A Whateley Academy Vignette Collection
Little Stories of 2007
Anderson Ranch, Montana
Shortly before noon
July 3rd, 2007
The small herd of cattle moved placidly across the prairie grass, occasionally lowing to each other. Hazel Anderson rode alongside them, making sure they stayed together and kept going in the right direction. It was pretty easy work, there wasn't a cloud in the sky and there was enough of a breeze to keep her cool. She and her dad's ranch hand, Anthony, had everything well in hand.
She could have done the work herself, but at fourteen, they still weren't sure if she could handle the forty cows all by her lonesome. It seemed like a waste of money to her. It was the smallest herd on the ranch, and she was just moving them a few miles to a fresh pasture on the north of the ranch. They needed fresh grass, and they wanted the cattle a little further away from the big 4th of July fireworks display they were planning.
Way off in the distance she saw the ranch house. A bunch of people were there cleaning and setting things up for the party, with her dad directing things. Everyone from the nearby ranches and quite a few people from town would show up, bringing food, drinks and music. She couldn't wait to show off her new dress. And she was pretty sure she could convince some of the younger teens to play poker with her. Not many of the adults were willing to after she'd cleaned them out a few times, and she was running out of players.
Taking out her walkie-talkie she called her Dad. “Hey lazy, how's the easy work going?”
"If you think you can keep these guys from blowing themselves up, you're more than welcome to take over,” came his dry reply.
Patting her white gelding on the neck, she replied, “And not be able to ride Artax all day! Never!”
"Then stop with the lazy bit, or I'll give you something tough to do.”
Laughing, she picked up the pace a little, getting ahead of the cattle to open a gate.
There was a small bang from the ranch house, followed by a whistling sound.
Her walkie-talkie blared to life, “Wa-” her dad shouted.
A loud boom cut him off. A firework exploded just overhead, sending red streamers outwards, they exploded a second later. Hot sparks fell around her and the cattle, and the air was thick with acrid smoke.
The cattle panicked at the explosion, charging straight ahead. They didn't care that Hazel was right in front of them, if they even noticed.
Artax reared up at the noise and the sight of the stampede. Completely unprepared, Hazel was thrown out of the saddle hitting the ground hard. The air was knocked out of her, leaving her too stunned to move.
With the cows practically on top of her, there was nothing she or Anthony could do. Instinctively she curled up into a ball, covering her head with her hands. Not that it would do much good if a thousand pound cow stepped on her. The ground shook. The stomping of hooves on dirt overwhelmed her, drowning out her screams. Grass, dirt and stones pelted her. She was battered as hooves grazed her, caught on her clothes and ripped free.
It was the scariest thing she'd ever experienced in her short life.
And then it was over.
The stampede moved on. Over the rapid beating of her heart, she heard the ranch hand calling for help, saying something about an ambulance.
Shaking, Hazel uncovered her head.
She had to be dead. She couldn't have survived that.
Stretching her arms, nothing seemed broken. Under the dirt and shit that covered her and her ragged shirt, it looked like she would have some bruises, but she could move everything.
Looking down she was absolutely filthy, and the clothes would have to be thrown away. She wiggled her toes in her boots and felt them moving. Running her fingers along her body, nothing seemed crushed or broken.
Hazel realized that Anthony was kneeling down, staring at her in utter disbelief. She started laughing. The impossible had happened, she was alive and except for some bruises she was all right. The laughing had a hysterical edge to it, but it was real.
"You should stay still,” Anthony told her.
"I'm fine. I'm alive. Jesus Christ! I'm OK,” she said, getting to her feet.
A 4x4 was roaring across the grass, far faster than was safe. Still laughing, Hazel watched in bemusement as her Dad almost flipped it coming to a stop. He was out of the truck and at her side a second later.
"Yo-you-you're OK?!” he asked dumbfounded.
"Ha! Ya! I-I'm OK. Just some bruises,” she managed to squeak out.
She grunted in pain as he hugged her to his chest, tears running down his face. “Oh god! I was so scared.”
Helping her into the truck, still talking, Hazel couldn't really focus. The near death experience was catching up to her. She shouldn't have survived, at the very least she should have broken bones. She should have joined her mother in heaven.
But there she was, still alive.
When they reached the ranch house, everyone was waiting. The second she got out of the truck, still shaking, Sarah, her older sister was there hugging her. The twenty-four year old college graduate, who was the closest thing Hazel had to a mother, kissed her cheek, not caring about the grime that covered her.
Brad, one of her two older brother, threw his arms around them both. “I'm sorry. The fireworks just went off. It shouldn't have, it wasn't even hooked up. I'm so so sorry.”
"I'm OK. I'm OK,” Hazel said, not really capable of forming proper sentences.
Her dad came up. “All right, she's bruised but seems OK. Let's get you into the house and washed up, then we'll take you to the doctors to make sure nothings broken.”
Reluctantly her siblings let her go. Hazel finally realized just how filthy she was, and couldn't wait to shower. The hot water would not only get her clean, but help with the growing pain from her bruises.
Just as she reached the steps, her foot came down on a ball bearing. As she took another step, the bearing shot out from under her, sending her head over heels. She landed on the hard ground, knocking the wind out of her a second time. Then her foot came down and her ankle hit the wooden porch. There was a crack and pain lanced through her leg.
Cursing and screaming, she cradled her broken ankle as everyone once again came running.
Sitting in the hospital bed, her broken ankle wrapped in icy compresses and loaded up with pain killers, Hazel wished she'd had time to shower. At least her sister had helped her get out of her ruined work clothes and into a dress. They'd had to cut her pants off around her swollen ankle, putting another pair on would have been impossible. Then on the way to the hospital, Sarah had washed her up as best she could with a towel and bottle of water in the back of the truck.
