. “Now you’re trying to change the subject. Sara, I love you. I want to do this; I know you want this too. Besides, you’re forgetting one important detail.”

“Oh? What’s tha-eeeaaah!” Sara squeaked, feeling something slide between her legs.

“You’re not the only one with tentacles anymore,” Jet said, grinning wickedly as she drank from Sara’s lips.

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Goober secret HQ - surveillance room

Taking a DVD out of the tray, Ecto-tek scribbled ‘Jobe+Oak Dorm’ on the top with permanent marker before logging the date and replacing it with a new blank DVD. Inserting the recording into the playback machine, he viewed the recording, scrubbing through to the highlights.

It was a tough job. The late nights going over the footage looking for the vague shapes of ghosts roaming the grounds were one thing, watching the disgusting, pulsating, organic coating that covered the walls and floor of Jobe and Oak’s dorm room was another. He understood that it was a simple organism that made life easier by eating the shed skin cells and sweat of the residents and that the room suited Oak in particular due to his unique plant-like condition, but the thing made his stomach churn. Though in Oak’s case, it was more that he could relax in the room without worrying that he’d take root.

Nothing really interesting was going on anyway. Jobe ranted for hours about Sara stealing his research while Oak listened patiently from the bed. Ecto-tek marveled at his teammate’s patience, but then no other approach would work with Jobe. Eventually, the bio-devisor stopped pacing, sat down at his laboratory station and worked off some of his energy. Scrubbing forward to lights out, Ecto-tek finally saw something noteworthy.

Oak was already asleep when Jobe took out his phone and played with it for a few minutes. Ecto-tek surmised that he was activating stronger encryption protocols before he stuck a subdermal microphone to his throat to make a call. He couldn’t hear what was said but he could read the codename on the phone’s screen when he zoomed in.

A slow, evil smile spread across Ecto-tek’s face. He couldn’t wait to tell the Reverend the good news: there was a chance Sara Waite would be out of their hair forever within the next few days.

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the Lovecraft Room, the morning after

“Mmmm,” Jet moaned, pressing herself against Sara as she stretched, “that was wonderful. The other me’s are going to be so jealous.”

“Where the hell did you learn to do that?” Sara asked in a husky, satisfied voice, unable to wipe the smile off her face.

“You don’t think all we watch is Hello Kitty, do you?” Jet asked archly.

“I didn’t think Jade was mature enough to really get the point of porn.”

“Oh, she isn’t,” Jet admitted, “but the rest of us think it’s kind of neat. Still, considering recent personal experience, it’s really not like the videos we’ve watched at all. There’s a lot more... logistics.”

Sara chuckled. “Just be glad you don’t have to deal with the post-sex grunge. It can be pretty gross.”

Jet considered that for a while, her fingers playing over Sara’s alabaster skin speculatively. “Maybe if you did for Gypsy what you did for me last night, things would be better between you two.”

Sara rolled her eyes. “Jet... sex is really wonderful, you won’t get any arguments from me there. But unfortunately it doesn’t fix everything. Just look at Hippie and Feral, I had a deeply sexual relationship with both of them. Admittedly, I always knew that I was just Feral’s first step into a larger world but I honestly thought Hippie was different. Then again, maybe I fell into the trap I swore I’d never do, thinking that I could make Hippie a better person.”

“If it’s any consolation, she’s way less mean than before you two hooked up,” Jet observed. “She can actually be civil to boys for a whole sentence before she accuses them of being race traitors.”

“Is it weird that I sort of found that cute?” Sara asked, smirking fondly.

“Very,” Jet quipped with a deadpan expression. Fidgeting, she shimmied under the covers to rest her head on the pillow next to Sara’s. “Can I ask you a serious question?”

Curious, Sara shrugged. “Sure, I might even answer.”

“What happened between you and Nightbane on Halloween?”

Sara sighed, closing her eyes as she remembered the scene in vivid detail. “I guess you have a right to know.”

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flashback: the Old Mill, Halloween Night

Pushing the door open ever so slowly with the tip of her orichalcium sword, Nightbane placed one foot carefully onto the ancient floorboards, easing her weight down slowly to minimize any noise from her passage. The sound of gunfire and the roar of antigravity engines in the distance were louder through the open door, heralding her entrance. She would have preferred to have entered stealthily, like a ghost, but the two foot wide trail of purple blood on the floor that led deeper into the building wasn’t exactly subtle either.

“Saaaaa-raaaaa,” she called out, checking the corners of the room in case the demon had doubled back on her. “I’m back to play with you again. Sorry for the delay, that mind-whammy you hit me with threw me for a bit of a loop there.”

