A Different Matter Altogether, Part 5
By Camospam, Wendy K. and Gabi.
A Non-Canon Whateley Universe Adventure
I regret how long it’s taken me to write, you may have noticed how dreadful my penmanship was in my last letter, blame it on my manifestation. You had tried to prepare me from a young age for becoming a mutant, and as you had anticipated, I manifested - in a big way.
At first, I had a hunger that couldn’t be satiated, the mother superior at the State-sponsored orphanage refused to feed me enough. I went into shock and was admitted to the hospital, they at least fed me, which allowed my body to grow. I tested as an Exemplar, but I’ve kept changing. I had hoped to be a Mage like you, but no such luck.
You had told me that if I ever manifested to get myself to Whateley Academy. You must have sensed it coming because they had an application waiting for me when I arrived. Thank you! The State was planning on sending me to a work camp to help pay for all the food I need to eat, the car they used had an unfortunate breakdown so I was able to give them the slip.
I have to tell you about my trip to get here. I was making good progress, but came across some difficulties, I got hit by a car and that upset my plans. I wasn’t hurt, but it happened because I was starving and wasn’t focused. I can’t explain it, but just after the accident, a guy showed up, he gave me food and joined me walking to Whateley. You never expressed a belief in God, but I tell you, he’s like a guardian angel.
You often spoke about your time at Whateley as being some of the best days of your life, and I’m beginning to see the appeal. I have already made some friends that don’t judge me and they don’t even care who my mom is.
In fact, it’s because of two of them that I’m able to write this letter. Werx is a Gadgeteer, she came up with an idea to make a computer keyboard big enough and robust enough for me to use. Outlook, he’s the guy I arrived with, he made it off her drawing - just like that, no fuss or muss, one minute it just ‘poof’ showed up. Don’t ask me how he does it, all he said was he alters molecules.
I’m in Hawthorne Cottage, you never mentioned it, so it might be an addition since you were here. It houses students who have medical conditions and appearance issues like GSD, I’m afraid that describes me pretty well. I’ll see about sending you a picture. I’ve changed - a lot - not for the better, but please don’t worry, I’m okay.
So just like you had advised me to do, I’m part of a team. There’s Outlook, and Werx, an Energizer girl named Flambé who’s got super hot hands, a Speedster named Swift, a Psychic girl called Perspicacious (hope I spelt that right), an Exemplar girl who goes by Excelle (those last three are related), and finally a Precog named Aware.
I was worried that between a Psychic and a Precog that they would hate me, but I’ve been welcomed with open arms. Oh, our team’s name is Northern Lites by the way, they’re a bunch of Canadians, except for Werx. They all have an off-beat sense of humor but I like them. Outlook is going to find us a team headquarters, or fort, or whatever on campus. I’ll keep you posted.
I suspect you already have Whateley’s address, but I’ll include it for you. I hope the prison guards let you read my letter to see the wet blotches which are from my tears. Let me know if you ever get out of solitary, I would like to visit you.
Your loving son, Geoff (I go by Max now).
“You’re certain you’re not hurt?” asked Chief Delarose for the third time in as many minutes.
“Just my pride,” admitted Eldritch.
“This has nothing to do with the work you do here at the Ranges. The safety record with you running the show has been exemplary. But, every serious incident must be investigated.”
“I understand the process, I just don’t like why.”
“It could have been much worse. That’s why we need to know what happened.”
“Of course, it could have been worse.”
“That’s some tough hide you’ve got … I mean that in the nicest way possible.”
“Don’t pussyfoot around me Frank, I’d prefer your honesty.”
“So be it. If your skin wasn’t nigh-on indestructible what sort of injuries would we be looking at?”
“The gun exploded in my hands, once the bullet lodged in the barrel, it sent the blast backward and out. It acted just like an exploding grenade. My hands would have been pulverized up to the elbows, chunks of metal would have torn my face off with some of it embedding into my chest. The injuries would have been life-threatening at best, death would have been the most likely outcome.”
“Nasty bit of work that. So, in your assessment?”
“I believe it to have been an attempted homicide.”
“But, you sustained no injuries?”
“I was thrown against a wall by the blast, that’s all.”
“Do you know why the gun exploded?”
“From the pieces found, I discovered the barrel had been narrowed ever so slightly, just enough so a bullet would get stuck and create blowback. It was professionally done, everything looked fine when I checked it.”
“I bagged what I could. Everheart took it into evidence.”
“Have you ever heard of something like this before?”
“No, but I checked into it online. There’s a dark website that specializes in modified guns, from what is described it matches what happened. It would be wise to check for micro-fractures, the way it turned into shrapnel would indicate further tampering.”
“Did you get a name?”
“Ouch, Nasty business that.”
“I wrote down the gun’s serial number, it’s on the tag that Everheart took.”
“I’ll begin tracking its history. Anything else?”
“It belonged to a Gadgeteer, Werx is taking firearms safety. I’d like to know how a fourteen-year-old girl from Rhode Island got her hands on that gun.”
“That’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question.”
“If rejiggered guns like that one are getting into people’s hands, the price is gonna be a lot higher than that.”
Claustrophobia wasn’t something Cameron had to worry about. It’s not that he liked confined spaces, the opposite was true, he loved the feel of being out in the wide open, he could see forever. But with his sight, being able to see through solid objects like rock for a distance anyway, plus the ability to dissipate matter, he was never really confined.
He’d managed to lease the small room that he and his friends had scouted out, he’d gotten it at a rock bottom rate, after complaining it didn’t have lights, power, or ventilation. Those finer details contributed to the lower price. Cameron had just finished helping Werx clean up her new lab space and no evidence of the former occupants’ activities remained.
The whole team chipped in to help bring Debbie’s countless boxes down and set up her workshop. That girl couldn’t walk past a tool she didn’t fall in love with. It could be worse - shoes have that effect too. Deb was eager to get started making impenetrable security for herself and volunteered to make something for Cameron’s office as well.
There was disappointment from the team that a suitable room wasn’t found for the group, but Cameron had requested that they be patient, he had a plan. Which was what brought him to be standing in front of the smooth concrete wall in his newly acquired office. There was a reason it had garnered his attention at first sight. It was a seal, hastily made to block off what lay beyond.
Outlook had scanned the place time and again, layering his sight in an attempt to create a picture of what was being hidden behind the concrete which was just over three feet thick. Waiting for the right time to crack it open had been torturous, like asking a kid to wait to open a wrapped present. A good mystery always spelt adventure to him.
As an interim measure, Cameron fashioned a metal door and hung it overtop the concrete, leaving a little room between the two surfaces. If what he felt was true, then it would be a worthwhile protection. Cameron easily spotted all the Geiger Counters placed along the tunnels for monitoring radiation, they heightened his suspicions.
Making a small opening in the concrete only big enough for him to squeeze through, and ensuring his metal door was closed behind him, Cameron entered the unknown. His eyes casted an eerie glow upon the untouched surfaces which were remarkably free of dust. Only a minor layer of fine particles covered the floor, undisturbed for many a year.
Layering his sight it told an interesting story of nuclear radiation all right, just as he’d surmised. The further down the abandoned tunnel he looked, the higher the radiation levels became. Whateley certainly had its fair share of secrets and he’d stumbled upon a doozy.
Collecting the residual energy radiation was comprised of wasn’t entirely new to Cameron, the scale of what he’d discovered was going to be the challenge. Checking his battery, it was at a respectable sixty-four percent, he’d been busy of late so his charge was down slightly. He began allowing the abundant energy around him to flow in as he moved forward slowly, letting the radiation level drop around him as he decontaminated all the surfaces.
Checking for telltale indicators for when this had happened, a poster on a bulletin board announced a fundraising bake sale which provided an approximate date: Saturday, February 9, 1974. It happened over thirty years ago! This place was still hot with radiation, it could take centuries for it to cool down. No wonder they sealed it up tight.
Cameron had passed by several rooms branching off from the main tunnel already, his curiosity was dying to explore further, but his battery had climbed up into the mid-ninety percent range already. He’d need to come back another day to finish exploring.
Returning the way he’d come, he restored the concrete wall and removed the metal door he’d used. He was radiation free since he’d converted it all to usable energy. At issue now was that he needed an outlet to reduce his surplus energy so as not to overload himself. Without a better option at the moment, he decided to appoint his newly acquired office into a pleasant environment.
He’d been thrown into too many dungeons to feel comfortable leaving it as bare rock, so he constructed square walls to hide the rock, then applied bright cheery colours to make it feel less dismal. A drop ceiling was next to cover over the rough rock above, then nice hardwood flooring was used to even out the surface below.
He managed to divide the area into two rooms, an obvious choice given the T shape of the place. The first room, the upper portion of the T, became a nice inviting reception area sporting comfortable seats and attractive pictures which helped make it a relaxing place. The second room had a sturdy leather reclining chair in the middle, the chair could fold down into a level surface when needed. This room also included a desk that was set against one wall.