They were waiting for an X-ray technician to come in from Big Timber, since they were too small to have one on staff. The doctor wanted to do a full body x-ray to make sure she didn't have anything broken or out of place, and then they could give her a cast. At least he'd looked her over and said she looked healthy, aside from the ankle and a few minor bruises.
So it was just a matter of sitting and waiting.
Shuffling a well used deck of cards, Hazel dealt two cards to her dad, sister, brother, and then herself. They'd already put twenty-five cents each into the pot and were keeping it friendly. So Hazel didn't get creative with the cards.
Looking at her two aces, she kept a perfect poker face. She'd been playing poker since she was seven, when some ranch hands had decided it would be funny to teach her the game. She'd caught on quickly, and her teachers had kept going, teaching her how to play a wide variety of card games and most importantly, how to cheat without mercy.
Her Dad raised twenty cents. Her sister folded, and her brother and Hazel matched.
She dealt three more cards face up into the flop. She had to resist a smile, two aces and a king. Her Dad raised ten cents. Her brother folded.
"Match your ten and raise you twenty,” Hazel said.
Her dad smirked. He always made sure he looked confident, even if he was holding something useless. Throwing twenty more cents into the pot, he said, “Call.”
"Four of a kind,” she said, grinning with delight.
Her Dad tossed his cards down. He had a full house, not quite enough to win. “Ya got me.”
Janet Smith laid on the tiny hospital bed, nervously clutching her husband's hand. Her belly was exposed, she was just starting to swell after seventeen weeks. This was her sixth pregnancy in five years, and the only one that had made it this far along.
The nurse applied a cold gel to her stomach, making her shiver. Then the doctor did a last check on the sonogram machine before pressing the transducer gently onto her belly. A greyish picture appeared on the sonogram screen, as the doctor moved the wand around.
"There's the baby,” the doctor said.
She squeezed her husband's hand harder. She was terrified there would be bad news, just like every other time.
The doctor pointed at a little fluttering image on screen. “The heart has a nice, strong beat.”
Her heart soared with joy.
For the next fifteen minutes the doctor studied her baby, pointing out how things were progressing nicely, and letting them know she was going to have a daughter.
Sobbing, Janet couldn't believe her luck.
Hazel looked at her cards, refusing to show her disgust.
"Fold,” she said, tossing down the two and the seven, also known as the devil's hand.
Seventy-two year old Samantha Cartier, leaned on her cane as she walked to the waiting room. She might not be walking quickly or strongly, but for the first time in ten years she was pain free without medication.
The doctors still wanted to check her new hip to make sure there weren't any problems. She figured that by the end of summer she'd be dancing again.
Leaning on her cane, she heard a snap.
The cane split in half and she was in no shape to catch herself. Down she went, hitting the floor. There was another snap and she started moaning in pain.
She didn't know it yet, but her nice new hip had fractured from the fall.
"Read 'em and weep!” Hazel said. “Royal flush!”
Sitting in the small cafeteria, Ed read the letter again, hoping that it would change.
The nice little home he and his wife had bought was going to be taken from them. And all because of some bad luck. He couldn't make the mortgage payments on his hospital janitor job, no matter how much overtime he took. When Karen totalled her car and broke her leg, there was no way she could keep cleaning houses until it healed. And they'd already been struggling to pay everything.
His thoughts went to the life insurance policy he had through the hospital. If something happened to him, it would be enough to pay off the house and there might be a bit left over to keep Karen and their son eating and paying the bills until her leg healed.
Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the scratch ticket he'd bought that morning. He shouldn't have gotten it, the money was needed for other things.
Looking up, he whispered to whoever might be listening. “I'm not a great man, but I've tried to be a good man. Please, just give me one thing. Don't make my family homeless.”
Scratching away at the shiny ticket, his eyes went wide.
"THANK YOU, GOD!” he shouted, tears streaming down his face.
The ticket wouldn't pay off the house, but it would cover a good portion of it and he could pay off most of his other bills.
Hazel's momentary elation at the thought of winning the pot came crashing down. Her pair of kings was clobbered by her sister's flush.
Georgia did a quick check making sure no one was ignoring the very noisy ambulance and spun the wheel, crossing the road and going straight for the ER. Somehow she misjudged and hit the curb, making the vehicle bounce.
"Hey careful!” her partner shouted.
Biting her lip, she didn't respond. That had been her screw up, she couldn't really say anything except sorry. And their patient was having a heart attack, so she didn't want to cause anymore distractions.
Hitting the brakes, she could already see small hospital staff waiting for them.
The brake pedal went all the way down without any resistance.
"WHAT THE FUCK!” she shouted.
Still going quite fast, she turned the wheel trying to avoid hitting anything, and more importantly anyone. The ambulance started to turn and then the wheels locked up. They hit another curb, bouncing violently, and slammed into a memorial tree.
Taking the keys out, she ran to the back. They could wait to find out what had happened to the ambulance, right now they had to get the patient out and into the hospital.
"Fold,” Hazel said.
In the kitchen the microwave exploded while a nurse heated up some soup.
Hazel's dad peered out into the hallway. “Things are noisier than usual,” he said.
"I'm still good with pain killers, I don't mind,” she said, dealing out the cards.
She couldn't hold back a smile when she saw her hand.
Mr. Teasdale had had an eventful day. First, it had felt like he was having a heart attack, then he'd been in an ambulance crash, and now the doctor was looking at him in surprise.
"I'm not seeing any signs of a heart attack,” the doctor said.
"Felt like the last one I had,” Mr. Teasdale said. “At least it did. Starting to feel better now.”
"I'm going to run some tests, but it seems like it might have been very bad heartburn.”
Dr. Lee looked over the multitude of reports and gossip coming in from all around the hospital. She didn't really have time to be looking over them, but someone had to do it. Unexplained ambulance crash, falls, breaking equipment, miraculous recoveries, winning lottery tickets... it didn't make sense.
