Tuesday, 07 November 2023 01:00

Turkey Day Tragedy (Part 1)

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A Second Generation Whateley Academy Adventure

Turkey Day Tragedy


Wasamon, based on conversations with NeoMagus


Part 1: The Start of a Very Long Weekend


--Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Without a doubt, somewhere in this wide world, there was someone for whom today was the most important date in their lives, when something of earth-shaking significance would happen and the foundation of their entire existence was rocked.  It could be a day of wonder, a day of tragedy, of epic highs or lows.

But for Tanya, it was a Tuesday, and Tuesdays meant afternoon detention at Hawthorne Cottage.  This was not the awful thing she'd been made to expect, back when the sentence was handed down back in October.  Deep inside, she felt that the punishment had to fit the crime, and Thornie duty just didn't.  The residents of Whateley Academy's oddest and most hazardous of dorms were perfectly nice as long as you were nice to them.  The horror stories all came from students who had not been nice before they'd gotten their detention assignments.

Tanya wished it were as bad, which was why she'd requested her tour of duty to be extended well past the original sentence.  It was the least she deserved.

She wouldn't let that thought get her down just yet.  After high-fiving Hypergolic--but only the one hand, and she washed it off right away--she stepped into a room the size of a walk-in closet that had a tall wardrobe and a dollhouse within.  Her next visit sat on a miniature sofa with a book in hand.

The sophomore known sometimes as Koropokkur was her last check-in for the day.  "Got your laundry," she announced.  The clothes were all normal in size, and would have been large on herself.  Into the wardrobe they went, tagged and labeled with easy access from the ladders and catwalks arranged within the cavernous interior.  "Mrs. Cantrell also asked me to bring your dinner," she continued, presenting the to-go box with her other hand.

Kei Sanui stepped out of her dollhouse, all of five inches tall and dwarfed by the cafeteria's special of the day.  One dime-sized palm pressed against the side, and then the box was the proper size for its recipient.  "Itadakimasu!"

"O-agarinasai!" Tanya replied.  It was not the only phrase in Japanese she knew, but it was a significant portion of her vocabulary.  "And if I do not see you tomorrow, then Happy Thanksgiving as well."

"Ah, that is this week, ne?"  The sophomore's voice was surprisingly normal for someone so small, though it did have a slight echoing quality, like from the bottom of a shallow well.  "Back home it is Respect for the Elders Day on Wednesday."

"How do you celebrate that?" she asked. 

"I shall call o-baa-chan back in Wakkanai and tell her how much I love her."  Kei-chan peeked inside her take-out box.  "Mm... perfect.  And today is ii-fufu-no-hi, which is not a proper holiday but is nice anyway."

"Oh?  What's that one?"

"It is a joke."  Kei giggled.  "Take the numbers one-one-two-two, like in the date, and put them to Japanese substitution code, and you get i-i-fu-fu, which sounds like 'happy couple' in Japanese.  So if you would excuse me, I must get ready for my dinner date.  Primal shall be down soon."

Oh yes, the junior from the third floor of Hawthorne.  Tanya did not know how one so large could date one so tiny, and she was afraid to ask.  So instead, she wished Kei-chan the best and took the room's trashcan, full of normal-sized takeout boxes, back down to the front desk, where Mrs. Cantrell was doing the daily paperwork.  "All done, ma'am," she reported.

The dorm mother gave her the broadest smile.  "Of course you are.  Oh, we shall miss you when your time's finished."

"I can always get an extension, ma'am."  Again.

"I'm not sure if the administration will allow a third one without an actual offense to punish.  Though the way this school operates...  No major bodily harm," the woman warned.

Her stomach did a triple-flip slurve to the right.  "Yeah, um, no, definitely not.  Well, see you after the holiday."

The treacherous organ was still queasy as she stepped out and over the cottage's front floor design.  The tile mosaic shifted patterns as she stepped across, changing with perspective, and somehow that helped.  It distracted her from things, at least.  Then the mid-autumn air slapped her face like a frozen pancake.  It was a green-flag day, so she was safe to call up her lavender aura.  The PK force let her fly against the wind, and it even cut the chill down as she zoomed through the late November evening.  The sun had set while she was doing her rounds, but the lamps along the edges of the quad and the major walking paths all shed light to make up for things.

Not so many students braved the chill, preferring to traverse the heated tunnels, but all the kids Tanya could see had a single goal in mind: dinner at the Crystal Hall.  On her way in, she waved to the girls who still sat in the Whitman cafeterritory on the first floor.  Shisa and her new friend, the girl who always looked like she'd been chalk-bombed with colored dust, and Helsing were having some sort of argument, but they were smiling.  At least, Tanya assumed that the felid was smiling.  It was hard to tell with those teeth.  The other girls at the table were all laughing.

There were three specials of the day to choose from: beef bowl, roasted chicken, or fried fish.  Her exemplar metabolism demanded all three, with a bowl of clam chowder and french fries on the side.  Once more her PK aura came in handy, extending around her food trays and keeping them balanced on her arms.  A will to lift sent her and her food up one floor to the middle dining area without bothering with the stairs.

"Oh, you're finally here!"  The M3 table was loaded with trays upon trays of meats, veggies, breads, fries, soups, puddings--and that was just the side with Morgana and Erica.  The red Welsh girl barked a laugh as she and their blonde friend cleared a space for Tanya's own load.  The table did not sag under the weight, to the eternal honor of the engineers who'd designed it.  "Thought you'd fallen in the crapper over there."

"Ew..." was the general reaction around the table.  The state of the Hawthorne toilets, and the second sub-basement restroom in particular, was legendary across campus.  None of her friends who'd had detention in the dorm had ever seen it; that 'honor' was reserved for people the Thornies did not like.

"But seriously," Morgana continued.  "How much longer do you need to go?  The rest of us finished up that detention weeks ago."

"One more week," she said, for the third or fourth week in a row.  The fork sat between her fingers, but without an appetite to move it.  As the one who'd directly sent a fellow student to the infirmary, she'd received the longest punishment detail--or at least so she'd told them all.  That it was not so punishing was small comfort.

"What are you all doing for the Thanksgiving?"  Calliope had been silent till then, but her lyrical voice caught the metaphorical ball of the conversation before it could bounce anywhere even less comfortable.  Tanya smiled her thanks to the Italian as the other members of the Mutant Mayhem Machine detailed their plans for the holiday, or the lack thereof.  Cally was too far from home--and it wasn't a holiday there, anyway--so she was visiting her big brother in Boston.  Erica was tagging along with her roommate.  Bianca didn't have anything happening, and no one asked why.  No need: they all knew each other's little tragedies by now, at least the basics.

Morgana was going with Laura to visit the blue devisor's mom up in Concord, apparently, as Thulia had to make a weekend visit to that place she called home.  It was likely for the best.  The the Welsh girl and her significant whatever got along like a house on fire, and that was sadly not always a metaphor.  They would all need to trust in the school's sprinkler system going forward into the school year.

On a trip down to the first floor to visit the Machine and get one randomized flavor of ice cream (#26, butterfinger), Tanya spied her roommate sitting in the usual spot at the edge of the regular Whitman table space.  Sterling was a girl who should've stood out, even at Whateley.  Remarkably tall, though not a giantess, elegant of face with silver hair and green skin--not to mention her figure.  There was no reason for the girl to be sitting alone at a corner table the way she was, unless one knew what her power was.