Prominently upon an end wall he hung a large framed picture, it was a landscape of the Rocky Mountains. It portrayed a scene with a lake and forest in the foreground and mountain ranges in the back. He’d placed the picture so as to cover over a square metal plate that had a dial and handle attached to the face. Sure it looked like a safe, but in actuality it was only a thick chunk of metal embedded into the rock face - a decoy in case anyone ever wanted to try and rob him.
Lynn and Rho walked along the path that led them to Whateley’s lake. Its area had been maintained as a natural setting, someplace the students could go to unwind a little and let off some steam. Lynn was in need of a nature break, feeling cooped up in an artificial manmade world. It was refreshing that the school had been constructed leaving so much room around it, but still, the Were girl could feel the walls closing in at times, her heightened senses getting overloaded by so many people and distractions.
With each step Lynn could feel the tension slip away, she needed this. Rho was happy to join her. Too much study and no ‘me' time made her antsy, not what the doctor ordered to control her ‘hot’ hands, so taking a break was some quality time for her too. The tall energizer practised her breathing exercises and flexed her fingers to relieve the stress as they walked together.
Ever attentive, Lynn heard rustling in the trees, her catlike reflexes had her zone in on the disturbance. From behind a branch full of leaves emerged a tiny pixie. Rho was so enthralled at the revelation that she bit her knuckle so as not to make a sound and scare it away. She nearly vibrated in excitement since she was a Disney princess at heart.
Lynn made the customary greeting, a clenched fist held against the chest. The pixie darted up in front of Lynn in a blur, her little wings beating so fast they disappeared much like a hummingbird’s. The diminutive girl made a bow then returned the greeting. Rho couldn’t contain herself any longer and a high-pitched “Eeep” escaped.
The little flying girl eyed the tall redhead, you could follow her eyes as they started looking down at Rho’s feet then traveled all the way up to her rapidly pulsating hair, the two shared a moment of mutual amazement.
The pixie had a short bob-style haircut, but it was midnight black in colour, blue eyes like the sky at midday. Her clothes looked like leaves sewn together - but it was actually cloth made to look like foliage. She had a satchel slung over her shoulder, and from it, she produced a roll extending it out for Lynn to take. Lynn cupped her hand holding it up near the Pixie who dropped the roll into it.
The Pixie took off in a flash for the cover of the trees, but before disappearing into the leafy expanse, she stopped, turned, and gave them a hearty wave. Both the roommates waved in response and broke into huge smiles doing so.
Lynn yelped in surprise, dropping the tiny roll, “What did you do that for?” she accused her companion while rubbing the welt forming on her arm.
“I wasn’t going to pinch myself if it was your dream,” claimed Rho.
“That was no dream, it was real,” stated Lynn as she dropped to her knees and began searching through the tall grass.
“How can you be sure?”
“Cause that’s not the sort of stuff I dream about. Now help me find that missive you made me drop,” to then mutter: “I can’t believe you pinched me.”
“I can’t believe a Pixie just blew in like a summer breeze. Tell me that’s not a common occurrence for you?”
“No, honestly, that’s never happened before.”
“What aren’t you telling me?”
“The sum total of what I don’t tell you could fill a library, and trust me - it’s for your own good. But, I came across Pixies before in the woods here at Whateley.”
“Why are you just telling me this now?”
“Because you would have signed me up for a long-term visit with a head-shrink.”
“What makes you think I wouldn’t do that now?”
“Because you saw the same thing I did, I have the welt to prove it,” deduced Lynn, “Where is it?”
“How do you know it’s a message?”
“She’s a courier, like a postal carrier for the mythical folk.”
“Yeah, about that, are all Pixies so …”
“I was gonna say stacked. Her proportions were unreal. I mean Tinkerbell was cute and all, but sheesh!”
“I never thought about it before, although I didn’t actually see many of them. They were all female now that you mention it though.”
“So, you figure guy Pixies would all be butch?”
“How would I know? That was only the second time I’ve ever seen a Pixie, and what? That makes me an expert?”
“I was just asking.”
“I know, I know. I’m sorry,” apologized a stressed Lynn. “I hope I haven’t lost it.”
“The missive, not my mind.”
“What’s the difference between a missive and a message?”
“A missive is an official message,” explained Lynn. She stopped in her tracks and looked at her friend. “Why are you noticing other girls’ appearances? Is there something you’re not telling me?”
“No, it’s nothing really.”
“Out with it, you can tell me anything.”
“Deb is becoming a bit of an influence, she’s always judging people by their looks.”
“That you are. But it’s gotten me thinking.”
“I wouldn’t mind finding a boyfriend. But … well, with so many beautiful girls around this school, guys don’t even know I exist.”
“That isn’t true, you're as pretty as anyone else around here.”
“Maybe. It’s just that … I was thinking, it would be nice if a guy was taller than me.”
“Now, that is a problem.”
“And, because I get so hot, I can’t let anybody get close, I’d burn them. There’s only Cameron, and maybe Bricks.”
“Are you saying you like Cameron?”
“Not that way, he’s a great guy and all and you’re lucky to have him. He’s a friend - that’s all. I was just saying he’s one of the only people I can touch without hurting them.”
“Is there a Brick who’s caught your eye?”
“No, oh God no. They’re a bunch of brutish oxymorons as far as I can tell.”
“You said brutish, right? Not British?”
“I’m French, I didn’t know there was a difference. And in case you missed it, I meant oxie in the form of possessing the traits of an ox. Morons should be self-explanatory.”
“That much I understood.”
“You promised to tell Tim when the right girl came along. I was wondering …”
“Tim’s a special case, he was moping about for weeks making everyone miserable. Rachelle pleaded with me to help him,” confided Lynn. “If you really want me to, I can tell you who, how, where and when, but I’d rather not. It’s better to let people’s lives happen, so please accept that you’re going to be happy. You’ll find the perfect guy for you - and you’ll be the perfect girl for him.”
“I believe you, but why don’t you want to tell people their future? Look how it worked out for you and Cameron.”
“That could have gone bad in so many ways,” confessed Lynn. “The future isn’t set in stone, it’s fluid. By revealing the future to someone - just a little hint of interference, changes the future and it can go off in thousands of unintentional directions. I shouldn’t have done anything with Cameron, but I didn’t have a choice.”
“Because I needed to nudge Cameron down a specific path, one where he helped the Were.”
“At what cost? I mean, has it ruined the future, your future?”
“It altered a potential future, but it seems to be the best possible outcome so far for all concerned. It’s why I took the risk, the rest was dumb luck.”
“I don’t think Cameron believes in luck, he feels everything takes place according to plan.”
“I admire that about him, unshakable determination,” confided the Precog girl. “That’s it, I give up. I’m going to go find Cameron and see if he can locate that silly scroll.”
“Is this it? It looks like a stick.”
“You found it, thank goodness.”
“Read it. I don’t want to have grass stains on my knees for no reason.”
“I’m asked to attend an important meeting Friday afternoon in the Grove, it says tea will be served and they request I come alone.”
“What’s the Grove? Maybe you didn’t read it right, it could be The Groove - you know … some fancy dance club where you can show off your moves.”
“I’ll let them know you think that. But, no. The Grove is a secret place hidden in the trees. No matter how hard you try to find it - you can’t, unless they want you to come.”
“Looks like it’ll be a busy weekend, aren’t you and Cameron going to that reclusive Were village Saturday? You’re becoming everyone’s favourite party girl.”
“It’s not going to be much of a party, not with all the elders wanting a piece of us.”
“So why go?”
“I have to, I’ve seen it happen and can’t avoid it. At least Ella and my brother will be there.”
Cameron had decided to take a break, he’d finished prepping his office and then cleared more of the radiation contamination so his battery was full again. He’d come up with an idea to dump excess energy so wanted some privacy if he was to attempt matter compression. Stopping by Melville’s coffee bar, the barista convinced him to try an Orange Whip. He’d never heard of such a thing before, but his first taste held promise.
Checking the time, Cameron sat on a couch and placed a call to his lawyer: Emit Paulson. Mr. Paulson had given him a private phone number to use on special occasions. So far Cameron had to admit Melville Cottage had a couple of things going for it, his own washroom was foremost on that list. Next was each dorm room having a telephone, and third - had to be this Orange Whip, it tasted like an Orange Creamsicle in a glass, only better.
Cameron had no way of knowing if his frequent contacts would be wiretapped, or to what extent the army would go in hunting him. His choice to call Mr. Paulson was due to having been provided a secure phone number. The man had proven to be discrete in the past.
The only way to find out for sure was to reach out and see what happened, besides, he’d built one of Smith’s scramblers, so it was time to give it a test. Dialling the number Cameron placed the scrambler next to the phone and infused some power into it, he heard some clicks and buzzing at first, then the phone rang.
“Hello Mr. Paulson.”
“One moment please,” the phone went silent for a second. “Cameron, so glad you called. How are you?”
“I’m fine, Is it safe to talk?”
“I’m on a secure line, how’s your end?”
“I’m using a device that interferes with anyone listening, can you hear me alright?”
“Yes, no problem here, but I best be brief. You’ll be interested to hear that your case against Whateley is progressing, however, I’ll need a record of your earnings to begin hammering out the costs of services rendered.”