Experimentally sticking the tip of her golden blade in the gore, she watched as a two inch diameter patch immediately dried up, transmuting into inert black ash. “Wow, did you see that? That was awesome! Guess this crap really works, huh? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love gold accessories, but an entire gold sword is, like, totally rapper penthouse levels of gauche. Way too bling, I prefer tasteful understatement, don’t you?”

Stepping through the door, she turned to look down the hallway and flinched at the sight that greeted her. All that was left of Sara was half a torso with an attached arm and head lying in a nest of small tentacles that wriggled out of the ragged wound, trying to regenerate the rest of her body. Rather than a skeleton, the thing possessed a chitinous core that mimicked human anatomy. “Ewwww, what the fuck happened to you?”

Sara flopped onto her back and coughed up a gout of purple blood to clear her throat. “Fifty caliber sniper round,” she informed her hunter casually, “generally used for putting holes in engine blocks and equipment. About half of me disintegrated just from the hydroshock. Looks like you caught a lucky break.”

Nightbane immediately stalked forward, raising her sword above her head. “Never let it be said I looked a gift horse in the mouth.”

The sword came down, flashing in the dim light, and then stopped the barest millimeter from Sara’s nose. Gulping, Nightbane could feel the tip of a long, sharp, talon at her throat. The talon was attached to a tentacle that extended from Sara’s body, up the wall and circling around behind her before ending in a wicked barb poised over her artery. She hadn’t seen it because the flesh had changed color to match the rotting floorboards, blending in like a chameleon.

“And so we reach a stalemate,” Sara chuckled weakly, looking down the blade of the sword that was so close to ending her life.

“I don’t know,” Nightbane muttered, “all I have to do is lean forward a little.”

“Except that you’re not the suicidal type,” Sara observed, “dying like this would be anticlimactic. Besides, it might take more than one stroke to finish me off, whereas I only need to touch you to suck out your soul and wear your body like a new coat.”

“Bullshit,” Nightbane snapped, “if you could do that you would have already.”

“You know, I’ve been wondering what it is that indicates to you people that I want to fucking murder people!” Sara snapped back, leaving Nightbane blinking stupidly. “Because I don’t! My brother died bringing me into the world and now to grow I’m forced to eat more people? Bullshit. Bull-fucking-shit! I don’t care what my family says or what assholes like you think, I’m not going to let any of you force me to kill again!”

Nightbane blinked. Shaking her head, she kept her eyes on the barb at her neck. “Nice speech, you almost had me there. If you’re so unhappy, let me end it for you.”

Sara snorted. “Fuck off you uncreative, sanctimonious tart. The only thing that makes me unhappy in this world is assholes like you. I have good, decent, friends who can see past the surface of things to what really matters, friends who want to help me become what I want to be. You want to kill the bad guy, go somewhere and gut yourself.”

“I’m not the bad guy,” the blonde muttered resolutely.

“And they think I’m mad,” Sara laughed, rolling her eyes. “Go take a look at what’s happening back at the stadium, bitch. Go take a look at what your friends are doing to the school. Go ask the screaming kids being dragged away by slavers who they think the bad guys are.”

“Won’t happen,” Nightbane snarled. “I know those kids, they’ll fight back. They’ve been trained by the best. It’s a small price to pay to get rid of your influence on the school.”

“Be sure to use that line at your trial, your insanity plea will be a shoe-in. It’s a war out there, idiot! Trust me, no matter how non-lethal the methods there are always casualties. But first and foremost, you’ve taken away one of the most important things those kids had. You’ve taken away the feeling of safety in maybe the only home they’ve ever known. You think you’re this close to ending our spat once and for all but this... what you’ve done is something you’re going to have to live with for the rest of your life.”

She looked down her nose. “Then go ahead, if you think you’re justified. Kill me.”

Sara shook her head, flinching. “Stupid. So stupid. You’re a one track mind, a record skipping track and repeating the same mistake over and over and over. You’re so sure your way of thinking is correct you can’t see any other path of logic, it’s so damnably human! You think anything you do to end my ‘threat’ is justified and you can’t see how anyone in your path could think another way. I don’t believe that I’m justified in killing you by the same token that you’re not justified in killing me. Where will it end? I kill you for your wrongs, you kill me for mine, what changes? Nothing. The world keeps turning without us and everyone keeps making the same mistakes, maybe because we’re not there to take a stand. Maybe if we both live we can atone for our mistakes and make sure the world doesn’t keep making them. Nightbane, you’re alive right now because I don’t want to kill anymore. I don’t particularly care if prats like you die but I’m not going to be your executioner. On the other hand, I like my life and I want to live, so back the fuck off!”

