Monday, 16 January 2023 02:08

A Different Matter Altogether, Part 4

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A Different Matter Altogether, Part 4

By Camospam, Wendy K. and Gabi.

A Non-Canon Whateley Universe Adventure

 

 

Dunwich, New Hampshire

 Debbie sat on the park bench watching the goings on in the tiny village of Dunwich. Her single little suitcase, plastered with ladybug stickers, rested beside her acting as a deterrent to prevent anyone from sitting next to her.

 The girl preferred watching people to engaging with them in any meaningful way. There’s a big difference between being alone and being lonely, her need for companionship was mostly satisfied by observing people from afar. People had been nothing but a disappointment even before manifesting, Deb had learned to keep everyone at arm’s length. It was a tell - how she used her suitcase as a shield to protect her personal space.

 A white passenger van stopped curb-side directly in front of her. Deb checked her watch; too early for her ride to Whateley, so her curiosity was piqued. The first person to exit the van was a girl, a really tall girl. Deb only stood five foot three so she already hated her - on principle. Standing at six and a half feet tall, this girl would’ve made her old school’s basketball coach salivate. As it was, the girl’s long slender legs seemed to go on forever. Matched to a slim physique, it made Deb’s loathing spiral deeper, self loathing that is. Deb could never measure up to the expectations placed upon her, by her family, and herself.

 The tall girl made a full sweep of her surroundings, giving Deb only a cursory glance. The girl hid her true intent by stretching and bending to remove kinks as she scanned the area. Deb didn’t fail to notice the strands of flame-red hair that were otherwise tucked underneath a hoodie, plus the girl’s remarkable similarity to a young Geena Davis from The Fly; not exactly - but Deb always tried to match people to famous faces. It fed her insecurities. 


 The second person out of the van was another girl. She exited head first, the crown of her head was blonde as blonde can be, but down the length of her hair near her shoulders, the colour was mixed in with some brunette. Deb took satisfaction from at least having a decent dye job. This girl was almost a foot shorter than her traveling companion. It would be unfair to say the tall girl wasn’t attractive, an injustice actually, but with them standing side by side the newest girl set the bar to a greater height. Full pouty lips with a cute button nose, she would turn heads as a model on any fashion runway. If anyone - she looked like Denise Richards from Starship Troopers, life wasn’t fair.

 Debbie had grown up under her mother's shadow, and her mom had ingrained a philosophy that looks were everything. It showed, because her mom was glamorous, spending huge amounts of time and money to create the perfect image. She’d been a beauty contest entrant - hadn’t won anything except her father’s attention. Overall, it was too bad Deb inherited her dad’s looks, aside from her mom’s nose, her original one - not the one the plastic surgeon made for her.

 Deb’s introspection took a backseat when the pair on the sidewalk began talking to the remaining occupants in the van, encouraging them to come out. The third to exit was yet another girl, a brunette this time. The second girl offered a hand to steady the latest as she exited their transport. There was some familial similarity between these two. Yes, she was attractive too, but perhaps not to the extent of her sister. Deb began to wonder if she’d stumbled upon contestants for a beauty pageant.

 The brunette had sharp piercing eyes; it was like radar how with unerring accuracy she honed in on Deb watching the van. Their eyes touched for the briefest moment of time, but in that millisecond of contact, Deb knew an assessment had been made of her interest, intent, and threat level, and was dismissed.

 The brunette stepped out onto the sidewalk, straightening her rumpled clothes as she made space on the sidewalk for the next passenger. She was slightly taller than her sister, so that lent to her being the older of the two, but the blonde had more curves. Had it not been for the blonde’s bright pink backpack, a very teeny-bopper colour, she would have guessed the blonde was older.

 The van dipped again as another person came out. This time it was a boy, his movements had an awkwardness to them, like he had to guess where to step and how far to reach. It made him jerky and hesitant and was such a teenager attribute, like when a juvenile’s mind and body hadn’t fully meshed to smoothly fill the space they occupied. However, the boy had an easy smile and said something that made the three girls giggle. A clown, there’s always a clown in every group.

 The boy wasn’t as tall as the first girl, few people are so resoundingly over six foot, but this guy had a couple inches overtop the brunette. Again, there was a strong family resemblance going on. Curiously, if three of these travellers are related, how did the tall girl fit into the group?

 The boy began to do stretches to limber up. They must have been on the road for a long time.

 Another body began to emerge, a fifth passenger slid out of the confining van with a fluidity reserved for highly skilled dancers. After being folded up in a van for hours, it was the most perfect entrance, as onto a stage or the red carpet. Any attempt at being discrete on Deb’s part came to an abrupt end and she stared transfixed like a gopher looking up into the open jaws of an apex predator. Deb had to drop her old standard and recalibrate her scale for ranking beauty. Ten took on a whole new meaning.

 At first, the long raven hair hid the last girl’s face until she stood upright and threw her head back, allowing the hair to cascade down her back and settle around her face. Her skin was a sumptuous bronze colour; no tanning booth could imitate such a healthy glow. This newest girl turned her head directly at Deb to unleash a pair of brilliant green eyes that focused upon Deb. The smile Deb received was both unexpected and unnerving. It bore no malice, not even dangerous, if anything it looked mirthful.

 Deb had been the recipient of those fake smiles mean girls like to taunt with. She’d been used for target practice many times before, but this smile looked genuine, and that, that was unsettling. Deb turned away. She knew she’d been busted for spying, but tried not to look too guilty. She brought her suitcase a little closer as if it had attempted to run away. 

 The one thing Deb desperately wanted in life was a friend, an honest-to-goodness true friend, but had stopped dreaming after so many failed attempts. Even coming to a new school Deb only sought to survive; to hope otherwise wasn’t even a remote possibility reasoned Deb, so get a grip. 

 That lithe girl had left an impression, long black curled hair that bounced - framing her perfect features. She had a little nose above full cupids bow lips, pronounced cheekbones, and a delicate jawline. Deb scrolled through all the images of models and actresses she’d memorized. Of them all, the only one to come close was TV’s Wonder Woman herself: Lynda Carter.  It left Deb shell shocked.

 The driver rounded the side of the van to begin unloading luggage. He was solidly built, muscular and six feet tall. He wore a checkered red flannel shirt with suspenders holding up a pair of worn jeans. It gave Deb a mental picture of a lumberjack, minus the hobnail boots. He spoke with a thick French accent which sealed her suspicion, Canadians.

 The luggage amounted to a large stack all told. Each of the five passengers had a minimum of two suitcases,  tags on the bags identical to the ones Deb used for her own belongings. Whateley Academy was their common destination.

 When the front passenger joined them on the curb the hugs started in earnest. Deb had determined from her people watching there were four types of hugs; each carried a notation as to the type of relationship between the huggers. Romantic hugs bore the most emotion, ranging from the newly formed attachment to those between lifelong loves. Nobody shared such, although there was something happening between the driver and the female who rode up front; an early romance no doubt.

 Family hugs told a lot: parent, siblings, extended family. The way the tall girl hugged the front passenger said they were related, a cousin, an aunt … her mother’s younger sister perhaps. The tall girl was reluctant to touch anyone else, so Deb had to guess the relationship to the others.

 Otherwise, it was all close friendly hugs, no superficial perfunctory ones. These travellers had shared experiences and bonded, signs of strong feelings and trust. Although the tall girl had a deep emotional connection to the lumberjack, not infatuation, more like a student/teacher relationship. Again, her reservedness masked the tells.

 Seeing people say goodbye was touching and letting people go was a toss up between trust and worry. When Deb left home just a few hours ago, it was a thinly veiled ‘good riddance’. Her parents wanted her gone, plain and simple; let Whateley deal with her. As a parting gesture, her father had secretly given her a gun. She’d spent the last hours trying to figure out what that was supposed to mean, what kind of parent gives a fourteen-year-old a gun?

 Deb had lost focus, the van had driven away leaving the group to wait street side, the exact location Deb had been provided as the pick-up point for Whateley Academy in Dunwich. The lone boy in the group sat down on a suitcase as the girls rushed across the street to a clothing boutique.

 Cecilia Rogers’ Fabric Boutique had piqued Deb’s interest as well. In the window was a mannequin wearing a school uniform. No doubt Whateley Academy would have a dress code, her last boarding school had one too. It was the system’s way to defeat individualism and churn out automatons. It didn’t matter really. At least she didn’t need to worry about fashion if everyone dressed the same.

 Deb only had her small carry-on suitcase which she’d be-speckled with ladybug stickers. She liked ladybugs, they were cute and inoffensive. Daddy had arranged for a delivery service to take her belongings directly to this new school. After getting expelled from her old school when she’d manifested, she’d only been home for a week before getting booted out - again. There was almost no online presence of this mystery school that had accepted her sight unseen.  What kind of freak show had her parents signed her up for this time? Why did dad figure she’d need a gun?

 Her psychiatrist had pegged Deb as a classic outsider, a loner who preferred to watch rather than become involved. Manifesting as a Gadgeteer had sparked some interest from her aloof father at first, but he quickly dismissed his misfit daughter as an unworthy lesser being, dumping her at the first place that would take her when he opened his wallet wide enough. 

 It was a huge gap between being alone and being lonely, those couple little letters made all the difference. Deb didn’t like always being a loner, but that was what life handed her. Coming from money meant you could never trust people’s motives; friends only used you for what they could get from you. She watched people from afar because she liked the control distance afforded her, but she was the first to recognize the hole it left in her heart.