“You have Albert Miller’s contact info, he’s my accountant. My boss over the summer was Buck Lund, he can tell you how much I was paid, it depended upon the type of job, but averaged around fifty an hour.”
“I thought my rates were steep.”
“Construction pays well, or it can. For instance, each mile of highway typically costs a million to build, we’d do anywhere from ten to fifteen miles a day.”
“So you made?”
“Heaps. Buck has the numbers."
“Very good, I have his contact info already. Next up, You might have heard that the Province of Alberta has used a constitutional clause called the Notwithstanding Act to deny mutants human rights. Alberta has sought to dismiss your court case as meritless. I managed to prove to them that you are not a mutant, so that court appearance is still on the books for December.”
“I was hoping there might be some news about the army.”
“I was getting to that. They have been a rather testy bunch to deal with, even threatening to throw me into jail unless I tell them where you are. Fortunately, lawyer/client privilege protects me from such actions. They however let slip that they have frozen your bank accounts, so don’t use any credit or debit cards. Do you have enough cash on hand to get by?”
“That shouldn’t be a problem, but I’ll take extra steps to stay off peoples’ radars now.”
“Good, good. You’ve put them in a pickle my boy, they wish to annul some of the conditions you’d added onto your recruitment, and re-institute the ones that had been stricken. But since the document is non-severable it would mean the entire agreement is voided. They really seem intent on getting their hooks into you. They keep trying to get themselves out of the hole they’re in.”
“Well, that’s good I suppose. Did they happen to say what they want of me?”
“They’re tight-lipped on that front, I’ll keep asking.”
“Thank you. Will this be the best way to stay in touch?”
“For the time being. However, I may need to send you papers to sign, do you have a secure address I can mail to?”
“Send it to Deborah Hastings in Melville Cottage, care of Whateley Academy. She can act as an intermediary and forward mail to me.”
Cameron felt sorry for the people in the school’s office, it looked to be a mad rush to keep the place running. The flurry of phone calls demanding attention, besides the lineup of students waiting to be served was incessant. Cameron was fifth in line, he hadn’t wanted to unload his problem onto these folks, but his conversation with Mr. Paulson had prompted the need.
Upon his turn, the lady behind the counter looked frazzled; Mrs. Claire, if his memory held.
She took a look at him and blanched.
“Mr. Burke, I owe you an apology. If I hadn’t mistaken you for someone else, last year wouldn’t have turned out so badly for you.” She truly looked sorrowful and her voice wavered as she spoke.
“No hard feelings, yours was the first of many mistakes that day. I’m moving forward, I hope you can as well,” offered Cameron.
“Yes, well … thank you. What can I do for you today?”
“I was informed my credit card has been frozen. I didn’t want Whateley to be denied any monies owed, so I’d like to see about making alternate payment arrangements.”
“Let me check your account,” asked Mrs. Claire as she referenced a computer. “It says a cashier’s cheque was received and all tuition is paid in full. But if you’d like to alter your on-campus finances I can help you with that.”
“Thank you, that would be much appreciated.”
“What currency would you like to make payments with?”
“Do you by any chance accept gold?”
“We do. We’ve had a number of students use gold and other precious metals in the past.”
“How about diamonds?”
“Yes, it requires us to use a diamond broker to grade and then sell them, but it can be arranged.”
“That’s good to hear. I have some diamonds that I’d like to see about selling then please.”
“May I see them?”
“Certainly,” agreed Cameron. He withdrew a velvet pouch from his pocket and set it onto the counter. Mrs. Claire spilled a few out onto the counter and gasped.
“Is something wrong?” worried Cameron.
“These are amazing.”
“You think so?”
“I’m no gemologist, but these are extremely nice. I didn’t know diamonds came in so many colours. Where did you get them?”
“Can you keep a secret?” whispered Cameron conspiratorially.
“I’m a professional secret keeper, I won’t tell a soul.”
“I make them.”
“Did you ever see the Superman movie where he pressed a chunk of coal and made a diamond?”
“I don’t recall.”
“Well, I alter matter, so I tried compressing some coal until it became so dense it made a diamond. I also tried adding some other elements to impart colour, and voila.”
“But these are all cut.”
“They weren’t very pretty raw, so I polished them up.”
“Okay, I just needed to know that they weren’t stolen,” assured Mrs. Claire. “Ms. Hartford is leaving for New York tomorrow, she’s already going to visit the diamond exchange so I’ll have her take your diamonds and get them appraised. Now, Whateley retains a ten percent fee, do you agree to the terms?”
“Yes. I understand and wish to proceed.”
“Good. How much money had you wished to keep on hand with Whateley?”
“Will a hundred and fifty thousand be enough to last for a couple months?”
“Okay, let’s start with that then.”
Cameron had been hoping to find a suitable space for the entire training team. He’d cleared out the radiation from a couple of abandoned classrooms already, those held merit as a team room but didn’t offer any pizzazz. He was looking for something with a little zing.
He was baffled by the sign in the hallway at first, it read in big block letters: HYPERBOLE, but the last E was crossed out with a red line, then a W had been scrawled in underneath with an arrow pointing up between the O and L. Entering through the double doors he began to eradicate the radiation that had flooded this section of Whateley thirty-odd years ago. He’d been keeping his sight focused upon dealing with that problem to pay much attention to anything else.
He finally clued in, it was a bowling alley: Hyperbowl. Some English teacher must have come up with the name no doubt. The area it encompassed was huge, replete with four bowling lanes, a snack bar, an arcade and an eating area. It looked like a 3D picture frozen in time.
He wandered around removing all the contaminating radiation, and cleaning off all the surfaces from the fine layer of dust that had settled, plus the stink which hung heavy in the stale air. The snack bar had a small kitchen which was surprisingly clean. Still, he needed to dispose of the long-since expired and rotten food in the cupboards and inside the vending machines … even if the Cheese Puffs and Twinkies still looked edible.
Along one wall of the arcade stood seven old-time pinball machines, which back in 1974 must have been the going concern. Beside those was another upright box called Pong, it was the only computerized game present, probably the only video game at the time.
In the middle of the arcade was a full-sized pool table, off to the side of that was a foosball table, and folded up in the corner was a ping-pong table. This must have been Whateley’s main recreation centre back then … How did the school keep a disaster like this under wraps?
The eating area could sit upwards of twenty people, it had a retro look like a fifty’s diner. It boasted solid Crome chairs with red cushions, the red fabric had sparkles in it - which must have been a thing in the day; either the fifties or seventies Cameron didn’t know. Much to Cameron’s delight, sitting in a corner sat a big ol' Wurlitzer Juke Box.
He’d have to come back and do a final sweep to ensure all the radiation was gone, but he was going to have a hard time not blurting out what he’d found to the gang. His battery was at eighty percent, he could continue for a time yet.
Back out in the tunnel and down the hall a short way he came upon another classroom and reality came crashing in. The door read: Nuclear Sciences, and it was by far the hottest radiation he’d encountered so far, he’d stumbled upon ground zero.
Debbie was beside herself, when the two Security guards had collected her from her room at Melville and escorted her to Security’s headquarters, she hadn’t a clue what she’d done wrong.
All she’d been told was that she needed to come with them. Talk about giving somebody a panic attack! And these two guards had been tight lipped the whole way, all their body language said was: ‘don’t mess with me,’ so she didn’t.
Deb was shown directly into a conference room, at least that’s what the sign on the door called it, it looked and felt like an interrogation room to her. Being called into the headmaster’s office at her last school and getting reamed out for mutating was too fresh a memory. She was preparing herself for the worst, what else could she do?
She was left alone inside the room, the reflective glass window was undoubtedly a one-way mirror. The table was bolted to the floor and the chairs were cheap plastic like you’d find on patios, they wouldn’t do much damage if tossed. Deb felt entirely alone and defenceless but wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of seeing her squirm.
Deb sat primly in the chair facing the mirrored window, ensuring her clothes looked proper, and adjusted her hairband in the reflection, then waited quietly.
A large man entered, he brought with him a can of diet cola and offered it to her. Deb hated diet pop, it never tasted right compared to the real stuff. But she took it and said, “Thanks.”
“Thank you for coming. I’m Franklin Delarose, Chief of Whateley Security,” at that he showed her his ID, and sure enough he was whom he said.
Deb rifled through her little clutch bag and dug out her student ID card, holding it out to the man: “Deborah Hastings. But I suppose you knew that already.”
“I did. Miss Hastings, I need to ask you about your gun.”
“My gun? Did somebody steal it? I turned it over to the lady when I signed up for Firearms Safety.”
“I’d like to know how it came into your possession?”
“The gun? My dad gave it to me. Just before I left home he slipped it into my purse and told me to be careful.”
“Does your father keep guns at home?”
“Not that I ever saw. That was the first time I’d ever seen a gun in real life. It freaked me out.”
“So your father wouldn’t be in the habit of carrying a firearm on his person?”
“My Dad? He’s a banker, I don’t think he’d ever held a gun before either.”
“What bank does he work for?”
“The Financial Investment Fund International, or FIFI, which is also my Mom’s dog’s name.”
“Had you ever visited your dad’s office?”