“Wow, I guess you really don’t want to kill me,” Nightbane said, sounding impressed. “But if that’s the case....”

She was about to lunge forward when suddenly an invisible hand lifted her high into the air, embedding the sword halfway into the roof and trapping her there, wriggling like a worm on the end of a hook. The American-Indian boy responsible dropped his invisibility spell, his grinning face fading into existence. He looked disheveled, his jacket was missing, his shirt was untucked and the tie with an Alpha pin in it was loose under his collar. “Miss me, sweetcakes?” Bluejay asked, finding some sort of humor in the situation.

Sara let her head fall, banging the back against the floorboards. “Great, why did my savior have to be you?”

He ignored her, pointing up at the snarling Nightbane. “You obviously didn’t get the memo; these fanatical types are totally immune to logic.”

“I’m going to rip off your head and piss down your neck-stump!” Nightbane spat at him.

“Can I watch?” Sara sighed.

“Is that any way to treat the man that saved your life?” Bluejay asked, feigning injury.

“No,” Sara admitted, “but if I don’t keep you in your place, you’ll start getting ideas about rewards.”

“Well, now that you mention it...”

Sara groaned.

end flashback

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Jobe and Oak’s dorm room, the following morning

“Coming,” Jobe said with a smile in answer to the knock at his door. He’d just finished grafting together two particularly troublesome gene sequences, so the timing was perfect. He closed and locked the fume cupboard after making sure everything sensitive was in its place, paranoia being a way of life for the bio-devisor, not just over others but over oneself.

Opening the ‘door’ – a muscular biological entrance based on a sphincter design – by tickling it in the right spot, he was met by what looked like an all-American boy. Fourteen or fifteen years old, the visitor’s dark brown hair was combed in a perfect three-quarter part. Like most Whateley students he had broad shoulders and a good build, though his had obviously been come by with honest hard work (or, more likely, dishonest hard work). He simply wasn’t handsome enough to be an Exemplar and still had a scar along his cheek that Jobe’s expert eye identified as coming from forceps during birth. He wore an immaculately pressed white button-down shirt with a proper collar and tie under a woolen duffel coat. The pants were of a tailored New York cut, extremely expensive, and matched his polished shoes that held the reflection of their surroundings. Even his watch was a real gold Rolex. Only the red armband looked completely out of place.

Jobe greeted the boy with what he considered a firm handshake. “Jobe Wilkins, pleasure to meet you. You’re the junior that’s trying to transfer to Melville, correct?”

The other boy smiled, returning Jobe’s grip. “Nicholas Wembly,” he spoke with a heavy, pompous, English accent, “a pleasure to meet the famous BloodSmith himself. Yes, with any luck and the due graces of the lovely Miss Hartford. Slumming down here is just too much to bear, don’t you agree?”

It was hard for Jobe to keep the smile on his face. Melville was already infested with Nicholas’ type, nouveau riche aping the ways of old money in a poor attempt to fit in or climb the social ladder. It was an impulse Jobe refused to give in to with every fiber of his being. He considered himself a self-made man and proud of it. “Please come in. Don’t worry about the carpet, it squelches a little but I assure you it’s healthier and less slimy than the usual rugs.”

The boy looked around the room in wonder at the biological furnishings. “I say, this is wonderful, dear boy! Our interests do seem to run on a similar course, I’m studying medicine you know. Not a devisor or gadgeteer but I am fascinated by anatomy. Of course, my specialty currently runs to dissections.”

Of course it does, Jobe thought, you’re a homicidal maniac. “So, what’s your codename?”

“Gore,” Nicholas rolled his eyes, “an unfortunate nickname I acquired in my first year because of an even more unfortunate accident. How I got this.” He pointed to his armband. “So, down to business if you don’t mind, you said you had a job for me to do. I enjoy being helpful wherever I can.”

Jobe took an envelope out of his pocket and handed it to his visitor. “I’ve got a friend from Hawthorne who should be coming over tonight. I’d like you to meet her halfway. Half the pay is there, the other half will be delivered to you by morning in return for a sample.”

“Am I being paid to escort or intercept?”

Jobe had to puzzle that one through for a second. Finally it dawned that the wordy snob was asking if he wanted her to make it to his room or not. “I don’t care. As long as I get at least one hair with follicle, some blood, or skin cells.”

