A Second Generation Whateley Academy Story
Cat and Mouse
“You're in a really bad mood, Shisa,” Nyx said.
The catlike girl didn't look away from the computer screen, which was playing an H1 rally from just over two years ago. Her eyes were fixated on a young girl who was speaking to the crowd, while her tail flicked back and forth behind her. It wasn't the wild-eyed, fire and brimstone speech most people expected to hear at an H1 event. The girl was speaking passionately, no question, but she wasn't fanatical about it.
Finally, after a full minute of watching the girl, Shisa looked at her roommate. “How know?” she asked, using as few words as possible.
“You only watch that H1 stuff when you're upset or angry. And you only watch that girl when you've had a really bad day. You know her?” Nyx asked.
“So who is she? A former friend?” When there was no response, Nyx got off of her bed and went to sit beside her, gently stroking her furry back. “Come on, you can tell me, I'll keep it a secret. You've helped me unwind after a bad day, I can do the same for you.”
A clawed finger tapped the mouse, shutting the video and the computer down. Moving to the window, she stepped outside before speaking. “Jeanette Shepard. She's gone now.”
She reached up and began climbing the outside wall of the cottage, hearing Nyx gasp in understanding behind her. Reaching the roof, she sat on the tiles enjoying the feel of the wind blowing through her fur, idly she wondered if her roommate would tell anyone else. Her past would likely cause more than one student to start gunning for her. She stared up at the grey, dismal sky, her teeth bared. 'There, you have the perfect chance at trying to kill me again, you asshole. Get it right this time or leave me the hell alone. I'm sick and tired of your games,' she thought at the remorseless sky.
August 5th, 2014
“Finally, I just want to remind you all that if mutants are allowed to remain in our schools how will that affect our sports teams, our science competitions, our classrooms?” Jeannette asked, looking just above the heads of the small crowd of teens, each one wearing an H1 shirt, or holding a sign with a carefully chosen slogan on it. Some news crews were at the back, local ones from Cheyenne, Wyoming, who were talking about the H1 rally with participants from all the nearby states. A few cameras were set up by H1 ready to post everything on websites and circulate across the United States, showing how vibrant the youth wing was, and how they wanted to stand up for regular humans against the mutant menace.
“Who will trust a school with a mutant not to use them for an unfair advantage? How can girls be sure their boyfriend or teachers aren't affecting their emotions? Making them do things they'd never imagine doing before marriage? How can we trust them to control their emotions when we have so many rager incidents that have left communities devastated and killed thousands. We all have to stand up and demand that for our well-being, for our safety, for our very survival, that no mutant goes to school with a baseline!” She'd said the words often enough that they came easily, showing the right emotion was a bit harder.
Leaving the stage and the applause, Jeannette waited until she was out of sight before sighing and shaking her head. She'd grown up hearing all the rhetoric from her Mom and friends, and she had just stopped caring about it. So what if some freak could shoot lightning out his ass? There were so few of them that they really didn't matter, more people were murdered over a purse each week in the US, than mutants killed in a year. If they got out of line, arrest them or shoot them, they really weren't her problem. Two confirmed mutants had manifested in Cheyenne in her lifetime, sure the first one had been a raging freak that killed a couple of cops, including her father, but that had been when she was a baby. The second one had had his parents house lit on fire just before vanishing, she wasn't sure if he'd gone into hiding or one of her Mom's friends had gone a bit further than arson. Whatever the case it wasn't like they were going to be swarmed by mutants anytime soon.
As she grabbed her purse and jacket from where it was being watched by some H1 members who she trusted, she repressed a groan at seeing her former best friend come up.
“Hey Jeanette, that was awesome!” Brad said, raising his hand to give her five.
She slapped his hand, but only because it was expected. “Thanks, if you see my Mom tell her I did my part, I'm going to get supper and head home.”
“But what about the big dinner tonight? Everyone will be there.”
“No, half of the people are heading home as soon as the speeches are done so they don't have to miss work tomorrow morning. The ones who do stay will be getting drunk, patting each other on the back and ignoring anyone who can't get drunk with them,” she told the vice president of the Cheyenne Youth Wing of H1. “You can go have fun with that. I'm going to go home and get a nice sleep so that I can actually do something fun tomorrow.”
“You're the president! You have to be there to show solidarity,” Brad insisted looming over her. She was once more reminded why he was her former best friend, the thug act just didn't impress her anymore.
Rolling her eyes in disgust, Jeannette didn't back down despite having someone who looked like he could play defense on a high school football team scowling at her. She was tall for a fourteen year old, just a hair shorter than he was even though he was a year older, however his arms were thicker than her thighs, and he had made grown men back down at seeing the solid mass of muscle barrelling towards them for being pro-mutant. But one thing her Mom had taught her was how to stand up for herself. She pushed his chest, not budging him but making her point that she wasn't about to back down and slid around him. “I really don't care, I'm stepping down. When we have elections in October, I'll nominate you and you can lead the charge against the oh so scary mutants.”
He grabbed her shoulder, stopping her cold. “You've been slacking off more and more for the last few months. What would your father say?” he snarled.
“Don't know, never met the guy. Now let go of me or else.” She raised her hand, making sure he saw her Goodkind self defense ring aimed at his face. It was guaranteed to be fashionable and held enough specially treated pepper spray for one good dose that would take down almost anyone.
He wisely let go of her and decided to try another tact. “Your mother isn't going to be happy about this.”
“Like I care. Unless she sees me lighting an H in someones yard, she isn't going to be happy with much of anything I do. See ya,” she said, walking away. She knew that if she didn't take off immediately Brad would start on a rant and if she tried to fight back, which she would, it would quickly become a screaming match. When that happened he'd use his size to try to intimidate her and there wasn't much she could do against that except yell louder than he could bellow, which she would happily do. She knew that it wouldn't end well for either of them, they'd tag teamed kids at school who disagreed with H1 and could keep going for hours if they had to.
But now she was just bored with it all.
He stormed off, not willing to get into what he knew would be a drawn-out shouting match with so many important people close by.
Satisfied that she'd gotten past the main obstacle she headed out of the hotel, took off the H1 pins on her blouse and caught a bus. A few stops later she came to a small comic book store that was also the unofficial meeting place for Evolution Rocks. If any of her H1 compatriots saw her going in there they'd freak out, which made it all the more fun.
“Hey Doug, got my magazines?” she asked the owner who was watching his smart phone behind the counter.
“Got them this morning, Jeannette. Heroes Monthly, Mutant Heroes Annual, and the usual Marvel mutant comics,” Doug said, stretching a long arm under the counter to grab her order. “Your Mom still hasn't disowned you for getting this stuff?”
“Nope,” she replied with a grin. “Got anything I can use to really push her over the edge?”
He chuckled at the unbridled glee she showed at the thought of tormenting her mother. “I have something for you that just came in today.” He went into the back and came out with a framed poster, it showed a black cat woman and a purple winged fairy both wearing bikinis, smiling and waving at the camera. An autograph at the bottom read 'Hugs and Kisses Mouser and Teri!'
“I've seen the cat before, who's the fairy?”
“Teri Mouser, she made a bit of a splash on the anime and mutant scene with lots of photo's and even a bit part in a movie, but after a fe-” he was cut off as a door to the games and meeting rooms slammed open.
“What is she doing here?!” a man in a business suit demanded, his words dripping with disgust usually reserved for maggots and cockroaches, as he glared right at Jeannette.
“Buying some magazines and talking to me, Clint,” Doug answered evenly.
“She's one of those bastard H1'ers. She was talking about murdering all the mutants just an hour ago.”
Jeanette looked up at the ceiling asking for strength before turning on the man with a broad smile she had practised so often in the mirror she could make it appear instantly and look authentic. “I wasn't calling for them to be murdered, Clint. That would be incitement to violence, which is illegal. I simply want them to be kept far away from baselines where they can be happy doing whatever it is mutants do when not wrecking stuff,” she said sweetly.
“Jeannette,” Doug started to say, shaking his head.
“That's all you want, yeah right. You and your nazi buddies already have them registered, now you want to send them to camps where they can just disappear into the Goodkind and MCO labs,” Clint snarled.
“No, no, no, the concentration camps and sterilization are from the Detroit branch. The Kentucky branch of H1, wants to lock them up in labs and discover how to suppress the mutant genes through any means necessary. My branch is quite willing to let them live peacefully, far, far away. A carefully monitored uplifted Pacific island, northern Alaska, anywhere that will allow the relatively small number of mutants to live peacefully on their own. We even agree that the US government can pick up the initial tab as long as we get first dibs on useful gadgets. It's a common mistake to think we all want the same thing, since many uninformed individuals see H1 as monolithic when really it's more like herding cats.” She kept up her smile, daring him to continue.