"OH MY GOD!” a young woman shouted from the hallway. “I can't be pregnant! I'm a virgin! What am I going to tell my parents?!”
As the senior doctor she had to make a decision. Picking up the phone she told the receptionist at the check in station to cancel any non-essential appointments, order anyone who could leave to do so, and to direct any emergencies to other nearby hospitals.
Then she looked up a number she never thought she'd have to call. “Hello, MCO,” she said.
Rough Rider put his phone in his pocket and sighed. He'd been on a roll for his newest book about myths and mythology of the Old West, and it looked like he'd have to put it aside for at least a day or two. His buddy, who had tapped into the state MCO had a report that the MCO was being called to a hospital.
The caller, a Dr. Lee, didn't know what was going on, but things were getting progressively more chaotic. That could mean a lot of things, weird coincidence, a spirit that affected entropy, a magical curse, or a luck mangler, especially a newly manifested one.
Saving his work, he put on some proper clothes and headed outside. A short walk had him at a nearby park where there were plenty of places to disappear for a moment.
Manifesting the shell of a tough looking cowboy, he made his loyal steed, a shiny black stallion. Kicking it's side, his manifested horse took to the sky leaving flaming hoof prints that quickly disappeared in the air.
"Samuel, I realize you've been waiting a long time, but there is an emergency. We can't X-ray your daughter's ankle until it's sorted out. If you want to drive to Big Timber to get it looked at, you're more than welcome to,” Dr. Lee said.
"I wish you'd told us that two hours ago. Can we get a wheelchair?” her Dad asked.
"Of course, we actually have one waiting for you,” the woman said, turning to grab a waiting chair.
Rather than risk bumping her ankle or stepping on her foot, Hazel let her Dad lift her out of bed and gently place her in the seat. Sometimes being the baby of the family had its perks. Her brother wheeled her out to the truck, while her Dad dealt with signing her out. With the help of her brother and sister, she got herself comfortably seated and soon after it was time to go.
She heard her Dad put the keys in the ignition and turn them. Nothing happened.
"What's wrong with you?” he asked.
Her Dad and brother hopped out, lifting the hood to look at the engine.
"How are you doing?” Sarah asked.
"My foot is starting to hurt again,” Hazel said.
Her sister handed her two pills, and opened a bottle of juice. “Take these. You'll be good for another few hours.”
Taking the medicine, she felt herself get a little light headed.
"Couldn't you have taken my x-ray?" Hazel asked. "I've seen you do it with a horse."
"Not legally. I can only do it with animals. And no, I'm not going to x-ray your ankle at work, there are way too many laws I'd be breaking," Sarah said.
Sighing, she leaned back in her seat, getting bored despite the drugs. Looking out the window she saw, a hawk dive out of the sky, hit the ground and fly back up carrying a squirrel in it's talons. A kid riding a bike fell, scraping his knee. A woman walking down the sidewalk stopped to talk on her phone, she started grinning at whatever was being said. The squeal of brakes filled the air and a car was rear ended.
"What is going on?” Sarah asked.
Their Dad popped his head in the window. “The battery is completely dead. I'm going to see if I can get a jump start, something weird is happening and I don't want to wait around any longer than we have to.”
Hazel watched him go into the hospital. As the door closed, the hospital sign went crashing to the ground.
"Jesus!” Mr. Anderson cried, throwing himself to the floor as the heavy sign slammed down behind him.
Dr. Lee came running over. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah. But it's like the world is going crazy.”
"What happened out there?”
"There was a car crash, my battery died, and that sign almost killed me.”
A light bulb lit up. “What happened to your daughter before she came here?”
"She was thrown from her horse and got caught in a stampede, got some bruises. Then tripped and broke her ankle. Why?”
"She was in the middle of a stampede, on the ground, right from the start?” she asked in surprise.
"Yeah. It's a miracle she's OK.”
"Get your daughter back in here. I need to make a phone call.” She ran to the nearest office, she had to call the MCO again and figure out how to stop this insanity.
Hazel eyed the mask warily. She really wanted to know what was going on and quickly.
"Samuel, since your daughter has arrived, we've been having cases of extreme luck and bad luck. Far more than can be explained naturally,” Dr. Lee explained. “I contacted the MCO before you left, hoping they could come and help pinpoint the cause. I believe it's your daughter. It started soon after she arrived, and when she left the building, the coincidences went outside. You told me yourself she somehow survived a stampede, I believe she's a luck mangler.”
"If she is doing this, what will putting her to sleep do?” her Dad demanded.
"According to the MCO, if she's asleep, the mangling should stop. We'll fix her ankle, then you can take her out of the hospital and you can bring her home or talk to the MCO.”
Reaching out, Hazel grabbed her sister's arm, hugging it tightly. Her nervousness was quickly turning to fear. A light popped and went out above her, making everyone jump.
"You'll only put her under for a little while?”
"Yes. You can watch the entire time. I don't care if she's a mutant, all I care about is the safety of this hospital and everyone inside of it, including Hazel,” Dr. Lee said.
Her Dad nodded, putting his hands on his hip, very close to the pistol he always carried. That didn't make Hazel feel better. He went to her side, stroking her messy hair. “OK, sweetie, lie down. I'll be right here while you're asleep, and I'll be here when you wake up.”
Lying down, she didn't let go of her sister's hand, and reached out to grab her Dads. The other town doctor, Dr. Notwell come over with the gas mask and equipment.
"Just relax, I've done this plenty of times,” Dr. Notwell said, putting the mask over her mouth and nose. “Breathe deep and count back from one-hundred.”
Closing her eyes, she started counting, she reached ninety-seven.