“No. He likes to keep us distant from his work, and you wouldn’t exactly call us a close family.”
“Have you fired your gun at any time?”
“Heavens no, I didn’t know the first thing about it. It’s why I’m taking Firearms Safety,” confessed Deb. Her admission brought her concern to the fore. “Be honest with me, is it so dangerous here that I need to carry a gun?”
“It shouldn’t be necessary, but I won’t lie to you, Whateley houses some individuals that keep me armed at all times. But that’s why my Security team is here, so you don’t have to be afraid.”
“Would my father know that? I’m not sure why my dad gave me a gun, it was so unlike him.”
The trifecta of trouble rode the elevator down to the powers testing area located under Whateley Academy. It was only Charlotte who had received the notice that she was to undergo testing, but Rachelle smelled a rat. The testing performed by the MCO back home in BC had been thorough, they’d all been issued MIDs. Maybe it was nothing, perhaps they only wanted to see if Charlotte had changed as her manifestation continued.
Perspicacious had counselled her little sister to downplay her abilities. If people knew that she could boost other mutants and heighten their powers rating, it could spell trouble of the worst kind. No, there had to be a lid put on this, and nailed down. So, they all agreed upon a story that had Excelle only able to mildly increase abilities - limited to her brother and sister. That’s why all three of them had come together.
Tim was happy, he’d gotten the job, and his first day was Friday night. There was a little restaurant in Whateley’s housing Village called the Blue Moose, they wanted to expand business so were starting pizza delivery and other take-out food. The idea of having a Speedster get deliveries out to customers within minutes was too tempting a service for the restaurant’s purveyors; a couple of Canadian goofball brothers, to pass up.
The elevator door opened up to bring them into a sterile environment, it looked like a hospital with people milling about in white coats carrying clipboards or electronic pads. There were two white coats: a man and a woman, waiting near the elevator and hastened to greet the day’s guinea pig.
“Miss Excelle?” asked the woman.
“That’s me,” said Charlotte stepping forward after looking at her siblings for confirmation.
“Super,” confirmed the lady. “We’ll take good care of you. Your friends can leave.”
“This is my sister Perspicacious, and my brother Swift. I need them to be able to show you what I can do.”
“No need, we’ve already arranged some volunteers as test subjects. If you’ll come this way.”
“No. You don’t understand. I need them.”
“Explain!” demanded the man in too abrupt a manner. Charlotte shrinking away from him, it fell upon Rachelle to intercede.
“My sister is trying to tell you, that her abilities are linked to me and our brother. Beyond her physical - Exemplar abilities, she can increase our - that is my Psychic ability and my brother’s super speed for short periods. It only works on us you see.”
“Interesting. We’ll need to run tests to verify that,” stated the man. That he doubted their claim was apparent, Rachelle could sense that outright - but his desire to disprove their ruse was worrisome. He had ulterior motives.
“It looks like we’ll need to establish baseline power sets for each of you first, then we can proceed with enhanced testing. If you’ll follow me,” informed the lady. “My name is Rose, Tammy Rose. Everyone just calls me Rose.”
“Are you a doctor Rose?” asked Timothy.
“An intern, this is part of my practicum before I can become a full-fledged doctor.”
“What sort of testing is going to be conducted?” sought Rachelle.
“Oh, the usual stuff,” assured Rose. “A Physical examination, we’ll take some blood samples and do x-rays. Then you’ll get put through some standardized exercises to determine your physical limits, we’ll need those to check against any potential increases.”
“How long will it take?” required Rachelle.
“With three of you, likely all day. Had you any plans?”
“We’re to meet up for dinner with friends,” supplied Charlotte, hoping it set a time limit upon the torture session.
“That may not be possible, it’ll depend on how testing goes. I can try and get a message out if it looks like we’re getting into a time crunch.” Rose’s comment was sincere, she at least wasn’t trying to pull a fast one.
“Thank you,” said Rachelle, for the kindness and honesty offered.
“You’ll definitely be here over lunch. I’ll see about arranging for some nice high-calorie food to be brought in. Any allergies I should be aware of?”
“Spam, sauerkraut, and anchovies,” informed Rachelle, receiving assent from her sibs.
“Now there’s a recipe I’d hate to meet in a dark alley,” admitted Rose, earning her a laugh from the three, as she directed them into change rooms.
The suits provided had sensors positioned at all key areas of the body, held fast by the suit’s stretchy material. Wires ran every which way gathering together into plug-in harness ports, range of movement wasn’t hindered, but at the cost of looking like a poorly realized Halloween costume - like Frankenstein met the Mummy.
Charlotte looked at her sister and couldn’t hold back a laugh until Rachelle pointed at a mirror so she could see herself. They both had to laugh to dispel nerves.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” asked Charlotte.
“It has to be,” said Rachelle, to then add mentally ‘They're up to something. Don’t let your guard down, and play the game.’
Charlotte nodded in understanding.
Rose showed them to a medical clinic where they got weighed, measured, and each given exams for vision and hearing. Blood was withdrawn and urine samples collected, that should have happened before being told to wear the tight fitting sensor suits, an afterthought Rose noted on a clipboard.
There were technicians who set the equipment up for them, and other interns who ensured the tests ran smoothly, and of course, Rose who interacted directly with the three. But the doctors, or scientists - the minds running the show, they always remained behind the scenes, always just out of Rachelle’s range of telepathy. That made Perspicacious more on edge.
Timothy enjoyed a chance to run, to cut loose for a change. As a level three Speedster he could sustain fifty miles per hour, the treadmill he was on had been built for just that purpose. Swift had to live life in slow motion, he had to think about every step he took and take it at a snail’s pace. It only felt natural when unrestrained and he loved it.
Swift drew special attention during his acuity testing, he was put in front of a computer keyboard and told to type as fast as he could. This was where most speedsters’ inability to process information at super speed began to falter. They might be able to type incredible word-per-minute counts, but the errors got worse the faster they went. Timothy didn’t, his improved.
Another speed test was to assemble a jigsaw puzzle, a spacial relations exam as Rose explained it. How fast he could put a 1000-piece puzzle together was timed, Tim was to hit a start and stop clock, something you might see for speed chess.
Rachelle got to play the ‘what’s the next card game’ staring at a computer. She couldn’t read computers, only the computer operator. Then she had to pick from a lineup who had the red apple, each of the five volunteers had apples but only one had a red apple. Then she was to discern what her test subject had eaten for breakfast as he was busy reading a book, she had to look underneath his mental focus.
It was a completely new experience for Rachelle to be put into a driving simulator. She was told to scan the volunteers who walked past the booth she was in, while driving, determine all those who had pets, and if they were either a cat or a dog. The Psychic had beads of sweat after the test finished, she was spent and needed to sit down to recoup.
Charlotte had been given the full gambit of physical tests: strength, speed, and endurance, she’d had to lift dumbbells since the weight machine was still busted. Then it was on to flight testing: how high, how fast, how much could she lift while in the air.
It was lunchtime before they’d gotten to testing any boosting. Rose had to scatter the disappointed white coats before they devoured the plate of sandwiches she’d managed to secure for her patients. The vultures circled looking for leftovers while the trifecta ate. None of the ones in charge approached with answers for Rachelle to pick their brains.
Rose sat down with them, and partook of a sandwich with them, it was cucumber with cream cheese which wasn’t half bad. Rose had a look of concern as she asked: “Perspicacious, do you have a driver’s licence?”
“No, I’m not old enough yet.”
“Good. While you were driving you went through three red lights and sideswiped two cars.”
“Oh, no! Was anybody hurt?”
“It was a simulation, nobody got hurt. But it shows that you can become very distracted while using your Psychic abilities, something to be aware of in the future,” counselled Rose.
“I’ll have to remember that,” determined Rachelle. “How did I do - Psychic wise?”
“You’re rated as a third-level Psychic, no difference from your original results.”
“How can you rate someone?” wondered Charlotte.
“That’s a bit tricky to explain. A point scale is used, so the higher the number of points you’re assigned, the higher the rating.”
“I don’t understand, do you mean like one to ten, how do you tell the difference between someone who’s a three for four?”
“Okay, so, the scale is from zero to seven. But between each number there are decimal places. Think of it this way, if you could lift a hundred pounds that would give you a score of one, making you a level one Exemplar, but let’s say you only lifted ninety-five pounds, that would only give you a point nine-five score, so not quite a level one or we might call that a low-level Exemplar one.”
“I lifted over a thousand pounds today, does that make me a ten?” assumed Charlotte, tickled by the idea of calling herself a ten.
“No. You see, to be classed as an Exemplar you need to exceed what an average baseline person can do. That number is hard to establish because you have people who train constantly like olympic athletes, against those who are sedentary, we look for someplace in the middle and that changes often.”
“Okay, so …” puzzled Char.
“As a number, I’ll throw out there two hundred and fifty pounds as being the maximum weight a baseline human can lift. You lift more than that you’re a level-one exemplar. Rachelle, for example, lifted three hundred and twenty pounds, placing her in the lower reaches of a level one Exemplar, let’s say a 1.3.”
“She can do better,” assured Charlotte.
“That’s what we’re here to find out.”
