A Whateley Academy Tale
August 15th, 2007
Mariselle Baptiste, more commonly called Mari or Wakanda sat under a tree looking at the Whateley gate. It was wide open. A security guard was on duty, but he was there mostly for show. The school was shut down, open to workers fixing the cottages and facilities, the staff that needed to stay on campus for work or because they lived there, and the few dozen students who had nowhere to go or couldn't leave.
She was one of the students who fit in both categories, she didn't have anywhere to go and leaving campus was a death sentence. She'd been a prisoner of the campus for a little over a year. Watching as others came and went freely without a care in the world.
Her mind went back to her life in Haiti. She'd never stayed anywhere for more than a few months until she'd arrived at the orphanage when she was eleven. Her parents had always kept moving, researching, experimenting, talking with experts,mystics and crazy people, pleading for help, struggling to survive just a little longer. Trying to at least find a way for her to survive without the curse hanging over her head.
A month before she turned thirteen she'd had to start running as well. At least she thought it was a month, she'd forgotten when her birthday was. However old she had been, she'd seen the signs. The demon that stalked her family, had rested long enough after killing her mother. It was coming for her.
She'd run without any hesitation. Becoming one of the many street kids that survived as best they could in the streets and back alleys of the cities and towns. She'd gone where she wanted, hiding on trucks and boats to get around the country, doing whatever she had to to survive, using her intuition and the rules her parents had drilled into her head to guide her.
Now she was caged.
Just looking at the gate had the voice in the back of her mind screaming.
She trusted that voice. It had kept her alive when she should have died. It had shown her the yellow house, pushing her to speak to the owner. She hadn't known why at the time, it was a nice house, not the type a hungry orphan like her would go to, unless she planned on robbing it. But then she'd seen the owner, she'd knew him. He had tried to help her parents, and she remembered his name because of how odd it was, Jean Helsing.
He was the one who got her into Whateley, after quietly getting her shipped to Boston. He'd given her a chance of surviving. The school wards kept the demon out. Stepping through the gates for the first time had been wondrous. Finally after a life of fear, she hadn't had the voice whispering to her that she was in danger.
At first she hadn't been able to believe it. Safety had been an impossible dream, like Heaven. That had been remarkable enough, then they'd given her new clothes, all the food she could eat, a wonderful room and soft bed, and best of all the signs of He Who Does Not Walk, had stopped.
It was a temporary safety, she couldn't stay at Whateley all her life. Yet the wonders she saw and the amazing people she'd met, that had to mean they could help her.
And nothing had happened. She was no closer to finding a way to stop the demon that had slaughtered her entire family over the generations until she was the only one left. There wasn't even a way to protect herself from it, if she left campus.
Was the demon behind it all? Send her to Whateley, let her feel some sense of safety, let her hope, only to trap her in place and slowly crush her spirit. It would fit the sadistic thing.
Her hands were shaking.
She realized she'd been grinding her teeth, her jaw ached from the pressure.
Rage filled her.
Getting to her feet, she headed for the gate.
The voice screamed at her, telling her to stop. The anger roared back. She wasn't an animal, she shouldn't be caged.
The guard glanced at her as she left. From the corner of her eye she saw him write something in a book. He didn't stop her. She knew students could leave freely, they just wanted to make sure they knew who had left and when.
Being off the campus wasn't much different than being on it. There was just a forest and a road. But she was out of school, she wasn't trapped anymore. She could walk to Dunwich or wait for the bus that came in the morning, noon and evening.
Smiling savagely at facing her fears and the demon, she started walking down the road towards town. Mari didn't know what she'd do there, she just had to move. It felt good to be walking somewhere she hadn't been a thousand times before.
The school was out of sight. She'd done it. Maybe the demon wasn't following her. Maybe it had gotten bored.
A crow fell out of the sky, landing at her feet. It was dead. Rigor mortis had already set in, twisting the bird into an impossible shape of bent wings and legs. It's spine was shattered from being bent in five places.
She felt warm liquid stream down her legs.
The wind stopped.
The trees moved like some large animal was brushing against them.
Flies darkened the sky.
The voice in her head was screeching at her. It was a single, crystal clear word, 'RUN!'
Spinning around, Mari ran as fast as she could back to the safety of Whateley. The only reason she wasn't screaming was that she'd forgotten how. She didn't slow down once she was past the gate. Running faster than a girl her age should be capable of, she made it back to Whitman where she was temporarily staying. Reaching her room, she slammed the door shut and hid under her bed like a terrified child.
Sobbing, not caring about the foul smell, she huddled in the darkness, begging god to let her wake up from her nightmare.
August 20th, 2007
Dara Sok knew she should go home soon. Her parents would worry about her being out after dark, especially all by herself. Even though she was fourteen they treated her like a child, just because she was small.
Sure she was smaller than a ten year old, but she looked like a teenager. She had the curves in all the right places, and until May she'd even had the proper face of a fourteen year old. Her body just seemed set on making her the size of Santa's elf. She could handle all of that, it wasn't like she came from a family of giants or anything. And being cute and petite was awesome, everyone always wanted to help her.
Then she'd manifested.
She pulled her baseball cap lower, hiding her weird face.
Her little brother, who was taller than she was, called her doll-face when their parents weren't around. It was uncannily accurate.
She looked human, but her skin, eyes and other features were just a little off, making people uncomfortable when they looked closely at her. The doctor called it uncanny valley syndrome, a problem for many mutants with BITS or GSD that was not quite normal. If she'd looked really different, people would just be weirded out. But she was just different enough to make people think 'imposter' and 'unnatural'.
Looking in the mirror made her feel the same way.
She adjusted her coat collar to keep people from seeing her.
Her phone buzzed. It was probably her parents checking to make sure she was on her way home. Sighing, Dara wondered why she hadn't left a clone back home so her parents would think she was there.
“Because my clone would want to leave too,” she muttered to herself.
Looking at her unnaturally smooth hand, she wanted to scream. She needed a release.
Smiling she decided it was time to play the game.
Stepping into an alley, she went in a few steps then turned around going back to the sidewalk. As she did, she 'blinked'. Where there had been just her, now there were two of her, identical in every way, mentally and physically, right down to a mole on her left breast, and the scuff marks on their shoes.
She didn't know if she was the original or the clone. It really didn't matter. They had all the same memories and thoughts. Who could say or care who was first?
They walked hand in hand to the crosswalk, then with a nod they parted ways. Her clone crossed the street leaving her standing there on the sidewalk. As soon as her clone was across, they waved at each other starting the game.
Dara took off running, the St. Lawrence River was about a block away, it would be perfect. The doctors said she was an exemplar 3, and it showed as she ran. Even with her short legs, she ran as quickly as the worlds fastest man, and she could do it for longer.
There was a fence along the waters edge, stopping clumsy or inattentive people from falling into the river ten feet below. Couples, families and tourists were walking along the scenic view, taking pictures, enjoying the cool breeze, and relaxing. She ignored all of them as she vaulted over the barrier and dove headfirst into the water.
The water was cold, despite the summer heat. The cool darkness felt wonderful. She opened her mouth to breathe in the water, imagining what it would feel like to drown.
And then she felt a part of herself return. She couldn't explain it to anyone, the words didn't exist. Just something that was missing was filled in again. Her clone had died.
Closing her mouth, she swam to the surface. She'd lost the game, so she got to go home and deal with her fucked up life until she played again. Gasping she breathed deeply, spitting out a bit of water as she did. People were yelling at her from the shore. Ducking back under the water she swam away, looking for a place she could climb out.
Several minutes later, dripping wet, without her hat, Dara found herself back at where the game had started.
Curious she tried to retrace her clone's steps, going the way the other her had run. About a block away there were police lights and a tow truck. Walking past as casually as she could with river water dripping off her and her shoes squelching with every step, Dara strained to hear what was being said.
“I'm telling you, a kid jumped in front of my car. Her head went through my windshield, and she was smiling,” a man was saying. He looked pretty shaken up.
“And then she vanished?” the cop asked.
“Yes. I know it sounds nuts, but look at my car!”
The car was in bad shape. There was a large dent on the hood and the windshield was smashed in. That would be expensive to fix. She hoped the guy had good insurance. She chided herself for bringing a bystander into the game like that. She was supposed to be the only one who got hurt. She didn't matter.
Sighing, she moved on refusing to let that spoil her mood. She'd had her release, she should be good for a few weeks now. Maybe the new school she was going to would help. If it didn't, at least there would be a lot of mutants there. She should be able to find some new and interesting ways to play her game.
Taking out her phone, she was about to phone her parents, when she realized it was dead from getting soaked.
“Dammit!” she cursed. She hadn't expected to lose the game. Now her parents would be really pissed. How was she going to explain this?
Kirby Hall, Whateley Campus
August 24th, 2007
Mari didn't often enter the magic side of Kirby Hall. She didn't have any magical talent, so was relegated to the psychic side of the building. But this wasn't the first time she'd been in Miss Grimes office. When she'd first arrived at Whateley, she'd been closely studied by all of the magical and psychic faculty trying to find a way to break her link to He Who Does Not Walk. If they could even just block it somehow it would drastically improve her life.
Nothing had worked of course. And as they were met with failure after failure, they'd seemed to lose hope. She'd been called to Kirby less and less, until it seemed like they'd forgotten all about her. Well, she decided, it was time to remind them that she existed.
Taking a seat across from Ms. Grimes, she worked at keeping her emotions under control. “Good afternoon, Miss Grimes. I hope I'm not disturbing you.”
“Hello Mari. I am a little busy preparing for the term, but I have time to talk. I presume you want to know how things are progressing with the demon?”
“I'm going to be completely honest with you. We have not had much luck at finding a way to stop the demon. That is partly to do with how obscure it is, and also that the last year has been particularly busy with magical and demonic problems.”
Tears welled up in her eyes. They couldn't help her.
“However,” Miss Grimes continued, “we haven't given up. You still have three years at Whateley. While being confined to campus can't be easy for you, it gives us time to find a solution. And some of the problems we have been dealing with, have given us insight to discovering how to solve yours.”
“I-I should tell you. I left the campus. Over a week ago. The demon was waiting for me. He didn't wait like he usually did. He started coming so quickly, the crow actually fell out of the sky. He's never done that before."
“I know. You ran back so fast, security went into lock down, believing we were dealing with an attempted kidnapping or attack. It was incredibly dangerous of you stepping outside like that. We were considering giving you a lecture, but after looking at the security cameras it seems like you learned your lesson. However it might not have been all bad. If it was that eager to rush through it's ritual, it may be working under a time limit. That is useful to know.”
“I just want this to be over,” she said, feeling tears running down her cheeks.
Miss Grimes got up, walked around her desk and bent down to give Mari a hug. “I know. Don't worry we're doing everything we can for you,” she said.
Monday, August 27, 2007
“I'm going to miss you so much.” For at least the tenth time that morning, Dara's mother gave her a hug. She kind of wished her mom was more like her grandparents and didn't do hugs. Sure she liked hugs, but this was getting a bit ridiculous. She was just going a few hours away, it wasn't like she was dying.
Her father and her paternal grandparents just beamed at her. They were proud of her and would miss her, they made sure she knew it, but their Cambodian heritage didn't go for big displays of physical affection. Her mother was Canadian-Cambodian as well, but she was third generation, unlike her father's side. She hadn't even really spoken Khmer until she married into the family.
As soon as Dara was allowed to breathe again, her twelve year old sister Chantrea was squeezing the life out of her. “I want you to email me every week, and phone too.”
Blinking, she made a clone so if she died from lack of oxygen, at least she wouldn't die. That one found herself engulfed by her little brother, Narin. Who despite only being ten years old, was a little taller than she was, and made up for his lack of strength with sheer enthusiasm.
“I will,” she said in stereo. “And I'll miss all of you too.”
When they didn't let go, she blinked again. Another clone appeared in front of her father and grandparents. Then she saw her mother looking left out and made a third clone. With four of her in existence, she knew she wasn't as smart as she should be. She wasn't stupid yet, but she was getting close to it. Doing homework like this, or switching between English, French and Khmer quickly, would be a challenge. But for a goodbye, she was smart enough.
She listened in as her dad put a hand on her shoulder and smiled. “You've always made me very proud of you. I know you'll keep doing it. Now let's get you to your plane. You don't want to be late to school on your first day.”
Her clones let themselves slip away, and she was left smiling up at her father, remembering the too tight hugs of her mother and siblings. Putting her hand on his, she nodded. “I guess it is time to go,” she said.
Picking up her carry on, she and her family went to the MCO check in. A woman who practically screamed government official, was waiting for her. The woman looked over some forms, and smiled at her parents. “Hello, I'm Ms. Cote, from the MSA. This is Interest, I presume?” she asked in French.
