A SRU Tale
The Mighty Morphing Gender Rangers
By Bek D Corbin
Edited by Steve Zink
It HAD to happen! They've gone Turbo, they've gone in Space, they've gone to the Lost Galaxy, they've even gone through Time, but have they ever gone in DRAG?
Actually, this has nothing to do with the licensed characters we're familiar with from Bandai - it's a story of heroes whose steady villain decides that the perfect weapon can be found in the SPELLS R US shop! Sorry, Giant transforming Robots not enclosed.
The door to the committee room opened, and the sergeant stuck his head out. "Okay, Nick, they're ready for you."
Nick DuPraeve stood up and let Kenny Moreland straighten his tie and suit. This solicitousness on Kenny's part wasn't unusual. Kenny had been Nick's brown-noser since grade school. On Nick's part, he had seen to it that Kenny had managed to be included in events that his personality and talent alone never would have gotten him into. It wasn't a particularly graceful arrangement, but it worked for them. Kenny finished making Nick absolutely perfect, and they went in.
The Admissions Committee was seated behind a line of desks. While the Frat was usually pretty relaxed, official proceedings were done as formally as possible, to avoid any criticism of the results. The chairman looked at the submissions in question, and then at DuPraeve and Moreland. "Okay, Nick, you've submitted objections to not one, not two, but five Pledge Candidates. Isn't that a bit much, considering that you're only a Sophomore?"
Nick cleared his throat. "Yes, I know that it's a bit much, but you see, I Know these five. They were a year behind me at High School, and I'm all too familiar with them. They're a bunch of thugs. They go around pushing people around, and beating up everyone who doesn't knuckle under to them. They'll drag this House down into the worst kinds of hooliganism, if they're allowed in."
Ben Styles, the vice chairman, looked through a dossier. "The background check does mention three suspensions for the lot of them, and two arrests for Assault & Battery-" Nick smiled and spread his hands in a 'what did I tell you?' gesture. "-But, both the suspensions and the arrests were dropped when independent witnesses attested to self-defense, and in two incidents, that these five were set up. Your name is mentioned prominently in several of these incidents, Nick."
Nick crossed his arms. "I make no secret of the fact that, in the interest of the general welfare, I've tried to expose these thugs, and have the full weight of the Law brought down on them." Nick didn't normally talk this formally, but it was all being taken down by the secretary. "And as for the 'quote' _independent witnesses_ 'unquote', they are very clever about getting people to perjure themselves, either through bribery or threats of violence."
"Well then, Nick, they must be very good at it - multiple citations for bravery, commendations for citizenship, memberships in community groups, and they each have a raft of letters of personal recommendation from teachers and local community leaders. Lord, it's a wonder they had time to go around bullying people! School newspaper, student government, local charity work, school clubs and committees - this one, Dean Ritter, has had an 'A+' average since grade school, took the prize at the Senior Science Fair with a miniature mag-lev train, was an officer in the Math, Physics, Chemistry and Engineering Clubs, speaks three languages and is a brown belt in Kempo! He even has a letter stating that he risked his own life to help dig a fire-fighter out of a collapsed building!
"This one, Theodore Waller, has a 'B+' average, sang in the school production of 'West Side Story', is an Eagle Scout, was a linebacker for his school's football team and went to the State Champion-ships, speaks two foreign languages, was an officer is the Poetry and Spanish Clubs, is also a brown belt in Kempo, and there's a letter here from the local Chief of Police stating that Waller talked an armed gunman into releasing a hostage and giving up his weapon!
"This one, Robert Thuy Shih, has a 'B' average, was a featured player in the same production of 'West Side Story', is also an Eagle Scout, was a tight end for the football team, a second-baseman for the baseball team, and holds the county records for the 50 - and 100 - yard dash! He speaks four foreign languages, was an officer for the Debate Club and was a reporter for the school paper. He has a black belt in Kempo, and it says that he was wounded taking a gun away from a gang member who was shaking down a local merchant!
"This one, Adam Ironknife, has a 'B+' average, was also a featured player in that school play, also an Eagle Scout, quarterback for the football team, first-baseman for the baseball team, forward guard for the basketball team, and holds the county record for the standing high jump! He speaks three foreign languages - plus Souix, Cheyenne, and Iroquois, which can't really be considered foreign languages, was Class President, wrote a column for the school paper and holds a brown belt in Kempo. Multiple commendations for courage, including rescuing a child from a burning building!
"And this last one, Dale Townsend, besides being a fourth generation legacy for Chi Gamma, has an 'A' average, stage managed that school play, was short-stop on the baseball team, and took four medals for the Swim team. He speaks seven foreign languages, reads and writes Arabic, Japanese, Korean and Chinese, was Class Treasurer, and an officer in several Clubs, including the Debate Club and the International Affairs Club. He was the Editor of the school paper, a lifeguard during the summers and is a brown belt in Kempo. Several commendations for personal bravery, including one for rescuing a drowing woman.
"Good Lord! Time to bully people? It's a wonder these guys had the time to eat!"
Nick thought briefly about having the board verify the letters of recommendation and so on, but decided against it. He knew that they would all check out, and Ironknife and his crew would look that much better for it. Instead, he merely smiled knowingly, and said, "Yes, it does make you wonder, now doesn't it? It also makes you wonder what kind of people would pad their applications so egregiously, now doesn't it?"
The board chairman raised an eyebrow. "Be that as it may, Townsend is a fourth generation Chi Gam legacy. Even if his resume weren't so impressive, we'd have to give him at least a probationary period. As for the others, Townsend's father personally vouches for all of them, and that carries a lot of weight. Still, we can't completely dismiss what you've said. It wouldn't be the first time that an 'Eddie Haskell'-type managed to pull the wool over everybody's eyes. And if they're all covering for each other, then they could get away with that much more...
"But we can't deny applicants with such promising credentials on the word of a single nay-sayer, who _may_ have an axe to grind." The chairman waved the sheet of paper naming Nick as being involved in the 'incidents'. "So, these five will be rushed along with the other potential pledges. We'll take a look at them, Nick, but we will keep in mind what you've told us." The way he said it hinted that if the five pledges weren't what he'd claimed, that they would remember the slander.
After Nick and Kenny left, the board heaved a collective sigh, as if a circling shark had left the area for other parts. One of the committee members leaned over and asked plaintively, "How the fuck did those two get in anyway?"
The board chairman sighed, and said, "Well, Moreland's a legacy, but as for DuPraeve, the theories include photographs of the Dean with an underage prostitute, a bogus cheating scandal that would have destroyed the careers of last year's board, electronic brain-washing, and membership in an international Satanic conspiracy."
"So that means we wash these guys, before he decides to turn the screws on us?"
"No! If he's so scared of these guys, then we jump on them before some other house grabs them up! They may be all that stands between us and a Fourth Reich!"
Walking down the steps of the house, Nick snarled. This would crop up before he was able to arrange a set of screws to clamp on the House bigwigs! For seven years, ever since Junior High, those five had been collective and individual thorns in his side. Now, after a whole blessed year without them, here they were again, in his own God damn House! Why couldn't they split up and go to separate colleges, like everybody else? And why did any of them have to come to his college?
Kenny tapped him on the shoulder. "What is it, Kenny? Can't you see that I'm fulminating?"
"Yeah, but - Look!" He pointed down the walk of the Frat. Adam Ironknife and Dale Townsend, looking very Prep School in blue blazers and school ties, were walking up to the house.
Nick didn't know which pissed him off more, the fact that an obvious fruit like Townsend would breeze into the Frat as a legacy, or the fact that Ironknife's rugged AmerInd features and athletic figure actually looked good in that suit. He forced a snide smile onto his face. "And where do you two rejects think you're going?"
Adam Ironknife walked up just close enough to Nick's nose to dispute his 'mastery' of the doorstep, without presenting an actual challenge. He knew just how to do it. He'd been doing it ever since third grade, when Nick had been a fourth grader pushing smaller kids around for their lunch money. The fact that Nick was standing a step above him, and Adam had to look up at him, didn't really matter. Adam's height and innate presence neutralized Nick's trivial trick. "We were invited to talk with the Admissions committee. We are expected to be there in-" He checked his watch. "-Four Minutes."
Nick smirked superiorly. "Yes, I know. But you see, any Frat member has the right to object to the acceptance of any Pledge. And since my objection was seconded-" He gestured over to Kenny. "-you might as well save yourself the embarrassment, and go to some other House - one with lower standards."
Dale Townsend crossed his arms, raised one delicate eyebrow to the line of his longish fine blonde hair and said silkily, "We can always tell when you're lying, Nick-"
"Yeah," Adam grumbled thunderously, "your lips move. We have an apppointment." He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "Get thee behind me, Satan."
Almost despite himself, Nick surrendered the step. Well, he hadn't really expected them to just walk away, but it was worth the try. He walked briskly away, with Kenny falling in behind out of habit. "So, what are we going to do now, Nick? If we let them into the Frat, it's gonna be like High School all over again, only worse!"
"I Know, Kenny."
"But we haven't been able to find a place to move all of our bookmaking stuff from out of the basement!"
"I Know, Kenny."
"And all of our cheat-sheet Masters are still locked in the attic!"
"I KNOW, IDIOT!" Nick stopped in his tracks, his handsome regular features taut and hard. His eyes glinted like steel. It was only by the sheerest of coincidences that a flash of lightning and a rumble of thunder split the sky. "We are going to have to DO something about those 'Power Rangers', once and for all!" He had made this statement before - it usually meant that he was about to do something vile.