Most people forgot about her power, and Sterling herself, within minutes.  Some forgot so quickly that they never even realized.  Tanya was perhaps the only kid in school who did not, which was why they were roommates.

"Hey."  She settled into the chair next to Sterling.  "How was your day?"

Dark green lips pressed together to form a faint smile.  "Not too bad.  I got called on in math class, an' Miz Liebeck even heard my answer."  The girl's soft Southern accent flattened and stretched the vowels until her my was more of a mah.  "I mean, she forgot it halfway through writin' it on the board an' had to do it herself all over again, but I did it!"

 A hug was in order.  "Good work," said Tanya.  "We'll have you making friends yet."

"Got friends..."

"Friends who notice you're there even when they're not stoned."  Lord love a duck, but she could not grok why Sterling hung out with Kinesio and Feedback--or Spazz and Skitz, as the stoners were known across campus.  As Friend #1 to the invisible girl, Tanya could worry both sides of the problem, easy enough.

And a third side of the problem was swift approaching, stomping her way through the dinnertime crowd with a full tray and a face devoid of happiness.  Sera Eir Magnusdottir set the food down hard, then grabbed a chair.  Not Sterling's, however; even at her most invisible, the green-skinned girl still avoided being stepped or sat on, somehow.

"This stupid school!" the Nordic girl exclaimed, only to scowl shortly after at the Twain boys a few yards away who cheered their approval of the outburst.

"What now?" asked Tanya.

"Stupid English spelling in stupid English class."  The girl looked fit to spit.  "Why they cannot do the spelling the way it sounds?  Complete nonsense!"

"I thought you studied it in Reykjavik?"

"Yes, and it was nonsense there, too!"  Sera murdered her fish filet thoroughly before taking even one bite.  "Stupid school, anywhere and everywhere!"

"Then why did you come here...?"  It was surprising that Sterling could voice the question.  It was not a surprise that Sera failed to hear it at all.

"At least there's the long weekend coming up," she said, trying to keep things positive.

"Yeah, and with you gone to wherever it is."

"Memphis.  And you are welcome to come along," Tanya pointed out.  "Sylph told me that the two of you had a good chat on Parents Day."

The flinch was minimal, but there.  Her godmother had not said just what had been discussed, but it could not have been too bad.  "I have tutoring.  For English."  Sera looked as though she'd bitten a pickle, expecting a candy.  "And the schedule is inflexible.  If we were roommates, you could help me whenever."

"I already have a roommate."

"And where is she?  I never see her!"  Sera failed to register the sad eyes from Sterling right then.  "Fine.  Go.  See family.  Come back to... to us."

In the other seat, Sterling nodded her agreement.  Tanya had asked her roommate several times, and it wasn't like the girl would be difficult to sneak onto an airplane flight, but Sterling did not ever want to leave the campus.  She understood, sort of.  As a safe place, Whateley left much to be desired, but when it was the safest place you'd ever had...  She could imagine the green-skinned girl not wanting to chance things too soon.

Rather than manage two dead-end conversations at once, Tanya focused on eating her ice cream before it melted.

Sterling finished her dinner first, wiped her mouth with a napkin, and stood.  "Thanks for noticing me," she said, then left to return her tray.

"You're welcome," said Tanya in a soft voice.

"What was that?"  Sera looked up from her own meal. 

"Nothing.  Hey, I gotta go pack.  See you at Whitman."  Tanya waved to her fellow Whitty-girls in passing, high-fiving Whirlibird and giving Shisa a scritch behind the ears before leaving the Crystal Hall for the evening. 

It was not a long walk back to the dorm, unless she made it one.  Or let someone else make it one.  Her fingers were poking the number for one particular someone even as she had the thought.  After four buzzes, that someone picked up.  "Hey!" she said.  "How are you?  Didn't see you at dinner."

A short pause buzzed the line with silence, then: "Hey, Tanya."  Even over the phone, Vic sounded exhausted.  "I'm calling it in early today.  Just tired."

"Aw, it's nothing serious, is it?  My dad always says you shouldn't ignore fatigue as a symptom, because there's no telling what could be causing it."

Another pause followed, and then the boy said, "Yeah, you're right.  My exercises weren't that bad today...  Let me sleep on it, okay?  See you tomorrow?"

"Sure!" she told him.  "But if you're still tired in the morning, get your butt to the infirmary, you hear?"  A beep from the phone made her wince, but she ignored it for the moment.  She could check whatever was incoming in a bit.  This was more important.

"Yes, ma'am..."  This time, a chuckle filled the space of silence.  "Thanks for caring."

"You know I l... ahem, you know I care," said Tanya.  "So take care."  She could feel her cheeks going pink as she rambled off the word too many times.  After a quick glance around to make sure that no one was watching, she placed a light kiss on the phone screen to cut the connection.

Under normal circumstances she often floated back to her dorm in the evening, but tonight it was more metaphorical than literal.  When her heart rose so high, Tanya's natural inclination was to skip.  A few meters ahead of Whitman's front steps, she remembered to check her phone's alerts.  A message blinked from Mrs. Savage.  The dorm mom herself was standing at the front door, and the look on her face made a bad feeling even worse.

"Tanya, dear?  Hurry up and pack your bag.  Right now.  We leave in five minutes to catch the next flight out of Berlin."

"Um, what?"

"You need to check your messages."  The next words put an even sourer expression on the woman's face.  "We just received word.  Your father.  An incident of some sort.  We're waiting on full details, but right now you need to move it!"

For most students, the Twenty-Second of November was a Tuesday.  For Tanya, it was the official start of the worst weekend of her life.

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Last-minute flights across half a continent were not supposed to be easy, practically by definition.  Double that for any route through Chicago.  That Tanya had no issues at all, making a narrow window of a layover and the plane to Memphis by a razor's edge, and arriving at Memphis International Airport well before midnight should qualify somebody for sainthood, because it truly was a miracle.  For Whateley, it was a Tuesday, going on a Wednesday, in the wee hours of which Tanya arrived at the Paul Nestor Estwine Memorial Hospital.

She had no idea who that was or why he deserved to have the city's newest and most advanced hospital named after him, but she thanked him all the same in her heart.  Everything was the squeaky white of new plastic under humming fluorescent lights that conspired to mute all the colors that could not fight back.  Her PK flared lightly to embolden her own lavender and to calm her nerves.  The hospital aide did not seem to notice as he led her from the front desk to the hospital's south tower, up three floors, and around to the ICU waiting lounge.

"Tanya!"  There was a familiar face and a pair of welcome arms as her godmother, the hero Silver Sylph, engulfed her in the kind of hug only a PK-assisted exemplar brick could survive.  Anyone less than that... well, they were already at the ICU.

She cried into the bodice of the Nordic giantess's outfit for two minutes before she could finally ask what had happened.

"An idiot happened," said the hero.  Her accent was usually light, but anger caused it to burr up until it was sharp enough to eviscerate the subject of her ire.  "On the highway.  A bit of snow, and everyone is struck with a crisis of stupidity.  Ugh, Americans... Your father, he was fetching your aunt, uncle, and cousin from the airport.  I believe they were all staying over for the holiday, yes?"