“What then sets the bar to become a level two?”
“In the lower ratings, like a level two’s - it would be twice the baseline score. So lifting five hundred pounds.”
“And above level two?”
“Then math gets involved, a level three wouldn’t simply be three times a baseline’s scoring, it’s closer to doubling a level two.”
Charlotte was curious, “So what am I?”
“You scored as a 3.7, which I should add is 0.2 higher than what you scored with the MCO.”
“Do ratings change?” asked Swift, a worthwhile question from Rose’s head nod.
“Just like with an athlete, training and exercise can account for some increase, but there’s limits on what a body can achieve. That’s why it’s exciting to see what effect boosting has. There’s quite a bit of buzz around here today with everyone wanting to watch, but you didn’t hear that from me,” conspired Rose.
“What’s next?” asked Rachelle as she stood to wipe crumbs off the sensor suit, turning around to scan the room in the process.
“How do you boost?” wondered Rose.
“I touch them. Exposed skin works best, but doesn’t have to be,” explained Excelle.
“Let’s head back to the weight room to get started,” advised Rose.
As they walked, Rachelle whispered to her sister “Boost me all the way.”
In reply Charlotte was confused: “But …?”
“Trust me, I’ll fake it. I need to know what they’re after,” advised Rachelle, she received a head nod, albeit uncertain about the newly formulated plan.
Timothy went first, Charlotte played up the boosting, making a show of how it took minutes rather than just a second to impart, and that it was a strain to do. In reality, she just gave him a little bit.
Swift stepped onto the treadmill and began to run, and run, and run some more.
Meanwhile, Rachel got boosted, full-on, as requested. She was set up lifting weights, it was Rachelle’s turn to make a performance. She was started out at where she had maxed out before. In a way, she wanted to know just what she was capable of now, but that would ruin the whole plan to protect her sister, her family.
So while she could have lifted more, much more, she held back. Rachelle read the minds of those monitoring her, giving them just enough improvement to say boosting had an impact, but no more than that. The collected minds said Timothy had increased by a factor of 1.1, she kept herself to 0.9 gauging from the results she could glean from those watching.
As for those watching, she delved into their minds. They had hopes that Charlotte would break open the doors to unlimited feats of power, that mutation was the key to making supermen, one and all. For some it was purely the science involved, to others, it was all about building the perfect soldier, weapons of war.
Rachelle could understand the scientific curiosity, however, world conquest was her greatest fear, and why Charlotte had to be kept from their clutches, they were doing the right thing. She grunted to say she had lifted all she could, shaking her arms as if buckling under the strain.
The Psychic testing went much the same, she allowed them to see a minor improvement, she even purposely hit a couple of cars in the driver test. It was when they sat her in an interview room, a departure from previous testing, that Rachelle wondered if her bluff was being called.
The manifestation of Louis Gentz was brought in, she smiled at him, he was her student advisor and a teacher. They engaged in a conversation, two actually, one spoken aloud for the benefit of those listening in and a complete fabrication of pleasantries and inane questions, the other conversation was purely a mental exchange.
‘Rachelle, you’re holding back. Why?’
‘I found out what they plan to do to my sister if they discover what she’s capable of.’
Louis read what she’d dug up, he also checked the minds of those holding sinister intent. He pondered her dilemma, and mulled the consequences of the situation.
‘What’s your plan?’ he finally asked.
‘We want them to believe that only my brother and I can be boosted, because we’re family. And just to a limited degree.’
‘My dear, I’d say you’re a level six right now. Do you really want to walk around with that much untrained power?’
‘No. I had hoped you might teach me how to control this. It’s just …’
‘You would sacrifice yourself to protect your sister.’
‘I would, I will.’
‘I’ve made many mistakes in my life, I’ve had too many try and push me into doing unforgivable things, make me into a weapon. I won’t condemn your sister to that life. What do you need me to do?’
‘Tell them I’m only a level four Psychic, a boost of one level’
‘Done,’ mentally agreed Mr. Gentz. To then speak: “We’re going to have some interesting lessons, you and I.”
“I hope so,” concurred Rachelle.
“You wouldn’t play chess by any chance?”
“I can learn,” volunteered Rachelle, receiving an agreeable head nod in return.
Louis’ manifestation de-rezzed, leaving Rachelle alone in the room, to then get collected by Rose and brought back to join her family. Tim was still being tested for acuity and accuracy at speed, he hadn’t needed to hold back, only getting a partial boost.
Charlotte was being peppered with questions - badgered about why she couldn’t boost anyone other than her brother and sister. She was a master at making the face of disdain which says either: ‘you must be joking?’ Or ‘are you brain dead?’ It’s all in the eye roll.
Earlier, Charlotte had been directed to boost some volunteers; an assortment of Bricks, Exemplars, Energizers, all fairly low-level mutants, they all wanted more - much more. After supposedly boosting, the test subjects underwent rigorous testing, they all showed no change. Disappointment was in the air, as were angry words.
Disgruntled scientists checked and re-checked the findings, they’d expected results - different results to the ones received, ones in keeping with their designs. Charlotte however, apologized for the wasted effort, showing contriteness for failing to meet expectations.
Rose provided a tally once the testing results had been analyzed and dissected. Timothy gained a solid 1.1 rating from boosting, making him a Speedster 4.1. Rachelle increased to a Psychic 4.4 and Exemplar 2.3. They both had new MID’s issued to reflect the dual ratings of boosted and not, and Charlotte’s MID was updated as well.
A follow-up examination was scheduled in three months, since Charlotte continued to manifest it was likely her Exemplar rating could climb over time. Rose escorted them back to the changing rooms, then waited to take them back above ground. The gracious intern shook each of the siblings’ hands, but slipped a small piece of paper to Rachelle in a sleight-of-hand trick. When well out of sight Rachelle opened it, it read: Good deke, I won’t tell.
Cameron was asked to wait in the interview room he’d occupied many times before, instead of being roughly escorted, this time he’d received a note in the cottage’s post box. He’d showed up as requested, still sipping on the Orange Whip he’d acquired at Melville Cottage’s coffee bar, he was developing a habit.
He was sucking up the dregs from the bottom of the cup - good to the last drop. The door opened and Admiral Everheart ushered a suited man in, he claimed a chair as did the Admiral acting as Whateley’s representative.
This could go so many ways thought Cameron, too many people after him. It wasn’t until Outlook looked into the man’s wallet and spied his credentials: an insurance investigator. He breathed easier, but it didn’t end his curiosity.
It was Everheart who broke the ice: “Outlook, this is Mr. Stewart with the company Great American Insurance. He’s investigating what happened to Dillon Chapel.”
“I appreciate your showing me the site Ms. Everheart. You don’t need to stay.”
“I do actually, it is Whateley’s policy to have someone present during any outside questioning of students. It’s a matter of security for the youths entrusted to us.”
“The questions I need to ask could be construed as personal in nature. As long as your presence doesn’t deter imparting sensitive information. I don’t object.”
“Outlook?” sought Everheart if he would comply.
“Am I under obligation to answer all questions asked?” requested Cameron.
“No, you can of course decline to answer,” assured Mr. Stewart. “But we had hoped to obtain as accurate an account as possible. I have already spoken with Constable Kenneth Tallman who provided some very interesting details which you can hopefully corroborate.”
“Will Great American be releasing a full statement for Whateley’s records?” asked Cameron, his question surprised the Admiral, even though she was wondering the same thing.
“We shall provide a complete report of our findings,” promised Mr. Stewart.
Cameron gave the situation consideration, mulling over the best course of action to take. His delay was interpreted as stalling.
“Outlook?” was asked again by Everheart to nudge him along.
“All right, ask your questions,” acquiesced Cameron.
“Do you wish the record to show your name as Outlook, or can I use your given name?”
“Whateley requires our student’s identities to remain secret.”
“Very well, I respect the need for privacy. Constable Tallman referred to you on occasion as Sergeant. Is that a correct designation?”
“At the time, I was a Staff Sergeant with the RCMP, so yes, Sergeant is suitable.”
“I was promoted to Inspector,” revealed Cameron.
“I didn’t know Inspector was a rank used by the Canadian police?” piped in Admiral Everheart.
“Typically not. I was granted an exception, due to my not undertaking regular policing duties, and started working on a part-time basis.”
“Would regular policing duties have included the questioning of MCO agents?” asked Mr. Stewart.
The tack this interview was taking added twists Hive took a keen intense interest in.
“A sting operation was staged after a court case found the MCO had overstepped their mandate. In part, it required Constable Tallman and myself to conduct interviews to ascertain who within the MCO was guilty of misconduct. It was coordinated to occur in one fell swoop across Canada.”
“This is why the use of Teleporters was required?”
“Yes, the distance we needed to cover, in so short a time could only be accomplished by the support provided by Teleporters.”
“I see. So, it was during one such teleportation, that you and Constable Tallman were deposited into an, how was it described: an inter-dimensional void?”
“Have you a better description of events?”
“If you call being forcefully yanked out while in transit, to then become the low man in a dogpile, then sure, deposited works.”
“I’ll be certain to make note of that. Describe this void?”
