A Whateley Academy Vignette
Aftermath: A Just Me Vignette
Sunday, November 25th, 2007
“OK, Incognito, you're healthy enough to go back to class,” Dr. Tenent said, looking over a tablet that was being held by her hair. “For Survival you will not join in the physical activities for two days, and you should take it easy for the next week. Despite the healings, you're body is still weak and needs a chance to recuperate. So be sure to go heavy on the protein and greens when you eat.”
“I will, thanks doctor,” Shaun said.
Alone in his hospital room he got out of bed, wincing a little as his legs twinged. Putting on the clothes his roommate Cooper had brought for him, he took a moment in the bathroom to fix his hair and make sure he didn't look too bad. He might be a geek and wasn't anywhere near the good looks of an exemplar, but that didn't mean he had to look bad. Satisfied that he was presentable, he went to meet his friends.
“Hey you're walking again!” Cooper said, patting him on the back. “I hope you don't mind, I got rid of your bed so I have more room. I threw some pillows on the floor for you, that's OK, right?”
“Screw you, Cooper,” he retorted. “If I don't have a bed, I'll make sure you go to class for the next month looking like Bozo the Clown.”
“Don't you dare!” Smile said, giving him a quick hug before returning to her boyfriend. “I like Cooper just the way he is.”
“Yeah, you'd better be careful, or I'll have to sic my attack fairy on ya,” Cooper said, wrapping his arm around the tiny girl.
“I'm glad you're finally out,” Aella told him. She gave him a hug as well, which felt odd since she was full of hot air. Her skin and clothes were nice and warm, and given her size it was like he was being hugged by a huge pillow.
“So am I,” he agreed. “I'm sick of hospital food and laying in bed all day.”
Jane, who was leaning against the wall beside the door said, “I'm sure you didn't just lay around doing nothing. You probably have a dozen new ideas to work on now that you can go to your lab again.”
He scratched his head and blushed. “Two dozen actually.”
“Who had two dozen?” Cooper asked.
“I had eighteen,” Aella said. “Looks like I win the pot.”
Shaun watched in bemusement as his friends handed over five dollars each to Aella. “I'm touched by your concern.”
“Be glad we showed up, there's a REALLY interesting talk going on about the MCO. I can't believe we're missing it,” Cooper said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
They slowly made their way out of Doyle. Shaun didn't want to push himself, and he saw Jane dragging her feet and looking pale, so he went a little slower. His friends filled him in on things he'd missed while unconscious and healing. He'd heard most of it already, but it was nice to know they cared. Missing the fight between the elf Absinthe and Centurion sucked. He really didn't like Centurion. They'd never fought, thankfully, but he was a huge pain in the few classes they shared.
“Did you hear that Absinthe and her friends are making a training team?” Aella asked.
He hadn't heard that one. “Really? What are they calling themselves, Alcoholics Anonymous?”
“No idea. I don't think they've come up with a name yet, but I've heard some people talking about it.”
“It looks like everyone is making teams now,” Smile said. “There's Team Shenanigans, with Mischief, the girl who keeps having burnouts, and the little girl from Poe. And Tink has created her own team, they're called Team Hilarious.”
Shaun facepalmed. “Seriously, Team Hilarious?”
“It's Tink. Do you expect anything sensible from her?”
“From her, no. From her friends, I expected a little better.”
Cooper smirked. “I heard that she was trying to get it called Tink and The Lost Boys, The Amazing Tink and Friends, and The Glorious Tink and Her Merry Men.”
He really should have expected that, but he still struck dumb for moment at hearing the runner ups. “I see why they went with Team Hilarious.”
They reached the library and went to their usual quiet corner where no one ever bothered them. Shaun sank into the comfy old chair with relief. He wasn't too sore, but his legs felt like jello. He really did need to take it easy until he got his strength back.
Clearing his throat, wishing he had a drink to wet his mouth, he decided it was now or never to raise his idea. “Talking about teams, I was wondering if you guys want to make one.”
There were odd looks from everyone. He couldn't blame them, he'd never talked about teams before, and was usually the first one to complain about survival class. He wasn't like Cooper or Smile, who actually enjoyed BMA, or Aella who had a real offensive power along with her magic. Only Jane was less aggressive then he was, and she had still attacked their attackers with a knife.