Her nod was buried in her godmother's shoulder, more felt than seen.

"Yes, so the traffic, it is its usual mess, and a man in a car ahead of them decided to encourage the rest of the world to move faster by pulling out a blaster gun.  Tyr only knows where he got the thing; we identified it as part of the old Doctor Dismal arsenal, which we'd thought was one-hundred-percent accounted for.  Messy thing.  Your father is too brave for his own good; he tried to talk the man down.  And in return, he got thrown several yards and his car was tumbled with your relatives inside.  They're mostly fine, by the way.  Seat belts and air bags."

"But he's... he's..."

"They rolled him out of the OR two hours ago.  Come, steel yourself.  The old Dismal blasters are kinetic punchers, not technically lethal, but they're not nice, either."

She would not cry, she would not cry, she would... rush to the restroom next to the elevator and puke up her entire Crystal Hall experience into the toilet.  The plastic faux-porcelain accepted  the offering with silent stoicism.  After she'd washed her face and gargled, Tanya was slightly less not-ready to proceed.

Her father was in a room of his own.  At least, she hoped it was Dad, almost as much as she wished it were not.  His skin was battered and bruised, only just starting to turn all the colors of the contusion rainbow where white bandages didn't hide.  Both legs were in splints, and the left arm as well, lifted by cushions and held steady by cords.  His face was too swollen to recognize.

"Dad..." she croaked.  "Dad! ... hic... Dad..."

"He will not be waking up for a while," said Sylph.  "Possibly even a few days or more.  It is hard to say.  The doctors, they are as optimistic as they can be, right now."  The woman extended her hand.  "Come.  You are needed elsewhere."

She was?  Tanya couldn't grok a good reason for that.  A quick PK lift brought her over the bed, the better for her to kiss Dad on the cheek, and then she followed her godmother out.

They did not stay in the ICU, but they did not go very far, either.  Just over the connecting hall-bridge to the hospital's other tower, and keeping to the same floor--it was practically next door.  The room they walked into had four beds in it, but only one was occupied.  A younger girl with short hair, big ears, and a generous spatter of freckles was trying to read a book with just her left hand.  The right one was in a cast, though the rest of her was in good, or at least not-bad, condition.  Brown eyes glanced up, and then went wide.  "Tanya-Banana?"

"Stinky Cheese!"  Oh, if only they could risk a hug, but even if she held back, Tanya feared she'd break her cousin more.  They settled for an awkward slap-slap handshake.  "Are you okay?  I mean, yeah, obviously not, but then again..."

"Been better," said the girl.  "Um, hello again, Miss Sylph-ma'am."

"Gott kvöld, Bree," said the hero.  "As I promised, she is here, and in record time."

"Had good luck with the airplanes," Tanya mumbled.

"I thought you could fly?" said Bree.  "I mean, I heard Mom and Dad say..."

With a smile on her face, Tanya let the lavender PK surround her and lift her up to the ceiling.  After three twirls around, she set her toes back on the hospital floor and took a bow.  "You might mistake me for a bird," she said, "but never a plane.  I'd still be only halfway across New York State if I flew myself, and I don't have my flight certification yet, either."

"Wow..."  Her cousin wasn't hearing any negatives.  "Tell me more!"

The next half-hour was nothing but Flight Club stories.  Accidents when taking hard turns, Whirlibird's early bouts of acrophobia, Peregrino and their ongoing inability to stop in a timely manner, and all the fun to be had when racing across the skies over Whateley.

"Aw, man," Bree grumped.  "I only got extra math homework this week."

"I've got that, too," Tanya admitted.  "Oh, my math teacher, Ms. Liebeck, has this parrot named Hypatia, and whenever she wants to make a point, she asks the bird to solve the equation instead of the student."

"And does it?"

"Every single darn time.  It's embarrassing, really."  It was sad that she could say this from experience.  "But I have other classes, too.  English, History, Science, Intro to Martial Arts--yanno, the basics."

"Right..."  Bree's eyes flicked up and down.  "Um, I like your hair.  The color, I mean.  Is it lavender?"

"No, it's lav... er, yeah, that's right."  Tanya chuckled at her own automatic correction.  "Sorry, but everyone says 'purple' even though it's not."

"Philistines," her cousin declared.  "But, um, thanks for visiting.  The hospital wouldn't let Mom or Dad stay the night here, since I'm not in, like, critical condition or anything.  Just observation to make sure that I didn't hit my head too hard."

She tousled the brown hair.  "Don't worry.  Your skull's too thick to take much damage."  A chuckle followed as Bree swatted her hand away.  "But where are they, then?  Staying at... um, staying at my place?"

"Yes," Sylph confirmed.  "I was able to arrange a rental car, and they already had a copy of the key.  Shall we go see them?"

The thought of seeing her Uncle Charles and Aunt Mary did not fill her with joy.  There'd always been the feeling that the two of them had not approved of her dad's marriage to her mom, in that vague sense of a culture clash behind the curtains.  The family had Thanksgiving together, every year, but that was about the limit of their interaction.  She hadn't seen any of them since her hair had changed color, and her mind was not in the best state to hear what they thought of it.  "Could I stay with Bree a while longer?" she asked.  "It's practically midnight anyway, so what's another few hours?"

"Yeah!" chimed her cousin.

It was in fact barely ten in the evening, which was late enough.  She knew it, Sylph knew it, they all knew it.  "I do suppose," said her godmother, "that I could get some snacks to bring back.  You are both growing girls, and you need your nutrition.  Especially if you are in the habit of spewing it forth at inopportune moments."

"Just this once!" Tanya protested.  "And, um, that other time, yeah, but..."  Her stomach made a better argument for her.  "So, yeah, hospital store?"

"Get me a MostestTM fruit pie!" said her cousin.

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--Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

She woke up in a cot on the floor of the hospital room, next to her cousin's bed.  Bree was still sawing logs like a lumberjill with her splinted arm fixed carefully over her chest.  The taste of MostestTM fruit pie--raspberry and vanilla--lingered in her mouth, even after a careful scrub with a toothbrush.  Dawn was only now showing its light through the windows.  Back at school, everyone would be preparing for the day with all the enthusiasm of kids who knew it to be the last road-block before the long weekend.

Tanya took out her school tablet and went over the teachers' announcements on the private Multi-ClassyTM system.  The lesson plans for each subject were up, as well as a few notes of condolences.  She skipped the latter in favor of the drearily mundane reality of schoolwork.  Mr. Barton had the pages from their history text scanned in, and Ms. Liebeck had worksheets.  Mr. Bergamot, the Powers Theory teacher, had only a note that said, "Take your time."

"Mmph... Tanya-Banana?  You there?"

"Of course, Stinky Cheese."

"Um, could you help me get to the toilet?"

That was easy enough, even without the PK assist.  With her power, Tanya could lift the entire bed off the ground, so it was no problem keeping her cousin up high and pretend-flying all the way to the john.  Bree's legs were in better shape than her arm, which had taken the brunt of an airbag on top of everything else, but the bruises had had the time to set in all over.  Pretty much any movement was uncomfortable.