“Yes she is,” her father said.
Dara held up her MID to confirm it really was her.
Ms. Cote handed over the forms to her parents. “I just need you both to sign here and here, officially putting Interest in government custody until she reaches her destination. Then I'll help her get through the MCO check in and onto her flight. We've got her a seat in first class with another girl going to the school.”
While her parents and grandparents went over a few last minute details, and Dara gave her brother and sister yet another hug, she wondered what her seatmate would be like. Would she have GSD like she did, or look really weird? Maybe she'd be a supermodel like a lot of superheroes. What if the girl was a rager?
Finally the paperwork was done, and she got one last hug from everyone, even her dad and grandparents, which was almost unheard of since she'd turned six. Then she and Ms. Cotes were heading to the MCO. The agents weren't bad, they weren't nasty or wasting time like she'd read about online, although that could be due to having a government official watching over them like a hawk.
Ms. Cotes led her to the gate to wait for the plane, and then to an out of the way bench. A stocky brunette, who looked to be about fifteen, was sitting there, nervously playing with an old book bag. She looked relieved at seeing the government official, and smiled at Dara.
“Alexa Killian, this is Dara Sok your seatmate. You're both going to be freshmen at Whateley together, and unless there's been a change of plans you'll be in the same dormitory,” Ms. Cotes said, using English this time.
“Hi,” Dara said, taking a seat beside the girl.
“Hey,” Alexa replied.
“You'll be boarding in about half an hour and getting off in Boston. An embassy official will meet you at the gate to help you deal with customs and the MCO. Do both of you have the emergency number you were given?”
“Good, if you don't see the person, wait there and phone it. We have a special arrangement with the US government and the MCO, for students like yourself, but if you go wandering off it can cause unnecessary problems. You'll have supper and be brought to a hotel where you'll be sharing a room. In the morning you'll be woken up at six to eat breakfast. Then you'll board a train for Whateley. Don't leave the room, unless there's an emergency. I know you may want to explore, but it's safest to stay in the room, especially for you Alexa. If you need anything call room service. Do you understand?"
They nodded again.
They shook their heads.
“All right, I'll let you girls get better acquainted. If you need anything ask me.” With that the woman went and sat across from them, pulling out her phone to do some work, or maybe play a game. They had a little privacy, but wouldn't be able to get into any trouble without being seen.
“So... what powers do you have?” Alexa asked.
“I can make copies of myself. Usually I just make one or two, but I can go as high as twelve. I don't like doing that because I get really stupid if I go too high. And I'm an exemplar, which is why I look like a doll. What about you?”
“Neat. That must make doing chores easy. I'm nothing special just a warper. I can make myself go 2-D.”
“That's pretty cool. You can sneak into almost anywhere as long as there's a crack.”
Alexa got a little smile. “Yeah, if I was going to be a thief that would be great.”
“I'm sure the-”
What Dara had been about to say came to an abrupt halt. Alexa winced and shuddered. As the shudders stopped, she reached into her carry on and pulled out a bottle of pills. With shaking hands she took two of them dry. Letting out a gasp of pain, the girl clenched her hands and took a series of deep breaths.
When she seemed alright, Dara tentatively asked, “Are you OK.”
“Yeah. Just need to check something,” the brunette said, her voice tight. Tapping her chest, two large lights appeared across her breasts. The top one was blue, the other was yellow. Wincing, Alexa lifted up the hem of her shirt revealing a weird looking vest underneath. She took what seemed to be a large, flat, battery from a pocket in the vest, put it in her bag and replaced it with a fresh one. The yellow light on her chest turned to blue.
“It's a devise that's keeping me alive.”
“Oh. What happened?”
“Chimerical Trait Acquisition. It's a problem that some mutants get. I'm one of the lucky 0.05 percent. I somehow got non-human DNA in me, and it's transforming my body. Basically I'm turning into a plant, a potato to be exact.”
“Do they have a cure?”
“Not really. There's supposed to be a devisor at Whateley that cured it. But to do it, she changed the girl into an elf of some kind and made her part of her harem.” Alexa shuddered in disgust. “Even if I swung that way, I'm not sure that would be worth it. Right now I have it under control, it just turned me into a cyborg and causes chronic pain.”
“Damn. Anything I can do to help?”
“Talking helps distract me from the pain after the system gives me a shock. I'm from Prince Edward Island, you're from Montreal, right?”
“Yeah, born and raised. My parents own one of the biggest cleaning companies in the city. What about you?”
“Potato farmers.” Alexa rolled her eyes. “You can't get much more stereotypical than me.”
“Potato farmers are awesome. Without them how could I eat poutine?” she replied with a grin.
Giggling, they kept talking until it was time to board the plane.
Whateley, Dickinson Cottage
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Waiting out on the steps of Dickinson, Wakanda wondered what her group of freshmen would be like. She hadn't planned on being their guide, but Mrs. Nelson had asked her to help out since she'd been set up in her room for over a week. Considering everything the school had done for her, she didn't feel right to refuse. So she had carefully washed and prepared her best clothes, which was just her newest school uniform, and spent days writing down and practicing what she was going to say.
The other early Dickinson resident came out and sat beside her. Jane Fisher, was an odd one. The girl was polite, but very quiet. When she did talk it was always slow, like she was thinking of just the right thing to say. Considering some of the girls in the cottage, that wasn't a bad thing.
“Hi, Jane,” she said. “Want to see your knew neighbours?”
“Yeah. I was told that my roommate would be in this group. Decided that it would help if we got to know each other on the tour,” the freshman said, not sounding very enthusiastic.
Wakanda wondered what she should say. Uplifting speeches were not something she knew how to do. Still she was older than Jane, it was her responsibility to try to help. Patting her on the back she forced herself to smile. “There are three other girls from Canada coming, they're all in this group. The school is setting you up together, but you can choose which one you want as your roommate.”
There was a long, awkward pause, that neither of them seemed to know how to fill.
Jane finally broke it. “Who are the girls?”
Looking over her list, more for something to do than to remember the names, she took a moment to collect her own thoughts. “Smile from Ontario, Interest is from Montreal, and High Beams comes from P.E.I..”
The girl actually chuckled at the last name.
“What's so funny?”
“High Beams. It's a... It's slang, for when a girls nipples get hard from the cold and stick out through their shirt.”
She started laughing. She'd never heard of that before, it wasn't a problem in Haiti. But having seen it several times during the winter, the phrase made sense. “I wonder if she knows that?”
“I'm not telling her.”
“I won't either.”
“So how long until they show up?”
“Any minute now.”
They sat in slightly more comfortable silence for five minutes when the bus finally showed up. Nine girls came out carrying small bags and backpacks, while the driver pulled the larger luggage from under the bus. The girls were an interesting mix, there were some very beautiful exemplars, several plain girls, and two identical tiny Asian girls that looked oddly doll-like. They weren't odd enough to immediately mark them for Whitman, but they were definitely not average. And there was one girl with what looked like lights under her t-shirt.
Getting to her feet, she put on her biggest smile, even as her heart raced. “Hello everyone, I'm your guide, Mari. Or you can call me Wakanda, if you like codenames.”
There were some snickers. She refused to let her annoyance show, she'd had an entire year to deal with the belief that she'd chosen her codename based on Marvel. The fact that she was Black just made it worse. When she'd been tested as a mutant, she'd been told she needed a codename, and she remembered her parents using the term when talking about magic and spirits and things. After she'd been told it was a fantasy land, she'd done some research of her own and learned it originally meant inner spirit and magic.
“Please put your luggage in the common room, and then come back out. We have a lot to do today. Don't worry it will be perfectly safe.”
“Where are you from?” a blonde girl asked. The freshman had to be a mid-level exemplar or had a really good bra, from the way her large breasts didn't sag.
“Haiti,” she replied. “Now hurry up, please. We'll get to introductions after your luggage is put away.”
The blonde didn't quite sneer at her, as she walked past with her luggage. Mari put it out of her mind. She'd had people act like she was somehow less than them because of where she came from, her accent, and her skin. Some days it made it easy to see things from N'Dizi's point of view. Instead of letting it get to her, she tried to think like her friends Stunner and Storyteller. The little bitch had no power over her. And if the blonde wanted to avoid her because of something she had no control over, great, she didn't want to have anything to do with her either.
So her smile stayed in place as she quickly went over her speech in her head while the girls moved their luggage. She'd put a lot of thought into her speech and asked Storyteller and Stinger for help with it, so she wanted to get it right. Before she got very far the odd looking twins walked past carrying mismatched luggage, and a third identical girl came up beside her.
Sitting in the shuttle bus, Dara tried not to bounce in her seat. She'd already been mistaken as a little kid a few times, she wasn't about to act like one. Especially around the girls she was going to share a dormitory with.
No they weren't dormitories, she corrected herself, they were cottages. It seemed silly to call them that, since they were clearly dorms, but Americans were pretty weird sometimes. She looked out the window, leaning over to see past her seatmate, fellow Canadian, new friend, and hopefully her new roommate, Alexa.
There had been a few other Canadian kids that they'd met at supper and breakfast. One of them was even in the same cottage as they were, Amber, a blue haired girl that liked going by her codename, Smile. She was sitting at the back of the bus, looking out the window with a forced smile on her face.
She didn't know why the girl seemed nervous. The school looked pretty cool, and she'd already seen several girls with GSD that made hers look like nothing. She couldn't wait to get out, stretch her legs, and see what a mutant school was really like.
She saw her friend shudder and wince. Reach into her bag, Alexa pulled out her prescription bottle and took her medicine.
“Are you going to be OK?” she asked.
“Yeah. The system just gave me another shock. I'll be fine in a few minutes,” Alexa said. The brunette closed her electric blue eyes and took a series of deep breathes.
“When we get there I'll take your bags for you,” she said.
Just as the bus stopped, Dara watched Alexa open her eyes again and tap her shirt. Two lights appeared under the fabric, and both girls breathed a sigh of relief to see they were blue. It meant that the cybernetic system was working perfectly and charged up.
They waited until everyone was off the bus, and Dara 'blinked', creating a clone of herself. While she grabbed her carry on bag, her clone helped Alexa get to her feet and then grabbed the girls bag. She slowly led the way out, taking small steps so her friend wouldn't feel the need to rush.
Outside two girls were standing on the steps of Dickinson Cottage. The taller Black girl was clearly in charge, and wearing what looked like the school uniform. Dara hoped she wouldn't have to wear the tie. It didn't look bad, being mostly dark red with small white-black-white stripes on it, but she didn't think it would work with her colouring. The younger girl was standing off to the side in plain jeans and a t-shirt, doing a good impression of a wall flower.
The older girl smiled and said, “Hello everyone, I'm your guide, Mari. Or you can call me Wakanda, if you like codenames.”
Dara winced at the codename while others giggled. She didn't know why Mari had chosen that name, it had to be like blood in the water for any mean girls.
The girl had probably expected that reaction, her smile didn't waver. “Please put your luggage in the common room, and then come back out. We have a lot to do today. Don't worry it will be perfectly safe.”
She tried to place Mari's accent, it sounded Caribbean, which didn't exactly narrow things down. Handing her bag to her clone, she 'blinked' again. The two clones went to get her luggage and Alexi's. Her friend had already found a seat on a bench to the side of the stairs, and was doing her pain relief exercises. So with that worry out of the way, Dara made her way over to their guide.
“Haiti. Now hurry up, please. We'll get to introductions after your luggage is put away,” Mari said, to a pretty blonde examplar. Dara was pretty sure the blondes name was Brightstar or Starbright or something like that.
As soon as the way was clear, she went up to the older girl. “Hi, I'm Dara,” she said. “Did you say you're from Haiti?”
“Yes I am. And you're from Montreal, right?”
“Yeah. This is the first time I've been out of Canada all by myself.”
“I know how that feels,” Mari said, her smile seemed to become a real one, not just put on. “Is your friend OK?”
“She will be in a few minutes. Just let her sit for a bit, while the pain killers work.”
“Does she need to go to Doyle?”
“Uh, Doyle?” Dara asked in confusion.
“I mean the clinic. It's called Doyle.”
“Oh right. This place has lots of weird names,” she said, buying time to think of how to answer the question. Alexa didn't make her chronic pain a secret, so it should be all right to tell the truth. “She doesn't need them right now. And they can't do much for her, it's chronic.”
“Oh, that's too bad,” Mari said, and seemingly at a loss of what to say looked at her feet for a moment.
Changing the subject was called for. “So how did you get stuck with this job?”
As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Dara regretted them. She didn't show her embarrassment, just silently cursed herself instead. She should have remembered that she was stupider now.
“I lived here over the summer, and didn't have to unpack. So I volunteered.”