“You wish to analyze this girl? She is definitely quite the subject of study around campus.”

The feeling in Jobe’s gut that something was wrong with the boy multiplied. Most people wouldn’t see it; Jobe even admitted to himself that if Solange hadn’t recommended him he might not have realized himself. There wasn’t a boy in Twain who didn’t have the hots for Sara Waite, they had the hots for a lot of the girls of course but the demon’s reputation for being easy gave her a certain primal allure. When Gore spoke about Sara his voice held heat but it wasn’t sex he was thinking about, at least nothing normal people considered sex. Jobe knew people like Gore through his father, serial killers that did a few professional hits on the side, unstable but convenient temporary employees. After a while you just got to know the feeling of wrongness, tiny inconsistencies in their reactions that marked them as abnormal. “Does it matter why I want it?”

Gore smiled. “Discreet, I like that. We’re in business Mr. Wilkins… oh, and look at the time. I’m afraid I must be going. Maybe we’ll see each other later, around campus.”

“With any luck,” Jobe shook his hand again, still smiling. With any BAD luck, he amended silently.

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breakfast at Crystal Hall, the morning after Jet and Sara’s first liaison

“I can’t believe Bluejay saved you,” Jet muttered in disbelief.

“Shhhhh!” Sara hissed, looking around in panic to see if anyone heard. “I don’t want it getting around!”

“Bluejay,” Jet whispered, still in shock. “Helped the Alphas try to kick our ass in our first month at school Bluejay?”

“This is why I was trying to keep it a secret,” Sara moaned, pressing her face against the cage that contained her food. The cat inside walked up to her and licked the tip of her nose, which made the demon girl feel even worse. “I can’t eat this one, she’s too cute,” Sara sighed, setting the cage aside.

“What’s his angle?” Jet asked, concentrating hard. “He can’t have done it out of the goodness of his heart, he’s an Alpha. Did he want you in his debt or something?”

Sara pursed her lips, looking like she was about to suck on a lemon. “He asked for a kiss.”

“A kiss,” Jet repeated flatly.

“On the cheek,” Sara added, her cheeks blushing light purple.

Jet was trying very hard not to grin and failing. “So, did you...?”

“Ewww, no! I mean, it took me ages to regenerate and my tentacles were all hanging out and I was naked and... no way.”

Jet giggled. “Sara has a boooy-frrriiiieeennnd.”

“This is why I was keeping it a secret,” Sara groaned again. “And keep it down, I don’t want Hippie to get territorial on me.”

“Didn’t she just dump you?”

“Technically, Bluejay hit on me while we were together,” Sara mumbled, “I don’t know if she’ll take offence or not but she’s no match for Bluejay.”

“Your call,” Jet agreed with a nod. “So, when do we get to take out the Goobers?”

“You want to what now?”

“Take out the Goobers,” Jet stated as if it were the most natural thing in the world. “Nightbane almost killed you! I don’t know how things are done elsewhere but in this country, we kill people right back.”

“Down girl,” Sara scolded, “mass murder isn’t going to do us any good in the grand scheme of things. It’s called a pyrrhic victory, you may win the war but you lose everything else.”

“But you can’t just let them get away with it! What happens when they come after you next time? What happens if they go after the people close to you?”

“Why do you think I’ve been staying away from Team Kimba?” Sara mumbled, resting her head on her hand. “Or anyone else, at least as much as I can. England’s already shown that he only cares who gets caught in the crossfire up to a certain point. Or worse, the Goobers could take matters into their own hands, they won’t be anywhere near as careful. Unfortunately, the ball’s in their court. On the other hand, now I have you on my side, they won’t be able to plan against you. Speaking of which, how’s your charge?”

Jet shrugged. “I don’t know, I feel great.”

Frowning, Sara tapped her claws on the table. “I didn’t expect the extension effect to last this long. Maybe we should go back to my room so we can do some tests.”

“Awww, come on,” Jet whinged, managing to look cute doing it, “you’re never wrong about anything.”

“Not true, I can just think of more things at once than most humans,” Sara denied, shaking her head. “This substance I made for you is something entirely new, I’m actually surprised I could even pull it off. Combine it with the unpredictability of mutant powers and something could be very wrong if my calculations are off. I’m going to trade in breakfast and then we’re going back to the Lovecraft Room, right now.”

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in a secret lair under Whateley

Oak held out his arms while Jobe scanned him for bugs. “Are you sure the others aren’t going to know I’m here?”