 Deb noticed how two girls returned and towed the boy over to the clothing store. These girls had a different kind of relationship, it was a love/hate vibe, siblings no doubt. The girls shared too many facial similarities with the boy to ignore. A whole family going to boarding school together was unusual. 

 The road wasn’t busy, but still, the boy looked at traffic multiple times before crossing the street with slow calculated steps, finally entering the shop. Checking her timepiece, Deb had time before the scheduled ride would arrive, so decided she should look into what the clothing store had to offer and perhaps obtain a school uniform as well.

 Stepping into the shop she was taken aback by how astonishingly good the quality of the garments on display were. It rivalled any of the stores on Fifth Avenue or Rodeo Drive her mother had taken her into. The tall redhead and the black-haired girl had been admiring an elegant evening gown while the boy was inside a booth complaining about … whatever boys claimed to dislike about buying clothes. The shopkeeper called over, “I’ll be with you in a moment,” as she finished writing out an order.

 Deb began a mental dissection of the school uniform on display. The material used was not your standard stuff and feeling the textile used she gathered it was unconventional. It was tactile grade - perhaps even bulletproof, but felt as soft as a fine brushed cotton. The cloth was unique and disturbing at the same time. The tiny hairs on the back of her neck stood on end, the only indicator she had of a danger sense. First a gun and now bulletproof clothes - just what kind of school was Whateley?

 Her intent scrutiny and musings were interrupted when somehow the raven-haired girl appeared beside her soundlessly, and was staring at her intently with some of the most amazing green eyes. Her gaze pierced right through Deb and it was unnerving to be looked at this way. Deb wondered if she was actually being seen or was this a new way to be ignored.

 “Lynn,” was offered with an extended hand. “You are Deborah Maurine Hastings, you haven’t selected a suitable codename as yet. You’re trying to decide between Network and Sourcer-ess; I would recommend neither. Network will result in being called ‘nitwit’ and Sourcer-ess will confuse you with magic users. Consider as an alternative Werx, a derivative of the word works, since Gadgeteers make things work.”

 “Uhm, thanks?” was the best Deb could muster, her brain doing backflips. Was this girl a stalker? Was this gonna become a kidnapping situation? Deb contemplated grabbing her gun. How could she know all that about her, she hadn’t told anyone half of that stuff?

 “It messes with the head doesn’t it,” empathized the tall redhead who’d come up on her other side. Deb was now trapped between them, she realized.

 “Precog,” was given in explanation by the black-haired girl still holding out her hand.

 Deb ran down the list of different mutations and their associated abilities; she’d memorized everything she’d found online. The note beside Precognition mutants claimed they were so rare as to be unlikely to ever encounter one, plus Precognition strength was impossible to place on a scale. It was with trepidation that Deb extended her hand. The handshake was firm, but tender too, like nothing needed to be proved between them. It was reassuring while being friendly and nothing was aggressive about it, so Debbie relaxed ever so slightly.

 It was the novelty that perplexed Deb, still struggling with the flight response she was debating with. Someone engaged her in a conversation … like a normal person. The problem was …  Deb didn’t know a normal way to act.

 “You may call me R.E.D. until we become friends,” said the hooded redhead, it wasn’t sarcastic or confrontational in tone, just laid out the how and the who, leaving the door open. But no handshake was presented, in fact, her hands were neatly tucked behind her back.

 The boy couldn’t have picked a better time to step out of the fitting room. It took the attention off Deborah so she could regroup.

 “Thank you Timothy, I have your measurements now,” instructed the shopkeeper, a young woman of impeccable taste in her attire. "You can expect your school uniforms before next weekend. I’ll have them delivered to Whateley along with your friend’s. Now, have you all decided what colour trim you want on your team uniforms?”

 “I like red,” exclaimed Timothy.

 “Sorry slowpoke, already taken,” refuted the tall girl, pulling off her hood. Deb could now watch the dim pulsating red light travel down the length of her hair in a rhythm timed to a heartbeat.

 “Is orange okay?” he asked, then noticed the newcomer and added with bravado, “A nice deep manly tint of orange of course.” 

 Deb couldn’t help adding her giggle to that coming from the other girls.

 “I think I can find just the right thing,” assured the seamstress. She took from the rack a suit on a hanger. “Outlook asked me to come up with a team design. The fabric will be puncture resistant with flame-retardant features. I’m thinking of using an iridescent material on the right shoulder to mimic the aurora borealis, but I’d like your input if you have any suggestions.”

 It looked like a skin-tight unitard, the design had elastic cuffs and waist band, the trim was a golden colour which included a double line down the left sleeve. It was mostly a midnight blue colour with flecks of silver that looked like stars and the addition of scuff-resistant patches of black fabric on the knees and elbows was very functional.

 “It needs pockets or a utility belt for hold-outs,” chipped in Deb. She felt she needed to explain, “You know, like Batman.”

 “She has a point,” piped up the tall one nodding her head thoughtfully. “I would like a skirt, my mother would not agree to me wearing anything so revealing.”

 “I agree, skirts for the girls, shorts for the boys. How about a pocketed vest or light jacket to conceal weapons in?” Suggested Lynn, the raven-haired one.

 An agreement was reached, but the boy, Timothy asked, “What about capes?”

 “I think Edna Mode’s right, no capes, too pretentious. Besides, it’s not like we’re joining the Future Superheroes of Tomorrow,” reasoned the Precog Lynn.

 “Fine,” submitted a disappointed Tim to the group decision.

 “Future Superheroes?” startled Deb who was taken aback at the statement, what the heck was this?

 “Yeah, it’s a group of wannabe’s at Whateley. They have aspirations of becoming superheroes someday, everyone calls them The Capes. Swift kinda had a crush on one of them.”

 “Hey!” complained Tim.

 “She was a senior and already had a boyfriend, what part of ‘not interested’ did you misinterpret?” consoled Lynn, patting the boy’s shoulder.

  He gave her a small smile.

 “I promised to tell you when the love of your life came along,” comforted Lynn further. “Until then, you’ll have to put up with us and your sisters,” she teased.

 Deb mentally chalked up a victory on guessing the sibling factor. Lynn was a wildcard who had dispelled each clue Deb had gleaned, it was exciting to be presented a challenge that merited further observation. Cecilia efficiently determined her clothing needs. Her scanner was a novel instrument, one which Deb had difficulty suppressing an irresistible urge to disassemble to discover its internal workings … okay, Werx was sounding better and better for a codename.

 While getting her measurements taken, Deb overheard Lynn asking about getting a dress suitable for dancing class. That made Ms. Rogers’ day. There were five posters announcing the class plastered on every available space. Green was definitely the girl’s colour, so it only came down to a question of style and cut. With her beauty, Lynn could make camouflage look good, which Deb hadn’t thought possible.

 Deb paid the bill for her school uniforms and an adorable pantsuit she’d found … plus some boots that were simply to die for. It wasn’t cheap, which was Mom’s first rule about buying good clothes, ‘cheap is as cheap does’. She didn’t understand her Mom most days, but what teenager doesn’t feel that way?

 A larger throng of students had now gathered on the street, some wore the now familiar school uniform, returning students most likely. Others, like herself, had on assorted clothing reflecting regional tastes, Midwestern functionality, California beach duds. And of course - typical for Canadians, multiple layers of clothes for changing climatic conditions, as was seen on the five she’d been watching.

 Deb was impressed, the school’s transportation arrived on schedule. It was a twelve-passenger van with a trailer pulled behind to accommodate the luggage. With only ten students there were enough seats to go around. Even so, Deb shared her bench with the two Canadian sisters. Introductions were made, Charlotte was the blonde, Rachelle the brunette. They had visited Whateley before to scope the school out, but had not been attending classes.

 Perhaps it was a good sign that they were excited to be returning. Deb didn’t know what she was getting into, but obviously this was a school for mutants and the pieces began to fit into place. The mystery and secrecy she’d discovered so far was to protect the students and likely the staff as well. She could appreciate the discretion since she had also been discriminated against after manifesting.

 The school had chosen to distance itself from close neighbours; the last homestead had been a couple of miles back before the van veered off the road and drove past tall wrought iron gates. Each gate post had a gargoyle mounted above like sentinels watching over who entered, a large rock wall looked to surround the grounds.

 Watching the scenery was enlightening, the buildings were an eclectic mix which could be attributed to the architect in charge being epileptic, but more likely it spoke of age. The place had been around for a while and as need arose, new construction and additions didn’t hold to a set theme.

 The school bus stopped in a parking lot to join several other vehicles unloading students. There were adults holding clipboards attempting to impart order to the growing chaos, calling out names and directing them into clusters. The students already in the know gathered their belongings and headed off towards predetermined buildings. 

 Their driver helped unload the luggage, some kids hauled their own stuff around, others leaving it where it lay. Deb only had her small ladybug suitcase to contend with, which had wheels, so she towed it behind herself. Checking in, she was told she was assigned to Melville Cottage and overheard that all the Canadian girls she’d arrived with would be in Dickinson.

 If typical norms prevailed, dormitories would be pitted against each other based upon socio-economic standards. It was the way the world thinks, it wasn’t right, but just the way it is. Deb never liked fitting in, she’d found the whole system repulsive. It was almost hypocritical coming from one of the top one percentile, but she had no way to change the status quo.