She breathed a sigh of relief, it seemed like her faux pas wasn't that bad. “The handbook says there's lots of groups, what ones are you in?”
“Just one, the Tigers. It's a martial arts group.”
“Cool! As soon as I saw that they have martial arts classes here, I've wanted to learn. Is your club looking for new members?”
For some reason that question made the girl wince. “I'm sorry, it's actually only for Black students. But there's another martial arts group called the Dragons. They're an Asian group and pretty good.”
“The Dragons. They're not playing into stereotypes at all,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Since we're dorm- I mean cottagemates, do you think I could watch you train sometimes and maybe join in. Just informal, friendly stuff if you have time.”
She wanted to die. She was coming off as a total idiot, just barging in like that. It was almost enough to make a clone and kick herself in the ass. Somehow she didn't melt into a puddle of embarrassment, and she kept smiling, like a moron.
“Yeah. My friend, Storyteller, is in Dickinson and the Tigers too. We'll be practising against each other in the basement gym or outside sometimes in the evening. If you really want to learn, you can join us. But we don't take it easy on each other, you will get bruises.”
Holding back a cheer, she grinned and nodded. “Thank you. I don't mind bruises. I'll just make a clone to watch, and then join her afterwards. I'll keep all the memories but the bruises will be a lot lighter.”
They had to stop their conversation as the freshmen girls started filing back out. Dara saw her two clones give each other a high five, and one of them vanished. While she went down the steps into the clump of freshmen girls, her clone went to help Alexa stand up and gave her a shoulder to lean on. The quiet girl who had already been at the cottage joined them, standing near the back, being as unobtrusive as possible.
“Is everyone here and ready for the tour?” Mari asked, looking them over.
There were nods and a few 'Yeah's', from the girls.
“All right, welcome to Dickinson cottage, your home away from home. Some people call us the lucky dorm because most of us don't have any GSD, or it's very minor. A few girls let that get to their head and bully others, especially the girls in Whitman. Whitman is the other cottage for girls, and many of them have severe GSD. We would like to avoid that this year. Just because you were lucky when it came to gaining your powers, doesn't mean you have to be a jerk. Teasing among friends, and a few lighthearted pranks to keep everyone on their toes, is fine, but try to think how you would feel if you were on the receiving end of it first.”
Star girl interrupted. “If GSD students are supposed to be in Whitman why do we have nightlight and the creepy twins here?”
Dara glared at the girl, and saw her clone was doing the same.
Alexa snorted. “I don't have GSD, I'm a cyborg.”
Their guide looked down her nose at Star girl. “You'll want to be careful about who you insult. Some of the students here are extremely powerful, and if you push them too far it can end very badly. Picking fights with your cottage mates on the first day isn't very smart either. You don't know what they can do to make you regret it. Finally there are some ragers on campus. They'll have a UV band letting you know who they are, but sometimes they forget it, they hide it, or you may not notice it. Angering one of them could get you and others killed.
“And to answer your question, I did say this is the cottage for people with minor GSD. Eye colour, odd hair, an unusual skin texture that's still within baseline norms, are all acceptable.”
Even with Wakanda defending her, it was tempting to go all out and create twelve clones. That would let the girl know she wasn't defenceless. But she decided not to. Getting into a fight on the first day would not look good. And if she did have to fight, keeping something a surprise was best.
“Now,” Mari said, “I think it's time for introductions, I'll start. I'm Mariselle Baptiste. You can call me Mari or use my codename Wakanda. I'm originally from Haiti, but came to the US last year when I became a student here. I'm a level two exemplar, with ESP and precognition. That means I can detect connections between people and objects. I have a pretty powerful danger sense. I get hunches sometimes that are usually true, and I can see a few seconds and occasionally minutes into the future. Don't feel shy about talking about your powers or asking people about theirs. It's one of the most common topics in the first month. Now who would like to go next?”
Dara raised her hand, both of them.
Smiling, the guide pointed at her. “You're up.”
“Hi,” she said in stereo. Frowning, she pulled a quarter out of her pocket and flipped it.
Her clone said, “Heads,” while it was in the air.
It landed in her hand and she flipped it over onto the back of her wrist, revealing heads. Frowning, she let herself slip away.
She shook her head, feeling the conversation with Mari pop into her mind. Oh god she must have sounded like an idiot. What had she been thinking, barging in and asking to spar? She'd have to kick her ass later. At least her putting the luggage inside had gone without a hitch. One of them had to be able to do something right.
“Hi again,” she said. “So I'm Dara Sok, from Montreal, Canada, so if you need help with French class, I can be bribed with chocolate into helping. My grandparents and great-grandparents came from Cambodia. I'm a level four warper, I can make copies of myself. But unlike most multipliers, these copies are identical to me in every way. They're flesh, blood, and independent until they die or are let go. I'm also an Exemplar three.”
“How do you know which one of you is the original if you're identical?” the quiet girl asked.
“I don't know. When I first manifested, I created a copy just before getting hit by a car. I saw one of me go flying down the street, hit the ground and disappear, while I was standing right on the edge of the curb thinking I was about to die. So I don't really think about original or clone. Whichever me I am at the moment thinks I'm the original. And that's also why I know what happens if one of me dies.”
“What's your codename?” Mari asked.
“Oh right. I'm Interest, because I keep increasing if you give me enough time.” She looked at the girls, wondering if there'd be anymore questions. When there weren't, she grinned at Alexa. “You're up High Beams,” she said.
Her friend swatted the back of her head. “Thanks. Right, I'm Alexa Killian, also called High Beams.
There was some laughter at that, Alexa grinned, clearly expecting the reaction and relishing it. Then she gestured at her glowing chest. “Since I have these, I figured I might as well go with it. I'm a cyborg, just not a cool powerful one. When I manifested I gained a genetic disorder and started turning into a plant. I spent a year in a coma, while the doctors cut out tumours and kept me in a chemically induced hibernation so my body essentially entered stasis. A government devisor managed to make a system that sends a charge through my body several times a day killing most of the plant DNA and encouraging my human DNA to remain dominant.”
Dara's skin crawled at the easy going way her friend explained her problem. Looking around, she wasn't the only one who was a little freaked out by it.
“So I now have a devise in my chest, with wires wrapped around my bones and connecting my organs. This vest,” she lifted her shirt showing off the padded, high tech devise, “holds the batteries keeping it charged up, and monitors everything. That's what the lights are for, letting me know if the battery needs to be change or if there's any problems. It's pretty durable, but it's a devise and it's rather important for keeping me alive. So I'm not allowed to take the Basic Martial Arts class, and I'm to avoid fighting. Also if you see me hurt, don't heal me. That would turn me into a plant very quickly, and I've got enough scars already.”
“Does it hurt?” a girl asked.
“Yeah. I've got chronic pain. And the charge makes it flare up worse, because it's killing the contaminated DNA, and forcefully regrowing the good DNA. It's not fun, but I can handle it. It's better than being dead.”
Mari spoke up. “All right girls. As cottagmates, this is something we should help with. If you see anyone bullying Alexa, help her out, either directly or by getting security, a teacher or a helpful student. And if she does get hurt, make sure a healer doesn't do anything that could harm her. Whateley can be a rough place. That's why we have a first rate hospital on campus. But even with that, every year one or two people die from complications with their powers, burn out or because someone did something stupid or evil. We don't want that to happen to anyone, especially one of our own.”
There were nods and murmurs of agreement from most of the girls. Alexa gave the older girl a sweet smile of thanks.
“Thanks. I'll try not to need the help,” Alexa said, blushing. “Anyways, I'm a Warper two. I can turn 2-D, and if I concentrate I can cut something like a laser.”
One moment she was normal looking, and then it was like looking at a living picture. Alexa slowly spun in a circle and when her side was straight at Dara she seemed to vanish. A second later she was a slowly growing sliver of colour, then once more she was a photo.
“If you could change the vest into power armour, you could be a superhero. Sneaking up on bad guys and slicing them up,” a black haired girl said.
Alexa returned to normal, making a face. “Ew. That would be messy. I'll stick with my original plan and become an agricultural biologist. I want to live close to my parents farm, it's on Prince Edward Island in Canada.”
“Who wants to go next?” Wakanda asked.
The rest of the girls went, and while none of them had anything really unexpected, most of them sounded interesting. Even the jerk Starbright, which Dara thought was a stupid name, had managed to get her attention. Having a superhero big sister was kind of cool.
When the introductions were done, they headed out for a tour of the school. Dara stayed by Alexa's side, ready to offer a shoulder if necessary, but the break seemed to have been long enough for her friend. While they walked at the very back of the group, they were able to keep up with everyone. She noticed that the other two Canadians, Smile and the quiet girl, Just Me, were quietly talking with each other. The rest of the girls were forming up in pairs or small groups as well. Starbright had two girls with her. They were at the front acting like they were the most important people there.
“For those of you who go to church, this is Dillon Chapel,” Mari said, pointing at an old and dignified building with a cross above the door. “Reverend Englund holds several services every Sunday starting 6am, starting with a Roman Catholic service, then a non-denominational service, then does them both over again for late risers. If you aren't Christian, there is a multi-faith religious space in Schuster Hall that is open to everyone. We also have teachers who are able to help with spiritual concerns or questions. Rabbi Moskowicz, in the theology department is one of them. If you ask a teacher or check on the school website they'll be able to point you in the right direction for most common religions.”
Alexa perked up a bit at hearing about the church. Not being particularly religious, Dara just filed it away as useless. If asked she said she was Buddhist. But she only went to a Buddhist temple for holidays with her grandparents to be polite. Religion had never particularly interested her, and it was even less interesting now.
As they walked by some woods on the way to the lake, there was a rather more important warning. “All the woods directly around the campus are safe. The worst you'll find are some bullies or maybe an escaped devise from the tunnels. But further out are parts of the woods where you don't go. They're marked out on all school maps, and most have warning signs placed every few meters. You will still want to look over your maps before going hiking off the trails. Entering the wrong grove of trees can have bad things happen to you. If you're lucky you'll have a scary experience and some time loss. If you're not lucky, security will find you screaming and clinically insane wandering around the woods, or they'll discover your body so you can have a proper funeral. Usually they won't even find that.”
“Is it really that dangerous?” a girl who went by Cauldron asked. She had a tan and an outdoorsy taste in clothes, and said she was a Wiccan.
“I've been to a few of those spots. Just at the edges,” Mari clarified. “My danger sense was a gibbering mess each time. Seriously, don't push your luck. There are other ways to risk life and limb here without certain death or insantiy.”
A bit later, they came to a large building, much larger than the rest on campus.
“This is Holbrook Arena. It's used for assemblies and matches.”
“What are matches?” Starbright asked. From the way she asked it, she already knew the answer.
“They're fights between students or training teams. You will be doing your own share of them after the Fall term. The school believes in students knowing how to fight or run away. So starting in your second year, you'll be put on a training team. If you're smart, you'll form your own or join one with people you like. You can do that at any time. Otherwise you'll be assigned to a team, and you could find you don't like your teammates, or your powers and skills don't mesh very well.
“Anyways, a training team will be set up in matches against others, or a simulated enemy. It could a capture the flag type situation, or you need to escape an enemy, or it could be a disaster type scenario where survival is all that matters, or many, many others. And then you have grudge matches. Sometimes you'll be angry with a student. The school will try to mediate things, to keep it from becoming violent. But sometimes it's not possible. So they'll let the students work out their aggression in a controlled setting, and allow them to fight. After the fight, no matter the outcome, they're expected to play nice.
Dara watched their guide pause, as if considering something. Then Mari continued. “If you find yourself in that situation, don't go looking for a rematch and do not retaliate. You will be punished. And the school isn't the only one who will punish you, students will too. The school will turn a blind eye to whatever is done to you, and some students see it as a chance to get creative. If it wasn't so close to lunch I'd tell you what happened to a guy called Anvil when he broke that rule. What happens in the sim, stays in the sim.”
“So what team are you on?” Sprinkler, a black haired girl with water powers, asked.
“I'm on The Tigers training team. The Tigers are martial arts club I'm a member of. So we do matches regularly, usually combat style matches, and we challenge other teams fairly often, just to see how we rank against them.”
Smile raised her hand. “Do all clubs have a training team?"
“No, just the bigger ones and the groups that are interested in that kind of thing. So The Future Superheroes of America, the Grunts, the Dragons, and even Venus Inc., have teams. Although I think Venus Inc., only has a team to build up their portfolio with some superhero shots.”
“What's Venus Inc.?” Alexa asked.
“It's a modelling club. They do photo shoots for companies and magazines all over the country. You'll see them a lot around campus, they sell posters and other things, and it's hard to miss most of them. There's a lot of members in our cottage.”