“You're kidding right?” Smile asked.
“No I'm serious,” Shaun insisted. He'd thought about it a lot while laying in Doyle, he just had to sell it. “We've been pretty lucky not having to worry about bullies very much, but becoming a team and taking Team Tactics in the winter would still be a good idea. We need to join a team next year or we'll be put on one anyways. Getting a leg up on the competition will really help us out.”
“We wouldn't exactly be a typical team,” Jane pointed out.
“I know, so it's even more important to get the training in early. And we're not that bad. Cooper just needs to destroy some things and he's able to go toe to toe with a regular brick. Aella has magic and she can use her wind to hit people from far away. Smile can fly, get into small spaces, has her numbing ray, and she can really hurt someone with her wand. You're able to shapeshift really well, you can sneak up on people, trick them, and back stab them. And I can make us all holdouts that are disguised as ordinary things.”
His friends looked at each other, seemingly not convinced.
“I read up on this while I was in Doyle. When we sign up as a team we can pick different tracks we want to practice on. The usual ones are superhero, military, and supervillain, but there are others, like disaster and emergency relief, and this is the important one for us, survival. That's where we get put in situations where we need to escape, avoid, and evade threats. We'll have to do other types of missions as well, but they won't be the main ones,” he explained.
Cooper looked a little more interested. “It might be a good idea. I wouldn't want to be shoved onto a team like the Vindicators, the last fight they were in was just embarrassing. And if the Underdogs have a team that does OK, we should be great.”
“Hey!” Smile said. “Aquerna is a really good team leader for them. And as long as they're careful with Miasma's gas bombs, they're one of the better sophomore teams. They actually listen to each other.”
“You're doing this because you're scared of getting attacked again, aren't you?” Jane interrupted, before they got too far off topic.
Shaun looked down at his lap. Sighing, he decided to tell the truth. “Yeah. I still don't know why they think I'm Mille's kid. I read up on him, I'm nothing like that monster. And there's no way my Mom would hook up with someone like him. Carson told me that I won't be attacked by the guys again, that they've learned Whateley is off limits to their disputes. But I don't want to feel that helpless again. And I don't want to see any of you get hurt because of me.”
Smile reached out, putting her hand on his. “Have you talked about this with anyone?” she asked.
“Going to. They've set me up with a shrink. First appointment's tomorrow.”
“Good.” She tapped her fingers on her knee. “I'm in. My parents are still out there. When I meet them, knowing Team Tactics on top of BMA could be useful.”
Cooper wrapped his arm around Smile. “If my best friend and my girlfriend are doing it, how can I refuse? And I'll finally have a reason to use my codename. Relativity is in.”
“Since we need to be on a team anyways, I might as well be on one with people I like,” Aella said.
They all turned to look at Jane.
She was leaning back in her seat, rubbing her wrist like it hurt. She avoided looking them, staring at her hands, seeming to be even more distant than usual. “I'm not sure how good I'll be, but if you really want me, I'll do it,” she said, her voice so low it was almost a whisper.
“Don't worry, we'll protect you,” Cooper said. “You can be the scout, getting us information and faking them out. We don't expect you to go toe to toe with anyone like Thud or Iron. That'll be my job, with help from Smile, while Aella blasts them with her wind.”
“Thanks. I'll do my best.” From the sound of her voice it sounded like she'd just agreed to go on a suicide mission.
“So, now we have the important question, what should we call ourselves?” Smile asked.
“How about Team Unexpected?” Shaun asked. “We have two shapeshifters, my holdouts are all based around disguises. Cooper you come off like a baseline until you boost yourself. And Aella, you don't look like much of a threat, but are probably the strongest offensive person on the team.”
“That's no good. We should call ourselves Team Comfy Chair,” Cooper said.
Everyone looked at him in extreme confusion.
“Why?” Smile finally asked.
Cooper rolled his eyes. “OK, Team Spanish Inquisition!”
“I'm not following,” Shaun said.
“Next weekend we're all watching Monty Python!” Cooper said.
“Right... So, Team Unexpected?”
Aella smiled. “I guess so.”
“I like it,” Smile said.
Cooper nodded in agreement, but rolled his eyes again. Jane just kept staring at her hands.