Clint leaned in close, clearly eager to keep going.
Doug put his hand down on the counter cutting off the argument. “Enough. Jeannette is a customer here, and I don't want any arguments that aren't comic related in my store.”
Clint gritted his teeth and headed back the way he'd come, slamming the door hard enough to shake the racks of comics.
“Nice guy, is he always so cheerful?” Jeanette asked.
“Sorry about that, it seems your reputation precedes you,” Doug said.
“I've heard worse, and said worse. How much for the poster, might as well get yelled at twice today. Maybe I can give her a heart attack like she always promises,” she joked.
“What in God’s name is that thing on your wall?”
Jeannette looked up from her magazine and gave her Mom a grin. “Teri and Mouser, the fairy is a mutant, but Mouser is just a power stone user, it would be pretty cool if she was a mutant too.”
Her mother rubbed her temples, taking a deep breath before saying anything. “OK, it's your room. If you want it there, you can keep it. But I still don't understand what your fascination with mutants is, or why you seem to want to make me angry.”
“I'm not trying to make you angry Mom,” she replied with a grin, pushing her curly brown bangs out of her eyes. “I'm just expressing myself and my changing attitude, it's a very healthy habit for young people to take. I could be on the street hanging out with bad influences and getting into trouble instead, since children from single mother homes are more likely to run into trouble with the law or become teenage mothers. I suppose I might find a supervillain to work with, I hear being a henchman can bring in some good money.”
She watched her Mom close her eyes and take several more calming breaths. “Please try to be serious. Now I don't mind if you keep your hobby in your own room. But I don't want a repeat of the last time I brought company over and had to say you were collecting these as research material for a possible article on pro mutant propaganda.” With that, she put several superhero magazines on the bed.
Getting to her feet, she tried to make herself as imposing as possible, which didn't really work with her Mom knowing almost all of her secrets and embarrassing stories. “It's my home too, I don't have to keep my interests secret.”
“I understand that, but you're the president of the local youth wing of H1. You have responsibilities, you need to show your classmates the risks mutants can represent. How can you do that if they know you have bizarre fantasies about mutants coming to the rescue whenever one of their kind goes on a rampage?”
“About that,” Jeannette said, biting her lip and suddenly becoming very interested in her socks, “I'm going to drop out.”
“What?” her Mom asked in a flat tone.
“I don't want to do it anymore, so I'm dropping out. I figure I'll have more time to do homework and, well, you know... be a teenager,” she finished in a squeak.
A frown appeared on her Mom's face. “Why? You've done wonders getting the youth wing motivated after those idiots, Jeff and Bill, turned it into a club to get dates. If you just abandon everything you believe in it could destroy it just as it’s starting to do some real good.”
“Your beliefs, not mine,” she said, wishing she could do this over the phone so she wouldn't have to look at her Mom and see the disappointment. “I don't want to spend my weekends picketing town hall or some politicians' office demanding they do more to fight mutants. And I am really sick of getting hate mail whenever I go online. Being the poster girl for H1, isn't exactly a good way to become popular. Some people really love me, but most think I'm just an annoying bitch who doesn't know how to shut up. Only the social rejects and mutant lovers are below me.”
“Being loved by the masses isn't as important as doing what's right. You should know this by now.”
Jeannette groaned in disgust. “I'm a kid! What do I know about what's right and wrong? I just want to have some more free time now that I'm about to start high school, and not have to pretend I'm some kind of special role model to everyone. Don't make a big fuss about it and I'll just stop being president but stay in the club to help out. And I'll throw out the posters and magazines. You won't see them again, and I'll stop talking about mutants. I'm even going to nominate Brad to be president, he's all gung ho, so he won't screw things up for you.”
“You know how vital this work is to keeping the world safe for baselines. You're father died-”
“Yeah he died!” she interrupted, losing her temper. “He could have died in a car crash, cancer, falling down the goddamn stairs, or getting shot by a normal everyday criminal. If he'd been hit by a falling tree branch while out hunting would you have joined an anti-tree group?”
She cringed as she heard the words leave her mouth. She'd not only hit her mothers hot button, but smashed it with a hammer.
“How dare you!” her mom hissed. “How dare you spit on everything he did, and I've tried to do. I'm doing all of this so you don't have to live in fear, so that your father’s death wasn't meaningless! If you can't understand that...”
Turning, her Mom slammed the door.
“AUGH!” Jeannette screamed, throwing herself into her bed. “I'm so grounded,” she moaned to the empty room.
Blearily walking into the kitchen the next morning for her regular breakfast of hot chocolate and sugary cereal, Jeannette saw a note on the smart screen of the fridge. 'You're grounded for a week. Don't leave the house unless it’s on fire.'
“Wow, feel the love,” she groaned, swiping it away with her hand.
Getting her daily intake of sugar ready, she dialed her best friend. "Hey Vicki," she said.
"Hi Jeannette, what's happening? We still on for lunch and boy watching?" Vicki asked, somehow sounding tired and perky at the same time.
"Nope. I am grounded with a capital G. Mom and I had a bit of an argument last night."
"Maybe," Vicki said slowly, "if you didn't rub her nose in all that mutant stuff, she'd go a bit easier on you. You have been pushing it pretty hard. I don't know how you can handle having all those posters on your walls, they'd give me nightmares."
"They're not that bad, even if most of them are way too uncanny valley to want to meet in real life. And remember tormenting our parents is the job, no, the duty of all children. I'm simply doing my part to keep this grand tradition going."
"Bravo. Very dramatic," Vicki said, her voice completely deadpan.
"Thank you, thank you. Your applause and adoration is all the motivation I crave."
"I still can't believe you want to just drop out. The H1 meetings aren't going to be nearly as much fun."
Jeannette wanted to reach through the phone to hug her friend. "I don't want to drop out completely, almost all my friends are there. I just want to take a backseat and help out with the fun stuff like parties, making banners and posters and things like that, and I'll keep writing the articles for the website. But you got to spend the whole week painting and decorating and then meeting other young people, some of whom were very cute guys. I on the other hand spent a month writing and memorizing a speech, dealing with all the arrangements for the youth group and helping my Mom deal with last-second emergencies. After all that I spent the whole event shaking hands with boring, old people who were oh so impressed with the new generation and then wanted me to sit down and shut up in a corner. I deserve a break."
"Yeah, but... Brad's not very smart. I don't think he can handle being president."
"He's not that bad. He just needs help making plans, once he has his marching orders nothing will stop him. It's the only reason I haven't kicked his butt out of there. I can spend a bit of time helping him get everything organized. And I heard Jordan wants to be VP, he's great at that kind of stuff. I'll need a month or two to get him up to speed on how to get Brad pointed in the right direction and then the two should get along great."
"If you say so," Vicki said, not sounding totally convinced. "But if it goes totally fubar, I'm going to nominate you for president again next year."
"And if you beg me enough, I may not throw you into the nearest lake for doing that," Jeannette said, putting her dishes into the dishwasher. "I'm going to let you go. If I'm grounded I might as well enjoy it, bubble bath here I come."
"Why can't I get grounded all alone, like you?" Vicki asked. "My mom makes me clean the house until she thinks it's spotless."
"I'm just lucky," Jeannette said smugly.
Saying goodbye, she hung up and made her way to the bathroom, slipping off the long T-shirt which used to be her dads, that she used as a nightgown. Turning on the tub she put her favourite rose scented bubble bath into the water and hit the play button on her phone. Relaxing piano music filled the room and she could already feel some of the tension leave her body.
Going to the mirror, humming along with the piano she took a towel and began wrapping it around her long hair. As she looked into the mirror she saw a pair of vibrant green eyes looking back at her.
Her scream echoed in the empty house.
"Doug! Doug! You've got to help me!" Jeannette shouted, running into the comic shop, dark sunglasses hiding her unnaturally green eyes.
The startled customers looked at her strangely, clearly not expecting a young teen girl to come running in almost in tears. Doug took one glance at her panicked expression and practically jumped out of his chair, scattering his playing cards and pieces across the small table. "Come on, let's go upstairs and you can tell me all about it. Alex, you're in charge," he said to his former opponent.
They made their way upstairs into one of the private gaming rooms. Jeannette noticed that the room had a noise cancellation unit in the corner, which considering the price seemed out of place. Doug turned it on, making it virtually impossible for normal people to eaves drop.
"What's wrong?" he asked as she slumped down in a chair.