Rough Rider brought his horse down in front of the little rural hospital. It looked a little like a disaster area. The sign had fallen and been dragged away from the main entrance. An ambulance had crashed into a tree. A tow truck was towing away a car from the street beside it. Windows had somehow been blown out from a few rooms. Firefighters were putting out a car fire in the parking lot. And a small herd of bison were munching on the flowers planted around the little hospital garden.
Going inside he saw a worker at the front desk, who was sitting very still and looking extremely nervous. “Good day, ma'am,” he said, tipping his hat and giving her a pleasant smile. “I heard you have a probability mangler here. I'm the hero Rough Rider, and I'm hoping to meet her.”
"Uh...” the woman looked very confused for a moment. “Let me go check. Just wait here please.”
Happy for the chance to take a break, he gratefully took a seat. Flying like he had been wasn't exactly easy to do. If it wasn't for his manifested shell, he'd be sweating and looking like he'd just run the Boston Marathon.
The door opened and two people in decent suits came in, the MCO had arrived. “Rough Rider, what are you doing here?” the woman said.
He fought the urge to sigh or curse. He'd wanted to beat them by a little bit more than a few minutes, at least they hadn't gotten there first. Getting to his feet, he put on his best smile. “Agent Naylor, what a surprise. I didn't expect to see you here.”
"Cut the crap, Rough Rider. Shouldn't you be in Billings?”
She was right, it was time to cut the crap. “I've got the special order that lets me work all over Montana for supernatural and mutant cases. When I heard about the problem here, I decided to check it out. What are your plans for the girl?”
"We're just here to investigate and see what's going on. Then we'll talk with the father to find a good solution to the problem.”
"Glad to hear it. I'll go with you.”
Agent Naylor's smile should have frozen him on the spot, that was how cold it was. Unfortunately for her, she was just a baseline. So he smiled back in a far more friendly fashion.
An older doctor came to the lobby. “I'm Dr. Lee. You're Rough Rider and...?”
The woman's smile became much nicer. “Hello, Dr. Lee. We're Agent Naylor, and Agent Eagle, of the MCO. We're here to see the girl Hazel Anderson.”
"It's good to see you. We've got the situation under control, your agent was right, sedating the girl stopped the luck mangling. If you'll all come with me, I'll take you to her father.”
Rough Rider, motioned for the two agents to go ahead. He preferred having the MCO in front of him, especially after some the Billing's agents had tried to kill a mutant girl the month before. His friend Running Wolf had only just managed to stop that one. He was also willing to let them take the lead with the Anderson's, so long as he was there to keep everything on the level.
They came to a room where a family was sitting around a bed where a young teen girl was sleeping. She was dirty, especially her light brown hair, and her ankle was in a boot-like brace. He wondered what had happened to her before they got to the hospital. Probability manglers could have some very interesting and terrifying things happen to them.
Introductions were made by Dr. Lee, who then took her leave.
"So,” Mr. Anderson said, “it seems pretty clear Hazel's a mutant. What do I do to keep today from happening again?”
"The first thing to do is test her in Billings,” Agent Naylor said.
"Which should wait until after her ankle is healed. She can't do the physical tests on crutches,” Rough Rider added.
She gave him another ice cold smile. “Of course. I'll make a note in our system to have an appointment made as soon as it's practical, and give you a waiver in case there are any problems.”
Mr. Anderson didn't look any happier. “And how do we stop another problem like today?”
"Until we can get her tested, it's hard to say. Each mutant is different, and after hearing about what happened here, your daughter seems to be quite powerful.”
Rough Rider stepped forward. “I might be able to help a little with that. I had a friend that was a probability mangler, I know some of the exercises he used to keep things under control. And in September she can go to Whateley. I'll even sponsor her myself.”
"Whateley?” Mr. Anderson asked.
"It's a high school for mutants,” Agent Naylor said. “Agent Eagle, why don't you get the brochure from the car. It seems we'll need it a little sooner than we thought.”
Taking a seat, Rough Rider let the agent talk.
Anderson Ranch, Montana
July 4th, 2007
Hazel leaned back in her chair waiting for the fireworks to start. She hadn't been able to start any poker games, that seemed to set off her power really badly. They'd been lucky Rough Rider had been around when a herd of buffalo had almost stampeded through the area. She couldn't deny it was her power doing it, there was no way ten buffalo should have gotten that close to the ranch house without being noticed.
So now she was shuffling cards and dealing herself nice poker hands, courtesy of some skillful work. Keeping the hands nice, not too good, not too bad, seemed to keep her luck mangling to something reasonable. Like her grandfather getting knocked down by some running kids, and having his back crack. After five minutes of complaining, he'd stretched and said his back felt better than it had in years.
She could handle that type of luck. And once she got things really under control who knew what she could accomplish. Her future might be a lot more interesting than she'd planned.
"Hey Rough Rider, can I ask you a question?” she said.
The hero, who had been leaning against the wall nursing a beer knelt down to be at her level. “Sure, ask away little lady.”
"What's it like being a hero?”
August 20th, 2007
Sitting in on the faculty meeting, Rachel Peters tried to hide her discomfort. She wasn't concerned about being at the table. Despite her habit of staying in her own little Whateley domain and seldom leaving it, even for faculty meetings, she was friendly with most of the staff.
No, the problem was that she didn't exactly fit in the room or at the table.
They'd had to specially clear a place for her to sit where her horse body wouldn't be in the way of others or uncomfortably cramped. Both of which were a common problem for a centaur.
Even at Whateley, most of the staff and students were bipedal, and doors, hallways, rooms, stairs and elevators were made for them. Which was why Rachel, more commonly called Stable Master, spent most of her time outside or in the stables. She cared for the horses and horse-like animals, some of which belonged to the school, and the ones that the students and teachers owned. She also taught riding, veterinary care, as well as fighting and shooting from horseback, while occasionally helping hoofed students with proper foot care. They were very niche classes, but Whateley thought they were useful, and since they signed her paycheck, she wasn't going to argue. It also gave her the fancy title of being head of the Equestrian and Vetrinary Department. As the sole faculty member of the department, it mostly meant that she had to attend the occasional faculty meeting and could ignore anything not in her field.