 Her concern today was if she had a roommate again, her last one outed her as a mutant and she was tired of living in fear. A huddle of twenty-some freshman kids began the trek over to Melville Cottage together.

 

Melville Cottage

 “I don’t think this is a good idea,” cautioned Rhododendron, looking around at the imposing entryway of Melville Cottage. It smelled of money and had an air of opulence in contrast to their own dormitories’ simple albeit functional decor.

 “Of course it’s a good idea, Cameron will want us to check up on him.” It gave the Precog pause thou, making Lynn stop and join her tall roommate to view the cottage’s interior. It looked like a fancy foyer for an upscale hotel rather than a boarding school’s dormitory. “Besides, we’ve got his school supplies, he’ll need those.”

 “It’s not Cameron I’m concerned about. Didn’t you listen during orientation, Melville Cottage houses all the hoity-toity students, you know; the more money than brains sort.”

 “Cameron’s not like that,” admonished Lynn, “You know him better than that. Besides, he’ll need a friend or two before he’ll be able to settle in.”

 “I am knowing, but …” paused Rho, the stare she’d received from a resident was filled with daggers, “how come he isn’t over in Hawthorne Cottage?”

 “All the more reason for us to visit, and find out. Come on!” connived Lynn, almost grabbing onto the Energizer’s hot hand to drag her up to the concierge desk. “Aren’t you even slightly curious to see what his room looks like?” whispered Lynn as they waited for the attendant to notice them.

 “Unlike you, I can contain my curiosity,” quietly chastised Rho, wondering how it is this impulsive Were girl always talked her into doing crazy things.

 The concierge checked their student ID’s against an approved visitor list, then pointed them to the elevator.

 Once the doors closed, Lynn spoke up: “I’m just keeping an eye out for him,” Lynn’s comment raised Rho’s eyebrow. “Okay, fine, keeping my eye on him then,” she mumbled.

 “Can you honestly, even for a second, suspect that he’d become enamoured with someone other than you?”

 “No … well, maybe.”

 “I am beside myself in disbelief. Have you looked in a mirror? You are a boy magnet. I believe I am the stick you hold onto to scare them off.”

 Lynn broke out in laughter at her friend’s admission, “That’s not true, you provide comedy relief too. And I thought you hung around me to avoid all the attention you attract.”

 “What a pair we make,” chuckled Rho. “You should know, stalking is another feline trait you have issues with,” stated Rho, receiving a huff from her friend as they exited the elevator and began walking down the hallway.

 Lynn shrugged off the comment saying, “Stalking, tracking, to-ma-toe, tom-at-oe, what’s the big deal either way.”

 The directions they’d received said Cameron’s room was at the end of the hall. “Now that we’re back rooming together, should I expect to be slept on again?”

 “Could be, I don’t like strange beds, I don’t sleep well until I get comfortable in new surroundings.”

 “I’m not complaining, I just worry that you might get burned.”

 “I’m made of tougher stuff than most. Besides, you’re nice and warm to curl up on.”

 “Ha, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

 “Fair enough, I’ll try and keep the claws in … in case I do get burned.”

 The long hallway had plush carpeting which absorbed the sound of footfalls and was in stark contrast to the plain worn wood floors at Dickinson Cottage. Nice artwork adorned the freshly painted walls. Giving the place a sniff, it even smelled like money or some fancy perfumed cleaner. Just like you’d find in a hotel, each door had electric swipe pads and peepholes installed to provide additional security.

 Approaching the hall’s end, the corridor was nearly blocked by heaps upon heaps of luggage. The large steamer trunks along with big wooden crates left little room for the girls to squeeze past. Checking the room number Lynn knocked on Cameron’s door. 

 “Over here,” rang out a familiar voice from the open door across the hall. Looking into the dormitory, Rho stood slack jawed, it was three times the size of the ones in their dorm, and they shared it; not to mention this room only had a single bed.

 Cameron stepped out from behind a corner and beamed a huge smile. He hastened up and embraced Lynn in a hug, saying into her ear, “I missed you.” and he meant it, truly and deeply.

 Lynn’s knee’s weakened from his affectionate greeting. She had missed her betrothed as well, but she was still miffed that he’d not returned her calls. A slight she was certain to make him pay for - just not right now. Right now, even though she wasn’t in cat form, she was purring.

 As if it was an assembly line, Rho also received a warm hug. Watching the events unfold Deb tilted her head in curiosity. It was apparent her helpful neighbour, and Lynn the girl she’d arrived at Whateley with, had feelings for each other. But the tall redhead, R.E.D., had never displayed such openness with anyone she'd touched before, it altered all the perceptions she’d formulated about the girl.

 Catching himself in a lack of manners, Cameron began introductions only to be halted.

 “We met in Dunwich and arrived together on the same bus,” informed Lynn. “Is all this stuff yours?” she asked in amazement. “You only had a single suitcase with you!”

 “Umm, yeah. I had most of my things shipped here ahead of time. It is a lot isn’t it.” she had to confess. Deb doubted even half of it would fit into her room. “Outlook was helping me carry the more important things in. I figure I’ll need to find storage space or hopefully be assigned a workshop. I’ve kinda been hoarding tools since I became a Gadgeteer.”

 Deb didn’t know why she found it necessary to explain herself. She hadn’t been so forthcoming to anyone in recent memory, not even to her psychiatrist. Maybe because she was off balance around the Precog girl who seemed to know her soul better than she did, or because her new neighbour had started helping her with little more than a basic ‘Hello’ shared between them.

 “I was wondering about finding a place myself. I already asked our Cottage fixer about a hide-y-hole in the tunnels. She said there were some newly vacated spots up for grabs, but I have to act fast in securing one. I was hoping to do some exploring in the tunnels tonight after dinner.”

 “Can I join you?” sought Deb. Having a guide sounded like a good idea since she was disoriented, even after the tour she’d been given, but she needed the additional space nonetheless.

 After plans to meet up for dinner were all arranged, and a few of the larger crates were set aside making some room in the hallway, Deb was left to her own devices organizing her room.

 Lynn asked point blank to see Cameron’s room.

 From the hallway Cameron double-checked his room for presentability, he’d put a lot of effort into making it feel homey, not that it looked anything like his family’s house. Home was still too elusive a thought after losing his/her parents. But he hated the sterile dormitory feel of his new digs the second he’d walked in. It had no personality with plain painted walls lacking warmth or welcome. So Cameron had changed it up. His first guests would make or break his decor decisions made to hopefully to avert judgement upon being assigned to Melville Cottage.

 Opening his accommodation’s door by swiping the provided security card, he stepped aside to let his first ever guests enter, Lynn and Rhododendron, albeit a risky name to call Flambé depending on how dearly you valued any exposed flesh or hair follicles. It was a hot button issue for the tall energizer who went by R.E.D. That said, she had been receptive to Rho as a friendly shortened moniker lately.

 Neither of them stepped inside. Lynn, who stood nearest to the open door, remained unmoving. A wide eyed Rho was halted behind her, gawking into the room’s interior. Cameron was disheartened, he had hoped to create an inviting space and somewhere to feel relaxed and at ease. Overall, Melville Cottage was too gaudy for Cameron’s tastes, too showy and opulent, not anywhere close to what Cameron felt comfortable within.

 Cameron felt embarrassed by the extravagance of this place. If this is what this cottage’s residents were accustomed to he doubted they would get along well at all. But Whateley decided to place him here, he’d kinda hoped to be put in Hawthorne Cottage. He’d requested Hawthorne and even argued he could be of greater benefit to the students there. But for whatever reason Whateley wouldn’t hear it and he wound up stuck in Melville.

“Well, that answers the question of where to hold team meetings,” claimed Flambé, looking at the substantial space.

 The room held two large leather couches with two matching recliners; a central ottoman also served as a coffee table arranged in front of a wood burning fireplace set into a corner. Large patio doors looked out onto the treed lands behind Melville cottage and beyond stood the Presidential Mountains easily seen in the distance.

 What was hard to comprehend for the newcomers was that the dorm room looked like a log cabin inside. The walls consisted of interlocking round wood logs with rough cut timbers for a ceiling, all finished in a shiny honey coloured varnish. The kitchenette had similar wood touches while the granite counters accented a full complement of apartment sized stainless steel appliances.

 “Is it too much?” worriedly asked Cameron, the speechless girls triggering his concern as they wandered around taking the place in.

 “Where do you sleep?” questioned Lynn, not having spotted a bed.

 “In the bedroom,” informed Cameron, pointing to a side door hanging his head in shame.

 “You have to be kidding me! This place is huge compared to our paltry room, and we share it.” claimed Rho, as the two girls set down the parcels that they had brought with them.

 “Yeah, I figured as much,” conceded Cameron. He hated the disparity forced upon him. “From what I’ve seen of other dorms it’s excessive. I guess it’s Whateley’s way of trying to make amends. At first, they wanted to put me into a penthouse suite, but I negotiated them down to the second floor because of my vertigo. So it might not seem like it, but this room is a compromise,” explained Cameron, as he opened his bedroom door.

 The bedroom was adorned like a Klondike tent having wood rail walls on the lower half and canvas cloth hung to simulate the look of a tent above. Old-fashioned lanterns hung from the ceiling for lighting and each of the three large windows had rolled-up canvas flaps for curtains.