“What if we're not really fighters? I'm just a devisor, and haven't been in a fight in my life,” another girl asked. Dara was pretty sure the girls codename was Balderdash.
“You've still got to do it. Don't worry, it's only about once a month, unless you're on a team that requests more training. And gadgeteers and devisors are always wanted on a team, because you have lots of helpful inventions or at least have access to The Workshop. That's where you guys work your magic, it has almost everything you need to build whatever you want. And the Workshop kids even have their own team, The Gremlins. They aren't a top level team, they don't train as much as some of the others, but they're still tough. Power armour, missiles, lasers and plasma cannons suck when you're a hand to hand fighter.”
Dara smiled at the thought of fighting like that. It had to be so cool. She wasn't the only one who looked thrilled, Starbright had puffed out her already too large chest, and had a smirk. Smile was practically jumping up and down with joy. And a girl called Slingshot was rubbing her hands together. The rest of the girls looked a lot more nervous.
Khrysalis, who was half Chinese, with long silky black hair, asked in a shaky voice, “What are we supposed to do if we don't have powers that can help us fight?”
“Learn to fight or survive,” Mari said, which didn't actually sound that helpful. “You can take survival or basic martial arts, for your physical credit. Your advisor will advise you to take one, but some students will take swimming or a regular gym class instead. I recommend taking one of the first two. You will need it. And they're pretty fun, a lot funner than just swimming in a pool or running laps all class.”
“But what can I do against power armour, or someone with a forcefield?”
“Distract them, let another person who is stronger than you deal with them while you look for someone more your size, use a holdout, or survive and run out the clock.”
“What's a holdout?” Dara asked.
Mari flicked her wrist, causing something to fall out of her loose shirt sleeve, and suddenly she was holding a metal baton. She swung it through the air, causing electrical sparks to trail behind it. “Holdouts are tools you can use to help you survive and win a fight. They can be magical, like my friend Storyteller uses, mechanical, or devises. If you're a gadgeteer or devisor you can make a lot of money, or get some favours, making these for people. And if you're not a workshop geek, you should be nice to them, so they'll want to be nice and help you out, or at least give you a discount. I got this by having a... talk, with someone who wouldn't leave a gadgeteer alone.”
“Cool,” Dara whispered mostly to herself. She needed to get something like that.
“All right, it's almost lunchtime. Let's get to Crystal Hall before it gets too full. You can ask me anything while we eat. And I'll point out some people who you might need to know, and who you should avoid. After that we'll go to the Workshop.”
Mari felt pretty good about how everything had gone. Starbright had been a bit of a problem, but she seemed to be mostly harmless, just trying to throw her weight around a little. The rest were too busy learning about the school and getting to know each other to cause any trouble. Although a few of them could be problems. Slingshot and Interest were probably going to be trouble magnets, which made her glad she was just a guide for the day and not in charge of them.
At least the rest seemed to be fairly normal. If only they could all be like Jane, Dickinson would be nice and peaceful for a change.
Picking at her lunch, she listened with half an ear to the conversations of the freshmen. The food was good as always. She had a plate of beans and rice, along with some chicken fingers, but she missed real Haitian food. The beans and rice weren't spiced the right way, and the chicken fingers weren't anything like the chicken fritters she could buy for pennies almost anywhere back home. What she really wanted was some nice mashed breadfruit in gumbo sauce. She hadn't even seen a breadfruit in over a year. And she'd kill for a banana fritter.
Maybe one day she'd be able to go outside and find a Haitian restaurant. Or even go home.
Pushing her sad thoughts aside, she looked around Crystal Hall, seeing some friends in the distance, a lot of classmates, and one person who made her scowl. Tapping her fork on the table, she got everyone's attention.
“You see that guy over there,” she pointed right at the senior. “Pompous asshole who acts like he owns the place, and everyone is avoiding. He's called the Don. If you see him coming towards you, if he talks to you, if he even looks in your direction, get the fuck away from him. If he does anything to you, even smiles, run away and get help, scream if you need to to get attention. Don't argue, don't fight, just get away.”
“Why? He doesn't look too bad,” Geist said.
“He's a psychic who will fuck with your mind if you give him an opening. He's used and abused a lot of people, especially girls, and no one knows why he isn't in prison or dead. Last year two people he screwed with, tried to kill him, shoving a lamp up his ass and putting him in Doyle for weeks. They weren't punished for it, and people were only upset they didn't manage to break his neck.” She was a little surprised at herself using that type of language. But after the stories she'd heard of the Don, and how her danger sense reacted whenever she looked at him, it made her sink back to her days on the street.
As if to wash away the bad taste of looking at the former 'king' of the school, a familiar and friendly face came up.
“Wacky!” her best friend called out, rushing over to give her a hug. The many silver and copper bangles on her arms jangled pleasantly.
“Story! I've missed you so much,” she said. Getting up she lifted her friend into the air.
“You should have come home with me this summer. We could have fit you in somewhere.”
“I couldn't,” she said, looking away from her friend. Quickly changing the subject. “I love your dreadlocks.”
“Thanks,” Storyteller said, patting her short, bushy dreads. “I got bored of braids, decided to try something new. I just got here and haven't had a chance to do more than drop off my bags at the cottage. You're going to be my roommate this year, right?”
“Yes! I got everything OK'd by Mrs. Nelson.”
They hugged each other again. Turning to the table, Mari said, “Everyone this is Storyteller. If you need some help with magic or something, she's really good at it.”
“I'm not that good,” her friend said, ducking her head. “And you can call me Ebony or just Story, they're less of a mouthful. Now I'm starving and you're busy, so we'll talk back in our room. This year is going to be so great!”
“I'll go with you, I need some dessert.” Putting her arm around her friend, they made their way to the buffet line. “How was your summer?”
“Really cool. My parents managed to get some time off at the same time, and we went to Miami for two whole weeks. The beaches were sssoooo nice, and you would not believe all the hot guys I saw. The music was great. Malik and I got to go to the Ultra Music Festival while our parents did some boring stuff. It was more his thing, but how often will I get to go to a massive concert? And I talked my parents into going to a place with live Haitian and Cuban music. They really liked it, and Malik kept drooling over one of the singers. I got a picture of him staring and used it to blackmail him all summer. His girlfriend will be pissed if she sees it. I would have loved to have you there. Why didn't you come?”
“I-I really couldn't go,” she said. She'd never told anyone why she couldn't leave Whateley. The curse she was living under was hers to deal with. What if she told one of her friends and it made the demon go after them after it killed her? Or worse, it went after them, leaving her alive? How could she live with herself if that happened?
“You never leave campus. Not even just to got Dunwich for a piece of crappy pizza with me. What's wrong?”
She heard the hurt in her friend's voice. She remembered when she'd first met Story at the start of the Winter term. The girl had done really badly in her combat final and wanted to do better, so she'd joined the Tigers. She'd looked broken at first, always down on herself, not seeing how she was improving. It had taken a while to get her to see she really wasn't a failure. But the fear and hurt had never really left her friend. And now it was coming back with a vengeance.
“I- it's... I'll explain everything tonight after supper. It's not easy to talk about and it's going to take a while. OK?”
Story pulled her in tight. “OK, I'll wait. But if you don't tell me tonight, we're going to the mat and I'll beat it out of you.”
“You wish. I can still kick your ass.”
“I've been practising some spells over the summer, I'll surprise a lot of people now. Even a cheater like you.”
Parting ways, she grinned. “I can't wait to see you try.”
She went to the dessert section, getting a bowl of flaked ice and squirted in a lot of strawberry flavouring. Closing her eyes, she let her precognition take control. She couldn't really see what was going on around her, it was more a sense of what was about to happen a split second before it did, and where she should be.
Almost in a trance, Mari moved in time with the knowledge. Spinning around a group of noisy juniors. Coming to an abrupt stop as a tiny drone flew past nose. Taking two quick steps then ducking under the massive outstretched furry arm of Montana, who was just starting to wave at someone. Jumping over a tray that clattered to the ground practically at her feet, narrowly avoiding getting splashed with spaghetti sauce. Then weaving a complicated pattern through a mob of freshmen. She made it back to her seat far faster than she should have. Finally opening her eyes, she saw everyone staring her.
“What?” she asked.
“Did you make it through all of that with your eyes closed?” Dara demanded.
“Yes. It's good practice for my precognition.”
“I wish my power was that cool,” Balderdash said, just barely loud enough to be heard.
“I wish I could make devises and gadgets that will make me a lot of money,” she replied, thinking of how she'd helped cheer Story up when they'd first met.
“So is that how you fight? Just close your eyes and go with the flow?” Dara asked.
“Yes. At first I needed to keep my eyes open, and I thought too much. But as I practised it became easier to just go with it. It's like a dance, If I overthink, I won't be able to keep up, and I'll get punched in the face. And I practice without using it as well, that's the best way to improve my actual skills.”
Krysalis gave her a look that was clearly jealous, and changed the subject. “So what can you tell us about the teachers.”
“Not as much as you'd probably like. I spent most of last year in remedial classes, psychic classes and BMA. I needed to improve my barely understandable English, and my schooling had left a lot to be desired.”
“Too poor to go to school?” Starbright asked.
“I lived in an orphanage, and then spent a year on the street before coming here. So yes, you could say that,” she replied. Normally she wasn't one to play poor-me to get sympathy. Her friend Shocker said that winning by pity points wasn't a real victory, but it was the truth. And from the looks the others were giving Starbright, the girl wouldn't bring it up again.
“I can tell you what I've heard about some of the teachers. And I have plenty of stories about the Evil Old Man, Sensei Ito.”
The girls leaned in closer to listen as she began to speak.
Dara sat in the comfy office chair smiling politely at her advisor, Mrs. Devons. She'd left a clone back in her room to put things away and meeting her new neighbours. Another one was walking around the campus, seeing the sites without a guide this time, just taking in everything and maybe making some friends. She'd been tempted to send out another clone, but had decided not too. If any one of her needed some extra help she didn't want to risk getting too stupid to be useful.
Mrs. Devons didn't really impress her. The woman, who seemed to be in her mid-fifties, really needed someone to teach her how to dress. She was wearing a girdle or something, possibly trying to look thinner, that pushed rolls of fat up around her armpits and her hips. The dress she was wearing would have looked better on a seventy year old, and her voice was really nasally, making her annoying to listen too.
“I've gone over your transcripts already, and have a basic class schedule prepared for you, Dara. It covers everything you need, so we'll just go over the open spots first, then we can look at the complete list together. And I have a question about your powers.” the advisor said.
“OK,” she said, wondering what her powers had to do with her classes.
“It's my understanding that your clones are independent of each other, and when you come back together their memories become yours, is that right?”
“Yes. But if I put out three or more, I start getting dumber. With three, it's not really noticeable, but it goes downhill pretty quickly, and at twelve, I'm practically useless unless I'm focused on one simple thing. If you need someone to find your keys quickly, I'm your girl. If you need someone to add up one plus one, don't ask me.”
“That's what I thought. And that opens up a special option for you. But let's deal with the regular details first. You're required to take a class in physical education. You can take-”
“I want BMA,” she said, interrupting the teacher.
Smiling, Mrs. Devons typed something onto her computer. “You certainly are eager.”
“Learning how to fight will be cool. In my old school if you spoke too loudly you could get detention.”
“Since you're multilingual, you don't need to take a language class. It is an option if you want, and you don't have to take just French or Kmer, we have several other options. Or you can take a civics class, social science, business, arts, or possibly an advanced class if you test into it.”
Art sounded like it could be fun, but she really wasn't in the mood to sit and draw. “I'll take something in business. My parents will like that.”
“OK. With the schedule I've prepared, your BMA class will be in the fifth period. That's typically known as the hardest class. Sensei Ito is a tough teacher, and you'll be facing bricks and students who have some experience fighting already. Do you think you can handle it?”
She nodded. “You can't learn anything if you take it easy.”
“All right. Your schedule is Power Theory, Power Lab, Business Accounting 1, Algebra 1, Lunch time, BMA, English 1, and World History 1. How does that sound?”
“It's OK. Power Theory and Lab is where you learn about mutant powers and test them out, right?”
“Yes it is. It covers your science credits for this year. Since that's satisfactory, let's go over your special option. Now you're able to create two clones without any problems, what if we gave you two class schedules. You'd learn twice as much and as an Exemplar three, you should be able to handle it without getting overburdened. We'll leave the first and fifth period free, so you can use as many clones as you need in BMA and Labs.”
That was a really good idea. Dara wondered why she hadn't thought of that before, she was already doing something like it just then. “Let's do it. How about I take some, uh, science-y stuff. And, uh... Too many me's out.”
Dara felt a growing hole in her mind, as one of her clones made a lot of her. Stupid, stupid clone. She needed thoughts, and smarts. Why now? Important time. Need smarts. She looked at Mrs... Mrs... Teacher.