Tanya knew the feeling.  Even with Exemplar-boosted recovery times, it took a while to get back up after a Ratel training session.  She let the girl have her privacy.

In the meantime, she read the history text for the day.  Mr. Barton's particular focus was on mutant history, and she suspected that the man had contributed written material of his own to the texts.  At least it was interesting, even if the vintage costumes were whack.  The 70s may have had a lot going on, but fashion was so not one of those things.

The door to the room swung open.  "Sweetie!  How are you fee... Oh, it's you.  Hello, Tanya."  The woman now barging in had a pickle-eater's smile as she acknowledged her niece.  "You're looking... ah, fine and purple."

"Hello, Aunt Mary."  She didn't bother correcting on the color this time.  "She's in the toilet now."  Tanya leaned back in her chair to rap a knuckle on the washroom door.  "Yo, Sti... ahem, Bree?  You okay?  Haven't fallen in, have you?"

"I'm fine!" came the reply.  "Is that my mom out there?"

"Yup."  Aunt Mary was looking good for someone who'd been in a roll-over the day before, but that was a testament to how much protection her mom and dad had put into the sides of the family van.  There were patches and bruises on the woman, but nothing bad.

The older woman sat herself down on the next seat over with her overstuffed bag in hand.  "How are they treating you at that school of yours?"

"Good enough.  Class is class.  Students are students.  Food is great.  Dad says..."  Her voice caught on a hitch, but she powered through.  "Um, he says that just keeping me fed is worth the price of tuition."  Her stomach gurgled a reminder to that effect.  "Guess I gotta find breakfast soon, though."

Her aunt's face was no less sour than before, but it was softer.  "Well, that's what I'm here for, I suppose.  We're checking Bree out after her morning examination, then heading back to Lexington.  No point in staying through the weekend--sorry, Tanya, dear--but we can manage a pre-Thanksgiving brunch."

"Ooh!  Max Mulligan's Blaster Buffet?"  She hadn't been there since the mutation set in, but now nostalgia was kicking her in the stomach.

"Girl, do you think we're made of money?"

"Um, I can call Auntie Sylph and see if she'd like to come?  She can spot me for my part of the bill, maybe Bree's as well?"

Her aunt looked even less convinced now.

"Please?"  She tried her best puppy-dog eyes.

"Pleeeeeze?"  Her cousin stuck her head out of the washroom with a matching look on her face.

Aunt Mary snorted.  "Fine.  You call your... ah, godmother, and I'll call Charlie and we'll do this."

"Yay!"  The two cousins cheered together.

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It took a while to get Bree checked out, which was fine with Tanya.  She needed a while to herself and Dad, which meant to herself, by herself, sadly.  All signs were still good; they just weren't signs that he'd wake up anytime soon.  Auntie Sylph promised that she would get a dedicated healer in as soon as she could, but the holiday weekend made arrangements more complicated.  It was a relief when her godmother fetched her down to the lobby to meet her relatives for the promised breakfast-slash-lunch.

Uncle Charlie was a stout guy with a stout laugh, but she wouldn't be hearing it today.  He had a few scrapes and bruises of his own, and they all pretended not to see his wince whenever he bumped into something.

Bree had herself a nice wheelchair, one that Tanya recognized as being an emergency model her dad kept in the garage back home.  She'd never stopped to wonder why he kept things like that on hand.  It seemed to be the smart thing to do when your spouse was a superhero.  The wheels rolled easily across the parking lot to the McAdam family's rental car, a new-model station wagon in light blue.

"I shall meet you there," said Sylph after a glance at the vehicle and its lack of leg room for two-meter-tall Amazons of the Nordic persuasion.  "You have the directions, yes?  Then let us go."

The two cousins sat in the back with a pillow to support Bree's arm.  The whispered giggles on their end of the station wagon were balanced by stony silence in front as Uncle Charlie focused on his driving and Aunt Mary napped. 

And then they were there.  Max Mulligan's Blaster Buffet was more than just a restaurant.  Installed within an old warehouse in downtown Memphis, the place began with food and continued on from there.  In the basement, there was a bowling alley, billiards room, and trick-shot basketball course.  Going up, the floors ringing the open central space of the old warehouse were dedicated to arcade games old and new, some so obscure that they were likely museum pieces, but all kept in ace condition by Max Mulligan himself.

Silver Sylph was chatting with the proprietor at the door as they walked up--probably something about good old days that were better now that they were not the bad new days. 

"Well as I live and breathe."  The man formerly known as Maximum Overdriver had a broad grin and a light handshake for her.  "If I didn't know better, I'd accuse Sylphie here of cloning.  Really, a Mini-Invictus!  Minivictus?"

"It's just Tanya, yanno."

"Yeah, I remember.  Wow, it's been a while.  Not since, ah..."  The man's smile faltered, but his shrug was broad.  "But it's all past.  Mister and Missus McAdam, right?  You're Dan's sister?  I could see it in your face, no doubt.  And who's this?"  He paused by the wheelchair.

"My cousin Bree," she told him.  "She's not feeling too good at the moment."

Bree took the hint and launched into an Oscar-worthy performance of moans and groans as a misfortunate invalid.  "Oh... Oh... Woe is me..."

"Let's get this girl some waffles!" Tanya cried.  "Ten cc of maple syrup, stat!"

"I could never turn down a lady in need."  Max winked at Uncle Charlie and Aunt Mary.  "Be my guests for the morning.  Buffet line is my treat, but the machines are still coin-op.  Enjoy.  Oh, and Tanya, do you have your card on you?"

A grimace waltzed across her face as she pulled her MID out and presented it for inspection.

"Thanks.  Hate to be a bother, but I don't make these stupid laws.  Ah..." Max continued as he read it over.  "You really are your mother's daughter.  Well then, I trust you to know your own strength, so no rough-housing.  The place is pretty quiet today, so it's not like we're expecting trouble, but I still gotta say it.  But if you feel the need to skip the stairs or elevator and just fly up the middle of the building, go on ahead.  And everyone?"  Max did a pose to match the cartoon mascot of the establishment, the one sporting his old hero costume.  "Enjoy your meal to the max!"

She and Bree needed no further encouragement.  "You didn't tell me you knew the owner," her cousin whispered as they wheeled down the entrance ramp to the main buffet area.

"I didn't think he'd meet us at the door!" Tanya whispered back.  "He and Mom were team-mates, years back.  Okay."  The wheelchair had arrived at a good table.  "Whatcha want?"

The answer was, of course, a bit of everything.  Tanya gave a passing thought to keeping things to a reasonable level of appetite, but late morning on a school day was hardly the busiest of times for this place, and the line for waffles was non-existent, which was how she could commandeer all five waffle-makers at the same time.  With practically no one around but her own relatives, why bother hiding her appetite?  A few minutes later, she returned from the buffet line with three heavy trays buoyed by her PK field, and only two of them were hers.  .  On Bree's tray, there was one golden grid of goodness with a dollop of butter, ten cc of maple syrup, with a side line of banana slices, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and even some of those new snozzberries that were getting more common in stores.  That wasn't even to mention the sausage, omelet, hashbrowns, milk, and orange juice.