“All right then, I'll fill out the paperwork tonight,” Shaun said.
Monday, November 26th, 2007
“Here, let me take that for you,” Shaun said. Without waiting for permission, he took Jane's tray from her.
“I don't need the help,” she said.
He gave her a disbelieving look. She was pale, shivering, sweating, and limping, frankly she looked like she was half dead. “Yeah, you're the picture of health.”
“Just caught a little cold. I'll be fine.”
“You should go to Doyle. Chicken soup alone isn't going to make you feel better.” Looking at her tray, he wondered how she thought liver, steamed spinach, a kale salad, and a bowl of prunes and apricots would help with a cold.
Setting her tray down at their usual table, they waited for the rest of their friends to show up. He watched Jane cut a small piece of liver, eat it and almost throw it up after swallowing.
“You really don't look good, Jane.”
She put her fork down, closed her eyes and shifted. It wasn't the usual smooth shifting she did, or the weird seizure shifts that made him think of worms crawling under her skin. It was slow, taking several seconds to bring colour back to her face, when she was done, she gasped as if in pain. She did look better though. “How's that?” she asked.
“Still not good.”
“If I still feel bad after supper, I'll go to Doyle, OK?” she said.
She went back to eating, using her left hand instead of her right. Shaun glanced at her right hand and saw her fingers were trembling.
It was a relief when Smile and the rest arrived.
“So I talked to my Mom about Christmas. She has no problem with Jane and Smile coming down for the whole holiday,” Shaun said. He turned to Aella and Cooper, “And if you guy's want to come down for a few days, she said we have more than enough room.”
Cooper shook his head. “Thanks for the invite, but I'm gonna be visiting family. And sorry, Smile, but while my parents say you can come for summer, there isn't room for Christmas.”
“That's OK,” Smile said. “I'd been afraid I was going to be stuck at school for Christmas and summer. So having somewhere else to go, is good enough for me. Shaun can I get your mom's email, so I can send her a thank you?”
“Yeah sure, I'll give it to you after supper,” Shaun said.
“Tell your mom thanks, but I'm going to a ski resort with my uncle and a few relatives who don't care that I'm a mutant,” Aella said. “He's going all out to make up for my parents being jerks.”
Smile patted her arm. “That's nice of them.”
“I guess so,” Aella said, poking at her salad.
“So,” Shaun said, looking at Jane, “you still haven't said if you're coming for Christmas?”
Sighing, Jane nodded. “Fine, I'll go.”
“Jane, are you all right?” Cooper asked.
Somehow Jane had become even paler than before. She was white as a ghost, and her right hand was shaking even harder.
“Sick-” Whatever else she was going to say was cut off as she violently vomited onto the floor. It was dark brown, almost like used coffee grounds.
“OK. We're going to Doyle,” Shaun said, getting to his feet.
Wiping her mouth, Jane sighed. “Fine. Too cold outside, I'll take the tunnel.”
“I'm going with you,” Shaun said.
“Sure. The rest of you stay here. I don't want to spoil everyone's dinner,” Jane said.
He offered her his arm, and she completely ignored it. Instead he stuck by her side as they made their way to the stairs. She was limping even more, favouring her right leg, clutching her left thigh like it hurt. Shaun wished she would talk to him.
Thinking about it, he realized that Jane didn't really talk about herself at all. Whenever any of them tried to learn more about her, she'd find a way to flip it around so they ended up talking about themselves. He'd thought it was because of her amnesia and being in foster care, not wanting to talk about it was probably normal. But watching her now, he wondered what was wrong with her. It certainly wasn't a cold or the flu.
Reaching the stairs, Jane once again refused his help. He started down and realized she wasn't following. Looking up, he had enough time to see her hurtle past him, rolling down the stairs, seemingly hitting every step on the way down. She hit the ground with a thump.
Rushing down, he was afraid she was dead. Then she started screaming.
The door to surgery finally opened and Dr. Tenent came out. Shaun jumped to his feet, followed by his friends. “Is Jane going to be all right?” he asked.
“Yes she will. She was in bad shape, but she'll be fine after some bed rest,” the doctor said.
A heavy weight was lifted off his shoulders. Giving a silent thank you, he asked, “What happened to her?”