“What's wrong? Do you need to go to Doyle?”
“Stupid. One and two me's out. All out.” Several of the clones ended abruptly. She could kind of think again. “All twelve clones out. Weird.”
As suddenly as the clones had vanished, they reappeared. For the next minute, Dara whiplashed between being a drooling idiot to being somewhat capable of higher thoughts. Then it abruptly ended, and there were only two of her.
“Sorry about that,” she said. “I have no idea what one my clones ran into, but she was making as many clones as she could.”
“Is she- Are you all right?” Mrs. Devons asked.
“I have no idea, she just disappeared. Oh well, not my problem.” Shrugging, she put it out of her mind. “So where were we? Right, I'd like some science classes. They seem like a nice challenge.”
Near the Quad, Whateley Campus
A few minutes earlier
Dara sat on a bench watching the world go by. It was a pretty interesting world, with lots of unique people walking past. There was a girl with long white hair who looked like she was ten years old, a couple of cat girls, a werewolf holding hands with a normal looking girl, some really handsome guys, and plenty of girls who looked like they came straight out of an adult magazine. Her eyes were drawn to a girl that looked like she was made of porcelain, she even cracked every time she moved. And there was a gargoyle-like girl hauling a large duffel bag.
She was glad she was the one outside enjoying the fresh air, unlike her clones who were setting the room, and getting classes organized. Sipping the milk tea she'd bought at the bistro beside Crystal Hall, she let out a satisfied sigh. Life was good.
Someone sat down next to her on the far end of the bench, putting a couple of large bags down beside him. Looking over, she smiled politely at the brown haired boy. “Hi,” she said.
He wiped sweat from his brow and smiled back. He was small and frail looking, just a little over five feet tall she guessed, and really thin. He didn't look sick, just tiny, kind of like her.
“Hey, how you doing?” he asked.
“Pretty good. I'm Dara.”
“Alchemical,” he said.
She looked at his shopping bags, they were stuffed to the top with all kinds of different things. “Forgot one of your suitcases at home?”
“What? Oh, you mean all of this. No. I was just checking out the school store and they had all kinds of things for experiments and lab work. I couldn't resist.” He grinned sheepishly. “I don't know where I'm going to put most of this. I might have to bribe my roommate to use part of his side.”
“I'm guessing your a gadgeteer or devisor.”
“Gadgeteer two. I guess it's pretty obvious.”
“Just a little. There were two of them in my tour group this morning, when we made a quick pass through the workshop they were leaving a trail of drool.”
“I didn't drool, but I'll admit my jaw dropped when I went through there. What about you? What are your powers?”
“Not quite. I can make copies of myself. I'd demonstrate, but I already have a copy meeting my advisor and another one fixing up my dorm.”
“So you're the lucky one who gets to enjoy the day.”
She liked him. He didn't go with the stereotypical cheesy line of enjoying his company. “Yep. I won the dice roll, so I've been wandering and people watching. It's a very different from Montreal.”
“Yeah it is. I'm from Iowa City, but I've visited Montreal a few times with my parents. My Dad's gone to some conferences and given some lectures at McGill University and some others colleges there.”
“Oh, what does he teach?”
“He's an oncologist. He treats cancer, specializing in leukemia. For the last decade he's been working on ways to incorporate devises and highly advanced gadgets into cancer treatment. He was really happy when I manifested and became a gadgeteer.”
“He wants you to follow in his footsteps?”
“Not really, he just wants me to do something that will help people. So I'm thinking about coming up with some self defence sprays for non-lethal protection. Like an improved pepper spray, another one that mimics allergies, and things like that. Just enough to really incapacitate an attacker without killing or maiming them.”
“That would be good.”
“Yeah, I'm hoping it works. How about your parents? What did they think when you manifested?”
“They were surprised. Seeing me making copies of myself wasn't something they expected to have to worry about. They're happier with my being an exemplar, they loved my last report card. Now they're talking about me taking over the family business.”
“What's the business?”
“One of the biggest commercial cleaning services in Montreal. It doesn't sound like much, but we've got around a hundred employees.”
“Cool. Very cool. Well I should go and get these things put away. Do you know what classes you're taking? Maybe we'll be taking the same ones.”
“No clue. I'll need to get my clone back before I know. I know I'm going to be trying for BMA, but other than that, it depends on the what the advisor recommends.”
“BMA, the art of punching people in the face. Not my thing.” He blushed. “Um, I mean... It's cool that you want to take it. Like it's good for superheroes and people who want to protect themselves. But um. It's just not for me. You know.”
Dara giggled. He'd been doing so well. “It's not for everyone. I understand. Do you want some help with the bags. They seem kind of heavy.”
“I couldn't. They really are heavy.”
“I'm an exemplar three. I can handle it. And I can just take one or two so it's not so awkward for you.”
“Really. Thanks. I just need to get to Emerson. What cottage are you in?”
“Dickinson.” She noticed his look of surprise. “Yeah I've got some GSD. But it seems I'm just baseline enough to fit.”
“OK. I can see that. Plenty of baselines have skin conditions that are odder than yours.” He handed her one of the bags, not the lightest one, but not the heaviest.
Rolling her eyes, she grabbed another of the bags, leaving him the heaviest and the lightest. “Lead the way,” she said.
Making their way towards Emerson, they quickly stepped to the side when a guy who looked like a werewolf mixed with a rottweiler came down the path. It wasn't far enough for the kid, who gave Alchemical a hard shove.
“Outta my way, girls,” the weredog snarled.
Her new friend fell to the ground and hit a tree with his shoulder. There was a crack and he curled up into a ball, cradling his arm, groaning in pain. Putting her bags down, Dara gave the asshole a shove, which barely moved him. It did make him turn around and growl down at her.
“What the hell do you think you're doing?” she demanded.
“Dealing with a flea,” the asshole said. “You want me to do the same to you?”
She had to grin. The feeling rushing through her was even better than when she played her game. This was going to be a real challenge. “Try it flea bag.”
Growling the weredog swung at her. She easily dodged it and created nine clones. They were dumb as a rock, but they knew exactly what needed to be done. Eight of them jumped the bully, grabbing his limbs and neck, punching, biting, kicking and clawing.
The weredog fought back, using his superhuman strength to swing his arms against nearby trees. Knocking some of her off and even breaking some of her bones. He bit one of them, causing her to vanish in his mouth. The injured Dara's got back into the fight if they were capable of it, the ones who couldn't let themselves slip away, their memories and injuries being reabsorbed by the one that had created them.
Off to the side, the one Dara who wasn't fighting, winced at the memories of pain, and mumbled half coherent curses as bruises appeared on her body. Even though they weren't as bad as the original broken bones, they still hurt. Following the last order she'd given herself before her brain left, she made more of herself. They jumped into the fray with a mindless, gleeful enthusiasm. Security came running down the path, and stopped at the sight of a writhing mass of school girls covering a werewolf, like ants.
“EVERYONE GET DOWN!” the officers shouted, raising their weapons.
Alchemical saw the guns, saw Dara glaring at the wild melee, and realized she wasn't all there. Gritting his teeth against the pain of his broken collarbone, he reached out grabbing her leg. “DARA, stop!”
She looked down at him, and suddenly the other Dara's vanished. All that remained was the weredog, who was missing patches of fur, was covered in cuts and bites, with his clothes so badly torn he was practically naked. Dara didn't look so good either. While her clothes were spotless, she was a mass of bruises and cuts.
“Ow,” she said. “That hurt.”
Falling to the ground, she groaned in pain. She managed to smile and said, “That was a good game.” Then she dissolved into nothingness.
Lying on her bed, eyes closed, listening to music, Wakanda tried to relax. Being a guide for most of the day, helping Story set up her side of the room, meeting the other sophomores as they came in, she was tired and just wanted a chance to recover. Worrying about what she was going to tell her friend about the demon wasn't making it easy.
At least she had a few hours to be alone, before she was supposed to meet Story for supper.
Her phone buzzed, letting her know she had a message. She could just ignore it. If anyone complained, she could just claim she'd been in the bathroom and didn't have it with her. Or that it had run out of power. Sighing, she picked it up.
It really was a nice phone. A gift from her friends on the Tigers. They'd bought it for her at Christmas, pooling their money together so she'd finally have one. Tapping the screen, she saw it was from Stunner.
'Hey Wacky, if you're not super busy Clearing 10 min. Lots to talk.'
That was worth getting up for. 'K', she sent back.
Putting on her casual clothes, which were well worn and a little ragged in places, from heavy use, she checked herself in the mirror and decided she was as good as she was going to get. Throwing on her shoes, she made her way through the crowded hallway. As soon as she was outside, she started jogging towards the Clearing. It was well off the beaten path, in the forest behind Holbrook, but if you knew the right trails it was easy to reach. It was also peaceful and secluded. The perfect place to talk, relax, or practice without being watched.
Three people were already there by the time she arrived. Breaking into a grin, she waved at her friends, Story, Stunner and Stinger. “Hi. When did you guys arrives?” she asked, flopping onto the grass beside them.
“This morning, but I've been in the country for three weeks, playing tourist with my parents. They've never been outside of England, decided it was time to see where they were sending me. Spent most of the day getting my classes in order and moving in,” Stunner said.
“Just got off the train an hour ago. Stunner saw me and insisted I come here.” Stinger let out a huge yawn, stretching his arms over his head, revealing the sharp chitin that covered his elbows and was spreading along his arms. “I'm still on Guam time, so you aren't getting much outta me.”
Clicking her tongue against her teeth, Mari grabbed the boys arm, getting a good look at the shiny black shell that was replacing his skin. “How often did you manifest during the summer, you weren't half this bad last term.”
“Don't worry about it,” he said. “It's going to happen anyways. My little brother kept insisting I take him flying over the ocean. And there was this really cute girl who wants to be an entomologist. She was fascinated by my Stinger form and loved studying it up close and personal.”
“You're disgusting,” Story said. “So Stunner, what's up that we needed to come out here and not just meet up at Crystal Hall?”
Puffing out her cheeks, Stunner blew out a long stream of air, a clear sign that she was about to say something she wasn't happy about. “I want your help dealing with N'Dizi and the rest of the Tigers.”
“What do you mean?” Mari asked.
“Last year we came off as... we were assholes. Not you three, but the Tigers as a group, and I didn't exactly show my best side. You all saw how N'Dizi and the others went after Chaka. Rez was treated like a piece of shit by Kazam and I stood by letting her do it. Jadis led us by the nose trying to get us to stop her brother from dating Sapper, which made us all look bad. And N'Dizi trying to make Counterpoint his bitch went about as well as could be hoped for, when he only got a spear up his arse.”
Sighing, Stunner looked around to see if anyone objected. Mari wasn't about to.
She'd joined the Tigers initially just for companionship. She'd been new to the country, speaking barely conversational level English, in a completely alien setting, and they'd welcomed her in. They'd topped that by teaching her how to fight, which let her feel like she was gaining some control of her life. She couldn't thank them enough for that support. But the politics and issues they kept talking about, they were beyond her. Her life had been so different from theirs, and still was, that she just nodded along when they tried to bring her into the discussion.
Still as she'd gotten better with her English, and gotten her feet under her, she'd started listening to what people said about them. And she saw how N'Dizi, Alakazam, Shuttle and Mace especially dealt with other students. She couldn't bring herself to say anything, but she found herself focusing more and more on the martial arts and spending time with the other members.
“Right,” Stunner said, seeing that they were all in silent agreement. “This year I want to change things. Tomorrow when we meet up in the gym, I'm going to lay it out for everyone, and see who agrees that we need to change. We need to be welcoming to all Black students, not just the ones that N'Dizi and Kazam think are the right kind. And I don't want to be seen as an asshole by all the other students on campus. We don't have to be buddy buddy with everyone, especially the Dragons, but I don't want The Tigers to be seen as the angry Black group. We can support each other, and stand up for ourselves, forcefully if need be, without being a bunch of tossers.”
“Sounds good to me,” Stinger said with a smirk. “I've mostly stuck around because you guys are good fighters, and how often can I be tossed around by such beautiful girls? But I don't think N'Dizi or Kazam are going to be too happy when I let it drop that I've decided to become a government superhero.”
“What made you decide that?” Story asked.
“Talked it over with my parents. I'm not cut out for the navy like my old man, way too many rules and orders. But working with the government as a superhero, good pay, medical, lotsa support, and I get to be a bit more independent in how I do things.”
“Good for you."
Mari nodded in agreement with her friend, and patted him on the leg. She frowned at the feel of hard chitin under his pants.
“Maybe you could try out for the FSA. I'm still too new to get you a tryout, but I can drop a good word,” Stunner said.