Mrs. Shugendo finished her presentation on incoming freshmen that needed special care, mostly the ragers and Diedricks sufferers, but also a few that were considered emotionally fragile for various reasons. Most of them didn't interest her, as long as they left her horses alone, she'd leave them alone. The one time Bloodwolf had gone after her horses, she'd used one of her special holdouts to send him to Doyle. That had been a good lesson for the more violent students that the stables were off limits.
However there was one student who had caught her eye.
“Excuse me,” she said, to the surprise of most people who knew her. “I'm looking for two student workers who actually know how to handle horses this year. I think the girl Smile, would fill one of the roles quite nicely.”
“Are you sure? She is still nervous around most adults. I was thinking she could do a janitorial job around the cottages, and her psychologist," Mrs. Shugendo checked her notes, "Roger Cannell, would be her advisor.”
“She's getting animal therapy and has worked with a rescue horse for several months. It seems like a good fit to me.”
A quick glance around the table showed that there weren't any objections. “Very well,” the Dean of Students said, making a note on her tablet. “I'll put her in your care. But if either of you have any problems, we can make new arrangements.”
Nodding her head in thanks, Rachel leaned her human torso back, letting the meeting continue without her.
When the meeting finally ended, Rachel waited for everyone else to leave before getting to her feet. At seven feet in height, and about five feet from tail to chest, she towered over most people. Trying to squeeze past a crowd to get out a door too small for her was not something she was willing to do without a good reason.
While she waited, Mrs. Shugendo came up to her. “Rachel, if you have a moment we can go over the students you'll be advising.”
Smiling she said, “Of course, Michi.” Reaching into her large bag, which for convenience was shaped like a saddle bag, she took out a small file. “I looked over the incoming students and picked the ones I thought would work the best.”
While her friend looked over the names, Rachel considered her choices. Most students didn't really fit her area of expertise, and many of the ones who might weren't a good match because of her rather severe GSD. Her own shy personality when not dealing with horses was another drawback when deciding who she should advise. Compared to most teachers she had far fewer students under her care, and most of those had GSD.
“I think this will work,” Michi said, handing the folder back. “I'm curious why you have Gambler in there. You usually try to avoid probability manglers.”
“She grew up on a horse and cattle ranch. Looking over her file, she's used to getting her hands dirty. If she can keep her powers under control, she'll be a real help in the stables. And she's probably going to be signing up for riding lessons just to keep riding, if she doesn't bring her own horse. Might as well make use of her.”
“I can't fault that reasoning. Since you want Smile and Gambler working in the stables, I'm guessing you're firing last years help.”
She resisted the urge to spit, but didn't stop her horse-like ears from flicking in anger, along with her red tail. “They let Tansy's horse, Tango get hurt after I left them in charge. I couldn't fire them then, but there's no way in hell they're working with my animals outside of class.”
Michi nodded in understanding. “I'll put your choices into the system. I may add a few more, depending on how everything works out, but I don't think it will be more than one or two. Are you free this week to chat? We really need to catch up over some coffee.”
“How about tonight? I'm making my famous Swedish meatballs and garlic mashed potatoes.”
“I'll be there.”
Rachel ran alongside Arion, one of the seven horses that Whateley actually owned, and the only stalion.
While the other six horses were regularly used in the riding classes, Arion was different. She only allowed experienced riders on him. Not only was he huge and a little hard to control due to being a stallion, he was also smarter than the average equine. A former student had genetically engineered him in her last year at Whateley, giving him increased endurance, intelligence and health, and gave him to the school as a gift.
Since the girl wasn't Jobe, Arion was an actual horse, not a genetic monstrosity. After extensive testing to prove he was just a superior specimen, she'd started selling his sperm to interested breeding societies, making the school a pretty penny. As a side benefit, she got a small, but fairly steady commission for her work. She planned on using him as a stud on two of the school mares in the summer.
Her spirit let her know how the horse was feeling. The joy of running on a beautiful day filled his mind. It was so simple and pure, she had to smile, partly from shared joy, and partly from relief. It had taken her quite a bit of work to make him stop thinking of her as a strange looking mare, which had been very awkward at first. Despite having the rear end of a horse, she had no desire to be treated like one by an overly friendly stallion. Without really thinking about it, she made sure her skirt-like caparison was covering her back and rear.
Arion sped up, trying to outrun her. Despite her shorter legs, she was much closer in size to a large pony than an actual horse, Rachel easily kept up with him. Her spirit made sure she didn't tire easily, and was faster than she had any right to be.
After galloping around Whateley, something they could only really do in the summer months when most of the student body was gone, she led him back to his corral. He'd had his exercise, now he could relax and enjoy himself, after a good rub down and drink of water.
Next she went to the fenced in pasture where the geldings and mares were doing their thing. Goliath, an enormous draft horse came over to nuzzle her face. The giant gelding was used by the heavier students who wanted to ride. He was getting on in years, so Rachel was on the lookout for a replacement, but the old grey horse wasn't about to retire anytime soon. She could tell he was itching to have regular riders again who would give him apples and sugar.
Reaching into her bag she gave him a crisp green apple.
Chester, one of the non-Whateley horses trotted over, whinnying happily. The gelding had arrived the day before and belonged to a freshman by the name of Ife Miller. He was a beautiful animal and seemed to be very well behaved. Rachel hoped it meant the owner was good with animals, and not simply some rich girl who had hired help do everything while she occasionally rode to show off.
“Don't worry I have some for everyone,” she told the chestnut horse. He took his apple a little more messily and far more excitedly than Goliath had.