"You sure you can eat all that?" she asked her cousin.  The girl's tray was full enough by Whateley standards, if not by M3 table standards, and Bree McAdam was only thirteen.

"Yeah, I'm sure.  The hospital food was nice, but not enough for a growin' girl, don't you know."  Though the mouthful of waffles made that sound more like 'muncherow'.

"Well, I can finish whatever you can't."

Bree's eyes spoke all the disbelief that her mouth could not fit in.  Each of Tanya's trays was, by itself, full by Morgana standards, and a generous estimate might put the entire meal at only four to five thousand kilo-calories.  She might need to go back for seconds, but not for thirds.

"Think you got enough there?"  Her Uncle Charlie shared his daughter's opinion, and his mouth was still free enough to say it out loud as the adults arrived with their own trays.  "Dang, girl, don't they feed you at that fancy school of yours?"

Silver Sylph's own tray was heavily laden, though no one batted an eye, given the hero's size and physique.  "I can assure you that this is normal, Mr. McAdam," said she.  "And her school's cafeteria is much like this place, only filled to capacity for every meal."

Uncle Charlie had that gobsmacked look that came from seeing a super-charged metabolism in action for the first time.  "No wonder you were so insistent on coming here," he said to his niece.  "I thought it was just for the games, but..."

"Keeping her fed is worth the price of admission," said Aunt Mary for him, quoting Tanya herself.

The man had a low whistle.  "No foolin'."

To her credit, Bree managed most of her tray's contents, earning her the title of Honorary M3 Table Food-Fighter.  Tanya finished off the girl's sausages, but held back on getting seconds.  "Hey, so that wheelchair's from Dad's supply closet, right?" she asked.

"Yes?" said her uncle.

"Thought so.  That means it's got the special ties and stuff for, um, Mom's side of the med-evac work."

"Tanya..."  Her godmother knew what she was getting at, even if it took her relatives a little longer to grok.  "Would that be safe?"

"Well, my power set is practically identical to Mom's, and..."

Her cousin was in second place for catching on.  "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" she said.

"Go straight to Games, do not pass Elevator?"


"No!" shouted Aunt Mary and Uncle Charlie together.  "Um, would it be safe?" her uncle continued.


"C'mon, Mary.  Aren't you curious?  How much can you lift?" he asked Tanya.

"Not quite sure, actually.  The bigger limitation is simply holding on to stuff, yanno?  There's sort of a density limit for that size range.  I can definitely lift a junior high school student in a wheelchair, though."


"Second floor only," said Sylph.  "And I shall be on hand to catch.  If it is fine with your parents."

"Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeze?"  The full force of the puppy dog stare was brought to bear on her aunt and uncle.  The two responsible adults had to see the wheelchair's features for themselves, the safety straps and stabilizers, before they would agree to an un-girled test flight of a few feet.  That was fine by Tanya as well; she preferred to know how the thing handled before taking it higher.  Only her cousin was dissatisfied with the time it took, but Bree wisely kept her mouth shut until after permission was granted and they were aloft.

"Hey, Tanya-Banana?" the girl said, halfway to the second story.

"What's up, Stinky Cheese?"

"We are."  Bree giggled and then groaned.  "Ugh, not the best timing there."

"I can take you down."

"No!  Up, up, and away we go!"  With her cast pointing the way, they flew up to the floor with all the blinky, flashy games  The only ones that had multiples were the versus installations, two of the game machines facing back to back for improved play.  Otherwise, every single machine was a different game with its own cabinet, plus a few that provided a selection of titles.  In the corner, a change machine accepted dollar bills and spat out an equivalent value in game tokens.  Max's old hero persona grinned from the front of every bronze-ish coin. 

The wheelchair and cast did get in the way, but they found a light-gun machine near the staircase that Bree could manage one-handed.  The hordes of colorfully cartoonish monsters didn't stand a chance.  After that, her cousin cheered as Tanya failed to set a high score on a dance rhythm game, and then did better with the ball tosses.  They both whacked moles to their hearts' content.

"Not the worst day off," said Bree as Tanya lowered them back down to the buffet floor.  "I mean, except for, um..."

She managed to set the wheelchair down without crashing, but she could not say the same for her heart.  The problem with distractions was that eventually you had to remember what they were distracting you from.  "So, um, you take care in Lexington," she told her cousin.

"You too, up there wherever."  The cast made for awkward hugs, but they were up to the challenge.  "And see you at Christmas?"

"Definitely.  And back here, when your arm and legs are better."

"Right on."

Not long after, she was watching the McAdams rental station wagon depart for the airport, and from there to the far-off neighboring state of Kentucky, and she was standing at the entrance to Max Mulligan's with a full stomach and empty heart.

"A nice family," said her godmother.  "We had some good conversation while you two had your fun.  Nice people, but ordinary.  They were not comfortable, your aunt and uncle."

"It seemed like they were doing okay."

"That is because they were nice and hid their misgivings."

Hid it for themselves?  For Bree?  For her?  For Dad?  All of the above and none of the below where the tears slid off her face and plunged to an oblivion upon cold pavement.  Sniffles and snorts failed to dislodge the metaphorical source of discomfort.  A linen handkerchief, embossed with the city team's logo, briefly went inside-out as she blew her nose with it.  "Th-thanks," she said.

"It is nothing of a problem," Silver Sylph replied.  "Do you wish to visit your father again?"

"Would it be bad of me to say no?"  She hiccuped.

"It would not be bad, and certainly it would be understandable.  The hospital has my number.  They shall let me know if anything happens."

"Huh, how'd you manage that?"  As far as she knew, only family members got that sort of privilege.

"The team's by-laws of incorporation.  Rather standard form actually.  What with the secret identities and hidden families and the occasional shunning, we teammates filed for and won the right to be considered family for certain and specific legal purposes."

"But Dad wasn't a superhero."

"You sell him short, Tanya.  No, he wore no cape, but he did drive emergency vehicles for us on occasion, and so he was a registered team affiliate.  And after your mother..."  Eyes of pale sky clouded with tears.  "Ah, perhaps I should take you home.  How long will you stay?"

How long could she stand to be there?  Tanya considered the question, her feelings, and then said, "I, I don't think I can."

Silver Sylph had the sad, wan smile of understanding as they got into her car and drove home.

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Her house had two bathrooms, two showers, and no waiting as Tanya made up for lost time with the soaps and shampoos.  She didn't think she took so long, but when she emerged in a bathrobe with a towel around her head, it was to find her godmother already washed up and in terrycloth of her own heroic colors.  Sylph was glaring at her tablet as it if had personally offended her.

"I swear, they make these things less intuitive every year.  Ah, here we go.  Yes, the first flight I can arrange for you leaves tomorrow at nine AM."

"Not tonight?"  The thought of staying here without Dad...  "Can't you do anything?"

"I am not your school administration, little one.  I cannot do the miracles of logistics.  It is astounding enough that I could get you a last-minute flight reservation on Thanksgiving Day.  Do not fret, though," said the heroine.  "I am staying here with you tonight."

"You sure you're not a mind reader?"