“She had a bad fall. But did any of you notice anything wrong with her over the last few days?”
Smile answered first. “She's been acting sick, sometimes getting pale, an upset stomach. She threw up just before she fell, and I think she threw up a few times in the last week.”
“And her right hand was shaking at supper,” Shaun added.
Dr. Tenent kept her doctor face on, as she listened to them recounting the odd things that had been going on with Jane. This didn't seem like the usual look to keep people calm. After spending two weeks in the hospital with her, Shaun felt that something was off. Her eyes were a bit too intense, her face too composed, while her muscles were tense.
Shaun liked to consider himself good at reading people. And he enjoyed knowing things he shouldn't. His mom encouraged the behaviour, saying that you could never pay enough attention or have enough knowledge. When he'd manifested and found his gadgeteering leaned towards disguises, it had felt totally natural. Everything in him was saying something was up and he wanted to know what it was.
Shifting his arm, a secret pocket in his sleeve opened up, and a very tiny microphone dropped into his hand. While the doctor told them not to worry about Jane, he used a trick he'd learned from his mom to attach the sticky gadget onto her sleeve without getting noticed. The microphone detected the colour of the cloth and shifted to mimic it perfectly.
After a few more minutes of questions, assurances and thank yous, Shaun and his friend headed off. The girls went to their cottages, while he and Cooper hung around the entrance of Doyle.
“I'm going to go to my lab. I need to do something,” Shaun said.
“Like what? Maybe I can help,” his friend said.
“Nah, it's nothing that needs three hands. I'm just going to worry if I go back to the dorm. I can at least distract myself with my gadgets in the workshop.”
Cooper gave him a half hug. “All right, man. Don't stay out too long. You're not exactly the picture of health either. If it's almost curfew and you're not back, I'll come and grab you.”
“Thanks. Don't worry though, I'll set my alarm.”
With a wave to his friend, Shaun went to the tunnel and made his way to the workshop. Taking the specially made receiver from it's safe, he put on a pair of headphones and activated his gadget. It had been recording anything Dr. Tenent said since the microphone had been turned on.
The doctor was in the middle of talking to someone. Skipping back a bit, he found the start of the conversation, which turned out to be a phone call.
“Dr. Tenent,” Chief Delarose said, “what happened to Just Me?”
“I don't know, Chief,” Dr. Tenent said. “Superficially it looks like she took a bad spill down the stairs. But the injuries don't line up.”
“What do you mean?”
“She's been bleeding internally off and on for at least a few days judging by the blood in her intestines and pooled around her body. If it was steady, she'd be dead already. It seems like it got particularly bad today. Her wrist is badly broken, but it looks like it was shattered recently and partly fused back together, combined with being half healed. Her thigh is just odd. The muscle is fine, but the veins were, for lack of a better word, mangled and seemingly jammed together. Several ribs had the same fused look as her wrist, and there was severe internal bruising throughout her system. I haven't seen anything quite like it. And Just Me's pain tolerance must be incredibly high.”
“Could her fused bones and odd healing be due to her powers?”
“Possibly, I've heard of some shifters at her level that can do it. But most need to be a level 7, or have some regeneration. During testing, she broke her legs and arm, she didn't make any attempt to heal herself then.”
Delarose was silent for several moments. When he spoke, his voice was firm and grim. “Alter the report to make it appear that she only had a bad fall, place that in her medical file for anyone to see. Send me a paper copy of the real report and lock your own copy down as tightly as you can. Make it so only Carson, myself, and you can access it.”
“All right. But as her doctor I need to know, is she in danger?”
“As long as this doesn't get out, she shouldn't be. If you find anyone sniffing around, let me know immediately.”
Shaun listened for several more minutes, but there was nothing important after Delarose hung up. Just the sound of typing. Pressing a button, a command went to the microphone killing it. When Dr. Tenent started walking for more than thirty seconds, the gadget would fall off and take the appearance of a broken button. Only cracking it open would reveal what it really was.
Sitting at his work table, he tried to come up with any scenario where shy, quiet Jane and the conversation he'd listened to made sense.
A short, blond hair boy came over to him. “Hey Shaun,” Alchemical said. “I heard you were out of Doyle, it's good to have you back.”