“Relax and keep still,” Jobe snapped, “electronics might not be my specialty but I know what I’m doing. As far as your friends know, you’re diligently studying in our dorm room while I’m locked away in my lab at Kane Hall.” Jobe paused when his scanner beeped. “There you are, you little bastard, right in the bark between the phellogen and the phelloderm. I told you so, Oak.”

Oak ignored his roomie’s smug tone as he prodded the area Jobe was pointing at on his upper arm. “That’s where Ecto-tek took a tissue sample so that I could be tracked by magic,” Oak grumbled, unable to feel anything through his tough outer layer. “Damn, they did that to all of us.”

“Hey, just be glad it’s not a Kink Bomb,” Jobe offered chipperly, trying too hard to be reassuring. Jobe didn’t really understand the concept of other people’s feelings but he understood the use of empathy to make others well disposed towards him. He just didn’t have even the remotest understanding of how to execute it. “That’s my Dad’s standard practice for level two mini... sub-contractors.”

Oak glared at him. “Reverend England is not your father; we’re talking about my friends here.”

Jobe nodded. “Yes, of course, your ‘friends’, right.”

Rolling his eyes, Oak gave up even bothering to attempt a token explanation. So, England wanted to keep tabs on them, that was only natural. In any other circumstance, he’d probably be grateful. But if the Reverend knew everything about his plan, he’d call it off, especially if he knew Wilkins was in on it. “Never mind, you have your hitman cued up, right?”

“Ready and waiting for a time and place,” Jobe agreed. “Is the deal still good on your end?”

Oak nodded. “England seemed to buy it. At least, he didn’t give me any indication that he knows we’re working together.”

“That’s not exactly reassuring,” Jobe stated flatly.

“The man’s old and cunning like a fox,” Oak sighed, “he hasn’t ordered me to stand down or thrown me out of the Goobers. That’s enough indication for me that the plan’s working. Hell, if he thought you were going to study her rather than kill her, he’d probably go after you.”

Jobe laughed. “I’ve got a virus upstairs that could wipe out all life on the planet and nobody does a damn thing. How much worse could Class X tissue be?”

“Hey, I’m only paid to take out supernatural threats, we leave the rest to the damn Capes. If you can give us a weapon against the GOOs, all will be forgiven. Just as long as you’re sure your man can take out Sara Waite.”

“Trust me,” Jobe said reassuringly, “if this guy can’t kill her, no-one can”

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Lovecraft Room, under Hawthorne

“Well that explains it,” Sara said, finally looking up from her home-made spectroscope, “the molecular structure of your body’s changed.”

Jet stopped her nervous flitting about through the air to look over Sara’s shoulder. “All right, how does that happen? And what would that do to my charge?”

“Well, the jury’s still out on the second,” Sara sighed. “But on the count of the first, I think the telekinetic charge Jade gave you is reacting with the elements of her altered DNA that I wove in with the strands.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Jet protested, waving her hands about. “You wove what in with the strands? My DNA?!?”

“Jade’s heavily altered DNA,” Sara explained. “In fact, it’s DNA that I caught from Jade’s shed hair and skin cells, mixed with my own corpus. I grew the threads from my own body with spinnerets borrowed from my Monoworm design. Getting Jade to charge it with her power has caused some sort of reaction. Honestly, I should have considered the possibility that the result would be a psychoactive substance. Before you ask, psychoactive substances are things that react to magical and/or psychic energy. For example, there are many alchemical metals that glow or levitate when exposed to mystic energy.”

“Jade can charge herself into living things,” Jet observed, floating back and forth through the air like she was pacing. “How is this different? Is it because I’m partly made of our DNA?”

“I don’t have DNA,” Sara informed her patiently, “my body only mimics organic life in order to fit in. Well, it tries, I don’t really have the hang of it yet. The important point is that I’m not actually organic, so what you’re partly composed of is pieces of me that are pretending to be Jade. Or at least they were, now they look more like threads of moonsilver only with an extremely strange atomic structure.”

Stopping in mid-air, Jet cocked her head to one side. “What if Jade tried to put a charge into you? What sort of effect would that even have?”

“I have absolutely no idea,” Sara murmured, looking back into the spectroscope, “and frankly, I’d be too scared to even try. Hell, I don’t even understand the full implications of what assimilating the DNA of mutants will do to me. In theory, I’d probably just assimilate the energy but frankly, I just don’t know enough about this to make an educated guess. Heck, for all I know it’d turn me into Jade, Vampire Princess.”


“No!” Sara scolded. “Bad Jet! No telling Jade about this.”