She opened her mouth to tell him but nothing came out. Her throat constricted around the words as she tried to speak. It was impossible to even consider that she wasn't a baseline, ridiculous even. Her brain kept insisting this had to be a bad dream, while the cold ball of dread in her stomach told her it was all too real. Finally she simply took off her glasses revealing her inhuman eyes.
Doug whistled through his teeth, unable to stop himself from staring in disbelief. "Well," he finally said, "at least you wanted out. I don't see you staying in H1 now."
"That's it!" she shrieked, the fear and disbelief at what had happened to her erupting into anger. "That's all you can say! My friends are going to kill me! My Mom is going to light me on fire! I've read about what they do to mutants when they get really angry!” Jeanette hugged herself hard. She'd gone through the more private H1 forums and seen stories that had proven to be true, not just the usual bragging, about kids being burned alive, beaten to death shot, raped, and worse. There was nothing concrete or naming names, just short congratulations, news articles with the poster hinting they knew more, blog articles to 'stories' about how to deal with mutants, and more. It was one reason she wanted to start backing out of H1.
“Hey, listen to me,” Doug said, grabbing her by the shoulders and making her sit still and stop rocking in the chair. “I can help you. I know some people who have helped mutants before.”
She looked at him in surprise, making him chuckle. “H1 isn't as good at spotting mutants as they'd like to think,” Doug said. “The problem for you is that none of my contacts are going to trust you enough to do anything quickly. You've made a name for yourself and trying to put you into a regular safe house won't work, no one will take that risk.”
“Then I'm dead,” she said, her head sinking down towards her chest.
“No, we just have to get tricky,” he reassured her. “Getting you through to someone who can protect you will take a bit more time than usual, instead of a couple of days, or hours in really desperate situations, it will be a week or two. So we need to do something to keep you from being outed. Has anything else changed?”
“I don't think so.”
“Have you done anything unusual? Broken something when you picked it up, static electricity, strange noises, not having to power up your phone, wanting to make something, weird sensations?”
She thought about that pretty carefully, nothing came to mind. “No.”
“You could just be a low level exemplar, that would make things easier.”
“How would that be easier?” she asked, her mind bringing up everything she knew about exemplars. They could be light bricks if they were powerful enough, all but the weakest exceeded the human norm, and they could be beautiful or monstrous.
“Easier to hide. You won't have to worry about shooting something by accident, getting a sensory overload through extrasensory powers, or crushing bones when you shake someones hands. If we're lucky the iris change is the only thing that will pop up.” He took his phone out of his pocket and held it up to her hair, separating some strands with his fingers.
“Hey!” she shouted in surprise.
“Sit still,” he said, looking at her light brown hair through his phones camera. “I'm making sure your hair hasn't changed colour. Next to eye colour the hair is the most common sign of mutation, and it sometimes starts changing a few days before the eyes do, or if your change is progressing extremely quickly it will change at the same time but show signs of it in just a few hours.”
“D-do you see anything?” she asked.
“I think so. Just at the scalp, it looks like it's a different colour.”
“What colour?” she asked, desperately wanting to throw up.
He plucked a strand out holding it up to the light. “I can't tell, there's not enough of it. But it doesn't look like anything too flashy.”
Jeannette looked at her fingers, half expecting them to turn into scaly, monstrous claws. Her stomach roiled, sending her running to the small waste basket beside the door. Her breakfast welled up in her throat and filled the basket. She was a monster. She was going to turn into some horrible thing, and her mother would kill her. Her friends would beat her and rape her, then they'd burn her alive. She could hear the crackling of the flames around her already.
Cold water splashed across her face, making her look up in shock.
“Jeannette, everything is going to be all right,” Doug said, drying his hands off. “You don't need to worry, I'm going to help you. Everything is going to be all right.”
She focused on his words, they were solid. Giving a hesitant nod, she kept her eyes on him.
“Now, you and I are going shopping. You need contacts and we're going to have to do something about your hair.”
Fear rose up again. “Bu-but I-I'm grounded. My Mom is-”
“Jeannette, just follow me. Being grounded even longer will help you, it gives you an excuse to avoid people while sulking in your room all day. And after I get through with you, your mother is going to lock you in your room and throw away the key,” he said with a smile.
Numbly, not sure if Doug was sane or not, she followed him out the door, pausing just long enough to put her sunglasses back on.
The salesman didn't even blink when Jeannette pulled off her sunglasses in the small office in the back of the shop. He simply opened up a small case full of contacts and looked closely at her eyes. “What colour were your eyes originally?” he asked.
“Brown, dark brown,” she said.
Doug put his phone on the table, it showed her face blown up to maximum size. “Here, this should help.”
“Why do you have a picture of me?” she asked, eyeing him nervously.
“When you first came into my shop asking for mutant magazines, I thought I recognized you but wasn't sure. I had the security cameras focus on your face so I could check. I never got around to deleting them,” he answered, making it sound like there was nothing odd about it.
The salesman looked at both of them curiously for a moment before going through the contact lenses comparing them to the picture. “Try these,” he said, handing her a small package.
She put them in after a quick demonstration on how to do it, and blinked as the contact settled into position. It felt uncomfortably cold and slimy at first but after a few seconds it was just a little annoying, almost like a bug bite she couldn't scratch. The salesman took a hold of her chin and studied her eye for a moment. “The green still shows through. We'll need a darker lens.”
A few curses later and the contact was out, replaced by another. She was allowed to look in a mirror after the man nodded in approval. Her eye looked almost normal. She thought it was a bit darker than before, but it probably wouldn't be too noticeable. If only she could stop blinking so much as her eye tried to get rid of the irritation, she'd be fine.
“What if my Mom sees me without my contacts?” she asked.
“That's where we use misdirection,” Doug said. “You see, most of the time you'll use these contacts, but sometimes you'll put in other ones to throw her off the scent.”
The salesman put five different colours of contact lenses ranging from light pink to electric blue on the table.
“You tell your Mom that you want to see what you'd look like as a mutant. Hide them so she can't throw them away, and put them on occasionally, if your Mom sees your eyes, she'll think you're just acting out,” Doug explained.
“She's going to kill me when she sees this.”
Doug grinned. “Metaphorically dying is better than literally dying. And you haven't seen the best part yet. Now put the other contact in and we'll be going.”
As she did that, Doug handed the man a few hundred dollars, most of which was silently slipped into his pocket. He packed the contacts up, along with a cleanser and container, then without so much as a good bye, let them out.
While they walked through the mall, Jeannette quietly asked, “Why didn't he say much?”
“Because the less you know about him, the better. He's just an employee there, so if anyone comes along to complain he can slip out the back door and not look back. If you know his name or any personal information it becomes harder for him. It's not perfect, but as long as someone he trusts is with any of you kids it works. And its not like he has to do it every week,” he explained.
“Oh. You guys have this worked out pretty well it seems.”
“We've had some practice with it. Now you have twenty minutes to decide something very important.”
“What colour would you like your hair?”
Walking out of the small salon that was run by a pleasant elderly woman, who just happened to have a pistol tucked under the frills of her blouse where most people wouldn't see it, Jeannette ran her hand through her new hairdo. The long curly locks were gone, replaced by a more cutting edge look of wide bangs and sharp angles, all done up in a dark blue that was almost black. “Mom is going to freak, when she sees this.”
“Lets hope she's too busy freaking out over your rebellious style to notice anything else,” Doug said, unlocking his car.
“You really think this will work?”
He nodded. “I've done it once or twice before for other kids. This gives them a chance to get somewhere safe, or to feel out their parents before coming out. It just has to survive a week or two.”
She bit her lip and stared out the window. She'd tried to get more details about the other kids he'd helped, but he had kept his mouth shut, just saying she didn't need to know about it. She could understand that, who would think a prominent H1 leader would turn mutant? Doug was obviously more connected with Evolution Rocks than she had thought, they had to be the ones behind this whole thing. Since she'd protested a few of their rally's they probably weren't really happy with her. She wondered if they'd really help her, or if they'd let slip to H1 that she was a mutant now.
Not being in control wasn't good for her peace of mind. She wondered if once she got away if she could talk to her Mom. Maybe she'd be willing to come to terms with her being a mutant. She wiped a few tears from her eyes, wondering if anyone in her family would want her anymore.
Doug came to a stop a block away from her house. “Your stop.”
Grabbing her bag, she gratefully got out. If her Mom was at home, getting out of a strange mans car would make things a hundred times worse. “Thanks Doug, I'd probably be halfway to Seattle without a clue about what to do if you hadn't helped.”
“No problem. If anything happens, get out fast and give me a call. If you're in actual danger I can bully some people into helping you right away, but it's risky and I'd be burning a lot of bridges so I'd rather not risk it. And that would let people say we kidnapped you, which is not good.”