“You wish to withhold information?”
“I was blind and unable to see, I don’t know what the void looked like.”
“Are you not considered blind now?”
“Yes. Although, my sight is not considered a sense as medically defined.”
“What prevented you from seeing?”
“The void is a pocket dimension where those in opposition to God have been ‘deposited’ to await judgement.”
“The wraiths, I believe you called them.”
“Yes, they rebelled against God and had to be removed. They’ve been placed into a holding cell - that would be a good description of the void. The void is completely isolated from God, so my sight ended while in that environment.”
“I don’t understand. How did a Teleporting accident deposit you in this void?”
“A good question. My hypothesis is that Teleporters, or some of them anyway, step out of our dimension into another one in order to cross the distances they travel. That’s just my thoughts on the matter, there may be better explanations out there.”
“You and the others, were repeatedly attacked by these wraiths? Correct?”
“They afforded us little time to do anything besides defend ourselves.”
“What had they hoped to gain by attacking you?”
“We were nourishment to them.”
“Explain that … please.”
“God is the source of life, being cut off from him, the wraiths seek other forms of energy to sustain themselves.”
“They eat people?”
“Not quite, they suck the life force out of a person. That, or they suck upon these teats that are scattered around the place. I would say those are their main source of food.”
“That aligns with what I’ve already been told. How many of these teats were struck while fighting off the wraiths?”
“Hmmm. Four, maybe five.”
“How long a time frame would the attack in which striking these teats have taken?”
“Less than an hour. Why?”
Digging into his briefcase, Mr. Stewart placed a series of photographs on the table. Cameron had noticed them earlier when he’d scanned the briefcase’s contents, you can’t be too careful.
“These are pictures of destroyed buildings. One in Scotland, another in Latvia, and Portugal. Great American has been in consultation with insurance companies involved overseas,”
he provided while pointing out each of the scenes of devastation. “Now this is a church in Lafayette Louisiana I am also investigating. The thing that they all have in common, is that they were all destroyed within an hour of each other, exploding without any discernible source of ignition. We are trying to determine the cause.”
“Was anyone hurt?”
“Some injuries, no fatalities - fortunately. You can see why insurance companies are curious about circumstances surrounding buildings blowing up, for no apparent reason. Which brings me to Whateley Academy, to have twelve people exit from another destroyed building, is beyond coincidental.”
“I’m beginning to understand your interest.”
“Now, I have sworn statements saying you had nothing to do with creating the portal used to expedite your escape from the void. Constable Tallman emphasized that he had to forcibly drag you through the portal. Is this accurate?”
“I felt the risk of us entering an unsecured portal was too dangerous. We had no way of knowing where it would discharge us.”
“Had you any insight into where … ‘nourishment’ was coming from?”
“After we arrived at Whateley, I deduced that Patricia had managed to open a portal following a conduit, that sustaining energy was originating from Whateley’s Chapel was a surprise. I had no prior indication that this was happening. Nor had I known that the other teats were linked to locations in our realm.”
“Interesting, I believe I have what I need. Thank you for your willingness to speak with me.”
“Will Great American Insurance be settling our claim now?” asked Samantha Everheart, it’s what she’d need to provide to administration, to answer the burning question about Dillon Chapel.
“Ms. Everheart; I don’t know. I have a humdinger of a report to write, one that quite frankly is going to call into question my mental stability. Your guess is as good as mine.”
Cameron slumped to the floor exhausted. Matter manipulation took a toll, it depleted his battery and left his body ragged, he needed to rest, and taking a break was overdue. The Nuclear Sciences classroom had required some thinking outside the box … by making a box inside a box, well a sphere if you feel the need to get picky. He’d encapsulated the experiment gone awry, the plutonium which had been excited to critical mass was now fully contained within an all encompassing energy-absorbing ball.
The raw energy being released by the atomic reaction was getting siphoned through collectors into a massive bank of batteries. Some of that energy became electricity which powered the underground area Cameron had reclaimed, the rest was held in reserve until Cameron wished to fill up his own personal battery when needed.
As an extra precaution, Cameron had surrounded the entire classroom by six feet of solid rock, made super dense so nobody would accidentally expose it - themselves. He drank an energy drink - one of those electrolyte replacing sport drinks, and chewed upon a chocolate-covered granola bar. His battery might be full but his body was depleted.
He picked himself up and made another sweep of the tunnels to remove any lingering radiation. He’d decided that the three classrooms he’d found could be used as exercise rooms, one of which he set aside for weight training with exercise equipment like treadmills and stationary bicycles.
In another classroom, he chose to make a pool, which simulated a river so you could swim against a current instead of doing laps. He missed the benefits of time spent in water to strengthen his muscles, and hoped he wasn’t being selfish in making a pool. To alleviate his concern he made a sauna and hot pools for soaking in, space enough for everyone to relax in.
He left through the entrance in Deb’s workshop, she had been hard at work making a secure way to keep her stuff safe. It meant she needed to trust her teammates, to give them access into her private domain, but she had willingly agreed.
Cameron closed up the secret passage built into one of Debbie’s tool storage units, locking it up tight. He also checked that her workshop door was secured before leaving, ensuring the scanner Deb had constructed was working, it detected and disabled bugs. Those pesky eavesdropping devices had a way of showing up too frequently, it seemed being a nosy Parker was a favourite pastime at Whateley.
It was late Friday afternoon, Lynn had said she had some personal business to attend to - and hadn’t said any more about it. Tim was at work delivering pizza. Max was at a social mixer in Hawthorne. The girls were watching a chick flick in the private theatre Deb had reserved in Melville. It meant Cameron had the evening to himself - alone at last.
He’d checked out a book from the Library, one Mrs. Henderson recommended highly: Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne. He wanted to savour a good book, read it slowly, and get captured up in the telling. Downtime might sound dull and boring, but it was all he wanted, some peace and quiet.
Tomorrow he and Lynn would be visiting the Medawihla, so being rested to face people clamouring for a piece of you … it can wait, tomorrow’s worries are tomorrow’s problem.
Ella and Allan arrived at Whateley early to pick up Lynn and Cameron. Fortunately, Cameron had some breakfast sandwiches held in Storage so they didn’t need to go hungry. Ella drove her Jeep without the fabric top covering, the sun was up and it was a lovely bright morning, but the wind had Lynn and Cameron huddle together in the back seat. Whether that was from coincidence or by plan, either way, time to just enjoy each other’s company was appreciated.
The wind whipped Lynn’s hair about her face, she’d taken great care to make herself as presentable as possible, but had to give up trying to control hair that went wherever the air currents took it. Cameron stared at her in awe, wild-haired and laughing unfettered at the simple delight of being taken for a ride with the top down.
Lynn looked at him, she pulled some strands of hair away from her face to lean close to his ear, and ask: “What?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so happy.”
“You just haven’t been paying attention.”
“No, really. I’m serious.”
“No you’re not, you're Cameron,” teased Lynn with a giggle and held him a little tighter. “Do you ever get to cut loose? Just enjoy a sunny day?” She asked, her intense green eyes boring a hole into his psyche.
Cameron reached up to tenderly kissed her forehead, he then pressed his head against hers. His uncovered golden-hewed eyes looking directly into her emerald green iris’. “You are my sunshine.”
There was a sharp intake of air, Lynn was taken aback at his admission, “Do you mean that?”
“I do,” smiled Cameron, with a smile that encompassed his entire face. Compared to Lynn’s wild abandon it might not show, but he too was happier than he’d been in a long - long time. “I’ve been scared about letting you in, when my family died I didn’t think I could love … should love anyone ever again. It was pointed out to me that life without love isn’t much of a life at all.”
Lynn was dumbfounded at the admission, the pieces fit, although she needed to ask: “So, before, when you said you needed time, was that why?”
“In part. I didn’t know if I was allowed.”
“What do you mean, allowed?”
“To be happy. I’m fully dedicated to doing God’s will, I didn’t know if that allowed for me to pursue my own interests, like getting married. I was worried I couldn’t have a life beyond being God’s agent. Even then, I didn’t think anyone would want to share a life less ordinary.”
“Ordinary equals boring and not my style. I should tell you, your mentor paid me a visit while you were gone.”
“Really? What did he say?”
“That you were in danger.”
“Why would he do that? You’re a Precog, you’d have already known.”
“That’s just it, I didn’t know. You had vanished, I'd lost touch with you.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize. Did his visit help?”
“It gave me hope. You should know: you anchor me, you give something solid to hang onto, so I don’t get lost in the abyss of dismal possibilities that could easily overwhelm me.”
“Basically, we support each other, lift each other up,” deduced Cameron. “ I think that’s what a relationship is supposed to do. I wouldn’t exactly say we’re a match made in heaven, but pretty close.”
Lynn paused at that thought, she had always figured she directed her own path: “Why do I find that hard to believe?”
“Had you never considered that Precognition followed a set course?” quizzed Cameron, certain that she had puzzled over it. “Your Mom described being a Precog like driving down a highway and steering around all the obstacles encountered, isn’t it reasonable that somebody would have built the road?”