Robert "Bobcat" Thuy Shih kicked the speedbag with such swiftness that the bag was only a blur. He finished his twenty-kick set by stopping the bag with a crossed double-backhand block, and danced away from the bag. Theo "Big Teddy" or "Stonewall", as the sportswriters were calling him (he hated it, not quite as much as he'd hated being called 'the Whale' in Grade school, but he still really didn't like it), Waller was doing arm rotations with over 100 lbs strapped to each huge arm. Dean Ritter was polishing variations in his 'Pikachu' attack on a punching bag - starting well out of arm's reach, a furious dodging backflip-charge, a handstand/double-kick, and then use the recoil to start back out of harm's way.
Adam loosened his tie as he and Dale entered the gym to talk to their friends. Dale didn't bother loosening his tie; he was just as comfortable in the most restrictive of clothing - either that, or he just never let any discomfort show. It was hard to tell with Dale.
The five young men had met in Junior High School, or more accurately, in Master Yoji's Kempo school, during their Junior High days. But what had really made them a team was the scorn of a bully that they all despised, and were despised by - Nick DuPraeve. Nick had saddled them with the derisive 'Power Rangers' label. Nick could never pass on pointing out that Adam was half-Souix and one-quarter Cheyenne, so he was the 'Red Ranger'. Bobcat was fiercely proud of being Korean, so he was the 'Yellow Ranger'. Theo was obviously the 'Black Ranger', and Dean was the 'little boy Blue Ranger'. But the cruelest taunt was Nick's insistance that Dale was the 'Pink Ranger'. Dale's slender physique, delicate features and silky blonde hair had always made him a target for homophobic attacks and derision, and the 'Pink Ranger' jibe only made things worse. But Nick's snide joke had backfired on him. By making them equal targets for insults as a group, he had given them a sense of unity.
None of them had been imposing physical specimens when they started with Master Yoji. Theo had been the classic 'chubby' - no, don't fudge it - he'd been grossly fat as a kid. Adam and Bob were your basic scrawny twelve year-olds. Dale was 'delicate', and Dean was a classic shrimp. The following seven years had changed that. Theo was still very large - 6'6" and 350 lbs, but it was all hard. Master Yoji had named him 'Ishiyama', or 'Stone Mountain', and it fit. On the football field, running into a front line with him in it was like hitting a stone wall, which is where the sportswriters had come up with their nickname for him. But still, he felt trapped by his own bulk. Adam had managed to completely master his own physique. He was tall (6' 2"), and buff, yet graceful and balanced. He was equally adept on the football, soccer and baseball fields, and had also mastered track and basketball. He was a first-rate, all-around athlete. Bobcat was also buff and good-looking, yet his own 5' 8" rather irrated him, next to his taller friends. Bobcat wasn't as good at as many sports as Adam was, but he was better at the ones he was good at. His fierce pride wouldn't allow him to be anything else. Dale had a 'greyhound' build, and focused on developing grace and control rather than strength or bulk; his own 5' 7" height never bothered him - or at least, he never let it show. Dean was still a shrimp, but he was the fastest, wiriest, toughest shrimp anybody ever saw. But his 5' 4" lack of height quite obviously bugged the hell out of him.
Theo looked at them without ceasing his workout. "So, how did it go?"
Adam stashed the tie in his blazer pocket and took the blazer off. "Not bad - Nick DuPraeve and his lickspittle Kenny both lodged objections to ALL our applications-" Bobcat gave a low growl, and gave the speedbag a roundhouse kick that tore it clean off of it's hinge. "-BUT it apparently takes more than that to blackball somebody. Besides, these guys have been living with 'Old Nick' for about a year now. I think they have a pretty good idea of what Nick is really like - you can tell by that fine line of sweat that forms on their brows every time his name comes up."
Dale draped a hand over Adam's shoulder. "And even if they didn't know that they were in the presence of the Evil One Himself, we'd have a very good chance of getting in - Townsends have been Chi Gams since the Harding administration, Frats absolutely adore Jocks, and Dean?" Dale walked over and mussed up Ritter's hair. Dale had a very un-upper-crust habit of showing affection in little physical ways that, combined with his rather effete demeanor, could be rather disconcerting. But they were more than used to it - they expected it. "Well, Dino, there has never been a Frat ever built that didn't need it's GPA brought up a couple of notches. Throw in the Political Correctness value for you three-" He indicated Adam, Theo and Bobcat. "-and it spells 'Shoo-In'."
Bobcat growled again, and started lifting a 100 lb set of weights. "Somebody tell me again, Why we have to put up with this crap, not to mention 'Hell Week', which is what we're gonna have to put up with, if they do take our applications?"
"Respect," said Adam.
"Contacts," said Dale.
"Comraderie," said Theo.
"AND Girls, and Parties, and we get to live outside the Dorms. Or do you want to keep sleeping next door to the guy who insists on playing 'Stairway to Heaven' on his electric guitar at full blast at 2 in the morning?" Dean untied the headband keeping his ginger hair out of his eyes. "AND, there's the none-too-trivial matter that living in a Frat is cheaper than the Dorms, so those of us who don't have multiple sport scholarships or trust funds-" He leaned against Theo's columnar leg. "-will only have to find one part-time job to make ends meet."
"Okay, okay, but do we haveta apply to the same house as Nick gawdawful DuPraeve?"
Adam took the barbell from Bobcat and pressed it three times quickly over his head. "Are you kidding? Getting to keep a close eye on Old Nick is reason enough to apply all by itself! After all, you don't honestly think that DuPraeve has been spending his freshman year going to parties, chasing girls or - HA! - studying, now do you?"
Dale studied his fingernails. "Given his usual MO, Nick would probably have spent the year developing some low level scams - bookmaking, cheat-sheets, ticket-scalping, Financial Aid fraud, and like that. He'd use those operations to act as a foundation for his favorite hobbies - blackmail, coercion, embezzlement, hijacking and larger scale fraud. He'd probably wait until his Junior year to branch out into drugs, prostitution and extortion - IF he's managed to Armor Plate his ass seven ways to Sunday."
Dean grunted his assent. "Yeah, the Evil One never does anything, unless he's absolutely sure that it can't backfire on him. That's the secret of his success!"
Theo nodded. "Yeah. And since the Frat Admissions committee is Rushing us, that means that Nick hasn't arranged a hold on them yet. And since that's the first real power move that he'd make, he can't be that well protected. So, for the first time, we have a shot at him while he's actually vulnerable. We might even be able to catch him red-handed, and finally put him in jail where he belongs!"
Bobcat took the barbell back. "Okay, Nick can't really expect to keep us out of the Frat, let alone the school, and he really doesn't want us around while he builds up his Junior Achievement Mafia - so, what's his next move gonna be?"
Adam guessed, "Well, he'll either try to get us beaten up-"
"-Or set us up to be arrested," added Theo.
"-Or have us somehow disgraced," guessed Dale.
"-Or All Three," summed up Dean. "Y'know, I kinda wonder why Ol' Nick hasn't tried to just bump us off - a hit-and-run accident, or something like that?"
Dale shook his head. "Too risky. Even if it succeeded, he could only reasonably rely on getting one or two of us. The survivors wouldn't rest until we found the driver of the car, and we would make him finger Nick. Even if we couldn't make it stick, Nick doesn't want that kind of thing on his record. Like we said before, Nick never does anything that he can't walk away from clean."
"So, anyone, any guesses what he's gonna pull?" Adam put on the table for discussion.
Dean opened. "I say the 'cheerleader in distress turns out to be bait for a beating by her linebacker boyfriend' schtick."
Bobcat shook his head. "Nope - Nick would have gotten the Frat well under his thumb before going after the Athletics department. How about the 'we find a paper bag of narcotics and get busted just as we pick it up' trick?"
Theo shook his head. "Didn't work in High School, why should it work now? I don't think he'll try the 'hot gun in the locker' trick, either - it's way too 'High School', too."
Dale mused, "Actually, it's less a question of the tactic he uses, than it is a question of 'who does he have working for him?'. We don't know how large an organization he's managed to put together yet - what he does will largely be decided by who he can get to do it for him."
Adam finished off a quick ten-lift and said, "So, until we can find out who his people on campus are, we'll just have to accept that there's a very good chance of something popping out of the woodwork at the worst moment. Think of something like what it was like during our freshman year in High School."
With that none-too-cheery thought, Dale and Adam changed into their kempo uniforms, and their daily practice started in earnest. They warmed up with the usual calisthentics, then broke into sparring pairs, changing partners periodically, with the odd man out acting as referee. Then they did their 5-coordinated team exercises, with Theo acting as the 'mountain' that the others used as a point of stability, Adam as the 'woods' that protected the others, Bobcat as the 'fire' that attacked, Dale as the 'water' that tripped up the enemy, and Dean as the 'wind' that confounded their attacks. Master Yoji had taught them that technique using the classic Elements of Tao Alchemy as a tool to integrate their strengths and cover their weaknesses. Even so, Master Yoji thought that there was something wrong with the team's balance of Yin and Yang.
With the practice done, they showered and broke up to get to their individual classes.
Kenny followed Nick to a small wooded area between the Science Building and the West Library. He started, and pulled at Nick's elbow. "What are those two idiots doing here? Didn't we have enough of their incompetence in High School? And how did they get into this college? Hell, how did they get into any college?"