"No, merely older, wiser, and more observant.  Now, to keep us occupied..."  They were in the living room now, with its big TV and a tower of DVD box sets.  "I see an old favorite in there," said Sylph.  "Shall we make a marathon of it?"

The series in question was Love & Capes, a romantic superhero comedy from a few years before.  It had been a favorite of her mother's, and of Auntie Sylph's as well, it seemed.  Tanya had seen enough of it to know the main cast: the strong and handsome Champion homage with his CPA secret identity, and the pretty bookstore owner who fell in love with him over tax season without knowing what she was getting herself into.  The series had lasted five seasons, so there was plenty to get through.  The two of them snuggled upon the couch, still in their bathrobes, and enjoyed the romantic hijinks as the bookstore lady dealt with a new life of dramatic coincidences, wicked villains, and superpowered ex-girlfriends still carrying a torch for her fiancé.

Halfway through Season 2, Sylph ordered pizzas, and then paid a surprised pizza-delivery girl thirty-five minutes later.  On top of a hefty tip, the delivery girl got an autographed photo and a kiss on the cheek.

"Ah, part-time and working this weekend, she deserved it all," her godmother explained to no one in particular.  "And you are all so cute at that age," she added, pinching Tanya's cheek.  "The ice cream is in the freezer.  Would you like some later?"

"Yes'm!" Tanya managed around a three-slice layered pile of cheese, crust, and pepperoni in her mouth.

They finished off the ice cream by the end of Season 4, much later in the evening.  The last episode had ended on a cliffhanger, as the bookstore owner had woken up on the morning of her wedding day to discover that her fiancé the hero was four years deceased and the rest of the timeline was seriously borked.

"We gotta finish it tonight," Tanya declared through a yawn.  "I can sleep on the plane."

"I am sure that you can and will," said Auntie Sylph.  "Though perhaps we should change into pajamas?"

That took only a moment, as her room was just as she'd left it at the end of August.  The only difference was that her old pajamas fit a little tighter in spots, as her Exemplar trait had continued to develop without them.

Her godmother's pajamas fit like divine raiment.  The pantaloons and top had to have been custom-tailored, because they did not make regular clothes to fit those measurements.  Though now the question nagged in her head: "Um, Auntie Sylph?  Could I ask you something?"

"Of course."

This had been been bumping around the back of her brain all day and now into the night, lurking just behind her enjoyment of the show.  "Why do you have robes and pajamas here?  A full set of clothes, yeah, I could understand, but pajamas?"

The woman settled back on the couch and kept silent for a moment.  "How much of an answer do you truly want?" came the reply--or rather, the warning; Tanya could tell the difference.

""Well, I guess, um... are you and Dad dating?"

"What!?"  The laugh was full and hearty.  "Gott, no!  He is, ah, certainly not my type, no not at all.  Nor am I his.  So no, we are not in a relationship."

"Doesn't mean you aren't doing anything."

A sigh echoed after the laughter.  "You grow up so fast... Okay.  Have a seat."  Sylph patted the cushion next to her.  "It is time for a girl-talk.  Now, you know that your father loved your mother like no other, yes?  He is not looking for a replacement to that which cannot be replaced.  Likewise, my feelings for her are... were... ah, well, the hole in my heart is not like your father's, only it still is.  Neither of us can fill it in so easily, and perhaps we never shall.  But..."  The ice-chip eyes gazed into a phantom distance.  "But there are the days or the nights when the pain, the ache in the soul will not let up, and what you need is someone to hold you and to cry with you.  And that is a thing which your father and I can provide for one another.  You understand that, yes?  Tanya?"

She had been silent the entire time, the victim of too much to say and only a single working neuron to manage it all.  When the silence broke, it was with heavy sobs and tears streaming down her cheeks.  Auntie Sylph held her arms open, and the lavender girl fell into them, to be held and cuddled and told it would be alright.

Eventually they finished Season 5 of Love & Capes as well.  The wedding on TV was beautiful.  A perfect happy ending that she couldn't have.

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--Thursday, November 24th, Thanksgiving Day

A flight at nine AM meant getting to the airport by eight, which meant leaving the house before seven.  It also meant there wasn't enough time for a proper breakfast, so Tanya made do with some MostestTM fruit pies and a bottled latte drink from the corner store before she was whisked away to the hell on earth that was the airport, any airport, in the middle of a major vacation period.

People, people, bo-beeple, went her brain, latching onto a silly old song that her dad loved and twisting the lyrics around.  Banana-fana-fo-feeple.  Me-my-moh-meeple.  People!  It didn't make the crowds of Memphis International Airport any better, but it kept her from thinking too hard as she checked in, oriented herself, got lost, oriented her self again, got lost a second time, asked for directions, and then asked for directions from someone who didn't take one look at her lavender everything and immediately shut down any conversation.  She got to where she needed to be, eventually.

The euphemistically titled Safety Lounge for MID holders came as a relief, for all that it was the nicer sort of ghetto.  Safe from the crowd, while the crowd thought itself safe from her.  The lounge was almost deserted; it appeared that most of the more obvious mutants were smarter than to put themselves in the middle of a frantic holiday situation, and the ones who could pass for normal, did.

There were days when she wished that the more fantastical colors of hair dye were more common in this part of the country.  Back in NYC, she'd hardly gotten a second glance, but here she was indelibly marked as Other, which was rarely a fun thing to be.

As it was, she and one other had the place to themselves.  That other one was an older gentleman, dressed like her mental image of a classic door-to-door salesman, complete with the old felt hat.  When he tipped his headwear to her in greeting, she could see the puffball hair and fleshy antennae sprouting from his forehead.  "A happy Thanksgiving to you," he said.

She couldn't bring herself to correct him.  "Yeah, um, you too.  Happy Thanksgiving."  Though the fact that she was neither happy nor thankful could be heard in how she said the greeting.

"First time in a safety lounge?"

"No," she admitted.  "Second.  The first time was back around the end of August, but then that whatever-it-was happened in New York and I was flying through, and..."

"Say no more."  The antennae bobbed as the man nodded.  "I am only doing this for the grandchildren.  They make the less attractive parts of the holiday experience worthwhile."

"Um, are they...?"

"Not yet, and possibly not ever.  My son never developed any sign of anything.  Not that I am that much myself."  He indicated his forehead.  "A little supersensory perception, and that is all.  Nothing flashy or cool, much less useful."

"Oh..."  She had at least fifteen minutes before they let her board, so she decided to keep the conversation going.  "So, what do you do?  Like, regular work?"

"Yes, but actually no."  The old man chuckled.  "That is, it is a normal sort of job but not in a normal way.  I am a professional extra for science fiction and fantasy movies or television series."

"I thought there were rules..."

"Against employing anyone with powers that would make someone else's job, or even an entire department, obsolete, yes.  No gadgeteers, energizers, warpers, what have you, using their skills to wreck an industry."  Sarcasm dripped like freshly melted ice cream.  "But myself?  I save them a bit of money on make-up and prosthetics, but not that much.  I am safe and in demand."

"Oh..."  It felt like she was repeating that syllable too much.  "Have I seen you in anything?"

"In the background, perhaps.  I've been in every Star Wars film and series to date, as well as various episodes of Star Trek.  Random alien in the space cantina, Number Three.  That is me."