Seeing that she was giving out apples, the rest of the horses started to crowd her. With a thought she made them calm down. She couldn't exactly control them, making them run into a burning barn, or attack a wolf was out of the question. However making them calm down and follow instructions they understood was well within her capabilities. It made shoeing them, caring for them, and keeping them from accidentally overwhelming her a breeze.
After handing out all her apples, carrots, and sugar cubes, she spent time with each of them, making sure they were happy and healthy. She paid particular attention to Freckles, a new black and white speckled pony she'd picked up at the start of summer. Some of the smaller students couldn't easily ride a full-size horse, so she made sure to always have two ponies on hand for them.
Freckles seemed to be doing well. Rachel had offered some of the students who had to stay over the summer riding lessons to help break her in, as well as keeping the other horses in the habit of dealing with inexperienced riders.
Finally satisfied that all of her herd was doing well, she went home.
Home in this case was an apartment attached to the stables and her work space. Opening the large front door, she put her hooves, one at a time, into a cleaning gadget that scrubbed, disinfected and dried them in a few seconds.
Her home had a mostly open layout. The carpet was soft and fluffy, making it comfortable for her to lay on. She also had a pile of big comfy pillows for when she wanted to be really comfortable. Furniture for people who could sit on a chair, lined the wall, ready to be used. A large table where she did most of her work and eating was close to the kitchen which took up one side of the room, and had extra tough, easy to clean, non-slip tiles. Her bedroom was hidden behind a colourful quilt, letting her skip an annoying door, while ensuring she had privacy. In fact the only room with a door was the bathroom, which was specially designed for her unique physiology. A more typical bathroom for students and guests, could be found in the stable.
There was one more room which was supposed to be an office. She mostly stored tools and odds and ends in it. But it was slowly being cleaned out. She'd need to give it a good scrubbing, followed by painting the boring white walls, to get it ready for a new arrival.
She grinned as she thought of all the work she'd need to do over the winter.
Rachel was just finishing up the salad when the doorbell rang. “Come in!” she shouted.
“That smells delicious,” Michi said, taking her shoes off at the door.
“Thank you,” Rachel said, beaming with pride. “Grab a seat, and pour yourself a glass of wine. Supper will be ready in just a minute.”
Mrs. Shugendo went to the table and saw a single wine glass, along with an expensive bottle of pinot noir. “Aren't you having a glass?” she asked.
Smiling, Rachel said, “I can't. Not for nine to twelve months at least.”
“Really?" Realization of what she'd said quickly came to her friend. "You're pregnant?!”
“Yes! I was keeping the treatment quiet, but it was confirmed this month that I'm going to have a baby. Dr. Abernathy isn't sure how long it will take, but he's guessing it will be on the longer side thanks to my GSD.”
Michi gave her a hug. “I'm so happy for you! Can I ask who the father is?”
“A friend of mine, Trevor, donated the sperm. We agreed he'd be an enthusiastic uncle if it all worked out.”
Getting artificially inseminated had not been Rachel's first choice. It made her feel a bit too much like one of the mares in the stable. But relationships weren't exactly easy for her. Most men didn't like the idea of making love to someone who resembled a horse. And of those who were willing to overlook it, most couldn't do much for her. Finding another centaur-like person drastically reduced the dating pool to something she could count on two hands with fingers to spare. Looking for giant sized mutants didn't greatly increase the dating pool either.
She'd always wanted children. Now that she was thirty-two and rapidly approaching thirty-three, it seemed like this was her best option.
“Were you serious, twelve months of being pregnant?” Michi asked.
“We really don't know. Dr. Abernathy is confident that my spirit and body can keep my baby alive and growing properly. But with my size and some of my hormones, I could go long, which means I could be giving birth to a toddler. He's seen it happen in a few other GSD patients,” she explained. Instinctively she touched her human belly, even though that wasn't where most of her organs were, aside from an oversized pair of lungs.
“When are you going to tell everyone the good news?”
“I'm going to tell Liz next month, after everything calms down. I won't need any extra help or time off for a couple of months, but it's best to get everything prepared early. In November or December I'll let everyone else know.”
“What about the student workers? Will two be enough? I'm sure Liz can let you have one more.”
“I'll keep that as an option. But having two experienced students should be enough. I'm hoping that since I look like a horse, I'll be able to keep working normally until the last minute.”
Michi touched her hand. “Don't push yourself too hard. I know you love the horses, but you and your baby come first. If you need the help, ask.”
“I will," Rachel promised. "Now sit down. I already eat like a horse and now I'm eating for two, so I'm hungry.”
Bailey Town, North Bimini, Bahamas
May 30th, 2007
Sitting in her living room, munching on some baked Johnny Cake with butter on top, watching Sailor Moon on the VCR, Galy Rolle had to admit life was pretty good. Her cousin in Miami had just sent her a new season of her favourite anime, meticulously recorded each week. Sometimes she watched it with her friends, but they didn't like it nearly as much as she did. So she always watched it alone the first time. She wished she could order the DVD's, too bad her parents said it cost too much to have them shipped from the US or Japan, and they didn't sell them in the Bahamas.
When the episode ended, she turned off the TV and put her VHS tape back in it's case. Leaning back on the couch, she thought about the episode. Remembering the Sailor Scouts fighting, and imagining herself kissing Darien, Galy wondered what it would be like if she was a superhero. It wasn't just an idle dream for her, she had the powers for it.
Looking around to make sure no one could see in, she called up her shield.
She didn't know exactly what to call her power. She wished she had the internet like her cousin did, so she could look things up. But her parents had just gotten a computer last year, and only the hotels in Alice Town had internet on North Bimini Island. The school library wasn't very helpful either, mutants just weren't big news in the country.
Her skin tingled pleasantly at the feeling of the shield. She willed herself to rise. It was so easy. She just had to think of the way she wanted to move and she did. Practising at night, she'd been able to go from one end of the 11km island to the other in about fifteen minutes. And she was really strong. She'd could crush coral into powder without even trying.