“Nah. I don't think so. I'm not much of a joiner. I'd go out of my way to piss off the big guys, and I don't think I could get away with it as easily as I do with the Tigers.”
“OK, but the offers there if you change your mind. What about you two? I'm going to need all of your support if it's going to work.”
“I'm in,” Story said. “I agree with some of what they say, but they go way too far sometimes. And Kazam keeps trying to make me drop my White friends, and makes fun of my taking accounting. And if Shuttle comes at me again, I'm probably going to set him on fire."
Mari felt all eyes fall on her. Ducking her head down, she looked at her hands. She knew what her friends were talking about. Story had helped her get some friends outside of the Tigers, and Kazam had gone off on her a few times for it. But this could break the Tigers up, she didn't want that. Still if they did get N'Dizi and the others to relax a little, they could get more people in the group. That would be good for everyone, wouldn't it?
“I'll support you,” she said, her voice almost a whisper.
Story reached over and gave her a hug. “Thank you.”
“Hey where's my hug?” Stinger asked.
“You get one when you stop being a horndog,” Stunner replied
“No respect. No respect at all.”
Stunner tapped her chin. “With you three backing me, I should be able to get most of the others to side with us. Sledge just wants a good fight so he can get better, and having more members means he'll get that. Phalanx and Spinner mostly want to learn to fight and have somewhere to talk. Mokele and Damballah aren't happy with N'Dizi, after Chaka and Counterpoint. As long as I word things right, they should all side with us. Mace and Shuttle will be hardest to convince, they're as bad as Kazam. Which is why I needed to know you've got my back. With four of us and four of them, I have a chance.”
“So this goes down tomorrow?” Story asked.
“Yeah. I'm going to need you all at the gym early so I can show I have your support.”
Putting an arm over Mari's shoulder, Story said, “We'll be there.”
“So will I,” Stinger said. “But if we win, I expect a hug.”
“We'll see,” Stunner replied.
Looking up at Sgt. Harris, Dara wondered what her clone had gotten up to that warranted being dragged to security and having to face the intimidating officer. Whatever it was, no one looked happy to see her or her clone who had been dragged away from her advisor meeting.
“Would you care to explain why you ran away from security?” Sgt. Harris asked.
“I did?” Dara asked in stereo.
“We have you on camera, confirmed by officers on site, and two students that you were in a fight. After being told to stop you disappeared. You're looking at some serious detention time. If Headmistress Carson wasn't so busy, you'd already be in her office begging for mercy.”
“Oh!” she said. “That's what happened to her.”
“Did I win the fight?” her clone asked.
Sgt. Harris rubbed the bridge of his nose. “You're a multiplier, right?”
“Yes,” they said.
“And considering you were both picked up at different locations, your copies are independent, correct?”
“Yeah. I don't know anything that I've done,” she said.
“At least not until one of us lets ourselves go,” Dara added.
“So I know that my clone here went to see our advisor, but only because the officer mentioned that when he dropped her off. I hope I got a good schedule.”
“I did, really good,” she told herself. “I knew that one of my clones disappeared after making a lot of clones, but for all I knew it was her,” Dara pointed at herself, “moving furniture in the dorm or showing off.”
The sergeant rubbed his head, muttering something that sounded like he hated his job. Typing on his computer he looked something over and then turned back to them. “You're listed as having power testing Thursday. If it turns out you're lying to me about how independent you are, you will be going to see Headmistress Carson who will decide what your detention will be, and she is very, very creative with her punishments. Are you sticking to your claim you don't know what your clone did?”
“Yeah,” they said.
“Very well. Even though your clone acted independently that is not an excuse for fighting or running from security. However you were defending yourself, and stopped fighting when ordered to. Starting tonight you have three days helping the kitchen staff clean up after supper.” He typed some things onto his computer, and printed it out. Taking the paper, he paused for a moment, clearly not sure which of them to hand it to and finally put it down between them. “These are your instructions. They'll be expecting you tonight, so be on time or it's doubled.”
“OK,” Dara said, letting her clone pick up the paper since she had the bag. “But I need to know, who did I fight?”
“And why did I fight him?” she added.
Sgt. Harris seemed to think about it for a moment, before reaching a decision. “You were fighting an ultraviolent student by the name of Rotti. Watch out for a kid who looks like a rottweiler and avoid him. As for why you were fighting him. He pushed a boy you were talking to, hurting him badly enough to send him to Doyle.”
Dara broke into a smile. “Oh, I was making friends. That's good.”
“Maybe I was getting a boyfriend. Is he cute?” she asked.
“Get out of my office and don't let me see you again for at least a week,” the officer said.
Leaving the office, a fairy girl came flying in followed by an angry looking officer, and a shivering boy who was soaking wet. The girl was only six inches tall and flying backwards without flapping her purple wings so she could talk to the officer. “But I'm telling you, I completely forgot I was holding him as I was dancing. I saw the lake and I just had the urge to start start singing, 'Singing In The Rain'!”
Dara looked at herself and they both nodded. As interesting as that had to be, it was probably a good idea to make herself scarce. Hurrying out of Kane, they began strolling aimlessly arm in arm.
“So... that was interesting,” she said.
“Yeah. I haven't even been sent to the principal's office since grade one, and now I have detention on the first day.”
“I wish I knew why I did it though.”
“Oh yeah, what's my schedule?”
Her clone faded away and the memory of the past hour and a half came to her. She nodded in approval at the schedule, and all the work she'd done setting up the dorm, meeting her cottage mates and helping them out. She'd had a really productive day. Now she just needed to figure out what had happened to the troublemaker.
Blinking, she made another clone.
“You get the hospital,” her clone said before she could say anything. “If it gets really embarrassing I don't want to know it.”
“Hey that's no fair, we need to flip for it,” she said, pulling out a quarter. “Call it.”
The quarter landed and it was tails. “Dammit! Fine, I'll go see if my possibly cute, possible boyfriend is in the hospital. What will you do?”
“I'll get my books and things for class.”
Nodding to herself, she headed towards Doyle. After being stuck in her cottage helping move furniture, the stuffy office getting her schedule made, and then the security office, the fresh air felt great. She kept her eyes open to see if anyone waved at her. She might not know who they were thanks to her stupid clone, but she didn't want to seem rude to possible friends.
During the tour they'd walked past Doyle, but they hadn't actually gone inside. Entering the building it looked like a really nice clinic, not what she expected to find at a school. Going to the desk a nurse was doing something on the computer, so she quietly waited, trying to figure out how to ask about the mysterious boy.
“How can I help you?” the nurse asked a few moments later.
“Hi. This is going to sound really odd, but about forty minutes ago a boy was probably brought in here. He'd been in a fight with an ultraviolent student named Rotti. I was wondering if I could meet him? Please.”
“What's his name or codename?”
“I don't know.”
“Oh. Do you know what cottage he's in?”
The nurse gave her an odd look. “Do you know what he looks like?”
“So why do you want to meet him?”
“Well apparently he and my clone were talking, when Rotti came up and hurt him. And then my clone and Rotti got into a fight. And I don't know exactly what happened because after the fight my clone let herself go and I didn't get her memories. So I just got out of Kane with a detention, for a fight I don't know about. And all I know about the boy is that my stupid clone thought that he was worth getting into a fight over, but security didn't tell me anything about him.”
The nurse got a little smile. “That's not the strangest story I've ever heard. What's your name? I'll talk to someone. If they want to see you, I'll let you in.”
“Thank you. I'm Dara Sok, my codename is Interest. I don't know which one she told him.”
“I'll go ask, just wait here.”
Sitting down, she blinked and started playing Rock, Paper, Scissors with herself, trying to see how many times they wouldn't tie. By the time the nurse got back, they had sixteen ties and five loses, a new record for a new clone.
“You can go in. Dave is in room five,” the nurse said.
“He finally has a name! Thanks.” Her clone faded away as she went to the room.
Knocking on the open door, a small boy was sitting up in bed, his arm in a sling. He had an odd look, like he was seeing a ghost and that he was really happy as well. “Dara, you're OK!”
“Yes. Yes I am, Dave,” she said, suddenly wishing she was the one getting books.
His expression turned to confusion. “When did I tell you my name?”
“I don't know. The nurse called you Dave. Um... I need to tell you something. The me that you met. She didn't pass on her memories to me when she faded away. So, uh, yeah, I don't know anything that she did once she left Dickinson. All I know is that she got into a fight, which got me a detention, and that a boy, you, were hurt which is why she got into the fight. So, my other clone and I, decided you were probably worth getting to know, since I apparently fought an ultraviolent because he hurt you. So... hi I'm Dara Sok, my codename is Interest. And I probably sound like a complete and total idiot right now.”
The blood rushed to her cheeks. She got ready to run and drown herself in the toilet. There was no way she was going to let herself keep this memory.
“... You sound weird. But I was told Whateley was a weird place, so I should expect this. I'm Alchemical. Thanks for coming and letting me know you aren't dead. Security didn't really tell me anything, just rushed me over here to get my collarbone fixed. So you don't remember anything.”
“Not a thing. As far as I know I just met you a minute ago.”
“Huh. This is weird.”
“Tell me about it.”
They sat and stood in silence for a bit, making her feel even more embarrassed so she actually started chewing her lip and grabbed her arm to keep from running away. Then Alchemical said, “So I know a bit about you, what would you like to know about me.”
Dara sagged with relief. “Oh thank you, this was getting really embarrassing. I really hope I didn't meet anyone else that I don't remember.” She went and sat in the chair beside his bed. “Let's start simple, what are your powers?”
Wakanda's Room, Dickinson,
Mari and Story sat together on her bed, relaxing after a long day and a big supper. There room was set up, they'd chosen their class schedule online weeks ago and had grabbed all the books and supplies they'd need, now they just had to wait for classes to start.
“Is your costume still wearable?” Story asked.
“I need to let it out a bit, it pinches around my breasts and arms. Have you finally settled on a final one for you?”
“I'm going with something like yours, just with a split skirt. I want to have more armour around my arms, but it would interfere with my bangles, so elbow pads only and I'll rely on my magic to protect my arms. I've really improved my shield spell this summer.”
Looking at the dozens of cheap bead, copper, and silver bangles that covered Story's upper arms and forearms, Mari wondered what it would be like to cast magic. Twisting her vision, she saw the tiny threads of purple that connected the jewellery to her friend. Each bangle had a spell attached to it, ready to be released with a bit of essence.
When they'd first met, she'd taken charge of training the girl. At first it had been strength training, turning the chubby girl into a reasonably fit one. Then they'd started on fighting, which didn't come naturally to Story. Her friend had almost given up several times, until she learned how to put spells into her jewellery. That had turned a mediocre fighter into a surprisingly versatile opponent, and had given her the motivation to try harder. Now she was still the weakest of the Tigers, but regular students treated her as a dangerous opponent.
With her psychic vision working, she saw the strong pink thread between the two of them. Proof that they were good friends. She'd helped lift Story out of a dark period, and Story had made her expand her world. The vivid pink proved how much they cared about each other as friends. If it was darker it would mean they were lovers.
At first she hadn't been able to see the colours. They'd all been a hazy white, which simply showed connections, not the meaning behind them. Practice and a few embarrassing experiences had improved her power. As always her eyes went to the thread that came from her heart and stretched off into the distance. It was a black so deep it seemed to suck in the light. At the other end of the thread was the demon. The thread was proof that he was waiting for her.
“Hey, where are you?” Story asked.
“You were staring off into space. Where were you?”
“It's nothing,” she said, shutting off her vision.
“Yeah right," Story said, frowning at her. "So why don't you ever leave campus?”
“Because I can't.”
“You've said that before. But you promised you'd tell me why you can't. I'm not letting you back out.”
Getting up, Mari turned on all the lights, as if it would help keep the demon and her fears away. Sitting back down, she brought her knees up to her chin and hugged her legs, just like she used to as a little kid when her parents were talking about He Who Does Not Walk.
“You know I'm an orphan, and I lived on the street,” she said, closing her eyes to hold back her tears. “My parents were killed. My entire family was killed. I'm the last of my line. The... the demon that killed my family will kill me if I leave.”
“What? You're serious? Have you told Whateley?” Story asked, getting closer to embrace her.
“I have. They're looking for a way to save me. They haven't found a way yet. As long as I stay behind the wards I'm safe. If I leave, He Who Does Not Walk will come and kill me. He'll turn the air black with flies. He'll make me scream for hours, but no one will hear unless they have my blood. Then he'll leave. All that will be left is a hollowed out skin and some acid. I heard him do it to my father and then my mother. I was the one who found my mother's skin, left on the floor of the hut we were hiding in. He'd left it there like a piece of trash.”
“If you were there, how did you survive?”