“I admit your explanation is plausible. All I know is, I’m not carrying the weight of the world when I’m with you,” claimed Lynn. “What do you suggest we do?”
“We should definitely spend more time together,” suggested Cameron.
“I’m not the one who’s always going off to God knows where,” accused Lynn in a light-hearted jest.
“Funny choice of words. Accurate, but funny,” admitted Cameron, he went where he was sent, it meant people’s lives. Cameron hoped his timid smile eased Lynn’s worry.
Lynn bit her lip, concerned she might have said the wrong thing. Rhododendron had commented that Lynn was a bit of a control freak, it had hit a cord with the Precog. Precognition lent itself to always have her one step ahead, it eliminated surprises, so in that sense, sure, she enjoyed the control it gave. But it came at a price, like enjoying the moment - as it happened, she was enjoying the moment with Cameron, why had she poked the bear.
Lynn looked sheepishly at Cameron, to see if he was upset. Rather, he snuggled in closer and put his arm around her shoulder since she was shivering. Lynn would have shifted into a cat, her fur would keep her warmer. But being held was nicer.
Cameron found it hard to converse with Ella and Allan in the open-air Jeep, it required yelling at them up in the front seats. So deep topics needed to wait until they arrived at the Village, that isn’t to say Lynn didn’t give her brother an occasional lite punch in the arm - to say she was glad to see him. It was traditional between them.
The Medawihla had company, vehicles were parked everywhere leaving little room for Ella to get through. Eloise Donner stood on her front porch and waved in greeting, Ben at her side. The guests of honour were ushered to the meeting hall where breakfast was waiting. Lynn could always find room for food and Cameron would never say no to hospitality.
After eating Lynn was whisked away to participate in a high-level meeting, it was a gathering of Were chieftains. Cameron wasn’t invited, neither was Ella or Allan, but Ella’s dad: Ulrich Oberon was asked to attend. Left alone to amuse themselves in the meeting hall, Ella and Allan asked how Whateley was going. Cameron explained that, so far, his classes had been - well, educational.
A group began entertaining themselves at the meeting hall’s dart board. For more privacy, the three moved away to a far corner.
“What have you two been up to?” Cameron asked of his two friends and potential future in-laws.
“Dad located another outpost of corrupted Were, we managed to surprise them and set another twenty Were free,” detailed Ella, she and Allan sat side-by-side, in an obvious show of affection. Cameron had earlier been asked to deplete boxes of filled energy balls, so he knew they’d been busy.
Cameron noticed the necklace Ella wore, it had round white stones, square black stones, and golden rings in a repeating pattern. It was something different on her so Cameron asked: “Nice necklace, does it have meaning?”
Allan answered: “I gave it to her, it’s my pattern. It indicates that she’s …”
“Married?” questioned Cameron.
“Spoken for,” inserted Ella. Receiving a huge smile from Allan.
“I’ve been meaning to ask. How does it work?” blurted out Cameron, who had to backtrack when he received blank faces as a reply. “Sorry. What I meant was, how do you shift from animal and have clothes on?”
Ella had the grace to laugh at Cameron’s clumsy question, “You would prefer we be naked?”
“No, of course not. I have no issue with you being clothed. I just don’t understand what happens when you become your animal, your clothes don’t turn into fur do they?”
Ella and Allan looked at each other in puzzlement, but Allan responded with his own question: “How is it you miraculously bring objects out of nowhere?”
“I have them stored in another dimension.”
“Then maybe you have answered your own question. It just is, it is what Were have always done. It’s like asking why we breath,” detailed Allan.
“Do Were have any problem wearing metal?” was Cameron’s follow-up question.
“A Were may wear what they choose, if wearing a suit of armour is to their liking, so be it. Although it does chaff badly,” enlightened Ella. “Why do you ask?”
“I’ve wanted to give Lynn a gift, but I didn’t know if it would … get lost,” reasoned Cameron.
“She would treasure it, no need to fear her misplacing it,” advised Allan as his eyes zeroed in on a distraction across the hall. “This can’t be good.” He murmured, standing in response to a party coming their way.
“So this is the upstart who claims to be the Golden-Eyed saviour,” accused the interloper, trailing an entourage of hangers-on.
“I’m Cameron, who might you be?” said Cameron as he raised up and turned to face the confrontation, offering his hand in greeting.
“I am the real Golden-Eyed man!” boasted the man, slapping Cameron’s hand away, his arrogance purposely meant to intimidate. ”I was approved by the Oberon, and anointed by the Counsel of Elders. What gives you the right to claim my place?”
“Where have you been?” asked Cameron.
The man was startled at the question, he hadn’t anticipated such a sarcastic response. “That is none of your concern.”
“I just find it odd, seeing how that the Golden-Eyed man - was nowhere to be seen during the Were's fight against the Bastard’s forces.”
“I was rallying support, building up my army to wage war.”
“Well, at least you’ve finally arrived: a day late and a penny short I might add. Oh! In case you hadn’t heard: the Were won.”
“A single battle doesn’t win the war,” he sneered in contempt.
”I’m curious, what strategy had you planned to employ to defeat an army of the corrupted, without succumbing to the Bastard’s machinations?”
“The Were would fight to our last breath, as the Were have always done.”
“Good thing it didn’t come to that, otherwise nobody would be left standing here.” Cameron said that so all around could hear, the growing audience coalesced around them and murmured assent to his statement.
“None of your trickery human,” he mocked, attempting to sway the crowd by dividing loyalties. “Only a pureblood Were is fit to lead the people. I challenge you to combat. To prove once and for all who the real prophesied Golden-Eyed man is. Then I’m going to claim the Pantheress as my bride,” he leered when saying the last. “I’ve waited a long time for her to present herself to me.”
“You’ll be waiting a lot longer buddy,” declared Cameron becoming annoyed, and dismayed at his affront to Lynn. “Tell me, what does a challenge involve?”
“You see! This pathetic human quakes in his boots crying for his momma like a frightened weanling. Is this your saviour? Is this your path to greatness? Then you lack vision and honour just like this whelp!”
It had devolved into a spectacle, a performer stepping onto a stage into the spotlight to win the favour of his audience. Cameron knew he was being set up, it was obvious, win or lose this buffoon only wanted to disgrace Cameron. It stung having the memory of his mother sullied, but to threaten Lynn - that he couldn’t let slide.
“I have plenty of honour, and these good people have already proved their worth. All you’ve ever done is spout off without considering which way the wind is blowing. Teresa left you hanging, I can promise you her daughter will do the same,” cautioned Cameron. “But if you’re itching for a fight, I’m willing to oblige. It’s just that I’ve never been challenged before, I don’t know if I’m supposed to kill now, right where you stand, or humiliate you first and then kill you.”
“Big words for such a small man, or should I say boy.” He stood pressing against Cameron, looking down his nose at him, his smile held no humour only animosity and hate.
Ella intervened, providing the insight needed: “A challenge is a test of worth, it is a duel of wits, skill, strength, or speed. Not usually to the death - that depends upon the contest and what weapons are chosen.”
“Who chooses?” sought Cameron, not letting the man’s presence intimidate him.
“If accepted, the one challenged picks the contest,” supplied Ella.
“And if the challenge is not accepted?”
“It is taken that the challenger was in the right, his claim was just and true.”
“I see, it’s a case of fight for your rights then. Very well, I accept the challenge.”
“How do you wish to meet your demise?” insinuated the challenger.
“I choose a game of Darts,” informed Cameron.
“You jest! You mock our traditions, you worthless - human,” derided the haughty man.
“Not at all. What I propose is we throw darts, a simple contest to pit our skills at marksmanship. The winner gets named the sole Golden-Eyed man,” Cameron needed to ensure all understood his motivation. “But let me be clear, the Pantheress decides her own future, nobody forces her against her will. Do you agree?”
“What are the rules of this game?”
“The game is called ‘around the world’, or a variation of it at least. We take turns throwing darts at a rotating dart board. The game requires we throw three darts into each of the twenty numbered wedges, a dart needs to land in the single point area of a wedge, plus one dart must land in the outer ring, one dart in the triple-inner ring. The game requires a player to finish placing darts in each wedge, going all around the board, before hitting the bullseye's ring and button, the first one to do that wins the game.”
“Agreed. You’ve already lost, I’m my tribe’s most accomplished hunter.”
A line was drawn across the floor that the contestants had to stand behind. Cameron fashioned a stand with a motor to turn the dart board which rotated on its axis 360 degrees, the board’s face was only seen momentarily by the contestants as it turned completely around. The speed was timed to ten rotations a minute and controlled by the scorekeeper with a switch.
After selecting three darts each from the hall’s collection, they each threw practice darts at the stationary board to get a feel for them. Then the contest started after a coin toss to see who went first, Cameron would throw second.
The board turned while the obnoxious man rocked back and forth trying to time his throw with the board’s movement. His first toss hit the board’s outer edge and bounced off the metal cladding, his second throw connected and stuck, as did his third - although in the back of the dartboard.
Cameron took the mark and stood fast, he watched the board for a moment, then in quick succession made his throws.
The scorekeeper stopped the dartboard to count the points. Cameron had put his three darts into the 20 wedge, hitting the triple, double, and single point marks. His opponent placed a single 18, his only scoring dart.