Even without the shield she'd found herself getting stronger. She had to be careful in class not to run too fast, and it had taken practice to stop bending and breaking things when she picked them up. She'd also gotten better looking, losing the pimples and a few scars from when she was younger. School was easier as well, things made sense so much more quickly. She was sure that this meant she was an exemplar. She wondered what level she was.
But to find out what her powers were exactly she'd have to go to the capital, Nassau. To do that she'd have to tell her parents she was a mutant, and she wasn't sure how they'd take it. Mutants were really uncommon in the Bahamas. She knew there were a few in the country, but there weren't the thousands of superheroes like in the US. In fact there wasn't a single superhero in her country and never had been. The mutant scientists and wizards that worked for companies and the government didn't try to become famous. They worked quietly, only getting mentioned in the news sometimes for some work they'd done, not for fighting villains.
And if there were other types of mutants living in the country, she didn't know about them.
"Maybe I could be the first Bahamian superhero,” she told herself.
The idea had been growing in her mind since she'd discovered her powers two months ago. She'd be famous. She could go on TV, have fans, lead parades, be a celebrity at all the biggest carnivals. She wouldn't have to work at one of the resorts like her parents.
She loved her parents, and they worked hard to have a good life, but being a hotel manager or a tour boat captain was not for her. Her destiny was set for bigger things.
Galy just needed to figure out how to do it.
Sighing, she went to do her homework.
Walking along the eastern beach after supper, Galy thought about going to see her friends. They were at the usual spot on the beach. In the small community of Bailey Town there wasn't much other than the beach and the ocean. Looking past the houses, she could see the whole 200 meters it took to reach the other side of town and the western beach.
Calling up her shield, she thought about how small and limited her tiny town was. She could fly all the way to Nassau and make a real entrance that would put Sailor Moon to shame.
She kicked a piece of coral, sending it so far out to sea she couldn't see its splash. She'd had these same thoughts everyday for a month.
If she did that, what would happen next?
She was fourteen years old, no one would respect her. Flying out of the sky and stopping criminals worked great in stories, in real life it would probably make the police angry. And it wasn't like there was a whole lot of crime to stop. There were less then 400,000 people in the whole country. Compared to almost everywhere, that was the population of a minor city.
Maybe if she waited until she was eighteen she could join the police or the military and start using her powers there.
Feeling depressed, she headed for her friends usual spot. It might not be exciting, but they were probably doing something interesting.
There were screams from the other side of town. Running as fast as she could, Galy reached the western beach and slid to a stop in the sand. Lit up by the setting sun was a large tourist boat. Looming over it was a tentacled monster.
"Lusca!” she said.
The Lusca was a legend, a giant octopus in some stories, a shark with octopus tentacles in others. It was said to live in the famous Blue Holes near Andros Island, attacking swimmers and boats. But it was a legend. It wasn't real.
As more people saw the monster, the screams and cries grew louder.
A massive tentacle encircled the boat, bringing it out of the water and slamming it back down. If no one did anything, the people on board were going to be crushed and drowned.
Taking flight, Galy charged the monstrosity.
The black tentacled monster didn't notice her flying towards it. She rammed shoulder first into the tentacle holding the boat. It was rubbery and slimy. She pushed into it's flesh making a dimple on it's massive frame. Then, like an elastic band it sprang back into shape, sending her tumbling through the air until she hit the water and skipped along the surface.
For a moment she started to sink. She got her concentration back under control, and stood on the surface of the ocean, trying to think of a plan since just bashing it didn't seem to work.
The monster let go of the boat and began swimming towards her, pushing the water in front of it, creating waves over ten feet high. It's skin had turned from the ugly black to a brilliant red.
Much to her relief she saw the damaged boat heading straight for shore. As long as it could get close, they should be OK. She just had to keep it's attention on her. That should be easy.
Taking flight once more, she pretended to charge it once again.
A tentacle as thick as a car reached for her with surprising speed. Dodging it, she had to twist and turn to avoid three more tentacles. If she didn't have the increased flexibility and reaction time of an exemplar, the tentacles would have gotten her. As it was, she barely slid through the narrow gap between the tentacles. Slime coated her chest and back until it slid off of her shield.
Taking to the air, she flew several hundred feet up, just out of reach of the tentacles, and tried to catch her breath. She wasn't tired, but the reality of what she was doing had caught up to her. She was fighting a giant sea monster, all by herself. She could die.
The monster watched her with enormous multicoloured eyes. Then it started going towards Bailey Town. She had to stop it. The size of the monster meant that in just a minute or two it could destroy her hometown and kill everyone in it. This wasn't just her chance to be a hero, she had to do something or her family would die.
Diving down, she aimed right for the big, ugly eye. She held her arm out, fingers straight. With their size difference, her hand would hit like a knife. If she could blind it, she might have a chance at killing it.
A tentacle swatted her out of the sky.
Her head rang like a bell. She couldn't control her flight. She couldn't even move.
Hitting the sandy beach like a meteor she was driven into the earth. Surrounded by darkness, sand filled her throat, nose, eyes and ears. She panicked. The need to be free filled her. Galy flew straight up and out of the ground, crashing through the floor and then the roof of a house.
Spitting and gasping, she tried to get the sand out of her mouth and nose. Through tears and sand, Galy watched the tentacled monstrosity come closer. There was no time to waste.
Giving her eyes one last wipe, Galy looked around the beach. The long furrow and hole in the ground made her gasp. She shouldn't have survived that, even with her powers it seemed impossible.
"Focus,” she told herself, turning back to the tentacled monstrosity.
Her eyes fell on a small sailboat belonging to her neighbour. Flying to it, she tore the mast off, ripping away the cloth and rope. Now she had a spear.