“He Who Does Not Walk only takes one person at a time. Then, I don't know, it rests, or goes after someone else, or sits back and laughs as we grieve and try to find a way to stop him. My parents told me that at first it would be a decade or more between victims. It became shorter with each murder. After it killed my father, it only waited three years to take my mother. It took less than two years to come after me. If they'd known what was happening, my father never would have married my mother, they never would have brought me into the world to be hunted down and killed.”
“It followed you all the way here?”
She nodded. “I went off the campus this summer. I was so tired and angry at being trapped. It tried to kill me. There was almost no warning. The flies were gathering as I ran back to the gates. I can't leave. And when I graduate, it's going to kill me.”
There were no words. Story just held her more tightly, as if she could protect her. Tears somehow found their way out and rolled down her cheeks.
“I've thought about killing myself. Ending the fear. Refusing to let the demon get what he wants. But I don't know if he will get my soul when I die. I almost sold my soul to another demon. When Carmilla first came. I begged her for help. She said she could, but it would cost me my soul.”
She snorted in disgust. “I'd be giving my soul from one demon for another. Not much of a trade. And now she's gone, so even if I become that desperate, it's not an option.”
Freeing an arm, she wrapped it around her friend. “So that's why I never leave campus. It's why I never go to Dunwich for crappy pizza or to watch a movie. I'm trapped here, waiting to die.”
“You should have told me sooner,” Story said. “I knew you were sad and scared of something. But I never dreamed it was this bad. You shouldn't have to carry it all by yourself.”
“What if it comes after you, now that you know about it?”
“Then I'll deal with it. But I won't deal with it all by myself, and neither will you, not anymore. We're going to figure this out and kick the demons ass.”
“My parents tried. They died.”
“We're at Whateley, other students have defeated demons. This year is our chance,” Story said, somehow making it sound easy.
Mari started sobbing, unable to speak, pressing her face into her friends chest. She didn't know if she was crying in relief at finally telling her friend, or in fear that she'd just signed Story's death warrant.
Whateley, Dickinson Cottage
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
“I can't believe you got a detention on your first day,” Cauldron said.
“It wasn't my fault. My stupid clone did it. And she was defending herself and another student against an ultraviolent,” Dara said.
They were in the bathroom waiting for the showers to be free, and she was the topic of conversation. It seemed that someone had seen all twelve of her cleaning up Crystal Hall the night before, and it had quickly spread throughout the cottage.
“How bad was detention? Cleaning up Crystal Hall all by yourself had to take forever,” Balderdash said.
“It wasn't that bad. With twelve of me out, I'm too stupid to get bored. So six of me had the job of cleaning the tables and chairs. Five cleaned the floor, and the last one brought all the dishes to the kitchen to be cleaned. Whenever one finished, they looked for any other messes that needed cleaning. Arnold, the guy in charge of cleaning up, actually had trouble making me realize I was all done.”
“Do you want to clean my room? It'll be really fun,” Slingshot asked.
“Not even if you pay me. But I need to talk to my advisor again. I got pulled out before I finished our talk, and I need a job for my scholarship they and the government insisted I take. Cleaning Crystal Hall and the kitchen should be a good one.”
Alexa stepped out of the shower. “You're the only person I know who sounds happy to clean.”
All conversation stopped as people got a good look at the girl's body. Even Dara hadn't seen Alexa without some clothes on. There were two sockets with plastic caps covering them under her breasts. Those didn't get much attention as Dara's eyes were drawn to the amazing number of scars that covered her body. It looked like a Dr Frankenstein had been at work, cutting her up and stitching her back together. The worst was a scar in the shape of a Y that went from her shoulders to the bottom of her breastbone and down to her naval.
Blushing, Alexa quickly covered herself up. “I told you I had a lot of scars. They needed to get rid of all the tumours and couldn't be gentle about it.”
Realizing how they had to making her feel, a few of the girls rushed to reassure it was fine, and they were just surprised. Dara blinked, and while her clone waited to see if Alexa needed support, she went to have a shower. She really loved her power sometimes.
By the time she got out, Alexa was gone and her clone had let herself go since she wasn't needed. She smiled, happy that her roommate seemed to be a tough girl. With all her problems, the girl needed to be. Drying herself off, she headed back to her room.
Alexa was there, all dressed except for her vest and shirt. She was pulling off the caps to her sockets and rubbing the plastic bits with something that smelled like alcohol.
“How are you doing?” she asked.
“Good. I wish I had a private shower, but I can deal,” her friend said, putting the cleaning fluid away. “I knew my scars would get attention. Decided to get it over with quickly.”
“Makes sense. Now I know why you spent so much time in the hotel bathroom, and turned out the lights before changing last night.”
“Yeah, I don't even like looking at myself.” She got a small, lopsided smile. “You know it's funny. Before this I always wore as little as possible, shorts and t-shirts, crop tops, short skirts, bikinis. And I used to love going to Cavendish Beach in the summer. It's a park close to my parents farm, and great for swimming. There's nothing like swimming in the ocean. It's so much bigger than you, and yet there you are having fun without a care in the world. I didn't go there this summer. I'm still scared my devise will break if I do something wrong, and I don't want to make the little kids cry when they see me.”
Dara stood there dumbly, as Alexa sighed, putting on the vest that helped keep her alive. Pushing the plastic pieces into the sockets on her ribs until they clicked. Pressing the diagnostic button, the lights lit up showing that everything was working properly. Another touch and the lights faded away.
Throwing a long sleeve shirt on, her roommate smiled at her. “Sorry, didn't plan on dropping all that on you. Don't worry about me. Just had to rip that band-aid off and it hurt a bit more than I thought it would. I'm alive, I'm healthy, and I have my future ahead of me. Can't ask for much more than that. Now get dressed and lets go get breakfast, I'm starving.”
“Yeah. Sure,” Dara said, hurrying to get dressed. She wished she knew what to say, but her brain refused to work. For now she'd just go with the flow.
The Tigers Dojo, Laird Hall, Eastman Annex
Mari stood beside Story going over the weapons that had been in storage all summer, seeing which ones needed sharpening or polishing, wiping dust off the ones that were ready to go, and making sure they were all in working order. Stunner was sweeping the floor, and Stinger was looking over the mats. It all needed to be done before they could be used for sparring, and so they'd look good for the big group rush on Saturday. It also gave them an excuse to show up early and be good members.
Phalanx and Spinner came into the dojo arm in arm.
“Hey, when did you two hook up?” Stinger asked.
“This summer,” Phalanx said. “That ho I was with back in LA, she got with my homie while I was here.”
Spinner stood on her toes to give him a kiss on the cheek. “Getting across the city all the time was a pain in the ass, but I had ta help him get his head outta his ass. And ya know how it goes.”
Mari joined the others in congratulating the pair. Then Stunner got to talking about their plans for Saturday and the club day at the quad. At first it sounded like normal planning, how they'd show off, what they wanted to achieve, then it swung so neatly into how to get new members, that Mari almost missed the hidden message.
Even as a high end Exemplar two, English was still her second language, something she'd only really started practising in the past year. She still had trouble getting some of the slang, and could miss the hidden meanings behind the words. If she hadn't heard Stunner going over her speech the other day, she wouldn't have known just what the Senior was doing. The talk of doing what they could for more Black students, it sounded a lot like N'Dizi, but she kept bringing in things like being more casual, a little more accepting. They were always mixed in with other things, and never harped on, but they kept showing up, getting pushed a little harder each time. Story and Stinger were helping out, agreeing with her as she talked. They were also putting in their own ideas as well, that were similar to what Stunner was saying, but just different enough not to be parroting her.
Watching Phalanx and Spinner nodding along in agreement, getting more excited about the coming year, she saw that they were firmly in agreement Stunner after just a few minutes. Mari wished she could speak like that. But the thought of speaking without a memorized script, when she could be called out for trying to lead people to think a certain way, it made her sick to her stomach. So she sat beside Story nodding and agreeing every once in a while, hoping that no one would ask what she thought.
“What's up my homies?” Shuttle asked, as he came into the dojo.
Mari smiled and waved at her fellow Tiger, but stayed quiet. Story didn't bother waving, just scowled at the Canadian. The two hated each other. Shuttle had made Story cry a few times last term because of her having 'Cracker' friends.
“Hey Shuttle, want to spar later?” Stinger asked. His grin was anything but friendly.
“Maybe,” Shuttle said, taking a seat on the floor well away from the other boy. Back in March during a sparring session, he had called Stinger's dad a sellout and an uncle Tom for being in the navy. He'd ended up in Doyle with a concussion, a deep puncture in his thigh, and a broken nose. Since then whenever they practised together they always ended up covered in bruises and blood, usually with Shuttle getting the worst of it.
Stunner, Phalanx and Spinner were more welcoming, asking him how his summer back home in Newfoundland had been, and talking about what they had done. She, Stinger and Story moved a little ways away to talk on their own. They didn't want to blow things for Stunner by getting into a fight with anyone, even if he deserved it.
A few minutes later N'Dizi, Alakazam, Mace and Sledge came in as a group. Everyone seemed really happy to see each other. The talk was all about the summer, there was some complaining, but it seemed that things had gone pretty well for everyone. As usual Mari sat off to the side, listening more than talking. There wasn't much for her to say, she'd stayed at Whateley, been bored, almost got killed by a demon because of her stupidity, and cried about it with a teacher. She didn't want to make them feel sorry for her, she already felt bad about telling Story about it.
Soon the last two Tigers arrived, Mokele and Damballah.
As usual Mari felt her heart beat a little faster when she saw Mokele. The Poe senior was gorgeous, and didn't give off the impression of being full of himself like Mace did. He'd let his hair grow longer over the summer, and the large afro looked so good, she just wanted to run her fingers through it. But she couldn't tell him what she thought. He'd never shown any interest in her, and he was a senior, she was just a sophomore. He could get a much prettier girlfriend then her. And it wouldn't be fair to him if he was interested. She didn't have a future, she couldn't let herself get close to a person in that kind of way.
She smiled at Damballah. He was always nice to her, if distant. They almost always had things to talk about whenever they were together. He was from Jamaica and while the country was different from Haiti, they had quite a few things in common being from the Caribbean. He nodded back at her, giving her a small smile as well.
With the whole group there, Stunner got to her feet. “Hey everyone, I'd like to talk to you about where the Tigers go this year.”
N'Dizi stopped smiling. “What do you mean?” he asked.
“Last year was a bit of a disaster for us. We scared off some potential members, and were too focused on getting Chaka to join up. So this year I think we should be more open to any Black student who is interested in martial arts, even if they just want to learn a little and spend the rest of the time hanging out. Having more members will give us a bit more influence around the school, and help us deal with any prejudice coming from other students or the staff.”
Alakazam rolled her eyes. “You're still going on about that oreo, Rez. She couldn't hack it, so she ran away crying like a little bitch. Not our fault she doesn't have a backbone.”
“Yeah I'm talking about her, and a bunch of others who you decided didn't fit your ideals. I can name four kids who decided to drop us, and another three that were considering joining then stopped because we treated them like trash, just because of their parents jobs, or they were taking classes you thought were for Whites only.”
“African-Americans need to stand together against our White oppressors,” N'Dizi said. “If they want to bend over and kiss the White man's ass we don't need them. They'll only weaken us.”
Mari saw Spinner and Phalanx looking at each other, clearly uncomfortable with the way the talk was going.
“Are you planning to get into another fight with someones grandma in the quad this year? That went really well last time,” Stunner said. “Or how about trying to break up a couple because a Black girl is dating a White guy. We came off looking like the KKK over Sapper and Techno-Devil. And if you'd just accepted that Chaka was happily dating Thunderbird and wasn't about to leave Team Kimba, she might have joined us. Chaka as a part time Tiger would have been a hell of a lot better than making her our enemy.”
Mokele and Damballah frowned at the reminder of Chaka. Mari wasn't sure what had happened to make Moloke so unhappy about it all, but after January, anytime N'Dizi talked about the girl, the senior had growled and left the room.
“Chaka is a race traitor. She'll learn she can't rely on her so-called friends when things get tough,” N'Dizi said.
“Where were we when Chaka was in the hospital and almost expelled over the malfunctioning robot and Little Bee? And Rez. She was all alone, and reached out to us for help. Kazam treated her like crap. If we really believe in Black solidarity, we should have shut that shit down right then and there. If we were even just thinking, we should have done the same. She's a kick-ass technopath, and would have been a great asset for the group.
“You didn't stick up for her either,” Mace pointed out.
“I know. And Chaka rightfully rubbed my nose in it the last time we really talked. I apologized to Rez a while later, she still thinks I'm a huge cunt, and I don't blame her for it. So do we want to actually do what we preach, or are we a bunch of hypocrites who just bitch and moan?"