The two he was talking about were lounging in the wood, on plastic crates, drinking beer and smoking. The dominant one was about 5' 10", and not quite morbidly obese, with his hair shaved into a neon-green mohawk. Sitting next to him, trying to read a Cliff's Notes and making a poor fist of it, was the inevitable sidekick, who was almost anorexically thin, about two inches shorter, and had his hair moussed into angry looking spikes. As silly as they looked, they looked even sillier in matching college cardigans and freshman beanies.
Kenny looked painedly at Nick. "I mean, Skull and Bones?"
Nick smiled complacently. "Now, now, Kenny - they have their talents."
Harvey "Skull" Scully and Lester "Bones" Bonner had been Nick's low-rent competition and occasional patsies in the bullying game through High School. They'd never really been any threat to Nick's power, and they'd distracted the 'Power Rangers' in a minor way, so Nick had never seen any reason to slap them down.
Skull spotted Nick and jumped to his feet. Bones was wrapped up trying to figure out the stripped down version of Silas Marner, and Skull had to slap him upside the head to make sure that the skinny little dufus didn't embarrass him. "Hey, Nick! Those Entrance Exam cheat-sheets you sold us worked like a charm!" Together, the two second-stringers trotted up to the First Team. "We got it all set up, jus' like you wanted."
Nick smiled, and turned to his boot-licker. "You see, Kenny? Besides their other talents, Skull and Bones here have a gift that borders on genius for knowing when and where Ironknife and his lackeys are vulnerable. When is it going to happen, Skull?"
"In about, oh, ten minutes."
"Then what say we find a safe vantage point to watch the fun from?"
From their vantage point on a terrace off the back of the Student Union, Bones pointed out Dale Townsend and Dean Ritter coming out of the Humanities building. They walked a ways, when they were intercepted by five large young men wearing Varsity Football jackets.
Bones explained as an aside to Nick, "We dropped a hint to the starting halfback that we knew where this really obnoxious fruit and his 'special little friend' were getting together for a little 'frolicking'." Nick nodded his assent.
From afar, they could see the Jocks entering the opening stages of a Fag-bashing. While Nick and his cohort couldn't hear what was being said, they could follow what was happening from the actions and body language. The Jocks stopped Townsend and Ritter, and made a few leering suggestions. Townsend and Ritter ignored them. The lead Jock escalated, and started poking Ritter with his finger. Ritter began weaving around, avoiding the incoming finger with a puckish look on his face. The Jock, pissed off that he was being made to look foolish, tried to grab Ritter. Ritter passed through his spread legs like a gust of wind. Townsend was standing there watching, his amusement obvious on his face. One of the other Jocks tried to grab him, and Townsend deftly dodged so that the Jock blundered into his buddy. The remaining three Jocks joined in - Townsend and Ritter had them falling all over each other. Indeed, Townsend never took his hands out of his pockets.
Then Waller showed up. Unlike his friends, Waller wasn't built for evading damage, and he knew it. Instead, as three of the five went for him, he concentrated on deflecting their punches and angling free of their attempts to grab him. Townsend and Ritter helped by maneuvering their two opponents into his. After a full five minutes, the Campus Police finally showed up and broke up the 'fight'. All eight were taken in for disturbing the peace.
Bones smirked at Nick. "So, they'll put 'em on probation or sumpthin' f' startin' a fight, right? I mean, nobody's gonna take the side of a bunch of freshmen against the Varsity team starting front four and quarterback, right?"
Nick glowered at him dispassionately. "Don't be more idiotic than you absolutely have to be, Bonner. None of them threw a punch, and if I know Townsend, he'll have some button to push or string to pull to get them all off clean. I didn't expect this to really slow them down any."
"Then why pull this at all?"
"Because they're expecting me to pull something. Right now, they are probably picturing me tearing out my hair, screaming 'Curses! Foiled Again!' and plotting some ill-concieved 'Plan B'. We are still on 'Plan A'; only Stage One is over - now on to Stage Two." He reached into his coat pocket, and pulled out a cell phone. "Vansen? This is DuPraeve. Is it still there? Good! Keep watching it - I don't want you to take your eyes off of it for a second! I Don't Care if you have to go to the bathroom! Keep your both eyes on it! Yes, it might go away!" He pocketed the phone, and let Kenny adjust the fit of his suit. "Gentlemen, Stage Two."
Dale, Theo and Dean looked calmly across the Assistant Dean's office at their attackers, who silently snarled back. The Assistant Dean leaned on his desk and said in a quiet but exasperated voice, "Now, exactly what happened here?"
The football coach glared at Theo, silently threatening to drop him at the first opportunity. "These whackos just jumped my boys 'cause Biff here cracked a joke!"
Dale held up a finger, pulled a mini-tape recorder out of his pocket and ran it backwards. When the chipmunk chittering changed tenor, he played it forwards. After a few seconds of his Macro-Econonics lecture, Biff's voice began, with his sneering innuendo. The progression from slanderous suggestion, to accusation, to outrage played out. Then Dale shut it off. "Nowhere on this tape will you hear anything to suggest that Dean, Theo or I threw so much as a single blow. But, 'Biff's' opening remarks fall neatly under the State's definition of a Hate Crime." The Jocks, the coach and the Assistant Dean all looked like an elephant had fallen on them. A Hate Crime charge could quickly end the football careers of all the Jocks, and put a very nasty blot on the coach's record. Some of that muck could quite likely splatter over onto the Assistant Dean. "And if you think that I'm bluffing, I think that you should be aware that I've spoken with the campus Gay/Lesbian Advocacy group. They've heard the tape, and the description of these five neatly matches that of a group of yahoos who were seen running from the scenes of three Gay Bashings in the last year."
Theo managed to talk Dale out of pressing charges, with the understandings that Theo's position on the football team was safe, and the mysterious beatings would stop.
As they left the Assistant Dean's office, the five Jocks thanked Theo, and gave Dale the kind of look that a man gives a bear-trap, after it almost snaps closed on his foot. Bobcat and Adam were waiting for them in the hall. "So, what was all this about?" Adam asked.
"It was Ol' Nick, trying to throw a scare into us again," Dean answered. "A classic Nick DuPraeve One-Two; first we're set up for a beating, then we're set up to take the blame for the fight."
Dale shook his head. "No, I don't think so - this is just the opening gambit. If it had been the Prince of Darkness' real ploy, it would have stuck harder. I think Nick arranged this because he thought that we'd be expecting something like this. He wants us to be unprepared when he pulls his real plan, so he did this to get us off balance."
"So, any ideas what that will be?"
Theo went over to the last Jock before he left and asked him something. When he came back, he said, "He said that a really fat slob with a purple mohawk fingered Dean and Dale to them, and he had a really nervous, skinny friend with him."
"Sounds like Skull and Bones."
"He said that they were wearing freshman cardigans and beanies."
"It's definitely Numbskull and Bonehead! How did those two kindergarten dropouts get into college?"
Adam smirked. "Three guesses."
"And all three of my guesses are Nick DuPraeve."
"Very good! And you go to the Lightning Round - and the question is: Knowing that Scully and Bonner are acting as his flunkies, what will Nick do next?"
In a chorus, they all answered, "Shoplift something to use against us!"
Nick, with his men in tow, entered the mall and looked for Gilbert Vansen. Gilbert was fidgiting on a bench, looking intently at one particular store. Nick tapped him on the shoulder. Without looking up, Gilbert asked, "You see it?" When Nick said yes, Gilbert raced off around the corner, presumably to the nearest rest room.
The focus of Gilbert's attention was a tatty looking nick-nack store called "Spells 'R' Us".
"Spells 'R' Us?" Kenny murmured. "But, how?"
Nick smirked. "I have connections. One of them suggested that this store might be in this mall on this day."
Bones screwed up his face in confusion. "On this day? What, is it gonna get up an' walk away when the mall shuts down f' the night?"
Nick shrugged. "Something like that. Skull, Bones, wait for five minutes after Kenny and I go in. Then go in, and wait for my signal. Grab whatever is in front of me on the counter and get it out as fast as you can. Then get out of the Mall-"
"Hey, go teach yer gran'mutha t'suck eggs - we know our bizness. We're Pruhfesshunals!" grunted Skull.
Nick smirked. This was one of their few genuine talents. "Very well, see to it that you live up to your repuations as...professionals, will you? Let's synchronize our watches." Skull looked at Bones, who shrugged and hunched over, as if expecting to get hit. Nick heaved a martyred sigh and snapped his fingers. Kenny produced a pair of cheap watches from his knapsack. "They're already synchronized. Do try not to hock these, will you?" He gestured to Kenny, and they marched toward the shop.
Dannie glanced over as she heard the bell tinkling as the door opened. "Oh, Hi, Steve! You're a little early..." Then she got a look at the two young men who'd walked in. They weren't Steve and his buddy Dave, for one thing. For another, they were too well dressed for college students. While Grunge may have lapsed, the 'slob' look preceded and survived it on campus by decades. These guys were actually clean, pressed and well groomed. But the most unnerving thing was the lead man's complete lack of the usual confusion or distraction with the shop's wares. The dark, regular featured young man just walked up to the counter without sparing the floor goods a second look. "You're not Steve," Dannie said, stating the obvious.