“Awwww, nuts,” Jet pouted. “But it’d be so cool if you could look like us! You could disguise yourself, go shopping like a normal girl, infiltrate a Japanese high school....”

Sara rolled her eyes. “I’m not going to reenact tentacle hentai for you.”

“But isn’t that what you usually do?” Jet quipped, flitting out of reach.

Sara was about to chase her when something slid under the door. Kneeling, she picked up the slip of paper and turned it over, finding text on the opposite side. It read: ‘Beware Oak’, neatly printed in Times New Roman from an inkjet printer. Opening the door, Sara peered out into the hallway in Hawthorne’s basement but there was no-one there.

“Beware Oak,” Jet read aloud while Sara closed and locked the door again. “Someone worried you’re going to get a stake through the heart?”

“I doubt it,” Sara said, shaking her head, “Oak in this case is capitalized, meaning it’s more likely to be someone’s codename. And, since I know the codenames of everyone at school as well as their dorm arrangements, I find it more likely that this slip of paper is referring to Jobe’s roommate Oak. Considering he’s a member of the Goobers, it’s not too hard to deduce why someone would try to warn me about him, though I don’t know if he’s part of the inner circle or not.”

Jet gave her a flat look. “Zounds, Holmes, that’s amazing!”

Sara returned the flat look. “I have a brain that works on overdrive and don’t have to sleep, what do you think I do to while away the time? Wait, no, don’t answer that.”

Jet didn’t say anything but she did snicker meaningfully.

“I don’t have sex ALL the time!” Sara protested, blushing purple. “Where do people get that idea? At any rate, I’ve no idea who might be passing me information that might be related to the Goobers’ activities against me but I can’t ignore this either.”

“What’s our move then?” Jet asked, performing an excited backflip in mid air.

Sara chuckled. “Slow down there, we don’t know how long your charge is going to last at this point. Still, we’ve got some time before curfew. I think I’ll go have a chat with Jobe and Oak, why don’t you stay here for a bit then follow me in about five or ten minutes? That way you can ride in like the cavalry if something goes wrong.”

Jet stood to attention. “Roger! Ten-four!”

Sara had to laugh despite herself.

So it was that she crawled out of the small window that connected her room to the outside, concentrated on her speed and ran, becoming nothing but a white and black streak in the moonlight. Deciding to cut through the forest, she bounced from tree to tree, using tentacles to swing from branch to branch. It was the quickest route to Twain, though Hawthorne was so far away from the main campus that no way could actually be called quick. Sara was busy estimating it to be a five minute trip one way when the trunk of the tree she’d launched herself towards exploded in a shower of splinters and kindling.

She didn’t think; pure instinct shot her hand over her head as she plummeted sideways through the piercing debris, tagging another tree with a tentacle that shot out of her palm. Heaving downward, she pulled herself away from the tearing shards, though she took a host of wounds and her dress was torn up her right thigh. Snow sprayed into the air as she hit, dropping into a paratrooper roll to cushion the fall and arriving on her feet in a low combat crouch.

For a moment, all was still. There was no sound of wildlife or wind, the snow shone brightly where it filtered through the canopy overhead, making the terrain appear mottled to ordinary sight. Sara didn’t have to rely on ordinary sight, however, but the only auras she could see were the cool greens of the trees.

Sara expelled the splinters from her body, pulling the larger shards out by hand. Her blood was sucked back into the wounds before they sealed up. Rather than do something stupid like ask who was out there, she scanned the treeline for threats, even growing several eyeball tentacles out of her back for all-round vision.

The moment of stillness was broken by a disembodied voice. “Tell me, if a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there, does it make a sound?”

I don’t like this, Sara thought. She couldn’t see anything anywhere, couldn’t pinpoint where the sound was coming from. She knew she wasn’t dealing with a ghost, they don’t blow up trees… or, at least, she’d never heard of it. She shifted her stance, ready to make a break for it.

“You can’t run,” the voice informed her, “I filled the forest around us with traps and snares. You wouldn’t like to go blundering into one, would you?”

“You sure like to talk, don’t you?” Sara snorted.

She caught sight of a metallic flash of moonlight just in time to dodge backward as a spring-loaded blade sliced through the space she’d occupied a moment before. She was too late to dodge the fist that slammed into her cheek, however. Bone snapped and purple blood sprayed from her mouth and nose as she was spun around by the force of the blow. Forced to backpedal a few steps, she finally got her balance back.