She nodded in understanding. Closing the door, she started walking back to her home. Two minutes later, her heart skipped a couple of beats. Her Mom's car was in the driveway.
The blood drained from her face when she realized that in her blind panic she'd forgotten to grab her phone. She was so not ready for what was to come.
“Hi Mom,” she called from the door.
“Where were you? Why didn't you bring your phone? Do you have any idea how worried I was?” her Mom yelled running to the door to give her a hug.
“Sorry,” she squeaked, as she tried to squirm out of the embrace.
The hands seemed to be searching for something between her shoulders. Her Mom leaned back really looking at her, Jeannette looked down at the floor trying to hide her eyes without making it obvious.
“What did you do to your hair?”
“I decided I needed a new style,” she mumbled. “Do you like it?”
She couldn't see her Mom's face, but from the clenching of her hands, Jeannette assumed that she was getting furious. The snarling voice confirmed it. “You're telling me, you left home, while grounded, didn't bring your phone with you, worrying me half to death, and hacked off your hair into something that is only fit for a street urchin?”
“Um, well,” she mumbled, trying to find the right words as she stared at her feet, “yes.”
“I cancelled a very important phone call so I could get home to make sure you were all right, young lady. Get. To. Your. Room. NOW!” she shouted.
Not wanting to risk making her Mom angrier, Jeanette bolted for the stairs, taking them two at a time. Closing and locking the door to her room, she breathed a sigh of relief when she heard the front door slam close and her Mom's car start up. If she could just stay hidden for a week or two she'd be all right.
Clutching her pillow to her chest she started to cry, hoping that the last few days with her Mom wouldn't be full of screaming and fighting.
The next morning Jeannette woke up and listened to make sure no one was in the room, before taking her sleep mask off. She didn't like the thing, trying to sleep with it had made her feel trapped, but it was better than risking her Mom seeing her eyes. Going to her bathroom, she quickly put in her contacts, then more leisurely went through her morning routine. She spent several minutes looking all over her body to see if anything else had changed, but with a relieved sigh couldn't see anything except that her arms and legs needed to be shaved and waxed.
Putting on a pair of old shorts and tank top, she hesitantly made her way downstairs. A message written in large fonts on the fridge said, 'I want this ALL done, or you're grounded for ANOTHER month.' Underneath it was a long list of chores.
With a groan she went to get breakfast before the day of work started.
An hour later as she vacuumed the carpet, there was a knock on the door. Thankful for the break, she checked the security monitor beside the door and had a minor heart attack as she saw five H1 youth members headed by Brad, with Vicki looking nervously over his shoulder, waiting outside.
Taking a quick look in the mirror to make sure her contacts were in place she opened the door and tried to smile. “Hi guys, I'm grounded so I'm not sure if you can come in.”
“I talked with your Mom earlier, she said we could come over for an hour,” Brad said, pushing his way past.
“Great,” she said as happily as possible, stepping aside to let the others in. “So what's the big occasion?
“We're worried about you,” Brad said, sitting down on the couch. “You've been slacking off, acting differently and we've heard you're hanging out with some of the Evolution Rocks people.”
“So you're staging an intervention?” she said, rolling her eyes and took a seat opposite Brad, hiding the fear that was building up inside. If they found out she had manifested, Brad would beat her to a pulp if she was lucky. While she knew Vicki would stick up for her, she wasn't sure about the rest in the room, they'd probably stand by and watch in shock. “Please. I just want to relax a little more, I've been doing this stuff since I was eight. I'll still stick around to help out.”
Vicki sat down beside her, putting a hand on her arm. “See guys, I told you that she still wants to help out. It's that some of you and her mom are really hardcore about all of this. We're teenagers, this should be fun, not a job.”
She saw that the others nodded at that, and breathed a sigh of relief.
“No, this is about keeping the city safe. If we don't help out we could have a rager here just like they did in San Francisco last year,” Brad said, glaring at her. “But I don't care about that, I want to know why you're hanging around with the E.R. Morons.”
“I've gone to a comic shop a few times to get some magazines on mutants to help with my speeches and articles. Do you just want me repeating the same talking points every time? If you think you can keep things interesting by just echoing stuff from the H1 websites, you're definitely not ready to be president.”
His face turned red, as she hit a nerve. “That comic shop is a meeting place for E.R.!”
“Whoop de shit. They have everything I need for research so I don't have to go all over the city,” she said.
“What, you don't have the internet to look this garbage up?” he retorted.
She hid a wince as he actually made a good point. “I like to have the material in front of me, not skipping back and forth between tabs. But if my going to a comic shop is SO bad, fine! Just to get you out of my face I'll stop going. Once I stop having to give a goddamn article every month to the website, I won't need to spend my own money to make sure you guys have something interesting to read. Are you all happy now?!”
Brad nodded stiffly. “Now let's go get all that trash from your room. You won't need the magazines anymore, we can throw them out for you.”
Her blood turned to ice as she thought about them seeing her room with the mutant posters and magazines. If they saw that they'd start questioning her even more, and if they found the contacts she was dead. “NO!”
“What's the problem? We've all been in your room before,” Brad said.
“It's dirty, I don't want you guys seeing my underwear,” she said lamely.
“Come on guys,” Brad said as the others looked anywhere but at Jeanette. “If she really only has a few magazines this won't take long.”
Vicki looked helplessly at her, as the other filed out of the living room. All that Jeannette could think of was that they were going to discover her secret. Running after Brad she grabbed his arm trying to pull him to a stop. It shouldn't have worked, instead he came to a halt as if he'd run into a wall. “You will NOT go into my room,” she said.
Brad stared at her in shock, she didn't pay attention to the others although she knew that everyone was staring at her. Vicki broke the tension, “Jeannette, I called your Mom,” she said, handing her the phone.
“Mom, did you tell Brad to come over and talk to me?” she demanded.
“I said he could, I'm worried about you. What's the problem?” her Mom asked.
“The jerkwad is trying to go into my room to get rid of my magazines before I'm done with them. I still need a few of them for the blog article next week. And I really don't want him pawing through my stuff.”
There was a moment of silence. “Give him the phone please.”
She shoved the phone into his face. “She wants to talk to you.”
He cautiously took the phone, “Hello, Mrs. Shepard.”
The next minute was mostly silent except for very brief yes and no responses by Brad. Finally, his jaw tight with anger, he handed the phone back to Jeannette. “I'm sorry, I shouldn't have tried to go into your room. We'll be going now,” he said stiffly.
Vicki gave her a quick hug, as the others muttered apologies and left. Seeing that her Mom was still on the other end she raised it to her ear. “Mom?”
“I'm sorry, honey. I asked Brad to go over with some friends and talk with you. I thought that they'd be able to help you see that your friends are all here and supporting you. I did not tell them to pressure you and I certainly didn't want them going through your things,” her Mom said.
She sniffed back some tears. Her Mom really did sound sorry, she sat down on the couch wishing that the cushions were her Mom, and things were like they were when she was younger when they were so much simpler and easier. Before she had to deal with the politics and pressure of her Mom's job and before she'd started learning about the darker side of H1, she and her Mom had been best friends. She'd kind of hoped that once she dropped to the fringes of H1, they could be like that again. But now...
“It's OK, Brad is just a moron,” she said.
“Thanks honey. You're still grounded for the week because you snuck out yesterday, but after that you're off the hook. And maybe we can...” her Mom hesitated as if afraid of what she'd hear, “maybe we can go out and do a mother daughter shopping spree to get you ready for school? I know we haven't done anything like that since you were eleven, but I think I still remember how to pull it off.”
“Sure Mom, I can't wait. Can we do it tomorrow?”
“It's a date. I'll make sure to leave work early so we can get in lots of shopping before supper. Do you want sandwiches, steak or pizza?”
“How about you surprise me?” she said with a grin.
“Extra spicy Mexican it is then,” her Mom teased.
Hanging up, Jeannette leaned her head back and stared at the ceiling. She hoped that they'd be able to go out for a meal and laugh and joke in the future. But the way her heart ached told her it was probably a lost cause.
Her chores done, Jeannette sat down on her computer chair, lit some incense, and really tried to think. She’d been running on pure emotion for the last day and a half, and if she kept doing that, she’d end up doing something stupid and probably get herself killed.
She wasn’t going to claim her section of H1 was a bastion of purity, kindness and innocence, but it wasn’t as bad as many others she’d heard of. Some of the conversations she’d overheard, or had to take part in had made her want to vomit.
Her Mom advocated for segregation, keeping dangerous mutants away from baselines, interacting through carefully controlled avenues for limited trade and movement. If the family wanted to go with the mutants, that was fine, even preferable, to reduce the chances of other siblings and children from manifesting.