 A twin-size bed was positioned near a simple wood desk and chair. As well, the room had a recliner chair in a corner. Opposite to it was a wood-burning stove being the only other furnishing.

 “No wardrobe for your clothes?” puzzled Lynn from the discrepancy between her room and Cameron’s.

 Cameron walked over to open a door revealing, “Walk-in closet,” then with a sigh added, “and washroom.”

 “Oh that’s just …” sputtered Rho as she stepped past the stacked clothes washer and dryer Cameron had installed, to then spy the large glistening white jetted soaker tub, with an accompanying separate shower stall laid out in the huge washroom. “Do you know we have communal washrooms and have to wait in line for a shower?”

 “You can use mine anytime,” offered Cameron to appease her.

 “It’s not your fault,” soothed Lynn. “But having a long hot bath once in a while is too good an offer to pass up.”

 “I can get some bubble bath,” enthused Cameron, trying to ease his guilt.

 “Lilac,” instructed Lynn.

 “Peaches,” requested Rhododendron.

 “Peaches? I thought you liked Lilac too?” questioned a justified Lynn.

 “I forgot to bring shampoo, so I’ve been borrowing yours,” admitted R.E.D., “Get the stuff Lynn uses, my hair has never been so soft and shiny.”

 Lynn laughed out loud, “It’s for fur, I buy it bulk at the pet store.”

 “That explains the super jumbo family-size container,” reasoned Rho.

 “Says you, I’ve got four fur coats to wash - plus my hair,” detailed Lynn as to her bathing requirements.

 “The girls at Dickinson are gonna complain about you hogging all the hot water.”

 “They’ll complain more about a smelly cat in the cottage if I don’t wash up.”

 “Don’t cats lick themselves clean?” taunted R.E.D.

 “Oh, that’s so …” Lynn shuddered at the suggestion. 

 “Gross?” supplied Rho with a suppressed smirk.

 “Unhygienic! How would you feel after licking yourself all over?”

 “Like I’d need to take a shower,” admitted Rho, “and bleach my tongue.”

 “Exactly!” confirmed Lynn

 “I hate to interrupt you two,” inferred Cameron. “But would you know what type of soap Rachelle might like?”

 “Strawberry,” said the two girls in unison.

 “And Charlotte?” asked Cameron taking notes.

 “Tutti Fruity,” claimed Rho.

 “Bubble Gum,” corrected Lynn, tapping her nose.

 “Right,” admitted Rho, “I might try that myself later. What about Tim?”

 “He’s more, you’re run of the mill whatever’s on sale type.” decided Rho having given it some thought.

 “True that, probably uses a shampoo and conditioner in one product,” mused Lynn. “He probably thinks the hair care products they give you in hotels is good stuff.”

 “Guys have it so easy when it comes to hair care. Wash it, towel it dry, run a comb through it and it’s done,” added Rho fuelling the argument. 

 “That reminds me, I should get a haircut.” Cameron exclaimed, willing to bring the debate to an end before it got too drawn out, and make him commit to thoughts about his forced changes.

 “I think I saw a barber shop in Dunwich,” contributed Flambé to be helpful.

 Cameron let it slip without thinking: “I was told Melville has an in-house hairstylist, we’re to ask our concierge and she’ll arrange an appointment.”

 “That is so unfair,” moaned Lynn. “No wonder Melvillian’s have a bad reputation.”

 “Being here is not by choice,” defended Cameron. “I asked to be put in Hawthorne.”

 “You’re right. It’s just the disparity between the privileged uber-rich and all of us low-born peasants is pretty extreme.”

 “My parents struggled to make ends meet before …” paused Cameron, not ready to verbalize his feelings. “Money doesn’t mean much when all you want is family.”

 “I - we are grateful for your generosity, honestly.” Rho said in a low tone. “My family was at wits end worrying about my manifesting, so coming to Whateley has been a godsend. I know I can never replace those you’ve lost, but you have a friend in me - no strings attached.”

 “I appreciate that - appreciate you. I’m not looking to buy your friendship, I just want to help where I can,” admitted Cameron, earning him a hug from the warm hearted - and handed Energizer.

 “I know, we know. Just so long as living with a bunch of spoiled rich kids doesn’t rub off, and you become one,” admonished Rho while in the embrace.

 “Thanks, I won’t,” promised Cameron. “My parents raised me to value hard work.”

 “Good,” added Lynn. “My Dad always says, ‘you need to work hard if you want to play hard.’ Now, be a good sport and open my housewarming gift.” 

 Lynn hovered nearby as Cameron slid off the ribbon and popped open the lid; inside was a pair of leather moccasins.

 “Wow! These are amazing … and handmade,” exclaimed Cameron, clutching them tightly as he held them to his heart.

 “Try them on,” beamed Lynn.

 Slipping them onto his feet, Cameron gave out a contented sigh, “So comfortable. Thank you,” said Cameron as he wrapped Lynn into his arms so he could kiss her, tenderly pressing lips to hers with deep affection.

 Rho let them enjoy the moment before saying, “Careful you two, people might suspect you like each other.”

 That they both blushed was gratifying, but they lingered holding hands.

 Rho handed Cameron an envelope, “I was asked to deliver this to you, Roche gave it to me.”

 It was a communiqué from Ray, a simple note saying: ‘keep your head down, and trust no one.’ Also inside the envelope was a set of detailed drawings from Smith, her instructions called it a Scrambler. Anyone listening in would hear Elmer Fudd arguing with Porky Pig about the best recipe for lemon poppyseed pound cake. Cameron kinda wanted to hear that himself.

 Rhododendron decided to try out the couch and sank into cushions as soft as clouds. As Cameron dug into the school supplies they’d picked up for him, he asked, “Hey Rho, what did you do for a summer job?”

 “I worked at my uncle’s warehouse, loading and unloading railcars.  Really hard physical labour lifting tires and boxes of car parts, a good workout for an Exemplar. What about you Lynn?”

 “I helped Dad out at the farm and Mom around the house. It was conditional so they’d allow me to come to Whateley.”

 “How about you Cameron, did the RCMP keep you busy?” sought Rho.

 “I did some odd jobs with the RCMP, part-time stuff mostly whenever Ray needed a hand. I spent most of the summer working with Marcus’s friend Buck; he has a construction company. It started with us demolishing an old office building in downtown Vancouver. It was supposed to take three months but ended up only taking me a day and a half. After that Buck kept me busy with jobs all over BC; he made me his business partner after the first week.”

“Don’t forget the couple days you spent visiting us in Alberta, after your little run-in with the Calgary Police who tossed you into jail.”

 “I think I heard about that on the news, was that around the time Alberta’s Premier announced enacting the Notwithstanding clause of Canada’s constitution, rejecting mutant rights and freedoms in that Province?”

 “Yeah, I get to go to trial again come December. I’m hoping Whateley will allow me time away for that, maybe even give me credit in social studies for in-depth experience with societal inequities.” 

 “You seem to enjoy kicking up a stink, have you ever tried not being the center of attention?” humoured Rho.

 “Where is the fun in that? Besides, there’s a lot of displaced mutants moving into Canada now; people’s attitudes need to change. I just happen to be the one to light the fire,” Cameron couldn’t feel regret over doing something he was sent to do in the first place. “Speaking of lighting a fire have either of you signed up for any courses yet?”

 “Oh sure, my advisor helped me figure out a course schedule. He’s a nice guy, a psychiatrist: Dr. Bellows. He figures if I can control my emotions I’ll get a better handle on how hot my hands become.”

 “I hope it helps,” Cameron had suspected as much from the get go. “How about you Lynn?”

 “I’ve been assigned to work with a First Nations representative, an old time hero named Totem. I stopped by his office already, he wants me to call him Charlie, he’s okay. Although, they need to do some testing before placing me into courses, they don’t trust correspondence learning.”

 “I guess I’m in the same boat,” mused Cameron, uncertain about the hold up regarding his curriculum. “Well, hopefully I get my class schedule sorted out soon.”

 “Don’t you have a student advisor yet?”

 “No. There seems to be some kind of hang up.”

 

Shuster Hall, Administration offices

 Mrs. Shugendo was thankful for the chance to sit down, she’d been on her feet all day getting new and returning students sorted and demands upon her time never seemed to end at the start of a school year. She wasn’t the only one under the gun, all Whateley staff experienced the same tsunami of problems arising from students. However, when solutions weren’t forthcoming it fell upon her to sort out troubles.

 Elizabeth Carson had asked for a briefing on some of the more pressing issues; situations that required her to step-in and correct. Invariably, each year, surprises arose that hadn’t been foreseen and accounted for: unsuitable room assignments, intolerable roommates, pretty standard stuff. It’s why Whateley Academy had cottage parents to smooth ruffled feathers, and had selected students as intermediaries to help keep the peace.

 Most importantly, Whateley relied upon skilled staff to act as guidance counsellors, carefully chosen to be best suited to each individual student’s academic, and at times, psychological needs. Although Michiko had been stymied with figuring out who should handle her latest headache, Cameron Burke. Following the Board of Trustee’s direction that he receive the best treatment Whateley could offer was becoming burdensome. Her trying to accommodate his every need had backfired.