Looking up, she caught sight of a figure in the darkness wearing heavily padded dark blue body armor. It was a male figure but the face was covered by what looked like a matte black hockey mask. He was only visible for a moment before his image wavered and disappeared.

All was still again aside from Sara’s face which reformed to perfection in an instant. “Impressive,” Sara muttered, trying to find the flaw in her opponent’s apparent invisibility.

“Wait until you see my next trick.”

The demon princess dodged immediately, hearing the swish of cloth through the air a moment before the snow at her feet seemed to explode upward in a line from where her opponent had been standing a moment before. Even with her speed, however, she was too late. Her left arm, held out as she twisted and flung herself to the right, was caught in the blast just above the elbow. The snow seemed to shoot through her arm, though this was just an illusion as her forearm was severed neatly, the arm disappearing into a snowbank several feet away.

The figure flickered into existence with the blast, his form seeming to writhe as if viewed through water or a heat haze. He gestured again only this time Sara dodged completely as a chunk was taken out of the tall pine behind her. Immediately leaping into the air, she dodged a third blast, the attack only visible as a blurred line through the air. Kicking off an overhead branch, she plunged toward her attacker, right claws extended as a brace of tentacles erupted from her stump, reaching toward his throat. She was on him in an instant…

…but she simply passed through as if he wasn’t even there.

Quick as lightning, she planted her hand in the snow and whipped her tentacles around in a sweeping handstand attack that should have knocked a solid enemy on their ass. Again, the tentacles simply whipped through what felt like empty space. As she watched, Sara saw the tentacles distort around his body rather than following the course physics had laid out for them.

The figure planted his hands on his hips and laughed, the higher pitched sounds hollow and tinny. Sara recognized it as the signature of a voice modulator and a cheap one at that.

“I love regenerators,” the figure explained to her, “you can make the fun last all night.”

Sara was caught off guard with her mouth half open in retort when yet another blast, this one expelled from his body without a gesture, sliced a hole in her torso from her left hip to her navel. Knocked backward into a snowbank, Sara felt her blood stain the icy crystals. ‘Physical attacks aren’t working!’ she thought, her mind racing, frantically searching for the answer. Looking up, she saw him stalking toward her, the snow evaporating upon contact with the flickering aura.

“You’re rending space,” Sara identified the power, “you’re a Warper.”

“Congratulations,” the enemy snarled, “have a cookie.”

Sara was expecting the blast so all he succeeded in doing was annihilating a patch of snow and creating a good sized hole in the moist earth underneath. Eschewing strategy for shock tactics, the masked assailant leapt forward, hands swathed in the same killing aura as his blasts, growling in anger.

Ducking fists that might as well have been chainsaws, Sara took the opening, sliding one leg around her opponent’s and ramming him in the chest with her shoulder before he could put up his shield again. He toppled, falling into the snow with a shout. As he fell, an arc of rending space whipped out of his flailing hand, catching Sara on the right cheek, ripping away a good amount of flesh.

Swearing through ruined lips, Sara dodged yet another series of blasts that stabbed up through the canopy, showering the combatants with leaves, branches and more snow. The debris served a purpose, however, as it disintegrated upon contact with the masked man’s aura, marking his position even as he flickered out of existence again.

Settling on a strategy, Sara backflipped twice, landing at the base of a tree and pausing for a moment before she dodged again. The predictable attack, a wall of sundered reality intent on bisecting her from crown to groin, ripped through the tree instead. Rather than dodge sideways, however, Sara arced over the attacker’s head, landing on the opposite side. He wheeled around to find Sara pointing behind him.

He wasn’t an idiot. He didn’t turn to look at the tree toppling toward him, he just dodged to his left. Of course, the groan of the ancient wood probably tipped him off but the result was all Sara desired. She leapt after him as his aura dissipated, the distraction having the desired effect. She dug both sets of claws into his armor on impact, burying them into his chest. A tentacle snaked around his throat and tried to burrow through the ballistic cloth.

She drove his body into the frozen earth, the unyielding surface harder than stone. Sara could see his eyes through the tinted faceplate, blood clouding the lenses red. The eyes were wide open and her gaze bored right into his soul. She caught a momentary glimpse of a bottomless well of blood and hatred unfathomable by any sane human before tearing her mind away and back to the reality of the fight.

“Bravo,” he growled, though a hint of admiration crept into his voice.

“You’ll love this, then,” Sara spat, tearing a good chunk of his chestplate as she extracted her right hand and bashed the fist into his face. She worked at burrowing toward his flesh with her other hand, worming her way through layers of ballistic cloth and hard plates.