So what if she told her Mom?
She’d be sent away. Since there was no community set up for mutants, it would probably be a cottage or home in the countryside well away from others. It would be purely for everyone’s safety, and she could keep learning online. Her Mom would almost certainly go with her, and it would just be the two of them. Once she became an adult, she’d have the choice of living with her Mom, or going off to live by herself.
That wasn’t much of a life.
Living alone in the woods with only a computer connecting her to the world, she might as well be dead.
“God I’m such a hypocrite,” she muttered.
Four years of pushing a plan to deal with mutants, and now that she was one, she didn’t want to go through with it.
“So I can’t tell Mom. At least not until I’m somewhere safe,” she said.
This couldn’t be personal, she loved her Mom, even though they could drive each other crazy, but she didn’t want to die or just disappear from society. And she couldn’t just disappear on her Mom either. She’d lost her Dad as a baby, so while she wanted to know what he was like, and would have liked having him around, it wasn’t overwhelming. But his death had almost broken her Mom.
If she just abandoned her Mom forever, it would kill her.
So she’d slip away to a safe place, and then contact her Mom. Let her know she was alive, and see what could be salvaged. Maybe it would be a big enough shock to change her opinion.
She didn’t know what the future would bring, but she was allowed to hope.
"Mom, can I ask you something and you promise not to get mad?" Jeannette asked, looking down at her half eaten steak.
Her Mom smiled sweetly, "OK, but if either of us gets upset, or I'm not certain of how to answer right away, can we drop the topic until later so we don't spoil the day?"
She nodded, happy that the shopping and having some real fun together seemed to have mellowed her Mom out a bit. Looking around the restaurant to make sure no one was eavesdropping she whispered a silent prayer that nothing would go wrong. "With mutants, you know how they just start off as regular kids, have you ever wondered what it's like for them?"
She watched nervously as her Mom leaned back in her chair and took a bite of her buttered bun. There was a nervous silence at the table until the bun was gone. "I've thought about it. Quite a lot actually, especially after your father died. That's why I stopped the burning of H's in peoples yards and got rid of the most violent members. I don't want a child's blood on my hands. Most of them didn't ask for it, and many of them are frightened by their powers. But that is why they're so dangerous. They haven't thought about how to be responsible, and frightened people do stupid things. We can't let them run lose when a simple accident or temper tantrum could destroy a classroom or a city."
"So what would you do if you found one?"
"Watch them. Contact the MCO, we know they can deal with most mutants if we can show that they're dangerous. Make sure they don't hurt anyone. If I have to I'll let some of the more militant members send them a message to get out of town or at least away from baselines." She scowled, "I've had to do that more times than I'd like."
"I thought that only one mutant had manifested since you became president."
"There have been more, I just didn't tell you. And we've found some adult mutants as well. I really have tried to keep you only on the political side, so you wouldn't need to worry about the dirtier side." She sighed and took a sip of her wine to hide a frown.
"I know you've been reading the forums and websites that show the darker side of H1. That's one reason you want to drop out as president isn't it?" her Mom asked.
She nodded, not sure what to say.
"I can't say I blame you. There are times when I wish we could just wipe them all off the face of the earth, but," she paused, sipping her wine with her eyes closed, hiding her feelings. "But I try to remind myself that many of them are children, and they have families. If only we could limit their powers, or shut them off with a real device or medicine, I could happily retire. But until then, we have to look at the greater good. I look at you and your friends and my brain can't help thinking what would happen to you if you were caught in one of their rampages, or a devise that shouldn't exist."
"So,” Jeannette said softly, not sure if she should keep talking or just shut up, “what would you do if, say, my cousin Jack was a mutant?"
Her Mom closed her eyes. "The safety of the many outweigh the desires of the few. I'd tell your aunt Maria that she should get him far away from humans, and I'll keep pushing for a community to be created far away from the continental US where we can transport them. This can't be personal. There is too much at risk. We've both read about the communities that have had the heart ripped out of them. I've personally visited some of them, you can't imagine how terrifying it is."
Jeannette nodded in understanding. She remembered her Mom coming about seven years ago from a special H1 trip to California, barely able to talk. For a month afterwards she had been treated extra carefully, as if she were made of glass. It had been disturbing, the sound of crying from her Mom's office and bedroom had been worse. “So no exceptions?” she finally asked.
“None. Why? Did one of your friends manifest?” her Mom asked.
“No. I've just been reading some blogs that made me start thinking about it. Stuff like having a sister turn into a mutant, and another one by a mother about her son. One I'm pretty sure is a mutant, but it's written like the kid is talking about his older brother.” She shook her head. “I'm just trying to really wrap my head around it all. Seeing it from their side and comparing it to ours.”
She looked up in surprise as her Mom covered her hand with her own. The face Jeannette had begun to associate more with an overbearing boss who was mostly disappointed in her for not being as driven as she should be, looked like her Mom again, the loving woman she remembered from when she was younger. “Jeannette, I'm sorry.”
“I'm slow on the uptake sometimes, but I should have realized that you're growing up and finding your own way. I was so proud, seeing you blossom into such a mature, young woman, who could change the world with your words, I didn't realize that maybe you wanted something different than to follow in my footsteps.” She dabbed her eyes with a napkin, careful not to muss her mascara. “I shouldn't have snapped at you the other day, and I shouldn't try to make you into a mini-me. If you want to stop being president, I'll understand. I want you to keep going to the youth meetings and helping out, you do have a gift with words, but I won't complain, much, if you don't even want to do that.”
Jeannette had to grab her own napkin to wipe her eyes. “Thanks Mom. That- that really means a lot to me.”
That made her Mom smile. “I just don't want us to go back to yelling at each other, and you not feeling like you can talk to me. I want to help you as much as I can. Promise me that if you have a problem, you'll come to me?”
“I will,” she said with all the polish and skill she could manage. The same skills that let her stand in front of an audience and make them believe whatever she wanted them to believe. As she watched her mothers smile become even wider, she knew she'd gotten away with the lie. No matter what her Mom had just said, the most important thing had been said earlier, with mutants it couldn't be personal, no exceptions.
She was able to pass off the tears welling up in her eyes as happiness at their making up.
Jeannette screamed in pain as she ripped the wax away from her upper lip. The skin on her legs and arms felt raw and she still had to deal with her eyebrows. She knew all about the basics of BITS, GSD and even MATD, which put her head and shoulders above most adults, so she knew that she was changing into something. What wasn't clear yet, but it was obviously hairy. That was not a pleasant thought.
If she stayed human looking, it not only would make life easier for her, and it would make it easier to work things out with her Mom, if that was possible. Living a quiet life somewhere, a few friends, a decent job to pay the bills, it wouldn’t be too much to ask for.
But if she ended up being a monster, one of the real freaks, that was almost definitely out. She wouldn't even be able to find a little cabin in the woods and go into town once a month for supplies and a bit of human contact. If she was lucky, she could maybe find some way to become a hero. Then at least she wouldn't be chased by a mob. But the thought of fighting for her life against criminals and supervillains left her cold. Risking her life, to avoid risking her life seemed like a losing proposition.
Carefully applying the wax to her brow, she wondered when Doug would get her the help he promised. She had finished being grounded, and he still hadn't sent her a message. What was she going to do when she met her friends?
Finishing up her hair removal with a small shriek of pain, she made sure nothing else had changed. With her brown contacts in, she looked human. She hadn't taken the coloured ones out of their cases, after the talk with her Mom she wanted to keep everything as peaceful as possible until she had to run, even if it was risky. Except for her body and facial hair growing a touch faster and going from being a bit of practically invisible peach fuzz to a darker colour more common on boys she looked good.
Going to her computer she went to one of the more informative, private mutant wikis. Any half decent hacker could get in, but it was mostly used only by the more in the know members of H1 to do research and pass on tips. She typed in 'Increasing body hair'.
The next hour was spent reading about mutants who were animalistic, from dog girls to yeti's. Her own hair wasn't long or distinctive enough to help her out much. The darkening hair could just mean her BIT was making her a bit hairier, or it could be the start of her sideshow career as Jeannette the Ape Girl.
She typed in some more words, 'female', 'facial hair growth', and hit search.
The first thing that popped up was 'Changeling'.
She clicked on it, quickly skimming the first paragraph. The next second she was whipping her pants down and feeling herself trying to figure out if anything felt different. A frantic search for a hand mirror and ten minutes for a thorough investigation, she breathed a sigh of relief.
“I need some air,” she said after washing hands and splashing cold water on her face.