"You state the obvious. No, I'm not an appointment, but I am referral trade."
Dannie was flustered. This was not how it normally went! What a time for the Master to be out! Hmmm, maybe it was one of his tests. "So, how can I help you?" she asked perkily.
Nick leered at her for a second, and bit back a licentious remark. "Ah, Yes. In keeping with the specialty of the house, I'd like to see an item that will transform a man into a woman on contact. No ingested potions or garments that must be worn. Something that would do it at a range, like a raygun, would be preferable, but I'm willing to settle for a contact item. The change should be immediate and permanent, but - being familiar with Messrs. Gilbert & Sullivan - have some sort of counter-agent, such as a antidote, counter-spell, or reversal condition. Do you have anything like that on hand?"
Dannie blinked, and stared at the young man. Talk about someone who knew what he wanted! This had to be one of the Master's tests - or he was springing her first deal with the Wizards' Trade on her. Either way, she was up to the challenge! Gotta be professional about this - the customer had a very good idea of what he wanted, so she couldn't afford to try and foist off on him the first magic gizmo that more or less fit the bill. It had to be just right. Lessee now - contact item, immediate, permanent, with counter-agent. She cast her eyes around the shop for a bit, and then her eyes lit on a middling sized wooden box, bound in ornate iron bands. Yes! Perfect!
She went over to a shelf, took down the box and placed it on the shelf. "This should do the trick! It's called the Peri's Bauble. A Peri is a kind of Persian Fairy, which were famous for playing particularly nasty tricks on the greedy and vain. This is supposed to have been the keystone of a prank on an especially arrogant Persian prince." She opened up the wooden box. Inside, resting on a bed of midnight blue velvet, was a pearly sphere the size of a grapefruit. "One touch of this little gew-gaw will change a man into his idea of what a woman should be like. The point of the prank was to teach the prince the value of the traditional (or at least traditional during the Golden Age of Islam) Muslim repect for Women."
Nick nodded, his chin in his hand. "Hmmm...his idea of what a woman should be...very good! But what about the counter-agent?"
"Oh, the spell will be broken if three Tears of Genuine Repent fall from the enchanted party's eyes before the last night of the next New Moon."
Nick leaned an elbow on the counter, and gave Dannie a hard look. She just smiled perkily, and held up a finger to signal 'just a minute'. She went over to a cabinet, rummaged around for a bit. She produced another box. She opened it, and inside was a glass phial with what looked like a primitive dropper built into the cap. "One phial of Tears of Genuine Repent! You have no idea how hard it is to get this stuff! Y'see, the spell specifically states that the tears have to fall from the enchanted party's eyes, not that they have to be cried. Y'see, in the story, on the very last night of the full moon before the Prince's True Love weeps over his condition, and her tears fall into, and then from his eyes, thus breaking the spell and they live happily ever after, yada yada yada... Each dropperful is equal to One Tear. You drop three of these drops into the eyes - it's best to tear up both eyes - and the spell is broken. The phial is marked along the side - see? - to let you know how many Tears there are still left inside. There are currently 27 - or Three Cubed - Tears in this phial."
Behind his back, Nick gave Skull and Bones the signal. "Excellent! Not exactly what I was looking for, but much better than I could have hoped for! Does it have to touch the skin, or just touch any covered surface of the subject?" Skull and Bones, who had been quietly poking around the inventory, started running around the store, tossing small bits and pieces of bric-a-brack back and forth.
Dannie tried to split her attention between the customer at hand and the trouble-making riff-raff. She hoped she wouldn't have to change them into Rygellean Blood-Voles in front of Trade. "Oh, you can use gloves, all right, no problem. It has to touch skin, and - Hey! Don't touch that!" She placed the phial of Tears of True Love back in their box, shut it and went around the counter to deal with the disturbance.
As Dannie was lifting the counter section to get out from behind, Skull bolted to the counter and picked up the box containing the Peri's Bauble. "Monkey in the Middle!" he sang out, tossing it over Kenny's head to Bones. Dannie tried ineffectively to get the box away from them as they threw it back and forth over Kenny's feeble attempts to grab it. Then Bones, the swifter - or at least faster - of the two, tucked it under his arm and ran out the door. Skull blocked Dannie for a moment, and then ran out himself.
Nick patted Dannie's shoulder. "Don't worry - we'll get it back for you. And we do have to come back here for the counter-agent, after all! Come on, Kenny!" With that, they raced after Skull and Bones, as if they actually intended to catch them.
Nick and Kenny met up with Skull and Bones back on the campus. "Skull, Bones, there are times when I want to throttle you two - and then I remember times like these, when you two truly shine!"
Kenny was, as always, worried. "But, Nick, wouldn't it be safer if we went back and got some of that counter-agent?"
Nick smirked, reached into the pocket of his jacket, and produced the glass phial of Tears of Genuine Repent. "When you three were playing 'monkey in the middle' I managed to sneak this out of its box. Your little game of 'Keep Away' was a stroke of Pure Genius, boys. Y'know, those majickal types are so wrapped up in their hocus-pocus that they forget that the simpler tricks are often the most effective - such as not letting the eye see what the other hand is doing. Well! Stage 2 has been completed without any unforseen complications. Now onto Stage 3! And, if I'm not very much mistaken, that should be the beginning of Stage 3 coming right now!"
Around the corner of the building, and into the quad slouched Steve McKenna, who was not only one of the five Jocks who'd been humiliated by Dale, Dean and Theo, but the ringleader of the Gay-Bashing ring. His fulminating gaze fell on Skull and Bones, and he surged forward. "You! You two set us up! You-"
"Now, Mr. McKenna, I can understand-" It has been said that one of Life's true marvels is watching a Genius working at his forte. Skull and Bones watched in admiration as Nick handled McKenna. Nick was in his medium, that of misdirection, manipulation, false inference, and half-truth. By the time Nick was finished, McKenna was convinced that he and his buds had not been beaten in a fight where the odds where 5-to-3 in their favor, but ambushed by a group of opportunists looking to displace McKenna from the first string, so that Waller could take over his spot on the starting lineup. His crew's savage attacks on Gays was now presented as a patriotic duty. Nick, Kenny, Skull and Bones were not guys who had set him up for a beating, but his comrades in arms against a pernicious infection that threatened the social life of the college. As Nick wrapped up, Bones could almost swear that there was stirring music playing in the background, and a flag proudly waving in the breeze.
McKenna squared his shoulders. "So, what are we gonna do? If I try to jump those fags again, all they gotta do is do squealin' to the Assistant Dean, and I'm off the team! And I don't think I could talk the guys into another go at them, anyway! Damn wussies are scared of that goddam kung-fu crap!"
Nick smiled. "First, a demonstration. Then I'll explain. Skull, the box." Nick pulled on a pair of workman's gloves, and pulled out the Peri's Bauble. He had to stop McKenna from touching it. He turned to his lick-spittle. "Kenny, who's the sexiest, loveliest, most desirable girl you can think of?"
Kenny rolled up his eyes as a roster of young lovelies from both his personal experience and the media strolled past his mind's eye. While Kenny was making up what passed for his mind, Nick took his hand and dropped the Peri's Bauble into it.
Kenny's form went fuzzy, twisted and warped surreally. When it refocused, Kenny was no longer a scrawny carrot-topped boy with freckles that stubbornly refused to go away, beadly little eyes, a curving beak of a nose, a slack mouth and a receding chin, he was a busty, curvaceous red-headed girl with a cute sprinkling of freckles that were probably easily hidden by makeup, big sparkling blue eyes, high cheek bones, a pert little button nose, pouty lips that begged to be kissed and a pointy chin. Kenny's sweater was nicely filled out, and his slacks had been replaced by a flirty short white pleated skirt.
Skull and Bones drooled. McKenna flinched. Kenny gasped, dropped the Bauble, and ran her hands over her face and body. Nick looked her over and grimaced. Trust Kenny to go for the obvious charms. Oh well, it was a good enough try for a flunky.
Nick reached down, picked up the Bauble and deposited it in its box. All four remaining males relaxed ever so slightly as the threat to their manhoods was neutralized.
Her hands on her bosoms, Kenny looked aghast at Nick and whined, "Niiiiiccckkk! What am I gonna dooooo?"
McKenna goggled at Nick; "Where did you get that thing?!"
"Oh, from a little shop called 'Spells 'R' Us'." Nick grinned, and it was surely only the sheerest of coincidences that a flash of lighting and a rumble of thunder split the clear sky.
McKenna backed off a bit. "Don't come near me with that thing!"
Nick held up a finger for silence. "Everone. Calm. Please! Do you honestly think that I would ever come near this thing, let alone use it on my valued collegue, Kenny, if I didn't have a way of turning him back?" He pulled out the phial of Tears of Genuine Repent. "All I have to do is use three drops of this, and Kenny will return to his normal, weedy self."
Kenny advanced. "Then Use Them! I don't wanna be a gurl!"
Nick grinned, his usually restrained sadism showing through. "Sorry, Kenny - or should I say, Kimmy? No, Kimmy, it wouldn't do to waste these drops. We only have 27 of them, and it takes three to bring you back to normal. That is, if you can call what you usually are, normal. No, we have to assume that one or more of us will accidentally be affected by the Bauble, and need to be restored. We'll wait until it's all over before we start using these. Hmmm... It's best if we keep this in a safe place while we work. Wouldn't want it getting smashed or stolen."