Cameron asked: “Have you a name, or do I call you Mud?”
“Quellen, a name you won’t soon forget.”
“You’re up Quellen, try a little harder won’t you, it could become embarrassing otherwise.”
Quellen managed to make all his darts stay, as did Cameron. The tally for Quellen was a single 14, a single 12, and a dud that had stuck into the board’s outer edge. Cameron threw all his into the 19 wedge, clearing it off his score.
On the third throw Quellen hit a bullseye, along with a double 12, and a single 19. Cameron continued to pick off the 18 wedge.
The scorekeeper had to wipe off the bullseye from the board since it didn’t count until the game’s final toss. Quellen’s supporters hissed in displeasure.
Cameron kept throwing at the board hitting the numbers sequentially in decreasing succession, he was into the single digits now. Quellen was falling far behind, only hitting wedges completely at random without rhyme or reason, rarely did he find the double or triple spaces.
The combatants were well into the game when Lynn and the Elders entered the hall. Cameron could tell that Lynn was angry, furious even. She glared at the Elders who wisely kept a safe distance from her. Lynn sat beside Allan and he brought her up to speed on the situation speaking in hushed tones.
The match was proving to be no match at all, Cameron commented: “Perhaps you should eat a sandwich.”
“Why?” sneered Quellen.
“If you’re the best hunter in your tribe, you must be starving,” illuminated Cameron.
Quellen huffed in displeasure, not deigning to answer the insult.
Cameron had methodically filled in his trip around the world, his score on the whiteboard stating he’d filled all the wedges. He only had the bullseye left to finish the game on his next turn.
Quellen stepped up to the line for his turn to throw, he was in a foul mood since his score lagged so far behind, his tally had gapping holes considering his lack lustre performance. As he readied his dart, he failed to begin his customary sway linking his timing to the board’s rotation. Quellen quickly spun and chucked the dart in hand as hard as he could, aiming at Cameron’s head. He clutched the two other darts into his fists to use as daggers when he jumped at Cameron, he began jabbing them at Cameron’s back.
Ella had spotted Quellen’s lack of normal behaviour, plus how Quellen’s companions had dispersed throughout the hall - his fan club had been rooting loudly for him, but had become silent when his score had fallen far behind. Ella alerted Allan, so he and a few trusted Were circled to track down troublemakers in the crowd, the hall was full of spectators who’d gathered to watch the event. Ella had caught Cameron’s attention, wordlessly indicating with her eyes of a potential escalation. Cameron acknowledged her concern.
The flung dart sailed at Cameron’s head, to be held suspended in mid-flight, inches from embedding into Cameron’s left eye, the projectile’s forward thrust was stolen much to Quellen’s shock, and the audience’s surprise. Quellen recouped quickly, his attack pushed Cameron down onto his knees, exposing his back, which Quellen repeatedly stabbed with his impromptu spears. However, Quellen’s blows had no impact since they didn’t connect, Cameron had raised his energy-absorbing field which stopped the dart strikes cold before inflicting injury.
A long sharp knife was withdrawn from Quellen’s boot, he wielded it in favour rather than the ineffective little darts. The golden eagle shifter took on a berserker’s demeanour; all or nothing, he was beyond reason, his vision clouded by images of his own greatness being in danger. He drove his knife at Cameron’s neck, his strike was thwarted when his knife was cleaved clear in two, the blade sliced off mere millimetres above the handle.
Quellen gasped in astonishment as Cameron’s blazing gold sword was sunk deep into his chest. The blade was immaterial at the moment, but could become solid and cut the man in half if so desired.
“Not only are you a sore loser, but you’re also a backstabbing coward,” pronounced Cameron, his voice bold and commanding as it echoed off the hall’s walls. “You’ve lost in every sense of the word,” claimed Cameron. “What’s more, you have threatened the girl I love. Sullied my dead mother’s name. You only get one chance: Run away, or fly off, just get out of my sight.” Cameron withdrew his blade to then place the tip under Quellen’s chin, tipping his face to look at Cameron: “Know this: If I ever see you again, I’ll pluck you like the chicken you are.”
Cameron pointed his blazing gold sword at the door, an indicator that Quellen should leave. Quellen scrambled on all fours to make a hasty escape, once he had his feet underneath him, Quellen shifted into his golden eagle form, taking that shape a few feet shy of the hall’s exit door. Quellen hopped the last distance to get outside, he then spread his wings and departed in as quick a retreat as he could muster.
Half of Quellen’s groupies also fled, to join their disgraced leader. A few remained behind, dropping to their knees in disgrace, seeking forgiveness from their fellow Were.
Cameron disappeared his sword, it could have gone much worse, bloodshed had been avoided. Stepping to the dart line, the scorekeeper took his cue and turned on the board’s rotation once more, Cameron threw his last three darts, one sticking into the bullseye’s outer ring, the last two placed dead center into the bullseye’s red button.
“And that, as they say, is all folks,” stated Cameron.
Lynn had stayed impartial during the match, too many eyes watching her every move. This whole contest, this whole day had been contrived by those who wanted to get rid of Cameron, and get her to submit under the Council’s control. It was all about ensuring their place - so that their future went unchallenged. Cameron shattered all anticipated outcomes and spoiled those plans.
Victory meant that Cameron could not be denied his role at her side, now it wasn’t just Lynn, the Council had to bend to their will. Now the Council not only had to contend with an unaffiliated outcast, but a wildcard human as well.
Wrapping Cameron in a hug, and kissing him in public, Lynn’s display had the staunch pureblood Were cringing. It closed the door on any jockeying to prevent the Golden-Eyed man and the Pantheress from assuming leadership among the Were.
Ella and Allan joined Lynn in congratulating Cameron, although they only shook his hand and gave him congratulatory pats on the back.
“When did you become so good at hitting targets?” sought Ella.
“I took a firearms course. Turns out I have very good hand-eye coordination.”
Cameron had been coerced into leaving the rotating dart board as is, everyone wanted to try it out and it had become a huge attraction among the Were. He’d have to check with Debbie to see if it could be patented. The atmosphere among the Were had become frosty, Cameron was welcomed amidst the Medawihla but some of the visiting guests had attitude problems.
Lynn was constantly being assailed by some group or another, and often sharp words would be spoken. The animosity on display was upsetting, so it wasn’t all that surprising when Lynn asked if Cameron was ready to leave - code for ‘get me outta here.’
A suitable excuse was made, one that allowed Cameron and Lynn to cut short their weekend plan.
Ella and Allan sat up front in the Jeep on the drive home, with the top secured overhead it held at bay the cool night air. Lynn slumped against Cameron, exhaustion oozed from her. She’d tired from dealing with contentious people who wouldn’t relent from applying pressure.
Lynn’s presence threatened their relevance and hold on power, she wanted no part in their schemes, there was no future down that path.
Cameron held Lynn tight, letting her rest her head on his shoulder, she revelled in the peace it afforded her.
“Thank you for today,” confessed Lynn. “Winning that challenge halted a power grab, and silenced a coming storm. I wasn’t sure you’d accept, then I’d be in even worse straits.” She didn’t look up at Cameron while explaining her reasons, ashamed she might have damaged their relationship, lost his trust. “I need you by my side, always.”
Cameron quietly shushed her, encouraging her to stay leaning against him. “I understand, it was a rough day for both of us,” he comforted her. “I learned something though. I hadn’t known that Were retain their belongings when shifting.”
Cameron retrieved something from out of his dimensional holdings, it was wrapped in a delicate green pastel colour scented paper tied with a dark green ribbon and bow. “I’ve wanted to give you something for a while, I hope you like it.”
Lynn took the gift and savaged the wrappings to get inside. In her hand was a pendant, the lustrous green stones shaped into a cats paw print, the setting was surrounded by thick gold. The gold’s deep yellow created a beautiful backdrop to highlight the deep green gems’ dazzling glimmer. Attached to the pendant was a woven gold chain that was supple yet strong.
“Are you proposing to me?” asked Lynn, such a gift among Were had significant meaning.
“A promise,” corrected Cameron, knowing that the right time wasn’t now. “I promise that nothing will stop me from loving you. I fought for you today, I will fight for you every day hereafter.”
“Are you sure?”
“As certain as I can be of anything,” confirmed Cameron as he tenderly kissed Lynn’s cheek, she flushed from the display, slipping the necklace around her neck and closed the clasp.
“Deal,” she replied and kissed Cameron on the lips.
The moment was spoiled by a harmonized “Awww,” coming from the front seats occupants. Chaperoning has its rewards, like ruining tender expressions of affection by making them uncomfortable. Isn’t that what having family is all about? Especially big brothers.
Cameron and Lynn rode in silence, Lynn slipped into sleep still holding Cameron’s hand and leaning heavily upon him.
The gates to Whateley Academy stood closed, the guard opening them for the stopped vehicle. The uniformed man approached the Jeep, asking: “Are any of you Outlook?”
Cameron identified himself, being told:
“You’re wanted at Doyle. Your friend was attacked.”
End Part 5
Stay tuned for Part 6