Grabbing her purse she headed over to see Doug.
Brad met her as she left the house. She bit back a curse at seeing him on the sidewalk playing with his phone. “What are you doing here?” she demanded.
“I heard you were finally out of jail, I thought I'd come over and say hello,” he said, smirking like an idiot.
“I'm pretty busy, how about a rain check?” she said, turning away to take the long way to the bus stop.
He grabbed her by the arm, jerking her to a halt. “You're a mutant,” he hissed.
Her heart stopped beating for a second. “What the fuck are you talking about?!” she shouted, letting her anger take over.
“When I tried to get into your room, you stopped me just by grabbing my arm. It felt like I was caught in a vice. You're a genetic traitor. Is that why you hang out with the ER assholes?” he said, leaning into her and squeezing her arm hard enough to make her gasp in pain.
“LET ME GO!” she snarled. When he didn't release her, she swung her hand up towards his face, making a fist to click the safety off of her ring and squeeze the trigger on both sides. A mist of concentrated and upgraded pepper spray was released just inches away from his nose and eyes. He dropped, screaming in pain.
She took off running until she was well away from Brad and her home, then she phoned her Mom. As soon as she heard her voice, Jeannette started talking. “Mom, do you know what that asshole Brad just accused me of?! He was going on and on about me being some kind of mutant! Is that what they're saying about me just because I want to drop back a bit?!”
“HE WHAT?!” her Mom practically screamed.
“He said I was a mutant. And he grabbed me hard enough to leave bruises. What the hell is going on?” she demanded, doing her best to make her fear sound like outrage.
“Are you OK?”
“Yeah, I gave him a dose of pepper spray and left him crying on the driveway,” she answered with some satisfaction.
“Good,” her Mom said with a savagery Jeannette wasn't used to hearing. “I'll talk to his parents and get to the bottom of this. Where are you now?”
“I was going to go out to the park to do some reading, then meet Vicki for lunch. But now I think I want to be around people, so I'll go get a tea or something,” she lied.
“Do you need me to meet you? I can put off this paperwork for at least a couple of hours.”
“No, that's OK,” she replied quickly. “I'm good. Just a bit shocked, and I need to put a replacement tab in my ring if Brad comes anywhere near me again.”
“All right, but if ANYTHING else happens I want you to call me right away. Promise?”
“I promise Mom. Thanks. My bus is coming now, I'll talk to you later.”
Hopping onto the bus, she breathed a sigh of relief. If everything went well, she'd be somewhere safe in just a few more days, maybe a few hours. Then she could phone her Mom and tell her the truth, it would hurt, and it would probably be the last time they would talk, but she couldn't just disappear, that would be too cruel to her Mom. Even if it would feel like ripping her own heart out. Staring out at the neighbourhood she'd grown up in, she silently said goodbye. It hurt, but she'd survive. Surviving was all that mattered in the end.
“All right Jeannette, what's been happening?” Doug asked after he closed the door to a small room that looked more like a home gym than a gaming room.
“Brad knows I'm a mutant,” she said.
“How did he find out?”
She told him, the cold feeling in her stomach got worse as she spoke, until it felt like there was a block of ice in there. She had to fight down the urge to vomit. When she finished, she realized she was crying. “I'm not going to be able to go home, am I?”
“I don't know,” Doug admitted. “None of my contacts are happy about this. They've seen your speeches on the net and they're afraid this is a trick, or you'll panic and tell H1 everything even if it means they'll kill you. The fact that we don't know what your power is, is another problem. Just having your eyes change colour is too easy. You could have had your iris tattooed or inked to trick us. That happened to one group in Atlanta. Three of them were arrested for kidnapping and transporting a minor across state lines, five more people had to flee from threats, arson and dead pets.” He sighed and looked up at the ceiling in disgust. “This isn't going to be easy.”
“I'm not going to let them kill me,” Jeannette swore. “I know Mom wouldn't do that, but I don't know about the rest. If I have to, I'll run to Seattle and hand myself over to the government as a runaway.”
“We'll keep that as a plan B. I can get a friend who isn't connected to anything to drive you there if we can keep things steady for another week. Now let's see if we can figure out your powers,” he said, turning on a video camera.
She raised an eyebrow in question. “You know how to do power testing?”
“I know enough to give you the basic rundown as long as you don't have magic. Psionics I'm iffy on. Now when you stopped Brad, what did it feel like?”
“I don't know. I wasn't thinking about it, I was just terrified he'd go and find my contacts, and all the pro-mutant stuff in my room would have made them wonder what was going on. So I just grabbed his arm wanting him to stop. He did,” she finished lamely.
“Great, not a simple and straightforward exemplar or energizer,” he groaned. “Lets go to the bench and see how much you can lift.”
“I'm not really dressed for this,” she said looking down at her denim skirt and expensive light blue top.
“Oh right,” Doug said. Going to a box, he dug through it pulling out a pair of work out shorts and a t-shirt. “Here you go, don't worry they're clean.”
Taking them, Jeannette headed for the bathroom. Every step seemed to take all of her strength, as if she had lead weights strapped to her feet. She wanted her Mom. Closing and locking the door, she let out a bitter laugh. “Mom, I know you're the president of H1, but can you come with me to get some power testing done. I could really use the support.”
She beat her head lightly against the wall. “Jeannette, what are you going to do? Even if they do get you somewhere safe, no one is going to trust you. H1 will try to kill you, and mutants will want to do the same once they find out who you were. You're going to be all alone.”
Jerkily she changed her clothes. Staring at the mirror she stuck out her chin and glared at her image. “Smarten up, brain. I can handle this. I'm a survivor and a winner. Nothing is going to happen that I can't handle. It may not be pretty and I may get knocked down, but nothing is going to keep me down. I'll just keep getting back up until I'm strong enough to break whatever is in front of me.”
The pep talk done, she went back to Doug. “What's the first thing we need to do?” she asked.
“Bench presses. How much can you handle?”
The next hour was spent doing exercises. She could bench press about 60 pounds, which Doug told her was good for someone without training. Jumping, running and some agility exercises only proved that she was a physically fit teenage girl, nothing extraordinary or even worth mentioning.
Some basic concentration and guessing the cards was just as pointless. If it wasn't for her green eyes, she and Doug would swear that she was just a baseline.
“What now?” she asked, wiping the sweat from her face and neck.
“One last test,” Doug said from behind her.
She felt something press into the small of her back and electricity was running up and down her body making every nerve scream in pain. Falling to her knees, she tried to curse, but nothing came out. It felt like she was on fire, and the pain seemed to go on forever. After what had to be ten minutes she was able to move her head and looked up and saw that only about twenty seconds had passed.
“W-what the hell was that?” she gasped.
“Stun gun, set to low. Sorry I needed to see if you had a danger sense or could absorb energy,” Doug said, handing her a water bottle and some aspirin.
“Ow. Don't, don't do that again.”
“No problem. So we still don't know what your powers are, I can't convince my contacts to open up, and your friends have rumours of you being a mutant going around. We're in a bit of a jam,” he said.
“Ya think,” she said, slowly getting to her feet.
“Do you think you can stay with your Mom for a few more days?”
“Probably, as long as nothing else happens,” she said. “I-I really wish I could tell her.”
He put an arm over her shoulder. “When you're somewhere safe, you can call her and tell her. If she handles it properly you can come back. But until than your safety is top priority for me. Do you want to risk going to the MCO for power testing?”
She shook her head. “They all know me, and at least three of them are friends of H1 members, my Mom gets a lot of information from them.”
“We thought something was up with them,” he said disgustedly, “didn't know it was that bad though. So right now we're in a wait and see position.”
“Yes, yes it does.”
“I talked to Brad and his parents today, Jeannette. Brad said you used some kind of force to stop him from going into your room.”
Jeannette snorted, as her Mom ladled some homemade soup into her bowl. “Right, and no one else noticed me doing it.”
“Has anything been happening that I should know about?” her Mom asked.
“Other than making Brad cry like a baby, no,” she said, staring into her soup.
Her Mom didn't say anything for a minute or two, the only sound was the sound of their spoons tapping lightly against the bowls, and the crunch as they bit into the toasted bread. “Honey, you can tell me anything. You've been acting differently, is something wrong?”
“I'm fine Mom. Like I told you a few days ago, I'm just looking to change a few things. Nothing is wrong,” she insisted, still not looking up.
“Look me in the eye and tell me, please.”
She looked at her Mom, forcing herself to be as calm as possible, “I'm fine Mom. Except for Brad, everything is going great.”
Her Mom watched her closely for a few seconds before smiling. “Thank you, that's all I needed to hear.”