Staying low to the water this time, she once again charged the beast. Holding the twelve foot long mast like a lance, she watched the tentacles, ready to dodge until she had the perfect shot.
The tentacles struck at her. Galy ducked under the waves, her shield protecting her from the water, letting her move like a fish. The manoeuvre caught the monster by surprise. It couldn't lower itself deep enough to get it's eyes under the water, it was left to grope blindly for her.
Dodging and weaving to avoid the tentacles, it took longer than she'd planned to get near the monster's body. With her long black hair streaming out behind her, Galy moved in for the strike. Her lungs were sore from lack of oxygen, but she didn't need air just yet. A beak larger than her house appeared before her as the thing flailed desperately to find and crush her.
Willing herself to fly as fast as she could, even as her lungs began to burn from lack of air, she drove the mast into the underside of the monster. The wood pierced the rubbery skin, and ran along the beak, deep into the things body.
All hell broke loose as it writhed and twisted. Twisting and dodging, she tried to reach the surface, her body screaming for air. A tentacle managed to wrap around her. Suckers as large as her torso stuck to her body. She was lifted high into the sky. Gasping for oxygen, Galy could only get a trickle into her lungs. Even with her shield the tentacle was squeezing her so tightly it felt like her power and body would shatter.
Movement was almost impossible. She felt like Atlas holding the sky on her shoulders, barely able to move as the weight tried to crush her. Centimetre by painful centimetre, Galy managed to bring her knees up to her chest. Then she began pushing, using her shoulders, back and legs to gain precious space.
Tentacles tried to grab her, she was too small for them to get a proper grip. They slid over her hair, and brushed her bottom, but couldn't get a hold.
Her muscles ached, she'd never been pushed so hard in her life. She didn't know if she could keep pushing against the tentacle. And then there was a bit of space. Galy shot out of the monsters grip like a greased pig. More tentacles reached for her, but she was flying too fast.
Once she was out of reach, she took a second to catch her breath. The monster watched her with baleful eyes, tentacles raised. It wanted her dead.
"You frowsy old babbit!” she cursed. “You want me, come and get me!”
Flying away from the island, Galy dipped and dived. Keeping just ahead of the tentacles. She might not be able to kill the thing, but she could lead it away.
Off The Coast of Florida
There were lights ahead.
Galy had no idea where she was. She didn't know how long she'd been flying for. She could barely think. All that mattered was that the monster was still following her. She had to get it away from land. Turning away from the lights, she headed for the darkness of the ocean, dipping down to keep the monster interested.
A glowing figure appeared ahead of her.
She had to be hallucinating.
She was so tired.
Every part of her body ached.
She had to lead the monster away.
"Care to explain why you're leading a sea monster towards Florida?” the figure asked.
It took a moment for the words to register. She realized there really was a glowing woman flying beside her.
"Leading it away,” she mumbled. “Attacked... a ship. Going after Bailey Town. Couldn't, couldn't kill it.”
The glowing woman raised her arms and lightning shot out, scorching a tentacle that got too close. “So this is the Bahamas monster that we heard about.”
"Yeah,” she slurred.
The woman picked her up out of the air. “Come on. I'll get you to shore and to a hospital. It looks like you took quite a beating and you're ready to collapse. I'm surprised you haven't burned out.”
"Monster... got- got to stop it.”
"Don't worry about that, my teammates are dealing with it. You've done your part, now it's time to rest and let the Miami Crusaders finish the job.”
Galy tried to argue, she had to lead the monster away. She couldn't let it hurt anyone. Exhaustion overcame her and she fell asleep in the arms of the hero.
July 10th, 2007
Galy flew at the head of the Independence Day Parade as it made its way through the capital city. She grinned from ear to ear as the crowd cheered for her. She was the first Bahamian superhero and she looked the part.
A gold tiara sat nestled in her thick, black hair. She was wearing something like a sailor suit and leotard that was a compromise between her and the PR company hired by the government. It left her arms bare, with gold coloured shoulder straps and chest. A red jewel sat between her breasts to give her a bit more colour as well as helping catch the eye. The costume turned to black over her stomach and the skirt was the same dark colour, with a gold stripe that accentuated her hips. Her legs were left uncovered, and knee-high, gold boots finished off her costume. She didn't have a mask. She and the government had decided that trying to conceal her identity would set a bad precedent, making it look like she had something to hide. Not that a mask would have helped anyways. Fighting the sea monster had made her civilian identity famous.
The designers had wanted more colour, but she thought that simple was best. Since she was going to be wearing it, they'd ultimately let her choose the colours, although they'd firmly shut down her original idea of simply copying Sailor Moon. She'd kept her codename simple and sensible as well. Naming herself after the mythical city of Atlantis that some people said lay offshore of the Bahamas. No one had complained about that, in fact everyone had agreed the link would be great for tourism.
They'd officially introduced her and her costume at the start of the week long festivities, when she'd given a speech alongside the Prime Minister. They'd had her practice for days getting it just right. The cheers of the crowd had made the training worth it. The talk shows and news interviews had been harder and not nearly as satisfying. Going onstage with some of the biggest Bahamian singers had more than made up for those moments. She wasn't sure how she felt about starring in the tourism commercials. She knew they were helping the country, still she'd rather be in front of the people than a TV camera reading some lines.
Now, soaring over the crowd, low enough to touch the hands of the people reaching up, she laughed. This was what being a hero was all about. Making people happy and feeling safe. She could put up with all the annoyances practicing speeches, answering boring questions, and reading silly lines, as long as she could hear the cheers of the people.
She still had a lot to learn though.
At the end of summer she'd be going to the US to learn about her powers at a school for mutants. She'd have to put away her costume and be a proper student again. But whenever she came back to the Bahamas she'd be a superhero once more.
And the people would cheer the name Atlanta, hero of the Bahamas.