He reached up and grabbed a handful of her hair near the roots, pushing her face away before she could set her fangs to work as well. He balled his other hand into a fist and a set of blades popped out of the forearm plate which he gleefully buried in her stomach. Sara took the blow without flinching, without any sign of pain at all, which caused him to scowl. “Oh, now you’re getting boring!”

Pulling out the claws, he severed the tentacle wrapped around his throat before retracting the blades as he punched her in the breast. The sudden shift in her weight gained him enough leverage to wedge both feet into her stomach. With audible strain, he pushed her off with his legs, ripping away not only hair but a chunk of her scalp in the process.

Unfortunately, Sara was in mid-air, without any leverage to change her momentum, when he unleashed another salvo of shredding bolts. Space twisted and wrenched her body apart, liquefying limbs. What was left that was still solid tumbled across the frozen earth, staining the snow black and purple as her head rolled to a halt. Rising to his feet, the enemy limped towards her, raising his hands to obliterate what was left with one final rending bolt.

“Sara!” Jet shouted, flying out of the darkness straight into the armored form, launching him off his feet and into a tree. Bark tore off the trunk with the impact, sending splinters flying as he hit the ground. Shaking his head, seeing Jet’s dark form coming for him like an avenging angel, he pulled a device from his belt and pressed the trigger.

Small concussive charges exploded, blowing chunks out of the trees around them. The wood creaked and cracked for a moment before the nearby forest seemed to collapse, forcing Jet to dodge the felled logs. Snow kicked up as the earth shuddered, shrouding the area in a thick fog. When the wind finally carried the cloud away, the mysterious figure was nowhere to be seen.

Alighting next to Sara’s remains, Jet grabbed the demon princess’ head, brushing the ice away. “Sara?!? Sara, are you ok? Say something!”

“I have a migraine,” Sara’s head croaked.

“Oh thank God!” Jet sighed with relief, hugging the head tight to her chest. “I thought you were done for!”

“Mearly,” Sara mumbled, her word slurred by being mashed into Jet’s chest.

“You’ll regenerate though, right?” Jet asked, holding Sara up so they could talk properly. “Why aren’t you regenerating already?”

“Two reasons, darling,” Sara sighed, forcing the words through her mouth. “First of all, the cold isn’t helping. Most of my body’s frozen into the snow and will probably decompose in short order. Second, I shouldn’t have skipped eating today. I’m running out of energy.”

“Right, energy,” Jet nodded rapidly, “we just need to get you some energy then. There has to be some animals around here or back at Crystal Hall… no, wait they’re closed….”

“Jet, it’s ok,” Sara whispered, favoring the girl with a smile, “you’ll all be better off without me.”

Jet glared at her. “No! None of that! I’m not going to let you give up that easy!”

“Being with you and Team Kimba… was the happiest time of my life,” Sara admitted, “but I won’t let my existence hurt you all anymore.”

Pulling the head back to her chest, Jet fell to her knees and screamed, unable to cry. “What about Merry, you going to leave her like this? What about Donna?”

“Merry will be fine,” Sara said huskily, “she has other people now. And Donna has a life and a new love. As long as I’m alive, they’re in danger.”

“No! No! We need you! I need you! You need energy, take mine!”

“No,” Sara hissed.

“Yes! Damn it, Sara, you don’t get to make the choice this time! I’m nothing but energy, without Jade to charge me up I fade away. I’m expendable and the best I can ever hope for is that my short existence means something! I’m not going to continue living without you, so if you don’t eat me I swear I’ll run far away where Jade can’t recharge me and let myself fade away as well!”

Sara growled. “You can’t do that to me.”

“Yes I can! I so totally can! Eat me!”

There wasn’t anything Sara could do. Hunger rose within her, survival instinct overriding her will. The head turned inside out in Jet’s arms, tentacles slithering into her body. “Yes,” Jet said, smiling as she felt herself start to drain away, “it’s ok, Sara. This is how I wan….”

As the last word trailed off into an incoherent burble, the ball of tentacles in Jet’s arms expanded, growing rapidly. First a clawed hand slithered out of the mess, then an arm that wrapped itself around Jet’s shoulders. Pale legs emerged as another arm embraced the melting slime-girl. Finally, the tentacles receded, growing a membrane of skin around the once-more humanoid form. Sara knelt naked in the snow, cradling the now formless blob that had once been a girl in her arms, purple tears streaming down her cheeks as she turned her face to the night sky and screamed.

to be continued

Read 7268 times Last modified on Saturday, 21 August 2021 20:29

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