“It's nice to be back. I missed my tools,” Shaun joked trying to hide his thoughts.
His attempt didn't work with the keen eyed gadgeteer. “You doing OK?”
Sighing, he decided to be straightforward. “I'm worried about Jane. Has she been acting strange?”
Somehow the already pale boy got paler. “I haven't really seen her since you got beat up.”
“Al, this is serious. She could be in trouble. I need to know anything that she did.”
His friend looked away, clenching his hands. “A few days after you were beaten, she came wanting my self-defence sprays. She wouldn't take no for an answer.”
Shaun's eyes went wide. “She threatened to beat you up?”
“N-no. She was just... very insistent. I finally told her she could have them for two-thousand dollars.”
“What?! She doesn't have that type of money.”
“Well she was able to pay me. And she bought some things from Bunny. No one knows what it was, Bunny won't talk about it. But she stopped all of her other projects to do it, so it wasn't cheap. And she talked with Mobius.”
It felt like the rug had been ripped out from under him. Jane never complained about money, she didn't complain about anything really. But he knew she didn't have much, just what she earned from her campus job as a cleaner. She couldn't have saved up thousands of dollars from it, even if she never spent a cent. And he knew she bought snacks, supplies and cheap clothes.
“That's all you know?”
“Yeah. She hasn't been down here since then, and I haven't exactly gone looking for her. Why are you interested?”
“She was sick today and had a bad fall. Some things don't really add up.” He wasn't about to go into detail about what he'd overheard, but he had to tell his friend something.
Al nodded. “Yeah. A lot of things don't add up about her.”
“Just... be careful around Jane. Something isn't right with her.” Before Shaun could ask anything else, Al turned and walked away.
More confused then ever, Shaun tried to make the pieces of information fit together.
Shortly Before Curfew
Shaun wasn't exactly new to Dickinson, he sometimes walked Jane and Smile back to the cottage when they were having an interesting conversation, and he'd come to meet them occasionally. But it was still intimidating talking to Mrs. Nelson.
Looking up at her after dark, in the freezing cold, was even worse than usual. “I know it's late, but can I please talk to Smile? It's important.”
The housemother frowned at him. “It's very late, young man.”
“I know. But I need to ask her about Jane, I'm worried about her.”
“Come inside and wait, if Smile is available she can talk to you for five minutes.”
Closing the door, Shaun luxuriated in the warmth. Winter in Tulsa was nothing like New Hampshire. He'd definitely need to get a warmer coat. Or he could make one. He started considering how he could make a spring jacket warm enough for minus forty weather while still looking like a light jacket.
“Shaun, what are you doing here?” Smile asked. She was in her pyjamas with a warm looking housecoat over top.
“Has Jane ever acted strange?”
“Do you mean regular strange, or strange for Jane? Because she's always kind of spacey.”
“Strange for her, especially after we were attacked.”
Smile bit her lip and pushed her slipper into the floor. “After you got hurt she got... intense.”
“What does that mean?”
“Her eyes turned blue and she didn't look lost anymore. Whenever we talked about you or Mille, she got a look on her face. It was scary.”
“How was it scary?”
She looked away, her eyes seemed to focus on different things around the room. After several seconds she looked back at him. “Have you ever seen someone who really wants to kill a specific person? Not just angry hyperbole, or being really upset at an object or situation. But if they had a weapon and the person in front of them, they'd attack.”
Where was she going with this? “No.”
“I have, three times. My parents when I found their torture chamber, and Jane after she talked to you when we were first allowed to visit. I almost had a panic attack from it.”
“Jane looked like that?
“Yes. And when we talked about Mille, she said some things about why someone would go after his son. It didn't sound like she was talking about something she'd thought about, but something she'd experienced, and she really wasn't happy about it.”
“Is she still doing it?”
Smile shook her head. “After she got back from Canada and didn't find her family, she's been depressed. She actually asked me to hug her when she got back. She doesn't really like being touched, but she leaned on my shoulder for at least fifteen minutes. It was like she'd come back from a funeral.”
Mrs. Nelson came out of her apartment. “Time's up. It's a school night and you both need to get ready for bed. You can continue your talk tomorrow.”