 It had become a lesson in frustration for the Dean of Students. The boy had refused the nicest accommodations possible at the school, instead preferring a lesser dormitory assignment. At least he agreed to remain in Melville, but he made it seem like he was doing her a favour in that regard. Now she needed to pick the perfect advisor for the boy and was running out of options. The added pressure that he might just walk away if he became unhappy added to her worry; then she’d be blamed for failing the school.

 Mrs. Carson was wrapping up her phone call from Security, some dunderhead kids started fighting the second they came onto campus and the hysterical girls in fits of rage had been admitted to Doyle to get injuries tended to. Michiko could see the stress building upon the headmistress. Classes hadn’t even begun and she was having to consider expelling students already. 

 Mrs. Shugendo didn’t want to burden Liz with anything more, but she had asked specifically about Outlook just before being interrupted. Michiko pondered the situation again. He’d been here, right under everyone’s noses, taking correspondence courses no less. It was an embarrassment of epic proportions and the legal wrangling had not been going in the school’s favour in reaching a settlement - as discussed at the last senior staff meeting.

 Nobody had any certainty about Outlook’s scholastic aptitude. He would need to undergo testing to gauge his current standing before determining what Whateley could offer him.

 Mrs. Shugendo wasn’t certain how to proceed. How would he react to being asked to write multiple exams before getting put into a single class? As it was, to be safe, she had reserved a seat in every single class until she knew what courses Cameron Burke wanted to take, the precautions Whateley was undertaking were unprecedented.

 “I’ll interview each of them personally and keep you informed,” concluded Elizabeth, ending her call. “Now, where were we?”

 “I was telling you about Outlook’s rooming assignment,” commenced Michiko.

 “Oh, yes. Melville Cottage, how does he like it?” how could he not, surmised Mrs. Carson.

 “I hope he’ll warm to it, he seemed disappointed to not be in Hawthorne with his friend.”

 “I thought they were getting put into Dickinson? And the boy … Swift, he’s in Twain.”

 “Yes, Outlook made a new friend, Geoff Merril, call’s himself Max. They arrived together.”

 “Merril? Heather Merril’s son?” asked a surprised Mrs. Carson.

 “You know her?” questioned an intrigued Michiko, the details she’d been provided were sketchy.

 “Mysteria, a very powerful Mage,” reminisced Liz. “I helped put her behind bars. She’s serving a life sentence at Mount Prometheus penitentiary for killing Champion, twice.”

 “I arranged for Doyle to conduct exams at Outlook’s recommendation. Max’s mutation has inflicted some unfortunate ailments. It would be best if we notified her, do you want me to make contact with her?”

 “I’ll do it. She knows me, she may not like me, but she’ll understand that if news comes from me it’s important.”

 “Thank you Liz. Also, I was hoping you might have some ideas on who we could assign to be Outlook’s Student Advisor.”

 “Did you have someone in mind?”

 “Louis Gentz had expressed an interest, but he has several first year Psychics he’ll be mentoring and he doubts he’ll have the time. I had thought Mrs. Henderson would be a good choice but she declined saying she prefers focusing on all the young minds attending Whateley.”

“Any others?”

“None that I feel have the boy’s best interests at heart,”

 “Have you considered someone from the Psychiatric team? Outlook was under the care of a Psychiatrist before, I think having him assessed again would be beneficial for all parties in the long run.”

“I need to ask, is this in any way motivated by the court case he’s brought against the school?”

“It would be wise to have a trained mental health professional provide oversight. If Outlook is as delusional as I fear, then having someone trained to identify and support his needs is in everyone’s interests.”

“I’ll approach Dr. Bellows, see who he recommends.”

“Do we know what courses Outlook will be taking?”

“Nothing has been …“ the Dean was distracted and stopped speaking.

 A commotion in the outer office not only interrupted their conversation, but loud voices and banging was heard before the Headmistress’s door was forcefully pushed open.

“You can’t go in there!” was called out by Mrs. Claire to the backside of the intruder.

“Elizabeth! What is the meaning of this!” barked Reverend Englund.

 Mrs. Carson stood, in doing so she indicated to Michiko to stay quiet and let her handle this. To then address the angered man. “If you’d care to explain what’s got you so hot under the collar, I’d be glad to explain Reverend.”

 “Don’t play games with me. I just spoke with Lodgeman, that … that child is coming back - the one who destroyed my church,” thundered the Reverend.

 “Security’s investigation showed that Outlook was not responsible for the damages to Dillon Chapel. It was due to an untrained girl generating a portal she had no control over.”

 “Pish-tosh, that boy was the ringleader,” dismissed the cleric. “He owes me a church!”

 “The school’s insurance is looking into rebuilding Dillon Chapel. In the interim, we’ll be erecting a tent for you to hold services in.”

 “A tent! You must think I’m some holy roller in a travelling roadshow. A tent,” he harrumphed in disgust at the mere suggestion of it.

 “We could set aside one of the classrooms in Kane Hall for your use on Sundays, if you would prefer,” negotiated the Headmistress. 

 “I would prefer to have my church back,” challenged the enraged man.

 “Yes, well, I’m afraid my hands are tied until insurance settles the claim,” explained Liz of the situation before her.

 “A likely story. What’s taking so long?” complained the Reverend, not ready in the slightest to be appeased.

 “Our Insurance policy carries a clause that doesn’t cover ‘Acts of God’. They’re looking to interview all those involved,” detailed Elizabeth, knowing he wouldn’t like her reply.

 The furious man boggled at that revelation, “It was God’s house, they can’t possibly suggest that God destroyed it.”

 “Now, with Outlook in attendance, they can collect his statement. That should expedite moving our claim forward.”

 “I wouldn’t trust a word that menace says,” venomously spat the cleric. “Rumour has it that kid can repair anything. He should be the one to build me a church.”

 “Whateley Academy cannot, and will not partake in having any student perform tricks like sideshow performers. Our whole purpose in being is to prevent that sort of abuse,” fumed the heroine.

 “Pfft, put him on detention and make him do it. I don’t care what excuse you use,” dismissed the Reverend with a flick of his hand, as if what had been said meant nothing.

 “No.”

 “Then make me his Student Advisor, I’ll motivate him,” goaded the priest.

 “No.”

  “It only stands to reason, the boy’s made wild claims about been sent by God or some such nonsense. It should be a ‘Man of God’ who guides him and sets him straight,” pushed the man.

  “No.”

 “Elizabeth, our agreement has been that I’d advise all the God-fearing students who come here. Are you reneging on our agreement?” weaselled Englund.

 “His application specifically indicated that he is non-denominational. Now, if he should choose to attend mass, of his own accord, that is his affair. Then you can preach whatever hellfire and brimstone sermon you wish,” forcefully countered Elizabeth. “But this office will not interfere in a student’s religious beliefs.”

 “The Board of Trustees will hear about this,” retaliated the infuriated man, unaccustomed to not getting his way.

 “I’m sure they will,” calmly mentioned Mrs. Carson to his retreating backside as he pushed past Mrs. Claire.

 

Crystal Hall

 The cafeteria had become busier and busier with each passing day since Camron and Max had first arrived. Dinner had been more leisurely when fewer students had been clamouring for food, now that the ever-present social pecking order had clicked into full gear as egos and pride dictated over who sits where.

 Cameron didn’t care where he sat, but had given consideration to Max’s needs when selecting a suitable table. The upper levels were out of the question for the very simple matter of logistics. Max and an escalator equaled disaster, same would go for an elevator, that much weight means something would break, and then nobody would be happy. Stairs could’ve been possible, but after Cameron checked the structural load-bearing capacity it wasn’t worth risking it. That left the main floor as the only viable option.

 So, they needed a table that had a wide enough corridor that Max could navigate, not to mention a chair big enough to bear his considerable mass. Nobody took a table reserved for those confined to wheelchairs. It was an unforgivable faux pas to sit there, unless you joined somebody handicapped that is. Max was challenged but not handicapped.

 The choices had narrowed down to just two possibilities. Cameron chose the table that also backed up against an outer wall so that it provided a feeling of seclusion for Max by not being the centre of attention. This particular table had seating for twelve, three on each side. Cameron took three seats and combined them into one single chair, adding more material to reinforce it. It took an Exemplar 3 just to move it, but it withstood Max’s weight.

 Cameron didn’t recall who sat here last year. He’d worried they’d intruded upon someone else’s claim, but so far nobody had said anything to them. Besides, those who think highly of themselves enjoyed the tables that put them above everyone else, so being on the lower level with the peons shouldn’t ruffle too many feathers.

 Outlook made sure to arrive early to Crystal Hall to ensure his newly arrived friends could find him. The main course tonight was roast beef with all the trimmings and it smelled fantastic. Cameron had seen the school’s kitchen, the endless bank of ovens and refrigerators, he’d helped Stan and Morrie make repairs in there last year. Now, he got to actually enjoy the delightful food - as a student, each forkful he ate here was especially flavourful being a satisfying victory.

 Cameron held off getting dinner until his friends arrived to join him.  Spotting Flambé was easy, she stood a head above most others, and her uncovered hair pulsed red. Her hair had rapid fluctuations indicating she was anxious, first day jitters undoubtedly. Cameron waved to get her attention, it resulted in letting the rest of the crew know where he was, they had come all together.

 He gave Lynn a hug. Something he planned to do every day of his life from here on out - at every chance he could. Charlotte squee’d happily when they embraced, then with Rachelle she gently pressed her forehead against his as they hugged.