McKenna gave Nick a look askance. "What are you talking about? What's this 'while we work' _crap_, Jack?"
Nick turned to McKenna again and smiled. "Oh, we're going to finally get rid of Waller and his four friends - oh, that's right, you haven't met Shih or Ironknife yet. Besides his two little fairy friends, Waller has two more - ah, butch, I think is the term - gloryhole buddies. You think that you and your crew got messed up with just those three? If Shih and Ironknife had been there, you would have been lucky to walk out with your, ah virtues, intact. We have had a lot of painful experience trying to get rid of them." Skull and Bones nodded grimly, trying none too successfully to look like crusaders for righteousness and morality. "With this-" Nick hefted the box containing the Peri's Bauble. "-we can both disarm and discredit them all completely."
"Yer gonna turn 'em inta girls?" McKenna asked incredulously.
Nick grinned evilly. "Exactly. As women, the 'Power Rangers' - oh, that's our little pet name for them, don't let it bother you, Steve - the 'Power Rangers' will be small, weak and in such radically different configurations that their kung fu moves won't work any more. We'll be able to handle them easily. If they turn out like Ken - ah, Kimmy here, I know a man who is profitably engaged in the ancient trade of 'White Slavery'."
Blank looks all around.
Nick grimaced impatiently. "Enforced Prostitution."
More blank looks.
"He's gonna sell 'em to a Cathouse in Bangkok!"
That they understood. Skull gave Kimmy a leering ogle. "Any chance we could, ah, road-test 'em first? Just to see that yer customer gets his money's worth, y'unnnerstand!"
Nick grinned again. "We'll see. And, on the off-chance that one or more of them escape, they're still out of our hair - they'll be women. Women without money, ID, bank accounts, or records of any kind. No more Townsend using his family connections, no more Ironknife having little talks with civic leaders, no more Shih chatting up his pals on the police force, no more Waller with his Civil Rights contacts, no more Ritter with all his chat-room friends on the Internet! They'll all be unknowns, with no one to turn to. And, especially, they won't be students at this college, let alone members of our Fraternity! Even if they have the nerve to talk to anyone they know and claim to be who they really are, they'll get thrown in the looney bin! Finally, I'll be Rid of them!" Nick let rip with a rousing villainous laugh. Eventually the others joined in. It seemed like the thing to do.
As usual, Bobcat and Adam were quarreling about what the best plan to handle Nick's inevitable 'surprize move' would be. Bobcat wanted to force Nick's hand. Adam thought that would be a great idea - IF they knew what Nick's hand was, which they didn't. So, the safest thing would be to travel in groups.
"Nick is up to something," Dale said, almost to the air.
"How can you tell?"
"Thunder and Lightning on a sunny day."
"Oh, It's gonna be nasty."
Dale met Bobcat after his Introduction to Post-Modern Intensity workshop. Bobcat got around his discomfort in going around in protective groups by deciding that he was acting as Dale's bodyguard, rather than Dale had any role in protecting him. His pride demanded it.
They were discussing Bobcat's idea for checking out the Athletics department for any sign that Nick had his grubby fingers in that pie, when they heard a scream.
A good many dramatic situations begin with screams.
Bobcat was off like a bolt of lightning, following the sound of the screams into the woods. Dale, against his better judgement, was obliged to follow. Classic Bobcat - charge in face first, and expect the others to cover his back.
They burst through the trees to find an all too familiar scene - Numbskull and Bonehead were man-handling a pretty, red-headed coed. Bobcat gave his trademark 'tiger-roar' and tackled Skull. Bonehead tried to get him in a Full Nelson, but Bobcat just turned the ineffectual grapple into a throw.
Dale followed more slowly, checking out the situation in case it was yet another Nick DuPraeve trap. He noticed that the 'victim' was just calmly standing there as Bobcat danced around with Skull and Bones. That did not bode well.
Then something blindsided Dale, and he found himself flat on his face on the ground, with that hulking idiot Steve McKenna sitting on him.
Nick DuPraeve must have planned it, Dale thought - there's no way that McKenna would wait for Bobcat's back to be turned to hit me, let alone work with Skull and Bones, unless Nick was calling the shots.
Skull landed on top of Bones, and they lay there together, moaning. Bobcat gave a swift whoosh of breath, and danced in place in anticipation of more action. He looked at the redhead.
She said, "My Hero!" reached into her purse, and handed him something. He took it. He just managed to get a look at softball sized pearl of some kind, before everything went all fuzzy.
When Bobcat came back into focus, he was a short (five foot, nothing) scrawny Asian girl with long black hair down to her ass. She looked at herself and squeaked. The redhead grabbed her and held her arms behind her. Skull and Bones struggled to their feet, their faces aglow with long overdue triumph.
"Oh, Yeah!" Skull breathed. "I been waitin' fer this!" He began to advance.
"Now, now, Skull - don't damage the goods!" came from the side. Nick DuPraeve strolled out from the woods, smug in his certainty of his control of the situation. "You might lower her resale value." Skull took over the hold on 'Bobbie-Kit' from Kimmy, who went over to Nick and adjusted the fit of his suit.
After Kimmy finished making him perfect, Nick pulled the workman's gloves on again, and took the Peri's Bauble from 'Bobbie-Kit'. He gave her a critical once-over. "Hmppff! Sending you to Bangkok may be like sending coals to Newcastle!" He looked over at Dale, who was watching what had happened with amazement. "So, let's see if you turn out any better."
McKenna grinned as he forced one of Dale's hands forward, and Nick dropped the Bauble into it. Dale went out of focus. When he snapped back into focus, his hair was longer, the clothes were different, and his muscle tone was shot, but he didn't look that much different.
Nick snorted. "Another scrawny little dog! I hope the other three turn out more like Kenny, or I'll never see a dime on you bitches!"
Dale picked up the meaning immediately, and goggled at the redhead. "Kenny? Is that You?"
Kimmy struck an arrogant pose, and jutted out one of her hips at Dale. "Gee, who's the scrawny little nothing that nobody wants to have around now?" she jeered.
Nick looked at Kimmy anew. He smiled and put his arm around her waist. "Why - Kimmy! I didn't know you had it in you!"
This shook Kimmy. She looked at Nick. "You're still gonna turn me back to Kenny when we take care of the other three, aren'cha, Nick?"
Nick just hummed and smirked.
Despite the new girls' best efforts, Skull and Bones had no problems gagging them, tying their hands and loading Dale and Bobcat into their van. They drove them somewhere - probably a Quickee Mart - and left to take care of some business. When Skull and Bones had been gone for a while, Dale squirmed around and managed to get her PCS phone out of her blazer inside pocket. While she couldn't talk through the gag in her mouth, she didn't need to. Each of the group had a PCS phone with a special function that had been wired into it by Dean Ritter. By pressing the '5' button three times and then holding it down, the PCS sent out a distress signal to the other members of the group. Besides alerting them that Dale was in trouble, the others could use the direct connnection function to triangulate the unit's exact position. When the LCD screen flashed 'S.O.S.', Dale managed to angle the stubby black antenna out the window at the back of the van.
In his Inspirational Speaking class, Adam Ironknife felt his PCS phone buzz silently. He looked down at the message plate - SOS! One of his friends needed him! He raised his hand and politely asked to be excused on account of an emergency.
As he sat in in Poetry Class, dissecting the rhythmic technique of that tragic genius, Rod McKuen, Theo Waller heard the gentle chimes of his PCS. It was an emergency. His inner tuition told him that Nick DuPraeve had struck again. He dashed off a quatrain of apology to the teacher, left it on her desk, and silently slipped out the door.
Hip-deep in his first physics project, an Eludium-Q Space Modulator, Dean Ritter was snapped out of his concentration by the flashing of the Emergency Alert. He tapped out a code to identify and locate the beacon. It was Dale! Using the local cell-phone boosters to triangulate, he came up with a location. The instant that his PC superimposed the coordinates on a local map, his PCS lit up with two calls. He switched to conference calling, and answered. "Adam? Theo? It's Dale who's in trouble. No, I don't have any idea where Bobcat is, or what he's doing."
Adam extrapolated, "I think that as he and Dale were supposed to be covering each other, we can safely assume that Bobcat is in the same fix."
Theo asked, "Do you have a fix on their location, L'il Buddy?"
Dean gritted his teeth - he hated that nickname, but couldn't bear to hurt Theo's feelings. "Yeah, I got 'em right here. Do I tell you where to find them over the phone, or do we meet at the emergency gathering spot?"
Adam decided. "Time would favor the first, but since we don't know what we're dealing with, Unity is the wiser option. Meet us by Mr. Lincoln."
Five minutes later, the three friends were together in front of the College's statue of that exemplar of American Honor, Courage and Decency, Abraham Lincoln. Dean had a printed out map of Dale's location, and the finder option built into their PCS phones indicated that he hadn't moved.
They would have assumed their trademark balanced fighting stance, but since Bobcat and Dale weren't there, it would have been off-balance.
The message plate on Dale's PCS flashed Locator Locked On, and the PCS beeped. Then a hand from outside grabbed the PCS out of Dale's hand.