"That's, um, that's cool.  I'll have to keep an eye out for you, Mr..."

"Throckmore.  Billings Throckmore.  No fancy code names.  And yourself?"

"Tanya.  Um, and I do have a code name, but I don't really feel like I deserve it right now."

Antennae wriggled with amusement.  "Such is life.  A feeling of inadequacy is that most human of foibles.  I'd never trust anyone who didn't experience it at least once in their lives.  But a word of advice on imposterism, from an old actor?"

"What, sir?"

The formality seemed to amuse him more.  "My, you're a polite one.  My grandchildren could learn a few things.  Well, if you feel like you're not good enough for that code name, just remember that nobody else is, either.  Everyone in the world is faking it, at least part of the time, in order to make it.  We tell ourselves we're going to make it, we're going to succeed, no matter how huge a whopper it is, because the alternative is to collapse into a soggy mess on the floor, and we can't get anything done that way.  You get what I mean?"

"I think so.  You don't succeed if you don't try."

"Don't try and then fail," he amended.  "Failing is part of the process.  You mess up, you learn, you get better."

Okay, this was not the sort of conversation she'd have expected at 8:40 in the morning, but coming off an all-night cry-and-cuddle session with her godmother, it was sort of what she needed, maybe.  "Thank you, sir.  I, I'll do my best.  And then I'll do it again."

"That's the spirit," said Mr. Throckmore.  His antennae did a semaphore of encouragement as her flight was called and she bade him her farewells.

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Two long layovers and a school shuttle ride later, Tanya and her overnight bag were in front of Whitman Cottage, and the past forty hours or so seemed like a weird mix of nightmares and fantasia.  She'd messaged Sylph several times en route, and her godmother had responded with updates on Dad's condition.  All looked promising, and they were bringing in someone with a Healer rating later in the day.  She'd be able to hug him again, carefully, by Christmas.

Her fingers were crossed at that thought, and she rapped on the wooden frame of the front door for good measure.  They needed all the luck they could get.

The cottage foyer was deserted, without a soul to be seen or a sole to be heard walking the halls. The theme from The Twilight Zone floated to mind, and the ear-worm would not budge for all the head-shaking in the world.  "Hello?" she called out.  "Is anybody here?"

There was a rustling from the little office behind the front desk as Mrs. Savage stuck her head out the door and blinked at her.  "Tanya?  You're back already?  How's your--"

"He's stable," she replied quickly.  "Getting a healer in soon, but there wasn't much for me to do over there besides sit and fret, and... well..."  Her shrug said it all: this was as good a place to worry and be neurotic as any.  Better options for therapy than most, as well.  "So, um, where is everybody?"

"It's Thanksgiving, remember?  They're all at the Crystal Hall for the big dinner and movie night on the super-screen.  Some silly comedy this year," the dorm mother said dismissively.  "But oh! let me hold your bag here, and then you get yourself over there and have some turkey, you hear?"

Being social was the last thing she felt she needed, but she would not tell the dorm mother that.  The older woman would just tell her she needed it anyway and then push her all the way to the cafeteria.  And, even though Mrs. Savage was a baseline while Tanya could lift a small car, they both knew how that would turn out.  "Yes, ma'am," said Tanya.  "Operation Feed-My-Face is go."

It was a dirty mission, but someone had to do it.  With her overnight bag safely stowed, Tanya said goodbye to the dorm mother and then rushed herself to the Land of Turkey and Stuffing.

The interior of the Crystal Hall had seen some recent reorganization as the loosely acknowledged cafeterritories of the first floor had given way to tables clustered around food stations, where the wait staff carved turkeys and ladled out gravy over huge scoops of freshly mashed potatoes straight from the mixing barrel.  The side dishes and desserts remained on the buffet line, and so there was regular traffic to and from the seats.

It was interesting to note who was and was not present.  Everyone who had a place to be that weekend was already there.  The rest were enjoying the time here with friends and found-family.  She saw about half of the American Mongolian Wrestling Federation at one set of tables, living it up with friends, girlfriends, and one happy pup who was perfect at minding its indoor manners when tasty bird-meat was involved.  Jordain waved one arm her way, but the other was proudly linked at the elbow with her boyfriend, Hardnose.

Most of the freshman Whitman girls clustered by another table grouping with some of the boys from Twain.  It did not take long for her to be noticed.

"Ah!  Tanya!  You are back!" cried Sera.

"Already?"  One chair over from the Icelandic girl, the particolored Pastel looked her over.  "Didn't you just leave the other day?  What, they put a revolving door in at the airport?"

"Dad's not awake yet, and not much else to do there but sit and slowly freak out." Again.  She did not need to say that last part out loud.  "Where's Shisa?"

The cat-girl-cat was most often seen joined at the hip with her colorful friend, ever since Pastel had arrived two weeks back.  The little party at the table was marked by her absence.

"The fuzzbutt's got a family thing to go to in Boston with Helsing, if you could believe it."  Pastel did not sound like she quite did.  "Left us all high and dry for turkey and stuffing."  The girl waved a drumstick wildly before biting a hunk out of it.  "I mean, we got that here!  Why's she gotta go look for more?"

"I'm sure she's got her reasons," said Tanya as she accepted a tray of hot, juicy turkey meat from the wait staff, and then a heaping pile of potatoes and gravy.  "So, um, enjoying your first American Thanksgiving?" she asked Sera.

"The food is good."  The pronouncement was firm, followed by nothing else, good or bad, to be said about the day.

"Oh, there's the Black Friday shuttle tomorrow," said Pastel.  "And the rest of the weekend, too.  I have a bit of spare cash for once... Oi!" the girl called to the table.  "Ladies, feel free to eat yourselves sick, so I can earn a service commission for fixing you back up again!"  Laughter and toasts followed.

"I'll think about it."  Though she was already thinking about the last shopping trip she'd made to the nearest city.  She had a feeling that Vic would not be going with them this time.

Where was her... her boy who was a friend?  She was still shy about putting more into things, even if half the dorm thought they were dating.  Maybe they were.  But if she asked directly, the answer might be "no," and so she didn't.  Still, where was he?  A quick search up and down the tables failed to find him in the sea of faces, so when she made her first run to the side-bar for salad and bread, Tanya pulled out her phone and sent off a query: 「Hey, I'm back.  U there?」

The reply came before she could decide between the rye or the kaiser roll: 「Welcome back.  Early night.  Still under weather.」

「Doc says?」

「Inconclusive, more tests.  Bloodwork.  Yech.」

「They'll figure it out.」To her, it sounded like the docs in Doyle were weeding out the possibilities.  It was like her dad said, you had to rule out the regular stuff before you could declare the rare and unusual.  The usual chestnut was about hearing hoofbeats and thinking horses, not zebras, but here at Whateley...  She really hoped Vic wasn't stuck with a unicorn, and that whatever ailed him turned out to be as simple as stress and a poor diet.  「Take care.  Sleep well.  See you tomorrow.」

It was not the Thanksgiving dinner she would have wanted, but as she had her fill of conversation in between mouthfuls of turkey, it may have been the one that she needed.  She fielded Pastel's snarky comments and Avsel's honest curiosity about a new holiday, chatted with Jordain about the poem her thick-skinned beau had written for her, and practiced some Icelandic with Sera.  The further into the year they got, the more obvious the benefits of a full exemplar trait became, and not just the physical stuff.  She never studied so hard as that, and yet new languages were, if not easy, not difficult to pick up.  When Sera cracked a joke straight out of Reykjavik, Tanya's laughter was immediate and genuine.