“I still can’t read you in the slightest,” jested the Psychic. “I should’ve never taught you how to block,” was also said.

 Timothy held out his hand which Cameron took, took and pulled him in close for a hug too. He’d missed each of them - equally, except Lynn, she was special.

“I’m glad you got here early,” stated Cameron. “I need to explain about this table.”

 All of them had eyed the heavy-duty chair, Charlotte even pulled it back, dragging it across the floor letting out a loud screech, which interrupted Cameron’s train of thought. She sat in it with a giggle.

 “I better do something about that before the chair’s feet damage the floor,” said Outlook. “Now then, I wanted to let you know I made a new friend. He’s a super nice guy, a little shy …”

 “He’s huge!” gasped Rachelle, watching a massive fellow enter Crystal Hall, his very presence causing a stir among his peers. As if orchestrated the cafeteria’s denizens turned in unison to see what the fuss was all about.

 “That too,” continued a nonplused Cameron. “He’s a gentle soul, but hates people gawking at him.” He said that last part extra loud so those around could hear him. Most turned their focus back onto their food rather than be called out.

 Max looked over and caught Cameron’s eye. Giving Cameron a head nod, he grabbed a tray for each hand before entering the food line.

 Cameron regrouped before continuing, motioning for the others to sit with him as he spoke, “I spent the last two days with Max. He first got checked over at Doyle, then was getting tested in the Labs. He’s an Exemplar, with a bad case of GSD.”

 “That’s why you didn’t met us when we arrived,” clued in Lynn.

 “Yes. Sorry about that. Max needed some moral support, he can’t say much so he wanted company.”

 “Do you trust him?” asked Charlotte, not just of Cameron - but including her other teammates.

 “I do, I believe he’s a good egg,” confided Cameron, after giving the question consideration.

 “That’s good enough for me. I mean, look at us. If a Psychic and a Precog don’t raise any concerns, what other proof do we need?” concluded Rhododendron. “Let’s eat, I’m starving.”

 There was no further issue brought up by anyone over Max, just about the need for food.

 Max was the first at the table, his two trays heaped high with piles of food. Cameron had left some oversized cutlery for him because a normal fork would have disappeared in his massive hands. Introductions were made around the table as each of them returned one at a time, Max paid rapt attention to anyone who spoke, but could do little to join the conversation going on at the table.

 Charlotte sat at Max’s left. During the meal Max had his left hand resting on the table, Charlotte reached over and took hold of his hand, wrapping her fingers overtop his and giving a squeeze. Max froze, looking at the display of friendship - someone touching him. Tears formed in the big lug’s eyes. Charlotte gave him a timid smirk of a smile, but didn’t let go.

 Lynn got up from the table leaving food on her plate, saying, “Be right back,” and headed off. There was no accounting for Lynn’s actions at times. To try and figure out the reason’s why she did what she did resulted in the same effect as ramming your head into a brick wall, leaving you senseless. Lynn returned with Deb in tow. The shy girl had already filled a plate and was looking for a place to sit when Lynn snagged her and dragged her along.

 “Evening,” Deb said quietly, “I hate to intrude.”

 “Intrude away,” stated R.E.D. motioning to the seat beside her. R.E.D. took upon herself the mantle of hostess and began making introductions for Deborah’s benefit.

 Rho began, “You’ve met Lynn, she uses the name Aware, and she’s a … “ 

 The Were shook her head. Too much explaining was required if giving too many details.

 “A shapeshifter with Precognition,” Rho received a wink of approval for her discretion.

 “Cats,” added Lynn, before Deb could ask the question on the tip of her tongue.

 R.E.D. continued: “Cameron, you already know he’s your next-door neighbour. His codename is Outlook, he’s - different. He’s …”

 Cameron spoke up, “gifted by God, I have enhanced vision and absorb energy which lets me alter matter.”

 “Different is a little vague don’t you think,” admitted Deb. “Which God?”

 “Are you familiar with the Bible?” sought Cameron.

 “Somewhat.” She’d seen it of course, but never read it.

 “That one,” revealed Cameron.

 Deb sat quietly soaking that little tidbit in. Her family wasn’t religious by any means, they’d only ever gone to church a couple of times for weddings and funerals. By Deb’s calculations, the worst atrocities in history lay squarely at the feet of religion. Her guess as to who was the most dangerous person in the group had a new contender.

 Cameron stepped in to help R.E.D. out since he knew the big guy best, having spent the last few days with him: “Max is an Exemplar, his testing didn’t go all that well - he crunched a treadmill to smithereens, then damaged the weight machine. They couldn’t say for certain what level he is.”

“The fancy one?” Boggled R.E.D. she’d used the same unit for her own testing not all that long ago. “That weight machine doesn’t have any moving parts, it just keeps increasing resistance until you can’t lift anymore.”

“Yeah, tore the mounting bolts right outta the floor. That got the white coats jumping,” humoured Cameron about the day’s events.

 Max gave a brief, but loud “HA!” which drew attention from all around them, especially his table-mates, most of whom had never heard him say a word. He looked sheepish about his outburst, but all he received were smiles.

“So, is Max your name, or …?” asked Tim, addressing the big guy.

“Codename,” informed Perspicacious, not being rude - just taking the pressure off Max. “It’s an acronym, short for Master of Advanced Xenovaryology,” she added. “It’s a made-up word, cause he really wanted to use the name Max. His real name is Geoff, but never liked it since people never spelt it right. And you have to admit - Max suits him.”

 Deb shyly waved at Max from across the table. Until now she’d avoided making eye contact and he waved back which made her smile. He wasn’t as scary as she’d imagined.

 R.E.D. continued, “Next we have Charlotte, or Excelle. She’s the baby of the group …”

 “Hey!”

 “She’s the other two’s younger sister,” explained R.E.D, getting a tongue stuck out at her in retribution. “She’s an Exemplar Energizer mix,” whispering R.E.D. adding, “and our secret weapon - don’t ask, we’ll tell you later.”

 R.E.D pressed on: “Rachelle, otherwise called Perspicacious. Heaven only knows why she chose it thou, no accounting for Psychics, always into mind games.” The table laughed at R.E.D.s joke, except for Rach - who gave an annoyed glare and held up a cautionary finger (no, not that one).

 “And lastly we have Timothy, he decided upon the name Swift, but don’t play Scrabble with him, he can’t make words bigger than cat. He’s a Speedster. Oh! He and Rachelle are twins.” concluded R.E.D.

 Deb nodded her head to acknowledge the greeting and the information given. “What about you R.E.D.?” 

 “I picked the name Flambé, because I’m an Energizer Exemplar mix, and I can burn almost anything with my hands.”

 The puzzle pieces fit together nicely for Deb, aligning with her observations at Dunwich. But still, it left a lot of empty spaces before she’d complete the picture of who and what she’d gotten mixed up with. For the first time she felt like she belonged someplace, it was a good feeling.

 “Tell us about yourself?” asked Swift, always a cringeworthy topic according to Deb.

 “My name’s Deb, or Debbie, or Deborah, I’m okay with any of them. I’m a Gadgeteer, and thinking I’ll go with the codename Werx, which has grown on me, Thank you,” giving Aware a nod in appreciation.

 “What’s the difference between a Gadgeteer and a Devisor?” asked Excelle of the oft-pondered distinction.

 “A Devisor makes things that shouldn’t work - but do,” explained Debbie. “A Gadgeteer can make something out of nothing. Did you ever see the TV show MacGyver?” She got blank stares for her effort. “Anyway, I come up with all sorts of ideas for new doodads. I like making toys best, but I refuse to make weapons.”

 “Toys? As in kids toys?” brightened Excelle at the admission.

 “Yep.”

 “How about electronics, or computer stuff?” put forward Tim.

 “Yeah, I’m decent enough with that kind of thing.”

 Cameron cleared his throat to get everyone’s attention. “Can I get a show of hands for inclusion of Max and Werx as members of Northern Lites?”

 All present gave assent.

linebreak shadow

 

 The tunnels underneath Whateley Academy consisted of a confusing maze of twists and turns that lacked any sense or clear order. Who would build such a labyrinth was beyond comprehension, unless to purposely create confusion. She-Beast, the Melville fixer who Cameron had spoken to, provided Cameron with a map. The map wasn’t very accurate or detailed, but did provide them some direction at least, and allowed for finding the first spot marked on the map.

 When describing his needs for a team headquarters, She-Beast immediately selected some of her lesser desirable locations for them to chose from - all at jacked-up rates. Business was a cutthroat affair wherein you had to create demand by making undesirable properties overpriced so that good locations seemed like a bargain at twice the price, it was all about knowing how to play a sucker.

 Upon mentioning hide-out hunting to the team, several of his friends volunteered to join him, so his arriving with a whole contingent of tire-kickers was not entirely unexpected, they were a team after all. Max needed to get back to Hawthorne to write home, Tim was applying for a job to make deliveries, and Charlotte had made plans to watch a movie with some other young girls in Dickinson.

 The door wasn’t much in the way of a barrier, still, they used the provided code to unlock the shoddy door. They stepped inside to find a dusty dark hole in the wall, not much bigger than Lynn and Rho’s dorm room all told. Werx immediately sighed at how unsuitable it was for her workshop, she had tagged along in hopes of finding a big enough space for all her tools, she gave out an ‘Eww’ in disgust.