The back door of the van opened, and Nick leaned in, smirking. "I was wondering how long it was going to take you mental defectives to get a message to your friends. Hmmm, let's see now..." Nick pushed a few buttons, and found the PCS's internal menu. He called up the Locator function, and indicated Adam Ironknife's unit. "Hmpf! According to this, Ironknife and his buddies are at the central quad. It would take them longer to get to the parking lot and get Waller's car than it would to just run here, so I figure that they'll be here in about, oh, ten minutes. That should give us just enough time to set up. McKenna, move that car so that the entrance is blocked, just in case they decide to come in the car as to be fresh for a fight. Then take a position over there. Skull, Bones, inside the van, and for the love of God, keep your hands off the merchandise and stay quiet! Kimmy, over there, with me."
They each went off to their respective ambush points. Nick and Kimmy settled in Nick's convertable. Kimmy looked around. They were out of sight of the other three, but they were in plain sight of the van. "But, Nick, we're in plain sight! They'll see us, no problem!"
"Why do you think I chose Inspiration Point as the site of our trap? A man and a pretty girl, alone in a car, what could be more natural?" His arm was wrapped around her shoulders, and Kimmy could feel Nick's hand on her breast. She stiffened. Nick pulled in closer. "And I underestimated the time that it would take them to get here - it's more like fifteen minutes. And, Kimmy, we want to look as inconspicuous as possible, now don't we?" Kimmy felt Nick reach under her skirt with his other hand, and pull down her panties.
The three friends tore up the unpaved road to Inspiration Point, and went over the parked car blocking the entrace in a series of acrobatic flips. They landed in a guarded combination stance. Adam tapped Dean and Theo on their arms and pointed silently. There, on the far side of the glade, was the Mayhem Machine, as Skull and Bones called their junked out van.
With a rapid succession of silent gestures, Adam outlined their plan. Adam would take point, Theo would be four steps behind him, and Dean would cover the rear, ready to rush in when Nick sprang his trap, whatever it was. It was simple, because further planning without knowing what was happening was a waste of precious time.
Adam checked the scene. The only place were an ambusher could hide where he wouldn't be too far way to attack from surprize would be inside the van, and this one convertible, which had a couple in it, making out.
With the feeling that he was walking eyes wide open into a trap, Adam stalked forward.
He reached the van and flattened himself against the side. Then he heard an all-too familiar voice jeer from behind him, "Really, Ironknife, peeping? I mean, can't a guy get a little privacy?"
Adam whipped his head around to spot Nick DuPraeve in the convertable, holding a very embarrassed looking redhead in his arms. Then the redhead threw something at him. His baseball conditioned reflexes made him catch it, against his better judgement.
Theo and Dean stopped in their tracks as Adam disappeared in a blurry haze, and was replaced by a tall, trim Native American beauty, with long raven's wing black hair that fell to her shoulders, an hourglass figure, a generous bust, and the muscle tone of a gymnast or swimmer. Her regal, angular features widened in surprize as she realized what had happened. She dropped the pearly sphere as her hands began exploring her new physique.
As all three paused to wrap their heads around the impossibility of what had happened, Nick thundered, "NOW!"
The door of the van slid open, and Skull & Bones grabbed Adam from behind, neatly pinning her arms. Steve McKenna charged out from his hiding place in the woods, and tackled a stunned Dean.
As Theo was reacting to these new developments, trying to figure out which of his friends to help, Nick jumped out of the convertable, pulling on his workman's gloves again. He made a bee-line for the Bauble.
Being grabbed gave Adam (Eve?) something to focus on. She slammed the back of her head into Skull's face, and lifted one leg straight up to kick Bones in his.
McKenna, still a little leary of 'kung fu crap', was savvy enough to lift Dean up off his feet, denying him any leverage.
Nick reached the Bauble, picked it up, and for the first time in years came aggressively at Theo Waller. Theo reflexively assumed a stance to block incoming attacks. Nick jabbed at him with the Bauble, but Theo blocked - which was exactly what Nick wanted. The Bauble touched Theo's blocking forearm, and Theo also disappeared in a blurry haze.
Before the haze could settle, Dean screamed out at the top of his lungs, "THEO! Think of the most positive female image you can! One that can beat these assholes!" His technical expertise aside, Dean's greatest asset to the group was his ability to think outside the box. He immediately accepted that magic was afoot, as improbably as that may be, and he assumed that magic was driven by emotion and mental imagery.
The blurry haze lasted for much longer than it did for Bobcat, Dale, Kenny or Adam. It shrank, and when it cleared, the mountainous form of Theo 'Stonewall' Waller had been replaced by a pantherish, African-American beauty wearing his football jersey and jeans. She grinned at Nick and said, "What's the matter, Nick? Not what you where expecting?" With that, she nailed him with a roundhouse kick to his head.
Nick dropped the Bauble, and Theo was all over him like a heavy sweat. As the tussling started, first one and then the other of Nick's work gloves came loose and flew from his hands so that he was fighting her barehanded. Kimmy, afraid that it was all going wrong, decided that Nick would want her to make sure that the last of the 'Power Rangers' wouldn't be in a position to help his sex-changed comrades. She jumped out of the convertible and weaved around the one-on-one melee between Nick and Theo.
Adam was tearing into Skull and Bones, who were doing better at keeping their female adversary down than Nick was. And they had every intention of ramming that down his throat later.
Kimmy picked up the Bauble. She didn't notice that Dean Ritter had stopped squirming in McKenna's grasp. She touched the Bauble to his foreheam, and watched as he also disappeared into the blurry haze of transformation. But his blur grew!
When the blur faded, Steve McKenna was holding a lanky 6 foot plus tall Amazonian beauty with a Volleyball player's physique, a D-cup chest, a long handsome face with large steely gray eyes, and long russet hair that must have reached down to the middle of her back. She smiled ferociously at Kimmy, and swung her long legs way up and over McKenna's head and back. She forced him off balance, grounded herself behind him and threw him behind her. He landed completely wrong, with an earthquake *Thud!*.
The tawny titaness looked at Kimmy like she was a mouse, and stalked forward. She took the Bauble out of Kimmy's nerveless hands, and tapped it against the back of McKenna's senseless head. McKenna blurred, and reappeared as a pert, petite blonde cheerleader - complete with uniform and pom-poms. The perky little stereotype groaned, and then screamed as she realized what had happened.
Dean wound up the Bauble like a baseball and called, "Hey, Nick!" When he reflexively stopped and turned, she pitched it at him. He caught it before he realized what he'd done. Nick blurred, and emerged as a curvaceous raven haired knockout with refined features, a porcelain complexion, a wide delectable mouth and icey cold blue eyes over exquisite cheekbones. Theo didn't let Nick's new gender slow her down in the least. As Nick was trying to absorb what had happened to her, Theo threw her head over heels.
Dean roared past Theo and Nick, and barreled straight into Skull. Adam took advantage of this to jam her elbow straight into Bones' face and get loose. Theo tossed the Bauble to Adam, who rapped it against Bone's temple.
Bones faded into the transformation blur, and emerged as an ethereal Goth Princess in black lace, black silk, black lipstick, black nail polish and black kohl around the eyes. Her long bone-white hair was teased up into a lion's mane, and kept in place with a red lace scarf. Every possible place - fingers, neck, ears, nose, throat, lips, was either wrapped up in silver jewelry or studded to hold it. Bones, stunned, stopped fighting Adam to take an experimental squeeze of her own protruding breasts.
Skull saw that he was literally the last man on the battlefield, and he intended to keep it that way! He managed to squirm out of the curvaceous tigress's grasp, and hauled ass for the woods with everything he had.
Adam wound up the bauble, aimed at Skull's shaven head, and let the Bauble fly. Just as he reached the woods, the Bauble caromed off his knob. He blurred for a second, and there was a brief glimpse of a bodacious biker babe before she disappeared into the woods.
Seeing that the battle was lost in the worst possible way, McKenna and Kimmy tried to split. Theo let McKenna - who was a hired gun at best - get away, but she made sure that Kimmy was well under control, her arm twisted securely behind her back.
Bones quietly slipped off - nobody stopped her, just like they had all those times in High School.
Adam pulled the door of the van completely open. Two thin young women, bound and gagged, were lying on the floor of the van, with Dale's PCS phone lying besides them. Adam crawled in and ungagged them. "Bobcat? Dale? Is that You?"
The two new girls goggled at Adam. Then Theo and Dean poked their heads in to see. The Asian girl bridled. "Hey! Howcum You Three wound up kickass Babes, while we ended up like this?"
Theo chuckled. "It's Bobcat, all right!"
As Adam untied Bobcat and Dale, Dean and Theo looked around for Nick, who was nowhere to be seen. "Jesus! What did she do, go *poof!* in a cloud of brimstone?" Theo marveled.
Dean grumped, her arms crossed under her breasts, "After this, I wouldn't put it beyond her."
Once Bobcat and Dale were untied, Adam turned to Kimmy. "Okay, Kenny - I assume that you are Kenny, since I didn't see him grafted to Nick's side as per usual, and I've never seen you before - where is the antidote?"
"What makes you think there's an antidote?"
Bobcat spat exasperatedly, "Of Course, there's an antidote! Nick DuPraeve doesn't go to the bathroom, unless he's got his ass armor-plated better than a Patton tank! Where is it, y'little butt-lick?"
Dale leaned forward and said in the tones of supreme reason, "Kenny, if you don't want to spend the rest of your life looking like your own wet dream, you'll tell us where the antidote is. Think about it, Kenny. Nick left you twisting in the wind - Again. Once he gets to wherever the antidote is, he's gonna use it on himself, and then pour the rest down the nearest drain; you know he will."