“What next, you want to let Whites into the group? Make nice with the Alphas? Smile when they sneer at us and shove us into the mud?” Shuttle asked.
“We can stand up for ourselves without being assholes,” Story said. “And who was shoving me into the mud last term? How many times have you insulted me because of my friends? You even threatened to break my face after I went to Trish for help with my spells.”
“How much of a punk-ass, whiny, little bitch do you have to be, to go to an Underdog and beg for help? Did she make you lick her pussy like a good little nigger before she helped you? Or did you offer, just for the privilege of eating out a White girl.”
In her mind Mari saw her friend challenge Shuttle to a fight. What happened next was hazy, there were too many possibilities to see properly, but it ended with a single crystal clear image, Story on the floor bleeding and broken.
Rolling to her feet, she pushed Storyteller back down. She wasn't really thinking, just following a script the voice in her head was giving her. “If you want to keep your teeth, Shuttle, take that back and apologize now.”
“Not a chance,” he said. Standing up he took off his shirt.
Wakanda took off her blouse as well. That morning she'd had a hunch that she should wear a sports bra instead of one of her regular ones. Now she knew why.
The Tigers cleared a space for them. Alakazam was saying something to Shuttle, while glaring at her. N'Dizi looked pissed. Sledge was smiling at the coming fight, just wanting to see some action, he was the only really neutral person in the entire group.
Stunner came up and quietly asked, “Do you think you can take him?”
“I think so,” she said.
"You shouldn't fight him just for me," Story said.
"He needs to learn some manners. I can do it."
Shuttle had always proven difficult for her. He was a strange type of warper, teleporting between two places, but he was in every position in between at the same time, and none of them. He couldn't pass through things, always taking a clear route no matter how odd, to reach his destination. Trying to punch him was almost impossible, he was simply not there when the fist should hit him. But when he punched, he always had a solid fist. If she was quick enough, she could grab him when he was kicking or punching, that was how Stinger beat him. It wasn't easy though. When they sparred, she lost more often then she won, and all too often it was a draw with him unable to land any good blows, and her not landing any. But today a draw wouldn't be enough. She had to win.
Taking her position on the mat, she bowed to Shuttle. They may be about to beat each other to a pulp, but there were still rules. He followed suit.
“Hajime,” N'Dizi said.
Jumping backwards, Mari felt a fist rush past her jaw. Shuttle was a blur of motion, confusing the eye. So she closed her eyes. She hadn't planned on fighting a minute ago. She wasn't in the right mindset for it, but practice helped make sliding into the trance-like state nearly second nature. There was no thinking, not planning, she existed a split second ahead in time, moving her body to where it was supposed to go for the best outcome.
Twist to the side, slap the air just in front of her chest to deflect a backhand blow. Spin and duck to avoid a jab that would have hit her in the temple. Move forward, take a glancing kick to the thigh instead of the knee, turn and punch. Her knuckles connected against something, but whatever it was seemed to fade away before she could do any damage.
They circled each other, never stopping, never slowing. Mari moved like she was dancing, going from one position to another as if it had been planned and practised hundreds of times. She was clearly on the defensive, rarely lashing out. Shuttle was a blur, seemingly unstoppable, sending blow after blow at her. Most didn't hit, but a few did, enough for him to keep trying.
Sensing that this would go on with no clear winner, she shifted her motivation. How could she win even if she got hurt? Winning was all that mattered.
Her movements changed. Instead of dancing away, she flowed forward, accepting hits that made her grunt in pain. As she moved, she kicked and punched to the sides, seemingly at nothing, but Shuttle was forced to changed direction, backing up. A fist crashed into her nose, she had to take it. Blood poured over her lips and chin. She ducked down, taking a punch to the ribs instead of the gut. She groaned, but kept moving forward.
And then she had Shuttle trapped in the corner. He couldn't get past the walls, and she kept putting herself between him and the rest of the room. For a moment he stopped blurring, looking for a way out. A snap kick to his kneecap made him howl. He managed to block her right jab, and never saw the lightning fast left hook that took him in the kidneys.
Shuttle doubled over, gagging in pain.
Still not thinking, just going with the flow, Mari grabbed his head and brought her knee up into his mouth. He dropped to the ground, vomiting out his breakfast along with blood and teeth.
Opening her eyes, Mari felt sick at the damage she'd done. Then as the adrenaline faded away her shoulders sagged and the shaking started. Gingerly touching her nose, she gasped in pain, it was broken. Her entire body hurt, but that was definitely the worst of it.
Storyteller came running over. “Hold still, I'll heal you,” she said.
“Him first,” Mari said. She'd put all of her strength into the kidney punch, Shuttle could be bleeding internally for all she knew.
Scowling, Story nodded and knelt down to cast her spell.
Mari looked at the Tigers who stood back to let Story do her thing. Sledge smiled slightly and gave her a nod of approval. Alakazam was glaring daggers at her, but was staying quiet for a change. Stunner seemed worried, yet hopeful. N'Dizi just looked unhappy.
The voice in her head had one last thing for her do. Staring straight at Alakazam, Mari asked, “Does anyone else want to insult my friend?”
There were no takers.
Outside Dickinson Cottage
Coming back from her detention, Dara was feeling pretty good. She was making friends. The school had agreed to let her work as the clean up crew at Crystal Hall. Her power testing was tomorrow, and it was supposed to be a lot more thorough than what they did in Montreal, which should be interesting. And there was going to be a big meet and greet on Saturday where she could join clubs, and see the older students showing off their powers. The freshmen were all showing off their powers, and she wasn't exactly holding back either, but listening in at supper it seemed the older ones didn't like to show off. Apparently it was trying too hard.
She didn't want to go inside. She was still clean from cleaning, thanks to keeping one of her clones off to the side while the other eleven got filthy. So there was no reason to head in and wash up. She could wander but she'd done that earlier. Most of the people outside were in pairs or small groups, not exactly in the meet and greet mode.
Maybe a walk around the trail beside the cottage would help work off the last of her energy. Heading into the light forest, she let her mind wander, taking in the smells and sound of nature that were very different from the streets of Montreal.
“- demon killed my mother when I was eleven.”
She came to a stop so suddenly she almost fell over. The voice sounded like Mari, and it was coming from behind some thick trees.
“We knew it was coming. The dead crow, being stalked for days, the growing swarms of flies, all the signs were there. But we couldn't run. We had no money left, and I think my mother had given up. She was exhausted, alone. Probably the only reason she didn't end things herself was because of me. She made some wards trying to protect us, they didn't work.”
“You don't have to go out like that,” another girl said. Her exemplar memory came to the rescue, it sounded like Storyteller, the girl who was rooming with Mari. “Some people have fought demons here. You can ask Chat Bleu to help you talk to Ayla, she- uh he, fought a demon last Christmas. And Kayda killed a demon in Dunwich. I don't know if she'll want to talk to us, she's a bit of a spaz, but it's worth a shot.”
“I don't know. I- it's hard enough for me to talk about it to you. How can I explain it to someone I don't even know?”
“You won't solve this if you don't take a chance. I'll be with you.”
“Thank you. I- can we stop talking about this.”
“Want to spar?”
“My nose still hurts from Shuttle breaking it. Lets just go through some kata, see what you've forgotten over the summer.”
“Hey! I practiced.”
“So show me what ya got, noob.”
As the girls laughed, Interest quietly snuck away to think. She knew a bit about demons. They didn't pop up very often, but when they did it was usually big news. She remembered hearing about the demon in California that had killed a bunch of young women and been taken out by superheroes at some beauty pageant. Was that the one they were talking about? That would be pretty cool if it was.
But the demon going after Mari must be pretty nasty. Hunting down a whole family, and chasing her all the way here even after a few years. She wondered what the demon was like. She had thought most demons didn't find it easy to stay on earth without a lot of magic and murders. So how did it stay for so long?
Should she go and admit she was eavesdropping?
Going after a demon would be exciting. If she helped beat it, she'd be a demon slayer. How many people could claim to have done that? And it sounded like Mari could use the help. She'd had a friend that seemed to be like Mari. The girl never asked for help, no matter how badly she needed it. The only way to help her was to barge in and take control.
If Mari really was being hunted by a demon, she'd need all the help she could get. And who better to help than the expendable girl?
Having decided what she was going to do, Dara walked towards the clearing, a little noisily. The two girls were standing in the grass doing something that looked more like a dance then martial arts. It was now or never.
“Oh hey, Mari and uh, Story, right? I didn't think I'd see anyone out here at this time of night.”
Stupid, stupid, stupid!
“Hi Dara,” Mari said. “This is actually a pretty popular place for girls to come and relax. So there's usually someone here.”
“Cool. You're practising martial arts, right?”
“Yes, just some basic katas.”
There was an uncomfortable pause.
Mari smiled. “Would you like to practice with us?”
“You don't mind?”
“Not at all. I did say you could practice with us, as long as you take it seriously.”
“Thank you! So what do I do first?”
Watching Dara go through the basic kata, Mari found herself smiling and actually enjoying herself. The girl was so enthusiastic it was infectious. And it wasn't the annoying enthusiasm she saw in some girls like Wondercute, who treated everything like a game or cartoon. Dara just seemed to throw every bit of herself into whatever she was doing, wanting to get it right. Yet she laughed when she made a mistake, and was ready to try again moments later.
While she was the main teacher, Story helped as well, showing the movements at half speed. It was different enough that her friend had to concentrate and really focus on things, not just go through the usual motions. So both girls were getting practice She was glad the feeling had pushed her to do this.
Shaking her head, she wondered what was going on. Usually she didn't get a hunch or special feeling for days, and the voice was quiet outside of her doing something particularly dangerous. But today, she'd been bombarded by them. First the sports bra, then the fight with Shuttle, then coming out here to talk about the demon, and now this. What was the voice trying to set up?
Being a precog could be invaluable, but trying to figure out what all the feelings, visions and hunches meant could be maddening. What was this all leading up to? And was she doing the right thing? Sometimes she misunderstood the hints and ideas. Was she doing that now?
The sun had almost set and while the moon was bright, it was getting hard to see. They'd been practising for over an hour, and after her day, she was ready to call it a night.
“OK, I think that's enough,” she said. “I need to sleep.”
“All right,” Dara said. “Thank you so much for teaching me. I had a lot of fun.”
“So did I, you're a good listener. If you want we can make this a regular thing,” Story said. “You're taking BMA, right?”
“Yeah, first class of the day.”
“Once you have some practice, we can try full contact sparring. I need to practice that, I'm still not great at the whole actually punching someone and trying to hurt them. But Wacky is great at it.”
“Oh is that how she broke her nose today?”
Mari narrowed her eyes. “How do you know about that?” she demanded.
Dara, suddenly looked down, playing with her hands. “I- sorry. I was going for a walk. And I heard you two talking. And I know I shouldn't have done it. But I kind of listened in and heard some things, about, your, um, demon. And well you're really nice, and you should have more people you can trust. I'd really like to help you with anything you need.”
Looking at the embarrassed girl, Mari felt her anger and fear rise at the thought of Dara eavesdropping like that. He Who Does Not Walk was her secret. Others weren't supposed to know about it. But even as she felt that, the voice in her head spoke to her.
Outskirts of Gorham, New Hampshire
(7 miles south of Berlin)
Nora Brown wasn't expecting anyone, so she was startled to hear a faint knock on the door. Sighing, she took the pan of chicken off the stove so it wouldn't burn, and went to see who it was. Peeking out the window, she was surprised to see a young Black boy who couldn't be older than eight or nine. He was filthy, and only dressed in a pair of long shorts and a baggy t-shirt.
Opening the door, she took a quick look around to see if his parents or a caretaker were around, then turned her attention to the child. “Hey, are you lost?”
“Y-yes,” the boy said. He had a thick accent that sounded a little like Jamaican, at least she thought it was Jamaican, she'd only heard it on TV.
“Come in. I'll call some people and they'll help you find your family. What's your name?” She ushered him inside, then closed and locked the door.
“Sandley, Sandley Baptiste.”
“OK, Sandley. Just take a seat and wait while I make the call. Then I can get you a drink and I'm making supper if you're hungry.” Going to the kitchen, she picked up the phone ready to dial 911. Then a big, fat fly flew into her face. Swatting it, she tried again. More flies flew at her. Where had they come from? One flew right into her mouth and down her throat, making her gag.
The little boy came into the kitchen. He was surrounded by flies. As she swatted at the bugs who were trying to get into her eyes, nose and mouth, Nora realized the child didn't look so innocent anymore.
“I'm sorry,” the boy said, his voice deep and ancient. “I normally wouldn't do this, but my prey has been kept from me for far too long. I'm very hungry now.”
Nora tried to run. She didn't get very far.