“OK, Mrs. Nelson,” Smile said. Turning back to Shaun, she said, “I'm sure whatever is going on with Jane it's not bad. She's a good person, she just has some problems. And I should know, I've been there myself. So don't worry, everything will work out.”
Sighing, Shaun opened the door and stepped out. “Thanks. I hope you're right.”
Jogging back to Emerson, Shaun made it through the doors mere minutes before curfew. Mr Dunne who was sitting on one of the couches, looked up from the book he was reading. “You're cutting it close, Shaun.”
“Sorry, I had to talk to some people, and I was worried about my friend, I lost track of time,” he said.
“Well hurry up, it's almost lights out.”
“Can I have a few minutes, I need to call my mom and I'd like some privacy.”
The housefather nodded. “As long as it isn't too long, you can use a side room.”
“Thanks.” Rushing into the furthest room, he closed the door and pulled out his phone. His mom would probably be awake.
The phone rang twice and then his mom was there. “Hello Shaun. It's really late, what's going on?”
“Yeah, I know. But I need to talk to you, something weird is going on and I'm not sure what to do.”
“Tell me about it. Maybe I can help you figure it out.”
“You know everything I've told you about Jane, it seems like a lot of it's all wrong.”
“OK. How so?”
He really had her attention now. “Today she was really sick, and then she fell down a flight of stairs.”
The next several minutes were spent telling her what he'd heard from Dr. Tenent, Al and Smile. She asked a few questions, forcing him to dig deeper into what he'd heard and thought. By the end, he was just as confused as before.
“I don't know what I should do. She's my friend, but something is really wrong here,” he said.
“Just to be clear, she went to Canada on the 19th and got back on the 21st?” his mom asked.
“Yeah. Is that important?”
“Probably not, but I like to know everything.” She began humming to herself, a sign that she was thinking things through. “It seems like she's had a hard life. Being in foster care usually isn't easy, and with her amnesia, it's probably been extremely tough for her. Just try to act normally around her, and when she comes for Christmas... she is coming right?”
“She said she would.”
“Good, I really want to meet her. When she comes for Christmas, I'll work my charm and see what I can find out. So far she has been a good friend to you, you shouldn't throw it all away just because of some secrets.”
That sounded good to Shaun. Some of his concern faded away. “You're right. That's what a real friend would do. Thanks. I've gotta go get ready for bed. Love ya lots.”
“Love you too, Shaun.”
Katherine Solace put her phone down and went to her study. Locking the door, she opened a safe that was hidden in the floorboards. Inside were a number of USB sticks. Taking out one particular USB, she put it in her computer and after typing in several codes, finally opened the files it contained.
'BLOODY MASSACRE!' the news article in the first file read. Skipping over the paragraphs talking about Mr. Fusco, she got to the limited description of the attacker. The woman had been severely wounded, with an injury to the thigh, broken ribs, and internal bleeding. Police said it was a miracle the criminal was able to knock out the paramedics and escape.
She didn't need to look at the date, she knew it had happened on the 20th.
The next file was the security footage from the Fusco massacre. She watched the assassin cut through bodyguards, taking hits that should have crippled her and kept fighting, healing her body as she went. Then there was the cyborg and the desperate fight against it. She paused at the moment the assassin had her wrist shattered, and again when the claymore took a chunk out of her thigh. That was interesting.
The final file was Jane Fisher's CPS report, listing the date she was found, March 9th, 2005, her foster families, her manifesting, and medical information. She looked over the psychiatrist report of her suffering from severe emotional trauma with great interest. The girl was badly damaged, the question was who had damaged her?
The woman who had phoned her on the tenth, using Jane's phone and Mille's code, to tell her about the attack on Shaun, said that Mille had died on March 9th, 2005.
Every rumour and conjecture said that Mille had died in February.
Katherine didn't trust coincidences. She and Mille had faked them for cons far too often for her to just accept one as big as this.
Taking the pistol hidden under her desk, she made sure it was loaded. There were similar guns all around the house, she checked them every few days, cleaning them, changing the ammunition, taking one or two to the range each month to make sure they worked. She'd never had to use one yet for protection, still she liked being prepared.
Reading the file again, Katherine wondered what was going to happen over Christmas. There was a reason Jane Fisher was close to her son. She was going to find out exactly what that reason was.