Kimmy bowed her head. "My locker in the Boy's Gym."
Adam brightened. "Good! Looking the way she does, 'Nicki' will be slowed down enough getting into the Gym, that we should be able to catch her! I'll hold on to this doohickey so that it doesn't created any more trouble. Dean - you drive. Dale, you sound just enough like your old self that you should have no trouble over the phone - see if you can grease us past the security. Theo - keep an eye on Kenny. Bobcat, calm down, everything will be all right! Kenny - why aren't you wearing any underwear?"
Kimmy burst into tears.
The 'Girls' got into the locker room on the pretext of getting something for Dean that he needed for a science project that he couldn't leave alone. Kenny opened the locker, and the phial of Tears of Genuine Repent was there. But it was almost empty. The lines on the side said that there were Six Tears left, and since Three Tears were needed to undo the transformation, there were only enough for two people.
Adam snorted. "Well, ain't that just the icing on the cake! Nick got in here somehow, and left us in a position where we have to decide which of us are gonna be restored, and which ones are stuck!"
Theo wondered, "Why leave enough for two? Why not just dump ALL of it?"
Kimmy answered. "Because, then you'd have to choose two over the other three - if you're all left as women, then you still have each other to rely on. This way, he breaks you up, with the three who are left as women resenting the ones who get to be guys again. The trust that holds you together is broken, and even the ones who are guys again can't really trust each other, because they both screwed over the other three. If the fighting over the phial is vicious enough, even the ones who are stuck as girls can't trust each other, 'cause they'd stab each other in the back for a chance at the phial."
Dean looked down at Kimmy with a new respect. "That's pretty sharp, Kenny! If you're really that smart, why are you a toadie for a scumsucker like Nick?"
"Why not? You get all the advantages of being an Evil Mastermind, with none of the drawbacks! You get most of the money, broads and freebies, and the Good Guys are so busy trying to take out the Big Bad Bastard, that us toadies can usually sneak away without being hassled."
"Does your father know what you're doing?"
"Oh, it's a family tradition! We Morelands have been toadies, flunkies and suck-ups since the Norman Invasion of Britain!"
"There's a good living to be had at that?"
"Oh, definitely! A good suck-up to a real player can pull down a six-figure starting salary, easy! That's why I'm taking the Suck-Up Program here at college!"
"There's a Suck-Up Program?"
"Sure! It's called a Political Science Major!"
While Dean and Kenny were talking, Adam looked at the phial with its two doses. "Screw This! I refuse to let Nick DuPraeve force these choices on us! I don't believe in the 'No Win' scenario! Together, acting in unison and harmony, we will find a way to beat Nick's vile little scheme. This is not just us, it's all of Civilization that hangs in the balance! When Evil like Nick DuPraeve is allowed to go unchecked, it only breeds like a contagion, eating away at even the finest, most noble of nations! We have to go on, and defeat Nick completely, not just for us, not just for this school, but for America!"
As Adam orated, the others, Kenny included, were lined up, hands over their hearts, until the stirring music faded.
As the spell of Adam's Inspirational Speaking homework lifted, Dale turned to Kimmy. "Okay, Kenny, Nick hasn't had a soul to sell for years, so where did he get this sex-change doo-job, and more importantly, where did he get this phial of antidote?"
"We stole it from a shop at the mall, called 'Spells 'R' Us'. It has a really weird reputation on campus. Somehow, guys go into this shop and are somehow changed into busty bimbos."
"Well, I dunno about busty," Bobcat grumped, her arms folded over her flat chest. "By the way, you still haven't explained why Dale and I turned out looking like the 'before' pictures for a training course, and all of you wound up looking like draftees for the next Charlie's Angels movie."
"I think that I have a possible explanation," Dean offered. "Dale, who was turned into a girl first - you, or Bobcat?"
"Kenny here got Bobcat first. Steve McKenna was sitting on top of me while it happened."
"Thought so! Bobcat, the mechanism that changed us was magic. It had to have some kind of pattern or template to follow. When I saw how Adam turned out, it immediately occured to me that this was probably Adam's ideal woman, 'cause Adam's the type who always thinks toward the best outcome. So, I told Theo to concentrate on the most positive female image he could, one that could beat the crap out of Nick and his buddies - and she did. I did the same, and turned out like this. Dale, you were under the impression that's how you were supposed to come out, because that's how Bobcat turned out. Bobcat, you-" Dean just ended with an exasperated sigh.
Dale glowered at Bobcat. "Later, we have got to work on your attitudes toward women."
At the Mall, Kimmy lead them to the place where the shop had been. Instead, the Starbuck's and the B. Dalton's it had been between were flush against each other. Kimmy looked imploringly at them. "Honest! It was here! I don't know what happened! Wait a minute - Nick had a guy here watching the place, until we got here, like he was afraid that it'd just get up and walk away! And it is magic..."
Dean tapped Adam on the shoulder. "Uhm, Guys... LOOK..."
There, where the coffee franchise and the book franchise had been sharing a common wall, was a small knick-knacky looking shop, with diamond paned windows and a wooden sign over the door saying ' Spells 'R' Us'.
The inevitable bell over the door rang as the six young women walked in.
The Old Man behind the counter took the odd pipe out of his mouth and shouted, "Only two students in the shop at a time - oh, it's you."
Kimmy walked up to the counter and said, "I was in here earlier, when an object was stolen by a couple of hoodlums-"
"By a couple of your accomplices, you mean."
"Uhm, anyway, while trying to recover the stolen object, my friends and I were...affected by it, and the antidote which your sales girl provided-"
"Which your other friend lifted while Dannie was trying to get those two goons to settle down."
"Ahhh...anyway, there isn't enough antidote to restore us all, and we were wondering-"
"Sweetie, those are _Tears of Genuine Repent_. Do you have any idea of how hard it is to come by those? And your backstabbing buddy Nick just flushed them down the toilet."
Adam approached the counter and pushed Kenny off to one side. "Sir, we had _nothing_ to do with the theft of this object-" She put the box containing the Peri's Bauble on the counter. "-or the theft of the antidote. Indeed, Nick stole them with the sole intent of using them against us. Which gives us common grievance against him. We are returning what must be a very valuable object to you. I don't think that it's unreasonable to request that, as a reward, you provide some means of returning us to what we were before we touched this thing."
The Wizard sighed, and sucked on his pipe. "No, it isn't unreasonable, I'll give you that. It's just that it's impossible. If I'd transformed you with a spell, that would be one thing - but you were transformed by the workings of an Artifact that has been around for well over a thousand years, and has a very specific counter-agent. I'm afraid I can't."
Dean came forward and held up the phial of Tears. "Is there any way that you can add something to this, to kind of stretch it out, so that more of us can be restored, sort of a 'Magic Helper'?"
"Nice try, Legs, but no go. They have to be Tears of Genuine Repent, straight from the tap. You're just gonna have to decide who uses the Tears, and who stays a female."
Dean straightened herself up to her full height. "Hey, I'll bow out! Hey, I love being like this! After a lifetime of being the smallest, weakest one around, I finally have a body that I can actually do something with! I wouldn't use those tears if you begged me!" She quieted down a little, shrugged, and said, "At least, it's not like I had girls lining up to date me, y'know."
Theo piped up. "I'm out. It is such a trip to have a body that I can finally cut loose with, and not have to worry that I'm breaking something or hurting someone. It's like I was on the world's greatest diet, and lost about a ton of unwanted fat! No more being the big dumb Hulk!"
Dean put an arm around Theo's shoulder. "Hey, I always looked up to you, L'il Buddy."
At five foot, three, the nickname now fit Theo much better than it did Dean. She looked up at Dean. "Was that name as irritating to you, as it just was to me?" Dean nodded forgivingly.
Adam, Bobcat and Dale looked at each other. Dale sighed, and said, "Oh well, it's not like I was ever Mister Super Macho."
Kimmy piped up, "HEY! What about ME? I didn't steal anything! Ask your sales girl!"
The Wizard puffed on his pipe. "No Can Do. No matter what Powers were backing your friend Nick when he came in here under my radar, he still stole things of great value from me. You helped him. Your punishment is to stay as you are for the rest of your life. Dannie let you do it, so she is being...disciplined, and can't come to testify for you. As for the primary instigator of all this, young Mister Nicholas Caligula DuPraeve, well, only the fact that he must have very powerful backers to get in here in the first place keeps me from sqashing him like a bug. Even so, things are such that I must try to extract some kind of vengence upon him."
Dale walked up to the counter, a thin smile on her sickly face. "Oh, I think we can be of some help to each other, if you're willing to lend an ear."
The Old Man leaned on the counter, speculation aglow on his face. "Oh? Do Tell, do tell..."
Nick adjusted his tie as he walked down the the stairs for the Frat Rush Party. He was annoyed. Almost a week, and Kenny still hadn't shown up. The little bottle of three Tears of Genuine Repent was still in his pocket. His face still stung from using his own dose - it was the first time that that revolting substance had ever marred his cheeks, and it was the very last! He ran a comb through his hair, something he wasn't used to doing for himself, and adjusted his suit. He wasn't up to his usual sartorial standards, and he knew it. Kenny had better get the bug out of his ass soon, and show up! But then, Kenny would, eventually. He always had. Nick smirked at the memory of taking advantage of 'Kimmy'. Maybe he would talk Kimmy into staying that way - the best of both worlds!