 The dank space had zero lighting or any power outlets, plus no fresh air flow, part of the reason it hadn’t been used in eons, so held little promise to prospective tenants. However, Cameron stood staring at one of the walls in deep contemplation for a long time. While the other walls had been hewn from out of the solid rock, this wall was concrete and had a smooth finish. The room was shaped like a T, the upper portion was fairly large in diameter while the rest was smaller and cramped. Cameron circled the room on the map before they continued on to the next available room.

 Cameron referenced the roughly drawn map occasionally as they walked along the tunnels, he appeared puzzled and would turn the page sideways and upside down attempting to figure the tunnel network out. It happened often that Cameron would stop and become distracted looking at conduits and fixtures and piping running every which way. He said little regarding what fascinated him so much about the tunnels’ construction, but he slowed everyone down to the degree they’d become frustrated.

 As map keeper, Cameron had made so many notations on the map, it was getting impossible to tell heads from tails from all the markings. What was worse, he’d paid little attention to the rooms for rent that they’d come to inspect. 

 Lynn finally broached his lack of enthusiasm while inside the second to last room on the list, asking: “You bored or something?”

 “No, no. Far from it,” voiced Cameron as he focused upon a small box mounted on the room’s wall.

 “Then what is your problem?” required the annoyed Were. “You’re the one who brought us down here.”

 “Sorry, yes, you’re right. I shouldn’t have gotten preoccupied,” admitted Cameron.

 “What are you not saying?” inquired Lynn, be it Precognition or just knowing how Cameron was.

 “The walls have ears, I’ll tell you later,” whispered Cameron, to then call over: “What do you think Deb? Will this one suffice?”

 Werx was busy pacing out the room’s dimensions to get an estimation of the space available, and purposely stepping around the white chalk sigils written all over the floor - and in-between the dark red melted candle wax splotches.

 “Who used this place, a hive of demon worshippers?” wondered a concerned Rho, not even wanting to enter the spooky place.

 “Witchcraft,” clarified Outlook. “It’s safe, there’s no residual essence.”

 “How can you tell?” asked Werx

 “All mutations utilize energy in one form or another. Magic depends upon essence, they have an internal reservoir which mage’s draw upon. They cast spells to harness that energy and entices it to do what the mage wants.”

 The way Outlook explained it took some of the mysticism out of magic, they all breathed easier hearing his take on it.

 “What about Gadgeteers?” sought Debbie, curious if she had stored power someplace.

 “Have you ever seen those pictures of when someone gets an idea and a lightbulb lights up over their head,” supplied Cameron.

 “Sure,” conceded Debbie.

 “Yeah, that pretty much sums it up,” explained Cameron. “Energizers are the tricky ones, they come in different colours to signify intensities, kinda like a rainbow.”

 “How do you mean?” questioned Rho, she’d never considered how Outlook might see her.

 “You for instance, you're yellow,” Cameron said it like it was the most obvious detail about her.

 “I am not yellow,” rebuffed Rho, how dare he suggest such a thing

 “Actually you are, you have so much energy at the ready you glow yellow - almost like a little sun,” described Cameron, attempting to appease a slighted ego.

 “But … my hair, and my hands?” defended Rho, her whole self-image was being challenged.

 “Don’t forget her eyes, they go red when she gets really worked up,” inserted Lynn.

 “Exactly!” claimed Rho.

 “I’m just describing what I see, I didn’t mean to upset you,” soothed Cameron.

 Rho turned away, sniffling: “You think I’m yellow.”

 “No, far from it. I see you in the yellow spectrum, it means you’re very powerful and probably why you have trouble keeping your hands under control.” Cameron laid out his facts, he hated baring his perceptions, his view of the world was too dissimilar from everyone else’s.

 “What colour would you see - if someone was more powerful than R.E.D.?” postulated Werx at new data set.

 “White. White is the top of the power scale,” confided Outlook.

 “So, what is gold?” asked a confused Werx, the information received wasn’t equaling out as she’d anticipated.

 “A precious metal,” answered Cameron coyly.

 “I know that,” retorted an annoyed Deb. “Your eyes shine gold, why?”

 Cameron looked around the room, sparks fell from three locations. “I should have done that earlier,” he admitted. “My eyes shine gold, because gold was historically the exclusive property of kings.”

 “You’re kidding, right?”

 “No, I’m not, I’m Cameron.”

 “So, what? You’re some kind of king?”

 “No, I’m just an average ordinary human, nothing more. The gold eyes signify that I’m in the service of the king of Kings,” It was an admission that Cameron had tried hard to avoid saying aloud. “I volunteered for this, cause I want to help people and don’t want anyone to get hurt.”

 “How’s that working out for you?” It was a hard pill for Werx to swallow, she doubted it was true.

 “It’s the adventure of a lifetime, although I’ve died once so far, and came close twice more.”

 “You’re serious.”

 “No, it’s Cameron actually, we met earlier.”

 “Debbie,” offered Deb as they shook hands. “I’m not sure if I shouldn’t be running away screaming my head off right now.”

 “Please don’t, that kind of thing really hurts ones self-confidence,” assured Cameron. “Try to understand; I don’t judge people, I’m doing everything possible to give them opportunity to show redeeming qualities.”

 “Because?” sought out Deb.

 “Because somethings coming on the horizon that’s going to shake this world to its foundations.”

 “Could you be a little more specific?” Deb looked to R.E.D. and Lynn for support, they nodded in agreement, they wanted to know too.

 “Not my place, the task of giving a warning falls to others.”

 “You can’t be serious,” blurted out Deb, the lunacy on display was more than she could fathom.

 “We've already covered this; Cam-er-on, Cameron, it’s not that difficult. Outlook to those I don’t trust.”

 “You trust me.” Deb didn’t know which news bite was harder to believe.

 “You have an important role to play, that’s what Lynn tells me,” confided Cameron.

 Lynn stepped in, speaking with complete conviction: “The future isn’t set in stone, but we’re at a confluence. We’ve all come together because Whateley is a provings ground, many lives depend upon what we accomplish here.”

 “I … I don’t know what to say.”

 “First off, say you’ll take this room for your lab. It’s not perfect, but when it comes to real estate it’s all about location,” enthused Cameron.

 “Okay, I suppose it’ll work, after a lot of cleaning,” relented Werx. “What about you?”

 “I’ll get the first room we looked at and use it as an office. We’ll be neighbours, just like in Melville.” informed Cameron, his plan was coming together.

 “Whaddya mean, It’s better than three hundred feet away through solid rock.” sputtered Deb.

 “I’m glad you think so.”

 

Kirby Hall

 Cameron once again checked the note slip he’d received under his door last night, it told him he had an appointment to attend this morning. Checking the name one last time he entered the office area, showing the receptionist the note. He was directed to one of the doors and stepped into a consulting room.

 “Hello Cameron, can I call you Cameron? Your file says your first name is Alex but you use your second name, and I find Codenames to be so impersonal.” said the man seated in a large leather chair, he rose to offer his hand in greeting.

 “Sure, Cameron is fine. I’m getting called Serious a lot lately, so I’d like to nip that in the bud.”

 “Serious? Your file says your codename is Outlook.”

 “Yes, it is, Outlook that is.”

 “I see … Okay, I don’t see, why Outlook?”

 “It’s twofold, first I have enhanced vision, secondly I was cautioned to not let stuff affect my disposition.”

 “So does being called Serious stem from taking ‘stuff’ too seriously?”

 “Hmmm,” pondered Cameron. “No, I don’t think so, it’s more a matter that folks are in disbelief of what I tell them.” 

 “Well that’s a segue if I ever heard one. Why don’t you take a chair? I’m doctor Stein by the way.”

 “The name on the door has the initials F. N. Your first name isn’t Frank by any chance?”

 “Oh lord! Don’t get me started. My father has a twisted sense of humour, it’s why I use my middle name: Norbert.”

 “What are you a doctor of Doctor Stein?”

 “I’m a Behavioural Psychologist, I’ve been asked to take you on as a patient, and be your Student Advisor.”

 “Am I wrong in guessing you’ve just set up shop at Whateley?”

 “Yes as I matter of fact, my first day here. How did you know?”

 “Your furniture is brand new and hasn’t been positioned properly yet to make best use of the space, and you appear nervous at the prospect of advising students.”

 “It’s that obvious?”

 “Elevated heart rate and tense muscles,” confided Cameron tapping his visor. “So, I’m that much of a hot potato that they decided to throw the new guy into the lion’s den?”

 “I wouldn’t say that.”

 “True, but it's what you're thinking.”

 “Are you Psychic too?”

 “No doctor, but I can do the math. Let me assure you at the outset, I’m not here to create trouble for you …”

 “But?”

 “Trouble has a way of finding me.”

 “Troubled is my specialty.”

 “Then let’s get this party started. I looked at the list of elective courses available, and there's subjects I’m interested in taking, but I don’t know if the courses taught here go into the details I was hoping to learn.”

 “I’m not sure I understand, please explain.”

 “Chemistry should be straightforward enough. I had hoped to take a course dealing with Metallurgy, but only saw it mentioned under Fabrication.”

 “If that doesn’t work out, perhaps we could re-arrange your schedule later.”

 “All right. Another interest is Engineering.”

 “As a field of study; Engineering is broken into many topics, such as Structural, Mechanical, and Civil. Which had you wanted to pursue?”