Late that night, Mrs. Shepard sat in her home office staring at the photos of her late husband and her daughter that lined the office walls. Picking up the phone, she dialed a number, her fingers trembling. When the person picked up, she could only say a single sentence, before breaking down in tears.
“She lied to me.”
“What do you think high school is going to be like? I'm thinking of trying out to be a cheerleader,” Vicki said around a mouthful of fries.
“It should be fun,” Jeannette replied, pushing a fry through the ketchup, her hamburger getting cold.
“Do you think we can get a real boyfriend, someone who knows how to treat a girl right?”
“I'm thinking of joining Evolution Rocks and finding a super sexy exemplar guy to date.”
Vicki leaned over and snapped her fingers in front of her face. “Earth to Jeannette! Wakey wakey!”
“What?!” she said, jumping backwards in her chair.
“You were in outer space there. You've been acting really differently, what's up?” her friend demanded.
“I'm just... I have a lot of things on my mind.”
“Does this have anything to do with what Brad was talking about?” Vicki asked, her voice getting low, so they wouldn't be overheard.
She put her head in her hands, pulling on her cheeks in frustration. “Oh god, what has that idiot said now?”
“He's been saying you're a... well... a mutant,” her friend said in a whisper. At Jeannette's look of shock, Vicki hid her face, becoming very interested in her french fries.
“NO! I'm not. He's just pissed that I'm not going in lockstep with him. So now I'm his newest enemy, and you know what he's like when he thinks someone needs to be brought back in line.” She hoped she sounded truthful, her nerves were on edge. She was jumping at shadows and it felt like she was being watched.
“But you did stop him when he tried to go into your room.” Vicki bit her lip, her brown eyes growing bigger as if pleading to know what was going on. “At first we thought he just did it because he heard me talking to your Mom or he didn't want to knock you down or something, but he said it was like something grabbed his whole body.”
“I don't know what he's talking about. I just grabbed him and he decided to stop on his own,” she insisted. “Do you really think I'm a mutant?”
“No. I'm sorry. So what has you so distracted? Maybe I can help.”
“I'm just... I don't know,” she admitted. “Mom is acting really nice to me now, and it has me weirded out. And Brad is being a bigger ass than usual, I can't believe I liked the guy before. Do you ever wish you could just shout at the world and make everything stop so you can have some time to think?”
“Yeah. I know the feeling,” Vicki said. “I think you need something to take your mind off of things, lets get our nails done. With your new hair colour you need something flashy to show it off to the cute high school guys.”
Smiling with delight, Jeannette pushed her cold food aside. “Yes! That's perfect.”
“Do you think I should get my hair styled like yours? Not exactly like it, but the punk look would make both of us stand out,” Vicki said.
“I like it. It's a pain in the butt to style in the morning, but it doesn't take an hour to dry at night. I think if you got yours bronzed it would show off your skin really well,” Jeannette said a little loudly to be heard over the sound of a fountain beside them.
She never saw the man lunge at her, shoving her as hard as he could into the fountain. All she knew was that she was airborne and the shallow fountain was coming towards her at alarming speed. She put her hands out in front of her, desperately trying to keep from bashing her head, and then everything stopped. It felt like a smooth hand had encircled her body, stopping her in midair. Putting her feet down on solid ground, the force vanished as soon as she was steady.
Looking around in shock and horror, she saw a man she recognized from H1 meetings hurrying away holding a phone like it was the most important thing in the world. Turning around she saw Vicki looking at her, her face bone white, eyes wide, her body trembling.
“Y-y-y-” Vicki tried to speak but couldn't get the words out. With a scream she turned and ran for the exit.
Jeannette watched her best friend run away as if a horrible monster was chasing her. The others in the mall hurried away, some jogging, some walking quickly, several of them were on their phones. Someone shouted for security, another screamed for the MCO.
She ran towards the nearest exit, wiping the tears from her eyes so she could see.
“Is this place really safe?” Jeannette asked, looking at the small office that was set up more like a bedroom.
“Yeah, it is,” Doug said. “This is a safehouse we sometimes use, the person who rents it isn't even from the city so it can't be traced to anyone important. This old office is usually only half full and we're the only long-term renters. Just don't step out into the hall unless you absolutely have to, and you'll be able to stay out of sight until we get you out of the city.”
“What about the bathroom? And food?”
He opened a door that looked like a closet, revealing a tiny bathroom. “No shower, sorry, but it's got the basics. As for food, we've got water and juice in the fridge over there,” he said pointing to the corner. “A kettle and lots of instant noodles. It's not great, but you'll be OK. I have to go make some calls, do you need anything?”
Sitting down on the couch, Jeannette clutched her knees, still trembling from the fear and adrenaline. “A do over would be nice.”
“I wish I could help with that, I really do,” he replied, patting her shoulder. “I'll be back later with some pizza or something more edible than noodles. Don't make any phone calls, they might be able to trace it. Try to rest and be ready to move.”
“OK,” she said, her voice devoid of emotion.
She didn't move as he left, her eyes remained focused on the dull white wall in front of her.
“Hello,” the voice on the other end of the phone said.
Doug snarled into the phone, “This is Mr. Campbell. I've been trying to get you guys to move on the H1 girl for over a week and now the shit has hit the fan.”
“I'm sorry, but the situation is complicated. What has happened.”
“The girl was outed by H1. It's on the news now showing her using her powers to keep herself from a bad fall in a mall. Is that enough evidence for her to get into your school?”
“We'll have to confirm some things, but we could have a person there tomorrow to get her somewhere safe.”
“Tomorrow may not be soon enough, she's in danger right now,” Doug insisted.
“We do have protocols that are designed to keep people safe. If we ignore them we will put many people and children in danger,” the person insisted.
“If that girl dies it's on your head. I've been pushing every button I can for the last two weeks, and now a good kid could die. Get to work and let me know if your precious protocols will actually do some good.” He slammed the phone down in disgust.
“He did WHAT?!” Clint demanded, hammering his fist so hard against his desk his monitor bounced.
“He put the H1 bitch into Safehouse 5,” his informant said.
“Does the rest of Evolution Rocks know about this?” he asked.
“Nope. You're the first person I called.”
“Don't tell anyone else. I'm going to deal with this,” Clint said.
“You got it. You're going to make sure she doesn't spread any more anti-mutant lies, right?”
“The less you know the better. Let me know if they leave,” he said, before hanging up.
Staring out the window, he gave himself a moment to calm down. The girl was a mutant, but for all the harm she'd done over the years she had to pay. While he personally wouldn't hurt a child, he knew some people who would, and it would be poetic. He dialed a number, grinning with delight.
Mrs. Shepard stared at the TV, her face pale.
“Tiffany,” a voice said from the door, “can I get you anything?”
She looked up at her second in command, her fingers digging into the arms of her chair, her eyes were full of fire, but her voice was almost calm. “Seth, I told you to watch my daughter. I didn't know if she was a mutant, hiding a boyfriend or was doing drugs. I wanted to learn what was wrong, so I could deal with it. We have rules, we're not the butchers or vigilantes in other cities. I don't want blood on my hands, especially my daughters blood. What did they think they were doing attacking my daughter?”
Seth held his ground. “We had to know. If she wasn't a mutant, she'd have gotten a few bruises and a soaking. It's better to know so we can deal with the consequences before she becomes a danger.”
“You could have set off a rage incident with that stupid stunt. Don't you remember how bad the last one was? And now my daughter is missing, she's not answering her phone, I don't know where she is, and she probably thinks I'm going to kill her. Do you really want a desperate teenager with powers thinking she's been backed into a corner?” Somehow her voice stayed level, but the tone made Seth flinch.
“And if we had found the evidence without her catching on, what would you have done? Kept her at home? This is for the best.”
She rose from her chair. “I would follow the policy I have promoted since I became president, I'd move her away from humans, somewhere she wouldn't be able to hurt anyone. Are you telling me I should kill my daughter?”
“I believe in keeping people safe. No matter the cost.”
“Get out of my office now,” she said, her body shaking as she grabbed the edge of her desk to keep from ripping his throat out.
Jeannette tried to sleep on the uncomfortable futon. She was wearing a pair of shorts and a t-shirt that Doug had brought her earlier. They were comfortable enough for pyjamas, but she could run away in them if she needed to and not look out of place. A bag with some money, clothes and snacks sat on the bed. Doug hadn't told her to do it, he had insisted that the office was perfectly safe, but she wanted to be ready to bolt without any hesitation. She looked at her phone, sighing at seeing that it was only eleven.