"I have been thinking," said her Nordic friend as they left later in the evening.

"About what?"  Tanya waved to the Barnes tables, which sat as many friends as family.

"Well, I do not wish to speak ill of my roommate--Ngaire is a marvel, yes--but the two of us get along so well.  Why do we not ask Mrs. Savage to let me be your roommate?  You have the space."

Not this again... Tanya was not sure why Sera kept returning to this topic, thinking it would be different each time.  Maybe it was something in Sterling's no-see-um effect that blanked it from the girl's brain as a collateral issue, but...  "I do have a roommate," she had to remind.  "Yanno, Sterling?  Tall, green skin, silver hair down to her butt?"

"Who?"  Ice-chip eyes were glassy as the very mention of a certain student's existence was once more redacted from Sera's brain.  "I mean, what?  Roommate?  But there is never anyone in your room.  I have never seen anyone."

This was both true and not-true; Sera had looked Sterling straight in the face on more than one occasion and never seen her there.  The degree to which the girl was vulnerable to the no-see-um was extreme, even in Tanya's experience.  "I have explained before..." she began.

"No, no, I get it.  You have your precious space, and you may keep it.  A silly idea, yes.  I do not know what I was thinking.  Ha-ha.  It is just..."  The girl's frown paused the words for a beat.  "I make friends, more friends, but you are still and always my friend, my best friend, and I... I just... ah, it is silly.  You are right.  We do not need to share a room to be close."

"Um, yeah, that's right.  And, like, it's a long weekend, right?" said Tanya.  "Four more days without classes?  We should do something."

"Oh, like a picnic by the lake?"

It was late November in New Hampshire.  Only an exemplar from a veritable land of ice and snow would think that the weather was nice enough for an outing like that.  "Sure," said Tanya.  "Maybe tomorrow?  I should get to bed soon."  Her yawn made the point for her.  "It has been a long forty-eight hours for me."

"Ah, of course."  Sera offered an arm, which Tanya took gratefully.  The stress of the week conspired with the glut of Turkey Day dinner to make her body droop from fatigue.  They parted ways at the Whitman front desk, as Tanya had to speak to Mrs. Savage and retrieve her travel bag.

She could hardly trust herself to float up the stairs, but she could at least loft the luggage as she pulled it by the handle.  Her room wasn't that far down the way, and in a moment she was in her room and dropping the bag to the floor.

The empty, bare floor.  There'd been a rug there, an oblong patch of pink woven material that Sterling had found in the school store's discount bins, that one time the two of them had gone shopping for room decor.  And it was gone.

As were the bedsheets, the pillows, and the various tools of study and scholastics that should've been arranged neatly on Sterling's desk.  On the right side of the room, where her roommate dwelled, there was simply nothing to be seen, for nothing at all was there.  Not even Sterling.  For real, and not due to a no-see-um effect that had never affected Tanya in any case.

"What the heck!?"

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It took her half an hour of thorough searching to establish that not a thing was left to bear testament to her roommate's existence in the room.  No clothes, no school items, no bedding, no personal things, not even the toothbrush in its plastic cap by the mirror that was also no longer there. 

No time to cry; no time to panic.  Tanya's brain powered past all the myriad things she should be feeling--would be feeling, once she had the time--and focused on the singular mystery before her.  No one out in the hall knew where Sterling was.  Her RA, the gentle giantess Sequoiah, did not know.  The assistant RA, the fuzz-face Telekat, did not know.  Leslie the wolf-faced Scottish lass did not know.  Caro gave her a weird look, but had nothing to say.  Mrs. Savage at the front desk did not know.

And, with sinking heart, Tanya realized that not only did none of them know where, none of them knew who Sterling was.  Not even the RA, who was generally good at not forgetting most of the time, or the house mother whose necklace seemed ever-ready to remind her.

Tanya tapped out a message of distress on her phone and prayed for a quick response.  By nine PM, she had Vic sitting with her in the foyer lounge, listening to her as her words shook from panic and her body from stress.  Having no idea what to do with his hands, the boy settled on holding her with the left and patting her back with the right as he said, "Okay, deep breaths.  In... out... right.  One more time, from the top.  Your roommate...?"

"Sterling.  You remember her, right?"  She prayed he did.  It usually only took a few blinks, maybe a moment and a half, for him to recall.

"N... oh... um..."  The boy's face was scrunched with confusion.  "I'm... um, thinking... green?"


"Green... skin?"

"Yes, yes!"

"Okay, now I'm feeling kinda, yanno."  Vic whirled a finger around one side of his head.  "It's like wading through a ball pit in there.  Brain keeps tripping.  Your roommate is... missing?  And not the normal sort...  um, normal sort of missing for her?"

"She's cleared out of the room and no one knows when or how.  Or who."

"Damn."  His right hand continued to rub her back and shoulders, and she wasn't about to ask him to stop.  "Right.  Let's think.  Someone had to see her go if she moved all her stuff out."

"She didn't have that much," said Tanya.  "Two or three bags at most.  And no one seeing is kinda her thing."

"True, but also..."  Vic tilted his head to nod at the security camera in the corner of the ceiling.  "Can she erase herself from video?"

"I don't think so?"  To be honest, she still wasn't one hundred percent sure how Sterling's power worked, except that it was mind-affecting and likely psionic.  At the same time, she wasn't sure she had even one photo with her roommate.  "Damnit, let me check my phone's gallery to see if she's in anything."

There were a great many photos on her memory card, including a few embarrassing selfies and one of herself and Vic with decorations added in.  She swiped through those quickly, then ever backwards into the past until...  "Got one," she declared.  It was from that first crazy Saturday in October, no less: a large group shot with all the freshman girls of Whitman right before various social duties sent them in every direction for the day.  Mrs. Savage had taken the photo and forwarded it on to everybody.

"Um, where?" asked Vic.

"There."  She pointed to the unmistakable combination of skin and hair, then stretched her thumb and pointer to enlarge the image.  "See?"

The boy had on that look of confusion again.  "There's, um, a blur?"

There was not.  Her roommate's face was perfectly clear to her.  "Focus, Vic," she commanded.

He rubbed his eyes and stared at the photo again.  "Okay, next to you.  Right behind Whirlibird, but in front of the dreadlock girl..."


"Yeah, her.  I can see... well, it's sorta the feeling of somebody there, even if I don't know who.  Sorry."  He slumped back against the sofa, and she curled up beside him.  "I'm trying, but..."

"But at least you can say that someone is there."  Tanya patted his cheek.  "Thanks.  I feel less crazy.  Now, you'd better get back to Twain before Mrs. Savage throws you the distance there.  We'll meet up at breakfast to make plans."

"For what?"

No tremors shook her voice or body now.  "Tomorrow, we figure out where my roommate went, and why."


To Be Continued

Read 5157 times Last modified on Monday, 06 November 2023 23:14

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