Nick's reverie was broken when he laid eyes on the most gorgeous woman in the world. She was sitting in the Frat parlor, surrounded by a circle of Frat brothers. Forget a common little tramp like Kimmy! She was Exquisite! She was tall and slender, yet with an hourglass figure. She had long, silky, golden hair that fell to her tan shoulders, framing a perfect oval face with delicate features, wide sapphire blue eyes, a straight nose, a delicate little mouth, and an expressive mouth, all perched on a long swan-like throat. Everything about her - her hair, her makeup, her restrained jewelry, her expensive pink jacketed dress, her manners - all spoke of generations of Old Money and breeding. Nick was not falling in love - such an emotion is an anathema to a spirit such as Nick's - but he desired her with a passion that is all too often mistaken for Love. He wanted to possess her, to own her, to dominate her, and would do anthing to get her under his power. While Lust played a major role in his feelings, there was a pragmatic end to it, as well. Beyond her beauty, poise and obvious wealth, she was the ultimate Career Corporate/Political Wife - having her seated besides him on a campaign poster would be worth a small fortune in PR and ads! He HAD To Have Her!
He adjusted himself, trying to achieve the sartorial perfection that Kenny could do so easily, and started again down the stairs.
He was stopped at the base of the stairway by two young women. "Hey, Nick! We were wondering when you'd finally come slithering out from under your rock!" the tall redhead in the denim mini-skirt and matching jacket greeted him cheerily.
The short, kittenish black girl in the strapless black leather mini-dress gave him a critical once-over. "My, my, not quite making the grade dress-wise these days, are we, Nickie?" she purred mockingly.
He looked at them quizzically, and then recognition set in. "Ritter. Waller. What are you two travesties of nature doing here? This party is only for Fraternity members and Pledge candidates. You two aren't even students at this college anymore." He quirked a sadistic smile at this last bit, letting them know that, at last, he'd WON.
Ritter grinned, and jeered back, <braaammmppp!> "I'm sorry, but that answer is incorrect! You lose the car, the yacht, the dinette set, and even the year's supply of Rice-a-Roni! You don't even win a stinking home version of our game!"
Waller gave him a vicious little kitten smile, her eyes dancing. "You really screwed up _this_ time, Nickie! You messed with a _Wizard_! Did you honestly think that he'd be fooled by that little charade that you and your three stooges pulled? He was _so_ pissed, that he was gonna turn you into cat and drop you into a dog pound! But Dale managed to persuade him to let us take care of your punishment."
Punishment? A fine line of sweat began to form on his brow. "What sort of punishment?"
Ritter grinned, took a swig of her beer, and said, "Since you cost three of us our old lives, he gave each of the three of us a revenge on you."
"Revenge? I thought you 'Power Rangers' weren't into Revenge."
"Revenge - Poetic Justice - Dramatic Closure - whatever..." Waller mused. "Y'see, Nickie, Wizards like the Old Man don't just 'cast spells' - they tinker with the very fabric of Reality! The First Revenge was for the Wizard to monkey with reality, so that what you did would have no effect on us. Y'see, in this reality, we- Dale, Diana and I - have always been female. All our records show that we've always been female, everybody we know remembers us as girls, and events in the past played out as if we had always been women."
Hmmpf! "That must have been very interesting for you, being a woman on the football team's front four, Waller!"
"Oh, I wasn't on the football team. But I still have my athletic scholarship!"
Diana reached over and wrapped an arm around Theo's shoulder. "And now I have one too! You are looking at the starting Front Guard and Power Forward for the college's women's basketball team! And Theo now also has another scholarship!"
"That's right! You are looking at the winner of the Sarah Langely Medal for Poetry - I always thought that I lost out on that because I was this big scary guy who played on the football team."
"And with my scientific scholarships, we both have enough income to devote ourselves full time to our studies, our extra-curricular activities - And Keeping An Eye On You, Nick." The big redhead grinned at him evilly.
He sneered at them both. "You both really hate me for taking away your manhoods, don't you?"
Theo almost purred. "Actually, Nick, I've been thinking that we ought to thank you. Y'see, ironically, we owe most of the really good things in our lives to you. We formed our friendships in defiance of your ridicule. We became strong to overcome your bullying. We became smart to get around your swindling. We became resourceful in order to outwit your schemes. All through school, we had interesting, challenging things to do, just to make sure that your scams and swindles never paid off. You kept us busy, Nick, and you made us your perfect foils, no matter what your real intentions were. Without you prodding us on with your petty tyrannies, we probably would have been just another five ordinary guys, without much to recommend us. And that's My revenge, Nick - that we be here to fill you in on the fact that you'll never get rid of us. The harder you try to slap us down, the more we'll rise to the challenge. The more you try to hurt us, the better off we'll be. You can sink to using the foulest sorcery, and instead of withering and dying, we'll thrive! You take away our manhoods, and we become the most kickass grrrls you ever saw!" Theo High-fived Diana.
Nick concealed his annoyance. He looked for the Golden Goddess - damn! She was talking to Ironknife! She was laughing at something he said! He had to get over there, before Ironknife got his hooks into her! "How very 'living well is the best revenge'," he sneered.
Diana smirked back at him. "Oh, that's just Theo's revenge! She's always been the most philosophical of us. I'm not so high minded - My revenge is a lot meaner. Have you wondered why your brown-noser Kenny hasn't shown up?"
Nick stared incredulously. "What? You killed Kenny? You bitches!" [Author's Note: Admit it - You've been waiting since the first paragraph for that joke!]
Diana leaned her chin on her hands on the staircase railing. "No, that's what you would have done. Y'see, in this reality, Kenny - or should I say, Kimmy - has always been female, as well. She was the gawky, red-headed girl with the buck teeth who started tagging along everywhere after you in the Third Grade. Like Kenny, she was always there, making sure that you looked good and doing your dirty work. This year, she finally blossomed into the lovely young woman that you took advantage of last week. After all those years of trailing along three steps behind you, you finally gave her a tumble. And you were - well, we didn't have to change that in the slightest. Let's just say that Kimmy's been spending the last week over at this Frat's sister house, Tau Rho Epsilon, telling everyone what a bust you are in the sack! Now, she's practicing her brown-nosing skills on Vanessa Cosgrove, the TRE chapter president."
"And how would you know that?" Nick asked, shaken.
"Oh, Dale is a Tau Rho Ep legacy - she got Theo and me in, no problem. We got pinned three hours ago."
Nick wasn't really listening. He was realizing the emensity of what Ritter had done to him. No more Kenny. It had been so long, that having Kenny around was like having air to breathe. No more Kenny cleaning him up. No more Kenny picking up after him. No more Kenny ironing his clothes. No more Kenny doing his dirty work. No more Kenny listening to his diabolical plans. No more Kenny putting up with his insults and patronizing. Kenny had been with him for over Ten Years. He was perfect. The Perfect Flunky. He could find another flunky, no problem, but it would take years to get the new one broken in. And the new one would never be as perfect as Kenny had been. For the first time in his life, Nick DuPraeve almost cried. Almost.
Ritter saw the glistening in Nick's eye, and decided to rub a little salt into the wound. "Oh, we were feeling so good that we spread the effect around to McKenna - little Stephanie McKenna has always been a girl, and never talked her Jock buddies into going around and beating anyone they thought was gay half to death. As a matter of fact, Steffie told me that she told her boyfriend Biff - y'know, the big halfback? - that you tried to take advantage of her last week - which, in a way, you did! I think you can expect a little visit from him and his buddies, sometime soon.
"As for Skull and Bones, well, we couldn't find them, so we weren't able to do anything about them. Looking the way they do, and having the kinds of brains they do, my guess is that they're destined for a lucrative - for somebody - career in the Sex Industry. Oh, and Kimmy let drop as to the location of your cheat-sheets and book-making records. Nothing we can pin on you, as always, but they're still gone, Nick. That's My revenge. But it's nothing compared to Dale's revenge. Now, that's a PIP!"
Townsend? Nick thought back to the image of the scrawny little waste of feminity tied up the in the back of the van. What could that little nothing do to him?
Theo called into the parlor, "Hey, Dale! It's almost time for our dates to show up! You ready to go?"
Nick looked incredulously at them. "Dates? You have Dates?"
"Sure! What do you think we've been doing for the last week? Sitting in our dorm rooms and sucking our thumbs?"
Nick flinched as the star forward for the Men's basketball team put his arm around Ritter's waist, and the president of his own Frat draped an arm around Waller's shoulder. He almost hyperventilated as his imagination ran amok trying to figure out what Dale Townsend's revenge would be like.
Then the Golden Apple of his Eye came sailing out of the parlor, with Ironknife and Shih in tow. She smiled at Ritter and Waller and their dates, and said, "Oh, I've been ready to go for hours! I've just been waiting for you two to wrap up with Nick." She looked up at Nick, and smiled serenely. "Well, you always said that I'd look good in pink. Good Night, Nick."
Nick's jaw dropped as he recognized the voice as only slightly more feminine than the one that he had hated for years. He knew what the Wizard had done to Townsend. His gut churned as he realized that the very things that had always disgusted him in Dale Townsend now attracted him like a moth to a flame. As the one woman that he would desire above, beyond and before all others left the House on the arms of the two men that he would fear and hate above, beyond and before all others, he knew what form Dale Townsend's revenge had taken.