Sitting up, she flipped through the apps, until she came to the movies. Without caring she tapped one randomly and a teen romance came alive. She remembered watching it in the theatre with Vicki and some other friends at the start of the summer. They'd spent half of it throwing popcorn at each other and gazing dreamily at the cute guys.
She wouldn't be able to do that again. No one would want her in a theatre now, and who would want to be friends with a former H1 mutant?
Looking at the window, she wondered if the three story fall would kill her.
Shaking her head of the dark thoughts she went to the window, opening it up to get some fresh air. “Screw you world,” she muttered, “I'm not going to die. I'm going to survive and thrive.”
As she stared out onto the dingy little street a van came to a stop by the entrance. Her heart began to race when six men jumped out and headed for the door. Not wasting any time, she ran for the door, grabbing her bag on the way out. The phone was left behind, she wouldn't need it. She hit the stairs at a run, only to stop in terror as she heard the first floor door slam open.
She ran back down the hall, hoping that the other stairwell would be free. The elevator was lit and heading upwards. Putting on more speed, she burst through the door of the second stairwell, shouts of anger and surprise greeted her. Every self defence class she'd taken said that running up the stairs was a bad idea as it would isolate her, and they drilled it into her head that heading away from the exit was only good for getting her killed. But she didn't have much choice, it wasn't like anyone was in the office building to help her. Taking the steps three at a time, she made her way towards the roof.
The sound of boots behind her seemed to be pounding in tandem with her racing heart. She wanted to scream at them to leave her alone, to call her Mom and realize that this was all a mistake, but she knew it would be pointless, she couldn't waste her breath, she could practically feel them breathing down her neck.
Jeannette screamed as her pursuer grabbed her backpack, the straps of the bag dug into her shoulders. A second later she was yanked backwards, sending her flying down stairs. Curling into a ball, she knew she was going to die. If hitting the stairs didn't kill her, the men would. Her mind seemed to be working in overdrive, trying to remember what it had done when she was pushed into the fountain.
She hit the wall and bounced to land gently and unharmed on her feet. Staggering in shock at surviving, she screamed again, dropping to the ground as a knife was impaled into the wall where her chest had been. Unthinkingly she threw herself between his legs, and went tumbling painfully down the stairs, covering her head with her arms. Sobbing in pain, she got to her feet trying to ignore the throbbing agony running through her body with every breath.
“Shoot her already!” someone shouted.
Jeannette didn't know if she could survive getting shot. The crack of a bullet ripping through the air and the sting as it brushed her cheek made her desperate. She grabbed the rail and jumped down the three stories, trying to hold herself as straight as possible so she wouldn't hit anything until the bottom. At the same time she thought of being protected and shielded.
Her foot caught a rail sending her spinning in the air, she screamed, plummeting out of control.
Lights flashed before her eyes as she hit the floor. A wave of pain spread throughout her body, but the agony of her shoulder surpassed it all. Curling up into a ball, cradling her useless left arm, she begged and prayed that the pain would go away. The need to run and hide was almost as loud as her agonized wailing.
Her shoulder clicked, bone ground together, causing her to shriek once more in pain. Her fingers twitched, and she was able to get to her feet. The memory of the pain was still there, she was still dizzy from hitting her head, but she was in one piece and able to move again.
Looking up, she saw a pistol pointed at her face. Instinctively her eyes closed and her hands rose up as if they could push the gun away. She heard a scream and a crunch. Opening her eyes, Jeannette gasped at the sight of the man falling with a groan from a hole in the plaster. His arm flopped lifelessly at his side, blood dripping from a hand that looked like a bloody, fleshy bag of ground meat.
Sprinting for the exit, she covered her mouth to keep from vomiting at what she'd done. Opening the door all she could think about was running as fast as she could and somehow getting out of town. She never saw the baseball bat that hit her chest, sending her to the ground and cracking her head against the tiled floor.
Jeannette shook her head, trying to make the double vision go away, trying to breathe, trying to make the pain go away again. She could hear police sirens in the distance, someone was screaming for an ambulance, and a gun was in her face.
She saw Brad smiling in psychotic glee. If she'd had the time she'd have screamed, but there wasn't. All she could do was think how stupid it was that Brad was going to kill her.
The bullet stopped less than an inch from her forehead.
Adrenaline kicked in, pushing the agony that had become her existence away. As Brad pulled the trigger again, she rolled towards him grabbing a hold of his leg and biting as hard as she could on the fleshy part of his calf. It was like something was slamming her jaw shut far harder than she should be able to, her teeth clicked painfully together and blood filled her mouth. Somehow she dodged his foot that tried to stomp her, his bellow of pain filling the night. Grabbing his clothes she pulled herself up, staying as close to his body as possible, ignoring the buffeting of his arms as he tried to knock her off, while keeping weight off of his bloody leg.
Bringing her hand up to his face, she pepper sprayed his open eye from less than an inch away.
His screams turned to a shriek. Flailing, he sent her flying to land painfully on the sidewalk. Rolling to her feet, she saw that the other H1 members were running out of the building, and the police cars were almost on top of them.
Fearing the H1 hit squad even more than the police, she took off at a run, seeming to fly as her feet barely touched the ground. She hit the alley faster than humanly possible and kept going.
Mrs. Shepard jumped out of the police car, while the police called for an ambulance and rounded up the men and teenagers.
“Where is she?” she demanded, running over to Seth who was busy telling an officer about a dangerous mutant. “Where is Jeannette, you bastard?!”
“Probably off to maim and kill some more people,” her second in command snarled, as the officer tried to get between the two of them.
“What the HELL were you thinking attacking my daughter?!”
“She blinded Brad and crushed Louis' arm, when we were just going in to see if the report of a mutant hiding in the building was accurate. She's a fucking danger! If you'd done your job, this wouldn't have happened.”
The officer grabbed her before she could gouge Seth's eyes out. “I swore I'd do everything I could to keep anyone in this city from dying because of a mutant,” she snarled. “If you'd listened to me and done what I told you, my daughter would be somewhere safe right now and no one would have gotten hurt! YOU BASTARD! THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!” she screamed.
As more officers came over to take her away, she fell to her knees, her rage turning grief. “Please find my daughter! I can’t lose her too!”
The doorbell rang, waking Doug up. Looking at the clock he muttered a curse, it was five in the morning, far too early to wake up, even if he hadn't managed to fall asleep only an hour before. He'd spent most of the night at his shop, hoping against hope that Jeannette would show up after getting away from the disaster at the safehouse. He'd finally given up when he realized there were a couple of cars parked along the street with people in them. He knew they weren't from Evolution Rocks, so they were either H1 or the police, he'd given them the finger on general principle.
Throwing on a housecoat, he staggered to the door and looked outside. A tall, muscular man who looked too handsome for his own good stood at the door. Not taking chances, Doug took a large revolver from its hiding spot in the closet before he opened the door a crack.
“What do you want?” he demanded, aiming the gun through the door at the general area of the mans stomach.
“Mr. Campbell, I'm here to pick up your package,” the man said quietly.
“You're from Whateley?”
The man winced at the open use of the name. “Yes. Is it ready?”
“You're too goddamn late. She's gone,” Doug said, slamming the door in the mans face.
Looking at the clock again, he went to make himself a coffee, he was going to have a long day ahead of him.
At dawn, wearing some clean clothes, doing her best to hide the pain that came with every breath, Jeannette held her thumb out smiling as best she could at the cars that were leaving the city. She'd run for half the night before collapsing from exhaustion behind some bushes on the outskirts of the city. Now she was on her way to Seattle, where they weren't quite so much against mutants. There she could turn herself over to the government as a runaway and get some help.
There wasn't anything left for her in Cheyenne.
A blue car came to a stop and a middle aged man wearing casual travelling clothes leaned over to get a look at her. “Where ya heading?” he asked, smiling pleasantly.
“Seattle, I'm going to see my Dad,” she lied.
“Well you're in luck, I'm headed that way too. Hop in.”
“Thanks, sir. I really appreciate this,” she said, climbing in. She took a second to make sure her sunglasses were in place before putting on her seat belt.
“No problem, I couldn't leave a girl on the side of the road. Never let it be said chivalry is dead,” he told her with a grin. “I'm John by the way,” he said, holding out his hand.
“Hi John, I'm Vicki,” she replied, shaking his hand.
Getting the car back on the road, John asked, “This is going to be a long drive, care to share your story? I always find that talking makes the time fly by.”
“Do you mind if I take a bit of a nap first? I've had a long night,” she said, rubbing her left shoulder which had been tingling and feeling odd all night.
“No problem. But as soon as you're rested, I expect one of us to talk the others ear off,” he joked.
She reclined the chair a little, falling asleep almost immediately, while John began to whistle a happy little tune.