 “All of them.”

 “Allow me to speak with the Applied Technologies faculty first, I'll see what might be suitable. Anything else?”

 “I would like to learn more about applied mechanics.”

 “I take it that Automotive Mechanics isn’t up your alley.”

 “No, I’m looking for something that deals with converting energy into physical force.”

 “That sounds like Power Mechanics, I’m not sure if that’s on the list.”

 “Could you check and see?”

 “I can do that. Any more?”

 “I understand First Aid is offered under Survival, I would like that please. Oh, and Art.”

 “All right. Now, had you wanted to take any of the Religious Studies courses offered?”

 “No Doc Stein, I avoid all connection to religion.”

 “I don’t understand, Your file says you’re Empowered by God, that usually implies a deity.”

 “Yes Doctor, and because of that I don’t claim adherence to any religion, it would open Pandora’s proverbial box if I did, then I’d have to follow them all. So I don’t go to church, or celebrate any holy days, I’d never get anything done otherwise.”

 “I hadn’t anticipated that. Very well, you’ll need to write placement exams so Whateley knows what courses you need to take for basic curriculum studies.”

 “I expected as much, where do I begin?”

 

Kane Hall

 Cameron approached the building, not entering through Security was a new experience for him. It wasn’t that he was late, well maybe by a couple of minutes, it had taken longer than anticipated to get his class schedule sorted out, he didn’t need many curriculum courses since he’d finished most standard classes over correspondence. The delay came from writing exam after exam and then trying to get into those advanced and specialty elective classes.

 He was glad to be done with the paperwork, Doctor Stein managed to place him into nearly all the classes he sought, once the doctor figured out whom to talk to and how to use the school’s database. The subjects Cameron had chosen must have been on the obscure side since all the classes had openings, or not many students had enrolled for them.

 At dinner last night Debbie had mentioned she needed to take a firearms safety class, the whole team concurred with the idea and they’d all signed up. Cameron spotted his teammates huddled in a group as they waited outside the classroom, Lynn gave him a knowing smirk as she looked at him, it wasn’t his idea to learn how to shoot a gun, but as a team it made sense - for protection.

 “I told you he’d be on time,” said Lynn to the others.

 “Sure, sure. But we were supposed to break into pairs ahead of time, that’s why we planned to arrive ten minutes before class,” stated Rachelle in annoyance.

 “It’s obvious that Lynn and Cameron are a couple, so the only question is who the rest of us pair with?” detailed Rhododendron, as she looked between the three siblings as to who would be the least grief.

 Deb stood beside Max and waved indicating that the two of them would be good together, Max nodded agreeably.

 Rachelle looked at her twin brother, trying to decide which of them was best suited to look after their little sister. Using a firearm was dangerous business, did she trust Tim enough to be attentive with Charlotte handling a gun?

 “My father taught me to shoot and took me hunting a couple times,” explained Rho, that she was responding to Rho was a sign that the high-level Energizer was beginning to accept her friends using the more familiar monicker - instead of R.E.D. “Perhaps Charlotte would be my partner in training?”

 “I’d like that,” exclaimed the junior member of Northern Lites, “I wanna learn to fire a bazooka.” She announced, resulting in her older sister dropping her head and shaking it at her younger sister’s antics.

 “I believe this is only small arms training,” corrected Lynn. “Maybe another course, after you pass this one, lets you handle bigger guns.”

 “Why a bazooka?” asked Cameron, confounded by her enthusiasm.

 “I like the sound of the name: BaZOOka! It’s cool!” explained Charlotte.

 “And it makes a big hole,” added Tim, only too familiar with his little sister’s penchant for excess.

 “Exactly!” enthused Charlotte. “Right up my alley. I want people to know I pack a punch. Can’t you just see me packing a couple big Bazooka’s!”

 “Uh-mmm, I believe there’s innuendo attached to that, it’s what some refer to as the size of girls’ breasts,” noted Rho.

 “Really?” asked Charlotte glancing quickly down at her still-developing chest. “How do mine rate?”

 The question made most present look away, her older sister’s hand covered her face to suppress bewilderment, as red faces abounded, even Max had the courtesy to look down and toe the ground with his foot to avoid making eye contact.

 “It’s better if we don’t get into a discussion of who’s bigger - in that department,” advised Rachelle.

 “Why?” sought the younger girl, who’s manifesting BIT made her more shapely than her older sister.

 “Polite company doesn’t discuss such things,” chided Rachelle.

 “Yeah, like we’ve ever been accused of being polite, or even good company,” scoffed Char.

 As if on cue, the classroom’s door opened. Caitlin Bardue invited everyone inside, it wasn’t a friendly invite, more like an Orderly reluctantly bringing the lunatics into the asylum.

 “I bet nobody says anything to her about packing bazookas,” secreted Char to Rho.

 “I prefer RPGs” said Caitlin overhearing the comment.

 “Really Precise Guns?” questioned Char at what the acronym stood told for.

 “Those, and Rocket Propelled Grenades,” informed Caitlin.

 “Do we get to learn to shoot bazookas?” delighted Charlotte at the possibility.

 “No, and you probably never will. Unless you take the military route,” instructed Eldritch, relieved that the rules saved her from so many headaches.

 Char considered that piece of information, screwing up her face as she worked through the implications. With a downcast expression she looked at both her brother and sister, the negative head-shakes from each of them were disappointing, until she asked: “What’s the biggest gun we get to shoot?”

 “Anyone ever tell you, you have a one-track mind kid.”

 Everyone was directed to grab a seat, the small meeting space wasn’t full to capacity. Caitlin outright stared at Cameron as he walked past her and found a spot to sit amidst his friends.

 “What are you doing here?” demanded Eldritch, stepping close by.

 “Learning firearms safety. Like a responsible person is supposed to do?” replied Outlook. “We did sign up for the right course, didn’t we?”

 “That’s not what I meant. You’re a pacifist. Why are you bothering with this?” wondered Caitlin, she had him pegged as a raging peacenik.

 “I won’t take sides in conflicts, that doesn’t mean I won’t defend myself when the need arises.”

 “You’re a poor excuse for a pacifist then.” 

 “I’ve never claimed to be one, everyone just assumes, and you know what they say about assuming …” 

 “It makes an ass out of you and me,” piped in Charlotte without hesitation.

 “You both need new material, there’s a book of knock-knock jokes in the library you should check out,” snarked Caitlin.

 “Really?” questioned the wide-eyed girl, taken with the idea.

 “If there is I’m gonna burn it,” nonchalantly stated Eldritch.

 “Listen up you maniacs,” commenced Sergeant Major Burlington-Smythe, after writing his name on the chalkboard. “My job is to teach you how not to kill yourselves. Ms. Bardue looks after this school’s gun range. If any of you already have firearms, we'll need you to hand them over to her for safekeeping. It is illegal to possess a gun until you’ve completed this course and have a license to carry.”

 Deb lifted her oversized bag up onto her lap, removing the revolver from inside. She held it like it was diseased, pinched between two fingers, to then hold it up and away from her body for Caitlin to take it.

 “A 38 special, how’d you get this?” asked Caitlin, the girl was obviously too gun-shy to own such a weapon.

 “My dad gave it to me,” admitted Deb.

 “You can get it back over at the practice range, after you’ve passed,” informed Caitlin. “I suggest you take some time and learn how to fire it.”

 “Yes Ma’am.”

 The course instructor began the lesson. Caitlin finished collecting the guns, only four all told, she tagged them and brought them to put into the range’s secure lock-up.

 Something bothered her about the 38 special, a common enough piece, often used by police forces around the country, but something felt off about it, it’s weight and balance wasn’t right.

 Caitlin gave the confiscated gun a cursory inspection, it looked okay, but for some reason it nagged at her. A 38 wasn’t a gun she herself used much, didn’t have the stopping power she’d come to favour. Instead of putting it into the cage for safekeeping, she grabbed a couple of the shells the girl had relinquished and took the gun out onto the firing range.

 She loaded a single round into the chamber and donned a set of earmuffs and safety glasses. Assuming the correct stance for a handgun’s recoil she aimed at a target midway down the range. Depressing the trigger released the hammer striking the bullet.

 The gun exploded, sending shards of shrapnel out encapsulating her hands and blew back at her face in a cloud of devastation.

 

End Part 4

Part 5 coming soon

 

Read 374 times Last modified on Saturday, 21 January 2023 01:22
Camospam

I do not see myself as an author, I enjoy storytelling and write them down. I’ve never sought to be a writer, and I am more surprised than anyone by how many stories are under my name.

I suppose I write as a way to track my journey of self discovery, each character I create is in some way a part of me. Telling a story is therapy, given how much I’ve written should be a hint that I might have issues.

I did not set out to step on anyone’s toes, had I used someone else’s character’s it was meant as a compliment. 

Looking back, I’ve tried to tell a story I wanted to read, escape for a little while, let my imagination out to play, and have found there are others who enjoy an adventure and willing to be taken for a romp.

I am helped by some wonderfully creative minds; Wendy K and Gabi, collaberators who provide healthy advice and correct my multitude of mistakes.

I encourage everyone to pursue thier dreams, to see a positive whenever clouds are overhead. A rainy day can be refreshing if you look for the good that comes of it.

DO your best, feel good about yourself, it doesn’t matter what others think, what matters is that you are happy with yourself.

 

 

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